113 – still learning at my advanced age

Okay, I’m an idiot.

Okay, maybe not an idiot, but I genuinely can’t come up with another name for the deliberately oblivious. Oblivious is one thing, but stubbornly ignoring what is in front of your face when you know better is something else.

Quick and dirty history–I am 5’2″ tall on a good day. I used to weigh over 300 pounds, and had what Dr. Huizenga on The Biggest Loser finale last night termed “that distasteful weight loss surgery” nearly ten years ago. I lost a bit more than half my weight over the succeeding two years. I have, in the last seven years, slowly put back on about a third of what I lost.

Prior to the surgery, I had tried every diet known to man except the ones where they supply the food, like Jenny Craig and Nutrisystem. I could never afford those, so they weren’t an option. However, by the time I had the surgery, I knew that none of them were ever going to work, because you can’t eat Nutrisystem for the rest of your life. Or Jenny Craig. Or five hundred calories a day.  Or never eat a carb, or any kind of fat, or only protein, or whatever was the flavor of deprivation for the day. And, for me, the surgery worked as advertised.

And, like most who have the surgery, I’ve gained some of the weight back–on almost an exactly normal track. Which also irritates me.

However, back to my most recent idiocy–several studies have shown that people who track their food intake in some kind of diary or journal end up losing up to twice as much weight. Another study that’s cited in Time magazine shows that the very first attribute listed of people who keep weight off is that they track their intake. The first couple years after the surgery, I tracked everything religiously, and sporadically since.foodjournal

First and foremost, you need to know that I am not on a diet, even with all these things said.  My own prior history has shown me that dieting is not a successful thing for me–I dieted for 30 years, from age 15 to age 45, and at the end of it, weighed 300+ pounds. Didn’t work.

So, if I can’t go on a diet, what can I do?  I can track what I eat. I can eat reasonable amounts for my weight. And I can exercise.

What I found out yesterday is that there are two things about tracking what I eat that are even more important than the calories I’m ingesting. My “duh” moment came yesterday when I added a couple of columns to my food tracking journal pages.  One was “hunger level” and one was “time.”

Up ’til yesterday, the tracking sheet that I keep on my kitchen counter and update every time I eat anything was basically just a list – this is what I ate, this is what I drank, this is how much time I exercised.

At some level, I knew I was noshing all day–I work at home, and when I want something to eat, I just walk into the kitchen, often with my laptop or tablet in hand to continue reading whatever is up next for work.

My light-bulb moment yesterday was that my food journal showed I’m eating about once an hour. Even if I eat an average of two hundred calories each time, that means I’m way past maintenance calories by mid-afternoon. Two hundred calories is the equivalent of two pieces of toast with a tablespoon of butter.  Or eight crackers with a tablespoon of peanut butter.

My food journal also showed that most of the time, on a scale of one to five, my hunger level is at a two.  Which means I’m eating out of habit, out of boredom, whatever, but not because I’m hungry.

It makes me crazy that I’ve either been that blind, or lying to myself for so long. Who does that? How in tarnation can I tell myself something that I know is not true (oh, I’m not eating much, not eating that often, I only eat because I’m hungry), and somehow make myself believe that?

Maybe I AM an idiot.

Or worse, human.



99 – the quantified self

OK, it’s mildly hilarious that someone who actually numbers her blog posts finds the “Quantified Self” movement just a teensy bit disturbing.

I think it’s genuinely just one more instance of the human race’s determination that if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing. To the point of insanity.QUANTIFIED-SELF-Report-Cover-Trend-Reporting-680x382

If you’re not up on the whole thing–and I’m just beginning to hear about it–it’s about using technology to track everything in your daily life. You can read more about it here.

I do track a lot of things–I have to track my work hours, it’s part of the agreement I made when working from home. I fully get that, and especially with someone like me who is intermittently available because I’m working part time.

I also track my fitness efforts. I had to ramp back from my personal best of a five-mile run to about three and a half miles because the longer distance was tearing my knees to pieces. (And, by the way, made Corey drive the route with me a couple of times so I could figure out if those electric poles actually were one-tenth of a mile apart.)

At five miles, my knees had to have three days rest for me to be able to run again, and that’s not effective. Plus it hurts. But at three and a half, I can run every other day. Limiting the distance meant (for me, because I’m a goober) that in order to get better, I have to run a little faster and take fewer strides each day–so I had to have a pedometer to measure that.

So I bought one. And, of course, it also measures how long I’m moving, and how far, and I wear it all day long so I can see if I make 10,000 steps all told. And 10,000, by the way, was pulled out of the air in response to the naming of a Japanese pedometer in the 1960s as “manpo-kei” or 10,000-step meter. Seriously. No scientific basis whatsoever. The health scientists basically just say that you should try to increase your walking/exercise–and they vary from one to the next on what “increase” means.

watchBut the quantified self thing takes all that way, way further. Of course. Because again, we’re talking about humans. And, as always in the last few years, there’s an app for that. You can now track your sleep, your calorie intake, calories burned, your heart rate, your blood pressure, and the list goes on.  Basically, if it can be sensed, mechanically or otherwise, it can be tracked. And one of the main feature sets on the Apple Watch coming in 2015 is… quantifying your self.

There’s also, and again, of course, the “Quantified Baby.” Poor little bugger will probably never get to actually play with mud pies, one of the joys of my childhood. *sigh* I’m going to leave that alone.

There is, like any other “taking it to the extremes” idea, an underlying element that is valid about the whole thing, and one that I can definitely cop to–observation affects the observed. The notion comes out of both physics and the softer sciences.  I know that, when I write down what I eat, it brings the amount and types of food that I eat to the fore instead of it being an unconscious process. When I do that, I eat less and I eat better than my norm.  But the backlash, of course, is that, when I eat something I don’t want to admit to, I just don’t write it down. Which means it has no calories, right? Right.

There’s a middle ground, and I do try to stay there. For instance, I don’t write down my distance, steps, or anything else from the pedometer. I just try to remember from the day before what my time and stride numbers were, and then all I have to try to do is be better than yesterday.  Haven’t figured a similar wrench to use to make the calorie absorption thing work, but I’m thinking about it.

I should make an app for it. Oh, that’s right, there are already a thousand of them out there.

Numerically numb,

90 – caught between two worlds

Got home Thursday night and spent from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. putting together my work space Friday morning, so I can deal with moving from one job to the other quickly.  Wanted to be able to work from home one day before we start putting a paper together on Monday, just to make sure that it works.

DSCN5450Well, it works. In the pic, I’ve got two laptops open, but when I move from one to the other, I take the upper monitor HDMI cord and move it to the other laptop… and move the keyboard/mouse USB plug-in, as well. So in other words, it’s not as confusing as it looks. Both laptops actually remain shut while I’m working, they’re projecting up on the high monitor. Which makes me sit up straight, among other things.

More than anything else… I’m home.

Oh, there are hazards – as you can see in the picture, the kitchen is the next room over… and the refrigerator, it calls to me… but the busier I am, the less that’s a factor.

The hardest part is going to be helping the folks at the paper understand that I’m not just wandering around with my finger up my nose all day waiting for something to happen. They’ve not had anyone working as a telecommuter before…

But, that speaks back to the headline. It took 15 minutes to get my computer set up for for the new job, and I was on the phone while my tech guy took control of my screen, opened up what was necessary and got it fine-tuned for my router, etc. When he was done, I can actually save the work I’m doing on a server folder there at headquarters just like it was any other folder–and I’m doing it through a VPN, a virtual private network, so it’s secure.  No sweat, no hu-hu, just “look forward to working with you next week.”

For the paper, I’m uploading through FTP, using a free program that I had to download (Filezilla, if you’re interested). The uploads are onto a server that’s remote both to the paper and to me–and I was told there was no access to the paper’s server. FTP is a 40+ year old technology–and in all reality, VPN relies on FTP to work.  The interfaces are different, that’s all. But the feeling is much like stepping out of a Maserati and jumping into a Gremlin.

For those who thought that, by going back to virtual work, I’m going to back work for Cisco as a consultant, the answer to that would be not just no, but… well, ok, just no. At my advanced age, I’ve learned to seldom use the word “never.”

But still, wish me luck! I need to build this position into something that pays for my presence there and more, and does it as quickly as it is humanly possible.  Lord knows, I love a challenge.

88 – counting my blessings saturday (CMBS)

OK, I was wrong, I can write both places. :0) Early on a Saturday morning, I am counting up the things that make me blissful… blessings, if you will:

  1. Just heard from son John yesterday that his next assignment is going to be to Malmstrom AFB, Montana–only a few hours from my best friend, Barb, who lives in Columbia Falls. John has been at Ramstein AFB, Germany, with a short six-month deployment to Kuwait, since 2012. We haven’t seen him since we put him on the plane for basic training two years ago. Barb’s son Ray is also stationed at Malmstrom with his wife and two kids, and oddly enough was also stationed at Ramstein, but he and Johnny have yet to meet.  Barb will be making sure to check in on our baby boy, though he may not know that yet.
  2. Daughter/soldier Kelsey’s leg surgery went well, which I can tell because she is posting pictures on Facebook of the stitched-up incision with commentary and exclamation points. This makes me very happy.
  3. TexasHannonsJohn AND Kelsey, along with favorite grandchild, one Mr. Tyler James, will be home for Thanksgiving, if the good Lord’s willing and the creeks don’t rise. Also planning to be there right now are our whole extended Texas family, Corey’s brother Patrick, wife Bobbi (my sister from another mister), daughter Savannah with grandchild Olivia, whom we have yet to meet, and daughter Sara, and they’re all coming from Kingsville. Meeting them at the ranch for Thanksgiving will be their soldier/daughter, our niece Hailé Hannon, who’s driving in from Fort Huachuca, Arizona. You can see all of us in the picture here, taken in 2011. John and Kels are at far left and far right respectively, and Tyler was, at that time, Kelsey’s baby bump.  The back row left to right is Patrick, Hailé, and Sara, with her arm around Kels. Savannah and I are in the center, and Corey and Bobbi are up front. Can’t wait to see ’em!
  4. More on the “me” side than the “us” side, I had an amazing first week at my new job as managing editor of the Alpine Avalanche. All the training and mentorship from my old boss, Hank Hargrave, who now owns and publishes The Normangee Star in central Texas, came back with a rush.  Absolutely love my new boss who, unfortunately, is interim publisher–when they hire a new publisher, she will go back to headquarters and her real life, and that will be a sad day for us–she and I make a great management team, and the new publisher will have some big shoes to fill. She’s already been here 11 weeks, with at least a few more to go, and I know she’s ready to go home.
  5. Last, but certainly not least, I get to see my gorgeous husband today for the first time in a week. It’s an interesting arrangement….I think everyone but me knew that I was going to have to get a job and get off the ranch more. But, if you had told me a year ago that I’d be living two hours away from my husband and only seeing him on weekends, I’d have asked you what you were smoking. Oddly enough, though, I think it just might work.  He and I, we’re working people. It’s who we are, more than what we do. And with us apart during the week, we can fully commit to working our jobs, not worry if I’m getting up early and not seeing him in the morning, or he’s working late and not seeing me until 7 or 8 at night. Don’t get me wrong… I miss him a lot.  But there are benefits to living apart–I kept my eating under control this week, 1300 calories or less a day, every day this week. (living with a foodie has its hazards.) I went after work and ran laps around the park three different days. I went out to one of the Viva Big Bend festival venues last night and took pictures without worrying about whether Corey was missing me… It’s like having all the benefits of being single and career-focused, but you’ve got a permanent date every weekend and somebody to kiss on New Year’s Eve.

Life is good, my chickens. Hope yours is too…


60 – silence of the yams

Did you know that sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing?  Oddly enough, I did.  Never actually cooked a yam, but I love sweet potatoes, and seriously, there are things made from sweet potatoes that should be banned in every state. The worst offender is the candied sweet potatoes (often mistakenly called “candied yams,”) that so many people serve at Thanksgiving and/or Christmas.  Throwing mini-marshmallows on top of canned and chunked sweet potatoes that have added brown sugar compounds the sticky sweetness in every layer.  It’s also texturally challenging, the final straw  for me.  Not sure why, but it always felt like eating a boneless finger.  Ish.

Half sweet potato, half russet/white potato, mashed with butter, milk, parmesan, salt and pepper.  Oh yes, and some steak.
Half sweet potato, half russet/white potato, mashed with butter, milk, parmesan, salt and pepper. Oh yes, and some steak.

The absolute best way to cook a sweet potato is to wash it and put it on the top rack of a gas grill with the cover closed.  Leave it there about 30 to 45 minutes before you begin to grill your meat or other vegetables. Smaller ones will cook faster, bigger ones need more time.  When it’s done, you can wrap it in foil to keep it hot while everything else gets cooked.  To eat, cut a slit in the peel, or completely remove the peel and add butter and salt to the bright orange flesh, to taste.  That’s all.  Nothing else.

Please raise your right hand and solemnly swear to never candy a sweet potato again.  Ever.  Under pain of having to eat the buggerty things. Yuck.

If it’s too blustery or rainy to grill, you can  also add sweet potatoes to your white potatoes to make mashed.  Peel both kinds, and cut into cubes that are one or two inches on a side.  Add them to a pot of boiling water.  Turn down to a simmer, cook until a fork goes into a chunk of white potato very easily.  Drain the water off the potatoes, then add a little milk, a lot of parmesan cheese, butter, salt, pepper and anything else that you like in your mashed potatoes. Gives mashed potatoes an amazing richness, depth of flavor, and slight sweetness. Very yummy.

I honestly did not start this blog to be a recipe fest–this is just where my mind has been of late.

My layoff in October from my high-pressure, high-stakes job came with a severance pay that enabled us to be finally debt-free. Yesterday, we received the title to the truck, our last debt finally paid. It’s quite an accomplishment.  Both of us have lived with debt our entire adult lives. This job of his, coming with a house, all expenses paid, and a company truck, now gives me the time and the space to decide what’s next for me, with zero pressure to do so. I don’t even know how to act without debt AND without a job.

I’ve found that, for me, the highest purpose of my days has been the care and feeding of my entirely amazing husband.  After a 12- hour day yesterday, he is also working today, Saturday.  Watched him drive off an hour ago, hauling a bulldozer on a flatbed semi-trailer through these single-lane dirt roads, with precipices galore. He’s headed to a site about 30 miles south of the house (and still on the ranch we live on, which always boggles me).  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy–but he loves his job, not least because he has great respect for his boss. It’s something we both have found to be quite rare.

As for me, when I’m not baking bread, sewing, cleaning, cooking, or doing laundry, I’m writing, as you can tell by this blog.  I am also working out, and losing weight (six pounds in the last three weeks) and thinking a lot while I’m getting sweaty.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

42 – coffee commoner – instructions for Walmart vanilla coffee

Followed a couple of crumb trails around the web regarding coffee and found there is NOTHING that I do right as far as coffee goes. I was checking on all this stuff because my husband’s a bit of a coffee snob. When I hear his alarm go off each morning, I head for the kitchen to make another pot of coffee for him with fresh ground beans. We don’t keep them in the freezer; that’s a no-no, they’re kept in a cool, dark cabinet.  At least, I think it’s dark, it’s too small for me to get in there and close the door and test it.

Me, on the other hand–I’m kind of the opposite of a snob, a coffee commoner, if you will. For those who genuinely love black coffee, made with fresh ground beans, read no more… be gone! I have nothing else to say to you. For those who stayed, here’s the recipe for the perfect cup of coffee for those of us who want (need, crave, jones for) the caffeine without the bitter taste of actual coffee. We also don’t want the caloric load of the lattes, etc., at the big coffee chains.

Great Value Coffee Bricks, available only in stores
Great Value Classic Roast Ground Coffee bricks, available only in stores

So, brew any kind of cheap coffee you want–I use the Walmart coffee that comes in the bricks. I know it’s had the vast majority of the air removed, or it wouldn’t be bricklike, so it should, technically, be the freshest-tasting of the ground coffees. Not that I care, ’cause, by the time I’m done, the coffee is actually going to taste like it smells, no matter when it was ground.

Disclaimer: I can’t say “don’t do this at home,” because other than hotel room dinky coffee makers, and work, the only place you could make coffee is at home. And if you do weird stuff to your coffee at work, they look at you funny.  If you do decide to risk it and follow the recipe below, it as at your own risk. You’ve been warned. Seriously. Stop it! Put the tablet DOWN.

Coffee Commoner’s Calorie-Crunching Coffee

  1. If you forgot to turn the program on last night to have your coffee maker start brewing before you wake, stumble around the kitchen to find the ground coffee, then the filters. After you’ve beaten them into submission and finally got one single filter in the coffee maker’s basket, put in your desired amount of ground coffee. For me, it’s 4 tablespoons for a 12-cup coffee maker. This makes my bestie’s head explode, she uses half as much. So, make it like you ordinarily would.
  2. Wash the cup you used yesterday, since you forgot to do the dishes last night as well.
  3. Do NOT give into the temptation to fill your cup while it’s still brewing. I don’t KNOW why, I think it may just be my OCD kicking in. Lord help me, AADD and OCD combined mean that it makes me crazy when it’s not done right, but not for very long. Squirrel!
  4. Fill a 20-oz cup with coffee to approximately 3/4 full. If you’re using an 8 to 12-oz cup, what is wrong with you?
  5. Add one tablespoon of powdered creamer, any kind.
  6. Add one teaspoon of vanilla (I use the $1.09 bottle of imitation vanilla, yes, from Walmart). STOP! put that measuring spoon back and eyeball it for God’s sake. It’s too early in the morning to be measuring more stuff! Please note, I actually leave an old tablespoon measure in the coffee, and in the creamer, but for buck-a-bottle vanilla, you can skip the measuring spoon.
  7. Add three Splenda (or the Great Value equivalent, which is what I use) or two or one or none. I like my coffee sweet.

    Blue Diamond Almond Milk, Vanilla, Unsweetened
    Blue Diamond Almond Milk, Vanilla, Unsweetened
  8. Add one-quarter cup of cold, unsweetened, vanilla-flavored Almond Breeze Almond Milk (the one that says 30 or 40 calories a serving on the front). This is the only one where a brand name is necessary, I’ve tried the rest, this is best. I buy the shelf-stable version, as shown at right, and always have three or four on hand.  Oddly enough, you find it on the snacks aisle at Walmart; don’t know why.
  9. Microwave instructions:  Your microwave may vary from mine – in mine (not in yours) I microwave the now full 20oz coffee cup for 20-30 seconds to bring it to MY comfortable drinking temperature.
  10. Drink it. I drink mine through a milkshake straw (the unbendy kind, which I seriously have to order from Amazon, can’t find them in any store). The straw is the reason why I only put my coffee in the microwave for 30 seconds. If I just opened a new box of almond milk, and it’s not cold, I only put my coffee in the microwave for 20-25 seconds.  Otherwise, it’s like lava through a straw. You have been warned. Neither I, nor the management, nor the owners of this blog site are responsible if you don’t

So, for a total of 40 calories, and a total cost of maybe eight cents a cup, you have something that tastes better than most lattes (no burnt taste from the espresso beans), and doesn’t mess with your digestion like lattes made with real milk, which 60 percent of us can’t digest comfortably. It also doesn’t screw around with your hormones like lattes made with soy. And, it requires a $20 coffeemaker, not a $100 machine with specialized coffee pods, which costs approximately ten times as much per cup.  The other optiion, of course is BigBucks CrackCoffee lattes, which cost approximately 50 times as much, and can have up to ten times the calories, plus the aforementioned caveats. You also don’t have to learn another language to get what you want.

Last note, if you really are calorie-crunching, you can leave off the powdered creamer and it will be ten calories per cup. I’m not sure what it adds, but I know when I don’t add it, I don’t like the taste as much.

So, if it is early morning where you are, cheers to you, my fellow caffeine addict…raise your Walmart coffee cup to a world that allows each of us to fix our coffee just exactly like we like it.

Rock on wit yo bad self, you caffeine addict…

10 – unintended consequences, good intentions, unexpected outcomes

Early Saturday mornings are my favorite time–two days filled with infinite possibilities stretched out in front of me.  Hope you felt the same this weekend.

Part of that serene attitude while I was writing this was because I had a load of laundry is in the washer, one in the dryer, and the dishwasher doing its thing, as well.  All the machines filled the sound spaces around me, making me feel as if I was accomplishing something when I was genuinely doing nothing but writing.  Made me realize once more how lucky I am, we are, to live at this moment.

However, these labor-saving devices, along with so many other changes in how our world works over the past 50 years, have been a factor in the triggering of the laws of unforeseen consequences at levels that are literally life and death for the US population.  There are many, many other factors, from the invention of the automobile, to prosperity at previously unknown levels, to the proliferation of cheap, fast food sources for why we are, as a population, fat. Some of them aren’t nearly as obvious as the MacWhopper epidemic.

For instance–advances in the field of medicine have allowed doctors to remove many of the consequences of obesity while you are still obese.  These include Nexium and other stomach medications, so you can not only never have heartburn again, you can actually heal the damage that acid has done to your esophagus.  For joint pain, Celebrex and its ilk mean that even the super-obese (which I was) don’t have to  be in pain with every step anymore.  Unfortunately, they also do a good job of hiding from the user how much damage is being done to your joints when you’re heavy.  If I wish to maintain my current level of activity, knee replacements are in my future, largely due to the damage I incurred when I was heavy.

My own experience with gastric bypass shows that the super obese need not stay that way–that medical intervention can also go to the extreme and literally save us from the consequences of overeating, overindulgence, etc.  They didn’t happen to mention, however, that once all the weight was off, to keep the weight from coming back, I would have to exercise six days a week and watch what I eat, like any other normal human being.  I’m OK with it, and have figured out how to fit exercise into my life in ways I’ve never done before, even with crapped-out knees.  But for many, they gain the weight back, or struggle to keep it off in the more public sense, including Carnie Wilson (who followed up gastric bypass with a gastric band some years later).

I’m usually the one hoping that there is some middle ground, someplace we can all agree on that is the best of a bad situation–but bluntly, I can’t see a middle ground.  I know that, if I hadn’t had surgery, I would be diabetic right now or dead of a heart attack.  That’s not exaggeration – my mother had her first heart attack at 51, two years younger than I am now.  Five years later, she was also diagnosed with diabetes. I was headed for that as fast as my fat little legs could carry me.  All of my blood tests since the surgery (and I have them every year) have shown that my cholesterol is now perfect, my sugars are now perfect–and while I have fleeting vitamin deficiencies, they are easily taken care of by adding supplements.  So the medical world worked its miracle, and indeed saved me again, this time from a late complication of the bypass, when I landed in the emergency room in December with an internal hernia that very nearly killed me.

Am I glad that I’m here – yes, without a doubt.  Do I think I would have been here without the medical interventions I’ve had?  No, again, without a doubt.  I do not believe I would be alive without modern medicine. I don’t have the answer–I know we can’t stop treating people for the consequences of their addictions in a rational, caring society.  And food is the only addiction based on a substance you must indulge in to stay alive.  And no, I don’t believe I am or was a food addict.  I think I was addicted to how the overuse of food made me feel. The addiction remains and I struggle with it still–because they didn’t operate on my head, they operated on my stomach.

And now, it’s taken me two days to write this, and I’ll sign off.

Maybe you’ve got an answer.

I don’t.