Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Meal Plan

Yesterday I wrote about lists and how I use them in three main areas of my life - work, writing and household chores. Later I was thinking about how there's an obvious, important area of life missing from that list of three - my health and well-being. I thought it was blog-worthy to note that for my longest stretch ever, I'm still following my New Year's resolution, to eat more healthy foods.

Part of my success has been to not be overly strict. Notice I didn't say "to eat only healthy foods". First, as my mother loves to point out, that would be pretty inconsistent with my nasty tobacco and alcohol habits. But I figure every little bit helps. I have given myself permission to binge on the weekends, and I've decided not to worry about the smoking until I have lost at least (mumbles a number) pounds. The last time I quit smoking for any length of time, I gained 15 pounds in two months. I'm too stupidly vain to repeat that experience right now.

But, I do believe being conscious of the food I select to nurture my body will help offset the negatives of my otherwise unhealthy choices. My primary change in behavior has been to stop buying and preparing processed foods, at least for meals. There's been no Hamburger Helper on the Whitaker dinner table in 2011. I invested in a small freezer and am stocking up on meat when it's on sale. Soon, I'm going to follow through on my intention to purchase organic meat in bulk and fill that freezer up. I am ordering produce from Soggy Bottom Produce, now that they've opened for the year. We are eating fresh and local veggies, and next week they will have strawberries! I've also been loosely following the slow-carb diet recommended by Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Body. I know his books haven't gotten the best reviews, but I think a lot of his advice makes sense. (And who cares???? He is on the best seller list! You can criticize my writing all you'd like after I start making the big bucks, and I promise, I won't care. Until then, please play nice on my blog. :-0)

An important part of these new eating goals is to make yet another list. Not just a grocery list, but a meal plan. So far I really only bother about dinner. For breakfast, I generally eat eggs and spinach, sometimes with beans if there are any left over from the night before. Occassionally I substitute a protein shake. Lunch is either leftovers, a sandwich or maybe canned tuna or cottage cheese. Ken fixes his own breakfast and lunch, so dinner is my only "pressure" meal - the one that used to turn into frozen entrees or ordering a pizza after a hectic work day. Dinner was the meal that needed a plan. Again, I don't worry too much about weekends, but by Sunday night, I have a general idea of what I'm cooking the rest of the week. Here was this week's plan:

Monday - pork chops, rice, brocolli, black beans (I ended up substituting field peas and snaps that were in the freezer for the black beans)

Tuesday - turkey wings, new potatoes & spinach (prepared together in the crock pot) and red kidney beans

Wednesday - Baked salmon, seasoned with Old Bay, roasted asparagus, carrots, and black beans

Thursday - Soup (cleaning out the freezer, or "garbage soup". I used brocolli, rice, a variety of beans, carrots, and part of a London broil from the freezer, and I added some canned tomato sauce and some diced tomato, and a little water. It's really more like what Rachael Ray calls stoup, a cross between soup and stew.)

I'll be honest, I haven't lost as much weight as I was hoping to. But I feel better knowing I've made a major improvement in the number of nutrients we are consuming, versus the number of perservatives. I think I'm saving money on my grocery bill, too - and that's a much welcome added bonus!

It occurs to me that my meal plan illustrates an important part of successfully using lists. I keep it simple and stay flexible. Side dishes, or entire meals, can be swapped around without causing "failure". But having a starting point, a plan, helps me navigate in a satisfying fashion. I need to remember this philosphy with my other "lists" instead of getting discouraged by a few misses here and there.

Final thought....I can't remember exactly where I read this, but did you know you are 80% more likely to do reach a goal if you write it down? Maybe that's some made-up statistic in some crazy self-help resource I studied at some point, but I'd say it's pretty close to accurate in my experience. What would you like to do today? Write it down, and let me know what happens!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Most Days, I Like Lists

I'm not sure when I first started making my own lists. I do remember the small blackboard in DauDau's kitchen that she used for her grocery list. Frequently, when there were just a few critical items on the board, like bread or milk or toilet paper, she would scribble the list onto a piece of paper and send one of us grandkids to the A&P. When I say scribble, I mean that literally. DauDau's handwriting was awful, but I can't say much. Mine might be even worse. But we could decipher her short lists, probably because they were short enough to memorize and recite rather quickly. We would cut through the yard of the house across the street and come out in the A&P parking lot. Those were the days when you could let little kids run around town unsupervised. I felt like a grownup going to the grocery store for DauDau.

Over the years I've continued to value lists. I particularly appreciate lists of "goals" in progressing my "personal growth." I'm not as consistent as I could be, that's for sure, hence my tendancy to get stuck in a rut or two. But when I'm ready for a change, out come the pens and paper, and of course the keyboard.

This week I've been making lists every night of things I want to accomplish the next day. I have lists in three basic areas - work, writing, and household chores. It's only Wednesday, and already I feel a lack of productivity. I've crossed off very little on my lists today.

I have used a work list with consistency for years. Actually make that multiple lists at work. My team has a conference call a couple of times a week (we used to meet even more often) to maintain a "priorities" list. In addition there's my inbox, and my various email folders, and our ticketing system, which all serve as lists that I check frequently to remind myself what needs to be done. I react pretty quickly to my inbox. I like moving the quick tasks to the finished folder, the equivalent of drawing a line through the grocery item that's in my cart, I suppose. But I'm realizing more and more how ineffecient that work strategy is. I need to organize my work into better priorities, and more cohesive blocks of time. I'm getting too old to multi-task as well as I used to, and recovering from even brief interruptions often means practically starting over on some tasks. I think I also need to focus more on true "goals" for work rather than "tasks". But of the three, my work lists coincide with my most successful productivity. I'm sure my employer would be happy to know that. Even as busy as I was today, and with as many interruptions and conference calls, I still hit most of the items on my priorities list.

While I want my writing to be a more defining part of my life, I've kept my writing goals fairly small this week. They have been the same for three days - editing hubs, blogging, and "starting" a new hub. I want it to "stick", so I'm hesitant to commit to the Great American Novel until I've truly established my writing habits as routine. But even the small goals seem a bit daunting. I've scribbled some ideas for hubs, but I haven't really "started" anything yet. It was 3 pm before I started this blog entry, and I haven't started my editing quota for today. But I have time - these are things I can do while Ken watches Family Guy.

I did really well on my chores Monday and Tuesday - accomplishing even more than I put on my lists. Today has been a bust. I've been busier than usual at work, so I have a really good excuse, but still, I can feel the disappointment, the temptation to submit to defeat, seeping in. I know I'm not likely to do any extra chores at night - cooking dinner and cleaning up the kitchen are enough! I knew even as I put my main three tasks on paper last night that they were probably too 'big'. I like 15 minute or less kinds of chores, and at least two of the three are more time-consuming.

But, the day is not over! I'm not giving up! I was feeling overwhelmed with work, and I knew I needed a break. I took a look at my lists and committed to getting the blog entry written. And look - only 12 minutes, and I'm almost there! I find the more I can cross off my list, the more likely I am to move to the next item.


Almost 8 p.m. now - I had to get back to work earlier. As predicated, I managed to complete my "editing hubs" task while Ken has been watching t.v. I also sent emails with interview questions for an article (and I consider that "starting"). Finally, I moved two of my house-keeping chores to tomorrow's list, and I'm post-poning the third indefinitely. I did complete a couple of chores that really should have been on today's list instead - like cleaning the litter box. You KNOW I deserve extra credit for that one!

The best thing about a list is definitely crossing things off. And I'd say the scratches on my notebook don't look too bad today after all.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Writing from Plymouth

I've been so negligent. My poor little blog has been out here in cyberspace, all alone, wondering where the readers went, wondering why no one visits anymore. It's my fault. I've been a poor hostess.

Last time I was here, I claimed I was ready for a fresh start. It's not that I lied, exactly, it's just that, well, hmmm....let's I said, we moved a little over a year ago to my hometown, Plymouth. And we've just been so busy settling in, getting to know new friends, reconnecting with old friends, figuring out the social life in Plymouth...NOT.

I have been learning to play the Bass - Daddy has been teaching me. It has not been easy, but it also has not been hard enough to completely discourage me. I enjoy our weekly "practice" sessions. Julia and Aunt Judy usually come, and we have invited a few others who might eventually join in.

That's my social life in Plymouth--driving to Jamesville for music lessons. And I joined a book club last fall and a writer's group this winter (technically, I guess I'm a "founding" member of both). And of course we have the occassional family shin-dig, like Julia's birthday party weekend before last. But I miss my Raleigh area friends, our karaoke nights, the variety of restaurants we frequented, the art museums.

Ok, I lied again. I haven't been to an art museum in many years, maybe even since I was in England in 1995. But I miss the idea that they are an option in close proximity.

In spite of feeling like there's "nothing to do" around here, we do seem to stay pretty busy. But, excuses won't fix anything. It's just time, again, to try to move forward. I'm a little more convicted this time. Before I wrote this post, to get this party started, I spent some time yesterday updating a few hubs. I made a list of new article ideas. The weekly hub suggestion is DIY, and I have several projects I want to get to. Maybe I can turn one of them into a hub before the week is out.

I also posted on facebook last night to try to solicit a few folks to interview. I want to write about learning to play a musical instrument as an adult. I know "expereinced" musicians who have learned a new instrument as an adult, but I'm looking for the beginner, or the adult who had minimal experience as a child and re-learned something or picked up something new later in life. If you are interested, send me an email. If I "interview", I will write, so, help me out - keep me honest!

The other reason I feel more optimistic about "sticking with it" this time comes from finding some other really interesting blogs lately. I'll probably highlight or feature some of them more specifically, soon, but for today, the main thing they all have in common are....well, lapses. Or periodically short, and I mean very short, entries. It helps me get over the "perfectionist" in myself. I have a hard time just throwing something out here without preparation, editing, etc., etc. But isn't a blog really just a sort of public diary? I've found a few heros out there in blog land, and they've reminded me it's okay to be human and to write about it.

So here I am, again. And I plan to see you again soon - even if it's just a quick visit now and then instead of a blow-out. Here's what my typical blog entry will probably look like:

I had a very productive day today. "Productive" is relative in my world, lately, but here's what it looks like:

I checked off most of my "to-do" list for work. I checked over 10 old hubs for quick improvements. (The main thing I'm looking for on hubpages at the moment are old Amazon ads. I thought I had converted them all to ebay when Amazon changed their affiliate terms and booted North Carolina participants, but apparently I never finished that chore. I worked through 10 yesterday, too, so better than 20% through that project.) I made it through my "house hold chore" list. Laundry is caught up - that's huge! Bathrooms are "swished", Flylady style. And....drumroll, please....I finished a blog entry! :-)