Thursday, August 30, 2007

Odd Bird

There is a blue and white parakeet that hangs out in our yard sometimes. I've tried in vain to take his photo, but he flies away too fast. I'm guessing he escaped from a cage, eschewing the domesticated life as a pet. The parakeet hangs out with the little brown birds that nest in our hedges. They eat bugs and seeds from our yard. I feel bad for the parakeet and worry about him. I hope he can migrate with the brown birds when it's time. I hope he finds enough food to stay healthy. I hope that the little brown birds make him feel welcome even though he's different.

As an adult who doesn't work full-time right now, and who has (so far) chosen not to have children, I feel left out of various peer social groups. It's hard to make friends when you're in your 30s and don't have regular work or kids to facilitate socializing with other people. I feel like an overeager, overbearing dork as the person who instigates social outings most of the time, and I feel like a pariah when I get stood-up for these social outings. Most other people my age are consumed with work and/or family right now. I feel like I got stuck in my self-obsessed 20s, while my peers moved on to bigger and (in most cases) more important ventures.

I'm projecting my odd-bird-out feeling onto the escaped parakeet that hangs out in my yard with the little brown birds. The parakeet makes me sad, when it might actually be a happy bird thankful to be out of the cage.

It's time for me to get a steady job and/or a new volunteer project when Chad and I get back from vacation. I've enjoyed having time to do house projects since I left my last steady job in January. I've stayed somewhat occupied with temporary work, freelance jobs and a few acting gigs. I needed time to heal after losing my dad and my grandpa this year. Grieving has been a solitary activity. I also needed time to rest, recover and get cozy after the great house fix-up of 2006. I'm getting restless now and starting to feel lonely, acknowledging the need for daily interaction. Soon it will be time to get out there and try to find my group of little brown birds.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Simply Finicky

I am not a foodie. I don't rhapsodize over gourmet flavors. I think fusion cuisine is silly. If you wouldn't feed it to a ten-year-old (vegetarian) kid, don't try to make me eat it. Ask my mom what happens when someone tries to force-feed me anything I don't like. I've got a strong gag reflex and a weak stomach.

I am also not a wine connoisseur. Blech - instant headache. When someone serves me wine, I smile and carry the glass around and even take a few sips in good faith that the host isn't trying to poison me, but I don't like wine and it doesn't like me. Champagne is an entirely different matter. I love some sweet Asti bubbly or a little sparkling prosecco, but even then I'm flirting with the afore-mentioned headache.

I like simple food. Order a cheese pizza. Stock the fruit bowl. Cut up some raw vegetables and serve them with a bowl of light ranch dressing, I'm a happy camper. Speaking of camping, I love s'mores, but hate any dessert with the words flourless, ganache, or heavy cream in the description.

In the ongoing effort to lose weight and develop healthier habits, I am enjoying smaller portions of the foods and drinks that I am so finicky about choosing. I'd rather savor a small portion than overindulge these days. Ingesting more than I need leaves me feeling bloated and listless.

The kind of people who show love with food are often frustrated by me. People need food to survive just like everyone needs love to make this life worth the struggle. Personally, I need simple, unconditional love in steady amounts over time. Don't make it too fancy with too many ingredients. Don't do the fusion thing with too many conditions that may or may not meld successfully. Don't force too much at once.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Eat Pizza Once a Week

Just a quick post to boast that I've lost 19 pounds now! I didn't believe the scale at the gym, but 3 different scales all say the same thing.

I hit the gym at least three times a week. Chad and I walk 3 miles together at night twice a week. I eat pizza once a week, because I love it, but I only have 1 or 2 slices with a salad.

Still have 15 pounds to lose, but I'm getting closer to my goal weight.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dremel Rotary Rocks!

I'm refinishing our 55-year-old bathtub. Removing decades worth of caulk and grout from the edges of the tub was terribly tedious and tough on my hand muscles. This prep work was taking a much longer time than I thought it would.

In a bout of chivalry, Chad chauffeured me to Lowe's to purchase a few things for the tub project. Fate found me in the small hand tools section drooling over the Dremel rotary tool with tiny sanding and cutting attachments. Be still my beating heart. Once home, the Dremel removed most of the strata of grout and caulk, and my poor hands are spared.

Wish me luck as I refinish and re-caulk the tub!

Update: The tub project went well for the most part. I bought a $40 kit at Lowe's and did it myself instead of paying a pro $500+. All the scrubbing, sanding and straining to reach corners without touching wet epoxy left my shoulders and lower back very sore. Showering at the gym for a week was kind of weird and inconvenient as we waited for the new glaze to dry and cure. The tub looks all shiny and sparkly-white now. The new caulk made a huge difference too. Before the tub had permanent rust stains and weird drippy marks that would not scrub away with mildewy caulk that bleach could not tame. Overall, I'm glad I did it myself. Chad likes it too and gave me some yummy bath salts as a thank you gift.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Not Falling for Fall Marketing

Summer, with its 100+ degree days feels like it just started here in Austin. May, June and most of July were rainy and cool. The weather was, dare I say it, very pleasant. Normally by this time of year in Austin, I'm in the throws of a full-on "I hate summer in Texas" rant with a 44 ounce icy, diet drink in one hand and a water spritzer in the other hand while positioned squarely under an air-conditioning vent in a room with the curtains drawn and the blinds shut tight against the blazing Texas sun. This year, you'll find me with a 12 ounce diet drink in one hand while I sit out on the deck and marvel at how 90 degrees in the evening doesn't feel too bad if you sit still. I haven't even been for a dip in the cold, spring-fed pools of Deep Eddy or Barton Springs yet this summer. I haven't even had a Jim-Jim's water ice yet this summer.

I'm just now getting into the groove that is summer, and my August issue of Glamour magazine shows up. (That Glamour subscription is a guilty pleasure balanced out by reading the more cerebral Wired magazine.) This month's Glamour issue features all the fall fashions. Gross. It won't be cold enough here in Austin for fall fashion until at least mid-November. Why is it that every fall, fashion houses dish out plaid, tweed and blazers like it's something new? Been there, bought it, still in my closet, don't need this year's rehashed leftovers version of it. Except for maybe these cute
Delia's boots that were featured on page 169. OK, so maybe I need to know about SOME of the fall fashions, but the whole concept of being marketed to with fall fashion when my summer just got going is off-putting. I'll be sporting my flip-flops, knee-length skirts and 100% cotton t-shirts for several months still. Call the fashion police if you must.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Buying Back my Childhood: Priceless

Here are my recent treasures from three separate trips to Half Price Books. You'll notice many vintage Nancy Drew books to add to my collection! I now have 24 of the original 56 Nancy Drew books. Normally I'm not a fan of collecting things. I view collecting as less of a hobby; and more about consuming and blindly spending money. There is a Douglas Coupland quote about people "confusing buying things with creativity." In this case, however, I am making an exception to my "no collecting" rule. Nancy Drew was such a part of my childhood. I fully intend to re-read every one of the original 56 books, and hope to share them with my niece, Mary, someday (and any future nieces that might come along.)

My vintage Nancy Drew books are all from the same approximate publishing period. There are newer, shinier Nancy Drew books, but I don't want those, because they don't look, feel or smell the same as the ones from my childhood. My vintage Nancy Drew books from Half Price Books cost between $2.48 and $4.98 each. When I originally bought the books back in the day with my allowance, they were $2.95 each. That vintage status adds to the price tag, but also makes them exponentially cooler and more personally meaningful.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Happy National Underwear Day!

August 7, 2007 is National Underwear Day here in the states. Let's all celebrate by wearing some. (Under your clothes, of course!)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Halfway There - The Weight Loss Journey

I apologize that few of you will find this the least bit interesting, and that a lot of you will think I'm terribly vain, but here goes:

It took 159 days, but I've lost 17 pounds since I started adopting a new, healthier lifestyle. I'm halfway to my weight loss goal. (For you non-math-wizards, that means my total weight loss goal is 34 pounds.) I am so embarrassed by the all-time high number that displayed on the scale back in January and early February, that I'm not going to reveal that awful, awful weight. I will say that size 10 was getting snug and I really prefer to be a size 6 with plenty of breathing room. I will also reveal that the Body Mass Index calculator said I was borderline obese. Cringe!

What led to the weight gain?
I gained a fast 15 pounds over the course of 10 months. Here are the top 3 reasons as I see them:
1. The stress of having our lovely, posh (rented) condo unceremoniously sold out from under us halfway through our lease, and then realizing that to live in the area of the town we liked, we'd have to buy a house that needed quite a bit of work -- about six months worth of hot, dusty, sweaty, sore-muscle manual labor.
2. The kitchen at our new house was a wreck and housed painting supplies and tools for the first four months that we lived here. Fast food was always on the menu during that time. I thought that with all the hard work I was doing on the house, that surely I was burning lots of calories. Not so.
3. My dad died suddenly and very unexpectedly in October. This sent me into a tailspin of depression. When my dad literally dropped dead on his treadmill while exercising, the last place I wanted to be was at the gym. The first few times I went to the gym after his death, I cried while on the elliptical machine and cried during yoga classes. It's hard to exercise when exercise gets associated with sadness.

There have been some major and minor stumbling blocks in my quest for a healthier lifestyle. I knew I needed to start eating healthier in general, and lose some of the new-homeowner bad habits I formed over the past year.

On February 27, I started the South Beach diet. I lost 6 pounds in the first two weeks, which is known as phase 1 of the diet. Phase 1 is highly restrictive and difficult. Pretty much the only things a person can eat are lean proteins, vegetables (excluding carrots and potatoes of any kind) and small amounts of reduced fat cheese. There are no baked goods of any kind, no cereals / grains, no fruit, no "real" cheese, nothing containing natural or refined sugars allowed during Phase 1. I hate fish. I don't eat red meat. I had a serious addiction to whole wheat toast. This two weeks of Phase 1 was absolutely awful.

I've heard of other people losing up to 15 pounds during Phase 1, so I was a bit disappointed to only lose 6 pounds, but consoled myself with the theory that slower weight loss is likely to be permanent weight loss. Since following the South Beach diet during Phase 1 and Phase 2, I've learned that Phase 1 is actually not good for a person like me. I have kidney problems and therefore need to limit my protein intake.

Here's some science stuff on that:
When following a high protein, low carbohydrate meal plan, both uric acid and calcium oxalate stones are more likely to form. In fact, one study found that consumption of a low carbohydrate, high protein diet for 6 weeks delivers a marked acid load to the kidney, increasing the risk for stone formation.-- Reddy, S.T, Wang, C.Y., Sakhaee, K., Brinkley, L., and CYC. Pak. Effect of low-carbohydrate high-protein diets on acid-base balance, stone-forming propensity, and calcium metabolism. Am. J. Kidney Dis. 40(2):265-74, 2002.

During the South Beach Diet early days, I was working through the stages of grieving due to losing my dad so unexpectedly. I was stuck in the depression stage for a few months. Quitting most carbs cold-turkey for Phase 1 of South Beach was probably not a good idea for me at that time. I felt not just tired and cranky on this diet, but physically shaky and angry.

Here's the science stuff:
Many who are testing low-carbohydrate approaches like Atkins and the South Beach Diet are reporting unusually elevated feelings of anger, tension and depression, enough so that a new term ‘Atkins attitude,’ has been adopted to describe it. Judith Wurtman, director of the Women’s Health Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Adara Weight Loss Center, has conducted studies on rats showing a connection between low carbohydrate intake and low levels of serotonin – a neurotransmitter that promotes feelings of happiness and satisfaction. In her research, rats placed on a ketotic, or low-carbohydrate diet for three weeks were found to have lower levels of serotonin in their brains. Wurtman believes that same effect occurs in humans on low-carb diets, leading to pronounced feelings of depression and sadness, even rage. -- Wurtman, R.J., and J.J. Wurtman. Carbohydrates and depression. Sci Am. 260(1): 68-75, 1989.

In addition, Dr. Agatston, MD, author of The South Beach Diet advises patients to get about 20 minutes of exercise a day, such as walking. Um, yeah, I spend about 40 minutes on the elliptical machine and spend another 30 minutes doing stomach crunches, push-ups and lifting weights at least three times a week at the gym. This activity is in addition to daily chores like gardening, vacuuming, hauling laundry out to the washer, etc... and other "fun" exercise like hour-long walks with Chad, bike rides and occasional kayaking. I think I far surpass that "20 minutes of activity" advice most days. I need some carbs to make some energy, Doc!

That said, I think that Phase 2 of the South Beach Diet has great guidelines for losing weight, and I loved being able to eat some whole grains again! The recipes in the South Beach cookbooks are good, if a bit involved sometimes. If any of you are looking for some nutritional advice, skip Phase 1 of South Beach Diet and go straight to Phase 2. Your weight loss will be slower in Phase 2, but it is much less painful, more nutritionally sound and much more likely to lead to sustained / permanent weight loss.

I spent about two months at a weight loss plateau. I didn't gain any weight back, but I also wasn't losing weight from mid-May until mid-July. My dad's dad passed away on June 1, and I got physically sick with grief for a week. I had a cough, body aches and fatigue. My grandpa's passing was like a sequel to losing my dad just seven months earlier. While I didn't resort to any of my old unhealthy coping mechanisms such as mass doses of sugary baked goods or fried foods, I also wasn't getting as much exercise as usual. On July 4, I decided it was time to give up poultry as part of my slow transition to a vegetarian lifestyle. I don't mean to preach, but it is my personal preference not to eat food that once had a face. I still eat fish a few times a week (yuck), but eventually fish will go too. Not to worry, I am eating lots of soy, plenty of beans, egg-beaters, non-fat dairy and iron-rich veggies. There was an adjustment period to the new pesco-vegetarian diet which slowed the weight loss. Finally, in late-July, the weight started coming off again.

Which brings us up to last Friday when I stepped on the scales at the gym and found that I had maintained the halfway mark to my weight loss goal for a week! (I have this weird superstition that I can't really claim weight loss until is stays off for at least a week.) It feels great. Hopefully by February of 2008, I'll be in the maintenance phase of this health-kick-hullabaloo. And I'll being wearing a size 6 with breathing room.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Allergic to Mowing

I've been working very part-time (10 hours a week) for my friends' event planning company helping to decorate for weddings and doing some marketing writing for them. It's been fun. I also have a few dinner theater shows every month, and we're doing a script I already know, so it doesn't keep me too busy.

Given that I have much more free time than Chad does, and given that he makes a lot more money than I ever will, I try to hold up my end of the household duties by taking care of the chores. I do the laundry & iron, shop for the groceries & figure out meals, make the bed, manage the bill payments, take care of our three cats, etc... Chad is graciously happy to take care of the more manly chores of lawn care and grilling. However, sometimes if I'm feeling very generous, I will mow the lawn, so Chad can relax on the weekends and hang out with me, instead of worrying about the yard. I actually enjoy the meditative qualities of mowing the lawn, walking slowly behind the mower, making sure that the rows overlap just enough to get all the grassy stuff to an even length. We have a quiet, electric mower that gets the job done with minimal noise and without the noxious gasoline stink of most mowers.

Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do about my very strong allergies to most things associated with the yard: grass, all manner of pollens, dust and leaves. I suffer from sinus headache, runny noise, itchy eyes that border on blurry vision, low-grade fever and general malaise every time I mow the lawn despite my best efforts to avoid the allergic reactions by snorting Flonase and popping Claritin Ds. I generally am uselessly listless for hours after mowing the lawn. Next time I go to the doctor, I'm going to get a note excusing me from lawn mowing. And while I'm not officially allergic to bugs, I harbor a general dislike of any bug that isn't a ladybug. Yep, the ugly truth revealed, I'm bugist -- having an extreme prejudice and suspicion of all bugs that aren't ladybugs. Between the allergies and the bugism, there will be no more lawn mowing for me. Darnit.