Reflections of the Full Week

Last night we were discussing the budget diet. An epiphany came in the form of even though our portions were fine, we felt more hungry. There are likely a couple of reasons for that…

I think we as individuals were getting to used to eating more than we might need in a given day. I know I was drinking more coffee than I needed nearly every day. I’d grown used to getting lunch at the food window in the stadium or at the corner market most days. If I was tired on the way home I might stop at a drive through or the BBQ place near our house. And ice cream at the end of the night usually sounded like a good idea.

why-the-treatsTaking one day as an example, I had a bowl of Honey Nut O’s (generic) with milk for breakfast (about 20 cents), a peanut butter sandwich with a banana for lunch (about 35 cents), and spinach risotto with black bean bake for dinner (around $1.50 at the portions I dished out. Which left me with just under $2 to put towards a different day, or to use for coffee beyond my allowance in the morning. At the end of the night though, I did choose to add another 10 cents to my spending for some more Honey Nut O’s while watching TV. (To be fair, someone insisted I share a couple.)

I looked at my coffee drinking and tried to figure out how I might incorporate it into my budget. I can use our french press without having to buy filters, which means for about 25 cents I can make the amount of coffee I get in the mornings if I go without cream. So between 25 to 40 cents a day for my morning coffee. Take a look at the $2.05 budget for the sample day, and this is totally possible. Especially on days when I don’t have meat. Were I inclined to do so (and I might be next week), I could reduce the daily budget to $3.60 a day and still get my coffee in the drive through. Since this isn’t fully about the money, I can pay for the convenience and deduct it from my total.

I also feel there is a psychology to it. We know we are eating off of less money than we used to spend on coffee so the subconscious message is we will be hungry. Additionally, when you’re looking at price per serving, you dish yourself out specifically one serving. Which in most cases means we eat less. Not that much less, but that lends into the perception of being denied something.

So I started this to gain a view of the possibilities to live off of that number. Additionally I was looking at if one could eat healthy off of those numbers. What I am finding is that if I can change my point of view, that will not only impact my budget, but also lead me to a healthier diet.

Though I’d still add the kale back into the risotto instead of the spinach.

Short Update on Budgeting

The cookbooks aren’t even at my house yet. I am still at least a week from flipping the switch on this. And yet I am noticing the change in my view of things already.

krispieThis afternoon I decided to go out for a soda and a rice cereal treat. I brought leftovers for lunch and I’ve been having a rough week. Also, I had taken note that my Chobani yogurt I brought with me this morning on sale was 25% of my daily budget (keeping in mind I am not yet on that budget).

You know what else is 25% of my daily budget on sale? That rice cereal treat from the convenience store on the corner. Granted they go on sale every week for a day. You can set your calendar to it. But that is still $1 when my total budget for the day will be $4. So this is a luxury I won’t have for a long time. And look at it, consider that I just called that a luxury.

cherry-pepsiDon’t even get me started on the soda. If we still had Coke machines in the stadium I would still be dropping $1.50 on a bottle – around 37% of the daily budget. But at $1.79 a bottle (plus tax), that is about half the daily amount I have to spend. Even if I find a sale, the lowest price I am likely to get is $.25 per can of soda. Which means I will get one can a day at best. I should be drinking more water anyhow.

Last – and by no means least – is beer. I was listening to the morning show talk craft beer with the owner of Trixie’s Liquor on the morning show. This lead to me making a mental list of the beers I wanted to pick up for our family vacation to Door County this weekend. A bomber of Trixie’s Forbidden Fruit (a grapefruit IPA made by Mob Craft for the store) is around $8.99. You see where I’m going, right?

Mrs. Zombie and I have been working budgets for a number of years now. The idea is to pay off all debts, a goal we should hit in 5 or 6 years. The mortgage being the only debt the last 4 of that. So even though we can afford more than $4 a day, and can afford to pick up that six pack of craft beer for the trip this weekend (much less the trip itself), this is a really strong exercise in seeing what it’s like on the other foot. Without relying on the memory of the “Mac and Cheese Days” long past.

naptime-gingerNot to mention if we’re going to take our budding new rock climbing puppy out to Aladdin’s favorite park on the anniversary of his death, you better damned well believe I will be having a beer that night. Of course, realistically, Ginger will probably look more like the photo here all weekend long. Which is fine. I have work to do.

One More Caveat

I also came across one more caveat that I need to enter into the challenge. Every week I go to my writer’s group on Thursday. We meet at one of two spots where we can get coffee and a bite to eat. Many times I will just get coffee and a cookie or tart because Chocolaterian makes some of the best treats and their coffee is something brewed by Walter White. Seriously, that shit is addictive! And more over, as we use their space every week I feel it would be rude to not “pay the rent” in some fashion. Especially when I am able to. So I will have dinner when I get home (in budget), but at the cafe I will partake of coffee and a cookie.

And in “payment” for this, I won’t get coffee on Thursday mornings on my way into work. So really it isn’t one more caveat to the project, but an addendum to an existing one.

New Project/New Challenge

I became aware this week, that this time last year I was elbows deep in a project to do 30 short stories in 30 days. That worked out to only 23 short stories, but over 50,000 words for the month. During one of my worst months in a really long time. But what am I doing this year?

Sure, I’m still doing book reviews, my bi-weekly game and helping out with the monthly D&D at Pegasus Games here in town. But I was doing most of that last year too. I’m feeling like I need a goal… a specific project… to light a fire under me. So I came up with one.

$4 a Day

good-and-cheapFor a while now I have been considering the challenge that some politicians and other public figures have done to eat on $4 a day – the amount that people on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) live on. Though this year I found the book Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown. Not only is it a cookbook to guide you through this process, but it has a program where if you buy a copy, a copy is given to a program or person in need that cannot afford it. Which appeals to me, because if you’re using SNAP or just living on $4 a day up-assisted, chances are you don’t have the money for a cookbook.

So I ordered the book to work with the mason jar meal cookbook I also picked up. And decided to go on a challenge to hit the $4 a day for a month. I figure this is also a good way to get my kitchen and pantry in order. Plus, I think my wife is secretly getting tired of risotto (my newest go-to dish to make).

The Caveats

I have two caveats that are for the protection of others as well as myself. My $4 a day limit does not include my morning coffee. If I don’t have that, someone will get hurt. That limit will prevent me from grabbing a green tea lemonade on the trip home though.

Additionally, my wife only is bound by the $4 a day meals if I am making them for her. My lunches will be made with this in mind, and I will not be going out for lunch at all. She isn’t bound by that, because I don’t want to get hurt. And if she wants a coffee on the way home, I can get her one. Just not one for myself.

The Reasons

Mostly because I want to. I have lived through hungry times. I called them The Mac and Cheese Days™. And honestly, I have family members living in those days right now. I want to prove to myself that it is possible to eat healthy at that amount. Limit the sugars, starches and salt in the diet. Limit the processed foods too.

The Reality

latteLast night, while going through the bookstore on the way home, I picked up the books I needed, a latte, and desert for after dinner. Partially it was a craving for something I knew I wouldn’t be having for a long time, and partially it was a peace offering for the wife I was about to put on rations. (Sort of… let’s face it, she can get seconds if she wants.)

Consider the triple venti latte I picked up in the cafe last night. It was an after-thought to get a coffee with my books. A little extra to keep me going. And it cost $5 to get it – a full 25% higher than the daily amount of money I would be spending on food soon. It tastes more like a luxury if you consider it a day and a half worth of food.

cheesecakeThen there was the blueberry cheesecake we had for desert. Without even considering the fact that it was a heavily processed food (lending to high sodium and fat content), it was $4.50. Just over the daily amount of money for food. Again, much more decadent factoring in that would soon be all I would eat in a day based on budget.

Grocery shopping is different though. You’re getting steaksfresh food that you’re making yourself (or at least you have the ability to do so). And you can get foods on sale, purchasing items when they’re  in season and such. But the bacon-wrapped sirloins I picked up last night were on sale 5 for $10, or $2 each. So that one small steak is half the budget for a day. Possible, but that does restrict what you can do with the rest of the day.

The Format

I will be posting updates as I go, possibly including some of the recipes as I post. I’m Italian, we don’t do well sticking to the script. Of course, when I have to calculate the cost per meal, I will have to curb that as much as possible. Which leads me to the summary per meal.

thug-kitchenAt the end of each post on meals – including the cost per meal – I will be posting revisions. In the event I have more than $4 to spend on a day (due to budgeting days previous or simply opening the budget back up again), I will list alterations I would do to the recipe as shown. Like upgrading the cut of steak (or size) used. Adding fresh basil into the risotto instead of sprinkling in the dried herbs from my pantry. You get the idea.

Also, in addition to the mason jar cookbook I have, I will be looking into some of the recipes from the Thug Kitchen. While the title is what originally drew me to it, the content held me there. The idea of cooking/eating like you give a damn what you’re stuffing in your hole is one many of us have gone away from. I intend to make the trip back.

The Timing

The cookbook will be at my door Friday. Though we are also taking Ginger on her first Door County trip this weekend. We’re going to see how well she likes Aladdin’s favorite park. She did show signs of wanting to be a rock climbing dog this past week. So the actual budgeting and diet will likely start the last week of this month, or the first week in August. I’m sure you’ll notice when this happens.

Steak Fajita “Stew”

Yeah, not the most exciting “here’s a sample from my work in progress” blog entry, but someone requested a recipe for a dish I made for lunches this past weekend. I’m going to let you all in on a secret, but it’s… y’know… a secret. So don’t tell anyone. Most of my cooking sports little to no recipes.

Once in a while I’ll venture out (like the chicken tortilla soup recipe, which did need some adjusting to get the Mrs. Zombie seal of approval), but mostly I’m making this shit up as I go along. I hear tell it’s the Italian way. That’s really the only excuse I can come up with for how I can eyeball amounts and remember the recipes that I’ve been brushing up over the past couple of months. That and a strange memory that will hold onto small details. For example, when I couldn’t remember the cupcake base I’d been doing for the past year and a half I knew that I was having problems. I hadn’t eaten anything in over five hours. When you eat five or six small meals a day, you do not go five hours without food. Not without a price to pay that is. And memory really is the second thing to go.

That said, I do remember exactly what went into this experiment. My goal was to make some fajita stuff to put into a tortilla or a pita bread and eat. I made this in the slow cooker as I was making steak, mashed potatoes and pan seared asparagus for supper that night. And doing laundry. June frickin’ Cleaver with a beard – that’s me. (Note to Self: buy a pearl necklace.)

Okay, by the numbers…

  1. Chop up 3-4 jalapeno peppers. For this, I used the two and a half I had left over from the cornbread experiment. Put them into the slow cooker. (make sure to clean out all the seeds)
  2. Chop up 1 pasilla pepper into small bits. Put this into the slow cooker. (If you don’t have them fresh, get the dried one and stew it in olive oil first. Shoot for fresh if possible.) (make sure to clean out all the seeds)
  3. Note on 2. If you can’t find pasilla try for ancho chiles or a pepper on the lighter side of spicy, like a poblano pepper. If you like the hot, you could replace with 2-3 serrano peppers, but you’re rolling the bones on that one. 😉
  4. Slice up one large or two medium sweet onions. If you like cooking, look into a mandolin slicer. You can get them as cheap at $20 in a big box store. I use mine to julienne the onion. Larger julienne slicing if you still want to be able to see the onions in the finished product. Guess what you do with it when you’re finished slicing. 🙂
  5. Open up two large cans of diced tomatoes. I use canned instead of fresh because I’m lazy. Just make sure the cans you get aren’t sporting a bunch of sodium in them. Low sodium where possible. Put them into the slow cooker.
  6. Throw in 2 pounds of lean stew meat. You can trim it if you wish or not if you’re lazy. (Note: were I to want more stew in this stew, I’d oil the meat and brown it covered in whole wheat flour and spices. Stew wasn’t what I originally was going for though.)
  7. For flavor I sprinkled in some grey sea salt, ancho powder and the Penzey’s chili mix I use (good cayenne kick to it). I also crushed in a couple of cloves of garlic – I’m Italian, it’s a law.
  8. At this point I considered adding some low-sodium V8 to give it more liquid for the cooking, but I figured it would be a bit spicy for Mrs. Zombie so I wanted to tone it down. That meant some sweet and something to counter the oil. I had grabbed a can of Pepsi that was in the frig, but stopped. I went over to the pantry and picked up a can of Vanilla Coke. Soda is awesome for slow cooker meats, but I thought the vanilla would be just enough to tone down the spice but leave the flavor.
  9. Set to cook for 4-6 hours. (The high setting on our slow cooker.)

End result was something that my wife ate as a soup. She loved it, which showed me two things. One that the vanilla was a good call. And two, that she’s learning to accept the peppers in everyday life. 😉

And for the record, the steak fajita “stew” pairs up all sorts of nice with the jalapeno bacon cornbread I made the day before. Still is in fact.

CWN Cookbook – Chicken Tortilla Soup

As was shown to me this week, I get larger spikes in views when I blog about politics as opposed to recipes. Of course that could be related to not linking another blog from the #amwriting web site. Also, it does take a special person to take recipe advice from a guy named Zombie Joe. That said, I’m still going to give you another recipe from the Change Write Now cookbook I am compiling.

A while back I picked up a copy of Eva Longoria’s cookbook. Mistakenly I picked it up in ebook format. I found that my Nook takes a long time to load the photos – and there are a lot of photos in the book. My first attempt at the soup involved using a full chicken to boil, but otherwise was according to the recipe. I found that my wife declared the soup too spicy, so I made some modifications to it due to produce availability here and taste. What we came up with is a tasty soup that is low in calories and sodium, but good enough to eat often.

Grocery List

  • 4 pounds of chicken legs
  • 4 pounds of chicken thighs
  • 4 cups of low-salt chicken stock
  • 6 cups of water
  • 1-2 medium-large onions
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 4 fresh tomatoes (or 2 cans of diced tomatoes)
  • 2 bunches of fresh cilantro (our store sells pre-chopped in a tube)
  • ground ancho chili

In addition to the above list, you’ll want to have some olive oil handy for sauteing the peppers and onions. You can also use other spices to your taste, but other than a pinch of sea salt, anything else would get lost. The only change in spices I have is using the jalapeno instead of the second pepper listed in the original recipe (as well as using fresh instead of dried), and using ancho powder instead of dried ancho. (Dried ancho is tough to get around here, and I keep a stock of dried for making cupcakes.)

Stage One

Fill a large pot up with the stock, water and chicken, bring to a boil for around 30 minutes to boil the chicken.

While that is boiling use a pan with a little olive oil in it to saute the garlic and the strips of jalapeno (wash and clean the seeds out first). Once they are cooked through (only 4-5 minutes over a medium heat) put them into a blender (we use a Ninja) with the tomatoes. You can mix the ancho pepper into here as well, but I put it right in the soup to minimize the affect on my lungs. The recipe calls for putting the onions in the food processor as well, but we like the strings of caramelized onions in the soup.

Stage Two

With the salsa ready to go, put the chopped up onion into the pan with olive oil. Saute them until the get clear-ish but don’t let them burn. Burnt onion strips in this soup would ruin it.

Around this time the chicken should be getting close to done. Once the chicken is cooked through (juices come out of the meat clear), remove the chicken and set it aside to cool. If the chicken you used was particularly fatty, skim any fat out of the stock left in the soup pot. We haven’t had to skim it yet.

Mix the salsa, the onions and the ancho pepper into the stock and leave it in there, off of the heat. Wait for the chicken to cool.

Final Stage

Once the chicken is cooled down, remove the meat from the bone and tear it into small pieces. You can chop it, but tearing it is faster and offers a sort of lizard brain satisfaction to it. Once all of the chicken is torn into small pieces (removing any skin, bones, etc. from it) deposit the chicken back into the pot with the broth and bring to simmer. Throw in the chopped cilantro (even the prechopped stuff) and let simmer until warm (about 3-5 minutes)

This soup can be served over tortilla chips, but I usually don’t as it takes time to make the tortilla curls and it adds calories. Lettuce and a dollop of sour cream are also part of the original recipe, but I stick to just the soup. I have grown in the habit of having cornbread with it though.

Serving Size: 1 cup

Actual Serving: 1 bowl (usually 2 cups)

Calories (per cup): 100

Yield: I forget the exact number, but I think it was around 26 cups give or take.

Pairings: Normally my bottle of water and a cornbread muffin.

Change Write Now Cookbook – Brat Chili

Part of my success or lack thereof in dieting involves my ability to eat the same foods over and over again. Through Season One that evolved into making large batches of meals and portioning them off so we had easy food to take for lunch that wasn’t saturated in sodium. What helps out in this instance is making it taste good and something you like. For my first posted recipe, I’m going with Brat Chili.

I know, if there are brats in that chili, how can it be healthy? The idea is to make something fresh, good for you, low in sodium and the like but still filling enough for a meal. And if you’re worried about the fat content as well as the calories, you can substitute the ground beef with ground turkey and the brats with turkey brats. The calories won’t go down as much as you think, but it is less fat.

First off you’ll need a shopping list.

  • 2 pounds of ground beef (as lean as you can get it)
  • 1 pound of brat meat (single packages are about 1 pound)
  • 2 cans of black beans (can use red kidneys or a combination for variety)
  • 2 cans of diced tomatoes
  • 4 fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 3-4 cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1 medium-large onion
  • 4 small cans (5.5oz) of V8 (or the equivalent)
  • note: you can substitute plain tomato juice for V8 if you want to keep the sodium down
  • chili seasoning (I used Chili9000 blend from Penzey’s)
  • ando chili powder (my personal tastes include adding this to the seasoning mix)
  • cayenne pepper (if you want to kick the heat up more – only for HEAT eaters)
  • olive oil (for saute mode on onions, garlic and jalapeno)

With your ingredients purchased, you can either make this in a pot or in a slow cooker. When time allows, I use the slow cooker to free me up from watching it.

First Step

Get out two pans. In one, put the onion and garlic chopped up with some olive oil. Saute them until just caramelized, be careful not to burn them. At the same time, brown the ground beef in the other pan.

While those are cooking, slice and de-seed the jalapenos and de-skin the brats (if you didn’t purchase unstuffed brats). When the onions/beef are done, drain the beef and put it and the onion/garlic mix into the slow cooker. Replace them with the jalapeno (and a small amount of olive oil) and the brat meat crumbled in the other.

Once those are done, drain the brat meat and toss both pans into the slow cooker.

Second Step

Drain and rinse the beans (you can skip this step, but this will bring out the bean taste more in the chili – your call). Pour the beans, tomatoes, V8 (or tomato juice) into the slow cooker. This point gets a little more abstract – spice it to taste. For a full batch I usually use around 2 tablespoons of chili9000 blend, about a tablespoon of ancho powder and a teaspoon of extra cayenne pepper.

Mix it up and leave it on low for 4-5 hours and it will be blended well and ready to serve. You can eat it sooner, but I find that leaving it in and stirring it every so often gets the flavor through the dish and brings out the brat taste in it as well as the chili.

Serving Size: 1 cup

 Actual Serving: 2 cups (a bowl)

Calories: around 220 per cup, closer to 200 if you use turkey meat

Yield: For this batch I think our final amount was around 18-20 cups worth. Enough for a meal that day and at least 3 days of lunch for everyone in the condo.

Pairings: I have a buttermilk cornbread recipe that goes real well with this. One cupcake/muffin sized serving is around 165 calories. For a drink, most of the time it is water, but if it’s a weekend and I still have calories left a Guinness goes down real nice with it, with a bottle being 175 calories.

What diet food do you like that some people would not call diet food?

Next Time – my modification to the chicken tortilla soup recipe I took from Eva Longoria’s cookbook. My seriously low calorie meal choice.

Change Write Now: Season 1 Finale

This week was the final reporting in for the Change Write Now challenge. I’ve been considering this post for the better part of the week. Last night the official word came in an The Undead Poets Society (the team I was on with three other challengers) took over the top slot in the final week, with another team nipping at our heels the final sprint. (Both of our teams did a 600 point average score, meaning that each challenger on the team had to hit every one of their goals 6 out of the 7 days in the week.) For me though, it wasn’t the close final score that made the challenge for me. It was the path to get there.

A few weeks back, once we were listing in 3rd place in the rankings I took a look at the math involved. I’m a gamer geek and a recovering math geek on top of other eccentricities. Had I been more into sports other than MMA I might be rocking a fantasy football league somewhere – but I digress. What the math showed me is that we would have to average pretty high over the last 3-4 weeks to pull ahead into the top slot. So in one of my check-ins I mentioned (as I was the scorekeeper I was also the default “look at the rankings” guy) that while we could totally hit second slot, first place was improbable. Not out of reach, but would take some serious bootstrapping. I was aiming for second place.

Unanimously from my team came the response of, “The hell we can’t!” Had they not done that, there’s a chance one of those weeks I may have slipped a day or two. Like my birthday for instance. Even with having a beer and a couple shots I managed to stay in my calorie range. That team motivation kept me in calories every day during the challenge, even the “free” days. Even though the challenge was over this week and Season Two isn’t starting until Sunday, I’ve still kept in my limits.

My splurging this week was going out for barbecue last night. Even doing that I was only over about 80-90 calories for the day. Sleep did pay the price last night though, which is one of the key goals in Change Write Now – getting at least six hours a night. Even had the challenge been in session there’s no predicting one of those awesome leg cramps that you need to stand out of a dead sleep to get rid of and your leg is so messed up it twists back when weight is put on it. You know the move, the one that wakes you right the hell up and looks like a shifting scene from a werewolf movie. Good times.

Back to our team challenge, last week I checked in with the final math. If we all managed a perfect week, the top team would have to produced over a 590 out of 600 score to hold onto first place. Assuming, of course, that we all managed perfect weeks. Corrine Jackson may have thought I would be doing victory laps last night when our placings were announced, but Saturday night when everyone reported in perfect weeks was when I was really doing a dance. It was pretty awesome to see a group of three other people that were not only motivated the same way as me, but to have them pull it off.

If you’re interested, tonight is the last day to join up. There are currently over 60 people participating. Just go to the Change Write Now web site to register for it. The goals are (reproduced here from the CWN site):

Eating Healthy – 25 points

Basically, this is entirely up to you. If you eat the right amount of calories and nutrients for your age, weight & activity level over the course of a day, give yourself points. If you’re feeling guilty about your choices for the day, there’s probably a reason why. And that’s alright! Tomorrow’s a brand new day!

**We do have one caveat. Some of us struggle with eating disorders. If anyone does, please, please, please don’t let this game become a trigger for you. See a doctor. Some people may diet, but that is not our joint goal. The goal is to become healthy, and we would hate to inadvertently spark an unhealthy behavior for anyone.

Exercising for at least 20 minutes – 25 points

Some people may choose to lift weights, run, swim laps, do yoga, or hike a San Francisco hill for twenty minutes. Others may do a twenty minute workout with Wii Fit or twenty straight minutes of flailing around with Just Dance 2. We know of some writers who have treadmill desks so they can walk and work at the same time. Whatever you choose to do, get your body moving for twenty consecutive minutes a day!! Oprah and Dr. Oz have been kind enough to provide us with a twenty minute workout here (

Sleeping for at least six hours per day – 10 points

Poor sleep habits lead to more frequent colds, reduced energy, slower reflexes, and impaired thinking and learning. Read more here.

Consuming 64 OZ. of water – 10 points

Water is necessary for your body to operate. It makes up about 60% of your body weight. It flushes toxins out of your body and carries nutrients to your cells. A lack of water leads to dehydration.

Now, you may have heard that the 8 glasses of water rule is outdated. It actually does vary by person. The Institute of Medicine says a healthy adult female living in a temperate climate needs 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. We’re aiming for 8 cups or 1.9 liters because it’s easier to remember.

Checking in with your teammates – 10 points

We can’t stress how important this is. Each day, you will be asked to check in with your team. Your methods (Facebook, email, Twitter) are up to you. Will power and discipline are only one part of the game. A support system is really what is going to help us succeed.

Just be considerate to each other. And ditch the negativity. This is one point we won’t budge on. If you’re struggling, it’s perfectly okay to talk about that and to be frustrated. But be encouraging and kind to each other.

Remember, team discussions are CONFIDENTIAL!

Adopting one good habit – 10 points

This should be the same habit for the entire length of the game. Here are some suggestions:

  • Read something good for your soul for fifteen minutes each day.
  • For every hour you sit at your laptop, you take five minutes to stretch and move about.
  • Decide to make one meal a day at home instead of eating out.
  • Try journaling.
  • Clean your house for twenty minutes each day.
  • Organize something for twenty minutes each day.
  • Take up flossing your teeth every day.
  • Have fruit with lunch.
  • Use a daily moisturizer with SPF 15+

Tossing out one bad habit – 10 points

Again, this is a habit you want to work to get rid of. Pick a habit and stick to it for the two months. Some ideas….

  • Give up smoking. (Sarah says she will make you cookies if you do this. And by “cookies,” she means something totally healthier… she just has to figure out what that is)
  • Stop swearing. (This is a suggestion from the book and most likely not something Cory or Sarah will be giving up anytime soon. :-))
  • Stop playing on Twitter during writing/working time.
  • Work on negative self-talk. Each time you put yourself down, pause and rethink something more positive.
  • Give up coffee or soda.
  • Watch only one hour of TV a day.
  • Stop playing Sims 3 for 4 hours a day.


With those goals listed above, here is what I got out of it…

  • 17 pounds lost
  • A dog that insists on taking a long walk on the weekends and any weeknight I’m home before 9pm
  • Several short pieces of fiction done and revised
  • A short piece done in conjunction with the novel I’m finishing (getting their voices back)
  • Down to coffee every 2-3 days (this wasn’t on purpose)
  • Soda once every day or two (and then diet soda)
  • A 32oz bottle for water that I refill several times a day
  • Fewer migraines (extra coffee if they do show up)
  • New recipes discovered and tweaked (and calorie counted)
  • Casa de Zombie Cookbook started and being added to every day
  • Writing routine modified to lead to less coffee drinking

Sounds interesting? Join in. Otherwise you can jump on the boat next “season.”

Coming tomorrow I’m going to post the recipes I’m doing including their calorie count. I’ll start with either brat chili or chicken tortilla soup.

Change Write Now – Season 1 Finale

We’re getting close to a wrap on this bad boy. People have sent in testimonials on how well it worked and “Season 2” has been picked up – in a manner of speaking. The next round of this will begin in March. This would be my testimonial as I will be continuing on even if there is a week lag in the “seasons.” The main reason is that the program is working. I’ll try and outline some of the reasons why I think it’s working though.

The app Lose It!

This was something my wife picked up from a friend of hers and I downloaded to check out. You put in the weight you are, the weight you want to be, and how much you want to lose a week (1, 1.5 or 2 pounds). The app then gives you how many calories you should be eating. If you punch in the exercise you’re doing it will also calculate how many more calories to add to your diet.

The app itself comes with a significant amount of food options to plug into your log, as well as the option to scan the code on store bought items. The features for adding food to your log was one of the best aspects of it. It also helps me to calculate the calories of the meals we’re making at home. Which leads me to…

Making Meals at Home

I’ve taken to making a modification of a chicken tortilla soup I found in a cookbook to use ingredients readily available here and that were more to my wife’s taste than the peppers in the standard recipe. Although it takes time, it is pretty easy to make and clocks in at 100 calories per cup.

Also on my go-to list is a pasta fagouli soup that takes less time involves more dishes and comes in at around 200 calories per cup. The thing that hangs up this one is the sausage and the pasta that goes in it. Although I have taken to using the whole grain pasta for the fiber and such.

Both soups get a side dish of a buttermilk cornbread that I make into cupcake papers to give us easy single servings. Using a modification to the recipe of using buttermilk instead of milk and adding a little more cornmeal the calories of the single servings are up to 165.

Taking the Challenge Seriously

At the beginning of January, I went out and bought a new scale. Our old one was old, probably broken (we figured out after getting the new scale) and wasn’t really reading for me. I also went out and picked up a bunch of new reusable containers, fresh spices and organized our pantry so that we can not only judge what needs to be replaced, but can also insure that the oldest stuff in there gets used first. We found stuff in that pantry that expired in 2010 when we cleaned it out.


While I cannot really “work out” due to my spinal injury, I have started on taking the dog for 20-30 minute walks. We’re now at a point where he expects it, so he bugs me until I do it no matter how much I would prefer not to. Ironically he also bugs me if he hasn’t gotten his nightly pill. I suspect deep down inside my dog may just be a natural pain in the ass – which makes for a good reason he fits in so well with the family.

Eat Like a Hobbit

Before Change Write Now I had two modes. I either ate way to little, or ate way to much. This lead meant when I thought I was doing well, I was eating so little my body was retaining everything. This lead me to planning out my food for the day. It also lead to me having the hobbit eating plan…

First breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies…

Literally I now eat 5 “meals” a day. It has gotten to the point where on the weekend if my wife keeps us going because she’s not hungry, I start to suffer. I first noticed it when I was making cupcakes and the recipe that I have had memorized for the past year and a half was gone. I had to look in the book. I grabbed the book, a greek yogurt and sat down for a while.

Water, Water and More Water

64oz a day at least. Every day. I think my bladder is filtering water at this point better than my coffee maker. Not that I’m going to test that theory out, mind you. I’m not Dr. Sheldon Cooper. (Bazinga!)

I’ve known for a long time that drinking a lot of water is good for all sorts of reasons, but with this program I’m now held accountable. Before if I slacked off on the water the only thing that happened is I had to look myself in the mirror. I do it now and I have to explain to my team why I dragged the points down this week.

My Team

Weeks when I felt bad, was tired, or didn’t feel like sticking to it, I knew that there were three women out there that would lose points in our ranking because of me. That kept me going when I wanted to let it slide. After all, they not only accepted a guy in their midst, but they accepted a guy named “Zombie Joe.” Also, when we discussed team names I half-jokingly threw out The Undead Poets Society and they all agreed on it.

Over the past couple of years I’ve become used to the fact that I’m now the minority in my chosen communities. I go to monthly meetings of a writers group that has a majority of romance writers. I attend reader and writer conventions where I am the 1%. Not the rich 1%, but the 1% that doesn’t have to wait in line at the restrooms.

I have no problem reading paranormal romance, young adult books, or even discussing them. I’ve even come to enjoy the looks friends of mine get when they find this out. Hell, I still chuckle when one of my players at game night was telling his girlfriend nobody there would know what she was talking about. I then corrected him on how to pronounce Manolo Blahnik.

I’ll wrap this up with one final story. The Undead Poets Society had a solid bid on third place, but mathematically for us to overtake first place multiple people in the two teams ahead of us would have to fall off the wagon. I told this to my team. Their answer to the statement we can lock third, but probably can’t take first? The hell we can’t! Which lead to our team getting the highest weekly total in the challenge to that point. I felt like we won the dieting Super Bowl.

End Result

Since starting this challenge I’ve managed to get my dog healthier, learned some new skills and lost 14-15 pounds in the process. According to my app I should hit the goal that I set some time in October. What that means is as long as Change Write Now is going, I’ll be joining. Although I’m not sure what I’m going to use for my Good/Bad Habits this time around. I have a couple weeks to decide.

Sign ups for the challenge are going through March 9th, just go to the Change Write Now web site to register. It costs nothing and gives you a whole lot in return. Even if you’re not a published author.

My New Favorite Food

Reading the title, you’re likely to think that I went to a new place in town and found my new, most favorite, indulgent food. You may even assume I am off my diet I started with Change Write Now. In both instances you would be wrong. I did try some incredible squash ravioli that is one of the specialties of our Sister City in Italy on Saturday, but I am thinking of Friday.

As you may remember from earlier posts, in starting with Change Write Now I also started using an app on my iPad called Lose It. My wife got it first on her Droid and convinced me to use it. According to the programs in the app I was not only not eating frequently enough, but if I skipped lunch my dinner was even worse for me because I figured it didn’t matter. This got me onto counting up the calories of the food I bring to work and choosing better foods for my 5-6 “meals” a day. For my purposes a 10am snack of Greek yogurt counts as a meal. This is also the source of my rants of feeling like a hobbit. (First breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies…)

My wife loves the low-fat 80 calorie generic yogurt. I’m fine with that, but I prefer Greek yogurt which is fat free, but 140 calories and has more protein. It keeps me from wanting to gnaw on the arms of coworkers like a real zombie during the day. In short, I usually bring two Chobani cups with me to work. Also, I have found if I even skip one of those snacks during the day, I have to make up those calories at night and get forgetful and “weird” during the day. For those of you who know me, that’s weird in comparison to my normal, not most people’s.

On Friday, I open my container of blueberry Chobani and see a purple splotch of yogurt on the edge. Not unusual for blueberry, but normally the fruit is on the bottom. I lift the edge of the yogurt on the lip and see a big patch of mold. Obviously the top foil has punctured or the edge had lifted on it exposing it and causing it to spoil. It happens. Of course the issue was not having anything to replace it. I was bummed. As such I went to Twitter and sighed my angst over my lost yogurt in emo fashion.

This is where I get to the point of the blog – the part where I mention that in about 30 minutes or less I had a tweet from Chobani apologizing for the problem and offering to replace the product for me. This gesture along with the excellent product (when not left exposed to air) marks them as one of those products I will always support when the choice is there. In this day it is becoming less frequent that we see customer service this fast and helpful when it is solicited – much less unsolicited on social media.

Friday night on my way home from work I stopped at the store for groceries and restocked my yogurt with another dozen containers. Four were left this morning when I packed my two. I guess my wife and son have grown fond of them as well. I guess I know what I’m doing tonight on my way home.

Change Write Now (for 1/22/12)

  • Food – spot on (even with the cupcake of the week)
  • Water – under due to being at home and working around the house instead of at a desk
  • Exercise – well over due to cleaning and such
  • Writing – over goal, but it was all for game prep
  • Habits – both met, but it was my normal weigh in day (lost my 2lb goal for the week)
  • Sleep – over 6 hours, must’ve been a long weekend

Project Stats

  • Writing – naughty story about ready for critique, dragon poem planned
  • Reading (print) – still on Silver Tongued Devil (not much reading time this weekend)
  • Reading (Nook) – see above
  • Listening (iPod) – picked up Hammered and Hexed by Kevin Hearne from Audible

Change Write Now

It’s pretty awful timing (in my opinion) but I’m starting a new group lifestyle change tag team. It is kind of like the ROW80 challenge (that mostly worked for me) but with a team aspect that was used in GISHWHES. I didn’t want to have a New Years Resolution, which is the question of the poor timing. For me the New Years thing tends not to work. This time it is slightly different in that there is a team and my motivation is to have the ability to keep doing the things I like to do – camp, travel, attend conventions, hunt, etc.

The rules are pretty straightforward…

  • Eating healthy (pick a healthy diet plan and stick with it)
  • Exercise – 20 minutes/day
  • Sleep – 6 hours (must be in bed, lights/tv/radio off)
  • Water – 64 oz.
  • Communicate with your teammates at least once/day
  • Adopt one good habit
  • Lose one bad habit

For me some of this is a bit nebulous. Namely the habits portion and the sleep. My entire life I have never slept eight hours. Through high school I worked around 40 hours most weeks, took Tae Kwon Do classes 2-3 times a week and went to school. I’d be up reading or doing homework until around 1:00-1:30 and then I would get up before my father so I could take a shower before school. If I sleep more than 8 hours it is usually a sign that I am pretty sick. Six hours is not really my minimum but my goal. And then I got old.

Which is to say I reached an age where an injured spine and other factors in an aging body keep me from sleeping through a night. I usually will wake up at least twice a night. Realistically its probably three.

That same spinal injury really has the control on the “exercise” portion of my program. What I really need is a treadmill or bike, but I have no real room for it in the condo. So I do mall walking during the winter. This really is boring as hell unless you have someone walking with you. And even that is questionable. The first two days of the year and this challenge and it was questionable if I could walk, much less walk for 20-30 minutes straight. Yesterday I had to stay home from a planned trip and I asked my wife to dig out my cane for me. It got better, but I am still stiff as hell today and hurting, but a manageable hurt.

All that aside, I have a new app on my iPad called Lose It. It manages tracking your food and counts the caloric intake for you. It doesn’t have everything under the sun in there, but its easy enough to add something if you know the nutritional information for it. It will also factor in exercise in the mix for you and give you an estimated date of when you should hit your goal weight. It’s pretty slick. Also, my wife is using it so it helps things out if I am too.

Anything that it doesn’t factor in (like 64 oz of water in a day) the other rules for Change Write Now do. Which brings me to the most nebulous of the rules. Adopting a Good Habit and quitting a Bad Habit.

Good Habit

For me this is a fairly easy one. It’s one I held onto for most of the past couple of months, and I want to keep going with it. I will write each day for at least the 20-30 minutes I should be walking. This isn’t blog posts or Facebook notes either. This is actual fiction for use in submission, or as sparks towards submission. In reality the number I am shooting for is 1-2 hours a day. Preferably in 1 or 2 sittings.

Bad Habit

I would like to say skipping my writing when I don’t feel well, but that really is what the Good Habit is about. And even though it is technically one of the existing rules I’m going food based here. I will eat only healthy foods during writing group. The heavy dinner I eat there will put a hurting on this challenge. Since this really is covered in the other rules, I’ll add on a rider to this one. I’ll also not spend more than my $10 a month budget on books. This should be easily manageable with the amount of Barnes and Noble gift cards I am applying towards Nook books for the upcoming year. My $10 a month will go only towards books I really want to own in print. Like Sins of the Demon, just released by Diana Rowland today. (Forgive the shameless plug, but… well… it is my blog.)

Reading Today: Shadow City by Diana Pharoh Francis

Writing Today: Second Short Story for an anthology submission

Edit: Holy monkeys! I totally forgot the team name. I suggested it due to be tired, but the name grew on me the more people liked it… The Undead Poets Society.  🙂