Monday, August 31, 2009

Finding real food

I've just returned from my post-vacation grocery run. I wanted to follow my new rules, and actually, it wasn't that hard in many cases, thanks to my store's new brands. Sadly, the web site gives little information about them, but I checked labels dutifully, and many of them really do only have natural ingredients. I especially liked the Via Roma brand. The sauces have tomatoes and garlic and spices, a little sugar. Ragu, for the record, lists sugar as its first or second ingredient (haven't bought it in years, so I can't remember exactly). It's not Ragu, but I do remember a brand with a lot of sugar in it. When I finally read the ingredients, I quit buying it.

What I'd like to see is grass-fed beef and reasonably-priced organic poultry. I've never found grass-fed beef, and the organic poultry has been removed, replaced with Green Way poultry, which says nothing about how the chickens were raised, so I didn't buy it.

As a bonus, I only spent $80. But I did only buy about half of what I normally do. We'll see if it lasts.
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A Milestone

My car mechanic knows my name, knows the whole weird my-husband-and-I-have-different-but-similar-last-names scenario.

I don't know whether to think this is cool or scary. Right now, I'm going with cool. Everyone needs a mechanic who knows their name.

On reading about food

Day 61: Making QuicheImage by lorda via Flickr

Last week, I devoured three books about food. First, Julia Child's My Life in France; second, Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food; and third, Julie Powell's Julie and Julia. All were delightful in their own way. It was a bit jarring to go from Child's autobiography to Pollan's description of the crap we Americans will put in our body. I have mentioned here before how I love cooking and eating, so going through these three books was soul satisfying, though not quite as soul satisfying as cooking and eating a good meal.

Child's book was a good book to start the vacation with. I'm sure her autobiography paints a specific picture of her, but the picture I got was of a woman who loved life and lived every moment with gusto. Whether she chose cooking or flower arranging, I think she would have thrown herself in full force. I very much enjoyed her descriptions of Paris. Her apartment was mere blocks from the hotel we stayed in ourselves and a stone's throw from Mr. Geeky's conference. I recognized streets she described and even some market areas. It was a nice reminder of our own time in Paris. But more than that, her descriptions of food and wine and the joy she expressed in sharing meals with friends and family were really wonderful. She makes it sound as if her whole life was spent eating and drinking and laughing with friends. She doesn't, of course, as she also talks about working on the book and subsequently the tv show. Her energy for both is amazing and inspiring.

Pollan's book is, in many ways, a tribute to the kind of cooking and eating Child espouses. Even Child laments the processed food she finds upon returning to America. I especially liked Pollan's rules for eating toward the end of the book. They're simple and easy to follow. I immediately applied them to buying a loaf of bread, though the fewest ingredients I could find in any loaf was 7 (Pollan recommends no more than 5), but I could pronounce all of them. He admits that eating as he recommends is likely to be more expensive and says that it's a shame that that's the case. He says, though, that if you can afford it, you should eat organic and local and non-processed food as much as possible. Though it doesn't get much ink, he also talks about enjoying food and seeing it as something to be experienced with friends (a la Julia Child) rather than as simply fuel. It's nice to be given license to ignore the low-fat, low-carb crap the food industry throws at us. I'm just gonna eat food from now on. And apparently, not worry about saving money on it. If there's one thing I do wish he and others would work on is figuring out how to get rid of some of the subsidies that are making it so cheap for companies to make really bad food (and food that is bad for us), because until it's cheap for everyone to eat real food, we're going to see more health problems and only the relatively wealthy will avoid them.

Finally, Powell's book was a fun read, more fun than I thought it would be, and I suppose, because I love Meryl Streep, I might have to see the movie as well. I never read Powell's blog, though I know some of you out there did and liked it and were disappointed with the book. The whole project does seem a little gimmicky, which is what, apparently, Julia Child claims it is. But in the book, but apparently not in the movie, this upsets Powell immensely, as she sees the project as giving her life meaning, as a way of finding out who she is and escaping the anonymity of her corporate job. Which is, sort of, what Child was doing in France. She had, by this point, identified with Child in a way without really quite realizing and still trying to maintain some distance, so having her project labeled as a stunt by the very person she identified with had to be a blow.

Unlike the other two books, Powell's book is not really about food, though there are many descriptions of cooking food and eating food, that's not what it's about. It's more about soul searching, about the ups and downs of life. You can sort of argue the same thing of Child's book, that her book is also about finding oneself, trying to separate oneself from the masses. But Child's book is less individualistic than Powell's and less about ego and success. Not that Child doesn't have some ego in her, but she seems to recognize more than Powell does, that her friends and family have contributed to her life in significant ways. That may be her age (Child was in her late 80s when the book was being written) or it may be the times. Child's lesson, taking heart in your family and friends seems more important somehow in the end. Powell does recognize this in the end and she does take joy (her word) in some of what's happened in the course of her project, but that somehow it doesn't quite match Julia's life--not yet, anyway.

All three books left me with renewed gusto to cook more and eat well and maybe invite friends over to share it all with.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Thursday, August 27, 2009

15 years

15 years ago today, Mr. Geeky and I got married. It's hard to believe. The early years were a whirlwind of babies and career changes and moves across the country. And now we're in the middle, more settled to be sure but still with many challenges ahead.

When we met, I was a hippy-like aspiring poet. I had no idea what a computer science grad student saw in me and likely he felt the same way. When we moved in together, Mr. Geeky thought, "Well, this is going to make it hard to date other women.". I don't know what I thought. In some ways, I was along for the ride.

It's been a fun ride so far. I'm looking forward to the rest of it.

-- Post From My iPhone

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Taking a Break

Day 137: About to save the worldImage by lorda via Flickr

I'm on vacation this week, without my computer and without much access to any kind of network, so I'm away from WoW. Which is a good thing. WoW can get pretty intense at times. A few weeks ago, they released a new patch which added some new features to the game. Many people jumped in and played pretty intensely, collecting the new stuff and trying out the new areas. I was among them and thanks to some rainy days, I spent a few hours in a row doing everything from collecting ore to running heroic dungeons. While that's paid off in new gear, it's also made me feel like I'm spending way too much time at this thing. So the vacation timing was good.

My guild in theory treats WoW playing like bowling. We have regularly scheduled times twice a week to play together and there are people who do simply pop in to play during those times. I'm still trying to find my equilibrium. I mostly play at night and weekend mornings. I probably play up to 20 hours/week (average 3 hours/day, 7 days/week). That's a lot and just typing that number out is a bit depressing. What am I not doing during that time? I'm nto watching tv, which isn't such a bad thing, but I'm also not reading, not hanging with the family, not doing housework (which, eh, who cares). I do tend to play in waves. One week, I'm playing 20 hours, the next, I'm playing only 5.

I think ideally, I'd figure out a way to get that number down, either by playing only 2 or 3 days/week. Or playing less in any given day. Once the school year begins, I have a feeling this will happen naturally. The dog days of summer have made us all a little lazy and we've gravitated toward the computer for solace (when we're not at the pool). In other words, we've had time to fill and I've filled it with WoW. In the fall, I'm going to work on filling it with other stuff, relegating WoW to the recreation it should be.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Doing more with less

Dean Dad had a post last week that looked at the staff side of the equation during this economic downturn. I lived through a downturn during my first years as a staff member and saw 30 people get laid off. In many departments, this meant a 20%-30% cut in their staff, meaning that the rest of the people were doing at least 20-30% more work. While there were a handful of departments where demand had declined and therefore layoffs were a reasonable action to take, this was a rare situation. I'm away from the scene now, but my understanding is that only a couple of people have been let go and that positions vacated via attrition (like my own) are not being filled. As with layoffs, the effect is the same; people having to pick up the slack.

As Dean Dad notes, the work of staff is often invisible. Unlike not having enough sections of comp to fill demand, no one readily notices if the student services office is understaffed. In many cases, service simply slows down, with requests taking longer to get filled. In some areas, such as the IT side of things, a major crisis can bring a department to its knees when understaffed, causing a ripple effect across the campus (no email for days, files inaccessible, no one answering phones). But everyone crosses their fingers that that crisis never comes. The irony is, it's more likely to happen when you're understaffed because people are often harried and therefore more mistake prone.

The thing that is incredibly frustrating to me is the way in which the mission of many colleges, including my former employer, is so at odds with their actual employment practices. They talk a good game of social justice and fair employment practices, but it's all theory. They're fine with hiring adjuncts or having dining services employees who are not making a living wage. At least in most corporate environments, they make no bones about the fact that they're trying to make money and that one way to do that is to keep wages low. Corporations that do having excellent employment practices are often applauded and win awards. There are certainly many benefits to working in a university environment, where one often has access to classes, lectures, and often ample vacation and sick time, but all that means little if you're too overworked to take the time for them and/or not making enough money to make ends meet. Sadly, most faculty have no clue how much their staff members are making or what their benefits are. If you're a faculty member, I encourage you to a) find out what the living wage is in your area and then b) find out if your lowest paid employees are making that wage.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My First Non-Academic Fall

This is the first fall since 1996 that I haven't been getting ready to attend or teach class. Right now, I'm actually at the beach, enjoying a final vacation with my father, stepmother, stepbrother, and of course, the kids and Mr. Geeky. Mr. Geeky is having to do some work here, since classes begin for him the day after we return. The kids have another week.

Aeron Haynie writes about returning to school post sabbatical and how relaxing her year without school was. This summer was the first summer I wasn't directing a program, making my summer more stressful than the school year. I have enjoyed so much spending time with my kids this summer. We have played games, gone to the pool and gone on a few trips. But in general, we've just hung out and let the days roll over us, enjoying the completely unplanned time. I may never get another summer like this.

There are things I miss about working in an academic environment, especially teaching. I love planning new classes, imagining student reactions to readings, thinking of ways to engage them in topics. I love classroom discussions from which I usually learn as much as the students. I love connecting with students, helping them not only with the coursework, but sometimes with their career planning and their life. I don't miss grading. And I don't miss what Haynie so aptly describes as the competitive environment of the academy:
For me at least, academic work is stressful because of the evaluation and competition attending every task. It’s hard enough to engage a large room full of strangers without knowing you will be evaluated mercilessly (and anonymously) by each and every one. And I feel expected to wow, dazzle, and edify. Likewise with scholarship: writing itself is not painful, I realize, it is the attendant self-doubt. I know that competition is considered by many to be a great stimulus; however, I find it distracting and enervating. But worse is the stress I seem to absorb from those around me. Even before the current economic crisis, it seemed most encounters on campus were permeated by discontent, anxiety, and stress.
It's hard to stand above that fray at times, to focus on the good things about the job, on the students, on those moments of insight. One thing I've learned in the months I've been on my own is how to focus on the good. There's a lot I could say that's bad about my situation right now. I'm not making enough money. I'm working a lot without getting paid. I'm doing more housework. But, perhaps because I have the time, I'm able to redirect those thoughts into more positive ones. Or perhaps because I don't have coworkers around me who feed those negative thoughts. Whatever I do, like Haynie, I hope to maintain a relaxed attitude when things get harried.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Summer homework

Geeky Girl comments on summer homework.

-- Post From My iPhone

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday Cat Blogging

I think this is exactly what my cat is thinking every day. After almost 2 years, she's finally realized we're not going to stick her in a cage again.

funny pictures of cats with captions
see more Lolcats and funny pictures

Thursday, August 20, 2009

She would be 38

Today is my sister's birthday. Some years, this day goes by like any other, coming as it does so close to the hustle and bustle of the beginning of the school year. Many years ago, I wrote about my sister in a post that captures most of what I remember about her. I'm so glad I wrote that stuff down. Those memories seem to fade with every passing year.

One thing I didn't write about is how much her death changed who I am, in some good ways and in some bad ways. Right after she died, I keenly felt how short life really was and how important people were in that life. I cherished my friendships more, then, and made more time for them. In part, I'm sure, I needed to not feel alone. In part, I saw that each person in my life was there for a fleeting moment. I also threw myself into my work, finding a source of creativity and for good or for ill, a rich topic for my poetry. I felt confident in my work, took charge of my future, and felt ready to face the world after college.

But once I got past college, some of that confidence and those humanitarian feelings began to fade. People, it turns out, are not always magnanimous spirits and can be hurtful and rude. I had difficulty explaining why I didn't have any siblings. So, I started saying I didn't. Which felt very wrong. One thing about siblings is they often tell it like it is, but they also just listen--at least my sister did--and so you knew you always had someone to turn to and complain about life to. I no longer had that. And, to this day, I haven't quite found someone who could replace that. Sometimes you need someone to talk to about your parents, your husband, your job. And though I have some people I can talk to about these things, it's never felt complete.

I miss her at the oddest times. Holidays, to be sure, but also the kids' birthdays and on visits to my parents. I'm about to go on vacation to the beach we went to as kids, where it was always just the two of us, having adventures, entertaining each other. I always think of her then.

It seems odd to think she'd be middle-aged by now. Would she be married, have kids? Would we live close together, far apart? Would we spend holidays at each other's houses? I will never know, and it's often that thought that makes me most sad, that I lost someone, sure, but that she lost a whole potentially happy life.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

WoW Wednesday: Tanking

Tauren Tank CrossingImage by antifuse via Flickr

So, many of you know I'm a gamer, my most-often played game being WoW. I don't write about it much, but I've decided if it's a regular part of my life, it needs to be a regular part of my blog. Although I will write about the game as it's played, what I find most interesting about playing are the personal lessons I learn and the social dynamics of the game. So, even if you're not a gamer, you'll get something out of these posts.

I'm currently playing a level 80 Death Knight. I've been playing her as a damage-oriented player, but she has the capability of playing what's called a tank. A tank is a player that puts herself between the bad things trying to kill the players and the rest of the group. They generally have heavy-duty armor and the ability to keep the mobs focused on them rather than the rest of the group. Tanks also tend to set the pace of the dungeon and often set the strategy if they know a dungeon well. It took me a while to get decent enough gear (and I still need better gear), but recently I announced to the guild that I was ready to try tanking and would love some lessons and/or the opportunity to try it out on willing groups of people.

It wasn't until our regular tanks were all gone that I finally got the opportunity to tank, and let me just say, it's harder than it looks. Although I'd read up on strategies for tanking and what moves to use, theory is often far away from practice. First, because I'm slightly undergeared, I take more damage than I should, meaning I need someone to be able to heal the crap out of me. Second, we have a lot of really good players in the guild who have good attacks that anger mobs and then they get attacked and so I have to scramble a bit to recapture the errant mob. And third, let's face facts, I'm not a 15 year old boy. I've had a few good runs that went smoothly and successfully, but I've had just as many where the entire group has died over and over again. This is a frustrating situation to be in as a tank since it's often a tank's weaknesses that can cause this to happen. While this hasn't always been the case in my situations, as a new tank, I'm guessing it is the problem 95% of the time.

I find being a tank rather nerve-wracking as I'm learning. It's a lot of responsibility. And the learning curve seems to be fairly large. My guild is patient with me, however, so there is that. I've learned that support goes a long way in making me feel comfortable trying this new thing out and trying it out under not so ideal conditions. I decided to try it, in fact, because I wanted to help out the guild since we seem to be short on tanks. Hopefully, I'll get better at it so that I'm a bit more reliable and don't get everyone killed so often.

Bonus: Read Sins of a Gaming Father.
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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Our Technology Infused Life

Via Chuck Tryon's delicious feed (which, I bet he didn't even know I followed), I found this New York Times article that describes my family as well. Basically, it says that nowadays, families hop on laptops and blackberries and iPhones over their coffee and cereal, barely interacting with each other. The morning isn't as much of a problem for us as the hour before dinner. Because the kids have such a spread out schedule in the mornings, with Geeky Boy having to get up at 6, but Geeky Girl not needing to get up until 7 (even stretching until 7:30 without a problem), we're kind of running around from about 6-8. I do hop on the computer while Geeky Boy is in the shower, but then I fix lunches, get him out the door, get Geeky Girl up, and this year, I *am* going to go for a walk (more on that later). So there isn't really time to stare at a screen for long.

But before dinner, we all retreat to our separate spaces for about an hour, catching up on blogs, gaming, answering a couple of last-minute emails. It's not terribly problematic, but our computer use in general has increased over the summer as we've run out of things to do. We've filled too much of our empty time with the computer rather than other things. In part, this is because our schedule is out of whack. Mr. Geeky, who was going into the office every day at 9, stopped doing that this past week, and what is he doing? Working on the computer. We had just gotten used to a certain routine that involved other activities and the presence of Mr. Geeky has thrown us off.

Grace mentioned in a comment yesterday that she had technology fatigue. Although her blog post is about not wanting to learn new technology that will be outdated the day after she learns it, my fatigue has more to do with using it. Will Richardson wrote a post recently pondering whether he was a slave to technology. I'm not sure what it would mean to be a slave to it; I suppose being unable to live without it. But I can imagine living without it. Sometimes I want to chuck it all and go become a chef or something. So, what do you think readers, when is technology too much?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Women in Tech: Feeling like a Fraud

I have always been an avid supporter of women choosing to pursue technology degrees and careers. Through the summer program I used to direct, I encouraged young women to learn more about the technology we used, either on their own through their projects or by taking computer science classes or other types of classes. And many of them did further their knowledge. Some took graphics design courses. Some pursued computer science. Still others took internships that involved web or flash design and even ended up in first jobs that were heavily based on using technology.

So that's a success story. But I personally sometimes feel like a fraud for not being even more geeky than I am. Yes, I know HTML and CSS and can figure out my way around most programs and even a unix system. But I can't program and there are definite limits to my abilities. What I've focused on in the last few years has been the more philosophical aspects of our use of technology. How does it change our relationships, our schools, our government? And I can't help but feel that the true technowomen out there think this is not hard core enough. Every time I look at web sites for organizations that support women in technology fields, they're offering programming camps or money for your technology startup. And I feel left out. The irony!

I feel slightly less left out after reading this article on women who have leveraged technology in similar ways to my own. They are communicators, entrepreneurs, and policy wonks who have turned their love of technology into interesting careers that aren't about being system administrators or php programmers. Now I should say that most of the groups that support women who do want to be programmers and the like are not excluding those of us who want to bridge the relationship between what the programmers make and the people they make it for. But they're also not offering support for those of us who are technically savvy but haven't taken that next step to learn to program. Programming camp for dummies, maybe?

Then again, some of us may not want to program. I've tried to learn for years, but I get bored pretty quickly or frustrated or sometimes both. I think in part, this is because I don't want to learn for myself, but want to learn in order to establish more geek cred--a really bad reason to learn and obviously not very motivating. I'm just hoping the tent will widen instead of shrink.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Settling Into Who I am Now

Laura Blankenship, originally uploaded by Gardo.

The picture here is from a little over a year ago at Faculty Academy 2008. It's one of my favorites despite the fact that my hair is askew (it's always askew it seems) because I think it captures a certain image I have of myself. There's the ever-present computer, the look of concern/passion (captured in several photos of me), and the fact that I'm obviously mid-sentence.

Just a few months ago, I was at Faculty Academy 2009, my third FA, and I was delighted to be there, but I was feeling a little unsettled. I'd just finished teaching and was looking ahead to being "just a consultant" instead of a part-time teacher and a part-time consultant. It felt a little daunting. I felt unidentifiable. The only other time I've felt this unsettled was right after we moved to Arkansas and I was a stay at home mom. I attended my 10 year high school reunion and I wasn't sure how to identify myself and what I did. It felt really odd to say I was staying at home because it didn't jibe with my image of myself as a career woman. Now, I have no hesitation saying that part of what I'm doing is managing the home front.

I still consider myself a teacher in addition to my roles as a consultant and a mother. I hope to always have a foot in the classroom by teaching a class at least once a year, but I also see the role I play as a consultant as being primarily about teaching, about helping people learn something new, learn to navigate an ever-changing technology landscape. I think it's just in my blood.

I feel a certain sense now of knowing what I'm doing without knowing everything about what I'm doing and being okay with that. Consultant work has slowed down a bit, but I feel confident it will pick up with the school year, the economy, and continued effort on my part. I still keep an eye out for interesting teaching possibilities or jobs in the education technology sector. In the ed tech world, most of what I've seen is about tech support, not teaching, which is, I think, the direction many of the jobs, outside of directorships, are going. In part, I think this is because there are more faculty using technology in interesting and pedagogically sound ways and they are taking the role of sharing that knowledge with colleagues, a role formerly played by Instructional Technologists. And this is a good thing overall. But it means that that kind of job is a job that doesn't quite offer someone like me the combination of skills and opportunities that's appealing. So I've created that for myself. And while I felt tentative about it at first, it feels more right every day.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Graph of the weight, wealth relationship over time


Coins, Money and Banks

Polish Złoty and Euro CoinsImage by schoschie via Flickr

Every day Mr. Geeky comes home from work and puts his keys and wallet in a little secretary that stands by the front door. He also puts any change from his pocket into a jar. When the jar got full, I suggested taking it to the bank. Not yet, he said. He needed to check for "valuable" old coins first. He added another jar. That jar got full. I made the suggestion again. Again he protested that there might be coins worth saving in there. Months passed. He didn't move on to a third jar. By this point, there wasn't room. Finally, I insisted, suggesting that the kids go through both jars and set aside anything they thought might be worth something--old coins, foreign coins, gold doubloons. So, they sat themselves at the dining room table. When they found their first old coin, they got pretty excited. Geeky Boy has books that hold old coins that he hasn't looked at in years. He got out those and filled a couple of slots. Geeky Girl remembered she had a state quarter set. She got the folder for that and began filling out that collection. All in all, they only found 10-15 older coins, but they're going through another container we found in hopes of finding more. They've been returning to the project periodically without my having to ask. Geeky Girl, especially, having not paid much attention to money before, exclaims when they find something unusual, something she's never seen before and listens patiently when Geeky Boy explains what the D and the S mean on the coins.

They filled a medium-sized bowl with coins suitable for taking to the bank. Yesterday, I filled a bag with about half of the coins and trudge to the bank on my way to the farmer's market. The bank lets you estimate how much money you have and if you're close, you win a prize. As I poured the money into the machine, I saw mostly pennies. So, I estimated about 7.50. When it was all said in done, I had slightly over $52 in coins. Mostly dimes, it turned out. I'm really bad at estimating, especially now that I rarely handle cash, much less coins. All my cash is digital, exchanged either via electronic transfer or similarly, using my debit card. I used to keep tips in a mayonnaise jar on my dresser, saving up for the deposit on an apartment in graduate school town. I know about how much was there, in part because I knew how much I made in tips, but also because I dealt with cash all the time.

I spent a little more than half of my new found cash at the farmer's market. Even though I always take cash there (most of the vendors don't take other forms of payment), I felt a little giddy at having such a large amount, created, it seemed, out of thin air.

Money now does seem to come out of thin air, arriving in bank accounts without anyone having to touch anything. I used to work at a bank during the summers. One summer I filed loan applications, the 3 attached parts left after everything was signed off. Another summer I filed the checks people deposited into their accounts, checks that were then sent to other banks to be filed and then placed in an envelope to be sent to the customer with her statement. Even then, the real transaction happened electronically, with a machine reading routing and account numbers, a human inputting the amounts, which were then coded onto the check to be read by another machine. For a brief time each summer, it was my job to count money coming in from the vendors at the annual summer festival. Bags of coins and dollar bills showed up at the bank and I stood behind the tellers, counting it all by hand, recording amounts on deposit slips, amounts that were later entered into computers while the money itself went into the vault, to be redistributed to banks or to customers withdrawing money.

Geeky Boy asked the other day if people still traded things. I said, sure, happens all the time. But money became more convenient at some point and then banks became a place to store that money and now, they are the place where most of our financial transactions actually occur. And they make their own money off of those transactions. What a weird little system we've created, making banks the middle man for our exchange of goods.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More on Exercise and Food

It turns out my ideas about exercise aren't entirely off the mark:
Many obesity researchers now believe that very frequent, low-level physical activity — the kind humans did for tens of thousands of years before the leaf blower was invented — may actually work better for us than the occasional bouts of exercise you get as a gym rat. "You cannot sit still all day long and then have 30 minutes of exercise without producing stress on the muscles," says Hans-Rudolf Berthoud, a neurobiologist at LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center who has studied nutrition for 20 years. "The muscles will ache, and you may not want to move after. But to burn calories, the muscle movements don't have to be extreme. It would be better to distribute the movements throughout the day."
A friend told me about this article yesterday and I bumped into it this morning and read the whole thing. It's ultimate conclusion is that it's your food choices and not your exercise routine that does the most for your weight. That doesn't mean you can be completely sedentary. It suggests, as the quote above notes, that we should just all move around more within our daily activities rather than scheduling a trip to the gym. That's something that's easy to incorporate for many people. I can walk or ride my bike to many places instead of driving. And most people can. Even parking far away from entrances and taking the stairs instead of the elevator can make you healthier. Things people have said all along, but which now makes a lot more sense.

Monday, August 10, 2009


So that exercise thing? Barely made two laps. I'm out of neath. Sad.

-- Post From My iPhone

Ignoring time

I really appreciated seeing this post this morning about not focusing so much on the clock. I have a real tendency to do this, scheduling every minute of every day. Today, for example, Geeky Boy and I had to go to the high school to rework his schedule, so I started my planning from there. I decided I would go to the high school at 10, followed by a trip to the grocery store, lunch, cleaning, and then a trip to the pool, exercising either there or when I got home. I planned free time in the hour before dinner, dinner, and then just open time. Sounds oppressive, doesn't it? The other thing that happened was that I didn't wake early enough so a few things I wanted to get done on a writing project didn't happen until just now. And, though I should be cleaning, that's not happening now because I wanted to post this and read a few other blogs, which is not quite leisure, not quite work. So, you see, my schedule is easily disrupted and then I feel bad about not getting things done, etc. Bleh.

Jonathan Mead (author of the above post) echoes this sentiment:

Trying to constantly manage and monitor my time has only led me to greater anxiety, and always feeling like I’ve not “done enough.” I’m always thinking about how I could have “spent that time more wisely.” But the purpose of life is to enjoy it, is it not? So can’t we perform highly without the anxiety of counting every minute?
He makes a lot of good recommendations for being productive without feeling pressed for time. My favorite is having a theme for the month. Although I didn't quite consciously think about it, my theme for this month is about getting organized and eliminating clutter. I wanted to be prepared for the new school year with a house that's more streamlined and with everything in its rightful place. I think the idea is that, while I might schedule time for cleaning, if that's the theme, then when I have the time and motivation during each day, I can tackle a cleaning project.

Next month, I'm going to tackle exercise, something I've struggled with forever. I really hate structured exercise--going to the gym, being in an exercise class (except for yoga; I like yoga classes)--but it's not like I'm a total lump. I don't mind walking instead of driving places. I'll play soccer or tennis with the kids. I like gardening. Generally, moving around on occasion, even every day, is not something I'm opposed to. But it's extremely easy for me to make excuses. It's too hot, too cold, too wet. I have this that or the other that I need to do. I'd rather read, play games, watch tv. You know the drill. So I'm going to make some effort now, but really focus next month on moving at least a little every day.

The exercise thing is partly why I'm not as fond of Mead's advice to follow your rhythms. That's easy enough for me to do with intellectual activity, but inertia keeps me from doing physical things that I find unpleasant. And that's where I think a schedule can help. And I suspect some people find the same is true of other kinds of work. Certainly people can schedule those activities for times when they know they're more motivated, but they might have to semi force themselves to at least getting started.

I'm trying, then, to find a good flow for myself where I feel productive, but don't feel anxious. Easier said than done, but I'm giving it a whirl.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Consistency or lack thereof

I like consistency. I like having a routine and a plan for the day, for the week, etc. I usually deliberately put variety into the routine, but knowing that I do x from 8-9 and then y from 9-10 works really well for me. Sadly, the summer has not been the least bit consistent or routine. In some ways, of course, that's a good thing. Playing things by ear can be fun and opportunities can arise that wouldn't otherwise. But all those things I wanted to do this summer, well, they didn't get done. It's not that I didn't do anything, but I didn't do all that I wanted. I poked at things a bit. I had a few projects and presentations here and there, but nothing *big* got done.

I'm trying to decide if I'm rationalizing or if it's just really hard for me to be productive when the schedule gets out of whack. For instance, this week, we were away for the first couple of days and that just messed things up for me for the rest of the week. For the last three weeks, we've had this weird violin lesson schedule that had us doing something different every day. I can't get into a groove. If a schedule is shot, rather than try to pick up the pieces, I just say, oh well, guess I'll spend the day reading blogs or playing WoW.

Plus, there's the kid interruptions. Some of these come from the kids--i.e., they ask if they can go to the neighbor's or if it's okay to have ice cream. Some of these are from me--i.e., I tell them they need to spend some time reading or playing outside, etc. And there's the job of feeding them. And these seem to happen every hour or so. In fact, just now, I got asked if they could play on the Playstation. Sigh.

I started doing some seriously deep cleaning and clutter removal, but that's now at a snail's pace. I get to a stopping point and then it's days before I get back to it and I'm almost back where I started by the time I start again. And exercise? Well, the kids and I did some things together, but that's really fallen by the wayside. We leave for another trip in a couple of weeks, which is going to throw things into disarray once again.

My senior year in college, I stacked all of my classes on Tuesday and Thursday and took on a waitressing job. Plus I was applying to grad schools, was running the Literary Arts Festival and serving as an officer in my sorority. Not to mention, dating and generally having a reasonable social life. I was never more productive. I worked in the early evenings, so I spent my time before work completing assignments and working on grad school applications. By the time I was off work, I was free. I think I just need a fairly full schedule to make things work for me. Having all this time yawning before me is difficult to manage. I have had no problem earlier in the summer filling that time (in part because I had deadlines then), but now, with 4 weeks to go before school begins, I'm floundering around.

I think that's mostly okay. This is the first time in about 10 years the kids have had me to themselves and have themselves had this kind of unstructured time. We don't know what next summer will bring. It may be just like this or it may be filled with camp and work and a hard core schedule. So while I might lament the lack of productivity, I know that I can always get back to it when school starts, but the kids will only be around for so long.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Short trip

We spent the last couple of days meandering around DC with some old friends from grad school. Much fun was had by all. There was lots of walking, eating, and drinking. Now I need a nap. Here are the kids in front of the White House. Next time, they say they want to go inside.