Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sage's Corner: Turning Seven

My birthday party was on the 15th, one day before my real birthday.  I invited Cathy, Kaitlyn, Marie, Sara, Madeline, Ashlee, Jack, Sam and Ella.  First we decorated foam pumpkins.  The theme of my party was "the Olympics," so we had lots of contests like jello-eating, pinata, Twister, chinese jumprope, dancing, chinese whispers, and sock-stealing.
This is me and my friends decorating foam pumpkins with "pom-pons" (that's what they were called on the package).  And we decorated them with little shape stickers.  We wrote our names with letter stickers on the back.  We could have two, there were so many, but I didn't have time to have two. 
Here is me eating jello in the jello-eating contest.  You couldn't use your hands.  The jello was raspberry.  I won first place in the jello-eating contest.  I ate fast.  We had to wear towels so it wouldn't get on our clothes.
The pinata was purple and blue stripes.  It was shaped like a balloon 'cause it was made out of a balloon.  It was homemade.  I hit it first.
When it was pinata time, Curio was outside.  She climbed up our tree with the pinata.  When Dad made it go up and down, Curio tried to catch it.
In this picture we were playing Twister.  We couldn't sit down.  It was sweaty and hard.

I got a little package of string and beads to make bracelets and necklaces.  Some were shaped like sweet things, like bubble gum, ice cream, just a candy, and a cupcake.  I also got Clue Jr. and a Tinkerbell water paint set.  I got a card to go to the mall and build a Build-a-Bear--it was from Cathy--and a Webkinz platypus.  I named her Patty.  That's all the presents I want to mention.

I'm done. 

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ian's Corner: Update

Check out The Poem of Mossflower (October 19)--it's finished now.

Monday, November 10, 2008


It started with the scale: I'd earned enough reward points from my law school research provider to garner a high-tech scale that not only measured weight down to a tenth of a pound, but also used electrical impulses to measure body water, body fat, and body mass index.  The scale told me I was overweight, that I had been for some time, and that my body was going to remain in a holding pattern between 197 and 200 pounds for the foreseeable future.  I'd made occasional efforts to exercise (when I remembered) and watch what I ate (when I felt like it), but the difficult reality was that my body was accustomed to weighing what it did, and had gotten quite good at absorbing sporadic attempts to push it out of stasis.

This year, January 1st came and went without my having decided on a desirable, attainable goal.  I had thought of making another effort at losing weight and making the most of my physical prime while it lasted, but I just couldn't see how this year would be any different.  I talked about this with my friend Dave and he gave me some very wise advice: Achievable change comes not so much from changing our natures, but rather by setting up a system that anticipates and compensates for our failings.  Self-control was going to be my weakness; how could I plan around it?

At Dave's suggestion, the first thing I did was set up a system of accountability--I spent the better part of a Sunday afternoon drawing a chart that measured both my weight and the remaining weeks in the year.  My first rule was that no matter what I did during the week, I would have to weigh myself every Saturday morning and mark it on the chart.  That would make it harder for me to ignore any sustained period of ineffectiveness.  I read somewhere that you could lose a pound per week by maintaining a caloric deficit of 500 calories per day, so I thought that losing 25 pounds over 50 weeks was an achievable goal.  I agreed with K. that the reward for attaining my goal by the end of the year would be a trip to visit my friends Dave and Steve--I told both of them to make the goal less tentative and more actualized.  I posted the chart on the wall next to my closet, where I would see it at the beginning and end of every day.

To run up a daily caloric deficit, I tried to think of a daily exercise that I would be able to sustain habitually.  Past experience had shown me that the gym was usually too far away to make a gym membership a reliable habit, but there was a 22-story stairwell right outside my office, so my plan was to get to work half an hour early every day and walk the stairs before starting the day.  Best of all, I found out that walking up stairs, minute-per-minute, burns calories faster than just about any other form of exercise (including running).  I planned to get a cheap CD player and listen to books while I exercised every morning.

My office was on the 16th floor, so my routine was to walk up to the landing on the 23rd floor, walk all the way down to the ground floor, and then walk all the way back up to 16.  After this got easier, I started to do this once in the morning and once before leaving for home.  Then I consolidated my efforts into a single, 30-minute workout (two whole trips up and down), first thing in the morning.  By late summer I was able to run up three flights of stairs, two or three steps at a time, without getting winded.

On the diet side, I tried to think of an easy thing to give up, so I cut out butter-as-a-condiment.  This meant that I could still eat things that had been cooked-in/cooked-with butter or margarine, but I couldn't add it to bread or rolls or anything I prepared for myself.  After a few months I got impatient with my progress, so I gave up candy for the rest of the year.  I could still eat cookies, desserts, and things with chocolate baked into them, so this was actually a pretty easy vow to take.  Lest I sound too independent, K. helped immeasurably by planning meals that were low on carbs and animal fats and high in whole grains and legumes.

You can see from the chart that I had two weight spikes: the first one coincided exactly with the visit from both sides of the family for Ian's baptism, and the second one followed a trip to see K's family in Michigan.  One might argue that family is bad for your health, but I think it's more reasonable to conclude that visits with family are simply altered states that disrupt personal habits for good or ill.  Staring at the second spike, I decided I needed to accelerate my weight loss in order to meet my goal by the end of the year, so I did five push-ups and started adding a single push-up per weekday until I was up to sixty a night.  K. tells me I should start to ease off.

Last month, having plateaued a few pounds above my goal and starting to get impatient, I added the arbitrary rule that I could only eat one serving at dinner--I could put as much food as I wanted onto the plate, but there was no going back for seconds or thirds, and no snacks afterwards.  This was the real breakthrough: after all my efforts to eat responsibly throughout the day, I'm pretty sure I was undoing most of my work through third helpings and late-night snacking.  Once I added this last limitation the last few pounds went pretty quick.

Reaching my goal has been sort of anticlimactic because I've seen it coming for so long.  There was no hail-mary pass or last-minute turnaround because I've been repeating the same simple things over and over again.  From this year's experience I take away the following lessons: 
1. Charts that show measurable progress can be a powerful way to visualize and motivate.
2. Once you force yourself to measure your progress, you become more and more willing to make sacrifices in the name of achieving your goal.
3. There is little that cannot be accomplished by forming a simple, faithful habit.

That's enough sermonizing for one night.  Next goal is 160 pounds, which will take me completely out of the overweight range for the first time in my adult life.  See you there.

Meet the New Boss

Borrowing a page from our civic-minded friends, the Seals, we held an election-themed family home evening last week in which various members of the family campaigned and voted for important positions like Brownie-Giver-Outer, Official Tickler and Emperor of the Family. As the incumbent, I thought I had this last one in the bag, but ended up in a tight race with a promising young candidate several decades my junior. I argued, somewhat persuasively, that despite my distinguished opponent's many inspiring qualities, a vote for me was a vote for superior experience in enacting and enforcing the rules of the household. I emphasized my superior height, my comparative advantage when it came to hand size (making the spanking option a viable deterrent), my years of service to the family, and my history of working across the aisle with Mom in matters of familial importance. Ian displayed great skill as an orator (really, he did), making compelling promises without describing in great detail his qualifications for office.

Despite my best efforts, a late poll showed us neck and neck, with Ian galvanizing the hitherto apathetic youth vote and me maintaining a tenuous hold on voters ages 9 through 32. After a second round of speeches--really a rehash of points already raised--I lost the all-important soccer mom demographic and Ian rode a popular mandate to victory, becoming the family's newest Emperor-elect. Even in my defeat, I really can't see how an untested candidate with no executive experience was able to defeat a proven leader with little more than a glowing vision of change and hope. I'm no great lover of either major party, but maybe you see where I'm going with this.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Altogether Ooky

So there's this local tradition where kids are supposed to dress up in costumes and demand candy from strangers. In Connecticut, where I grew up, there was a similar holiday called Halloween, and it was held on October 31. Where we live now, they practice something similar, except it starts around October 20, and the candy-eating lasts until about Thanksgiving. First, there is the making of costumes. Then, there is the making of a second set of costumes for the school parades--don't ask me why the kids can't just go in their trick-or-treating costumes, but our school assigns themes like "Environment," "The Human Body," and "Politics" which may or may not be compatible with your own Halloween themes (e.g. "What Your Sister Wore Last Year" and "This Was On Sale").

The first night of trick-or-treating occurs sometime in the last week of October, and takes place in a church parking lot. This allows your children pass through an entire cycle of sugar highs and lows before Halloween even begins, thus insuring that their sugar crash after October 31 will be all the more spectacular.

Speaking of crashes, K. and I sacrificed a couple of white shirts and went as a couple of grownup boogeymen--Global Warming and the Economy:
And yes, we're aware that K. looks pretty morose in this picture. In light of our gloomy statistics we were both supposed to be frowning, but I forgot to turn off my default picture settings. Our disparate faces still make sense if you pretend that K. is a polar bear and I am a bankruptcy attorney.

We hoped to grow our own pumpkins this year, but we didn't water them enough and the biggest grew to about the size of a baseball. Instead, we bought some from a small farm located smack in the middle of an upscale neighborhood near our house. For family home evening K. helped Lucy carve her trick-or-treating monster, Sage and I carved a ghost, and Ian carved "two Pokemon and two Musms." Ian just explained to me that "Musm" is his own term for a Mutant Organism. I was lucky enough to find a pumpkin shaped like Boris Karloff, so my carving pretty much took care of itself. (Trivial Aside: Did you know that Boris Karloff's real name was William Pratt? Also, he wore lifts. What a faker.)

I forgot to comment on the kids' costumes. Nora was our fourth child to wear the (suprisingly clean) white unicorn costume, Lucy wore Sage's Sleeping Beauty dress, Sage was a very winsome cheerleader, and Ian went as the Invisible Pedestr--er, I mean--the Grim Reaper. Not pictured is the plastic scythe that completed his eerie look. More that a few houses saw Ian's featureless shroud peering through the front window while slowly tapping it with his scythe. It suprises me that he didn't get more candy.