Thursday, January 31, 2013
It's the end of January, and I already lost my holiday weight. I gained about 5ish pounds over the holidays. Eating pies, cookies, and bread has that effect - it's not rocket science! So to lose the weight, all I did was stop eating pies, cookies and bread. I know it works for me because I can do it over and over again.
I've been busy with my college classes, so I don't have a ton of time to monitor what I'm eating. I simply avoid the things I know will make me gain weight - grains and sugar. I eat some starches in moderation. I started eating quinoa as I discovered that it isn't a grain in the family of wheat or rye, and thus I can eat it without the side effects of grains. I eat a sweet potato, 1/2 cup of quinoa or rice a couple of times a week.
Even though I have a busy schedule, I still prepare food myself. When writing papers and studying for exams, I don't have time to make elaborate meals. Fortunately, I've built up a recipe repertoire of fast cooking foods over the years. I prepare meals when I have time, so I'm not scrambling or skipping meals when I don't.
I have to be out the door by 7:15am every morning, so I can't make a breakfast in the morning. However, I can make it the night before. My favorite breakfast lately is a pastry-less quiche. It sounds fancy, but it's super quick - 5 minutes to pulse ingredients in a food processor; 30 minutes to bake. In the morning, I just cut a piece and microwave for 30 seconds. Eat standing up with a fork, grab coffee in a thermos, and I'm out the door. My other favorite "fast food" breakfast is plain yogurt and blueberries. I'm full until lunch, and I never have a mid morning energy crash with these breakfasts.
Same with my lunches and dinners. I prepare everything the night before. For lunch, it's throw lettuce in a bowl, top with chopped ham and egg, and eat. Dinner is slightly different. I've either prepared dinner to slow cook all day, or I've chopped all ingredients, ready to cook. Just throw chicken in a pan, add veggies and a sauce - voila! I have stir-fry dinner ready faster than it would take Chinese delivery to arrive.
The results of planning ahead are this:
- Nutritious meals and a breakfast in the morning improves concentration. More time to study, so I'm not scrambling. I currently have A's in my classes.
- Even though I'm busy with school work, I have a few hours to spend quality time with husband and cats.
- More time to prepare for other events going on in our life (more on this later).
- I'm relaxed, not stressed.
- I'm not heading for fast food because I don't have anything to eat.
And I already achieved New Year's goal of losing holiday weight. It doesn't have to take all year.
Thursday, January 10, 2013
For the past few months of last year, I was in a bad place mentally. I was depressed about where I was in life, and it seemed like all of my carefully placed plans were unraveling. I felt completely helpless, and it sapped my enthusiasm.
All things considered, I am fortunate. I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, and his job is able to support us while I am out of work. We can live on one income, but I am not someone who enjoys being at home full time.
Having only one income makes me feel very uneasy in an era where yearly lay offs are the norm rather than due to extenuous circumstances. We are doing ok now, but what if my husband lost his job, was disabled, became sick, or even worse?
This happened to my FIL's mother. His father died when his parents were married just 10 years, and she was left to raise three children alone. This was in an era when there were fewer economic opportunities for women, and fewer government safety nets. She obviously made it, but it was a very hard road.
My husband has the same concern. He wants me to be back to work so that we can save more for retirement faster. And so I wouldn't be destitute if something should happen to him. We have life insurance, but it isn't as secure an option as being independently capable of supporting oneself. I find the concept of life insurance to be terribly morbid, as well. I couldn't enjoy life knowing where it came from.
As many of you may recall, I am still working on my bachelor's. I've been working on it - slowly - over many years. I had difficulties finishing school for various reasons.
The main reason that started a cascade effect was I had the bad luck of getting chicken pox when I was 19. Chicken pox? How weird is that? I consider it a lightning strike. It was my freshman year of college. It is a very serious illness when you are older. I was sick with a 103 temperature for 3 weeks.
Hindsight being 20/20, I should have withdrawn from the semester. I had a perfectly valid excuse. However, I believed that if I worked extra hard, then I could make it up.
I recently went through my old college papers because I am in process of transferring my credits to a local university. I found my papers from that period. Before I got sick, I was doing very well. After, my grades plummeted. My A's and B's on exams turned into C's and D's. I was not able to recover the ground I lost.
Unfortunately, I carried this with me through subsequent years and classes. I was struggling, and it began to effect my confidence and self esteem. I eventually pulled out because I was afraid I would get kicked out, and then the option to go back would be lost to me.
I chose to work so I could pay my bills before the debt sunk me, too. Luckily for me, computer science is a field where I have been able to do well with a partial degree. Without a degree, though, I lose out on opportunities for permanent, more stable employment. I pick up temporary contract work, which has cycles of high and low. I was able to pay off the debt I incurred, which put me in a stronger position to chose my path.
Dave Ramsey is right, folks. Debt is slavery. Debt will force you to take and keep jobs that you don't enjoy. It steals years of your prosperity, as every dollar you make belongs to someone else. If there's one thing I recommend to improve your prospects in life, stop earning a wage for your bank.
Now that I have a supportive husband who can hold down the fort for the time being, I chose to re-enroll in college. I had a fair number of anxieties about it at the end of last year, and quite a few humps to get over. I have actually continued to take classes a few at a time over the years, so I'm not exactly at square one. However, since it has been many years, the local university I applied to made me take a series of placement exams before accepting me. I aced the exams, but the next hurdle was my transfer credits. A lot are still in process, but I was able to get enough settled for me to start.
Then there was the anxiety that I am in my 30s going to school with young adults almost half my age. I had a brief moment of mid-life crisis. "Why didn't I just finish the first time? I can't believe I'm still doing this. Is this what my life was supposed to be?"
Eventually, I came to peace. I realized that I am in my mid thirties. I have more than 25 years left in my career. Perhaps this is a better time for me to finish than years ago. Technology is a fast moving career, and having a more current graduation date, plus real world experience, actually might place me in a stronger position.
This first week of class has proven all of my anxieties were entirely in my head. There are a number of people at school who are the same age, or older, than me. I thought I would be weirded out by being one of the older people in class, but I've actually spent more time reflecting on how badly prepared I was for college when I was 19. I've found my classes to be easier with real world experience in my hat. I finish my homework an hour after it is assigned, instead of the night before as many years ago.
I wondered what professors might think of non-traditional students like myself. My professors, at least, seem to be very receptive. We're likely to ask questions, and get our homework assignments done on time. We want to be there.
It seemed that fate, or God, or whatever you might believe in, wanted me to experience life. That experience has humbled me in ways that I could not have imagined.
Now that I am making progress again, I've found my enthusiasm for the future renewed.
Tuesday, January 01, 2013
It's not what you expect.
The best fitness equipment I ever bought was a frying pan, cutting board, and a chef's knife.
When I first started learning to cook, I did it to lose weight and to save money. I used to believe that buying groceries was expensive, but I discovered this was completely backwards thinking. It was more expensive to eat out as often as I did. Not only was it hard on the pocketbook, it also charged an expensive toll on my derriere. I became obese.
My very first cooking blog was about making low calorie, lost cost meals. I calculated calories and the approximate cost of each meal. I still like the concept and plan to reintegrate it into my recent cooking blog once I clean up the format. I have what I think is a pretty neat way to present this information, so I'll be busy working on that for the first part of this year. And I still need to make progress on my cooking app.
When my husband and I lived in Seattle, we ate out quite frequently. Seattle is an underrated city for cuisine, in my opinion. Almost all of the most popular restaurants are locally owned. Chain restaurants are shunned. It's one of the few places where a McDonald's went out of business because no one would eat there. Seattle is where I started to redefine my interest in cooking into a semi-gourmet. Why couldn't I make fine dining restaurant food at home? It couldn't be that hard, could it?
In some cases yes, it was that hard. In most cases, it was surprisingly simple. Many of my favorite recipes use only a handful of commonly available ingredients, and 15 minutes cooking time. No black truffles or black tie required.
I learned to make a lot of foods from scratch. I find that I have a more critical eye towards prepared food as a result. I won't touch A1 steak sauce anymore because a pan sauce with just a little red wine and broth is super simple and superior. Homemade pizza dough with real olive oil is like a $2 trip to Italy.
On the other hand, some foods prepared from scratch aren't worth the time for me, even if the quality is superior. Pasta, for example, is something that I choose to buy rather than make. Homemade pasta is very, very easy - it is just flour, eggs and salt. However, the rolling, cutting, and filling process I find too time consuming. I don't eat pasta often, but if I do, I opt for the fresh version at the grocery store, which is good enough.
Since moving to Georgia, we don't eat out much anymore. Mainly because our area is full of chain restaurants that aren't worth the calories for the price. I don't like breaded, deep fried food. I prefer my fruit fresh and whole, not smothered in a sugar syrup pie.
The one Southern food that we go crazy over is the bbq. There is a place on Wilmington Island that is a full fledged championship competition joint that is out of this world. I like it because they are mom and pop owned, who make all their smoked bbq meats and sauce from scratch. I looked at the ingredients at a local chain bbq restaurant, and noticed it was primarily high fructose corn syrup and MSG.
I did a fair amount of baking this past holiday season. I don't eat a lot of sweets during the majority of the year. I've never been a big dessert eater. One reason is because it wasn't part of my upbringing. Asians don't include desserts in their meals the same way as Americans and Europeans. The idea of needing dessert to round out a meal isn't part of my normal routine. However, with the holidays, it's kind of expected with meals and potlucks. My husband and I just got a stand mixer as a wedding gift, so I decided to try a few recipes that I don't normally make. I made breads, cookies, and cakes.
I did it mostly for the experience of learning how to make it. I watch a fair amount of cooking shows like "Chopped" and "Iron Chef", and I noticed that while the chefs have their specialties, they still have to be well rounded. Since I plan to work more on my cooking blog this year, I think this is important for me too. So I made a few recipes, enjoyed the process, and enjoyed sharing the results. I discovered that I don't have the patience for intricate pastry work, but it was worth doing to learn that. I'd rather make a simple, light cookie that pairs well with a morning cup of coffee. I'll leave the beautiful cake designs to the professionals.
The really neat thing is that my mom and I have been sharing recipes. She taught me a few of my favorite dishes she makes, and I showed her how to make a perfect poached egg. She commented that she likes the poached egg because it cooks faster than hard boiled eggs. It is ready to eat for a quick meal. I couldn't agree more.
These days my cooking only takes a long time because I'm busy trying to snap pictures of it!
I lost weight and saved money. Sounds like a good New Year's resolution, eh?
Monday, December 31, 2012
Hope you all had a good holiday. I spent the most of mine soul searching. While I haven't come up with any clear answers, time alone to reflect is how I recharge. For the past few months, I've been going through a mid-life crisis of sorts (is this what I wanted my life to be?), and while I haven't fully sorted my internal knots out, it has been insightful.
I'm happy to say that my dad has fully recovered from his appendectomy from a few months ago. While usually fairly straightforward in most cases, my dad had special challenges due to his age and weight. Obesity makes all surgeries more complicated.
While I was with my parents last time, I educated them on the merits of a lower carb diet. Basically, my belief is the only essential carbs are vegetables. Wheat and starches can be enjoyed in moderation if desired, but are not at all essential. There's more vitamins and fiber in fruits and vegetables than a bran muffin.
Since September when my dad had his surgery, my parents have virtually eliminated breads and sugars from the house. A few months ago, my parents' house was packed full of junk food: Wonder Bread, donuts, and potato chips. I'm pleased that all of these are gone. We ate stuffing and pie with Christmas dinner, of course, but my family says that has been the first since my last visit. I overheard my mom asking my dad if he missed eating bread. He said no.
Here are the benefits he's currently boasting:
- Weight loss. When I gave him a hug at the airport, I was surprised I could get my arms almost all the way around him.
- Blood sugar so stable he's asking his doctor to take him off diabetes meds.
- Normal cholesterol, despite eating an egg for breakfast everyday (at my encouragement). In over 30 years of clinical trials, there is zero evidence that dietary cholesterol effects blood serum cholesterol. I'm trying to convince him to go off the statins.
- Less bloating and other ailments that elderly people usually like to complain about.
- Improved lung function. This one is a bit surprising, but he hasn't needed to use his supplemental oxygen. I'm guessing this is a function of weight loss. Obesity crushes the organs - literally.
My mom has lost some weight, too.
Both my parents say they are feeling better overall.
I did a fair amount of baking over the holidays, but I'm finished now. It was fun to make cookies and cakes to share with family and friends. But now I've resumed limiting wheats, starches, and sugars. It's just what works best for my family and me.
Monday, December 10, 2012
This will be an early "Happy Holidays" well wishing from me. Husband and I will be leaving for holiday and family travel this Saturday, so I won't get much chance to write.
I've been keeping busy with holiday baking the past couple of weeks. Mostly because I need subject matter to practice my food photography. I have a bunch of pictures taken, just need to write up the recipes and post them on my blog!
It's a shame really that baking and weight loss are so incompatible. I've discovered that I really enjoy the process of baking almost more than eating it! Getting out the scale, measuring and calculating ratios for a certain texture is very scientific. I haven't just been following recipes; I've been deconstructing them to figure out how they work so I can make my own. The decorating part requiring the right brain is more frustrating for me. It doesn't look exactly the way I envision in my head. I admire pastry chefs who are more whole brained than I am who can do both the science of creating food and the artistry of making them look beautiful!
These are my homemade holiday cookies, which are a lemon cardamom cookie. Way better than the store - they have flavor! For eating, I actually prefer them without the icing. I think the icing detracts from the cookie. Plus decorating just takes a lot of time - lol.
Enjoy the delectables at this time of year, but not too much! Most of all, enjoy time with loved ones. I haven't been counting calories or carbs, and not stressing about it. Just a few more weeks of holiday parties and dinners, then January will be back to routine.
Still nothing on the job front. I have a couple of personal projects that I need to finish in order to add to my portfolio. In the new year, I'll be pursuing freelance options. It won't make me a ton of money, but I don't really have a lot of choices. The area where I live isn't suited for my skills. The aspect of freelancing I'm most worried about is how to manage client expectations.
The past couple of months I've been down in the dumps for various reasons. Just want to say "Thank you!" to the person who wrote to me about how my blogs inspired her. I don't want to name her publicly without permission, but I just want to say that her words gave me a little lift that I needed! Part of my lack of blog updates recently has been due to lack of inspiration. Just a few words of kindness was enough to inspire ME! So again, "Thank you!"
2013 will be more busy for me as I've enrolled in college courses, and working on the personal projects I mentioned. I'll be employing all the time saving techniques I've built up over the years to eat home cooked meals and exercise with a busy schedule. I don't really gain much weight unless I start eating fast food and become less active. Not a shocker, eh? I plan to take my lunches to school and avoid the cafeteria. While there are healthy options in a cafeteria, it's still cheaper to pack a lunch.
30 minute workouts can fit into any schedule. As you know, I'm a hardliner on this. If you have time to watch a 30 minute sitcom on TV, you have time. Do what I do and combine your TV show and your workout. I watch TV shows, movies, and podcasts on my iPod while I'm on the treadmill.
Happy holidays, and see you in the New Year!
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