Monday, July 30, 2012

Music to Motivate My Exercise

I have been walking, mostly, for my exercise. It's done outdoors, and doesn't make me too warm so long as I go early or just before dark. After a few weeks of consistent walking, I can now feel that I am getting stronger.  I've cut five minutes off a walk I do once a week or so, so I am getting faster, too. I also take shorter walks every evening with my dog, but those are slow. Petey tries to stop at every tuft of grass to sniff! Strangely, the frequency of his stops is much less on the way home, so I'm quite sure it is a delaying tactic. He is so excited and happy to go out each day, but then he is ready to go back about three minutes later - lazy little guy!

Anyway, I was reading in David Kirchhoff's book and blog about using "cheesy" exercise music to help motivate you. I don't have much of that sort of thing in my collection, so decided to see if I could try out some new music, record it to MP3s, and put it on my Sansa MP3 player. I have discovered that just about every song you can think of is on YouTube. I use a (free) edit/record program called  Audacity to record right from YouTube to a saved MP3 file on my computer. It is pretty easy, but of course the sound quality is not great. I am recording various things to try out, and the ones I really like I'll gradually buy from Amazon or Google Drive. My budget just does not allow me to buy a whole playlist all at once, so this is a way to start out at zero cost.

What music have I found to like? Well, I was hoping for some classical things, and someone recommended Hooked on Classics. I've recorded the original, and it's OK. I would never, ever listen to it for anything but exercise, but it's kinda fun for that. Cheesy, definitely. But high energy.

I've found some of the old Motown classics to be wonderful - very high energy! Da Doo Ron Ron by the Crystals. Heatwave, and Dancing in the Streets by Martha & the Vandellas. And lots of newer stuff too. Summer in the City by The Lovin' Spoonful. Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees (that was a Kirchhoff recommendation, and a good one.)

Sadly, as I began test driving this music, my earbuds failed, so I'm going to need to get some new ones to get the full effect, without the static and cut-outs and having to hold the player at a certain angle when I walk. So I guess it's off to Staples, where there is a sale according to their Sunday flyer. Earbuds are, I'm convinced, purposely designed to last only a few months. I've found cost to be no guarantee of a long service life, either, although of course I have never purchased really expensive ones. My last pair was at the low end of the price spectrum, well under $10 from K-Mart, and has lasted about a year, I think, A record.

Bottom line, though, is that high-energy music, of any degree of cheesiness, does seem to ramp up my energy level and make it easy to walk briskly, farther, and even enjoy it. Much more so than the recorded novels I'd been listening to. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

One of My Favorite Things... Victoria Magazine
It's hot again, and a thunderstorm just skirted us, leaving some threatening rumbles of thunder, a few moments of rain, and a lot of sticky humidity. But I love sitting here at my desk and looking out at the big, billowing cumulus clouds above full summer-green trees tossing in the wind. Nice weather... lemonade weather.

I walked to and from the library this morning. I was pretty hot when I arrived home at lunchtime. I fixed a big, icy glass of that  (sugar-free) lemonade, turned on the fan to mid-level, and settled down in my big armchair to knit. Just then Petey, the sleepy little dachschund snoozing on the quasi-cool wood floor of the dining room, came to alert and made his few token barks. The mail had arrived. And with it was the July/August copy of Victoria Magazine. Heaven. Lemonade, the breeze of a fan, and Victoria.

I have always loved Victoria - it became my favorite magazine  back in the 90s. But I have been subscription-less for almost a decade. Victoria is mainly eye candy, as they say, but I find the photography quite beautiful. It evokes gardens, homes, countrysides, and all with a bit of the flavor of a bygone time. Idealized, yes, but also gentler. Anyway, it was discontinued back in the early 2000s, a tragedy to many of its faithful. A few years ago, it was resurrected by Phyllis Hoffman of Hoffman Media. It's not quite the same, but Phyllis was obviously a lover of the original magazine, and she's done well with the new model. I believe the photography is even better.

Still, I bought individual copies when I ran across them at the grocery, and was sad when I didn't find them. It's not as widely distributed as most of the major magazines. I could usually find it at Barnes & Noble, although they usually ran out in a couple of weeks. Why didn't I just get a subscription?

Well... I've been trying to do a paperwork reduction project, you see. And I decided magazines are the devil's own temptation for me, because I love them, used to get too many and not even read them all, and worst, I have a lot of trouble throwing them away. Plus, I was trying to be frugal. But eventually, and recently, reason overcame me and I sent in one of the little cards... and here is my Victoria magazine!

I'm not an advocate of magazines, in general. They are transitory by nature, and I always feel better served by books. I have recently had subscriptions to Atlantic, Martha Stuart's Live, and Woman's Day. I let Atlantic lapse, and Martha Stewart will be gone soon... pretty, but to my mind a bit contrived and sometimes a little tacky. Woman's Day has some useful content, but it will be history in my house before long. But Victoria is my go-to feel-good magazine, and I would find myself looking at years-old copies rather than looking at the current Martha Stewart. (Yes... guilty pack-rat admission. I have a box full of treasured old copies of Victoria.)

So if you really like something that much, if it adds value to your life, and leaves good and gentle feelings, I think you should try to fit it into your budget if possible. That's my philosophy. Now if that something is a BMW, you may have to rethink a little. Maybe rent one for a short vacation, or cultivate a friendship with someone who drives one. But a magazine is a very minor expense!

And if one likes a magazine well enough to read it regularly, as I do Victoria, then it is much more frugal to just get a subscription. Most magazine subscriptions are half the newsstand price, and they deliver right to your door. I have pulled a subscription card insert from a magazine I was interested in, on the rack at the bookstore or grocery - cards inserts often offer the best deals.

The bottom line: I don't want to deprive myself of happy little things, in the name of frugality, that don't cost much but give a lot of pleasure. I'm going back downstairs to look more closely at the recipes. By the way, several of my all-time favorite recipes are from Victoria.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Walk, Walk, Walk

It's raining again, just a light rain, but enough to make gray and sticky with humidity. I have several errands to run, and I'll probably just go on foot. I'm so glad that my foot is healed. I really depend on being able to walk around. And it's such good exercise.

Today I could take the bus and cut down on some of the walking. I have to walk to a local Mailboxes shop to have a form notarized, about 0.8 miles away and right on the bus route. With my discount, my bus fare is only about 40 cents, so it's not the money. For these short trips, I usually find I can get there on foot as fast, or almost so, as using the bus. They never run on time, and are almost as likely to be early as late, so you have to go early to the stop. I usually allow 10 minutes. But  as often as not, the bus will be 10 or 15 minutes late, making a total of 20-25 minutes of waiting. Well, I can walk a mile in that time, and being impatient I'd rather walk than wait.

I make exceptions when it's very hot, or pouring buckets or rain, or if there is a lot of snow. Half the businesses and homeowners don't clear their sidewalks when it snows, and that makes walking a little hazardous. No worries about snow these days, though. When it's hot I usually just go early, if possible, and make sure to take a route, even if a little longer, that has a lot of shade. Shade makes a lot of difference.

Sometimes I start thinking I'd like to renew my driver's license when my eyesight is cleared for driving. But really, I'm glad I've been forced into learning to live without a car. It's so much better for the environment, and it also saves a rather large amount of money. Between the gas, registration, the insurance, and car maintenance and repairs, car transportation usually takes many hundreds of dollars out of your annual budget, even if you don't have a car payment. Is it worth it? I think I've decided no.

Admittedly, much of my decision not to drive is based on environmental factors. But I see so many people around here who I know are on limited incomes, and they are driving big, new cars. I am  amazed that they have enough money left for housing and food! These are usually younger people... people my age grew up when it was just cool to have a car, any car, and a lot of the guys bought and fixed up a junky old car and drove it with pride. In the "hippie era" it wasn't even cool to drive a big new car... battered VWs, especially VW buses, were the thing then.

But I believe that most of the younger generation feel a deep sense of shame if not driving a new model car, which should also be a pretty nice one. Or so I have concluded, based on observed behavior. It seems crazy to me, to spend such a big chunk of your income on a car. I think they've all been brainwashed by the media, and it's become so pervasive among their peers that they really don't feel they have a choice.  Sad.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Spending is a Habit, Too

I am working hard at limiting my spending just now, because I am not working and my Social Security won't kick in for a few months. And I don't want to draw from savings any more than I have to.

This is a useful and interesting exercise, however. I'm really learning a lot about my spending habits... and they really DO seem to be habits... often bad ones. Rationally, I should spend money because I have carefully thought about the expenditure and really need something. But... in practice I find myself wanting to spend money for recreation, out of boredom, or to buoy up my spirits. Sometimes out of denial. Now, I'm by nature very thrifty. But I'm still not always spending my money as well as I could be.

A couple places where money kind of "leaks" from my budget due to impulse spending are (1) food, and (2) reading materials. 

Impulse Food Purchases

The biggest problem with food is that it is necessary to live, but can also be used as a reward or treat.  Kind of the same problems you have when dieting.

I try to forestall problems in the food purchase area by making a shopping list before I visit the market. But sometimes I'll see a great bargain and buy things I didn't plan on. That's not so bad, I don't think, so long as the bargains are things I would have bought anyway, and won't go to waste. The bigger problem for me involves the treats. Just yesterday, I was walking home from my class at the library in the late afternoon, just before dinnertime, when I (impulsively) decided to stop at a convenience store. I needed bread, but ended up (impulsively) deciding to buy a frozen French bread pizza, so I would not need to cook dinner. Then I added a pint of ice cream - just a little, a reward for a week well completed. Well - that was over $10.00, because everything is expensive at the 7-11. I could have made a healthier pizza at home for half the price. And I don't need ice cream, especially not the premium kinds. I have some excellent low-fat flavored yogurt in the fridge that costs a fraction of the price of that ice cream, and is much more healthful to boot.

I think I need to be writing out menus for the week, as I used to do. I can plan ahead for the days when I get home late, and make sure I have something already prepared, ready to heat up. Planning menus will also allow me to buy just enough for the week. Not too much, so that things are wasted - especially produce, which is expensive these days but doesn't seem to last as long as it should. But also not too little, so that I need to make extra trips to the store, trips in which I may be tempted to buy other things not on the list. So that's my job for today - menus, plus shopping list. I will also survey what is in the fridge and needing to be used soon, and incorporate those items into upcoming meals.

Impulse Reading Materials

I love to read, and have a houseful of books and magazines. I also read things on the internet. But... I am still frequently tempted to buy more books and magazines! The lure... that there is some, new, wonderful thing I need to learn, something that will change my life, or whatever. Rationally, I know I have enough novels, nonfiction, magazines - information - to last the rest of my life. Not to mention a nearby public library at which I can check out virtually any book or magazine I want, not to mention audio books, e-books, and DVDs of movies and TV series. AND I already have a subscription to Amazon Prime, which allows me to stream, at no additional cost, about a zillion television shows and movies. (They just this week added all seven seasons of West Wing, my all-time favorite series, so I am in heaven. At $6.59 per month, I think Amazon Prime is one of the best deals around!)

So I'm not lacking entertainment. It's just a bad habit I've had for many years. In fact, that's why I already have so much reading material around the house. So I just need to keep working on control, and thinking about each purchase - do I really need this book, cookbook, magazine? How could I read/use it without buying it? Is there some other alternative? With the Kindle, it's so unfortunately easy to just hit the "buy" button! I've begun to form the habit of ALWAYS first downloading a free trial, usually the table of contents and first chapter. In most cases, if I take a look and wait a few days, my impulse to make the impulse purchase goes away. So I just need to keep working on forming better habits, and reminding myself of all the reasons I don't WANT to buy that book or magazine - I don't want my house cluttered up even more, I want to find the item for free at the library, or buy it used for much less.


If I can continue to do well in these two areas, to form better habits, I'll have much better control over my budget. And that means I'll have more money to spend on the things I really need and want to spend money on. A decade ago, I used to do a lot of impulse spending on clothes, especially in discount stores like TJ Maxx and Marshall's. I had a full closet, but still could often find nothing to wear. It's so easy to fritter money away on non-essentials. And then you find yourself without the funds for the really important things. And so much of it is just... habits. Habits that can, and should, be changed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Habits Make Your Day

Well, it's cooler, but gray and wet here in Delaware. We need the rain, of course. It's early and I'm thinking about my morning walk. I've been walking every day for the last couple of weeks, sometimes with Petey, my little dog, or without him if I'm going to walk very far (more than 15 or 20 minutes). He does have very short little legs, after all, being a dachschund. I'm on my second cup of coffee, it just stopped raining but still looks threatening, but a quick check of tells me that the rain will have moved off to the east very soon.

I want to form the good habit of walking, every morning, or if not walking, some other kind of aerobic exercise. And of taking Petey for at least a short walk every day. I'm definitely feeling a bit more energetic, due I believe to improving my eating habits and exercising daily. Walking in the morning is a habit I've had in the past, and it's so much easier now in retirement. No more rushing out into the early darkness to get in a walk before leaving for work. Or slogging out after a long day. If I could ever do it, it's now.

I'm learning a lot from David Kirchhoff's book, as I mentioned in my last entry. If he has a central theme, it's that your health regime, to be successful, must be made into firm habits. You need to get beyond the point of deciding every day, every meal, and to a place where you just do this stuff, in the same way that you brush your teeth, fix a cup of coffee in the morning. He teaches you to make exercise into a habit that you just do, without considering and deciding on it each time. The amount of time, number of repetitions required, to form a habit is arguable. Some say six weeks, but my guess it depends a lot on how many obstacles you have to the habit-action.

I really don't have many obstacles to taking a morning walk. Even the recent heat was overcome by just going out early, before the sun was fully up. Winter weather will be an obstacle, but planning can overcome that. I can set up the TV in the living room, with several aerobic videos at hand. I have a NordicTrak in a corner somewhere, serving as a coat rack, and that can be put in a more convenient spot and used when going outside is a problem. My long plantar fasciitis ordeal seems to be over, so I just need to avoid massive overdoing and continue stretching my legs and feet so it doesn't return.

I've got a ways to go for these morning walks to become a habit, but I've made a start. I really enjoy getting out, and there is one part of my walk, through a rather wooded part of the local park, that is quite beautiful. I love how it changes depending on the season, the weather, and the light. Walking outdoors is good for the spirit as well as the body.

This brings me to the food part of healthy habits. I feel like I've been focusing on this too strongly, kind of obsessing, really. Yes, I'd like to be eating very healthfully, and losing weight gradually, but I find that journaling and counting - whether points or calories - is somehow taking me into the obsessive realm. I don't want so much of my life and thought to be focused on food! Is it possible to form great food habits without keeping detailed records? Without adding and subtracting points or calories and, based on the results, eating when I'm not hungry and abstaining when I am?

I think it might be, but I haven't figured this one out yet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Living in the Heat... Without Air Conditioning

I really don't like air conditioning, and have never had it in any home I've lived in, except for a time after moving to the east coast when I was living with my daughter. I hated it then. "I want to be warm in the summer, and cool in the winter", I said.

Having lived in my own AC-free zone here in Delaware for five years now, I'd say I've been pretty successful in learning to live with the heat. Now, when I was growing up in Southern California, there was no such thing as air conditioning. We lived at the beach, so there was no need, but even in the hot inland areas, people just... dealt with it. Back then you'd run across the occasional "swamp cooler," but I found the humidity they caused not worth the modest cooling. Years later, working outdoors in a California low desert summer, I discovered that my body was marvelously adaptable to even pretty extreme heat, so long as I took the usual precautions - lots of water, electrolyte replacement, and wetting down occasionally when it got really hot, 105 and above.

Here in Delaware, it's not so much the heat but the humidity that gets to me sometimes, but when the thermometer really soars, up into the high 90s and beyond, the (relative) humidity always falls, and it's not really so bad out of the sun, especially if you have a breeze or a fan. It's 96 as I type this, and the light breeze wafting in from the window feels lovely. I'm not particularly uncomfortable, except for the dripping perspiration. Which is a good thing... people who become well acclimated to heat also sweat... a lot. Those who don't can get very, very sick.

So I'm really doing fine through our 2012 heat waves, without AC. I get up early and do most of my work in the morning. I take my exercise walk around the park, and then walk the dog. I walk to do my shopping early, too. Then, in the afternoon I sit downstairs where it's cooler, and read or do paperwork, with a big fan blowing on me. I sip a big glass of ice water, iced tea, or iced coffee frequently. I don't do much. If I feel hot and sticky before bed, I take a nice, cool shower. In bed, I have another big fan blowing on me. This is how people lived until just a few decades ago, and they were generally healthier than we are. Before electricity, they didn't even have fans, except for the hand-held kind! Unless you are really ill, I think that staying in a controlled-climate cocoon, as so many do nowadays, is probably actually harmful. But that's just my opinion.

What I do know is that eschewing air conditioning saves a LOT of money. I know many people whose electric bills run several hundred to over a thousand dollars a month in the summer! That's not in my budget, for sure. All that fossil fuel use is also bad for our planet.

Bottom line - I've chosen to live an old-fashioned summer, with fans whirring, Adirondack chairs set out in the grass under a tree, and tall, frosted glasses of iced (diet) lemonade. By the way, your body actually burns more calories keeping you cool when it's hot, just as it does keeping you warm when it's cold. I didn't use to know that. So... win, win, win.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Progress in One Area Is Better than None

I AM making some progress lately, although still feeling rather... inert. It's funny that several of the blogs I read regularly seem to have the authors feeling a bit down in the dumps, too. Maybe it's the summer, this weather, which alternates between nice and absolutely beastly! We've got beastly coming up again starting tomorrow, with temperatures forecast at around 100, but they are predicting a shorter stay for the beast this time.

What I've been focusing on lately has been weight loss. My weight crept up too quickly from an athletic low some 8 years ago, and hit a high well over 200 pounds, and that's just way too much. Not only does it cause things to hurt, like knees, feet, and backs, but it's terrible for the health. Most troubling for me, being basically a shallow person, is that it is embarrassing... people just treat you so differently when you're fat. When you're fat and also old, well, you're pretty much invisible, aren't you? Plus... I love clothes, and it's just not fun to wear them when you're in plus sizes.

So, I've been trying out various schemes. I'm not totally happy with any, but... in the last few months I seem to have dropped 18 pounds! At first it was gradual, as I tried low-carb, all carb (i.e,a low-fat whole foods vegan diet), the old Weight Watchers selection plan, and calorie countng. Then I happened across a blog by the CEO of Weight Watchers International, David Kirchhoff, called Man Meets Scale . This guy is so darned funny, but more, he's a Weight Watchers life member, and has written a book about it that totally nails so many of the issues I have had with food, and difficulties I have had gaining control over eating. Anyway, I've read a lot of his blog and his blog-based book, Weight Loss Boss . Highly recommended.

Now, I haven't been to a Weight Watchers meeting in maybe 20 years, but I did lose quite a bit of weight back then, going to meetings, following the old selection plan program. I discovered that although it's not really expensive these days, about $40 a month, it's still beyond my tiny budget. But... diligent little web forager that I am, I found all the essential program elements, currently called PointsPlus, online. And though this isn't really fair to Weight Watchers, I started following them. I have alternated with counting calories, and I definitely - hands down - prefer the Weight Watchers system.

The Weight Watchers differences that really make it work for me so far are (1) the 49 Weekly Points you get each week, in addition to your Daily Points, (2) the addition of Activity Points, and (3) the designation of fresh non-starchy vegetables and fruits (but not juices) as Zero Point items. The Weekly Points allow you to cycle your calories or do a modest "refeed" once a week, if you want. (This, I've read, keeps your metabolism humming along a lot faster than if you just try for the same 1,500 or so calories each day.) The Activity Points reward you for exercising, but also allow you to eat a little more when you do exercise, thus not being "rewarded" by feeling like you're starving. The "free" fruits, especially, and also non-starchy vegetables, mean there's always something substantial to snack on, even if I've already budgeted all my points. Today, for example, I was feeling a bit "empty" in the afternoon, so in addition to my scheduled iced coffee with a half cup milk, I added a slice of watermelon. Perfect, and I'm good to go until dinner.

So anybody could easily just "roll their own" plan, using the Weight Watchers principles, which in my opinion are very, very smart. And which I am sure are backed by a zillion dollars worth of research. Easier to just go to meetings, but if you just can't afford it, there's still a way it seems.

Anyway, I'm feeling a lot happier and encouraged by this success in this one area of my life. Now... can I "weather" another heat wave?