Sunday, May 22, 2011

Finding Better Focus

See that glowing orb?
Yup, it's my scale. And that's the dumpster in front of it. Why is my scale out at the dumpster? Let's talk about it for a minute.

I've obsessed with my weight since I was about 8 years old. The women in my family have struggled with weight issues and I knew from a very early age that the number on that scale was a VERY big deal. I was taught that I had to be very careful to not get fat - because then people wouldn't like me as much, and I wouldn't be able to wear pretty clothes, and no boy would ever want to marry me. I don't think my family meant any harm, I think that they just wanted to spare me the pain of living overweight that they had experienced. But I have spent my entire life as a slave to that number.

I am confident in absolutely every other part of my life. At school I excelled with the slightest effort. I make friends easily, I'm funny, I'm smart, I arrive at work every day knowing that I am wonderful at what I do.

But if the number goes up - even a pound, I cancel dates, I stop having sex, I dress more frumpy to hide the bulges that now seem to have appeared out of nowhere. If the number stays the same, I become frustrated, I want to stop working out, I want to eat. If it goes down a smidge, I expect more of the same every few days in order to believe it's true.

I've lost and gained more pounds than I can count, but a few months ago I decided to stop worrying about diet. I realized that I just don't have the time as a single mom with two kids and a VERY full time job to obsess over every little thing I put in my mouth. I have stuck to my whole food vegan, primarily low-fat diet and have had more energy and I look better and better each week. I've also enjoyed eating so much more.

About 7 weeks ago I started running. I didn't start running to make the pounds come off - at least that's what I told myself. I've always wanted to become a real runner; someone who runs on a regular basis, who doesn't get out of breath racing to work, someone who signs up for charity running events and doesn't bitch out at the last minute (which I've done in the past).

So I signed up for a 5k, and I downloaded this awesome little app:

This app gets you 5k ready in 9 weeks. I'm almost done and am currently jogging for 25 minutes straight! It's been about 5 years since I've been able to do that. The runs are great - they clear my head, give me energy. It's great to feel my muscles developing. When I look in the mirror, my body is getting more toned, my thighs are tighter and I'm in very good health.

Then I step on the scale. It doesn't move. Then when I look in the mirror, I no longer see a more toned body. I see the same fat self I've seen my whole life. Even though my clothes fit better, even though I get compliments on looking healthier and more guys ask me out - that scale completely dictates how I feel about myself.

The other day I was staring warily at my scale in the corner of my bathroom, like it might jump out and attack me at any moment, and I finally realized how ridiculous this entire thing had become. Here I am, a healthy eater, a regular exerciser, someone who looks great in her clothes, and this number on the scale forces me to hate myself. It makes me want to give up.
And I don't want my kids to see that. I want to break the cycle with them, I want them to see me happy with my body - not because I've achieved some number on the scale, but because my body does what I need it to, it gets me where I go, it has the energy I need, it is strong and beautiful.

So farewell scale! I'm going to try to enjoy my body for a while.

Here's a great little snack to fuel up for your workouts. There are a lot of cookie-dough style recipes out there (like this one by Mama Pea) and most are pretty similar. This one is slightly different to accomodate the fact that I don't really like chocolate chips and wanted to limit the refined sugars in these babies. These have a really almondy taste and the coconut and cocoa powder remind me of Almond Joy bars - a childhood favorite.

Almond Joi Balls
makes approx 2 dozen
1 cup almonds
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 medjool dates, pitted
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes

Chop almonds into small bits in a food processor. Add the vanilla & almond extract, salt, dates and cocoa powder and process until it starts to come together into a ball.

Roll about 1 teaspoon of dough into balls in with your hands. Roll the dough balls in the coconut. Keep refrigerated.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Money Matters

I grew up poor. How poor? We're talking no electricity/eating free meals at churches poor. All birthday presents were bags of candy bought with food stamps. Was it awful? Not usually for us kids. Our mom did her best to create a good environment for us. She tried to make up fun names for the amalgam of food bank food she would cobble together for dinner. We'd pretend to be camping when the electricity would be cut off .I'm sure this was all much harder for my mom. I remember the constant look of worry that she'd try to hide every time we went to the mailbox.

We were poor for a lot of reasons. Because my dad ran off when I was two. Because my mom was struggling thru a degree in psycology. Because there wasn't a very good support network for a single mom with two kids to move forward in the world. But primarily, we struggled because our family is very, very bad with money.

Who's bad with money?
This lovely lady (sorry mom).

This goofball (you know it's true bro)

And yes, even me.

My mom didn't start this cycle either - my grandparents are not known for being financial wizards. There are ups and downs with how we live. The plus side, we aren't materialistic and we don't tie our self worth to our well - material worth.

The downside:
  • We don't go on vacations
  • Our credit scores are laughable
  • We avoid the mailbox like there might actually be a bomb in there
  • Safety net? What safety net! We're creative!
"But Ijeoma," you say, "you have been going on vacations like mad lately!" Ah you are right. Is this because I've learned the error of my ways and cleaned up my credit and paid my debts and am now free to spend my spare money as I please?

Hahahahahahahahaha. No.

It's because I am luckily now making a little bit more money, and can therefore cover basic needs with a little extra, all while ignoring a gigantic pile of other financial obligations. You know, that's how we grownups do it.

But there are a couple of things I would like to have:
  • A little piece of mind
  • A house
  • A better relationship with my mailbox
And I'd like for these two awesome guys to not wait until they are 30 to try to get their lives in order:

I also have "getting my shit in order" on my list of goals. So I decided to start tackling it. For about 6 months I've been slowly working on my credit - challenging old items and removing duplicates from my record. This month it was time to start the hard part. Budgeting.

Oh how I hate budgeting. I have the same reaction to budgeting as I do with dieting. It makes me want to binge. 
But I have to do it. I'm not five, right? I can be one of those people - you know, the ones who say, "no, I really can't go to that show, I spent a lot last week at that other thing" or, "no, I'm going to wait until these shoes are on sale." 

I've enlisted the help of a handy-dandy tool: 
Not my actual account balance - wouldn't that be awesome?
I give you Above is the app form, but I must say I use the site way more than the app. Both are free. This tool is pretty awesome. You put in your bank account info and it gathers your data. You put in your budgets that you'd like to stick to and it keeps track of how you are doing.
The feature I like best about it is that once you tell mint what a transaction is for, say...the $30 spent at King Street Bar goes to "Bars and Alcohol" then it remembers it the next time you go there! 

My goal is to stick with this for at least 90 days. I hope to have the following accomplished:
  • A stronger foothold on my debts
  • Regular bill-paying (no more collection calls!)
  • A bit of a stronger credit rating
  • Enough freedom to still have a bit of fun.
I don't have enough latitude to really start saving, my debts are just to high, but I'm also hoping to have a little bit set aside here and there. I'm halfway thru the first month, and though it sucks to realize how quickly all my money goes when I'm really paying my bills and how very poor I am, I have to live in my reality if I ever hope to change it.

I'm still eating a very healthy, vegan diet. I'm eating out far, far less, but that's good because I'm cooking delicious, low cost meals like these yummy spiced potatoes. Give them a try. Your wallet and your tummy will thank you.

West African Spiced Potatoes with Greens

1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1 jalapeno, diced
1 tomato, chopped
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1 14oz can chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon Maggi seasoning or 2 teaspoons shoyu/soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 medium/large red or yellow potatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cup vegetable stock
5 cups kale, chopped

Heat a large nonstick pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook for two minutes, add nonstick cooking spray if necessary. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook for 5 minutes until onions are soft and starting to brown. Add fresh tomato and turn heat to medium. Cook for 3 minutes. Add cayenne and curry and cook for one minute more. Add canned tomatoes, Maggi and salt and simmer for 10 minutes. Use an immersion blender or transfer tomato mix carefully to a blender and blend until mostly smooth.

 Add stock, potatoes and kale and cook until potatoes are al dente - about 25 minutes. Serve over rice or with bread.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Simple Mother's Day

When you are a single mom, Mother's Day is not about pampering, relaxation or gifts (unless you really live for those paper plate-tissue paper-glitter collages). The most you hope for on Mother's Day, is a nice, uneventful day with family - perhaps a day where nobody poops on the furniture.

I was determined to make this a nice Mother's Day. The kids and I got up early and started getting the house ready. Malcolm and Marcus cleaned (ok, Malcolm cleaned; Marcus rolled around on the floor yelling, "I'm hungry!") and I started cooking breakfast.

Around 9am, my mom showed up with my brother's girls and breakfast was all ready!
The boys' awesome table-setting skills
As you can see, we kept it simple. That's fruit salad with a simple syrup and a touch of allspice and honey (thanks Heather for the great idea) with some lemon Perrier to make mock mimosas, fluffy blueberry pancakes and tofu scramble.

The food was fantastic. The fruit salad disappeared almost immediately; the allspice was a perfect flavor addition. The blueberry pancakes were, once again, winners. I swear, the basic pancakes recipe from VWAV is honestly the best pancake recipe out there. My mom was very impressed with the tofu scramble. My sister has recently gone vegetarian and my mom has been having trouble thinking of things to feed her. I think the yummy tofu scramble gave her hope.

Every part of the breakfast was enjoyed. For once, the kids didn't complain about the lack of meat and dairy. Their only complaint was that there weren't more pancakes.

After breakfast the girls went home and it was time for the Mother's Day activity. Gardening!
We have a ridiculously small porch, but I've been wanting to get the boys to feel more connected to their food, so I bought a few small planters, a bag of dirt, and some seeds.

Marcus dove right in.
Marcus loves dirt
This picture was taken before he started giggling maniacally and began pouring dirt off of the balcony spoonful by spoonful. Even though we didn't have much potting soil to spare, mom and I stood there and watched him for a few minutes as he did a little dance and giggled, "hee hee hee hee" and with a flourish, poured spoonfuls of soil over the balcony ledge.

Mom and Malcolm got the little pots ready for the windowsill.
Malcolm's favorite person in the world, Munga
Malcolm and I lived with my mom for a while when Malcolm was little, so the two of them are very close. My mom is honestly one of the best grandmas in the world - she's fun, patient, loving and well, just all around great. They made a great gardening team.
Malcolm, carefully reviewing the planting instructions

Soon-to-be tomatoes and herbs
After gardening was complete, mom and the boys curled up on the couch to watch Toy Story 3 while I snuck in a run at the gym. I came back relaxed to a happy family.

It was a simple day - no elaborate gifts, no pampering. But the boys were giggling and we got to spend time with my mom and I felt more lucky than I have in a long time. Yes, Marcus did poop on the furniture, but even that wasn't so bad. Ok, that's not true - it was disgusting, but I can still say that it's been a winner of a Mother's Day.