Sunday, February 19, 2012

I See a Shamrock Shake in My Future!

It turns out blogging is sort of like going to the gym: The more you put it off, the harder it is to get back into.  When I was blogging every day I had no problem shooting the shit with you all, just spouting off the meaningless details of everyday life.  But when I only try to write the occasional post, I feel like I have to have something more profound or newsworthy to say. 

I don't have all that much newsworthy to say, though, so I will just begin with that picture of Leia poking out of a blanket fort.  That pretty much sums up life right now: Just day after day of simple, mundane realities.  We wake up, we perform the day-to-day tasks whose purpose is to sustain life until we can perform the same tasks tomorrow.  We clean the house and then mess it up again with toys and dishes and blanket forts.  We spend quality time with friends, go to kids' birthday parties, shuttle ourselves between various professional/educational/enrichment/athletic activities, get frustrated with each other sometimes, grumble about malfunctioning household appliances, shop for stuff, watch TV, read, and eat.  And, about a third of the time, we sleep. 

So, you know, life.  There's a comforting simplicity to the everyday routine, but it doesn't make for very interesting blog posts. 

Let me see what I can extract from my everyday life to talk about here. 

Well, here's something: I purple-ified more of my hair.  I know I said my previous little purple streak was a metaphor for my own private, hidden exciting side.  But the reality was, I kind of wanted people to notice the damn purple streak.  So when I went to get my hair cut, I asked the stylist to give me more purple:

Now, people notice the purple.  Even people I just meet, and strangers at the gym notice it.  I love it. 

The only trouble is, the purple fades really quickly.  Already it's down to a dull violet, which is okay, but when it gets any lighter it's going to look really bad.  It's bleached under the purple, and the dark-brown-with-bleach-blonde-streaks is not a look that can be pulled off by white women.  But I don't want to go and get it colored once a month, because the cost adds up, it's kind of a time commitment, and I hate trying to make small talk with the salon employees. 

Also, Valentine's Day happened.  You all know I like the V-Day.  It gives us an excuse to bring out pretty flowers and hearts, and to eat chocolate.  Of course, this Valentine's Day fell on a Tuesday, which is in the early part of the week where I'm still trying to be a good Weight Watcher, so I made these:

Bill got me some red roses, and I got him some chocolates that I think he doesn't like, and we got Nathan a little heart-shaped container of Hershey's kisses.  (And by the way, Target, I do not appreciate your packing up all the Valentine's merchandise mid-day on February 14, to make room for the Easter stuff.  Was that necessary?  Is there anybody who needs to buy Easter grass on Valentine's Day?) 

Also for Valentine's Day, I made some little individual chocolate souffles from the Weight Watchers website, which was a poor choice of dessert because souffles are very timing-specific, and that doesn't work in my house.  See, another recent development, which I am unhappy about but just have to accept, is that Bill and I have started making our own individual dinners.  We both have very specific dietary/nutritional needs, and very specific food preferences, and the reality is that neither of us wants to compromise, and maybe also that neither of us should compromise when it comes to our health.  Still, I have found this whole "separate meals" development to be very upsetting, because apparently I had a very strong-held belief that having the same thing for dinner every night is something that married couples should do.  I draw an analogy between the separate meals and those couples who have to sleep in separate bedrooms because one of them snores loudly.  On the one hand, in principle it feels wrong for couples to have such a separation.  But on the other hand, sometimes you have to throw away principle for the greater good of everybody being able to happily function.

Anyway, the additional challenge is, the separate meals present a problem in terms of having everything ready so we can at least eat at the same time.  Such was the trouble on Valentine's Day.  I had made myself something in the Crock Pot, and I prepared a heart-shaped peanut butter sandwich for Nathan, but Bill's daily stir-fry wasn't ready yet.  Bottom line, the chocolate souffles deflated by the time we were all ready to eat them.

Other bottom line, the staggered food preparation/eating meant that we never found the time to get a family photo while we were all dressed up for the Valentine's Day dinner.  We got a couple of silly photos of Nathan, and that's it:

So, although it is not pictured, I was wearing a dress, despite the fact that Nathan accused me of not owning any dresses.  I should maybe have tried harder to photograph that rare moment. 

The next day Nathan's class had their Valentine's party, which of course bothered me because I like to keep things in their proper time and place, and February 15 is not the proper time for a V-Day party.  Also I bought flowers to arrange for Nathan's teachers (another Mason jar arrangement FTW), and it turns out that, unlike chocolate, flowers are not discounted the day after Valentine's Day. 

But I interrupt my usual cynicism for just a minute to bring you this photo from Nathan's school Valentine's bulletin board display:

I mean, come on, could you just die? 

In other news, I have one week until my indoor triathlon.  I still can't run for 15 minutes straight. 

After the triathlon, my next extracurricular activity is appearing in the community theater production of Jack and the Beanstalk.  My character is named Surla.  I haven't seen the script yet, but I'm told she is surly.  Type-casting.  

Also, Weight Watchers is sucking.  I gained at least week's weigh-in, and that's always just a huge demotivator.  I might take this week off.  Seems like a good choice. 

And last night, for a change of pace, I went to an activity called Paint 'n Pour, which is a painting class featuring alcoholic beverages.  The instructor guides you step-by-step through a painting.  Last night's painting was of the Chicago skyline.  Here's what I made, with one cup of Skinny Girl sangria in me:

You were supposed to arrange the buildings in a cute little arc, but mine is a little lopsided, so it looks like there was some kind of devastating earthquake.  The instructor came over to look at mine, and she was like, "That's good!" but with that super high-pitched fake inflection at the end of good that clearly indicated she was lying. 

Bill told me he thought I could pass it off as something by a famous artist, which I think was a compliment. 

In TV news, who is watching Smash?  I really like the music, and the opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the Broadway scene.  You know what I don't like?  Debra Messing's wardrobe.  Or her hair.  Too much hair.  It's too red and puffy and flowing.  Please get your hair cut or at least thinned a bit.  And then they dress her in these drapey looking clothes, such as a big wooly scarf with her pajamas (???), or a big floppy sweater and baggy pants.  She just looks like a floppy, drapey mess.  Why?!  She would look good in tighter-fitting clothes.  Is this an attempt to make her look artsy?  Because if a woman in the real world dressed like that, Stacy and Clinton would be coming for her pronto. 

On that note, I think I'll sign off. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

There's a Hole in the Blogosphere Tonight

There's a hole in the world tonight.
There's a cloud of fear and sorrow.
There's a hole in the world tonight.
Don't let there be a hole in the world tomorrow.
--The Eagles, "Hole in the World"
The blogosphere lost a very special presence Monday when Susan Niebur, author of the blog Toddler Planet, ended her five-year battle with cancer. 

People battling cancer are always described as brave or courageous, and rightfully so.  But with Susan ... I don't know, it's like those words don't do her bravery and courage justice.  It's like you would need to invent a whole new word to describe this woman's character during her fight. 

This in spite of the fact that she seemed to have been dealt a pretty rotten deck.  Months after her second child was born, in the prime of her life and career, Susan was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer, a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer that presents without a lump. 

The grueling and often barbaric cancer treatments followed, and then Susan was unbelievably diagnosed with another, unrelated, cancer.  In all, she survived four cancers and, eventually, a full-body metastasis of the cancers.  And still, in spite of it all, every single blog post she wrote remained full of hope.  Everything was "for now" or "temporary."  Yet somehow her blog posts were tinged with realism, an admission that she did let her mind veer over to the dark side now and then. 

Bravery, optimism, realism, honesty, courage, and kindness ... all of these things made up the full package that was Susan, and earned her a legion of devoted online followers. 

I was one of those followers, checking in on Susan's status since she was diagnosed 5 years ago.  I never knew her personally; the closest I came was spotting her from afar at BlogHer Chicago in 2010. 

But yet she touched my life.  Not just through her own blog posts, but with the following comment on my most serious blog post, the one about my battle with depression:

Susan also tweeted a link to that post, putting me in touch with many other kindred spirits among her many followers. 

And I just ... I couldn't believe that here was somebody going through trials that were thousands of times worse than my own, reaching out and supporting me.  I don't think I could have been that selfless. 

But that was Susan.  And that was how Susan made a difference in so many people's lives, friends and strangers alike.  She made a difference in so many ways: by raising awareness of her awful cancer, spurring research and donations, by helping us all understand that we must count the many blessings in our everyday lives, and by showing us what a truly awesome and upstanding human being looks like. 

Everything we say when somebody dies seems empty and trite and also true.  The reminder of our own mortality does make us appreciate today more.  I do snuggle my boy extra close, forgive him a little more easily, because I know that's what Susan would want me to do.

All the while my heart breaks for two little boys who can no longer snuggle with their mother, for a grieving husband who has to raise those two boys on his own.  It isn't fair.  It doesn't make any sense.  I know that about death, I really do, and yet I still want to believe I can find the why. 

It sickens me to think that I hesitated to write this post today because I felt like it was too late.  She died two days ago, and that's an eternity on the Internet.  Except, the real world of life and death isn't like the Internet.  Grief lasts far, far longer than the 24-hour news cycle.

And I also want Susan's legacy to last far, far longer. 

Because the reality is, there will still be a hole in the world tomorrow.  But there will also be the memory of a woman who not only did a tremendous amount to further the cause of cancer research, but also who stood as a reminder to all of us that there was once a woman who walked this earth who set such a great example that we should all strive to be like her in our own lives. 

Rest in peace seems like too trite a conclusion here.  So I will just say Thank you, Susan. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Thoughts on Food, Stuff, and Self-Gratification

Are you master of your domain?

This post is 100% G-rated, I promise.  I'm really talking about ways to reward oneself, and, I swear, it never veers into that topic.  I just couldn't resist that intriguing title and the Seinfeld tie-in.  

So, as you know, all this year I've been talking about The Year of Less Consumption. I don't feel comfortable with my tendency to just buy and buy stuff, when I have a house full of stuff already.

Except, this week I ran up against and obstacle in The Year of Less Consumption.  Specifically, I questioned whether it was better to reward myself with new stuff, rather than with food. 

See, last Monday, for approximately the 548th time, I recommitted to Weight Watchers.  Back to the weigh-in booth, where I didn't lose any weight.  Back to the meeting, where everybody else seems to have it better figured out than I do.  Back to hearing everybody else's weight-loss celebrations, whereas I never get to have any celebrations of my own.  I was trapped in a cycle of healthy behaviors at the beginning of the week, followed by unhealthy behaviors of far greater magnitude at the end of the week.  Good-bad.  Down-up. Back-forth.

And then the leader said something that really stuck with me.  I don't know why I'd never heard the leader mention this before, but she talked about how the time that she really stuck with Weight Watchers, her third go-round, she just said, This is it, no more messing around, no more up and down and back and forth.  And she put her nose to the grindstone and lost 70 pounds in 6 months.  (I should also note that she looks very thin now, so it's not like it's one of those cases where somebody goes from like 500 pounds to 430, which is good and all, but not that helpful for the rest of us.)

I don't know why that story stuck with me, but I thought, I want to be like that.  It's time to be like that. 

I'm not positive I can be as disciplined as the leader was.  She mentioned that she never went anywhere without a container of lettuce, and that she brought her own food to every holiday and gathering.  That seems a little extreme.

But I do know that if I want to get serious, I need to do whatever I can to avoid overeating.  And sometimes there will be Food vs. Willpower situations that aren't going to be pretty.

Last Wednesday night was one of those situations.  I don't know why, but Wednesday is always the day when the dieting starts to unravel for me.  

And, predictably, Wednesday night the little voices in my head were talking about what kind of food I would binge on after Nathan went to bed.

But damn if I was gonna let food win that night.  So instead I drowned out those voices with thoughts of fun stuff I could buy online.

It worked.  I didn't binge.  I didn't end up buying anything either, because quite honestly I was too weak from hunger to fire up my laptop.

Then Thursday, there was another standoff in my head between Food and Dieting, and another incident where Stuff came in as the impartial mediator.  That time I decided to go shopping on Friday at some actual stores.

First I went to an estate sale, which made me feel all good and Year of Less Consumption-y.

And then I didn't even buy everything I wanted from the estate sale.  I just took pictures of stuff I liked.  For example, they had this old-school textbook from 1879, back when you only had one textbook for every subject.  Being sort of employed in the textbook industry, I was intrigued by it:

Also it seems like one of those old books where you open it up and discover a spell that leads you to an understanding of your family's true identity.

Oh and I took a picture of this cat painting, because I sort of liked it, but not enough to shell out $2 to own it:

But enough photography, it was time to start acquiring material possessions!  Second-hand, of course.  Of course. 

This estate sale had a lot of cool antiques, and glassware, and antique glassware.  I bought 5 old bottles and arranged flowers in them:

Illustrating that you always learn something new from an estate sale, I learned that Chicago was once home to a lot of bottle-making plants.  The bottles were probably shipped up to nearby Milwaukee breweries, where Laverne and Shirley could put their gloves on them and then wave at them.  

I bought two neat-o blue Mason jars, because the blogs and Pinterest are always using Mason jars for stuff.  Nathan used one jar to mix a potion that included my morning coffee, and I arranged flowers in the other one, alongside this other random blue container I got:

Oh, and I got a milk bottle from an old dairy.  And I don't mean to brag, but I got it for $5, and the exact same bottle was going for $7.75 on ebay.  Such a steal!

On the right is my tulipiere, which I got last year from a quaint little glassware boutique called  

The whole lot of them:

Look how fun and spring-y!  

I also got this random turquoise-colored metal bucket, which I don't know what I'm going to use for, so right now it's Pooh's bathtub:

So far, I hadn't done any real damage in the stuff-acquisition department.  I did make a rule that second-hand goods were preferred in The Year of Less Consumption, and even those flowers were mostly recycled from last week (except the tulips).  Plus I love to arrange flowers, so I was giving myself an experience, which was also a Year of Less Consumption principle. 

But then I went to JC Penney and bought $146 worth brand-new stuff just for the hell of it.  I was just grabbing at things to buy in order to fuel my disturbing shopping high.  Ooh, earrings!  Oh, that necklace is so cute, I must have it!  And I can always use another pink cardigan!

Later we went to Costco and I bought myself a purple cardigan. 

So, Friday was mostly a big fat Year of Less Consumption FAIL. 

Except, in the course of my shopping spree, the strangest thing happened: I lost my desire to reward myself with food.  It's like all of my self-gratification needs were met by the shopping, so I no longer needed the high that came from eating. 

My dieting resolve lasted until Sunday night, when I felt it weakening again.  So, what did I do?  I went and ordered a new pair of shoes and several new pens online! 

Phew, gratified.  Also poorer.  But, the shopping-as-a-substitute-for-eating plan worked: I stayed On Plan the whole week, and I lost 5 whole pounds! 

Except, I gotta slow down the shopping, or else I'm going to need to take out a small loan to get to my goal weight.  For now, though, I think I need the instant gratification of material goods to replace the instant gratification of eating.  I know a lot of people can delay gratification and promise themselves, say, a new pair of shoes for every 10 pounds lost, but right now I need something a little more immediate.  Maybe as I start to lose, the weight loss will be motivation in and of itself, and/or maybe after awhile I'll want to stick with the diet just because I don't want to break my streak.  In those cases, I won't need to shop all the time.  But right now, I need to shop for stuff. 

Which means I've solved one problem (rewarding myself with food), but created two new problems (consuming a lot of material goods, spending too much money).  I know there are alternatives and solutions here.  But I don't want to talk about solutions right now.  Right now I just want to talk about the situation. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Well, I Wouldn't Have Predicted That

I've always wanted to be one of those people who likes to exercise.  You know, like those people who would actually choose to spend their free time doing something exercise-based? 

Me, I can definitely see the point of exercise.  Sometimes exercise is like taking Advil: You know you need to do it because your body feels bad, and doing it will make you feel better. 

And sometimes I don't even exercise because I feel the physical need to; I exercise to erase the guilt of not exercising. 

But, whatever the reason for exercise, I would never call exercise fun.  I don't see exercise as something recreational, I see it as something that takes up my free time. 

(Side note: This would mean I was completely lying when I made that magazine collage entitled "Exercise is Fun!" for my sixth-grade health class.  Also, the first time I made it, I spelled Exercise wrong.) 

Okay, bottom line: I don't really enjoy exercise.  Even the more "fun" classes like Zumba feel like a chore to me. 

Still, something is changing about my attitude toward exercise, much as I hate to admit it. 

See, later this month I'm participating in my gym's annual indoor triathlon.  I did it last year, and, despite the fact that it has the word triathlon in it, it's kind of not a big deal.  You swim for 10 minutes, ride a stationary bike for 20 minutes, and then run/walk on a treadmill for 15 minutes.  I think most people could probably survive 45 minutes on exercise equipment, so it's not really about the triumph of finishing like an outdoor triathlon. 

So, I figured the only satisfaction would be in beating my performance from last year.  I don't actually have any recollection of what my total distance was last year, but I was pretty lame and out of shape, so it can't be all that hard to do better this year.  I signed up for the training class at the gym, which meets every Saturday morning for six weeks. 

Let me say, I was pleasantly surprised by the instructor and my classmates.  I expected a class of elite athletes, and an instructor who gives homework assignments like "run 5 miles every day, followed by a 10-mile bike ride."  But the classmates are sort of in average shape, and the homework assignments are really short and do-able, and kind of the stuff I would have been doing at the gym anyway. 

What is different, though, is that we're supposed to do a combo workout each time we go to the gym, something like bike-run, run-swim, etc.  And it turns out, the endorphins are like 8 times better when you do a combination of exercises. 

Now, well, it's not like I would say I like to exercise, but I am seeing a whole new benefit.  I've always relied on exercise as a big part of my mental health maintenance, but I've never actually found that it makes me legitimately happy like it has been lately. 

Will I become somebody who wants to exercise?  Who knows? 

And speaking of exercise, I want to take this opportunity to promote my friend Adele's new blog, Adele On Wheels.  Like me, Adele is a reluctant exerciser, but she has made a commitment to fitness in 2012.  Her blog is highly relatable, well-written, and always features an appearance from her cat.  Check it out! 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Social Networks

I have a very low tolerance level for clutter.  I find my mood can be drastically improved by decluttering areas of my home.  I don't even like virtual clutter, like too many icons on my computer desktop, old emails in my inbox, or too many unwatched programs on my DVR.

As a side note, one that isn't relevant to my point here, my husband has a different level of clutter tolerance.  He believes a room is clean if you wipe down the horizontal surfaces and vacuum, even when there are still huge piles of stuff in that room.  He absolutely doesn't understand my thing with the DVR ("it's not taking up any extra room in the house").  My solution, when it comes to our differing opinions on actual, physical clutter, is to define certain rooms of my home as my "circles of sanity," which are my most frequently-visited rooms, and to attempt to keep those rooms as clutter-free as possible.  Bill can do whatever he wants with the non-circles-of-sanity rooms, like his office and the basement.

But I digress.  My point here was that I was really intrigued the other day when I read something online (I forget where) about how to eliminate clutter from your life.  Not only did this article validate my feelings on e-clutter, but it also mentioned that social media can clutter up your life.

And it's like, yes, YES, that is so true.  That explains why I don't like Twitter, because to me Twitter is like the wadded-up Target receipt of social media.  That is, you really don't need it.  It's all ads and cryptic messages and general stuff I don't care about.

And let me say, I obviously have a pretty high tolerance for online oversharing, or I wouldn't write this blog, nor would I update my Facebook status (which I do a few times a week).  I even do the occasional Foursquare check-in, so I'm not averse to frequent online updates.

But I do feel like social networking, even on sites I like such as Facebook, is insidiously creeping into our everyday lives too much now.  It used to be that Facebook was a fun diversion that you could check a few times a day at work or while doing boring chores.  Now we have Facebook on our phones, and we are checking in, sending photos, or updating statuses everywhere we go.  We're getting emails or notifications (you know, the little red number next to the world in the top left-hand corner) all day long, and we have to stop what we're doing to put in the next word in this dialogue.

And yes, I know, you don't have to play the Facebook game.  But, let's face it, at a certain point, you have to keep up.  That's the way the world works.

Pinterest, on the other hand, is so new that it doesn't have little fingers poking into all aspects of your life.  That's why I like Pinterest.  It's there when you want to take a quick break to browse, but it's not on every device you own, urging you at all points in your life to give it some attention.

I'm sure that will change, though.  People are talking about how to use Pinterest to promote your business, so it will soon become annoying and commercialized like Facebook and Twitter.  And people are making more and more use of Facebook to share their pins, so ... insidious fingers. 

Let me say one more thing about Facebook, specifically the Facebook "like" button.  Please stop misusing this button, people. 

The Facebook "like" button is only for situations where you might actually comment on somebody's status or photo with the phrase I like this or some equivalent sentiment.  Examples of Facebook statuses where it's okay to use the "like" button:
  • I have lost 15 pounds!
  • I found my lost retainer!  
  • I'm going to Hawaii!
Statuses like these are what the "like" button was invented for.  It would be so pointlessly redundant for every single person to say the same "That's awesome!" or "Great job!" over and over again, so you just click "like."

I suppose you can also use the "like" button for statements you agree with (e.g. "Nice weather we're having!") or statements you find funny.  But do not use the "like" button inappropriately in response to questions (liking "Who's going to see Titanic in 3-D?" does not answer the person's question), nor in response to any status that has a partially negative component ("My sister has cancer, but they caught it early"). 

In summary, please use social networking responsibly.  And by "responsibly," I mean, "in a way I deem appropriate."