Thursday, December 21, 2006

Equity and Reality

One of my best friends called me two nights ago to congratulate me on my potential new home. The more we talked, the more reality started to set in: this is really happening. In a few short weeks, I'm going to be a home owner. There's very little doubt anymore that this purchase is going to be completed and settled in mid-January. And then this house will be mine (well, mine and the bank's). I was starting to feel a little nauseated at the thought of repairs and furnishings and major household purchase that I'm going to be responsible for, all by my little lonesome.

Then my sister called to ask about specific things I'd like for my new house because she didn't want to just get me a gift card for Christmas. I realized I had absolutely no idea what to tell her, so I started doing some internet searches. Pretty soon I had picked out an address plate for the front of my home, new book cases for my basement "office," lamps for my bedroom, wall hangings for my bathroom, and a variety of other odds and ends that I'd like to include in various rooms of my house. The more I looked at bedroom furniture and paint colors the more real this purchase became to me. I thought I was going to be sick.

When my realtor called in the middle of my wish list creation to tell me that the appraisal report had been submitted, I almost asked her how we could back out of my contract. My nerves were getting the best of me. I mean, how can I expect to afford all that I'll need to make this house my home? How will I ever afford utilities and repair fees for a house when I've gotten so used to being responsible only for my rent? But before I could voice my doubts, she told me that the house had appraised for $5000 more than I was paying for it. Immediately, relief flooded my body. I was going to be ok. I had chosen well. Before I even move into this home, I will have $5000 in equity. My investment will already be paying off when I sign those papers at settlement.

So I'm not as nervous today about becoming a home owner as I was yesterday. It's still a stressful experience, despite my research and preparation, but knowing that I'm making a sound investment helps to take the edge off a bit. And looking at these pictures regularly, reminding myself of why I chose to put a contract on this house in the first place, keeps me from shredding the stack of signed documents and running for the hills.

Monday, December 18, 2006

TBR Challenge List

I've signed up for another reading challenge. I know, I know, I'm crazy to even try. But this one seems really doable. I only have to read one book a month, and I get to choose from those books on my To Be Read list. You know, the ones that I've been wanting to read foever (well, for at least 6 months anyway). My list isn't etched in stone--if I don't finish my other challenge, I'll probably transfer those books to this challenge. And I might do some substitutions depending on my moods, which is why I'm including an alternates/extras list, too. But this is what I've decided on for now:

  1. On Writing Well by William Zinsser Finished 1/31/07

  2. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards Finished 3/15/07

  3. The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

  4. Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock Finished 6/24/07

  5. Any Place I Hang My Hat by Susan Isaacs Finished 9/25/07

  6. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

  7. The Guy Not Taken by Jennifer Weiner Finished 2/16/07

  8. Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri Finished 8/16/07

  9. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri Finished 4/29/07

  10. Digging to America by Anne Tyler Finished 7/27/07

The alternates/extras:

  1. This is Not Chick Lit by Elizabeth Merrick (editor) Finished 12/28/07

  2. How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster Finished 4/7/07

  3. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

  4. Writing Your Life by Lou Willett Stanek, Ph.D.

  5. Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach

  6. Writing Articles from the Heart by Marjorie Holmes

  7. Imagine by Steve Turner Finished 11/19/07

  8. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller Finished 12/3/07

  9. Hollywood Worldviews by Brian Godawa

I'm setting my heights high, but it would be nice if I could finish all of these books in 2007. Of course, those lists don't include any of the books I've added to my TBR list in the last 6 months, or any that I might come across during the year.

From the Stacks Challenge: Book #2

Ok, so I'm slow. But I'm plugging along and I am making progress plodding through my Stacks. The bad new is, I've broken the vow not to buy any books until after the holidays. I got a Barnes & Noble gift card as recognition from my company for a job well done recently, and as a reward for avoiding Midnight Munchies (waking up in the middle of the night and eating, which was a habit I'd gotten into for a while) I treated myself to two new books. Both have to do with becoming a more effective reader: Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose and How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster. I guess I'll be adding those to my TBR challenge list (which starts in January).

But the good news is, I finished The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult over the weekend. I was loving this story so much that I almost didn't want to finish it. Jodi Picoult has quickly become one of my favorite authors, and this book was no exception.

Here are just a few things I love about Picoult's books, and this one in particular:

  • She has an amazing knack for pacing. Her stories unfold from multiple perspectives in a way that I envy and hope to emulate one day.
  • She researches her novels painstakingly and uses all that she learns to sprinkle her stories with just the right amount of detail. For this book, she was able to give readers a clear understanding of both the social lives of teenagers today, and the culture of the Yup'ik Eskimos.
  • She presents common human struggles beautifully within interesting and powerful situations and against unique backdrops, like the Alaskan tundra.
  • Her characters are deep, well-developed, and perfectly imperfect. For every fault, there is a redeeming quality. For every mistake, there is a chance for redemption. (Ok, maybe not always, but almost always.)
  • Her stories are at once about the specific and the general. She tackles powerful, broad subjects (like rape and suicide and family connectedness) through individual characters as well as the best literary authors I've ever read.

The Tenth Circle tells a story of love--a parent's love for his child, a child's love for her first boyfriend, and a wife's love for her husband. Jodi Picoult show us how easily that love can become twisted and distorted, and how difficult it can be to travel through the levels of hell that we create in order to redeem and mend the mistakes we've made.

I'd love to hear what others have to say about this book (or any other of Jodi Picoult's novels). I'm hoping to finish up Tough Choices by the end of the month, which leaves me with two more to complete by the end of January in order to make good on this challenge. I guess I better get to reading!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Inspection Results

Well, the home purchase is still on. The inspector found a few things that my realtor and I will be negotiating, but all in all it went well. The basement is dry and shows little if any evidence of water seepage, which was one of my main concerns. The foundation seems to be in good condition. The plumbing is functional, although it's the original galvanized steel pipes, so I'll probably need to do some maintenance and replacement eventually. The electrical outlets will need to be updated in most places because they're the old two-pronged outlets and aren't grounded. The inspector couldn't get to the roof, so we're asking for an inspection and certification from the sellers. The furnace is super old, too, so we're asking the sellers to have it inspected or to pay for a home warranty.

It was a bit frustrating because the owners still had things piled in rooms (which we'd asked them to clear out enough that the inspector could see the walls and stuff). I didn't get as many pictures as I wanted to because they would have just been of the sellers belongings. But I did get pictures of the kitchen:

the renovated bathroom:

and my patch of a back yard: long as the sellers agree to our requests based on the inspection it looks like I'll still be settling on my very first home in mid-January! That means as soon as the holidays are over I'll need to start packing and preparing for a big move. Note to those looking to buy a house: don't start looking in October, and don't put in an offer in November. This time of year is hectic enough! If I had it to do over again, I would have started earlier in the year so I'd be celebrating Christmas in a new house and not worrying about gift wrapping and mortgage applications in the same week. I'm glad to be doing it though, and in the end I know that all the stress will be worth it!

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Second Try

Tonight was my second go at Dinner on Hand and I'm pleased to announce it was a success. I made Spicy Asian Medley, based on a recipe I found at (with a few tweeks of my own). They have a great search where you can enter in what ingredients you like to use and it spits out a list of recipes containing those ingredients.

I always have several bags of frozen vegetables in my freezer because I buy them when they're on sale, but usually end up using fresh veggies instead. So this recipe, which calls for 1/2 a package of frozen peas and carrots, seemed like a good way to get rid of a bag. It also used tofu, of which I had a package about to pass its expiration date, and hoisin sauce, of which I have a jar that's been open for several weeks in the fridge. I used 10-Minute brown rice from my cabinet, because I didn't want to wait 45 minutes for regular rice. I decreased the oil to 1 tablespoon instead of two. I also pressed the tofu before cubing it and sauteed it with the onion and garlic to brown it before adding the hoisin, hot and soy sauces. I substituted Thai curry paste for the Thai chili paste (because it's what I had) and I used a whole pound of veggies instead of just half a pound. The end product was spicy, spicy, spicy and absolutely delish! The powerful flavors were very satisfying.

Spicy Asian Medley

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The No-Diet Diet

I've started a little experiment, and while it's not going all that great at the moment, I have a feeling it's going to be the most successful weight management and healthy lifestyle tool that I've ever used. The goal is not to diet. I know that may sound like a cop-out, and it's even a bit scary from where I'm standing, but it's beginning to make more and more sense.

I've been counting calories or Weight Watchers Points for so long I can barely eat anything without mentally calculating something in my head. I exercise not for the health benefits, the energy and the mood elevation, but for the calories it burns. I eat foods based on their calorie/points count instead of their nutritional value. And while I know this is all wrong thinking, it seems to be the only way I know how to go about losing weight. Then one day recently, I looked at my calorie calculator and had 300 calories available in my daily calorie range (1300-1600 calories). Instead of considering that I wasn't really hungry and therefore didn't need to use these calories, I immediately started thinking about what I could and couldn't do with them. After munching my way through the 300 and then some, I realized what I was doing. I wasn't eating because I was hungry, but rather because I had calories available to use. It was a wasted purchase, like buying a formal dress, not because I had an event to attend, but because I had the cash in my pocket.

I started wondering why I eat and exercise. I went over certain situations in my mind and it occurred to me (not for the first time) that I often eat when I'm not hungry. In fact, just last night, I continued to eat despite palpable stomach discomfort. So what's the deal? And how can I change this pattern? I also started thinking about what it would be like to have children and what kind of an example I would be. Would I teach them healthy habits naturally, or would I teach them to look at food as the enemy and exercise as a chore? Honestly, I don't know the answer to any of these questions yet. But I do know that even if counting every calorie I put in my mouth and writing down every food that I choose to eat causes me to lose weight in the short term, it's not a weight loss that I'm ever going to be able to maintain over the long term. If I don't first discover what is causing these binges and how I can disrupt them (and maybe even avoid them), then I'll always be bound by them. And I certainly won't be able to teach my children to have a healthy mindset about food and exercise. The last thing I want is to transfer my own obsessions and false ideas to others.

So my plan is simple. No more dieting. Instead, my focus is on getting in touch with myself. I need to understand why I am eating in every situation. I need to develop skills to decrease my tendency to eat everything but the kitchen sink. I need to figure out what it is that allows me to be satisfied with a single bowl of cereal some mornings, and what causes me to crave four or five bowls, and to give in to that craving, on other days. While the plan seems simple, none of this is going to be easy. And it's clear to me from last night's fiasco that I may lose sight of my goals and fall into old habits while I'm learning. But I think that this way may be the best way for me to learn what I need to know in order to accomplish my ultimate goal of living a healthy life, instead of just becoming successful at a lifetime of dieting.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Taking the Challenge

Belinda over at Ninja Poodles has issued a Dinner-on-Hand challenge to those of us looking to save a little cash this month. The goal is to use the food we already have in our refrigerators and cabinets instead of heading out to the grocery store. I'll admit I have a tendency to fill up my pantry and freezer long before it's emptied, and purchase way more perishables than I can use before they go bad.

So I've decided to take the challenge. I'm going to try to go the rest of the month without buying more than milk and bread (and maybe some bagged salad). Last night I pulled on-the-brink-of-spoiling zucchini, onion, green pepper, and few mushrooms from the refrigerator and got to work. I sauteed them with a tiny bit of olive oil. Then I added a large can of diced tomatoes, drained and a few shakes of McCormicks Montreal Steak seasoning. Once the veggies were tender and the tomatoes were warm, I tossed the concoction over some quinoa I cooked up on Monday and threw in a handful of chick peas I didn't use when I made hummus earlier this week. It was yummy, easy, and avoided a stomach-churning trash day next week, when I would have discovered all the spoiled vegetables and molding leftovers in the back of the refrigerator.

Thanks, Belinda! Can't wait to try this again when my Veggie Feast is all gone.

Thursday's Veggie Feast

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Fantastic Find

I found a great blog today over at BlogHer. It's called First 50 Words, and I wish I had discovered it sooner. Each day Virginia gives readers a writing prompt to jog our creative brains and lets anyone interested post the first 50 words of whatever comes to their minds in her comments.

I love the idea, and I'm hoping to use it as inspiration to write every day--even if I only come up with 50 words. So I'm not only going to be visiting First 50 daily, but I'm also going to be posting the day's topic and my first 50 words in the left-column over there.

I hope this exercise inspires you, as well! And who knows? Maybe one of these prompts will lead to a story or two.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Inspection Time!

I can't believe this is actually happening to me! I just got a call from my realtor, and the sellers have an approved contract on a home. It's time to move forward with my home inspection! Aaaaahhhhh!

I'm shaking like a leaf with anxiety. I'm going to be a home owner! It just seems so bizarre to me. I have heard so many stories from friends about going through this process over and over again before finally settling on a home, so I wasn't expecting things to go nearly as smoothly as they have. I have truly turned off the excitment because I've been anticipating that problems would crop up along the way and I would have to start searching again. But it seems like things are really falling into place. And now I'm getting scared.

Is this going to be a good home? Did I settle too soon? Did I offer too much money? Should I have looked a little longer? Will it really be big/cozy/sturdy/safe enough? Was it a good investment decision, or did I make a mistake? Am I digging myself into a money pit or have I chosen the perfect starter home for myself? The questions and doubts are starting to come to a boil.

I'm not expecting that there will be any major issues with the inspection, but that is still a possibility. Hopefully, I can take my camera with me to the inspection and I'll have some pictures to share next week. Keep your fingers crossed!


I'm still stuck in a limbo of weight loss, and it's been a while since I really thought about why I'm trying to lose weight in the first place. So I decided to do a little re-evaluation of my motivations and get focused before the holidays, which are notorious for weight gain (and not just in my little world).

Why do I want to lose weight?

Because I want to be healthy and live the longest life I possibly can. Because I want to be able to keep up with my future children. Because I want to do what I can now to avoid preventable diseases. More than losing weight, I want to learn to live a healthy lifestyle where food and calories aren't my main concern, but rather enjoying life and living it to the fullest.

What are my goals for the next 6 months?
  1. To reduce my body fat by 5 percentage points (to 28%)
  2. To reduce my BMI to the healthy range by losing 30 pounds (since I've gained a few recently)
  3. To strengthen my body by increasing my weight training to 3 sessions per week
  4. To be able to run a 5K in less than 30 minutes
  5. To build a healthier relationship with food by learning to pay closer attention to my hunger signals
  6. To recognize the power of food to nourish and energize my body
  7. To recognize the lack of power food has over my moods and situations

What are my obstacles?

  1. The habit to eat when I'm bored, stressed, disappointed and angry
  2. Vacation tendancies to overeat, take a break from exercise and eat out of habit or availability rather than necessity
  3. Holidays and special occasions where I'm surrounded by food and treats
  4. Midnight munchies

How can I overcome them or work to improve my response to them?

  1. Find replacement behaviors for when I'm feeling these trigger emotions (i.e. reading, writing, journaling, exercising, yoga, puzzles, etc.)
  2. Practice fitting activity into even the most busy daily schedule; make a conscious effort to focus on hunger signals and to avoid mindless eating.
  3. Treat every day the same way; allow for occassional treats, but focus on nutritional value and satisfaction of foods rather than considering them splurges; remember that I can have anything at anytime and that treats aren't limited to holidays and special occassions, so there's no need to gorge at parties and holiday meals.
  4. Reinforcers for avoiding midnight munchies; punishment for munching after bedtime; special reinforcement for 3 consecutive days without.

What successes have I seen so far?

I'm in the best physical shape I've been in since high school. When I really consider it, I actually enjoy exercise, not because of the weight I lose or the calories I burn, but because I feel more energetic and relaxed, and I can spend some time on myself. I have already lost more than 30 pounds. I enjoy healthy meals, I've found healthy alternatives for some of the worst cravings, and I can treat myself on occassion without going off the deep end.

What has gotten me here? How have I acheived these successes?

Discipline, practice and perseverence. I have learned new habits. I have pushed through discouragement. I have made myself a priority. I have found foods and exercises that improve my mind and body and are enjoyable at the same time.

Why do I feel incapable?

Because I expect myself to be perfect and I never am. Because I've failed before. Because I struggle with the same issues over and over again. Because I often make gains, only to fall back into old routines or make unhealthy decisions that undo the good I've done.

How do I know that I am capable?

Because I've done it. Because I haven't gained back all the I have lost. Because I'm continuing to live a healthier lifestyle despite my struggles and stumbles. Because I'm strong and I have a plan, and where there's a plan and an effort to accomplish that plan, there's eventually success.

Monday, December 04, 2006

From the Stacks Challenge: Book #1

Slowly but surely I'm reading through my Stack. I finished Heaven Lake by John Dalton over the weekend. I had started this book about a year ago and then set it down. I'm glad I picked it back up. It was a great story once I got into it and got used to Dalton's story-telling style. He unfolds the plot and characters so gradually that you almost don't realize what's happening until you're in the middle of it. It's a pleasant surprise, despite the work it takes to get there. My favorite part of the story is the cultural discovery that the main character goes through. His travels are interesting, to say the least, and the emotional, spiritual and intellectual evolution he goes through as he treks across China is a wonderful illustration of humanity at its best and worst. If you're ok with a slowly developed story, I'd recommend you add this one to your To Be Read list.

I'm also halfway through Tough Choices by Carly Fiorina. I started it around the same time as Heaven Lake. I'm normally not a double-fisted reader, but it's not too bad when I'm reading one novel and one non-fiction book. At least that way I don't get plots confused. So I'm now that I'm done with Heaven Lake, I'm probably going to start The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult. I feel like I'm making more progress if I'm working on two books at a time. It might not actually get me through them faster, but at least I feel more productive.

Friday, December 01, 2006

World AIDS Day: A Public Service Announcement

Did you know...?*
  • There are 39.5 million people living with HIV/AID worldwide.
  • 2.3 million of them are children.
  • 17.7 million are women.
  • 4.3 million were newly infected this year.
  • 2.9 million people died this year of AIDS.

Why are people still dying of this disease when it's completely preventable? For a long list of reasons, including poverty, laziness, ignorance...

What can we do to raise awareness, stop its spread, improve treatments and find a cure? Get tested and get involved.

Find out how you can take action by visiting one of these or many other links and organizations fighting the spread of this epidemic:

And please, use protection until you and your partner are certain of your HIV status. It just might save your life.

*Statistics from AVERT

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