progress updates: January 2019

I didn’t make any resolutions or goals for 2019, per se, but I did have some lifestyle changes I want to make. Here’s how things went for the month of January.

Ragged Mountain Reservoir
Ragged Mountain Reservoir

In 2018, I didn’t use enough vacation leave and found myself in danger of losing days as my work anniversary month concluded. So, I crammed in some days off as my workload allowed. This is not ideal, and it is also an indication that something is off-kilter with my work/life balance. So, I decided that for 2019, I needed to plan some days off in advance so I’d actually use my vacation leave, since I rarely take actual vacations. So far, I haven’t used any of my leave time yet, but I have scheduled a long weekend in February and am taking Spring Break off in March, and have plans for May and July on the horizon. I’ll be looking ahead to other times of the year when I can take off a week or more without negatively impacting my workload.

snapshot of a Fitocracy month indicating workouts recorded

I tend to get really busy once the semester begins, because that’s when all my “extra-curricular” activities kick in. One thing that often gets de-prioritized is physical activity. So, for the month of January, I mapped out a workout schedule to fit around my regular obligations with a varied plan that would keep me from getting bored or using “recovery” as an excuse to not do anything. It’s worked, mostly, though it does require me to make some adjustments towards the end of the week if I haven’t also done a good job of getting to bed on time and sleeping enough. This process has been helpful for me to reach my goal of 219 workouts in 2019.

infographic for the YNAB principles

Midway through January, I decided to have a hard conversation with myself about my budget and long-term goals. This was in part due to a decision in early January to start seeing a therapist again, and the impact that would have on my budget. Despite making more money than I ever have or ever thought I could, I still manage to spend nearly all of it every month, living paycheck to paycheck. I had been trying to use Mint to make and stick to a budget in 2018, but that just wasn’t working. I’m giving the YNAB philosophy (and software) a try this time around, and it’s already helping me re-think how I budget and how I make spending decisions. If you decide to give it a try, too, I highly suggest reading the book and/or making use of the free webinars. On its own, the platform is okay, but it’s so much better if you understand the underlying system.

quantified self, an addendum

Digital Body Fat Weight Scale by BalanceYesterday I shared a list of apps and tools I’m using to monitor and track things, mainly health-related. Well, my Amazon packages arrived last night, and I now have a new scale. The old one started acting weird a week or two ago, coinciding with what appeared to be a three or four pound gain in weight in a week. The new scale indicates my weight is right around where it was before my old scale went haywire. So, that’s reassuring.

My new scale also measures body fat %, muscle mass %, bone density %, and water weight %. As I mentioned yesterday, I already have a hand-held body fat monitoring tool, but I was curious to know if the electrical impulses running from foot to foot would encounter different types of data points than those running from hand to hand. Sure enough, my body fat % is much higher on the scale than with the hand-held device. For my own tracking purposes, I’m recording the average between the two.

the quantified self

Over the past few years, I’ve been using a variety of apps and devices to keep track of all sorts of things about myself, primarily related to my health and well-being. It’s been on my mind lately that you might be interested in these as well, so here’s a brief run-down of what I’m using today.

Fitbit OneThe Fitbit One is no longer manufactured by Fitbit, which is too bad. I’ve had one of these devices for a little over five years (thanks to Marie), and I’m on my third one with a fourth in reserve. It’s small enough to fit in my pocket, even with the holder/clip. It tracks my steps fairly accurately (I’ve tested it periodically), as well as distance covered and the quality of my sleep. It has been my primary health app/device for most of the time I’ve been measuring myself, and though it has its limitations, I still appreciate the core functions. [Side note: I have tried one of the wristband style trackers and I didn’t like it. The neoprene strap made my wrist sweaty, and the step counts seemed less accurate. I liked the heart-rate monitor aspect, but not enough to deal with the annoyances of a thing on my wrist. How I managed to wear a wristwatch for most of the first quarter of my life, I can’t imagine now.]

SyncSolver app iconFitbit decided to not play nicely with the Apple Health universe, but another app developer built SyncSolver to fix that. Since I have my Fitbit on me more than my phone (and it seems to be more accurate than the built-in pedometer on the iPhone), I use this to sync my steps to Apple Health for other apps to read. More on those below.

SleepCycle regular sleep graphA little over a year ago, I became concerned about the quality of my sleep. I downloaded an app that I no longer use and can’t remember the name of to track my snoring, which was far more frequent and vociferous than I thought. I began experimenting with things to improve my sleep quality, from nasal strips (not helpful) to a contoured memory foam pillow (helpful). In the process, I ran across the SleepCycle app. It’s a smart alarm that listens to your sleep and based on the programming, can determine where you are in your sleep cycle throughout the night. As it gets closer to when the alarm is set (within a half an hour, to be exact), if it sounds like you are in a lighter part of your sleep cycle, it will play the sound or song you selected to wake you up. It can also note (and record) when you are snoring and assesses the over-all quality of your sleep. I have two cats, and it seems to know when the noise making is coming from me versus them, which is both amazing and kinda weirds me out. Anyway, it’s been useful for figuring out what I need to do to sleep better. I can sync the sleep data to Apple Health, were it can be read by other apps as needed.

Strides app screenshotLast fall, as a part of my ongoing effort to get better sleep, I was looking for a tool to help encourage me to go to bed on time and wake up when my alarm goes off, rather than staying up too late and hitting snooze or turning off the alarm altogether. A regular schedule is generally believed to be helpful for sleeping better. I started using an app called Strides to keep track of my progress. In January, I added a workouts tracker to provide me with an easy overview of how often I’m doing that this year and how close to the 218 in 2018 I’m able to hit. At the current rate (37  out of 112 days), it will be more like 118, but it’s better than sitting on the couch. None of this syncs with Apple Health, but I don’t need it to.

Fitocracy app screenshot mid-workoutI’ve been a member of the Fitocracy website for several years now, but only in the past couple years did it become useful to me thanks to a more functional app. I prefer to do strength training rather than cardio at the gym (though I make myself do some cardio), and this app is very helpful for keeping track of what I did the last time and guiding me through the workout this time. There’s also a community/social aspect, as well as gamification (you get points for each exercise depending on how challenging it is to do), if that’s your thing. Since so few of my friends use it regularly, I don’t focus on those features much. As you’re going through your workout, you can edit the weight, reps, and sets if you end up doing more or less than you planned. If there is an example video, it will be at the top of the screen, and clicking on it will make the video play. This is helpful if you want to make sure you’re using proper form or need to remember an exercise you haven’t done in a while. It also indicates how many more exercises you have planned (the circles at the bottom of the screen) and what the next exercise set will be. None of the data from this app will sync with anything else, but it’s so useful in an of itself, I don’t mind.

MyFitnessPal screenshotI reinstalled MyFitnessPal in mid-January and have been diligently tracking my food, water, and cardio minutes. This syncs with Apple Health and Fitbit, which is useful for keeping tabs on key nutrients, since Fitbit’s food logger is not great. I used this app a few years ago, and as with others, got frustrated because it was so hard to be precise without measuring out every morsel I consumed. This time it seems to be easier, in part because the food database has expanded, and in part because I’ve let myself not care about the details too much. Part of changing my diet means eating less convenience food and eating more whole foods, preferably that I cooked myself. The challenge is that convenience foods also conveniently have their nutritional content displayed on the package with a barcode to save me even the effort of typing. I’m taking a horseshoes and hand-grenades approach this time — close enough will work. Also, I’m trying to focus more on the macro goals in addition to the caloric limits. What I’ve re-learned in all of this is that lean protein is not nearly as appealing as fatty protein, and I tend to eat very dense foods such that I can consume a lot of calories without feeling like I’m over-eating.

Happy Scale app screenshotLastly (and most recently), on the recommendation of my friend Jenica, I’ve started using the Happy Scale app to track my weight trends. It takes a long-term goal and break it down in to smaller, more immediately achievable goals, showing progress along the way. Although I am logging my weight every day (immediately after I wake up and use the toilet), it’s focused more on averages than that specific day’s weight. The data syncs with Apple Health, which is how other apps like MyFitnessPal and Fitbit get updated. The scale and this app only measure my entire body mass, which isn’t the whole focus of my fitness goals, so I also have a hand-held body fat monitor that I check periodically, usually only when the scale numbers have moved. Since I’m strength training, the scale numbers might go up with the addition of muscle mass that is denser than fat mass. At some point, I should do tape measurements, but for now I’m relying on the fit of my clothing to let me know if things are changing there.

numbers

Birthday Cake
“Birthday Cake” by Paul Downey

The number on my age is changing this week, and because the first number is changing as well as the second number, this is A Really Big Deal. Part of me is uncomfortable with the change, part of me feels nothing about the change, but all of me is feeling weird about how other people are making this A Really Big Deal. The last time the numbers changed like this, I thought it was going to be A Really Big Deal, and…it wasn’t. I was just as clueless and awkward as I was before the change. I suspect it’s going to be the same thing. I’m going to wake up the next day and it’s going to be just another work day in the life, followed by weeks and months and years of the same until the both numbers change again and it’s A Really Big Deal.

battle decks

my #erl15 Battle Decks topic
my #erl15 Battle Decks topic

I participated in my first Battle Decks competition at ER&L this year. I almost did last year, and a friend encouraged me to put my name in the hat this year, so I did.

I was somewhat surprisingly not nervous as I waited for my name to be chosen to present next (the order was random — names drawn from a bag). Rather, I was anxiously waiting for my turn, because I knew I could pull it off, and well.

This confidence is not some arrogance I carry with me all the time. I’ve got spades of impostor syndrome when it comes to conference presentations and the like. Battle Decks, however, is not a presentation on a topic I’m supposed to know more about but secretly suspect I know less about than the audience. They are more in the dark than I am, and my job isn’t to inform so much as to entertain.

Improv — I can do that. I spent a few seasons with the improv troupe in college, and while I was certainly not remarkable or talented, I did learn a lot about “yes, and”. My “yes, and” with the Battle Decks was the slides — no matter what came up, I took it and connected it back to the topic and vice-versa.

There was one slide that came up that was dense with text or imagery or something that just couldn’t register in the split second I looked at it. I turned back to the audience and found I had nothing to say, so I looked at it again, and then made an apology, stating that my assistant had put together the slide deck and I wasn’t sure what this one was supposed to be about. It brought the laughs and on I went.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jesse Koennecke for organizing the event, as well as Bonnie Tijerina, Elizabeth Winters, and Carmen Mitchell for judging the event. And, of course, thanks also to April Hathcock for sharing the win with me.

#erl15 Battledecks Monday
photo by Sandy Tijerina

on milestones

singing with the Ellensburg Women’s Chorus in the 2005

Some of you may know that I enjoy singing in choirs/choruses/chorales these days, even doing a solo every now and then, but I’ll bet few of you know that I was too shy to sing in front of most people until my second year of college. Most of my college friends could sing pretty well, and many of them were in the university chorale or the chamber choir. I loved singing, but I was too nervous and shy to audition, as much as I wanted to. Somehow, they convinced me to take a voice class. Not private lessons, but with a small group of students and one teacher, all at once.

This was safe for me to start out in. We sang everything together, until our final, and that was the first time I’d sung for real, alone, in front of anyone. It was terrifying! But it also gave me the courage to go through the audition process the next year, and I was in the chorale for the second half of my college career.

Since then, I’ve sung with Sacred Harp groups, church choirs, community women’s choruses, and a university women’s chorus (I still sing with two groups that fit in the last two categories). It’s been an amazing learning experience, and I sometimes marvel at how a person who was too shy to sing in front of a handfull of friends can now stand on stage and sing in front of hundreds of strangers.

In college, I was obsessed with singing low. I was proud to sing the alto part, and one of my fellow altos and I would frequently try to hide with the basses until our director made us go back to our section. For me, alto meant harmony and something interesting. Soprano seemed, well, boring.

These days, I sing first alto or second soprano, depending on the group and the arrangement. And the strange thing is, I’m finding that the low notes aren’t as much fun anymore, and sometimes are rather uncomfortable to sing. My voice, as women’s voices do, has been changing and maturing over the years. When I moved over to the second soprano section in my community women’s chorus last year, it was the first time I acknowledge that shift to anyone, including myself. It was a bit of an identity crisis at first, but I’ve come to embrace it.

Back in that voice class in college, my instructor called me a “chicken soprano,” and she was right. I could sing higher than I was willing to (or brave enough to) back then. Now I know I can, and I have quite often. The strange thing is, I can feel my voice changing. I started noticing this on octave leaps that would take me up to the C above middle-C, and beyond. They didn’t feel strained anymore — I just thought it, and then sang it with confidence.

My ear is much better. I have a good sense of certain notes and placement and intervals, although I couldn’t tell you what a perfect fourth or a major seventh sounded like to save my life. Those names never stuck with me. But, I can sight read pretty well, if you give me a starting point, and back in the day I had to hear it a few times before I could follow along.

So, I’m moving into my upper range, and it feels fine. But also weird. Sometimes, I can’t trust my sense of place anymore, because what feels like a G may be something else entirely now. My voice breaks are shifting, or maybe I’m just not as aware of them anymore.

This makes me feel less certain. Unbalanced. And it doesn’t help that I’m turning 37 this year.

Back to that voice class and the instructor who told me I was a chicken soprano… she also told us that women’s voices hit their peak maturity around age 37. To my 19-year-old mind, that seemed like a future so distant I couldn’t even imagine it, and now I’m here. Or nearly there.

People talk about how turning 30 wasn’t as big of a deal as turning 31. I get that. For me, as a woman and a singer, I think this 37th birthday is going to be more significant than either of those previous milestones. I’m just not sure if I’m ready for that to happen yet. Luckily, I have about six months to figure it out.

my love/hate relationship with reading books

ALA Read mini-poster
“ALA Read mini-poster” by me

This year I participated in the “set your own challenge” book reading thinger on Goodreads. Initially, I set mine at 25, as a little stretch goal from my average of 19 books per year over the past four years. But, I was doing so well in the early part of the year that I increased it to 30. The final total was 27, but I’m part-way through several books that I just didn’t have time to finish as the clocked ticked down to the end of the year.

What worked well for me this time: audiobooks. I read more of them than paper books this year, and it forced me to expand to a variety of topics and styles I would not have patience for in print.

What failed me this time: getting hung up on a book I felt obligated to finish, but did not excite me to continue on it, so I kept avoiding it. To be fair, part of what turned me off was on disc two, I accidentally set my car’s CD player to shuffle. This is great for adding some variety to music listening, but it made for confusing and abrupt transitions from one topic/focus to another.

I read a lot of non-fiction, because that works better in audio format for me, and I read more audio than printed (either in paper or electronic) books. For 2013, I’d like to read more fiction, which means reading more in print. Which means making time for my “must read the whole book cover to cover” method of reading fiction.

audiobook: 20
print book: 7
ebook: 0

fiction: 5
non-fiction: 22

books read in 2012



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I created something delicious last weekend

chocolate salted caramel peanut butter cookies
chocolate salted caramel peanut butter cookies

Some friends host a cookie exchange party every year, and they have a panel of judges determine which ones are the best. I decided to do something a little different this year, rather than following a basic recipe for the same old, same old. I started thinking about it shortly after Thanksgiving, which may be why I decided to take my inspiration from the turducken.

I began with a basic peanut butter cookie dough (mine came from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book), which I chilled while I ran some errands and then made a chocolate ganache (warning: that recipe makes far more than you really need for this). I’d picked up some salted caramels from Trader Joe’s recently, and I chilled them in the freezer before chopping into three pieces each.

Next, I shaped the peanut butter cookie dough into a log and divided it into 24 slices. Carefully, I shaped and flattened each slice into a cookie round, as thin as I could while keeping it from falling apart. I spooned some ganache on a round, added a piece of the salted caramel, and then put another flattened round on top. I sealed the edges together, making a little pie/turnover out of the cookie, and then placed that carefully on the baking sheet. They baked beautifully, and spread out more than I was expecting, so the second round were spaced a bit more.

Ultimately, they did not win the competition, but I received an honorable mention and plenty of compliments. Well worth the effort.

Does anyone have suggestions for what to do with a bowl full of well-refrigerated chocolate ganache?

carpe diem

Mac & Cheese is a vegetable!
Mac & Cheese is a vegetable!

I told a friend yesterday that I felt like I didn’t carpe enough diem at Charleston Conference. It was my first time attending, and I didn’t have a good sense of the flow. I wasn’t prepared for folks to be leaving so early on Saturday, I didn’t know about the vendor showcase on Wednesday until after I made my travel arrangements, and I felt like I didn’t make the most of the limited time I had.

Next time will be better. And yes, there will be a next time, but maybe after a year or two. I understand from some regulars that the plenary sessions were below average this year, which matched my disappointed expectations. Now knowing that there is little vetting of the concurrent sessions, I will be more particular in my choices the next time, and hopefully select sessions where the content matches my expectations based on the abstracts.

The food in Charleston definitely met my expectations. I had tasty shrimp & grits a couple times, variations on fried chicken nearly every day, and a yummy cup of she crab soup. Tried a few local brews, and a dark & stormy from a cool bar that brews their own ginger beer. I’d go back for the food for sure.

train blog

Amtrak Palmetto by mod as hell
“Amtrak Palmetto” by mod as hell

Left Richmond on time. This is the first time I’ve traveled south on Amtrak, and apparently the system is a little different. For one, the conductor assigned me a seat in the coach car, rather than letting me choose like I usually do on the train to DC. Maybe it’s because the car was full? There also appeared to be designated seat groupings depending on whether you’re going to Savannah (final destination for this train) or Charleston (my destination). Everyone else was fit in where there was room, and one woman kept pacing up and down the aisle saying she didn’t know where to sit, so I guess not everyone was assigned a seat, either.

What is it about train stations being in the ugliest areas of town? The gorgeous view crossing over the James River followed by an amble through the wooded neighborhoods on the south side of the river was a nice balance to the ugly.

After munching on my packed lunch, I pulled out the laptop to work on some to-do items that didn’t get done before I had to leave for the train. Unfortunately, this is not an Amtrak train equipped with wifi (again, another thing different from the train to DC), so all the emails I composed will be delayed until I get to my hotel in Charleston tonight. Same with this blog post, actually.

The view seems to be better in smaller, less industrial towns. The area around the tracks in Emporia (VA), for example, is actually quite pleasant. Pretty sure I saw a deer in a field of corn stubble south of town, too. The tracks here are pleasantly not surrounded by trees on all sides, and we’re clearly in major farm land. Reminds me of Ohio. Except for the cotton fields! So pretty.

Stinky, gassy child across the aisle from me is pleased with her stinky gassiness. Wishing once again for the quiet car option. Or at least a 21+ car.

The late night watching the NPR election page and listening to their coverage hit me. Along with the rocking of the train. Was out cold for a good 30 minutes before I woke up when we pulled into the next stop.

Somewhere in the middle of North Carolina, thousands of beat up cars go to die in a junkyard near the train tracks.

Discovered that the snack car has wifi, and was relatively child and talker-free. Got an hour of online work done. Yay! Also, did some research on beer bars in Charleston. Pleased to see there are several near my hotel.

The train arrived 15 minutes early, and I was at my hotel at the time I originally projected I’d arrive at the station. Sweet! Time for a beer. And thus ends my train blog post.