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Dollar Diet: You are more important than my cell phone

Last weekend my  cell phone died.

D had already resuscitated it on two previous occasions but this time pronounced it beyond repair.

Did I wail at the inconvenience of being phoneless?  Bemoan the fact that this happened a quarter of the way into my year-long Dollar Diet?

No way.  I almost did a little dance of glee!  This was the perfect opportunity to conduct an experiment to see if I can survive without a cell phone.  I mean, I managed to survive perfectly well before they came into vogue.

The crux of matter is I simply do not like cell phones, so this is an easy challenge.  I really don’t like what they are doing to people’s behaviour at all.

I don’t like talking over the phone because I am a strongly visual person and I find it jarring to not get visual cues from the person I’m talking to.

I don’t like being contactable at all times.  In the past a not-so-great boss of mine contacted me several times when I was on holiday.  For not terribly important stuff.  My husband D leaps up to answer our land line whenever it rings.  Me, I let it go to voicemail if it’s not convenient (I invariably get calls when I am changing a pooey nappy 🙂 ).

I really, really, really don’t like how glued to their phones many people can be.

I mean, it’s getting ridiculous people.  I was getting there myself.  Checking Facebook because I was standing in a queue.  Wasting time on the internet because both my kids were napping at the same time.  Checking my cell phone while I was in the middle of a face-to-face conversation with friends.  Checking my emails while my kids played in front of me.  I tried putting limits on myself.  Only checking it in the morning and evening.  Sometimes it worked, but some days I would be found peering into my little screen again because I was bored.

What does it add up to?

Disengagement.

Don’t believe me?  This study found that texting has become the favourite form of communication amongst teens in America.  Not talking face to face, or those long phone calls teenage girls used to be lampooned for.  Texting.

I see it all the time.  Young people texting flat out at family gatherings instead of talking with the adults around them.    Couples walking arm in arm on a date, but eyes and minds on the phones in their hand.  People checking their phones while driving.  People stopping conversations in mid-stream because their phone beeped an alert and they just had to check it.  Parents staring at their little screen while their kids play at the park.

Our phones, with their siren call (excuse the pun), stop us from being fully present with each other.  We are slowly sending a message that our phone is more important than the people around us.  It’s so easy to not to have to engage with each other, particularly strangers.  Our phones give us an excuse.  Can’t talk to that person next to me on the bus because I am on my phone.  My looking at Buzzfeed is important.

Overstimulation.

Having an internet connection in our pockets means we can be saturated with media any time we like.  We are staring out the window during our bus commute less, chatting to the stranger behind us at the grocery store less, having fewer moments of inspiration because we no longer allow ourselves to be bored.

Those little pockets of ‘nothing’ time in your day are golden.  We need them.  Our poor old brains need them.  Our creative souls need that time to daydream and wonder.

So in true Dollar Diet spirit, I will not be replacing my phone this year.  Time will tell if I find it a pain that I get a flat tyre on the highway and have no phone to call for help (but hey, everyone else will have one, right?).  But I hope that I will be more present with my family and friends, more in the moment.

Oh, and it saves me $20 a month.

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Dollar Diet: Week 17…rebellion

Okay, so this week pretty much sucked in terms of my ability to save money.  Lots of things snuck into my Dollar Diet world that shouldn’t be there.  I went into a store to buy underwear for my daughter (hooray for potty training!) and came out with a puffer vest because I ‘need’ one and it was a ‘good price’.  I ate something in a cafe.  And we bought pizza (admittedly because my attempt at making cauliflower pizza failed miserably.  Too soggy!).

It’s okay, I’m not throwing in the towel.  Nor am I scourging my back in penance.  That would be a tad extreme.  But I did sit down and think about what went wrong.

1) I went into a mixed age clothing store.  Big mistake.

2) I went out and about hungry.

3) I didn’t have anything else on hand just in case my new recipe failed (it was the end of the week).  Plus I just wanted some damn pizza.

My analysis didn’t stop there.  I often need to dig a little deeper to discover what’s really going on.

At the bottom of it all is a case of Dollar Diet fatigue. 

I still get such a boost from buying stuff, from taking some precious me time to just sit in a cafe, from eating something ‘forbidden’.  It’s so ingrained that part of me just rebelled.

Resistance to change within yourself – no matter how much you want it – is normal.

We are masters of self-sabotage.  Because our old habits were serving us in some way.  They made life easier, more gratifying, made us feel safe, kept us in our comfortable box.  This is why we suck at sticking to New Year’s resolutions.  New habits take time to form.  And they don’t form in a linear fashion, there is usually some toing and froing.  Anytime we make changes we must expect setbacks and relapses (I know this well from giving up sugar!).  Let me say that again.  Expect relapses.

If this happens to you, it is tempting to say ‘Ah, sod it.  I’m no good at this.’ and go back to your old ways.

Instead, sit with your relapse.  Why did it happen (was I unprepared, too busy and frazzled, triggered by an unpleasant memory, person or event etc)?  Is this a trigger you can avoid or at least mitigate against?  There are any number of ways that we can make it easy for ourselves to persevere with a new habit.

People wanting to take up exercise can set their clothes out the night before (hell, I’ve heard of people sleeping in their workout clothes).  Those quitting smoking can avoid situational triggers like lighting up after getting off public transport, or during their coffee break. Same with dieters staying away from parties, restaurants and cafes until new habits become more deep-seated.

For me, I’m going to stay out of clothing stores.  Not shop hungry.  Have some cafe-worthy food at home every now and then.  Snatch more me time that I can spend doing free things that give me a boost (like getting out into nature).  I’m also getting more serious about a hobby (gardening) so that when I feel bored I’m not tempted to hit the shops just for something to do.

How do you get yourself back on track?

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Sugar-Free Toddler: So, what does your kid eat?

The number one question I am asked when folks find out I am sugar-free is if my kids are sugar-free too.

To which I reply, mostly.

Sausage eating banana 'ice cream': simply frozen bananas blitzed in the blender until smooth and creamy

Sausage eating banana ‘ice cream’: simply frozen bananas blitzed in the blender until smooth and creamy

Chip is only 9 months old so he is 100% sugar-free.  Sausage is 2 1/4 years old, so she is the ‘mostly’.  My second most-asked question is what on earth I give her to eat if she’s sugar-free, like she must live on gruel or something.

Having a mostly sugar-free toddler isn’t too hard when they are used to eating this way.  I imagine that transitioning a toddler off large amounts of the white stuff wouldn’t be much fun!  I feel exhausted just thinking about it…

Sausage is a pretty good eater (for now).  She’s not too fussy, eats most fruit and vegetables, and generally eats what we eat – although she draws the line at Ryvita (yuck!), vegemite (I DON’T like it!) and lettuce (that’s digusting!).

She does however, have a massive sweet tooth, especially for chocolate.  Her diet isn’t 100% sugar-free, but then it’s not my intention for it to be.  I believe in taking an 80:20% approach to what my kids eat.  I think forbidding my kids to eat any sweets, cake etc only serves to increase its desirability, which can lead to bizarre behaviour and attitudes towards food.  My mother once told me about some children she knew who were never allowed any sweets at all.  They got into serious trouble for shoplifting their ‘forbidden fruit’.  I also have a friend who grew up without being allowed to eat anything ‘bad’ – he was always sent to parties with a box of his permitted food – and he went crazy when he finally left home for university.  He had an enormous stash of chocolate at all times, and slept with several cases of cola under his bed!  His unhealthy relationship with sweet stuff continues to this day.

So Sausage does get some sugary stuff during her week.  It’s a lot less than the average child I think, and I think it’s easiest just to tell you what she might eat in a ‘typical’ day here in Tawhero.

Breakfast: She eats weetbix or cornflakes, sometimes with a bit of fruit on top (like the feijoas we have in abundance right now).  I can’t get her to eat porridge but you can be sure we’re working on this.  Pretty much any other cereal here in NZ is riddled with sugar.  Some cereals can be 30-40% sugar and yet are promoted as being healthy such as Nutrigrain or Sultana Bran.  And most cereals peddled at children, such as ‘Honey Puffs, Cocoa Pops, and Frosties’ are incredibly sugary.

Occasionally I make her scrambled eggs or pancakes for breakfast.  She likes pancakes just with butter.

Just FYI, I don’t limit fruit.  She’s a toddler and has more energy in her little finger than I have in my whole body.

Morning Tea:  Morning teas can be my trickiest meals in terms of curbing her sugar intake.  We attend two play groups that provide morning tea, and they always, always, always include sugary biscuits/cookies.  They are not the worst offenders in the biscuit world (i.e. they tend to be cream wafers or vanilla wine biscuits) but they seem to be a staple at play groups, along with providing fresh fruit.  One group sometimes provides a diluted raro drink (a powdered sugar drink) which I ignore and give her water (Sausage rarely has juice, and when she does it is very diluted.  She’s never had soft drink.  She is fine with drinking water or milk).  I realise of course that I could forbid her to eat the biscuits, but one or two during the day aren’t going to hurt when they are often the only sugary things she eats that day.  I could even bring her own morning tea, but I don’t for the above reasons.  I’ve have spoken to the play group organisers but it falls on deaf ears.

Don’t get me started on what adults are given to eat at play groups.  I have NEVER been offered anything savoury.  It’s always chocolate biscuits (in front of the children too!).  Fortunately I seldom need a snack in the mornings otherwise I’d go home with a grumbly tummy.

If we are at home, or at Playcentre where we bring our own morning tea, she eats things like boiled eggs, crackers, cheese, hummus, carrots, fresh fruit, yoghurt*, sandwiches, cucumber and tomato slices, tuna, chicken or some sugar free baking if I’ve been particularly organised.

* I haven’t been able to convince Sausage that unsweetened yoghurt is delicious, so I sneak it in to her commercially prepared sweetened fruit yoghurt at a 50:50 ratio.  I will be gradually increasing the unsweetened ration, mwahaha!

If we are out and about and are not organised we do give Sausage biscuits (just keeping it real).  Griffin’s do a fruit digestive that is surprisingly low in sugar.  They are the best of the bunch if you are in a pinch.

Lunch: Sausage is addicted to peanut butter sandwiches.  We use Pic’s 100% peanut brand, which is in my opinion, the best ever.  I will eventually have to wean her off onto other spreads as many schools forbid PB due to increasing numbers of kids with deathly peanut allergies in attendance.  Anyway, lunch is often a PB sandwich, with sides of cheese, tomato or whatever else is to hand.

Afternoon tea: Usually similar to morning tea.

Dinner: Sausage eats what we eat, unless it’s a highly spicy curry.

Sausage does get the occasional sugary treat such as ice cream or chocolate from us and her grandparents, and I allow her to eat what she wants at birthday parties – but she isn’t really on the party circuit like older kids can be.  She is always my litmus test for any sugar-free concoction I make, as if it pleases her, it is generally a hit with everyone.

Having a (mostly) sugar-free toddler is possible. 

Do you limit sugar in your house?  How do your kids respond?

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ANZAC Day: forgiveness and reconciliation

This is an excerpt from the sermon I gave at my church last ANZAC day.  It was very well received, and if you are someone who struggles to reconcile your faith with a day of remembering those who went to war, this may be of help.

When I was asked if I would like to take today’s ANZAC – related sermon, I had no problem saying yes, because I am something of a history buff, and ANZAC Day has great meaning for me. In fact, I love anything to do with World War One and World War Two history.  I get a lot of strange looks from people when I admit this fact about myself. I think it’s something to do with military history tending to be a rather male-dominated field. But I am a Daddy’s girl and spent many an hour as a child watching war movies and documentaries with my Dad. Because of my Dad, I know my Tommies from my Diggers. I know my Spitfires from my Lancasters. I can list for you my top five war movies without hesitation. I’ve been to the Somme and to Normandy. When I lived in London, one of my favourite places to hang out was the Imperial War Museum. You get the picture.

One of the things that seems to be implied when people are described as being a ‘war buff’ is that we somehow ‘love’ war or we look upon it with rose-tinted glasses. Speaking for myself, nothing could be further from the truth. I actually find war abhorrent. But my background is in psychology and criminology and I have always been fascinated by what makes people tick. So what draws me to this particular era in history are the massive social changes that both wars brought about, and the impact that war had upon ordinary people.

I must admit to getting a lot of strange looks about my interest in the two World Wars, and about my enthusiasm for commemorating ANZAC day, from my Christian friends. I have many young Christian friends who are passionate about social justice, non-violence, pacifism and peace who cannot understand why I, as a Christian, am so interested in this part of our world’s history, let alone in commemorating ANZAC day, which surely glorifies war?

Some of the older people in this congregation may be unaware of how some young people can view ANZAC day. Despite attendance at ANZAC services growing considerably since the late 1990s, many young Christians find ANZAC day unsettling or even downright challenging. Those of you who were alive during World War II or who are Baby Boomers may find this attitude somewhat perplexing.

While I’m sure that most young Christians would say they have the utmost respect for our Returned Service men and women, some say that they find it hard to reconcile a Jesus who teaches us that ‘Blessed are the Peacemakers’ , ‘Love your Enemies’ and to ‘turn the other cheek’ with this day that sees us honouring those New Zealanders who went to war. Further still, they find it hard to understand how a Christian could take up arms and actually kill another human being in the course of war. They point to the treatment of conscientious objectors by both the government and wider New Zealand society during both world wars as inhumane. They question some Churches’ outright support of the war and the tacit silence of others.

Just this week I saw these comments on Facebook (unprompted by me, I might add):

  • F I feel very conflicted about Anzac Day. None of my family (that I know of) fought in the wars (only home guards & farmers) but my husband’s Granddad did. I know they fought to keep our freedom we have today & should be honoured for that ~ BUT I just find war so senseless (maybe because at heart I am a healer & not a warrior)
  • L: I feel very conflicted as well – I am always blown away by the sacrifices that past generations made – not just in terms of their lives – but also in enduring the terrible conditions and trauma of war. It’s a very noble thing. I also see what not dealing with things like PTSD did to my great grandfather & how that impacted his descendants. I personally choose not to go to such events, but everyone is different. I just don’t believe in glorifying it or sentimentalising it which I think sometimes the Australian & NZ cultures are prone to do.
  • C: Is it ethical to celebrate the sacrifice of soldiers on ANZAC day? Especially in the light of what we did to conscientious objectors?

It can be harder for older generations to understand this way of thinking. But let me put it into context for you:

Unlike people who were alive during World War One and Two, people of my generation and younger have not grown up in the shadow of war.

For example, young people fighting for the allies in WWI may have had family members who fought in the Boer War or were involved in the Boxer Rebellion. In fact, here’s a list of all the conflicts the British alone were involved in during the 1800’s.

  • French Revolutionary Wars ended 1802
  • Second Anglo-Maratha War 1802–1805
  • Napoleonic Wars 1802–1813
  • War of 1812
  • Hundred Days1815 The return of Napoleon
  • Gurkha War1813–1816
  • Third Anglo-Maratha War1817–1818
  • First Ashanti War1823–1831
  • First Anglo-Burmese War1824–1826
  • First Anglo-Afghan War1839–1842
  • First Opium War1839–1842
  • First Anglo Marri War1840
  • First Anglo-Sikh War1845–1846
  • Second Anglo-Burmese War1852–1853
  • Crimean War1853–1856
  • Anglo-Persian War1856–1857
  • Second Opium War1856–1860
  • Indian Rebellion1857

That’s quite a long list, right? Most of those men would have identified with the Christian faith. Young people fighting in World War II most likely had parents and other close family members who were involved in WW1. Fighting in armed conflicts and or being involved in supporting the war effort was a (largely) normal thing for Christians to do. I don’t want to go into the reasons that people may have chosen to participate in the First and Second World Wars as they are numerous and complex – but what I say to my young friends who question ANZAC Day is to remember that the social context of the time is always an important consideration.

Comparatively speaking we live in relatively untroubled times. I was born just after the end of the Vietnam War. For myself and subsequent generations in New Zealand, we have grown up with conflicts that have not required large-scale involvement from New Zealand. I was a teenager when the Gulf War broke out. For me, that war was far off and remote, and did not involve anyone I knew. It was something that just happened on television, and people questioning the justification for the war had a very loud voice.

ANZAC Day is not and has never been a day of celebration. Nor do I think it is a day of glorification – although I am disturbed by some of the growing commercialisation of it that I am seeing in recent years.

Cartoon Wanganui Chronicle 23 April 2014

Cartoon Wanganui Chronicle 23 April 2014

The media certainly milks ANZAC Day for all its worth, but I think we must always bear in mind the original purpose of ANZAC Day.

ANZAC Day itself is not some arbitrary point in World War 1 that the Government thought might serve as a useful memorial holiday. The 25th of April, 1915 in Gallipoli was so awful that when news of the bloodshed there reached New Zealand on April 30th, a half-holiday was immediately declared and many impromptu services were held across the country. By the time the Gallipoli campaign ended three months later, thousands of men had lost their lives, including 87,000 Turks; 8,500 Australians; almost 3000 New Zealanders; and around 32,000 British and Frenchmen. Thousands more men were wounded.

ANZAC day doesn’t mark a day of magnificent victory by the Allies. That day was an unmitigated disaster. If ANZAC day was about the glorification of war it would have made more sense to mark a day where our soldiers fared much better than they did on April 25th 1915. And yet after the ‘War to End All Wars’ was over, it was this terrible day that was chosen by both New Zealand and Australia as our national day of remembrance. This day was chosen because people wanted to remember the futility and sheer awfulness of war.

ANZAC Day is a time for all of us to acknowledge the pain of war. There are many lessons we can learn as we look back at these dreadful times in our past, and certainly words like regret, sacrifice, mateship, unity and peace seem to resonate with us as a nation when we talk about ANZAC Day.  What I think it can be for us as Christians is a reminder of the constant possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Perhaps the most immediate and obvious example of reconciliation is the fact that the Turkish people allow us to gather on the Gallipoli Peninsula to hold ANZAC Day services. The Government of the country that we invaded, a country that lost more than 87,000 people in WW1, is willing to allow us to remember our dead along with theirs. I’m not sure that we ever think about how gracious that is. It gets quoted at lot, but I think Kemal Ataturk’s speech in 1934 about the lives lost at Gallipoli, illustrates the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

“Those heroes that shed their blood

And lost their lives.

You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.

Therefore, rest in peace.

There is no difference between the Johnnies

And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side

Here in this country of ours,

You, the mothers,

Who sent their sons from far away countries

Wipe away your tears,

Your sons are now lying in our bosom

And are in peace

After having lost their lives on this land they have

Become our sons as well”.

That’s a pretty amazing speech, right?

Just recently a movie came out called The Railway Man, starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. The movie is based on the true story of Eric Lomax. Eric was a Signals Officer in the British Army during WW2 and was captured in Singapore by the Japanese in 1942. He was forced-marched to Changi, and then later sent to notorious Burma to Siam railway.

At a camp by the Kwai Bridge, Eric and six colleagues built tiny radio receivers out of odds and ends to gain news of the outside world and help maintain the morale of their starved and beaten colleagues. But someone gave them away and all seven were arrested and tortured by the Japanese military police. Over time, the other six died. But despite horrendous tortures, including water being forced down his throat through a hose-pipe, Eric survived.

When nuclear attacks on Japan brought an end to the war Eric helped identify and track down the torturers of the River Kwai. Some were executed, others received long jail sentences, many committed suicide. But the man who interrogated Eric over his many days of torture could not be found.

For the next fifty years Eric suffered the acute mental and physical after affects of the torture he had endured. He was unable to talk about his experience with his wife, and tried to bury his suffering deep inside. It cost him his marriage, and he became estranged from his two daughters. But he single-handedly continued his pursuit of the interrogator through war records held in London and elsewhere. When he remarried, his second wife quickly realised that her husband was a broken man suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who was bent on exacting revenge.

Then came a breakthrough.

A booklet written by a Japanese man and published in English, came into his possession. In the book, the torture on the banks of the Kwai is described in detail by someone who was clearly present. The author was Nagase Takashi. It soon became clear that Nagase was the interrogator that Eric had been looking for. In the book Nagase talked about his revulsion at the atrocities that he had committed during the War, and at having a spiritual experience where he had felt forgiven for what he had done.

Eric was incandescent with rage that Nagase could possibly feel that he was forgiven for what he had done to Eric and his fellow prisoners.

Consumed by hate and wanting to exact revenge, Eric was warned by experts at the London based Medical Foundation for the care of Torture Victims, where he’d finally been receiving counselling, not to suddenly confront Nagase. Instead, his wife Patti and others persuaded him to start a correspondence with Nagase with a view to a possible face to face reunion, which took place at the Kwai Bridge in 1993. Even at this reunion Eric intended to kill Nagase. Instead, Nagase apologised to Eric and acknowledged the suffering that he had gone through. Eric was so stunned he just said ‘Thank you, thank you’ and they shook hands. Eric said that it was at this point he saw Nagase as another human being, not the enemy. Eric forgave Nagase, while not forgetting, and they became friends for the last 18 years of their lives.

 

Forgiveness and reconciliation.  

Jesus talks about these two things a lot. In fact in Matthew 6:14-16, Jesus makes it pretty clear that forgiveness is essential in our walk with God. Jesus says:

For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Speaking from my own experience forgiveness is one of the hardest things that God asks us to do. But God knows that.

I really love the interaction of Peter and Jesus in Matthew 18:21-22.

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

I reckon Peter thought that seven was a pretty generous number, and he was trying to win some brownie points from Jesus. But Jesus blows that out of the water when he says:

“I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Jesus goes on to tell the Parable of the unforgiving servant, where a servant owes money to his master. The master demands payment and tells the servant that unless he pays up he, his wife and his children will have to be sold. The servant begs for mercy, and being filled with compassion the Master lets him go and releases him from his debt. Immediately after the servant leaves, he runs into a fellow servant who owes him money and grabs him by the throat, demanding the money he is owed. His fellow servant begs him for mercy, but the servant is unmoved and has him put in prison. When his Master finds out what has happened, he sends for the servant immediately asking why he hadn’t had mercy on his fellow servant, as the Master had for him?

Forgiveness is something God expects us to extend to each other, because he has forgiven us. As CS Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.”

Why are forgiveness and reconciliation so important to God? There are several reasons why, not just because of God’s enormous degree of forgiveness towards us as the model for how we should treat others. I also reckon it’s this:

God knows that we humans have such a deep need for it, not just from God, but also from each other.

Because without forgiveness we cannot move on. We get stuck, like Eric Lomax. We cannot heal. Nelson Mandela – another powerful example of forgiveness and reconciliation – once said that ‘Resentment is like drinking a cup of poison, and then hoping it will kill your enemies’.

On ANZAC Day we gather to remember all those affected by war; to honour all those who were injured or killed; to mourn with all those who lost people they loved; and to recognise those who conscientiously refused to fight. We also gather to pledge ourselves to do everything possible to prevent war, so that future generations will not have to experience its horrors. It’s a day for remembering to choose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation whenever we can. We can do this as Christians because Christ is our peace; because in his body he broke down the dividing wall, the hostility, between all human beings.   Let us use ANZAC Day to commit ourselves to being agents of reconciliation.

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Trim Healthy Thursday: Week 9

After the euphoria of last week, this week has felt a bit flat.

I baked a couple of low carb recipes I found on the internet as I actually had the ingredients to hand.  They both turned out really well and I will certainly make them again.  These grain free, refined sugar free coconut flour shortbread cookies passed the toddler test, have four ingredients (I use rice malt syrup instead of honey) and are super quick to make.  These chocolate cupcakes were quickly devoured too and should please anyone.  I did have one off plan meal (and one snack) – fish and chips are in no way Trim Healthy Mama!  We had a fun movie night with friends and enjoyed our treat.

I guess I must have been harbouring some guilt about it (silly, I know) which was not enhanced by excitedly getting my winter clothes out of storage only to discover than many of them still do not fit me.  Why must I always demand quick results when I know that slow and steady wins the race?  Why do I let my weight determine my worth?

I decided to shift my perspective after following a thread on Trim Healthy Mama New Zealand’s Facebook page.  A newbie to THM asked if loosing a kilo a week was a reasonable expectation.  Many people chimed in to advise that while they had lost weight, they had many times when their weight loss on the scales stalled but still dropped dress sizes and saw other improvements in their health and well-being.  I had set a couple of ‘magic numbers’ as weight loss goals, and planned to celebrate when I reached those numbers.

But on this eating plan, unlike others I have been on, checking those numbers on the scale is not the most effective way to gauge my progress.  For instance, I have lost weight on my arms – upper AND lower.  I know this because clothing that once fitted snugly on my forearms are now flapping in the breeze!  It’s bizarre, and probably not reflected much by the number on the scale.  I have to put my bras on tighter hooks.  Most afternoons no longer find me looking longingly at the couch for a rest.  These are the results to go by, not the scales.

I have decided not to weigh myself again, and instead my new goal will be getting into a large pile of clothes that almost fit me.

I look forward to expanding my wardrobe soon.

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Dollar Diet: Week 16, old habits die hard

Ooh, it’s been an interesting week in Dollar Diet Land.  Some old habits crept back in, only to be firmly stamped out by my size 10s.

We’ve done lots of (mostly) free things for entertainment this week, a fantastic walk round Virginia Lake with friends, a brilliant dinner/movie night with more friends, and yet another family walk around the lake (we love that place, and the Autumn leaves there at the moment are beautiful).

I spent money at a cafe for the first time this year, but it was due to not anticipating quite how long we would be at the lake.  I don’t begrudge it, as that was the only time I spent money on an ‘activity’ during the school holidays.  The kids and I had an absolute ball there with our friends, and before I knew it, it was time for a spot of lunch.  Next time I will remember that two little legs+ducks+diggers+puddles = a long trip out, and will take more food with us.

Then for some reason D and I really wanted a meat pie.  It’s not something we eat often, nor can I blame the recent cold snap as the day in question was very warm.  D popped out and came home clutching a couple of pies.  I ate mine (not at all Trim Healthy Mama, I know) and wondered why on earth I’d wanted one in the first place.  Bleugh!  This popping-out-for-fast-food behaviour is something that we have no intention of ever getting back into, and we both gave each strict instructions to ignore any such requests again

I read a letter in one of our newspapers from someone wisely stating that if we don’t use our local small businesses, they will close.  The letter writer was sad to hear that one of our butchers shops was closing down, and went on to say that this closure had spurred her on to go to the only small butchery left in Whanganui.  I wholeheartedly concur with her sentiments, and decided it was high time I too checked out the Wanganui East Meat Market on Duncan St.  I’d been meaning to go there for ages but never got round to it.  I’m so glad I did.  They are more expensive than my favourite supermarket, but only a dollar or so more for most things.  The meat is markedly tastier than what I get at the supermarket.  For me, the quality of the meat outweighs the small price increase, so we have decided to make this our new go-to place.

We are in a fortunate position to be able to do this – thanks to the Dollar Diet, I regularly underspend on groceries these days – but I am well aware that for some people $1 more is simply too costly.  If you are in a position of having some wriggle room in your budget to support small businesses, I strongly encourage you to use them.  In New Zealand, and indeed, in many parts of the Western World, we are in danger of being completely taken over by large multinational chain stores.  Small businesses not only keep money in the local economy, but they are what helps give a place character, and a point of difference.  I remember when I lived in England visiting many small, picturesque villages which all had the same shops as the last., such as Boots, Topshop, WH Smith etc.  Don’t let this happen where you live!

Help keep jobs by shopping locally

Help keep jobs by shopping locally

And speaking of underspending on groceries – an advantage of the Dollar Diet is our new wriggle room means we are able to GIVE more.  We had plenty of money to spend on meat, so I made up a large beef stew for a very pregnant friend and her family.  I know how exhausting those last few weeks can be, and how wonderful it is to have something in the freezer so that you don’t have to cook.  Watching your pennies doesn’t mean we stop looking out for each other and using what we have to bless someone else. 

Here’s a tip for the socially-minded: our local supermarket also had toiletries going cheap, so I picked up toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap for our local food bank.  I used to help run a Soup Kitchen, and these products are seldom donated but often desperately needed.  When forced to choose between toothpaste or food, someone on the streets will naturally choose food!  Other items needed are sanitary products (because many visitors to food banks in particular are women), socks, underwear, deodorant and razors.

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Six things you really need when you have a baby

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A funny thing happens when you find out you are expecting your first child – you become obsessed with making sure you have everything you need for the new arrival.  Because, the shops shut when you have a baby, or something like that.  Also, you just know that if you fail to prepare and amass every.single.thing. you will fail utterly as a parent.  Because Harvard graduates all had electric bottle warmers when they were little.

Becoming a parent for the first time is like joining a secret club, full of bewildering paraphernalia and  jargon.  What is a onesie, and do I need it in 0000 or 000?  Argh!  What sort of wrap or front pack is best and what one may damage my child’s delicate spine?  How can I possibly choose from the vast range of strollers that look like a cross between a tank and Optimus Prime?

There are loads of definitive must-have-for-baby lists out there, but forget about baby slings, white noise machines and baby wipe warmers.  Here’s the real list of what will be indispensable.

6 things that you really need when you have a baby:

1. A very good washing machine.  If your current machine is on its last legs, think about upgrading it before your baby arrives, because trust me, you don’t want it to conk out when you are knee deep in baby-spit.  The amount of washing that one tiny person can produce really should be the subject of in-depth scientific investigation along with the Bermuda Triangle and the Loch Ness Monster.  You will do ridiculous amounts of laundry during the years your child is with you, so get a machine that can go the distance.

2. A slow cooker.  Your slow cooker is your new BFF.  Dinner time isn’t known as the ‘witching hour’ for nothing.  Soothing a whining or cluster-feeding baby whilst overseeing bubbling, boiling things on the oven is a recipe for frazzled nerves. When my daughter was tiny I would throw ingredients into the slow cooker when she went down for her morning nap.  When my son came along I would make up the meal the night before so I could simply take it out of the fridge and flick the on switch in the morning.  Slow cooked meals are wonderful for when you have company over but still have wee ones running amok.  Slow cookers are more economical than ovens to run, and you can buy cheap cuts of meat which will melt in your mouth by dinner time.

3. Lots of little face cloths.  Like, a million of them.  Those little squares of fabric will see endless tours of duty.  I must go through at least 10 of the darn things a day.  Wiping mucky faces and sticky hands, cleaning up globs of weetbix that didn’t quite make it into a mouth (some days it’s mine), umpteen sponge baths, sippy cup spills and more.  I love these things so much that if they weren’t in such revolting condition by now I’d turn them into a patchwork quilt for posterity’s sake.

4. To be part of a clothing chain.  Buying cutesy, ikkle clothes is loads of fun, but crikey these tiny outfits can be expensive.  If you’re not blessed with a projectile vomiter, rest assured that your 0-6 month old will not require too many outfits. Once they are moving…well, that’s a game changer.  Kids need to play like tired parents need to sleep.  All the time.  They need clothes that fit well, don’t impede their movement, and that they can get mucky in.  It can be tricky to find decent second hand clothing for toddlers – for good reason.  They trash their clothes.  This is why clothing chains are worth their weight in gold.  Friends have given me loads of clothes for both my children – so much that I will only need to buy a few items each season for the next few years.  And I have gladly passed on clothing to friend’s babies in return.

5. The ability to sleep at will, anywhere, anytime.  Just like your new baby.  I struggle with night feeds because I have serious trouble getting back to sleep.  Usually I can’t get back to sleep until 6am.  Right when my kids wake up…Having spoken to many mothers about this, I know that I am not alone.  Blessed are those who can nod off back to sleep in a jiffy.  It also helps in those early days to be able to sleep in strange positions, like sitting upright.  This is because your crying baby has finally fallen asleep.  On you.  And you don’t want to move a single muscle in case they wake up and start bawling again.

6. Non-judgmental friends and family on speed dial.  Have one or two friends who you can call to vent, or even better, to come over at once without question.  The early weeks are rough.  Unless you’ve spent significant time with a newborn, you will be unprepared for how much they can cry.  Their crying is hardwired to upset you, and if you can’t make them stop it’s incredibly difficult to bear.  When you are having a day when you’d quite like to throw your baby out the window, some one you can call on for help is a gift from God.

What would be on your list?