Thursday, December 7, 2017

Errant Thoughts Story, Part 1

This isn't going to be a book, just a story I'm jotting down as the mood strikes...

______________________________________________________________

Susan juggled grocery bags and purse while unlocking her apartment door. As she kicked it shut the thumping vibration from her son's room clued her in on his location. "What is it with boys and bass?" she muttered while setting down the bags. A quick knock on his door and the noise level lowered, "Danny, can you bring up the rest of the food from the car?"

At sixteen, her son was a volume eater and she had no choice but to shop the sales. She kept to a tight budget and between her full-time job as a receptionist and selling plasma every weekend she was even managing to save a little for emergencies. Danny had tried an after-school job but his homework suffered and Susan put her foot down; he could work during the summer months but school came first.

The bread machine on the counter began beeping just as her phone trilled in her purse. "Everything at once...hello, Mom. No, I haven't seen the news; I just got home. Uh huh, that's bad. Are you and Dad okay? Good, good. Of course, we would love to come visit you in Arizona, but you know Danny has school. We love you, too. Bye."

"What did Grandma say?" Danny set down the twenty pound bags of potatoes, just missing the carton of eggs she snatched away.

"Something about the stock market taking a nosedive. Could you turn on the news while I finish in here?"

A few minutes later Danny called from the living room, "Mom! Come look at this. I don't understand."

Susan came and sat with him while on the tv a news anchor spoke in a low, dramatic voice, "...record drops in the DOW. Now we have expert economist, Edwin Fitzgerald, to explain how this happened."

The camera switched to another man who began speaking in a nasal monotone. After about five minutes the anchor interrupted to announce that it had been confirmed that the stock market would not be opening for trade the next day.

"What does it mean, Mom? Does it affect us?"

"I'm not sure; I never could really figure out stocks. Anyway, there's so little in my retirement plan, it won't bother us directly. Indirectly, I'm afraid it could. Last time there was a depression my company used it as an excuse to cut benefits and layoff people. Of course, even when the economy recovered, the benefits didn't come back."

"But you don't even make that much. Why would they bother taking your job away?"

"Oh, honey, it doesn't have to make sense. Last time they laid off the poor guy who made minimum wage for emptying the trash cans. Sometimes it's all about making a show of 'economizing'. If I have to, I look for another job and we try to live as cheaply as possible. This will probably blow over in a few days and I'm worrying for no reason."

Every day that week the news seemed to get worse. Scandals emerged as politicians and financiers attempted to deflect the blame or took the opportunity to point fingers at enemies. The global markets reacted to the trouble and shook. Any measure taken to calm the situation had the opposite effect and panic began to spread.

Susan had suspected Friday would be bad; the company was notorious for layoffs happening at the end of the work week. By early afternoon the unfortunate employees were being escorted out with their boxes of personal effects. The reactions ran the gamut from weeping to angry cursing and by the end of the day Susan was exhausted. Which left her completely unprepared for the ambush by her supervisor. Afterwards, she sat in her car, rubbed away the tears and tried to think sensibly. Digging an envelope out of her purse, she began making a list: apply for unemployment, cancel the cable, switch the car insurance to liability. First, she decided, was returning to the discount store that she avoided because of the rudeness encountered there. "No room for pride in this budget." She snorted with dark humor, "And now I'm talking to myself."

That evening Danny staggered into the apartment with another load of canned food. "Mom, you don't even like canned vegetables, why did you buy so much?"

"There isn't room in the freezer for more frozen and I'm afraid if the economy keeps going down all the cheap stuff will be sold out fast. I won't be able to afford the brand-name foods now."

"You didn't get any snacks or pop." There was a hint of reproach in his voice.

"Sorry, no. I can still do some baking though."

"My friends are going to notice when I stop buying from the vending machines. Do I have to tell them we're broke?"

Susan felt a wave of relief that he was cooperating, even volunteering not to buy snacks when away from home. A teenager could have made the entire situation pure hell. "Why not tell them you're trying out a new healthy eating plan to make your weight lifting more effective?"

"Yeah, that will work. If they bug me for details I can say I'm still figuring it out so I won't get tied down."

On Saturday morning Susan sat down with stacks of receipts, paid bills, her checkbook and a blank notepad. Painstakingly, she tracked down most of her expenses for the last three months. Then, with lips pressed thinly, she started a new page with items that were set amounts. Rent went to the top of the list; they could find something cheaper in a rougher neighborhood, but they were only two months into the annual lease and it would cost more to break it. On the other hand, the only utility not included with the rent was electricity and that was something they could cut back on.

Car insurance was a big one; while she was still pondering that Danny came out of his room, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. "Hey, Mom. What's all this?"

"I'm trying to figure out a bare-bones budget and what can be cut out. I'll call the insurance agent on Monday and get the car switched to liability only, but Danny..." she trailed off unhappily.

"You need to take me off it, don't you? Damn it, it's not fair! I studied really hard to get my license."

I know and I'm sorry. If I was sure I could find another job right away it would be different."

"This sucks." He slouched down in his chair and chewed on his lip for a few minutes, then something shifted in his expression and he exhaled loudly, "Of course, it would be worse if I already had my own car. Or a girlfriend."

Susan's mouth twisted in a lopsided smile at his gallows humor. "Thank you."

Pushing his hair out of his eyes, he leaned forward, "What else do you have there?"

"I can't nail down the numbers until I hear back from the unemployment people, but it won't be enough to cover everything. I'd like to keep the internet for now, but if it gets too tight we can let it go and use the library. Our cell phones are already pay-as-you-go so that's alright. If you can think of ways to conserve electricity that would help. Probably the big thing right now is health insurance. I won't be able to pay the Cobra rates so after this month we won't have any coverage. We should both get our flu shots."

"Aren't I due to get my eyes checked? Is that covered?"

"Yes, good idea. I'll make an appointment. And no skipping brushing your teeth; the ones you have are all you get for the rest of your life."

"Ha, ha. Do you mind if I go out today? I could take a sandwich or something for lunch, right?"

"Go ahead. I should probably let the family know what's going on." And that was a dismal thought, but Susan was one of those people who would rather get an unpleasant job over with instead of dreading it.

Susan disconnected the call and thumped her head on the table. "Aaargh!" She loved her parents, but that didn't make communication with them easy sometimes. She really could have done without the recap of all her failures or the lecture from her father on being financially independent.

She stared bleakly at the phone and debated putting off the next call; except if she did delay then her mother would do it herself and the results would be worse. "I can do this. I can talk to my perfect big sister without feeling like a disaster. Ha! While I'm at it I can change history so I was the one who never had a pimple or a cavity."

The call went as badly as expected when two people only had a distant childhood in common. Susan made quick work of the next call; it didn't matter what she said because her younger sister was perpetually wrapped up in her own drama. Finally she made the last call to her brother; she had saved him for the comfort and cheer he would give simply by not judging.

The afternoon was spent refreshing her resume and beginning the search for jobs. Unfortunately, receptionists weren't in high demand and she began to wonder what other skills she could honestly list.

It was after 8:00 p.m. before Danny came home. She lifted her eyebrow eloquently at him and waited. "I'm sorry I didn't text, but I wanted to tell you in person." He cleared his throat, "I got a job at the pizza place again. Now, let me explain; I'll only be working the weekends so it won't interfere with school at all. I'm in the back prepping, cooking and cleaning so I won't be dealing with the counter. I know you were worried about robberies before. I also told them I can't drive so they won't ask me to do any deliveries. Are you mad?"

"I wish you had talked it over with me first. There's no reason I can't be doing that kind of job. It shouldn't be your responsibility."

"Actually, there is a reason it has to be me. You know how Dave's dad lost his job a few months ago? Well, he tried taking any job he could but then what he earned came out of his unemployment checks so it didn't help them any."

"Oh, I didn't think of that. How did you get hired back so quickly? I can smell the pizzas."

"Just lucky," Danny said with a tired smile. "Two people didn't show for the afternoon shift and they get really busy. I guess pizza is something people buy no matter what. I'm working from 10:00 to 4:00 tomorrow. Are you going to be okay with this?"

"You know I worry, so how about you try it and see how it goes. And if it's not working out, we try something else."

As the weeks slowly passed, the country seemed to hunker down into a waiting stance, waiting for whatever bad news would come next. Meanwhile, the depressed economy spread its insidious fingers into more companies which cut hours, initiated hiring freezes and laid off more employees. Those employees reacted to the lost disposable income by not shopping which cascaded the problem into the retail sector. College graduates found their job offers being withdrawn and the most basic help wanted ads were flooded with applications.

Susan and Danny settled into their new routine with him busy with school and work and her struggling not to despair as her job search became more frantic. They worked together to cut costs; one of the first discussions on electricity.

"So, this is like brainstorming, right? Just throwing out ideas, even crazy ones?" Danny asked.

"That's right. Anything we can think of is fair game."

"Okay. You take a shower every morning even when you don't have an interview to go to."

"But the water is included in the rent!" Susan protested.

"And then you blow dry your hair."

"Oh. That's right. I do it automatically and never thought of the waste. I can switch to towel-drying. In fact, I don't even need to wash my hair everyday and that would save shampoo." She jotted down some notes before saying, "My turn. I've been reading about vampire electric use. That's machines that are still using power even when turned off, like computers and tvs."

"What? Why would they make stuff do that?" Danny looked dumbfounded.

"It's so things can turn on instantly again. Like a tv has to use some power to know when a remote control is turning it on."

"How do we stop it if powering down doesn't work?"

"Some people plug their electronics into a power strip and turn that off. We can do that with your desktop but I don't want to buy more power strips so the rest will have to be unplugged when we're done with them."

"That's kind of a pain. Is it enough to make it worth the bother?"

"I think we should try. If it doesn't really make a difference on our electric bill we can discuss it again. Anything else?"

"I got an idea from my science class, but we might have to wait until it gets colder outside to try. See, when we cook something and put the leftovers in the fridge it has to work harder to cool them down. So, instead, we put them out on the balcony to cool off first, then move them into the fridge. In fact, when winter is here, we can freeze bottles of water out there and put those in the fridge so it will have to do less to keep at the right temp."

"Wow! I didn't know your science teacher was so practical. That's a great idea."

Danny's expression fell. "We're not the only ones worried about money. Most of the kids in my class have at least one parent out of work."

Susan sighed, "I'm afraid it's not going to get better any time soon. Well, I have a puzzle; how do we hang laundry to dry without any clothesline or racks?"

"Huh. All I can think of is the shower rod and backs of chairs."

"Oh! I know, we can use hangers and put them on the curtain rods."

Danny started laughing, "Can you imagine? I don't think I'll ask any friends over on laundry days."

Susan smiled, relieved that they could end the discussion with mirth.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Firewood

I just finished putting away the load of firewood I ordered. I would have been crippled by back pain trying this a couple years ago. Amazing what a difference losing weight and exercise can make.

Most of the wood was normal looking but a few pieces caught my eye. Isn't the color interesting in these?


We are enjoying some nicer weather again which is very welcome. Sunny and 40s today. Keeping busy!

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Gray Days

This is the sort of day when it's hard to fall out of bed in the morning. When the first sound I hear is the wind moaning and the clouds are turning the daylight gray and grim, it's a chore to leave my warm den of covers and relight the fire that has given up in the night.

Trigger and Loki couldn't wait to rush outside with me to do chores this morning. Funnily enough, they couldn't wait to get back inside as soon as I finished. My cats get restless inside, but love comfort more than adventure in the cold.

The wind chill is 4 F; not even below zero yet, but oh, I'm feeling the winter today.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Winter - Round 1

We were forecast to have a 20% chance for light snow, so naturally we got 3 inches. If this is the trend for the winter we will be snowed in a lot.

The chickens are not pleased and mostly stayed inside where they could complain with dry feet. One of the more annoying reminders of the season is that I have to bring the chickens' water bucket in to thaw out.

The log splitter is in the shop getting repaired and I ordered some more firewood. Here we go!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Possum!

The first hint that there was something wrong was when I found Thunder (gray hen) outside the coop after dark. Upon opening the door I discovered the culprit...an opossum prowling around. This was obviously what ate the chicks and has been cutting into the egg supply lately. We've had this problem before and eventually they start killing chickens.

I am not a brave person and have never shot at a live target before, so I called my dad and begged for help. Lucky for me he was willing and the predator is gone. Sighs of relief all around the flock.


Friday, October 27, 2017

The wind blows...

...And the weather changes. Two days ago it was warm enough to rake leaves without a jacket on and this morning I had to break the ice on the chickens' water and wear a heavy winter coat. At least we avoided the snow that was forecast.

Yesterday I drove up to visit a young friend who has a small flock of chickens. It's fun to see the mixtures of color and appearance that result from my rather random assortment of birds. They already butchered the extra roosters and one of the hens was snatched by a hawk, so it's a quite small bunch left. I could see why she saved the rooster (named Hei Hei) because he is gorgeous. I'll try to post a picture of him if I can get one (forgot to take one myself).



And the sun has gone so it's time for me to go shut up my flock for the night. Goodnight.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Big Updates

This is a post I've been avoiding writing in the misguided hope that if I don't put it out there it isn't real. I got laid off from my job. Twenty years turned into 'bye, we don't need you anymore'. It's hard to face just how much of who I am was tied up in what I did. So, honestly, I'm not dealing with it very well. My exercise and diet have gone out of whack. I might even be just a little grumpier than usual.

Trying to look on the bright side: this type of situation is exactly why getting out of debt is worth the effort. Now I have time to decide what I want to do instead of desperately looking for another crap corporation to work for.

Other stuff...winter is fast approaching. All the roads are heaving dust clouds as the semi-trucks move between fields and grain bins as fast as they can. Even if I felt like cycling, it wouldn't be safe on the roads. The farmer who rents my parents' fields finished harvesting on Saturday. He has us trained to know we have at most two days to glean before he plows them under so I went out Saturday and Sunday to pick up corn. Those bags get heavy when I hauled them back across the fields!


I'm also experimenting with indoor gardening this winter. I set up LED shop lights in the basement. This is how it looks so far:



The kale loves it and I have hopes for the lettuce. I just planted some carrot seeds, more to test their germination rate than in expectation of a harvest because these were saved from carrots my mom let go to seed. 

Anyway, that's how things look currently. I will try to keep posting on a regular basis.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Time Flies

It's been ages since I posted here. Yet life seems to go on much the same: work, chickens, garden, exercise...

This morning I ran two miles on the treadmill - that won't seem like much to most people, but it's a major accomplishment for me. What I'm really enjoying though is cycling. My longest ride was 20 miles.

On the gardening front it continues hot and dry. The lawns are all brown and daily watering is the only thing saving the garden.





I have to admit that I don't miss tilling and hoeing my old ground level garden. It's much easier keeping raised beds weeded and harvesting is more accessible.

In the last picture the pumpkins are spreading out nicely. I plant them for the chickens. I can already imagine the feeding frenzy this fall.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Goodbye May

Time for another update. The good news, my foot injury has healed; I'm still wary of running, but can walk with no problems.

I had been feeling a little burnt out with the weight loss routine so decided to try a planned diet break. I chose a stretch of eight days and ate at maintenance instead of a calorie deficit. I really enjoyed it and now feel refreshed and ready to keep going.

Today was a gorgeous day of sunshine and light winds...perfect for cycling. I did my longest ride yet: 10 miles!

Onward to more adventures!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Still learning

When I reached my mid-goal of losing 100 lbs I was afraid my subconscious would decide that was enough and begin to sabotage my efforts. Happily, I've learned that I can keep on after reaching a milestone as the weight continues to drop at the usual slow pace.

Not so happily, I have experienced my first injury this time around: sprained ligaments in my foot. Extremely painful and it has completely derailed my exercise routine. I will be patient and wait until it has completely healed before any long walks and wait some more before I start running again.

The weather has done an about-face after the heavy snow on Monday. We're looking at a stretch of beautiful, warm and sunny days ahead. Hello, garden!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Progress and Springtime

It must be springtime; we had a mini-ice storm yesterday. Don't worry though, the chickens are fine. :)

On the fitness front: I am edging ever closer to the major 100 lbs lost mark. I weigh all my food, but because I enjoy numbers it isn't a hardship. Sometimes I get a chuckle at how small a portion size really is...like my 30 grams of cereal this morning.

Today I reached another type of goal; for the first time in my life, I ran an entire mile. I'm still amazed that it really happened. It doesn't seem that long since I could only run for two minutes and the aftermath of burning lungs and coughing almost made me give up on the whole idea.

Nothing planted yet. Weather continues changeable.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Bittersweet

I've been sorting through the clothes that are the next size down (because I kept them all) and finding what fits me now, what is close to fitting, and what can go back in the closet for later. The bittersweet moment was realizing that by the time a pretty sweater fits, it will be summer and by next fall/winter, it will be too big.

Funnily, I've always thought of myself as 'apple' shaped, but since I'm fitting into tops but not even close to the trousers, apparently I'm really 'pear' shaped.

The word 'determined' keeps cropping up; in comments from friends and something my son said to describe my weight loss. I considered my attitude to be stubborn, but determined sounds nicer. :)

I almost blew my day by buying a snack food that I enjoy too much. I could try to place the blame on the sinus headache the wind brought to me, but it was pure self-indulgence. I scraped by with 5 calories left on the day, but I'm very aware that I would have kept eating if the bag wasn't empty. Obviously, I'm not buying those again any time soon.

Here's hoping that the wind dies down tomorrow and I can hang laundry outside and go for a bike ride.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Exercise!

This is my main source of exercise:


Contrary to popular stereotypes, the only clothes that get draped on it are what I'm wearing for the next workout.

This is my new toy:


I've only got to use it a couple times when we had unusually warm weather, but I hope to put a lot of miles on this summer.

I have an old treadmill in the basement that I walk/jog on sometimes. Honestly, I don't really enjoy it. I'd rather walk outside where I can see everything and jogging is no fun at all. Example: I hit the stage of jogging where my lungs burned and ended up coughing for the rest of the morning. Yuck.

So, given that exercise is not needed to lose weight, why do I do it? Because I want to be healthy! Last week my doctor gave me permission to stop taking blood pressure medication. That alone makes me happier than all the pounds lost so far.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Progressing

My son loves weight lifting so he encourages me to do more even though I prefer cardio. Knowing it's good for me, I make the effort.

This morning I got on the treadmill because my feet weren't hurting (I know, weird) and instead of just walking, I tried jogging as well. I managed to jog for 90 second intervals! This was a major step for me.

Other news around the home: we had rain yesterday and the chicken pen has turned into a muddy bog. You know the comedies that show a boot being sucked right off a foot? That nearly happened to me. The eggs are so muddy! But I can't complain too much; the chickens love the warmer weather.

And another week begins...

Monday, February 6, 2017

Busy, busy

What a week! Last week I stepped out of my rut twice and did things I haven't done in many years.

First, I went to a community theater production of Calendar Girls. Thoroughly enjoyable; now I want to go to more plays.

Second, my son and I went to see Twenty One Pilots in concert. Not quite as overall enjoyable. The venue was very busy with two basketball games, a car show and the concert so parking was a nightmare; in the end we parked far away and hiked in. The show started at 7:00 with two opening bands which were less than memorable. They finished at 8:20 and there we sat, in the dark, for the next 40 minutes before the main show began. I have to say that TOP put on a terrific concert. Everything one could hope for. But, if I could go back in time, I would have stayed away until right before they went on and we both would have had a lot more fun.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Weekly weigh-in

I did my weigh in on Saturday and recorded a 2.6 lb loss which is in a range I'm very pleased with. Now to put the scale away for another week.

In one way this is easy for me because I'm so big I can burn a lot of calories doing moderate exercise. Eventually that will change and I'll have to work harder to lose smaller amounts. In my mind that falls in with the worry some people have about loose skin. I don't care about that because it will be an issue I'll have by becoming healthier and taking care of myself. If I have to trade taking blood pressure pills and metformin for excess skin, I know which I'm choosing.

I went for a walk this afternoon. A bit brisk at just above freezing and my feet are complaining about the abnormal exercise, but I did it!

I have a slogan hanging up in my office: "A year from now you will wish you had started today."

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

More on getting healthy

Today I put the scale away. I tend to get obsessive about the numbers and that's really only one part of this. From now on I will weigh myself once on the weekends.

I finally figured out what motivated me to make some changes in my lifestyle; over the last few years I've lost 75 pounds. It was a very slow process but one of the defining factors was that I didn't regain during the times I wasn't losing...until the last couple months of 2016 when I put 5 pounds back on. The thought of going backwards and becoming even less healthy was enough to flip that mental switch and get busy.

I'm not following any special diet plan or program. I just track how much food I eat using a kitchen scale and keep it within a sensible calorie deficit while still getting the nutrients I need. Myfitnesspal.com is a convenient free site that makes the logging about as easy as possible. I'm not purposefully giving up sweets and junk food; they just don't fit into my calorie/nutrient budget well.

Because I'm aiming for all-around health, exercise is part of my day. Every morning I get up and ride my stationary bike; I'm up to 60 minutes now (that's enough time so I'm working on increasing my speed). Twice a week I do some strength training with dumbbells. That's the part I have to work on, because I don't enjoy it, but being strong enough to move chicken feed without a struggle is important, so I will keep on.

Never give up! Never surrender! :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Thoughts

Gardening: I wanted to try saving kale seeds from last year's plants. The raised garden beds are not tall enough to be safe from rabbits and I had to fence in the plants they haven't already stripped.

Book 2 is coming along nicely. I'm not a fast writer so it won't be done anytime soon, but it feels good.

Weight loss: why can't it be linear? I would avoid so much frustration and discouragement if the weight came off at a steady pace instead of nothing, nothing, nothing, whoosh, nothing, nothing...

The chickens think it's spring already (apparently they don't see the snow) and are laying very well. Also eating loads.

Forward momentum!