Sunday, February 28, 2010

Clip show. And also, week nine.

I've read varying opinions on how long it takes to form a habit -- most seem to come in somewhere between 21 days and eight weeks, like the cable company. As I round into the third month of my year of weekly challenges, I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the past eight weeks and see what's become part of the routine.

Week One -- no lame jokes: Yeah, this went the way of the dodo. I discovered that when it comes to what my teenage son thinks of my sense of humor, I just don't care. It's not like I'll ever be cool in his eyes anyway.

Week Two -- exercise every day: okay, I haven't been doing it EVERY day, but I have been getting to the gym and running with AJ and occasionally doing yoga much more frequently. So it's sort of stuck.

Week Three -- decluttering: I'll give myself a B on this one. My dresser top (a different dresser than before, with much less square acreage) has remained pretty tidy, and I've been making a concerted effort to keep the landing strip relatively clear (this is an uphill climb, though.) The bathroom shelves have fared less well, but not too badly. I am finding keeping on top of this pretty rewarding, although it's still difficult to really integrate it into the routine.

Week Four -- vegetarian week: obviously I'm not doing that for the rest of my life, but I have been staying vegetarian through about 70% of lunches and 90% of breakfasts. That's pretty good, I think, considering that probably 95% of my lunches were meat-based before. This is good for two extra reasons: one, it cuts way down on the fast food I consume, because lunch is where I generally ate the most fast food before; and two, I'm saving money by bringing a vegetarian lunch to work more often. So yay for me!

Week Five -- buy nothing: yeah, that didn't take. Obviously I couldn't keep it up forever, so I don't feel too bad about it. I do think that spending most lunch hours at the gym has cut down on my spending somewhat, but I guess I'd have to ask Peter about that because he tracks the spending. Even so I don't feel terribly deprived, and I do feel as though I'm a little more selective in my purchases and am trying to do more with less.

Week Six -- filing the mail. I have done pretty fuckin' well with this. I resurrected the inbox but it is actually an inbox -- only current bills and some tax stuff in there now. And most importantly, as you can see at the top of this entry, the Box of Shame is no longer! Shortly after week six wrapped up I attacked that motherfucker like a howler monkey. Two paper bags of crap and several new file folders later, everything's filed neatly in the cabinet and it's been that way for nearly three weeks now. I'm going through the mail every day, tossing the unnecessary crap and filing the necessary crap right away, and since it only takes a literal minute, it's been easy to fold into the routine. I'm motivated to keep this one going.

Week Seven -- eat breakfast. I am batting a thousand here since that week ended.  It does take a little more morning effort but I am learning ways to simplify and shorten the time I spend on assembling breakfast at home, so I feel like I'm on the right track. Also, I love to eat so it's its own reward.

Week Eight -- to do lists. While this was very productive at the office, I'm still on the fence about this one when it comes to home stuff. On the one hand, it does help me keep track of projects and things that need doing; on the other hand, I get all wrapped up in finishing tasks that aren't necessarily time-critical just because they're on the list. Some perspective might be necessary there...I think I'll keep trying it and seeing if I can find the right balance.

And now...week nine. I have taken a day off to be reflective and also to vacuum, so week nine is time-shifted to start tomorrow. This will be Practice Perfect Hygiene week, aka An Excuse to Get a Mani/Pedi.

A couple of weekends ago, I went to the Kit Kat Club with some friends. It's basically a supper club/drag show. While we were eating, a friend commented that she thought my makeup looked nice. I told her that since I was going to a drag show, I felt I had to bring my A game when it came to makeup. Sad thing is, I was telling the truth. Last thing I need is the Charo impersonator with a spectacular rack and 12" hips to rag on my janky eyebrows and crooked eyeliner. This weekend, we're flying to Texas to visit Peter's family, and since Texas women are like drag queens when it comes to make up, I feel the same way. I need to clean up my act.

This isn't to say I'm all bedraggled all the time -- I clean up okay when I put in the effort. It's just that between the job and the house and the kids, I have pared my daily beauty routine down to its barest essentials -- or what I feel are the barest essentials. My nails are a disaster, with ragged cuticles and scraggly edges that have ruined two pairs of tights in the last week. I won't wear flipflops because homeless guys look at my feet and offer me quarters. So there's definitely room for improvement on that front. I do wear at least some makeup probably six days out of seven, but that's only because I work. And my hair...don't even ask. Most days it's in an indifferent ponytail, even for work. And then there's my loathing for ironing. I have convinced myself that I have a permapress wardrobe, Not really. So, between slapdash makeup, floppy frizzy hair, hobbit feet, and rumpled pants, I'm not exactly cutting a fine figure every day.

And at 34, I should probably start thinking about taking better care of my skin. Mexicans, in my experience, are given to looking somewhat youthful until one day they wake up looking like a battered leather valise, and I guess I'd like to put that day off as long as I can. Right now my skincare routine consists of washing, occasionally apricot scrubbing, and moisturizing with some drugstore moisturizer. I don't know if I'm down for, say, a glycolic peel or anything like that yet, but maybe some more targeted creams...balms...salves...unguents...whatever might fluff out the creases in my forehead.

I'm also haphazard when it comes to dental care. Given that I have had extensive gum surgery and several root canals you'd think that I'd be inclined to floss with my shoelaces if necessary, but no. That 70, 80 seconds is clearly better spent searching for gray hairs or chin hairs or picking at zits lodged inside my wrinkles. And the brushing time is almost certainly less what is necessary.

So this week, I will take the time every day to look like a grown-up: nice hair, nails, clothes, face, and teeth. I will style my hair, carefully apply makeup, iron what needs ironing, pluck what needs plucking, and shave what needs shaving. I will smell nice. I will try not to chip the polish on my nails. And I will stand up straight.

But for now I will lie down straight in the tub.

Friday, February 26, 2010

End of the work week

Ten minutes before this week's quittin' time, and I have to say: this to-do list shit at work really, er, does the job. It works. I still have one beast of a naggy project sitting on the list, but having cleared away all of the detritus I have little excuse for not knocking it off the list on Monday afternoon/Tuesday morning, once I get through the usual Monday morning email deluge. At the office, at least, I think I'm going to keep this up.

Tonight's list:

--Order and consume pizza
--Fold more fucking laundry because it never fucking ends
--Finish up garden plan, yay!
--Watch Psych
--Sleep, sleep, sleep

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What's UP

Naked guilt is so motivating. I knocked out three naggy things and will have the fourth done shortly.

Plans and lists

I have been pretty consistent about going to the gym at least four times a week for the last few weeks, as I believe I have back-patted about ad nauseum here. Today was the first day I went to the gym, got changed, and then got changed back and returned to my car to go shopping. This was because I left my gymshoes at home, not because I couldn't control myself. So, that plan is a bit derailed but it's not the worst: I'll run with AJ tonight and mark "move ass" off my to-do list for today.

Yesterday morning, Hannah woke me up my barfing on my bed. So that pretty much short-circuited my to-do list for the day, the first of which was "go to work". We mostly spent the day lying on the couch watching cartoons, which, if you can get work doing that, I highly recommend. Most workdays I unexpectedly get to spend at home I try to knock as many home projects off my list as I can, but you can't really rope a sickly kid into even the most kid-friendly projects if they're not feeling it. So I gave it up for lost and we just hung out. Except for the barf, it was a nice day. I'm getting used to these four-day workweeks.

And today I got back to work to find a to-do list that hasn't changed a hair. Even after this morning it hasn't. These things that migrate from one day's list to the next are just...things I don't want to do for whatever reason. Looking at it, I could easily knock four of five things off today with about an hour's effort. Wow. That really makes me feel lazy. I am going to do that

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I should also say

AJ and I went for a short pre-football-training-season run on Sunday night, and he wanted to go again last night. But my ass was TIRED. I had gone to the gym over lunch, then went grocery shopping after work, made dinner, picked 8:45 pm I was zonked while folding laundry, and I was trying to get through The Amazing Race with Peter, and Hannah was in the tub yelling for me to watch her watch her WATCH HERRRRR. So he went the tried-and-true route of pouting and huffing and guilt-tripping. I felt bad for shooting him down because I actually enjoy spending the time with him, and I plan to go for a run with him tonight, but damn. The kid needs to get some perspective, because I have things to do, and it's not like the things I've set out to do each evening are frivolous or even optional. But maybe being productive is overrated if it means I am putting so much pressure on myself to do a certain amount of work every night rather than spending time enjoying my family.

Or maybe AJ's just being a baby.

Not a total failure

Oof. I ate a bowl of oatmeal with a sliced banana in it about an hour and a half ago and it's still feeling like I just ate.

So last night, my to-do list was as follows:

--grocery shopping
--put groceries away
--make dinner
--fold laundry
--organize coupons (I'm going to give using coupons a shot, because why not. Besides, I've already sunk $2.50 in the coupon organizer, so I have to at least make that back.)
--start a garden plan (I just bought this year's seeds, so I need to plan out where and how many plants I'll need.)

Hannah and I went grocery shopping, and we got home and put them away and everything was jake. Dinner was made (spaghetti and meatballs, and it was tasty.) After we ate (we tend to eat around 7, 7:30, with Hannah having a snack when we get home), at about 8 pm, I sat down to fold the four baskets full of clean laundry and watch The Amazing Race. Got through three baskets while Hannah took a bath, and then put Hannah to bed. Fell asleep sitting in Hannah's room, woke up at 11, took a shower, and while waiting for Peter to come up to bed (he was the family room) I organized the coupons. So tonight's list is:

--make dinner
--fold laundry and put away
--start a garden plan

Not too shabby, and totally doable.

My work to-do is much longer. I'm thinking I might need to split it into two lists -- the short, immediate projects that come up every day, and the longer-term, less-immediate-but-still-important stuff. I especially need something visual to keep track of people I need to schedule meetings with -- I've tried a few different ways but nothing's really stuck.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Week Eight: You're On the List

Eat Breakfast week was surprisingly easy. Turns out that given a reason to eat more frequently, I will do so with little complaint. Friday was a bit of a challenge, since I forgot to bring something and began eating some fairly stale Special K that has been sitting in a Tupperware container in my drawer for about a month -- but fate intervened with an anniversary celebration and fresh, delicious bagels. Saturday morning I made chorizo and scrambled eggs, which is easily one of my favorite breakfasts of all time. Yesterday, I made omelettes filled with mushrooms, red onions, garlic, spinach, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella (a.k.a. the Fridge Leftovers omelette) and today was a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats. Nine days and counting! I'm feeling pretty good about it. One problem I'm noticing is that on gym days, where I used to eat lunch before going to the gym, when I eat breakfast I'm not hungry before I leave for the gym so it waits until after I'm back and completely velociraptor-style ravenous. At that point I have to fight the urge to hit the BK drive-through rather than wait to get back to work for a bowl of soup to warm up. Still, I'm going to call eat breakfast week an unqualified success.

And now on to week eight: the week of to-do lists. I am an inveterate list-maker. I make lists for packing for a trip. Currently there are several iterations of garden seed lists scattered around the house. Project lists, shopping lists, menus -- I enjoy a list. But the one thing I don't do consistently is make a to-do list for the day, even though I unfailingly find it makes me more productive. I tend to lose the thread on projects with no due date -- for instance, this scanning project my boss has given me to do "whenever I have the time". Well, when I have time, I tend to do other stuff, online. Or eat a cookie. My head doesn't go right to "hey, remember that stack of scanning?" So to add it to a to-do list day after day is sort of nagging myself. If I get to nag at my family, I suppose I should also nag myself, right?

But I'm already beginning to wonder if this is a good idea. Yesterday I had the whole Sunday stretched out before me, and about a dozen things I wanted to do. At the beginning of the day, I saw no reason why I shouldn't be able to get my customary noon start on the day and knock out all of my tasks before dinner. Here's the list:

  • Laundry
  • WPPA fundraiser letters
  • Target/grocery shopping
  • Plan week's meals
  • Vacuum upstairs and down
  • Download new music
  • Paint Hannah's mural
  • Wipe down 1st floor bathroom toilet and sink
  • Run
  • Post at 52changes
Doesn't seem like too much, right? Doing the laundry is something that, after getting all the dirty clothes downstairs, takes a minimum of effort, and it can go on while I'm doing other things. The WPPA letters -- 90 solicitation letters to personalize, print, label the envelopes, stuff and stamp. Should take two hours, tops, but this is a project that has been hanging over my head like the Sword of Damocles. Shopping, well, I had short lists, so I'd give it another hour and a half, even though I had to go to a far-away Target to get the shower curtain I wanted. Planning meals (I sit down with the grocery store flyer to plan around what's on sale) should take fifteen minutes. Vacuuming is another hour. Downloading about ten songs I wanted shouldn't take long at all -- maybe half an hour to get them onto my phone -- and this little flowering tree mural I have planned for a corner of Hannah's room shouldn't take more than two hours. Cleaning the bathroom would take ten minutes tops. And I was hoping to get a short run in -- maybe half an hour. However, this was all conditional on the house being reasonably clean and picked up before I could get started. Oh, and Peter pretty much had to work at the computer all day, so Hannah's care and entertainment was mostly in my hands until about 9 or so.

By 11 last night I did get the Target shopping done, and most of the laundry was clean but not folded or put away. With Peter's, AJ's, and Hannah's help I did get the WPPA letters done. The bathroom was cleaned, which was probably the second most necessary of those items (it's a penis, not a fire hose -- is the toilet bowl that elusive of a target?) after getting the damn letters out. And AJ and I went for a 15-minute run that about killed the both of us, since it was snowing and the track was muddy and slick. But that was about it. Clearly, I have no handle on how long things take me to do, how much other stuff I do when I look back and think I've just been puttering around, or what to expect from myself. I wind up finishing the day frustrated and irritable because I haven't been as productive as I think I should have been but I also didn't feel particularly relaxed. And that's a waste of a weekend, isn't it?

Still, I'm going to keep at it. I do find that the to-do list is most useful at work, where I'm not supposed to be relaxing or having fun anyway. And maybe I'll start loading it with gimmes, like "drink a Coke" and "turn on computer" just to have something to cross off the list at the end of the day. I'll also keep a separate list for home projects throughout the week and see if maybe I can find pockets of time I didn't know I had. Unlikely, but we'll see.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


For today's breakfast, I had a banana and a cup of what I was told was the best yogurt in the world: Chobani 0% Greek Yogurt. It is pretty good. But it wasn't what I wanted. Once again, I was foiled in my oatmeal plan by a morning spent arguing with a four-year-old about whether a sleeping bag was an appropriate thing to bring to school. Why haven't I just made the oatmeal in advance and portioned it out? Because, my friends, I am lazy. Lazy lazy lazy. And by the time I get around to using the Nutella, AJ will have eaten it all on toast because he has learned that he loves it.

Anyway. Lots of good stuff for me in the banana and yogurt, but what would have really made that breakfast sing is a can of Coke. I can't stop yawning, and I blame the lack of Coke in me. Off I go to the vending machine.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The magical breakfast

I was running late (which is running normal) for me this morning, so I had to ditch my initial breakfast plan of oatmeal with Nutella and instead slapped together a PB&J (crunchy peanut butter with strawberry-rhubarb jam on whole grain.) I eat a PB&J maybe once every three months or even less often, but I always enjoy it way more than I feel I should. On more than one occasion it's made me think, damn, that was good, I'ma eat another one, and then I can't get more than two bites into the second one because it's too filling. And now, three and a half hours later, I'm not particularly hungry. But I guess I'm still thinking about lunch, because it's better than working.

My boss and I were discussing food and our differing reactions to it the other day. He's an "eat to live" person, while I'm a "live to eat" person. I love food. Not on an eating-disorder level of love, but I find it fun to talk about and cook and grow and play with and socialize around. Food, music, dancing, art -- that's an awful lot of the fun stuff in life, you know? And they kind of run together for me. I frankly do not understand how a person can eat beautiful food or dance to great music or see a compelling sculpture and not experience the same sort of primitive merriment that I feel.  And that, combined with a tendency to succumb to instant gratification, are part of what makes it difficult to make lasting changes to my diet -- or even bring my lunch. I had a bowl of squash soup for lunch yesterday, and it was good and good for me and and it sated my hunger, but it wasn't what I wanted, and so was kind of a letdown. On a day when I wanted squash soup, it would have been great, though. Does that make sense?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Leave it to Mom

Okay, the idea that I'm going to write about my actual weight is making me want to barf, but here goes.

So, for the last few weeks I've been pretty faithfully visiting the gym. I haven't noticed any major difference in my body but that's okay; I know it takes time and consistency and maybe a few less Cokes than I'm currently pounding daily. And, even absent any body changes I feel better -- more energetic and I'm sleeping better. I was feeling good about doing something regularly, like I was at least on the road to developing a healthy habit. Up to this point, my exercise routine has been extremely sporadic -- I'd spend a few weeks exercising regularly, and then stop and not do anything for a year. Or, I'd go to the gym once a week and the rest of the week eat at McDonald's twice a day. It's a wonder I'm not molecularly fused to my couch. I mostly relied on the kids to keep me active, which works fine in your 20's, but less so as time goes by.

Anyway, early Sunday morning we stopped at my Mom's to pick up the kids -- she had them over the night before as usual -- and while we were talking, Hannah pulled out my mom's scale to show me she knew how to "wave" herself. Hannah waves 32 pounds, for the record. Then Hannah asked my mom to step on it. My 4'10", 4'11" Mom is 125 pounds -- in fact, she's recently lost quite a bit of weight by quitting drinking. And then Mom directed me to get on the scale. Hm. No thanks. I don't weigh myself, generally. The only time I find out what I weigh is when I go to the doctor's office, which usually sets off one of the panicky week-long gym-going spurts. All I know is that it keeps going up, goddamnit, even when my pants still seem to fit fine.

So I laughed and said, "Uh, no thanks." And she said, "Why not? What do you weigh, like 150 pounds?" Which, for the record, is 20-25 pounds more than I think is a good weight for 5'6" me. Not the bony 105 pounds of my teenage years, but the relatively trim but curvy shape of my mid-late twenties. I replied, "I hope not." But Hannah pulled me over to hop on, so I did -- 143 pounds. Ugh. I wished I hadn't looked. Mom hustled over and said, "I wasn't far off. Haven't you been going to the gym, though?" I replied that I had, and I must have sounded bummed out, because only then did she say, "Well...I don't think you look fat..." and changed the subject.

Honestly, I'm not deeply unhappy with my body as it is -- the overall shape is pleasant, I just feel like I have a half-inch-thick layer of fat over the whole thing and I'd like to get rid of it. But for some reason, having a number attached to me is discouraging. If I felt totally content with my body at 143 pounds, I don't think it would matter what the number was. Ultimately it winds up being a way to compare myself unfavorably with others. And, let's say I get down to 126 pounds? Am I going to drive myself nuts trying to lose one more pound? I don't know. Goal weights seem like a bad idea for me. I'm more driven by the idea of, say, not having back fat, or as a friend calls it, back cleavage. Or of maybe my jugs going down a cup size so shirts don't gape open at the chest and flap loose at the waist. Or -- OR -- dressing to flatter the parts of my body I do like, instead of worrying more about camouflaging the parts I don't. It's not a big deal, but I just wish I could un-know.

On the bright side, going to the gym frequently has allowed me to document the number of days one television's closed captioning has been stuck on the same two lines of dialogue (26 days and counting) from, I'm guessing, a soap opera. It's more entertaining to watch adult diaper commercials when the old folks in them appear to be saying, "Oh take off your shirt." "Take mine."

Paczki Day!

Paczki Day is the Polish celebration of Fat Tuesday. And lordamighty, do we have a lot of Poles here in Chicago. I'm not generally a huge fan of Polish food in general -- even pierogi leave me kind of cold -- but I have a special place in my belly for Polish pastries. Paczki are basically really kickass jelly doughnuts, made the old-fashioned way: FRIED. FRAAAAAAHD Y'ALL.

So this was my breakfast today. I bought a dozen paczki for the office and two for me -- strawberry and raspberry (at photo time, they were already in my mouth and I had a powdered sugar beard.) And I will buy more on the way home for the family. I don't normally go nuts for doughnuts but paczki, man. Deelightful.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Week Seven: The most important meal of the day

Good gracious, where does the time go? I owe all sorts of updates, but before I retire I have to at least put this out there: this is Eat Breakfast week.

I am not a breakfast eater. Well, that's not entirely true; I love breakfast, but I don't usually really feel like eating until 10 or so. But that's less than ideal, since it's important to eat a decent breakfast for metabolic and energy reasons, as well as to avoid overeating later. Like the time I was PMSing and ran out for McMuffins at like 9:30 on a Tuesday and ate three. But I digress.

I figured this would be a good week for it since I knew I was in for a lovely breakfast on Sunday, when we had a play date for Hannah scheduled with some friends whose daughter is the same age. Roasted pork belly and a cheese-egg-bacon bread pudding? Don't mind if I do. But today's breakfast was a considerable step down from that -- I had planned on a nice bowl of loaded oatmeal, but left it at home and had to settle for a severely freezer-burned toaster strudel that has resided at the very back of the freezer at work for several months now. wasn't bad. I do enjoy a toaster strudel.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

So very tired

This evening has been one of those weird nights when everything seems to converge and need to occur at once. But! I still got the two or three pieces of fileable mail filed. No headway on the Box, but again, I'm not too worried about it. It'll happen before the end of the week, and I got the challenge-y part of the challenge done. Extra credit can wait.

In the meantime, I'm unsure if seven days of anything is enough to start a new habit. For a few days after vegetarian week, I had a bit of a vegetarian hangover -- that is, I thought twice about eating meat. I still think of lunch and breakfast as being veg time, which is sort of ideal, actually, since it means more fresh fruit and fewer Sausage McMuffins, one of which I could TOTALLY go for right now. And since no-buying-things week involved my going to the gym over lunch instead of shopping or eating out, I'm expecting to continue that throughout the week -- again, pretty ideal. But now, instead of starting out with "I'm going to go get a steak sandwich for lunch" and then thinking, "no, can't buy anything" or "no meat, dork", I'm going about it the opposite way. I'm starting out thinking, "gotta eat this salad and soup and then go to the gym" and then thinking, "well, I don't have to..." Thus far I've been successful in righting that thinking (with some room for fun, of course), but it's sad to me how pitifully easy my brain is to short-circuit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Box

Well, here it is: the Box of Shame. Probably a year's worth of crap in there -- bills, bank statements, coupons, catalogs, original copies of the Constitution, home enema kits, illegal fireworks, you name it. The box is about 18" deep, in case you can't tell. It's been combed through, purged of unimportant stuff, then put back rather than filing, then topped with more crap, repurged, put back again, ad infinitum. This is why it's so shameful. Why not just file this shit and be done with it? I spend more time avoiding it and half-assing it than I would doing it. But that's just how we do. Or rather, how we don't.
I was home most of the day today, since Hannah's school decided that an 8" snow in Chicago was just too out of the ordinary not to commemorate with a day off. And, I only received one piece of immediately recyclable mail today, so I had a whole extra five seconds to think about it and decided it was time to tangle with the Shame Box. It took some wherewithal just to bring the box out of the closet and downstairs, because this was essentially throwing my hat over the fence. There's no going back now...the box, she is out. I started sorting through it before it occurred to me to take a photo; before I began the box was actually brimming with papers. I left a kind of junk mail wake on my way down the stairs.
And that's where I left it. As soon as I got about an inch down (which got me back to August 2009) Hannah decided it was time for me to be the Prince and her to be Snow White, and we had to dance and twirl around the kitchen. Then we, you know, had errands to do, the primary one being not looking at papers. Then we had to take Peter to the doctor, make dinner, bake cookies, watch really excellent TV, and then it was bedtime. It's okay, though; all that paper will still be there tomorrow, right? I don't know if it's the reduced clutter or the increased exercise or what, but I'm feeling a little less frazzled these last few days. It's kinda nice.

Last night's clean out

Only two days into it and I'm realizing that we don't get much in the way of keep-worthy mail anymore, so for things to get backed up requires a remarkable amount of laziness on our part.

Last night's mail is here. You will notice the SI swimsuit issue, which AJ was very excited to receive and might file under his mattress, but it's not my problem anymore. A catalog, some flyers, some promotional crap. There was one student loan statement, which gets paid by automatic debit, so it's really not necessary to keep (and only $20,000 to go! Woo!)

I think that's pretty typical. At most we'll get three, maybe four things a week that need handling or keeping; the rest is junk or something we can look at once and toss. Most of our bills are paid online.

I cleaned out the little two-drawer filing cabinet last night. Took about twenty minutes to sort through the folders -- I wound up tossing the vast majority of stuff that was in there, because so much of it was so old. As I was going through it I tried to remember what the reason would have been in 2008 for keeping, say, bank statements from 2006. I can't think of any right now, but we did it, and I'm not sure why. Between the two of us, Peter's the keeper and I'm the tosser (heh) so I imagine it was Peter that wanted to hold onto that stuff. This isn't to say that he's never right about holding on to paperwork and whatnot -- it has occasionally paid dividends -- but for the most part, I think it's kind of pointless and silly to hold onto old bills and statements. Certain things -- contracts, records, major receipts -- it makes sense to keep, as long as they're put away. If they're not put away, when I get in the cleaning mood/frenzy/warpath, I don't give a damn what it is, if it's paper and doesn't say "DON'T THROW AWAY HAG" on it, I'm throwing it away or hiding it in a shameful closet box.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Good news/bad news

The good news is, I filed today's mail just now. Here it is at left. Took all of five seconds, as all there was to file was a single 401k statement, plus a bill.

The bad news is, there is still all of this to contend with. Saturday's mail:

Last week's mail:

Some shit that is...I don't even know what it is, but I bet each paper will require its own folder in my file cabinet:

Speaking of the file cabinet, it's stuffed as full of paper as I am currently full of Coke, hubris, and banana bread, and that, my friends, is FULL. This presents another roadblock -- I can clean it out, and then I have a box full of shit that needs to be shredded. Yeehaw.

Nevermind all that, though. I will soldier on. My current plan is to reinstate the inbox, but for bills only. Once Peter pays the bills, then he is responsible for tossing or filing it, because I will certainly not accept responsibility for all the paperwork in this household. I figure this will be a fair distribution of work, since I will be doing the filing of other documents. And, I now declare an overflowing inbox to be a naggable offense. Peter will also be responsible for filing receipts that he wants to keep, because honestly, I have no idea whether that fan belt he just bought is something he might want to return.

Wednesday or Thursday, I will also banish the "miscellaneous" folder, which is by far the fullest folder in the filing cabinet and holds everything from our house deed to this Fox Trot cartoon that Peter really enjoyed and wanted to keep for some reason. No more! I'll ruthlessly bust this folder up into its component parts. Which means I will need a fresh box of manila folders. But that's all I'll buy at Office Max, I swear. No cute black and white organizational containers until I've proven that this system will work for us, no matter how nice they'll look on the shelves. Maybe they'll be my reward at the end of the week.

Week 6: I get letters

This past week really took something out of me. I'm not really sure what that something is, but it was kind of a tough go. I don't think it was so much the not-buying part but the not-going bit of it that really gave me trouble. More on this bit later tonight, I think.

My original intent this week was to take it a little easy by making the challenge sorting and filing the mail every day. This should be, what, a ten-minute task, tops? But of course my next thought is of the enormous pile of old mail and various paperwork that is squatting shamefully in my closet right now. There was a water bill in it that wound up going a couple of days past due. Not the worst in the world, but still. Peter's the main bill-payer in the household, but our current procedure of "open mail, leave opened mail on counter, migrate mail to pile on desk, migrate pile on desk to closet pile" isn't really doing it for me. The visual clutter drives me batty, and out of frustration I end up dumping things we need. In some cases, that means, say a water bill. In others, it's some ratty scrap of paper with a code or phone number on it or a marked-up sheet of paper that turns out to be a vitally important piece of homework that I have to painstakingly restore with an iron. Or a days-old receipt that becomes necessary when something (that I didn't buy) needs to be returned.

A while back I tried to institute an inbox for important papers -- a sort of holding area for things until they got filed. That inbox is now sitting, I believe, at the bottom of the Box of Shame in the closet.

So after a Sunday off of any of the 52 considerations (no mail delivery! whoop whoop!) my mission tonight is to find a method that will work to 1) keep mail off the counter; 2) move bills someplace where they will be seen before being filed; and then 3) file the rest of it away.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I spend money without shopping

Peter commented that he was excited to see our credit card balance change only minimally this week due to my not shopping. But it appears that even when I don't shop, I spend money. A charge came through for one of those Entertainment Weekly subscriptions that you "trial" through Best Buy. Whoops.

In other news, I would really like to go shopping just to get out of the fucking house today. I am, it appears, a gigantic bitch for being tired of being around sick people and I can't think of anything to do with or without the kids besides watch TV, read, go to the gym or clean that won't cost money. And I don't want to do those things. I want to go see a movie, or go to Target, or anything else.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The lion's den

In retrospect, Target was probably not the best choice for a no-shopping-week shopping destination. The damage was minimal, but even though I did plan on making heart-shaped crayons for Hannah's Valentine's Day party, purchasing the little silicone molds could have waited until Sunday. Also, I could have passed on the little book titled Hannah the Helicopter but at the time it seemed like a real sell-out possibility.

Part of the problem was that I decided I was breaking my shopping fast anyway so I may as well get the damn milk and bread -- but I forgot my list, and so I was trying to hold it all in my head. I recall hearing about a study on NPR that demonstrated how easily willpower is circumvented by giving the subject a simple memory test. The more complex the memory test, the more likely they were to make bad choices. Given that I was trying to remember a list of eight items AND I was starving, I almost want to congratulate myself on not buying the totally adorable dress(es) I walked by on the way to the decongestant aisle. How the hell does Target do it? How do they make me want to buy everything they sell? I swear I don't feel quite as compelled by the merchandise of any other store.

The worst part is that there was a shower curtain on clearance that I could TOTALLY use for the downstairs bath. There were three left. I didn't buy it -- only bought the stuff I came for, plus the $3.50 worth of molds and the book. But what are the chances one will last until Sunday?

Grr. Irritated.

Off to Target for a loaf of bread

Damn it. And I was doing so well. AND I had been to the gym three times this week, and was planning to go today. Thanks a LOT, stupid virus.

I may have to bend

Last night, as I was putting Hannah to bed, I overheard AJ complaining to Peter about how much my non-shopping week sucks. He's had some short school days and come home hungry only to find there's "nothing to snack on." (You know, except for the potato chips in the pantry, or the bananas, or hot dogs, or windmill cookies, or leftover chocolate cake...)

Later on I came down to the kitchen to pick up a bit and he stomped in and bitched at me about it (in a kidding-on-the-square kind of way). I put up my hand and said, "Did it ever occur to you to walk down to the corner store yourself?" He replied indignantly, "What is this, the 17th century?!"

That boy is spoiled. I mean, I can see how it's a pain in the ass to not have milk or bread in the house, and he is certainly accustomed to my taking care of this sort of thing, but jeezy creezy the damn corner store is less than half a block away. Last I checked, his legs are working, even if 80% of the time they're limply hanging over the arm of the couch. In the words of Apu: we will all have a chance to be gouged. What the hell would he do if I were incapacitated? Scavenge? Hunt? Gather berries? Gnaw off an appendage? What the fuck?

AJ's infancy is not the reason I might have to bend, though. Peter is continuing his Wheeze Through 2010 campaign with...this has to be his fourth or fifth illness of the new year. Kidney stone, flu, weird rash that he contends was not an STD, and now flu, we think, it's the fourth. Poor guy, he's a walking hospital ward. Anyway -- and Peter, if you're reading this, I'm saying this with love -- Peter is nearly as clueless as AJ when it comes to feeding himself at home. If it's more complicated than opening a package or can, dumping the contents in a bowl or on a cookie sheet, and heating it, it's beyond his ken and it will somehow require at least three phone calls. He has gotten better over the years, but it's (perhaps unfairly) frustrating for me to look at a pantry and refrigerator full of possibilities for lunch and have them stand in front of it and say, "There's nothing to eat." Even so, Peter's sick. It would be needlessly cruel to leave him soupless or to fend for his own soup, wouldn't it? Sigh. We shall see, I suppose.

And for the record, here are the staples we are out of: milk, bread, plain yogurt (for smoothies), dish detergent, AJ soap, pinto beans, and grape jelly. I mean, it's not like we're dying here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


My purse has a mesh side pocket into which I usually slip my cell phone. I just tried to do so again, and the phone went right through and hit the floor. I guess the little hole is now a big one. Just like the one in my tights.

In other news

I would really like a tomato, and am regretting throwing away half a tomato on Saturday rather than saving it.

No soap

My teenage boy informed me this morning he is out of soap. If you have any experience with 16-year-old boys, you know they get rank in a major hurry. I don't yet know if this means "I've been out of soap for three days and am indignant that you didn't monitor my personal soap levels, so you MUST go to the store today or I will smell like a goat and leave moist contrails of funk in my wake" or "I'm running out of soap but am okay for a few days, so please pick some up next time you're at the store." It really is a toss-up as to which he meant. But assuming it's the former, it would really not be fair for me to withhold soap from him for my own purposes, would it?

Here's the other soap-related thing. We have four members of the family. We also have four different kinds of body-cleaning soap. Actually we have five; Hannah has one brand downstairs and another upstairs. We all have our own brands of shampoo, too. So when I make my shopping list, I can't just list, say, "soap" and buy a big-ass box of it at Costco so we're all set for soap for six months -- I have to specify "AJ soap" or "Erica soap" or whatever. As a result I'm running to the store more often because this or that person's special soap has run out. Thank god we're (relatively) consolidated on toothpaste.

This isn't to say that everyone else is the problem; obviously, I'm part of the problem too, with my salt scrubs and facial scrubs and fancy conditioner. I don't want to smell like AJ wants to smell -- but really, how long does that smell last? Half an hour before Old Spice Game Day or whatever is a distant sensory memory? Why does this shit matter to the point that I willingly consume more and more?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The lunch hour

Even though the gym is five minutes away from my office, when you factor in the time to get there, the time to change clothes, the time to shower, the time to change back, and the time to get back, you've got about 40 minutes tops to work out on your lunch hour, and that's if you haul ass on everything. Usually it works out fine -- I mean, you do what you can, right? -- and since I can't shop on my lunch break this week, the only other things to do on my lunch is eat lunch or read, and hell, I can read on the elliptical or treadmill for 40 minutes, so why not do it that way and eat at my desk? Even though I hate eating at my desk. But I digress.

When I go to the gym on my lunch break, the hour is more than accounted for (unless the power goes out at the gym, like it did yesterday, halfway through my elliptical stint, causing an orange, roided-out d-bag to fly off the treadmill he was pounding on, to my merriment) which means no stopping even for a quick errand -- no ATM, no Home Depot, no Borders -- unless I'm okay with running over on my lunch hour. I am sometimes okay with running over on my lunch hour, is the problem -- "I'll just look at the gardening magazines" means I walk out fifteen minutes later with $10 worth of magazines; "Oh, I needed to pick up some wire brads" means I pick up some wire brads and take a half-hour stroll through the garden center, with requisite garden purchases. I have so little willpower when it comes to some things that it'd be laughable if it weren't ultimately a little frivolous, and I am very good at creating reasons to go shopping. Even for things that are arguably pragmatic, it's more mindless than I like to admit, and the opportunity to shop is always in front of me, all the time. I'm actually a little grateful for an excuse to block the "it'll just take a second..." voice out of my head this week.


I brought a tupperware container of cereal with me today for breakfast, but I forgot to bring milk. I considered dumping a bunch of half-and-half containers into it, but there weren't enough, so now I'm just eating it dry. Not the ideal situation.

And the thing I've been dreading, yet is entirely of my own making, is this: I have a short list of things I am looking for on Craigslist and at the Sal Army, because I prefer to buy vintage furniture when possible and because I am not rich. Namely: a white or paintable highboy dresser, a white or paintable daybed, and a small white or paintable desk for Hannah's room; a preferably '40s era dresser or chest for myself to replace my busted IKEA model; a desk chair for AJ's room (I'm still kicking myself over passing on the coolest vintage aluminum rolling chair a few months ago...grr); reasonably priced grow lights; a chair and a half; and a couple of other things I can't think of right now. I've been patient thus far, waiting for just the right combination of style and price. But I just know that this week they'll all magically appear and get snapped up for next to nothing by some other yob who's having a Buy Everything week.

Plus, combing Craigslist is what I do for mental breaks at work. (Well, that and writing here or other places.) Now it's essentially an exercise in blue balls, but I just can't stay away. I wish I knew how to quit you, Craigslist.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Week 5: Stop a Woman from Shoppin

As planned, vegetarian week ended with the baconiest of bangs. I ate a lot of bacon -- encased in sugar, covered in cheese, wrapped around other delicious things, on top of homemade mochi. Earlier in the day I had to do a lot of tasting around meat, which might have been a slight violation of the spirit, but it was necessary to not waste bacon in bad food. And sometime on Saturday, I put the idea of making week 5 Buy Nothing Week at the top of my mental list, which in retrospect might not have been the greatest idea if only because it meant I couldn't go out and buy steaks to make on Sunday. Thus I have to wait until Superbowl Sunday to finally go nuts on a slab of grilled beef. I'm sure that the delay will make the meats much more sweets. I did have a Polish sausage, though, and that was a fair substitute.

Overall, I think meatless week was a great experiment. The initial bodily weirdness (and late bowelly weirdness) aside, it wasn't tremendously difficult, but felt like a positive step for a lot of reasons. I am tremendously encouraged to reduce the amount of meat I eat overall, but I do know one thing: if I'm cooking it, I'm eating it.

And now, week 5. I spent quite some time yesterday debating whether or not this was the week to buy nothing, but what it boiled down to was two things: one, it would never be a convenient week to not be able to go to the grocery store, and two, if it's convenient, it's missing the point, right? Also, it was 11 at night, so it was too late to eat breakfast, make my bed, or take a shortened shower. But I hadn't bought anything. So with a third of a gallon of milk and an unknown amount and variety of meats preparable for dinners in the fridge, a bedroom dresser with a broken drawer, seed-starting time around the corner, and several household projects percolating in the back of my mind, it's maybe the best and worst time to do it. I didn't do any special pre-shopping, so it's not just about avoiding temptation to shop, but also doing without.

Making an exemption for groceries crossed my mind, but the truth is, I buy too much when it comes to groceries, too. I just had to throw away a pound of asparagus that for some reason I never got around to cooking and so started to rot, along with a half-gallon of Egg Nog ice cream that was too eggnoggy. So I think it'll be a good thing to see what I can do with what I've got. I have a decently-stocked pantry and refrigerator most of the time, and often I'll go grocery shopping less because we need something and more because I want something specific. I don't think that's such a bad thing in general, but it does lead to things like rotting $3.99/pound asparagus.