Coconut dreams: Whole30 Day 4

23 Apr

Saturday turned out to be a pretty busy day—I woke up around 7-ish (for Deliciously tasty coconut butterwhatever reason I can no longer sleep in like a normal person, no matter what time I go to bed, which is super annoying), cleaned up the house, headed to the farmer’s markets to pick up my veggie haul, then headed home to get ready for a neighbor BBQ with the other 11 units in my condo complex.  We do this about twice a year and use some funds to get some beer and food for the gang.  Not all the unit residents show up, but those who do have a good time.  And lucky for us, it didn’t rain like it did last Fall![[MORE]]

Day 4: Saturday, 4/21

Breakfast: 3 ants on a log (w/ almond butter), 1 small sweet potato with ghee and salt, ¼ cantaloupe

Ants on a log (celery sticks with nut butter and raisins) brings me back to school lunches, and I love it.  Just writing about it makes me want one now.  It’s also a great snack that travels well because it doesn’t have to be refrigerated.  I was planning on having a big breakfast but simply ran out of time.  I’d nuked a sweet potato earlier in the week (I need to do more of that soon to have them on hand) and polished off a super sweet cantaloupe before heading to the first of 2 farmers markets.

One of these days I’m going to get to the biggest farmers market in Charlotte, the one on Yorkmont Drive near the airport, but I guess I’ve always had plenty of luck at the Mecklenburg County Market (#7 on the About.com list) open all year round and the Kings Drive market (#2) so I’ve been lazy.  Sometimes I get to Atherton Mill which is 3 blocks from my house, but they don’t have the same veggie amount or selection as the other two do.  However their meats are impressive and I like the mix of things they sell there.  And also—3 blocks.  But still…3 farmers markets within two miles of me?  Impressive.  

that's a whole lot of veggies right there.

Since I just started this paleo cooking thing, I’m not really sure how much to get of things.  But you know when you don’t have a list for Harris Teeter or Target and you just buy whatever you feel like buying, willy-nilly?  That’s kind of what happened on Saturday.  And $50 later, my kitchen looks like this photo.  Gracious.  I know some stuff will go to waste (and how in the hell did I end up with 3 bags of brussels sprouts??) but there are worse things than patronizing local farmers.

Lunch: salad with olive oil dressing and topped with cold chicken

I had one poached chicken breast to use up, so I just made up a quick salad with stuff laying around the fridge (I didn’t even get into my market veggie haul!) I love olive oil, but in dressing (where it’s the main ingredient) it tastes pretty strong.  But canola and vegetable oil aren’t allowed on Whole30, so it’ll have to do.   I added some mustard and herbs to the mix, but it might need more vinegar.  I can never get the ratio right…1 parts vinegar to 3 parts oil (the traditional French method) just seems too oily.  How do restaurants make dressings look so easy?!?

Dinner: Tremont Place BBQ – 1.5 hot dogs, 1/2 chicken sausage, tiny bit of red potato salad, small bit of rare flank steak, coconut butter for dessert

I knew this would be tricky what with the keg of beer and the chips and salsa floating around, but I did ok.  I gave away 3 Mexican beers in my fridge, and oddly enough, those are what I wanted to most (I love Mexican beer).  But I just drank water and we grilled out—and Lisa brought hot dogs!  Bless her.  I did miss that crispy toasted bun though, I won’t lie.  And I had a tiny bit of red potato salad—heathen!

But the coconut butter…the coconut butter I bought from Healthy Home Market is freaking fantastic (and freaking expensive…good Lord).  I was curious about it after finding this recipe, but frankly—it was a little overkill (I didn’t use all the coconut cream because it seemed wasteful, so that was part of my problem—too much of everything else).  But coconut cream by itself?  Decadent!  So I’ve been having a (very) small spoonful as dessert.  Coconut is really good for you, in a variety of forms, so I’ve been using the oil, milk, and flakes on all kinds of stuff.  I’m a lover of the coconut family!

Snack: cucumber salad (from the “Well Fed” cookbook) and homemade mayo

I did it—I actually made homemade mayo.  I’m like a damn farm girl.  I even borrowed my neighbor Ethan’s mini kitchenaid food processor to do it!  The recipe calls for basic boring olive oil so the flavor isn’t strong, and I’ll say that mine came out nice and thick after lots and lots of running the motor—but the flavor was definitely unusual.  It needs vinegar and spices and such, and putting it on the cucumber salad helped.  But I don’t think I would slather it on meat or veggies or anything.  But still…I made it!  Check that off the “challenging old-school food recipes you never thought you’d ever make ” list.

With all my vegetable purchasing, I forgot to include a sweet onion, so I made the mistake of using a basic white onion—way too strong for the raw salad.  And the parsley was a little overkill as well.  I’m making another one tonight with vidalias and dill and we’ll see how that goes.  But you know what would be good?  Pickled onions!  My friend Riddhi at Freaky Curry would be so proud!


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Fake pasta never felt so good! Whole30 Day 2 & 3

23 Apr

I’ve tried doing special “diets” before, including the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), and a version of paleo in 2010 that my naturopath wanted me to try, but I’ve never really committed to any of them.  I think the farthest I’ve made it is Green Chile Turkey Burgerstwo weeks.  Not much discipline there!  But for some reason I have a different attitude about this one—maybe because it’s only for 30 days, and I can return to my freewheeling, hard-carbing lifestyle like I had before (although I don’t think I will like I used to, but I could if I wanted to!) 30 days is not short (ask anyone who’s ever given up some food they’ve loved for Lent, and that’s just 10 days longer), but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a drop in the bucket.  So here I am.  Day 6! But first…a recap!

[[MORE]]

Day 2: Thursday, 4/19

Breakfast: “linguini” aglio et olio and 1 scrambled egg
I know this seems like a really weird breakfast (and it is), but I wanted to try this out of Melissa Joulwan’s “Well Fed” cookbook (which I downloaded to my iPad) and I really liked it.  Didn’t really need the almond flour breadcrumbs (and almond flour is not something most people have on hand anyway), and I need to get a small hand julienne tool (I’m convinced that my Pampered Chef mandolin is going to take my fingers off).  But I liked the consistency and the salty garlicky goodness of the noodles.  

Lunch: Mexican chicken and rice leftovers

Dinner: Vivace Restaurant—scallops with roasted asparagus, sauteed mushrooms and peas.  
One thing I flirted with when deciding whether to do this or not was the timing—was this the best month to do this?  What happens when I go out to eat with friends?  What about this beach trip I’m taking with my church ladies at the end of April?  And the Dilworth Ladies Spring party?  And working the election?  But I just decided—life’s not stopping for me or my eating, so I might as well adapt.

I met my friend Marjorie at Vivace before seeing “Clybourne Park” at Actor’s Theatre, one of her (and my) favorite restaurants.  I scoped out the menu beforehand and they seemed amenable to making gluten free meals, so I thought maybe they could whip me up something.  Our cute server came over to get our orders, and I asked if he could make the scallop dish without the side of…couscous (maybe?)—basically could I just do something with protein and veggies, and he said “Are you doing some kind of cleanse?”  Actually, that’s a really easy way to explain this thing, so I was like, no—but yes!  I hate being a PITA about food, and I’m really not picky, but hey—they’re getting my money, right?  And he said it was no problem, he’d make sure it came out right.  Another waitress brought out the food and said “Ok, who has the Make Your Own Meal?”  Ha!  She said the other waitresses were standing around admiring how pretty this dish was, and it was so gorgeous!  I’m so mad I didn’t take a photo.  A bed of roasted asparagus, topped with peas and sauteed mushrooms (probably in some kind of wine sauce) and 4 beautiful scallops.  It was heavenly!  I polished off the entire thing.

Day 3: Friday, 4/20

Breakfast: 2-egg omelet with mushrooms/avocado/tomatoes

Lunchsome chicken and rice and thai chicken soup

Dinner: green chile turkey burgers with mustard and sliced avocado
These were pretty good, but I only used one can of green chiles, and that was plenty.  After having them for a few days, I think they are a once-in-a-while/I’m-bored-with-ground-turkey kind of thing.  But it gave me a good excuse to break out the George Foreman grill!  Also, avocados are my heaven.

Friday night I went out with friends for dinner (I didn’t realize we were eating, hence the turkey burgers beforehand) and to attend the 9th annual Cash Bash (an experience, for sure!)  We went to Alexander Michael’s in 4th Ward, a fun little tavern I first went to with my brother and sister-in-law years and years ago, and I was pleased to see there was a London Broil on the menu, which actually sounded kinda delicious.  Good to know for future reference!  

Snack: half a cherry pie lara bar, nuts

Desserts (in general): fruit, and not a ton of it—a mix of mango, strawberries, and cantaloupe that was just about to turn, so it was super sweet.

Immediate thoughts: I’m eating plenty, I’m not hungry, and I don’t feel absolutely famished when I AM ready to eat.  I’m drinking between 40-50 oz of water a day (with a slice of lemon).  I definitely feel…lighter.  Already I’ve lost a few pounds in a few days—I could say it’s water weight, but I’m drinking water like it’s my job (because that’s about all I can drink!) so it must just be the carb load.  My pants definitely fit better, and frankly, that’s as good a result as I could ask for!

Whole30 Day 1 roundup

18 Apr

Day 1 was a really good start to the Whole30.  At the end of the day, I’m feeling solid, better than I have in days (not that this thing works immediately, but who knows?)

Breakfast: 2 egg omelette with onions, tomatoes, green peppers, mushrooms, avocado and a side of cholula hot sauce.  Looked ugly, but tasted good!

Lunch: Thai chicken soup

[[MORE]]Made this last night.  The original recipe was vegetarian, but I figured I could ramp it up a bit with some poached chicken.  I love poached shredded chicken!  It’s so freaking moist.  Anyway, I made the broth half veg and half chicken—don’t know why, I just don’t love love love the flavor of veggie broth, but I should give it another go.  But the lime juice gives it a great tang, and I was really happy with all the flavors.

Dinner: Mexican chicken and “rice” topped with green salsa and avocados

Cauliflower is big with the carb-free community because you can grind it up to make “rice” or cook it to make “mashed potatoes”—and it’s not THAT different from it’s carb-y cousins.  This was waaaay better than I remembered it being.  The celery gave it a nice crunch and I loved the salsa, something cheap from the mexican aisle of the grocery store (Verdez salsa verde).  It was perfect.  All the flavors really came together, and once the cauliflower was chopped up in my food processor (and I poached the chicken breasts the night before) the assembly was super fast.  The head of cauliflower made a ton of “rice” so I saved half of it for something else.  

I’m a horribly messy cook, so I can see the benefits of prepping on the weekend.  If you know what you want to make that week, a lot of the parts can be pre-done, which would make cooking a snap: chopping onions and other veggies, cooking chicken, making homemade mayo, etc.  My kitchen is a HOT mess the two nights I’ve cooked.  It’s not for the faint of heart!

Next up: olive oil mayo, green chile turkey burgers, and zucchini linguini aglio et olio (not necessarily in that order)

A 30-day food ADVENTURE

18 Apr

Let’s not call this a food challenge—that sounds too…challenging, and rife with potential for disappointment.  I’m thinking of this Whole30 thing as an eating adventure, brimming with possibility.

[[MORE]]So what is?  The Whole30 is a slightly stricter version of the paleo diet (which, wouldn’t you know—has a post on its homepage of someone with colitis who’s no longer taking the same medication I take after 6 weeks of doing paleo).  A paleo eater is giving up all refined sugars, grains, legumes, and dairy.  Whole30 throws in alcohol as well (although paleo allows red wine on occasion).  Whoa, nelly!  If you think about what you grab for lunch, or what you eat at a restaurant, it’s basically all of the above.  And it’s so bad for you!  But I’ll confess, I’ve been feeling really good (and eating just about everything in sight) for the last year and a half, so I had no need to try this.  But once my ulcerative colitis symptoms kick in again (and they’re too unpleasant to name individually, just trust me—they’re no fun), they’re hard to calm down.  

So—radical changes in health = radical changes in approach.  Hence the Whole30.

It’s funny—I’ve heard about people doing this diet before, and in fact last month got an email from my naturopath (who I saw when I was so sick in 2010 and helped me get into remission) extolling the virtues of paleo.  But when I read it, I immediately thought “Oh, whatever—who has time for that?” and moved on.  But when circumstances change, so can your thinking, and I thought maybe it was time to reconsider.  I’ve attempted doing a grain-free, sugar-free diet years ago called the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD), but the thought of committing to it for a lifetime was just overwhelming to me.  I started doing a version of paleo a year ago on the recommendation of my naturopath but gave it up after a week.  But now the thought of doing this for 30 days seems manageable to me, and maybe it’s just timing.  I think.  I hope!

I spent a lot of yesterday researching recipes, and I think I’ve found a good selection of sites and recipes:

The biggest challenge with paleo is in the planning—you don’t want to get caught stuck without food.  A hungry Erin makes poor food decisions (to paraphrase my friend Ted).  Another challenge is not getting overwhelmed by too many choices (which I guess is a good problem to have).  I need to try a few things and stick to a plan, and then it’ll get easier.  It’s only 4 weeks.  
But undoubtedly the biggest challenge (adventure!) is in the timing.  I’m single, and relatively social.  There are barbecues, parties, trivia nights, trips home to see my parents, working an election for 14 hours with no access to a fridge or microwave, cooking classes, birthday dinners…you get the idea.  And that’s just in the next month.  So I could wait to do this…well, never.  I’ll always be busy.  I just need to jump in and get started.  I didn’t technically start Monday night, but I met some friends for trivia at a sports bar and successfully resisted the beer and french fries on everyone else’s plate (ok, I stole a potato from Lisa) while I ate my kobe beef burger.  By itself.  On a very large plate.  Sans bun and side.  I felt a little silly because for lunch i had hummus and whole wheat tortilla, but it was more of a “Could I do it?” thought than the food itself.  Could I not break down and order some girly martini, or a beer?  Could I resist a side order of waffle fries, my favorite burger BFF?  And then it became kind of a game—what else can I not eat?  Bring it on!  I went to a friend’s birthday dinner last Saturday, a friend who loves wine and where wine is a frequent topic of conversation, and was surrounded for the next 4 hours by wine/martini drinkers.  Honestly, it’s more habit than anything.  I’m so used to having a drink because someone offers one and it seems like a good idea.  I enjoy drinking, but I don’t revolve my life around it.  The habit, though—the mental part was almost worse than the physical desire for it.  It’s so easy to drink when everyone is drinking, and you have such happy associations of social outings when friends are drinking.  So hey, I already showed willpower twice this week—for me, that’s impressive!

I decided just to jump into this thing today, so I went shopping yesterday at Healthy Home Market and Bi-Lo to get some supplies.  By the time I got home it was 7pm, and frankly I was kind of out of the mood to cook!  But if I wanted to eat tomorrow, I had to start cooking, and so I did.  I bought enough things to make 3-4 different recipes, but I only had the energy for one—Elana’s Thai Vegetable Soup.  I poached 4 chicken breasts (I’m making a different Elana recipe tonight, her Mexican Chicken and “Rice”) and added some shredded chicken to the soup to make it heartier.  It was quite tasty, and should last me a few more days.  This morning I woke up to make a veggie omelette that ended up tasting pretty good, and kept me full until…well, right about now.  Where’s lunch?!?

So it’s April 18, Day One.  Let’s do this thing.

A Revolution (in tiny baby steps)

17 Apr

Sometimes your life changes without you intending it to (and frankly IN SPITE of you not intending it to), in a span of a day (or week, or month…or hour).  You can resist it, or you can lean into it, embrace it, and accept where it’s going to take you.  I started out this year resisting it (actually, I spent most of 2011 resisting it, and ignoring my gut), and due to a confluence of events, I’m scrapping that and just letting go.  It’s past time.  

I like New Year’s resolutions, because they’re basically goals dressed up all fancy with somewhere to go.  Going through some things on my desk, I found a list I made on Jan. 2, 2012, handwritten.  

2012 resolutions

[[MORE]]My resolutions:

  • run a 5K
  • learn how to knit
  • listen to more classical music
  • show up places ON TIME (emphasized in the note) or early and NOT perpetually 5 minutes late
  • finish something before starting something else (I forgot I even wrote that, that’s really smart!)
  • send more cards
  • yoga: meditate 3x a week, home practice 1x a week

You know, it’s not a bad list.  And even though I haven’t looked at it in a few months, for my first trimester report?  I’d give myself a B-.  I listen to classical music on the way to work most days, I get up about 30 minutes early to meditate and pray pretty regularly, I’ve definitely been sending more cards, I have attempted to train for a 5K—at least I’ve been walking more, and that’s a start.  The showing up on time thing is still eluding me—it’s like a weird mental block to not get moving 5 minutes earlier than I actually get moving.  But anyway…pretty minor.

But when I made that list, I was in a very different place than I am now.  I was dating someone who I loved (but it turned out he was not very loving towards me); my health was great (for no particular reason that I can point to); I made goals in December with a colleague to accomplish things at work and get things done, etc. etc.  2012 seemed like a promising year…and then a lot of things changed.  T and I broke up; I had the smashing realization that I dated a person who frankly just wasn’t very nice to me; my health suffered as a direct result of the breakup;  the woman who worked with and for me (and was a good friend, job motivator and cheerleader) left to take another job—I just felt lost.  The one major positive change was that I turned toward God and started praying more faithfully.  But still, I’ve felt a little rudderless, a little out of sorts trying to process it all.  I’ve learned a lot about myself this year, some good and some not, but I’ve been lucky enough to have supportive friends, my faith, my church family, and most of all my siblings and my parents.  I’m not abandoning my 2012 resolutions, but I think due to where I am at this point, it’s time to make a few new ones, to start a tiny revolution in my own life, even if I don’t get very far.  Who says you have to start in January?

So…my re-mastered list of 2012 (and life) resolutions:

  • Stop dating assholes.  This cannot be emphasized enough.  It has to stop.  I have put up with far too much, and expected far too little, from practically every man I have ever dated or cared about—T is just the latest in a long line of problem boyfriends.  It’s not a self-esteem issue, it’s a “rescuer” issue, a belief that I could fix these broken, selfish people who crossed my path and wanted, consciously or not, for me to fix them.  THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE AND WILL NO LONGER BE ATTEMPTED.  It’s ridiculous—who do I think I am?  God?  If you need fixing, do it yourself.  Trust me when I say this: I will not be in another relationship where I am not at the top of the food chain.  It’s not about ego, it’s about respect.  I will treat myself, my emotions, my body, and my heart with more respect than I have been giving.  I look back on my year with T and I am amazed and horrified with what I put up with and what I allowed.  Why?  For what purpose did I let him get away with his ridiculously unappreciative, unkind, selfish behavior?  None at all except I was hoping to provide some comfort to someone who needed it, but at a costly expense to my own self-respect and well-being.  My biggest regret is not standing up for myself.  I can’t say I won’t ever get hurt again in another relationship—no one knows where the future lies—but I certainly won’t make the same damn mistakes I’ve made in the past.  I’M DONE WITH THIS STUPIDITY.  
     
  • Stop pretending like what I eat, drink, and feel don’t have an impact on my health.  I don’t know why my gut is feeling like it’s feeling—you would’ve thought my year and a half remission would’ve been jeopardized by the silliness of the last year, but I felt great.  And now I don’t.  Yes, it started with the breakup, but I can’t blame the dude for everything, I have to take responsibility for my own actions.  Now I just have to get my wayward colon back under control.  So when I’m not feeling great and I have 3 glasses of wine, am I surprised I feel worse the next day?  NO.  So figure it out already!  At the moment, the only thing I can think to try (and I’m not at my worst, but who wants to get there??) is the paleo diet which is supposed to reduce inflammation.  So I went to the store today and bought a whole mess of stuff for my 30-day Whole30 challenge, because you can’t wait for things to happen.  You have to take charge.  I made my first meal tonight and I’ll be blogging about that, just to track myself and how it’s going.  It’s already been an interesting experience, and when I get in one of these health moods, it’s just about the only thing I can think about.  So I’m going to commit.  And if that doesn’t work to get me back on track, I’ll have to try something else.  What else am I going to do—sit on the couch in misery?  NO.  Enough of this already.
     
  • Listen to the universe.  Or God.  Or whoever it is that has been speaking to me lately (and thank the heavens for it).  The night that I knew it was over with T, on Valentine’s Day, he said so many things to me (without prompting) about what he didn’t want out of his life (or our life) which were completely opposite to what I wanted—marriage, a family, a spiritual life (…actual conversations where both people contribute…but I digress).  I felt like God was speaking to me—“Get out, now!  Save yourself!”  And after that, it was done.  Whatever happened, it was not a relationship that was meant to be, and no one could have said that more clearly than T himself did.  What a relief to have it be so obvious!

    And then just recently I re-discovered a gift my brother gave to me on my last birthday, and it was going to expire on my birthday this year, June, for multiple session with a life coach.  I put it off for 9 months, but I finally felt like this was a perfect time to see her.  And in the 30 minutes I saw her (I have 3 more hourly sessions to go) she was so awesome and said things that completely resonated with me (more on that later as well).  I wouldn’t have appreciated it last year, but the timing was perfect now.  I’m ready to listen to what she has to say, what I need, and what my life should look like.  I need a coach.

    And with this diet thing—I’ve heard about it before but ignored it; I’ve tried doing a version of it, but wouldn’t fully commit; I randomly got an email from my naturopath about paleo being the only way to go; and this past weekend I was at a friend’s birthday dinner and her friend mentioned the Whole30 and how it has really changed how she felt about food and nutrition and now she avoided things she knew made her feel badly.  If it did that for her, it has to be of some help to me, right?  And it seems time, if not for a complete change, then a complete change for 30 days.  I owe that to myself, don’t I?

So I guess you could say the breakup has been good for me—it’s been a catalyst.  And another thing it did that I was not expecting was it allowed me to embrace my anger.  Righteous anger that I tamped down because…well, I don’t know why.  A misplaced sense of a need to be zen and giving and kind and generous.  Of course that has its place, but when all you do is give, you have to push back and demand more. So I’ve been embracing my anger, letting it burn brightly.  And when it burns out, as it will very soon (although sometimes it surprises me at its ferocity), a new, brighter, smarter me will emerge.  I’m ready for her.

I started this blog last year because I felt like I had things to say, and then I barely  posted anything at all, for a variety of reasons.  But I’m still finding I have a lot to say.  My tiny revolution has begun—I’m letting out a riot grrl yell in my apartment, you just can’t hear it (yet!)

Green Day *

19 Sep

This past summer, I was feeling a little tight, cash-wise.  And I got tired of it.  So I conducted a little experiment to Take. Back. My. Cash.

I’ll confess something upfront—I’m not bad with my money.  Not because I have so much of it, but because I’ve always been fairly…thrifty.  And my parents instilled in me at a young age the importance of a budget, and saving up front (“pay yourself first!”), so like the good nerd I am, I learned how to balance a checkbook and was only allowed to spend HALF of my weekly $5 allowance and I had to save the rest (I eventually graduated to $20 a week, but only if I was willing to mow our biga$$ lawn).  They are magical, my parents, and I’m so grateful to have them for a support system.

But lately I’ve felt…a little strapped.  I only get paid once a month, and it seemed for the last 6 months or so that as soon as I got paid, it went away.  I wasn’t saving anything short-term, and I was regularly dipping into the short-term savings I had, and I just felt constantly frustrated.  I didn’t want to run up my credit card and I didn’t want to sell all my possessions to get more money and I CERTAINLY didn’t want to get a second job—I’m kind of lazy and I cherish my free time.  So what’s the solution?  And where was all my money going?

I started thinking about this way back in January when my church started talking about moving towards tithing (10% of your gross income—which is serious business.  I’m not even close to that!)  Honestly, I don’t even know that tithing is a realistic goal of mine, but I liked the idea of my money not just being for crap I want, but having enough to be more generous with it.  And a book was suggested to me that sounded interesting:

The Power to Prosper, by Michelle Singletary

Power to Prosper, by Michelle Singletary

The main point of the book (and it comes from a very Christian perspective, I’ll say that upfront) is to use only cash on necessities for 3 weeks: no meals out, no drinks, no movies, no shopping (not even window shopping!)  Only spend money on what you really need, and only spend cash.  It’s kind of revolutionary.  Her point was that you would see what you REALLY spend your money on, and determine what you do and don’t need.  3 weeks is a long time if you cut out a lot of the fun stuff you do daily/weekly!

I didn’t think I needed to go this extreme, but the cash thing intrigued me.  If I had cash in hand (which I almost never do), would I spend it differently?  Would i budget it differently?  Would it feel more real to me?  Would I be more aware of where it was going?  In July, I wanted to try it and see what I found.

**A note about my spending habits (you’re learning so much about me!  And I’m talking about money!  It’s all very taboo…):  I get paid once a month, and after I pay all my bills I have an equal amount of spending money left that I divide in half between my credit card (which i pay the following month) and my check card.  My credit card is for all random purchases: clothes, shoes, major meals out, gigantic Target bills, dry cleaning, very important Amazon purchases like my newest Mighty Mugg and Everwood Season 4, etc.  My check card is for my weekly stuff: groceries, gas, meals out with friends, Rite Aid, anything entertainment-wise.  The check card is what I was going to replace with cash only, but I wondered if it would indirectly affect my credit card (random purchase) spending, which is what I felt had gotten a little out of control.  Note-let thus ended.**

I got paid right before the July 4 holiday, and I went to the bank and took out $100 cash for the week.  It was really weird to have that much cash on me.  Tony is much more comfortable having cash on him, and in fact I’m always finding bills stuck in random places in his apartment, but I never have cash on me.  Which, to be honest, can be kind of stressful, because there are certain places (like parking, or bar cover, or splitting meals with friends) where cash is really helpful, and having to find an atm, then driving out of my way to go there, then running late, blah blah—it’s a hassle.  So I decided to get $100 a week for the next 4 weeks and see if I could make it last all month.

Holy crap, $100 a week not that much money (is that tacky to say?  It’s true!)  Going to the store to buy…not much at all (much less an actual meal)?  $45!  Getting a bottle of wine for kicks?  $12!  Running to Amelie’s because I really wanted some lunch plus a raspberry croissant (and a few other things that jumped from the pastry fridge into my box)?  $15!  Honestly, I don’t know how men do it when they’re dating.  Who can afford a $60 dinner out (and that’s being conservative) for two people?  God, I’m cheap.  I’m glad I’m a woman.  And what happens when you have kids?  Where does THAT money come from?  It boggles the mind.

Anyway, it was a really fascinating experiment.  When I had cash on me, I would go to Common Market to pick up a sandwich, then eye the dessert fridge.  Do i need to spend $4.50 on tiramisu? Really?  Nah…and I’d put it back.  I wouldn’t hesitate to buy that crap with debit, trust me.  Do I need that extra $9 glass of wine out with friends when I only have a $10 bill left in my wallet?  Not when it’s only Tuesday, and I can’t pay myself until Friday.  I made dinner for Tony at the end of September (when I got paid), and ended up spending $80 at the Harris Teeter.  For one meal! That only lasted 2 more times!!!  I about fainted.  I used to get paid at the beginning of the month, and because I was flush with cash, I’d almost immediately going on a spending spree.  Now, I’m budgeting by the week, so I actually have something at the end of the month (although this month isn’t a good example…I have a week and a half to go, and it’s looking like PB&J for the foreseeable future).  Honestly, I don’t think I’m going back to a debit card (except for emergencies and things like gas).  I like having the safety and security of cash, and frankly, I think plastic has been really detrimental to most of us.  And I’ve eliminated a lot of stuff I thought I needed, but really didn’t, and used to justify why I was buying it.  Stuff didn’t make me happy, but it sure felt good in the short run.  But it was the long run that I was concerned about…when was I feeling good then?

Good things about being a cash money millionaire: I feel more in control of my funds.  And when it’s out, it’s (pretty) easy for me to say—“I’m cash poor, I’ll have to wait on that drink until next week.”  It’s a realistic out for me, and it makes me feel like I’m not overly extended.  And I’m trying to think long-term.  If I don’t get that purse, I can apply that money to ________.  And then I KNOW I’ve saved money for the thing I really wanted, and not just the impulse buy.  I just bought new furniture, and the thing with new furniture is that there’s always more crap to buy—lamps, towels, chair cushions, a new TV—and I was able to save up my money for most of that stuff, just by budgeting.  THAT is a really good feeling.  I’ve alleviated a certain level of anxiety by not being overly committed.  And as I do it for longer, I know that I’ll free up more money in my budget, which will allow me to be more generous.  Skipping the new bathroom accessories from Bed Bath and Beyond and then giving some of that money to a nonprofit helping out deployed soldiers (who just happened to call me on a random Tuesday night, asking for donations)?  It felt good, man.  

BAD THINGS ABOUT HAVING A DAMN BUDGET:  It’s a total bore.  I think about money ALL THE TIME:  How much do I have?  Do I have enough in my wallet?  I hope my wallet doesn’t get stolen.  Should I really buy that bottle of wine AND those pine nuts?  Dang, those pine nuts are expensive.  OH MY GOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE I SPENT $80 TO MAKE CHICKEN PARMESAN.   Is that fresh mozzarella REALLY worth it?  Why do I care so much?  Will it really matter if I buy the generic brand of cheese?  THis money thing is so stupid.  I WANT SUSHI, AND I CAN’T AFFORD IT TONIGHT.  God, this is lame.   Now I have to wait until October to get my Everwood DVDs?  Bleh.  I hope Tony is making dinner tonight.  I will pay him back with kindness and LOVE.  How is it possible to charge that much at Target?  Oh, the bargain book section!  My happy place!  I really want that new novel by—PUT IT BACK, PUT IT BACK, PUT IT BACK AND GET IT FROM THE LIBRARY.  Ohh…I wonder if I could just stop by Julia’s coffee and browse their book section, will I find (DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.  [But it’s for charity!  It benefits Habitat!] YOU HAVE 200 BOOKS AT HOME.  READ THOSE.)

…this is the running commentary of my budgeting brain.  It never shuts up (and frankly it’s kind of mean.)  It’s so tedious, and I worry that it’ll make ME tedious.  It’s like people obsessed with their weight, and it’s all they talk about.  Shut up, already. 

So the only thing to do is share this blog, then keep it to myself.  And keep my cash handy!  And then NEVER MENTION IT AGAIN.  

Seriously, though.  Cash is my new friend.  Maybe it’ll be yours too!  And I’m hoping that as I get better at this budgeting thing with each passing month, it’ll be less stressful, more automatic, and I won’t long for crap I don’t need.  A girl can dream!

* Blog post title was the brain child of Jason Law.  Jason, like a good librarian I’m giving you credit!

Letting Love Reign

15 Jan

Some months ago, I was getting on to I-77 S and this billboard caught my eye:

 


I was immediately taken with it—the two men, Tim and Ron, are a couple who own a wonderful gift boutique near my house, Paper Skyscraper.  I’ve seen them speak at the Mint Museum about their store and how they pick what they choose to sell—they have the most fascinating mix of household goods, cards, accessories, sculpture, and books, all with their own unique taste and style.  They don’t just have a dish scrubber; they have a dish scrubber shaped like a woman on the handle and topped with wild red hair.  I always get my Christmas cards there, and I love their collection of children’s books and toys for gifts.  You go in there with an intention to buy one thing, you leave with 6 others.  It’s a bad habit.
 
Anyway, I thought this billboard was completely striking.  And then, no exaggeration, I turn back to look at the car in front of me while waiting to turn on the on-ramp, and the Ford Explorer had the word “faggot” scrawled in the grime of the guy’s rear window.  Huh.  Ok, dude, you’ve got my attention. I’m looking, as if at a tennis match, between the billboard (“Less propositions, more proposals”) and the car in front of me (“faggot”).  Which do you think has the more positive, meaningful message?  I don’t know who the guy was in front of me—I tend to think it’s some Dane Cook-loving frat boy who tosses around the epithet without so much as a second thought, whose friends wrote it on his car at a drunken party the night before.  I doubt he (they?) thought of it as serious hate mongering.  But the casualty of the word, and the way in which it was written for anyone to see (and maybe the driver himself to miss—“ha ha, you don’t even know just how gay you are!), was in such serious contrast to the imagery on the billboard.  I think what was most arresting to me was the look that Ron was giving Tim: it speaks of love, devotion, commitment—all in a look.  It’s really striking photography.  

After some fruitless searching to see if I could find more about the billboard, I was thrilled to finally come across the pictures from a fellow small business owner’s Facebook page.   It turns out this marketing message is from Let Love Reign, a Charlotte-based movement that has now reached nationwide.  Some of the other people involved in the shots are another Paper Skyscraper staff member (Tony, always so helpful when I’m checking out), and a writer for the Charlotte Observer, Tonya Jameson.  Looking at the website, you see something so pure about the images, it’s hard to deny their power.

Growing up in a conservative, military family, and being fairly conservative myself (although more socially liberal than they) has made the issue of gay marriage a challenging one for me (as I suspect it is for many).  I have a gay cousin who has 4 children with her partner, and a good set of friends that I respect and admire who met on Match and now live happily with their dogs in Colorado.  I have gay friends from high school that I still keep in touch with, some of whom have had healthy long-term relationships WAY longer than I have ever had.  In fact, many of the couples I know are in more stable, lengthy relationships than their straight counterparts (which I think says something more about the state of dating today for straight folks…trust me, it ain’t no picnic.)  And yet, changing the face of marriage, an institution that’s been around for so many years, is not a decision to be easily dismissed.  And yet again, the divorce rate has increased exponentially in the last 50 years (for reasons too numerous to name), that it makes complete sense that gay people think—why do we not deserve the rights that you all take so lightly?  Both sides of the issue think they’re absolutely right, and that rightness can lead to bullying.  When Prop 8 was in the news 2 years ago, I read a variety of blogs and articles to figure out how I felt about the situation, and the stridency of each camp just turned me off.  If I don’t agree with you 100%, then I’m either a homophobe or an a-hole who hates the institution of marriage and wants to see it die.  Neither is correct, but you just lost me.  ”Let Love Reign” has a point of view, obviously, but the tone and approach are completely different.  I know which one is more effective.

Cliche or not, the best way to change someone’s mind is with love and sometimes that takes time.  But it’s the only way to effect lasting change.  “Let Love Reign” is a powerful testament to that fact, and I give all who are involved with it a warm round of applause.  Charlotte’s done good.

(Picture links to original CL article)

Quote 15 Jan

Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.

Thich Nhat Hahn

My year in review: looking back, looking forward

14 Jan

New Year’s Eve always makes me think about the year that preceded it, and I’ve always wondered whether the way you spend your new year’s eve has any bearing on how the following year turns out.  I know that’s a lot of pressure on one night, a night that is often over-hyped, spent intoxicated, and often plain stupid.  But to be fair, my NYE’s have been delightfully varied, and in the 8 years I’ve spent in Charlotte, I’ve celebrated New Year’s in a variety of interesting ways: with a boyfriend (on two separate occasions), uptown with revelers, alone (frankly, in my top 5 NYE), at a dinner with friends, at a house party, and this year, with a close friend at an all-inclusive bar with a bunch of 25-year olds having a bang-up time.  Last year I spent it with J, my ex, and it was also one of my better new year’s.  But the glow didn’t last long—we had our first major fight a month later, and broke up 2 months after that.  So I guess a New Year’s Eve is just that—one evening—but every year it makes me think of what that year was like and what the next year will bring. 

This year was challenging, for a variety of reasons.  Again, it started out perfectly, but that was the smoothest part of it.  J and I had a long distance relationship that ended after nine months.  In truth, I don’t think it was ever going to go the distance, but I had hopes.  It was good for me, in a way that past relationships weren’t, and it was something I needed at the time.  But the break-up was drawn-out and I have a tendency to feel acute agony when I’m causing someone else pain.  In times like that, I wish I were colder, more clinical, but I’m not.  So all of that aggravated my disease, and I just couldn’t stop myself from backsliding.  Being in a constant state of sickness is debilitating and after a while it wears you down.   It wasn’t until November after seeing my new naturopath that I was back on the road to recovery (bless that man).  But I have a feeling that any romantic relationship has the ability to affect my health, and unless I want to be a nun, it’s just something I have to deal with.  Relationships just don’t conform to the black and white world my colon seems to prefer.  I don’t do uncertainty well.

Of course there were highlights—going to Kripalu yoga retreat in Massachusetts in June was amazing and restorative, as was visiting Vermont in August and having a quick girls’ trip with my best college friends.  Work has been challenging and rewarding, and I’ve finally found my future there in academic library instruction, teaching students and developing information literacy programs.  After years of wondering (and stressing over) what I’d be good at, it’s a relief to finally find something that fits me, something that I can see a future with.  My friends and my family (especially my mother) never cease to amaze with their wisdom, support, and humor, and I’m grateful for having them in my life.  

And continuing with the highlights, the year ended on a surprising note, one that I wasn’t expecting. I went home for the holidays and saw an old friend for drinks. This man and I reconnected a few years ago, and at that time, I was surprised at how intensely I was attracted to him, since we’d never spent much time together back in high school.  We didn’t even think we liked each other back in the day!  He was a bit of a bad boy, and I was a goody two-shoes, and never the two shall meet.  But my first and most persistent thought when we got together with friends for dinner, 4 years ago, was “Sit by me.” I just wanted him to sit by me. To be near me. For all of the people that I have dated, I don’t know that I’ve ever had that reaction to them, that spark of immediate chemistry.  It was a bit of a revelation.

And so after Christmas we had drinks, the first time we had seen each other in four years. And it was lovely. He was lovely.  It was the most comfortable, refreshingly easy time I’d had in ages.  Effortless.  I think we both shocked the hell out of each other.  And being with him inspired in me a wildness that I’d forgotten I had, a sense of abandon that I honestly felt like I had lost.  There is a time after a breakup that I think most people go through where a sense of hibernation happens, and you stop caring whether or not you’ll ever meet someone.  The cynical part of you wonders if you will ever be really engaged again, awakened, energized.  The fire has been banked, and you doubt it can (or will) be reignited.  Will you ever find someone who gets you, who knows you?  Seeing him reminded me of that part of myself, the part that reminds me not to settle for less than what I deserve.  He’s my idea of Prince Charming: a funny (as we laughed the whole evening), delightful, comfortable, interesting, sexy, smart as hell, thoughtful, husky-voiced, slightly potty-mouthed, crunchy coated, sweetly gooey-centered, sensitive-yet-still-kinda-badass dude. So, like, WAY more interesting than Prince Charming, because that guy is pretty dull (wouldn’t you’d agree?)  But this man is just a completely unique package.

And yet, as with most (all?) of my romantic entanglements, it can never be easy.  I live in Charlotte, he lives 7 hours north.  Doable?  I think so.  Ideal?  Of course not.  If you’d asked me if I would do another long distance relationship like I had with my Orlando ex J, I’d tell you (once more, with feeling), hell no.  Too hard.  And yet, for him—I would.  In a heartbeat.  But only temporarily, to see where it goes while we figure it out.  It’s not in my nature to let an opportunity slip by (and sometimes to my detriment, as I have the tendency to put it all out there.  Oh look!  Example A: This blog!) especially when there’s something so good there.  But I can’t make that decision for him.  I can only hope he knows a rare thing when he sees one, and that the right answers make themselves clear to him and to me in this new year.  What I CAN do is be grateful for having him come back into my life, in whatever way he’s meant to be in it, for reminding me what I need and what I want.  Cliche or not, he gave me my groove back, just by reminding me the potential of a really good thing.  I’d missed it.  I’d missed him.

And so I’m looking at what 2011 will bring with anticipation, in ALL areas of my life.  I don’t want to stagnate.  My plate at work is full and varied for the spring.  I’m ready to really build up my career—have long term goals, attend conferences, put together a “package” of sorts full of accomplishments that I can take with me to a new place.  I love my job and the people I work with, but I don’t want to feel like I’m stuck somewhere, in a city I’m growing ambivalent about after 8 years, just because I’m too scared to try something new.  I want to be bold.  I completely freaked my mom out last month by checking out a job posting in California that appealed to me, but I was just trying to picture myself on the west coast.  Maybe?  Maybe not.  Who knows?  Seattle, Vermont, D.C., Austin, upstate New York, Maine—there are college libraries everywhere, the possibilities are endless.  I’m single, no kids—I have no specific ties to me besides the ones I’ve made here (which aren’t insignificant, to be sure).  So I need to start preparing.  My brother, one of the wisest people I know, told me that when I bought my new (to me) car in October, it was telling where I invested my money.  I didn’t put it in a house, in another degree, in expensive jewelry.  I put it in a (literally) mobile device, something that travels. I’m ready for change, in whatever way it presents itself—a new job, a new man, a new city, a new SOMETHING, I just don’t know what yet.  But it will make itself known to me, somehow.

I often make resolutions (don’t most people?) in the new year and of course they get abandoned in mere weeks, but this year I want to do something a little different.  I read “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin, and I want to focus on my own version this year, in a spirit of rebuilding and renewal.  Let go of the things that don’t work, embrace the things that do.  Be more generous with my time and my money.  I want to work on my health, which is has been in a shaky state with the excess of the holidays.  I want to get off my meds and get my body in a state of continual healing—I put my poor body through the ringer last year!  Part of that was due to the stress of the breakup, but much of it was simply me not taking care of myself.  I want to trust God more.  I want be able to let it go, like that TD Jakes letter (if you haven’t read it, you should—for me it was life changing).  I want to feel vibrant.  Appreciated.  Exciting.  Soulful.  Open.  I want love to surprise me.

All of this isn’t an easy thing to change.  Anxiety, like depression for some, has been an unfortunate long-time companion of mine (so it’s no surprise my health problems are rooted and exacerbated by stress).  I have worried and stressed and pushed and forced and controlled my life where i thought it should go.  And for the most part, it worked!  I’ve gotten almost everything I worked for, in the order I worked for it, with a minimum of effort.  But I was surprised to find I wasn’t satisfied with the choices I was making or the results I was getting, especially in love.  The most liberating feeling I had was turning 30, realizing my life had gone in a completely different direction than I originally thought it would (mostly in the marriage and kids department), and finally letting it take me there.  Not resenting it for not being what I thought it should be, not fighting it.  I want to continue feeling at peace with my decisions, and to know that I regret nothing.  And thus far, despite so many of my stupid past mistakes, I’m making good on that.  I want to embrace my Buddhist nature and know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, and be satisfied with it.  That’ll take work, but it can happen.

2011 beckons me, whispering sweetly hopeful plans in my ear.  I’m ready for what she’s going to bring me.  I’m ready for a really good year.

 

22 Nov