On Mindful Spending and Going Against my Values

Encapsulating My Values

Let me begin with the basis for this episode: I am on a weekly food budget. Each week, I challenge myself to spend no more than $80, including restaurant meals. It is, I think, a reasonable budget for a single person who’s also a food enthusiast. I force myself to be careful and creative with my shopping, with the goal of coming in UNDER budget (carry-over can be “banked”, so to speak). Additionally, I track my food spending—item by item. NOT $7.98 at Pay Less, but rather $3.00 for avocados, $2.50 for cottage cheese, etc. I do this for several reasons. One, to learn to live with less. Generally, I’m quite good at living below my means, but I felt there was still room for improvement. If I know I have to enter each item on a spreadsheet, I think twice about buying, asking myself if I really need it. Two, it’s part of overall expense-tracking. And three, it makes me think about my spending in terms of my values.

So, What Happened

Last week, I was pretty close to my $80 cap. And I wanted yogurt (a common ingredient in a nofunlatte breakfast). And I wanted to make my own yogurt (a common activity in the nofunlatte household). The problem? I had no milk.

For the record, I do not practice a 100% organic, local lifestyle. But that is still important to me. We can get caught up in perfection, realize its unattainability, and simply throw up our hands in frustration and quit. So, I try to do reasonably well, operating on the Pareto modified Principle, where 80% of my purchases are “good” and not sweating the other 20%. Yes, I try to buy food that reflect my values—health-promoting or organic or fair-trade or local or produced by someone or some company with ideals similar to mine. So far, so good. So, I went to a local grocery store, a little short on time, and calculated that I could not buy any local or organic milk with what I had left. Instead of making a choice to forgo milk until the following week or just go over the budget for once, I scanned the refrigerated section for a cheap quart of milk. And what I found was a half-gallon. For 69 cents. Yes, 69 cents. And I bought it.

A Lesson Learned

I bought that milk, even though the cheapness of the price was gnawing at me. I took it home, put it in my refrigerator, and tried to think of a valid excuse for buying it. I could not think of one. I knew I had compromised my values. And that, my friends, was a very good lesson. The remorse from that purchase meant that I would not make that choice again. The few dollars I saved? Paid for them with the uncomfortable feelings of guilt.

Ironically—or, perhaps, a nudge from Providence—I read a ’poignant blog post the next night, a post on the difficult road that dairy farmers face. Dairy farming, never an easy way to make a living, is in crisis, with farmers not even breaking even. Some of this has to do with changing tastes, as Americans (and yes, this is a US-centric post) drink less dairy milk and more alternative milks (e.g. soy, almond). But a lot is due to the conglomeration of the dairy industry, with mega-producers dictating the rules, quashing the small farmer. Some are turning to cheesemaking, in an attempt to create a value-added product. Some are leaving farming. And sadly, some are committing suicide.

America: Land of the Cheap

Cheap food, that is. Yet, according to USDA data, Americans spend approximately 6.4% of their income on food, about the lowest percentage in the world. And while I’m not sure if this figure represents actual food purchases and not restaurant meals, it probably doesn’t matter. The point is, I know that I’m already getting a break by buying in the country with the cheapest food. I am informed and I know better. Buying this didn’t fit my carefully considered values. And yet, sadly, I let myself be seduced by a 69-cent half-gallon of milk.

An Addendum and Explanations

First, I am not suggesting that people who are struggling to feed themselves and/or their loved ones ought to “overspend”. For them, that milk might’ve been a good source of protein that week. Second, this post is not an invitation for vegans (or their flipsided brethren, paleo diet adherents) to proselytize—I am fully aware that for many, a dairy-free diet works well. That is not the point of the post. Rather, I suggest that readers consider their spending—and their food spending in particular—in light of their carefully thought out set of values.

Credit Card Debt and the March for More Stuff

America’s Average Credit Card Debt

In 2017, the average amount of credit card debt climbed to $15,654 (excluding people who pay off their balances in full each month). Understand that this excludes mortgages, student loans, automobile loans, and medical debt (assuming the latter hasn’t been placed on a credit card). That is, to me, a shocking amount of money tied up in plastic, with its onerous interest rates and fees. Even more frightening, many of those holding this revolving debt pay only the minimum payment each month, thus racking up more in interest (and fees, if they are late). Credit card debt, at these levels, ought to scare us, even those of us who are convenience users (or “deadbeats” in industry jargon, i.e. those who pay off their entire balances each month).

So, what is the source of all this debt? Certainly, some have experienced a medical or other setback which, even if they’ve been regularly saving for the future and avoiding the temptation to buy the latest, greatest thing, can wreak havoc on carefully planned finances. Even WITH insurance, individuals and families can find themselves in precarious economic situations, putting groceries and electric bills on the Mastercard because they have no other recourse. But I suspect that these people are in the minority. So, then, who are these enslaved folks? Is it just those who have had the misfortune to be born into the wrong circumstances? Or is it those who have succumbed to the exhortations of Madison Avenue? If I were a betting woman—and I’m not—I would put my money on the “gotta have the latest, greatest, newest” set.

The Consumerists

A consumerist is a person focused on buying consumer goods, perhaps even obsessed with it. Someone who needs the latest Kate Spade handbag or newest generation iPhone or the most powerful band saw sold at Lowe’s or dinner at the newest “in” restaurant. In short, a consumerist is someone obsessed with owning and/or consuming stuff. And often the consumerist is financing that stuff with a high-interest credit card or two or seven. If this is you, you are feeding a sure way of putting your economic security in jeopardy.

So I Have to Live Like a Monk?

Or a nun who’s taken a vow of poverty? Well, no, but if you aren’t paying off your filled-with-consumer-goods credit cards every month, you probably need to rethink your spending habits. If you are doing your part to save for the future, pay your rent/mortgage, contribute to charity, you are probably okay (although even those of use who do those things could benefit from examining our expenditures—try tracking EVERY expense for a couple of months—it can be an eye-opener, says she who suddenly realized just how much she spends at Starbucks). That said, you ought still to take a look at your life—are you strengthening or maintaining the important relationships or passions in your life? Frankly, that’s as important as strengthening your finances. Even if you pay everything off each month while saving for your future, don’t neglect your relationship capital. And that suggestion about tracking your spending? Look at what you’re using your money for, what you’re consuming, and ask yourself: does this reflect my values or am I frittering my hard-earned money on garbage that I’ll stop using or wearing six months from now? Is this an investment or an attempt to impress someone? Am I buying to further a goal (and yes, professional attire can be a veritable requirement for some jobs) or am I filling an emotional void? Asking yourself questions like these can go a long way in teaching yourself to spend more mindfully and more deliberately. And that, by extension, means you’re less likely to fill up your credit cards with unnecessary junk.

Consumer Debt Resistance is a Radical Act!

I fully believe that saying no to pointless stuff is a radical act (and one I’ll address in another post). If those overpaid CEOs can’t convince you to part with your dollars (or Euros) in exchange for the tchotchkes they offer, they aren’t going to be overpaid much longer. If the executives at credit card companies can’t convince you to mortgage your future, they aren’t going to be executives much longer. And if advertisers can’t convince you that you “need” something, those advertisers aren’t going to be paid much longer. You, the consumer, hold some cards in this game. You don’t have to give up and acquiesce. You can say NO.

Because frankly, how much #&%@ do we really need.

The Year of Living Frugally: An Introduction

A Clarification

First, I have no intentions of going hog-wild with rampant overspending come January 1, 2019. I’m not going to cash in my retirement accounts to buy boxes upon boxes upon boxes of useless “needs” from Amazon so that Jeff Bezos can be even richer than he already is. I am not going to raid my emergency fund to amass the complete set of Beanie Babies™. By nature and nurture, I am already a saver (thanks, Mom and Dad!) Indeed, I was one of the people queried in a journal article on the tightwad-spendthrift scale; my score had me firmly in tightwad country. But I’m working on ramping up my savings and thought I’d post publicly about it, as a way of keeping myself motivated. I started my career later than most (thanks to a delayed entry into college and then a couple of additional degrees beyond the bachelor’s), I’m living away from family, and frankly, independence is one of my core values. That includes financial independence. But while I’m pretty adept at living within (and below) my means, there certainly is room for improvement. Starbucks, for example, would be a perfect place to cut some of my spending!

What Are My Goals Here?

A bigger balance in the bank, for sure. I am responsible for myself. But also to enjoy life’s simple pleasures (i.e. the ones that cost little or nothing—the view of sunsets from the back of my house, a good book, throwing dinner parties where the conversation is scintillating, seeing Mars and Jupiter on a cold, clear January morning.) To reduce consumption. And to give more to organizations with values I share and people I care about.

But I Am Not Giving Up $27/lb Cheese

Je suis une turophile (I am a cheese lover). A serious cheese-a-holic. I love seeking out unusual varieties, typically artisanal and/or farmstead. Indeed, I’ve planned vacations around cheese! Supporting small or local producers is important to me. I’ve had the good fortune to have had conversations with several cheesemakers and it is a difficult life, made even harder by ridiculous agricultural policies that favor the likes of Kraft and Sargento. I feel good about spending this money and I’d rather cut back elsewhere than give up quality food. Better a small amount of something delicious than a vatful of overly processed garbage with added sugar where it doesn’t belong. I’d rather put my food dollars back into the hands of local organic farmers like Wendy Carpenter than in the pockets of ConAgra or Monsanto executives.

Please note that I rarely buy a pound of cheese at once (unless I’ve got a dinner party or luncheon planned or I am planning to give it as a gift).

Mindful Spending and a New Relationship with Money: The Ultimate Goals

These. Are. The. Goals. Mindfulness in general, but mindful spending in particular. I think we all need to remember that money is a tool, not the end but a means. So simply amassing money to have it is as much of a problem as willful, indulgent, irresponsible spending. Saving so that one can support oneself is admirable, but saving just to say “I have a bigger bank balance than you” is silly (and, frankly, points to a sad, insecure existence and/or hoarding). You don’t have money at that point; money has you. The flipside—spending, spending, spending, usually on credit—is equally unbalanced; in this case, you are owned by your stuff. Both are two sides of a greedy coin. Truly, the key is to strike a balance.

It Boils Down to My Values

It comes down to my values. What do I care about? What do I want to use money FOR? Supporting myself so I don’t burden others. Nurturing my relationships with my cherished and strongly loved friends. Contributing to causes important to me. Doing my part to reduce the rampant, soul-strangling consumerism that grips our society. And yes, some $27/lb cheese.

What’s Your Tagline? Some Thoughts on the New Year

First Things First: Your A(a)chievements in 2017

Whether Big Deal Accomplishments or quieter triumphs (which, honestly, ARE Big Deal Accomplishments), we have probably all attained some successes this past year. We may not have explicitly written them down as goals to work toward or we may have put them on a New Year’s resolutions list. Regardless, in some ways we have moved forward.

Examples from my own 2017: I set a cycling goal of completing a half-century (50-mile) bike ride by 8/31/17. I actually completed it on that very day and two weeks later, I did my second half-century. The deadline was helpful, but as I’d also injured my foot earlier in the summer, I was perfectly fine with changing the deadline (frankly, any deadlines you set should have some flexibility built in). To me, that 50-mile ride was a Big Deal Accomplishment. I also set a goal of making my own marshmallows, which I completed back in March. Probably less of a Big Deal Accomplishment. Or maybe not.

A less showy accomplishment is the friendships I developed and deepened. Harder to quantify and more difficult to measure in an objective fashion, the growth in these relationships is probably my most important success of 2017. Achievements needn’t end with certificates or shiny medals. Your own internal honesty will you know if something is an achievement.

The Tagline

Okay, now on topic. A tagline is a simple, easy-to-remember catchphrase. Think of Nike’s “Just Do It” or McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It”. Although in advertising, these slogans serve to encapsulate whatever feeling the marketing departments want would-be customers to experience, this same concept could be repurposed in lieu of (or in addition to) New Year’s Resolutions. Think of the simplicity of a simple slogan (e.g. “Be Bold, Speak Up”, or “Running toward Victory” or “Trust and Surrender”1)—no need for bulleted “I will lose weight, declutter, eat healthy, go to the gym thrice weekly” lines. Or, for those whom solid and explicit goals work well, the tagline can serve as a way to bring an order to disparate objectives, a way to tie everything together. It might be easier to remember a tagline than a list of resolutions. Plus a tagline can be called upon to deliver a short burst of motivation and focus, easily uttered in the car on the way to work.

Picking your Tagline

It’s January 1st, the beginning of the month of changes, transformations, reinventions, even. What phrases resonate with you? Which simple sentences synopsize your goals and visions for the year? Pick one, pick several! If you have more than one, why not try each out for a week to find the one that sings to you the most? Use it and then, come December 31, review your year in the context of your tagline. Look at your accomplishments and achievements and spring forward with a new tagline for 2019!

And Happy New Year to all!

1That one is courtesy of Anne Lamott.

A Sabbatical For Words

I guess I will blame millennials for this, although Gen X and the Boomers have their own ridiculousnesses. But millennials, that generation which has grown up digitally, with all the rapidity (and often, inanity) of (extreme) short-form communication—texting, tweeting, Facebooking, Snapchatting, blah, blah, blah—seem, to my non-millennial eyes and ears and neurons, to be more synonym-challenged than the two previous “generations”. So, I propose that certain words and phrases take a sabbatical so that the full import of their meanings can, once again, be realized

Oh, there’s an entire crop of words and phrases out there, but I’m going to focus this rant on the two that annoy, irritate, bother me the most: “amazing”, and “passion” (as well as its adjectival form, “passionate”).


So, today, EVERYTHING is amazing. The onion rings at Café Woohoo are AMAZING! My sorority sister Muffin is AMAZING! Last night’s episode of America’s Next Top Voicing with the Stars was AMAZING!

Seriously, people, this constant use of “amazing” is lazy writing at best. The onion rings can be tasty, delicious, the best you’ve ever eaten. Dear Muffin may be sweet, motivated, energetic, delightful. America’s Next Top Voicing with the Stars? Perhaps that episode was stunning, inspiring, transformational. Amazing? Oh, shove a sock in the mouth that utters that descriptor.

Amazing used to mean, well, AMAZING. It was reserved for something truly awe-inspiring, something an order of magnitude larger or better or more vibrant than its runner-up. Amelia Earhart was amazing. A 17-year-old who makes her own vanilla extract is not; she may be resourceful, talented, curious. Maybe as she grows older and her accomplishments add up, maybe then she’ll be amazing, but she isn’t right now. A fully assembled homemade croquembouche, with duck egg créme pâtissière may be amazing. Your breaded pork tenderloin sandwich or your peanut butter cup brownies are not. Your sandwich may be mouthwatering, crispy, even swell. The brownies? They may be decadent, sinful, gooey. Let’s keep “amazing” out of our vocabularies for a year or two or seven. Remember, folks, when EVERYTHING is amazing, NOTHING is amazing.


Okay, is there any small company or startup that ISN’T passionate about whatever the hell it is they want to do? Is there any resume or CV that DOESN’T mention how passionate the writer is about the environment, teaching, communication, disruption, etc., etc., etc.? Seriously, have you ever read a company blurb stating “we are apathetic about our commitment”? Or a resume with the statement “I am indifferent to this industry”? Nope, didn’t think so.

Please, for the love of God, BUY A THESAURUS! Or at least use the one embedded in Word. You know, right-click, “Synonyms”, then “Thesaurus” (if you don’t like the initial offered suggestions). You are passionate? Then you might be ardent, animated, intense, consumed by. You have a passion for something? Perhaps you are fanatical or enthusiastic. But “passionate”? Talk about a word so overused that it no longer carries a tenth of the intensity of its true or original meaning.


We aren’t all Shakespeare here. Hell, even the Bard of Avon himself might not be Shakespeare (Christopher Marlow? Francis Bacon? Did others write some or all of the works attributed to him?) But surely we can find synonyms for some of the hackneyed, overused terms all too prevalent on the headlines of clickbait. So please, for the love of humanity, use your thesaurus in Word (or even better, one of those retro things called “books”, as in Roget’s Thesaurus). Thank you.

And please don’t start me on “veggies”.

Finding Values

What Do I Mean?

In my previous post, I briefly touched on the need to define one’s values (and yes, to live a fully meaningful life, values identification is necessary). I ‘d like to expand on this a bit. Frankly, I think we (the general “we”) don’t pay enough attention to the values that actually resonate with us, selecting, instead, those we think we “should” value. So, when working to clarify what is most important to you, be honest with yourself. If you aren’t, then the values you proclaim to be central to you are mere falsehoods. If independence is more important to you than family, that’s fine. If challenge is more important to you than altruism, then select that. Remember, this list will help you define what is truly most important to you. And with that, you can begin to live a more meaningful life of purpose. Your list is just that–YOUR list. Keep it private if you want (I generally do). Take time with it—it took me weeks, if not months, to narrow down exactly what truly spoke to me. And remember that you can edit your list anytime. What is important to you now may be less so in five or ten years.

And How to Do It

To help get you started, I’m linking to a LONG list of values found at Steve Pavlina’s website (he’s a personal development author). Be forewarned that this is a very extensive list (418 strong!) covering the entire gamut of possible principles (“Fashion” is number 163!). Go through the list and without thinking too much, circle those that really speak to you. In a week or a month or even a year, go back to see which ones are the MOST important to you (while retaining the others of course!)


I’ve been thinking that maybe we should teach Values Definition to young people; many seem to drift through life aimlessly or with a palpable dullness because they are living according to someone else’s values, perhaps a parent’s or a teacher’s or even those perceived from society in general. But even those of us beyond our teens or twenty-something-hoods could do well to consider a re-think of values. Look at the (many!) people who have retired without purpose, a sad, lost decline spent watching judge shows on television. Compare them to those who have defined that which gives their lives meaning. Perhaps health and fitness ranks high, so they spend time on daily walks or weightlifting at the gym. Maybe giving back is the key for them and volunteering becomes a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Perhaps they’ve now found the time to embrace their inner activist and conducted letter-writing campaigns to politicians (or even run for office themselves!). This would not be possible if they didn’t, on some level, know what they hold dear.

Time for a Conversation?

”Yes” is my answer. I think it’s time for a national conversation. Although I started this work back in January (obviously I didn’t work on it 24/7), the full import of it became apparent after I read Emily Esfahani Smith’s “The Power of Meaning”. And, while a national conversation might be a bit of a pipe dream now, we can certainly discuss this with those close to us if we’d like—our friends, our families, our communities. So, my advice to you is to start working on this—nobody, NOBODY, is getting any younger and the sooner you can define your values, the sooner you can identify or hone your life’s purpose.

We Need to Make Death Alive Again

A Certainty

We don’t talk about aging or death much in this country, given that the former is going to happen to us if we’re lucky and the latter to all of us regardless of our “luck” status. Indeed, in the United States, we try to hide all evidence of both. And while aging is a worthy topic, I’m focusing my post today on death.

Americans Don’t Die

No, we pass (away). Our pets cross the rainbow bridge. We “lose” people. But rarely do we die. Why is that? Why has death become so hidden (or sanitized)? Why have we become afraid of just TALKING about death?

A sad statistic: Approximately 75% of Americans would like to die at home; however, only 25% of them do. Many die intubated, on ventilators, in sterile hospital rooms away from loved ones, no longer living but rather merely existing. I ask you—is this how you really want to go? Is that your vision, your dream for your life’s end? And those reasonably conscious often focus their lives’ conclusions in rumination for a life only partially lived. Surely discussing death—our fears about it (most of us have them), our regrets (most of us have them as well), and our hopes for a life of meaning (again most of us have these too)—could lead to us embracing the life that remains. Facing death opens us to recognizing the value of the time we have and awakens in us an impetus to live according to our own values1.

Discussing Death over Dinner

Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death is a website for a movement to discuss death and take off the veil we’ve placed over it. You invite guests for a meal with the intention of discussing death. The movement suggests some homework as well (somethings to read, watch, and listen to). While I may forego the homework part of it, I find the idea of such a dinner not only philosophically interesting, but potentially liberating. So, I’m now publicly committing to hosting one such event by January 1, 2018. Surely acknowledging the existence of death will allow us to embrace the potentials we all have of more fulfilling and purposeful lives, regardless of our religious or philosophical beliefs.

1 If you haven’t yet defined your most important values, I suggest that you actually do make the time for this. Think about what’s important to you—don’t just list what you think you’re supposed to value to impress someone else.

On Female Friendships

Somewhere, sometime, I read that the strongest familial bonds are the bonds between sisters1. Perhaps, then, the strongest extra-familial bonds are those between good female friends. Even though I have no research to back this up, I do know how true this is in my own personal case (and yes, I know I am a sample size of one, but to me, the most important one). Pity is not an emotion I share regularly, as it often can be condescending or patronizing, but I truly do pity the woman who has no close female friends. And I do mean “friends”, not acquaintances—there is an order of magnitude (or three) of difference between the two. You can go to coffee with the acquaintance, have a fun chat about lipstick or the Pacers or the relative prices of sushi at different restaurants. You can do that with a friend too, but with a friend—a real one—you can talk about your hopes, your dreams, your visions, your regrets. You hug the friend as she’s going through a divorce or a health crisis; she holds your hand as you deal with a painful loss, all the while encouraging you to let it out and let it go. You feel comfortable talking about the uncomfortable with a friend; you wouldn’t even touch anything so raw and personal with an acquaintance.

With respect to female friendships, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters (although having both is like winning the lottery, so yours truly is a double Powerball winner!) I am so grateful to have a plethora of really good, strong, female friends in my life. All are different, another way of saying that there is no single template, no one list of rules, no algorithm to being a good, strong, solid FRIEND. They vary in their religious/spiritual beliefs (or non-beliefs), socioeconomic statuses, geographic locations, ethnic backgrounds, etc. Granted, all are bright, intelligent, thinking women. All are honest and have integrity. And frankly, all are interesting (okay, I have a bit of a prejudice against the uber-ordinary, so I don’t tend to befriend them).

I am so grateful for my good, close female friends. I hope they know that, but in case they don’t, I’ve written this blog post. Girls, you are loved.

1I know that not all sisters have good relationships. I am talking about the general, not the specific.

My Concoction

Or A Look at the Lengths a Slow Cyclist Will Take

Okay, many of you know that I have drastically cut back on sugar (and sugar substitutes) and white flour/potatoes/rice, as well as alcohol, a process that began with Dry February. During Dry February, I did give myself a couple of exceptions—I’d eat what I was served when at a dinner party AND I’d permit myself an caffeinated energy drink and/or energy gels for my weekly endurance workout. I define “endurance workout” as anything lasting longer than an hour (but in practice, anything over 90 minutes). This worked well and come March, I opted to (largely) continue being “dry”. Okay, I DID welcome dark chocolate (≥ 85% cacao content) back. But I also wanted to try exercising without sugar or sweeteners. I mean, I wanted the caffeine (it was the only caffeine I’d ingest each week, save for the miniscule quantities in four small squares of dark chocolate—limit, one per day!—and the residual caffeine in my daily cups of decaf).

30.47 miles (49 km) and 100 mg of caffeine later–yours truly after a gym session on the recumbent bike, on an empty stomach no less

The Story of My Concoction

The short of it—it ain’t tasty, but it works. Before, I’d have anywhere from 80 to 114 mg of caffeine, depending on whether I started with a Clif or GU gel, Hy-Drive energy drink, or Red Bull Zero. Usually I’d eat or drink this after 20 minutes or so of cycling if indoors or immediately before the ride if outdoors. Midway through, I might add another gel (20 to 50 mg of caffeine, plus the carbs for energy). But in the interest of my sugar reduction, I opted to experiment with another way. This also allowed (and continues to allow) me the opportunity to assess the relative importance of caffeine vs. carbohydrates in my endurance diet.1

So, I was looking for something that would give me about 100 mg of caffeine to start with. To put this in perspective, it’s about HALF the amount of caffeine that you’d find in a tall (12 oz.) Starbucks Pike Place Roast, admittedly one of the more caffeinated brands out there. A small (10 oz.) Dunkin Donuts brewed coffee has about 150 mg of caffeine. On the other hand, a cup of Keurig Breakfast Blend has about 75 mg. And your standard brown diner brewed dishwater contains about 95 to 165 mg for 8 ounces. So I’m drinking about the equivalent of a generic cup of coffee. It doesn’t seem like much, but when you subsist of decaf, it’s the equivalent of speed.

So, I started by experimenting with canned Trader Joe’s cold brew. I was FLYING! Some cursory Google research revealed that cold brew usually has more caffeine than hot brewed due to its longer steeping time. I nixed that because the caffeine content wasn’t available, even though I’d emailed the company.

Next stop—Whole Foods, where I purchased some canned Illy Espresso drink (unsweetened). The caffeine content for the 6.8-oz. can was 152 mg, so 2/3 of that would get me to 100 mg. Well, from past experience, I also noticed that carbonated energy drinks tended to affect me more quickly than still ones. A diet Red Bull worked faster than the caffeine equivalent of Hy-Drive. So I thought I’d add some carbonation to my Illy Espresso drink. Lo and behold, it not only worked, but it worked RAPIDLY! I’ve only done indoor rides (due to the weather) but I have completed 25+ and 30+ mile rides on my new Petra-approved energy drink. AND I have had no need for the mid-ride caffeine or carb boost! Perhaps with the weather improving, I might need that for an outdoor ride (with pollen and wind, outdoor rides are more challenging than those inside a gym). But I’m pleased with the results and I’m keeping all of the data in a personal training spreadsheet.

Like a fun cocktail, but without the booze. Or the fun.

The “Recipe”

  • 2/3 of a 6.8 ounce (200 ml) can of Illy Espresso drink (unsweetened)
  • flavored seltzer water (do not use the kind with artificial sweeteners)

Pour espresso into a water bottle. Add some seltzer water (I add about 4 oz.). This doesn’t taste very good, but that’s not the aim.

1And the word “endurance” is the key, because it sure isn’t speed! I cycle the same way I used to run—slowly, very slowly, but steadily. For me, the distance is more important.

On the Dry Months

Or What I Did on My Late Winter/Early Spring Vacation

What Is Dry?

Back on February 1, I began a month I dubbed “Dry February”, analogous to the relatively recent British thing called Dry January that I’d heard about. Because the impetus for THAT was to give up alcohol for a month and I only drank on weekends, merely refraining from alcohol didn’t seem all that impressive a goal for me. So I upped the ante by eliminating all sugar (including honey, maple syrup, and a few days into Dry February, artificial sweeteners). I took white flour (and finely milled whole wheat flour) out of my diet. I removed white potatoes and white rice and refined grains. In other words, I abstained from “bad” carbs, with two caveats: I would eat what I was served if invited to someone else’s home for a meal and I would permit myself energy drinks and gels for my weekly endurance exercise workout. And there was one more part of Dry February, this one not diet-related—I decided to stay away from Facebook.

So, How Did It Go?: The Results

Swimmingly. Granted, this was, largely, a return to the kind of eating habits I’d had a year earlier, before I started making excuses (oh, I deserve this, I’m too tired to cook so let’s go out, pub food weekly isn’t bad). By the end of the month, I’d felt as though I was back–physically—where I belonged. My skin cleared up, I lost a few pounds, and I had no food cravings, save for roasted, unsalted hazelnuts. I was actually sleeping less, but needing less—the desire to take a nap in the middle of the day was gone. My energy levels increased. My occasional knee pain disappeared. Facebook no longer had a pull on me. Admittedly, I did little cooking, although roasting vegetables was a twice-weekly event in Casa Petra’s fabulously remodeled kitchen. And I ate a lot of salads, so I made a lot of salad dressing.

Given these successes, I opted to continue into March. The idea was to regain some semblance of control over my eating habits, become more food-aware (although processed foods were always a relatively small portion of my diet), and recover my taste buds (like appreciating the natural sweetness in, say, a sweet potato or a Starbucks flat white). And I really cut back on my Starbucks habit, now that mochas (even skinny ones) were off the list.

Dry-ish March

With my positive dietary progress in February, I opted to continue this through March, at least for the most part. There WERE a few transgressions during this in-like-a-lion-out-like-a-lamb month:

  • I ate one square of dark chocolate (at least 85% cacao content), four days per week. Technically not a transgression, as I planned this. Very dark chocolate (and cake batter) were about the only sugar-related cravings I had in February. And I don’t bake much anymore, so the cake batter is a persistent craving, but not of the “I gotta have it” kind.
  • I ate white potatoes three times: once at a monthly vegetarian potluck I attend (I’m an omnivore, btw), once the day after (because I took home some leftovers, including a salad that had some potatoes as an ingredient), and hash browns when I met my Indy Crew for lunch (but less than half—and I picked out all the bits with crispy brown crunchiness).
  • I ate one marshmallow. One of my culinary goals has been to make homemade marshmallows, so I had fun on the first day of spring break (after my grading was caught up), whipping out the stand mixer and crafting some marshmallows. I ate exactly one, giving the rest away. Marshmallows don’t exactly send me into a swoon, so they aren’t tempting. But I did eat one to test them. The verdict: homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store-bought. And not all that difficult to make, assuming you have a candy thermometer and a KitchenAid.
  • I ate a little bit of white flour twice: Once, at a Mexican restaurant and once at that vegetarian potluck (where my contribution was homemade bread and delicious local cheese). I really wanted to try that bread. It was worth it.

So What Did You Learn, Miss Petra?

A lot. Expect to see a post or two in the future about how Big Sugar and how it conspired with “researchers” to get a country (and increasingly a globe) addicted to sugar. Yes, addicted. I’m not falling for the old canard of “people who are fat lack willpower” (no, they don’t—they’ve been sold a bill of low-fat goods and to boot, the sugar industry, with its co-conspirators in academic nutrition departments, worked hard to suppress widespread dissemination of research results that linked sugar to adverse outcomes, such as diabetes mellitus [the 7th leading cause of death in the United States]). Trust me, I’ll have another post or two on this in the future.

Personally, I’ve identified concentrated amounts of sugar as eating triggers for me. For example, pancakes—I LOVE to go out for breakfast and order pancakes with syrup (since this is something I never make for myself at home). But I noticed that if I eat that, I’ll eat. All. Day. Long. As much as I love them, I’ll have to reserve them for once a year, preferably as dinner.

I’ve learned that, while I enjoy cocktails, I will save the sweet ones for the rare holiday. A glass of wine with dinner—fine. Beer? No (there’s a reason for “beer bellies”). I might have to learn to drink bourbon and/or scotch neat or on the rocks. It’s healthier that way!

I’ve learned that it really IS about the sugar. I’ve lost a lot of weight twice in my life—about 100 pounds after high school and about 40 pounds in grad school. The former method was low-carb (trust me, I got very sick of canned green beans and tuna fish!) The latter method was low-fat. Therefore, I thought the whole low-carb vs. low-fat didn’t make sense (and I thus bought the “calories in minus calories out” argument, the one that Coca-Cola and Pepsico would have you believe). But I’d been thinking recently that there was one commonality to BOTH diets when I was on them—I didn’t eat much sugar! Low-carb diets forbid the stuff and when I was eating low-fat, I refrained from a lot of sugar because all of the good sugary treats, like cakes and ice creams, also contained lots of fat.

One More March Success

I also learned that it is possible to watch The Great British Baking Show without succumbing to something sugary and sweet. In fact, it’s possible to watch said show without even WANTING something sweet. I appreciate the skill and the artistry of the contestants, but I didn’t feel the desire to bake cookies or cakes or pies with the intent of eating them. I did want to bake for the challenge and sense of accomplishment, but not to eat anything myself.

Will I Ever Eat Cake Again?

Of course. And I’ll savor every last morsel. I’m going to eat my sugar calories only when they count, when I’m invited to someone’s home and they’ve made something special for dessert. When I go out to a wonderful new restaurant noted for their sweets. When I invite guests to my home for a dinner party (friends, don’t worry—I’m not going to throw an apple on the table and yell “Dig in!”)

That said, I’m into Dry-ish April now.