Finally Losing Weight: What I’m Doing Now

So, last year, one of my goals was to lose weight.  It’s a tangential goal this year (as in, it’s not a big focus).  I’ve been overweight for a good long time, since I came to college and started living on my own.  I’ve read diet books, tried keeping a food journal, worked out a lot.  Nothing really seemed to work, or I wouldn’t stick with it because it was super tedious.

Last December, I was reading yet another diet plan (I mentioned it back in January).  It was using an oversimplified formula (calories in < calories out).  Didn’t look like anything special.  But what was interesting was that the guy started talking about using statistics to find out your “true weight”.  The weight of a human body fluctuates throughout the day (and for women, sometimes the month), and so it’s difficult to say “I weigh ___.”  When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s even more frustrating.  One day you’ll be really low, and the next really high.  It is literally like a roller coaster.  So what this guy does is he keeps a weighted moving average of his weight, and that gives him an idea of where his weight is really at.

Of course, this is a simple enough calculation for a computer, so there’s an app for that.  I’ve been using FatWatch.  The name is crude, but it has a nice set of features and is easy to use.  There’s also True Weight for the iOS, and Libra for Android.  FatWatch is the most expensive of the three, but I like the fact that I can mark “Oh, I ate out today”, or “I worked out today”, and there’s even a built in “mini-workout” system.  You can also make free-form notes, so if I eat out, I denote what restaurant.  If I work out, I put a brief note about what I did.

So how’s it working?  Well, I am actually losing weight!  I don’t think it’s all due to the program.  I’ve been making dietary changes mostly, eating smaller portions, and not having all my vices in one day.  The biggest thing I’ve done is that I’ve stopped snacking between meals.  I still like a snack, but I make it very small, or I have the snack and not a meal.  I haven’t been eating as many processed foods at home, and certainly nothing “low-fat”.  I’ve been doing compensations ala French Women Don’t Get Fat.  And I’ve been eating out a lot, due to family in town.  My results are probably going to get much better once I start eating at home more.

I’ve lost about 5 pounds.  This may not sound like a huge deal, but that’s 5 pounds “real weight”.  I’ve gone down a pants size.  In all my attempts ever, I’ve never had this kind of success.  I probably won’t hit my goal weight before the end of the year (if I hit it at all, it may be unrealistic).  But I’m sure I can get to a healthier place, even before May (when I start my new job) or August (big family gathering to show off at).  I’ve been doing the mini-workout in the program to make sure that I’m actually losing fat and not the (little bit of) muscle that I have.

The one galling thing to me is how easy it is to do this now.  Why couldn’t I have done this years ago?  Why couldn’t I have done this before the problem became so bad that I have this much to lose?  I think the biggest suspect is stress.  I eat when I’m stressed, and between family drama, graduate school, and fears for the future, I’ve been really stressed the past few years.  This semester, I’m relaxing as I finish up my obligations at the university, looking forward to a new job with defined hours, and picking up hobbies that I had abandoned long ago.  I have a big event coming up this weekend (actually two!) and I’m already prepared for them.  So stress is not a factor this semester.  Let’s hope I can keep it that way.

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Garden Plan for 2012

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Ok, so after the bombshell that was my last post, let’s go back to normal topics for this blog.  Every spring, I get the itch to grow things.  It normally doesn’t start until after the farmer’s market opens, where many of the farmers offer young plants, enticing me with their fresh green leaves.  The last couple of years I’ve overextended myself.  I tried to grow more kinds of veggies than I normally like, herbs that I’d never used fresh, and just not keeping up with the maintenance.  This year I decided to try and keep it simple.

Above is a sketch of what I’d like to do for my “garden” this year.  I don’t have a backyard, so it’s all in containers that will be by the front and back doors.  I’ve limited myself to tomatoes and herbs mostly.  The spillers are probably going to be a small pickling cucumber plant (for homemade pickles!), and maybe a strawberry plant or two.  The cucumber will depend on if I can find a container friendly variety from the local nurseries.  Now, I may end up overextending myself again.  I’ve never grown cucumber before, and my success with strawberries has been, well, non-existent.   But I wanted to try and make the pots look nice (as they’ll be sitting next to my front door), so I needed some more ideas.

The formula for making a pretty container is to use “a thriller, a filler, and a spiller”.  A thriller tends to be a plant that is tall and catches attention.  A spiller falls over the side of the pot.  And a filler bridges the space in between.  Now, you don’t have to follow this, of course, but I thought I’d try.

The mint is in a separate pot for three reasons.  First, mint can take over a container very quickly, so it’s best to give it a boundary.  Second, it will add a different point of visual interest in that pot, mainly because…Third, last year my basil plant got huge!  It just kept growing and growing, and got taller and taller!  I couldn’t eat basil fast enough to keep up.

The rosemary pot I will be keeping in the back.  I’m going to try and shape it into a topiary.  Supposedly rosemary is very good for that, and the spilling thyme around the base will make it look not so sad while it’s being shaped.  Plus, thyme and rosemary like similar environments, so putting them in the same pot makes sense.  The stevia and the lettuce may need to be in separate pots.  Last year, it got so hot the lettuce really couldn’t survive outdoors, even in the shadier back area.  Stevia, on the other hand, loves the heat.  So I may need to have my lettuce pot indoors and leave the stevia on its own outdoors.

The other thing that I’ve learned over the past couple years is that the plastic pots are awful here.  They get blasted by the sun, and all of them have that awful “water saver” thing that just ends up grimy, gunky, and a home for spiders.  So this year I’m throwing out all my plastic pots and getting some in a different material.  Probably terra cotta, even though I hate the feel of it.  I’m also getting fresh potting soil, as my stuff is at least three years old and is probably full of weed seeds, diseases and who knows what else.

So that’s my plan.  We’ll see once April gets here how well it goes.  What’s your plan?  Do you have a green thumb, or are you like me and tend to kill plants?

Why I’m Leaving Graduate School

So, for the past five years, I’ve been attending graduate school, studying mathematics.  But after this semester, I won’t be coming back.  I’m not graduating.  I’m just going to leave.  I’ve got a job lined up, a decent job with higher pay, benefits, and a set schedule.  But, I’ve been in school so long, and several of my readers are likely to be surprised by this, so I thought I’d write up an explanation.  This may end up being a bit rambling, as I try to organize my thoughts.

One thing you have to understand about me is that I’ve been in school a long time.  I didn’t take a break between high school and college, or between undergrad and graduate school.  In fact, I started taking college courses while I was still in high school.  So, you could say that I’ve been suffering burnout for a while.  It eased up my last year of undergrad, when I got to take more “fun” courses that were unrelated to my major.  But the past 5 years have been in graduate school.  You don’t get to take courses outside the major.

This led to me finding hobbies that eventually culminated in the creation of this blog.  Gardening, real food, sewing, juggling, playing piano.  These were all the things that I liked doing, and that were completely unrelated to math.  I dropped a lot of things, like reading fun books, writing fiction, drawing.  Things that I did in undergrad but didn’t feel like I had the time for in graduate school.  Looking back, it’s rather obvious to me now that I wanted my “work” life and my “fun” life to be separate.  But I still wanted a “fun” part.  Graduate school wasn’t so bad about this at the beginning, but as I’ve gotten further along, it ate up more and more of my life.  I felt guilty if I was doing anything but reading or working, but I wanted a break from reading and working.

This past Christmas break, I decided to let myself have a real break.  The past few years, the holidays had been huge stressful times, full of drama, and I started them with the intention of getting something done (which never happened, of course).  This year, I said, “Nope.  I’m gonna spend my break baking and cooking and having fun hanging out.”  And I realized over that break, I was a lot happier when I wasn’t stressing about work.  And I mean, a lot happier.  Now, someone might say “Well that’s true with any job.”  Not really.  You don’t have an off switch when you’re thinking about research.  I’ve had new ideas for proofs keep me from sleeping at night, and then in the light of day, they still turn out useless.  In every other job I’ve worked, once you punch the clock to go home, you’re done.  Your time after that is yours.

I tried to force that kind of set schedule on myself in the previous year, by learning new organization methods, staying on campus all day, holing myself up in my office trying to get things done.  I tried to make it so I had specific “work hours”.  But that didn’t really work.  And here we hit the next big reason I’m quitting: I am not a research person.  In fact, anyone who has talked to me knows this.  When I was about to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, considering my options, I knew that I liked teaching.  I liked helping people see the beauty and logic of mathematics.  But I didn’t want to teach at the high school level.  Watching my mom’s experiences as she taught jr. high and high school students, I didn’t want to work with that level of disrespect (from students and administration).  Collegiate level seemed ideal for me: I didn’t have to worry about “forcing” students to pass, students would (theoretically) want to be there, and if they failed, they failed.  But to teach at the collegiate level, you need a Ph.D.

So, I signed up for graduate school.  I knew at the beginning that I wouldn’t like research.  But I figured that it would end up being a hurdle that I could jump and then when I graduated, I could find a job where I wouldn’t have to do research.  Unfortunately, the longer I’ve been in grad school, the more I realize that my conceptions of my end goal were completely false.  First of all, the likelihood of my finding that dream job where you don’t have to do research is slim.  I had a friend who found one, but the more I thought about it, her story was unique.  Finding any academic job these days is hard; there are more applicants than there are jobs.  I wouldn’t be able to be choosy.  And no matter where I go, I’d probably be expected to do research.  It wasn’t just one hurdle, it was turning into a never-ending line of hurdles.

I also have a significant other, and I didn’t want to have it turn into a constantly-moving or long distance relationship.  I want to have a family at some point, and there’s just really no good time in the academic tenure-track line to do that.  By the time I have the job security of tenure, I’d probably be too old to have kids.  I can feel my biological clock ticking.  I know other people have managed to have children while in grad school, but for me, I just don’t feel stable enough for that right now.  There’s also the fact that, frankly, academia does not pay well.  I still have student loans to pay.  I’m almost 30, and I feel 5 years behind my friends who didn’t go to grad school, at least as far as milestones and finances go.

So, let’s see if I can summarize this.  I’m leaving grad school because I want to have designated work and fun time.  I’m leaving because I’ve never really wanted to do research and it’s looking like if I keep going, I’ll be miserable because I can’t avoid it.  I’m leaving because I need to move on to the things I really want to do with my life, instead of still jumping hurdles.

Now, I don’t consider my time in grad school a waste.  I got my Master’s degree, and I feel it was the healthier option for me, as I worked through a lot of issues while I was in there.  More than my undergrad experience, I feel like grad school was where I got the chance to grow up and really find myself.  I just also feel that it’s time for me to move on.  I don’t like the prospect of doing something I hate for the rest of my life, and that means I need to shift directions.  So, in May, I’ll be starting a new job, and we’ll see where it goes from there.  Nothing about the blog will change, as I didn’t write about math here.  But hopefully that explains a bit about my reasons for taking this major change in direction.

Canning Broth: Easier than previously thought

6832048268_3c29ea55c4_oSo, back near Thanksgiving, I made some turkey broth.  At the time, I measured it out, put it in freezer bags, and froze it.  This has been the way that I’ve done my broth for a while now.  However, I can never get the bags to freeze flat and therefore they take up a lot of space in my freezer.  (What I would give for the space to have a chest freezer!)  A friend came into a pile of beef (her dad had bought half a cow) and she wanted to share.  So we needed to make room in the freezer.

Last summer, when we canned the cherries, I bought a bunch of jars and a pressure canner.  Now, a brief primer on canning.  Most canning can be done in a boiling water bath, with pots you already own, as long as they cover the top of the jars.  This is for things like jams, jellies, and tomatoes.  These foods have enough sugar or acid (or both) that they can be canned with boiling water.  Other foods, such as soups or pasta sauces, don’t have these properties, and so need a much higher heat in order to be safe.  This higher heat can only be acquired at home with a pressure canner.  For more specific info, I recommend checking out a basic canning book, like The Ball Blue Book.  This was the book that I started with.

Ever since I learned about home canning, I’ve dreamt about canning my own soups.  The idea of pulling a jar off the shelf and dumping it in a pot, easy as store-bought soup, but so much healthier!  I’ve since learned that dream is a little unrealistic; most soups can’t be canned in their finished form with everything already mixed together.  But broth can be, and that’s about halfway there.

I’m pleased to say that this experiment was successful.  You basically wash the jars, heat the broth, fill the jars, seal, put in the canner and process for as long as the directions say.  Much more straightforward than making jam or preserves.  In fact, I’m going to make some ham broth later this week and can that too!  I’m also looking forward to canning my grandma’s chicken soup (which is basically carrots, onions, celery and chicken broth).

Recipe Du Jour: Black Bean Soup

6903389797_9f9a7d38af_oSo as part of my real food lessons from GNOWFGLINS, I recently learned to soak and cook dry beans.  Most of the time when a recipe called for beans, I used canned beans.  They were convenient, but I’ve known for a while that cooking from dry beans is healthier (fewer preservatives, and reduces gas) and cheaper.  I think I overcooked them a little because I used a slow-cooker for the actual cooking, but that’s something to experiment with.  (Also, if you want to try this, make sure not to use a slow-cooker on kidney beans.  They have a toxin that needs to be boiled out, so only cook them in a stock pot or pressure cooker.)

In any case, I cooked a whole pound of dry black beans, and I needed something to use them in.  What better than my black bean soup?  It also gives me a chance to test out my new immersion blender.

Ingredients:

  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans black beans (or equivalent amount cooked)
  • 1 (8 oz) can Spanish style tomato sauce
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp gr. cumin
  • 3 cups chicken (or veggie) broth

Directions:

Heat all ingredients together in a pot.  When hot, use immersion blender to halfway puree the soup.  Don’t puree completely; you want to be able to see some whole beans still.  (If you don’t have an immersion blender, ladle about half the soup into a blender.  Blend, and then add back to the pot.  Be careful when pureeing hot liquids!)  Serve with a nice crusty bread, my favorite is sourdough.

Notes: 

This soup is something that would be great in a bread bowl.  It comes together really quickly and makes for an easy weeknight meal.  Watch out though, it can be a bit spicy.  The image above I was testing my new blender, and so I pureed the soup a bit too much.  The completely pureed soup is best as a dip and definitely needs bread.  Personally, the texture is better with some whole beans still left.