Friday, December 23, 2016

Self Experimentation

I stopped eating breakfast. While I was in Russia I decided that, while I was on my own, two meals would be the order of the day. After all, I've read enough about the "overfed American" to feel pretty bad about how much I eat. (It's a lot.) Just before leaving, I'd also read a comment someone made saying that we all still eat as if we're manual laborers even though pretty much none of us are. Plus, I'm cheap and didn't want to pay for more than one meal a day. (Free hotel breakfasts for the win!)
I'm sure other people in the hotel thought that I was, uh, rather piggish with the way I chowed down at breakfast every day, but I was also walking pretty much all day every day while I was there so even two large-ish meals stretched pretty thin.
At a park in St. Petersburg. I didn't notice any hunger
when I had such pretty sights to occupy my mind instead
But, not as thin as I would have expected. In fact, it was great! I'd start to feel quite hungry about an hour before my planned meal time every day (somewhat early, about five o'clock) but I usually didn't notice it too much because I was too busy looking at amazing things to bother with my appetite. So when I got home, I decided to keep it going and see if maybe this would work for me over a longer period of time. Not only would I be eating less (good for my waistline and my bank account), but it would be a heck of a lot easier too. I'd only do this on work days, and eat like normal for weekends and holidays. In part, this is because the Munchkin is small and skinny, and she eats more if I'm eating too.
I realized that, at home, the easiest meal for me to skip would be breakfast. After two weeks at home, getting over a severe cold and normalizing my sleep patterns again, I dove into my experiment. I thought it would be rough to hop on my bike each morning with nothing in my stomach (except, sometimes, water) but I haven't noticed a difference at all. I thought I'd be a slave to the candy dish on my desk (no getting away from it) but I hardly notice it most days. I do drink tea with a splash of half and half in it, but those are the only calories I take in until about 11:30.
It quickly became my new normal. It's streamlined my mornings so that I can sleep in an extra few minutes (yes!!!) and I usually have my lunch all ready to go in the fridge the night before. I pack a filling lunch, but make sure it's quite nutritious since I'm conscious of the fact that I'm taking in fewer nutrients overall. Gotta make them count! It's also not extra large, and I haven't noticed a lack of food.
To make life even easier, a lot of the time I'll make one big meal that I can portion out for quick lunches all week. One of my favorites is this (but with spinach instead of kale, partly because I'm growing spinach).
After a few weeks of this eating pattern, I found out that this is actually a thing called intermittent fasting. There are plenty of studies surrounding the health benefits of fasting, I just hadn't realized that such a short time period would be beneficial. Nor did I think of it as "fasting", which I tend to associate with religious periods of deprivation for spiritual reasons. I know people fast for all kinds of reasons, not just spiritual, but that's the connotation it has in my mind.
Obviously it's far too early to say that it's a huge health boost or anything, but I'm also not feeling deprived at all, the way I thought I would be. In fact, I feel good enough to keep eating this way most of the time. I'm not going to get all super dedicated ("Oh no, I can't eat that, it's out of my eating time period....") but for most days this is what I'm going to keep doing for the foreseeable future. I've not noticed a reduction in small measures of my health, such as my nails (which tend to get brittle and break easily if I'm not getting enough/the right mix of nutrients) and, again, I don't feel deprived in the least. In addition to the lack of ill effects I've felt, I've also noticed already that we've saved a bit on groceries in the last month. Cutting out one whole meal a day, as it turns out, can really drop the grocery bill.
As for weight loss, that's hard to determine. If I was losing weight it was happening very slowly. That's fine, as I wasn't really doing this as a way to lose weight. But mucking up any results I might see in myself, in the last couple of weeks I've been down with a horrible bout of the flu that's made even the thought of food repulsive. When I do eat, it often makes my stomach grumble in protest. In effect, I've been involuntarily fasting. (Which led to me complaining to HusbandX that I ended up eating Christmas cookies "because they took the [hunger] pain away," then trying to redact it. "Wait, forget that I just said cookies take the pain away." Too late.) I've lost several pounds because of this illness but do not recommend that as a method of weight loss. It's been horrible. Get your flu shots.

I am trying to eat from my garden, at least a little bit, every day. Don't worry, I'm failing all over the place. My fall crop of peas didn't come in as quickly as I expected them to, my carrots ran out in October, and the gallon of peas I'd so carefully picked and stashed in the freezer was used up sometime in September. I was really counting on my spinach to carry me through. And for the most part, it has! But it's still not growing as quickly as I'd like, and critters have been nibbling at it from time to time. While I can harvest a few leaves most days, I really do mean a few leaves. Also, sometimes it needs a rest.
One of my plans for the weekend is to pull one of my large planter pots inside and fill it with lettuce and spinach seeds. I can stash it near a window in the garage where it will be protected from the harshest weather but still able to grab enough sunlight. I figure that any little bit of food I grow at this point is a win.
Naked baby in the garden, just before I planted.

But since my winter growing capability is still limited, I've decided to include the pantry items I stashed away over the summer - jams and canned tomatoes of various sorts and applesauces and whatnot - because those are things I either grew or gleaned as well. Why shouldn't they count? It's all food that I don't have to buy, and it's local, and healthy. Plus, this way I can't forget about my pantry items until they get dusty and old.
That has made this experiment more of a success. Having the applesauce on hand has been especially happy during my illness, as I can choke down a few bites of that without having my stomach yell at me for hours afterward. And the kiddo (also sick) will eat an entire (quart) jar in one sitting, practically.
We don't eat much jam in our house, however we discovered a while ago that mixing homemade jam into plain yogurt (basically making your own "fruit on the bottom" yogurt) is fantastic.

In case you're not familiar with it, there's a "no shampoo" movement about. For over a year I washed my hair with baking soda and rinsed with white vinegar. I tried several homemade shampoo recipes, but they were all awful.
In the end, no 'poo failed me. Not because it was actually bad for my hair, it just didn't end up fitting my lifestyle. I have very fine, straight hair. Many people who go no 'poo are able to go for a week or longer without washing their hair, but the most I was ever able to do was four days. Then I'd be a greasy mess. And if my hair got sweaty (hello, exercise) or wet (hello, rainy Seattle) or, worst of all, was ever in a bike helmet (nearly every day), then my hair would get greasy faster and I'd end up needing to wash my hair more frequently. When I started working every day, I quickly realized that not using shampoo wasn't nearly as important to me as actually having hair that felt nice. So I'm back to shampooing nearly every day, albeit with a very gentle baby shampoo. (The same stuff I use on the kiddo.)
What did I keep from my experiment? For one thing, I still use vinegar as conditioner. It's seriously awesome, and my hair doesn't smell, the way you might expect. It's gentle and my hair ends up both shiny and soft, without being over-conditioned and getting greasy really fast.
The second thing I kept was homemade dry shampoo. There are a few recipes I've seen online, and what you use will depend on what color your hair is. I like mine, though, and as a bonus I end up smelling faintly of chocolate. Yum. It's especially useful on my bangs, which tend to show grease faster than the rest of my hair.
Would I recommend that others try going no 'poo? Absolutely. It seems to be most effective for those with coarse or curly hair, many of whom say that they can effectively switch to washing with water only or that they can go for a month between washes. That would be lovely, and good for them. Many also say that their curls are far more manageable and that they've stopped using all hair products. Can you imagine how much money you would save if you never bought any of your hair products? And the time savings....

Switch to a menstrual cup. Seriously, do it. They are life changing. Even better than the money savings and the lack of disgusting garbage, many users (including myself) report that cramps either become less severe or go away entirely, and many people also say that their periods are less severe than they were using disposable tampons or pads. What woman doesn't want those things?
I don't feel my menstrual cup when it's in, to the point that I sometimes forget that it's there. I don't have any problems (like leakage) while biking or running or weight lifting, either. It's seriously been one of the best things to come into my life. (Thanks for the recommendation, Lucy!) So that's why I'm telling you.
I have not (yet) experimented with Thinx panties, of which I've heard nothing but good reviews, nor do I have any reusable pads, but at least one of those options is in my future. I know several women who, for whatever reason, can't bear to use tampons. Either of these options would be great for them, or for those who are squeamish about using a cup. I plan to get one or the other to use as backup for my cup, as my copper IUD means that, some days, I have to empty the cup 4-5 times. That's a little tricky while at work, so I'd rather have Thinx or a pad so that I just don't have to worry about it.
There are so many ways to hack having to deal with a period, and making it less awful, that there are no excuses not to.

Oil cleansing is the shit. Seriously, you have to try it. My best friend mentioned to me once that she'd started washing her face with oil and, curious, I looked it up. Then I tried it. OMG, I'm never going back to normal face cleansing again. This is, like, washing and lotioning in just one step. Only, it's actually better than that.
The only thing I do differently from some (most?) is that I still use a gentle exfoliant on my face about once a week: baking soda dissolved in water. Not much water, mind you, it's like a very liquidy paste. It feels kind of silky between my fingers. When my skin starts to feel rough or like it needs a good scrubbing--every few days--I use the baking soda scrub first and then oil up my face. My one regret is that I do this at night, right before bed, so my skin looks dewiest and pink with health right at the time when no one's going to see it. (Yes, I'm including HusbandX in that. He comes to bed later than I do most of the time.)
Seriously, it's awesomesauce. You should try it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"But I don't have a shower!"

I started my new job, and it's been wonderful so far. My coworkers are friendly, the company has been treating me well, and I love working part time. Transitioning from working at a public university, with its constant budget tightening and attitude of, "What's overtime? By the way, can you take care of this on your way out the door?" to working in the private sector is giving me some odd moments. I mean, I get to order stuff without getting four different people to approve it first! I can just...order it. How strange. I didn't even have to go through training for the credit card, they just handed it over as if I was a rational adult capable of using a credit card. Insanity! I'm pretty sure I spent more on coffee for the office today than I spent on everything in a year for my old office.
This week I've been working full time. I knew that there would be times I'd be asked to do so. I don't mind it, but it's making me realize that they couldn't pay me enough to go back to working full time permanently. Which is great, because they made it clear that my position will be part time for the long haul. It's just good to know that both the company and I are totally in sync on this one. I don't know how other families do it, with two partners, spouses, parents working full time. With commutes on either end, I feel like I'm never home. (And in fact, traffic was awful today so I was away from home for 12 hours.) I never get enough time to myself. Never get enough time with the kiddo. This week, at least. It will be nice to get back to my regular schedule next week.

Not that working again is all sunshine and roses. Even working part time takes a big chunk out of my day. I spend half an hour each night getting everything ready for the morning so that I don't forget some crucial item in my mad rush. I'm not a morning person, but now I have to be up by 6:10 every day to leave for work. And that's if I only give myself half an hour (or less) to get ready before I go. Oy.

And I have to take a bus. Most of the time it's not so bad, I get about forty minutes of (mostly) uninterrupted reading time in. Glorious! But then there are the times like that one day, when I got treated to the world's slowest transition between drivers--over half an hour of just sitting there while the relief driver washed various parts of the bus, with the bus so full that people were standing in the aisle, and then a yelling match between the slow driver and a guy in a wheelchair who kept shouting that his colostomy bag was getting full so just drive the damn bus, and then the driver wasted even more time by arguing back, threatening to call the cops and have that guy kicked off the bus...yeah. Buses.

On the other hand, now that I'm up so early I get
to see stuff like this, and that's not so bad.
One of the perks of my job, though, is also the commute. Not just the reading time on the bus, but my bike ride. It's wonderful. I now have something pushing me to ride my bike at least five days a week, for at least five miles round trip. At the start of the day I get a rather bracing trip in the cold, which wakes me up quite thoroughly, and a little bit of exercise to get the blood flowing. At the end of my day, I get some time to clear my head, a chance to use my muscles. I get home happy and refreshed. Ready, as someone else put it, for act two of my day.

It is, with no hyperbole or exaggeration, one of the best parts of my day. Even this week, when it's been so cold. (It snowed on Monday and is supposed to snow again tomorrow--very unusual for this area.) Once again, it's making me wonder why more people don't bike commute. The most common excuse I hear for this is, "But there's no shower where I work. I don't want to be all smelly." Fear not, friend! Bike commuting and a lack of nasty smell do not have to be mutually incompatible, and I'll share my secrets as to how. I have years of experience getting to work under my own steam in all kinds of weather conditions, without stinking up the office.

This is going to seem quite obvious, but deodorant is your friend. I've gone all crazy-hippie and just use baking soda (I smell like me rather than flowers, just a not-bad-smelly version of me), but really any deodorant will work. As well as the usual spots to put deodorant, however, I also suggest that you place some at the top of your inner thighs, right in the crease. Why? Because that's one of the other places you'll sweat the most.

Bring a change of clothes. I mean everything. Really, everything. When it's warm out, you'll want to change it all anyway, right down to your sweaty underwear. (Ew.) If it's wet out, you'll probably end up wanting to change your underwear as well as your outerwear, even if you have fenders. I was quite thankful, earlier this week, to have a full change of wardrobe when the skies opened up on me during my ride. I was drenched. Not sitting on wet underwear all morning made my day much more pleasant.
And when you don't feel the need to change your underwear? It's small and lightweight. It's not going to make or break your ride, and when you do need it you'll be very thankful you have it. Just, um, put it in a bag or something. Apparently mine hooked onto my Nook when I pulled it out of my bag the other day, and I ended up with underwear quite noticeably sitting next to me on the bus.
Of course, there are also those who say that it's most comfortable to ride commando, and I admit I've done that plenty of times too. (I find it neither more nor less comfortable.) Just, you know, don't forget your underwear. You don't want the embarrassment of having packed a skirt and no underwear, to walk around all day with the uncomfortable feeling that at some point your skirt would flip up and you'd flash your coworkers. Just trust me on that one.

Along with my change of clothes, I also have a change of shoes. I'm not going to walk around in my bike cleats all day, that would not only be unprofessional looking and annoying (the clacking...), it would be uncomfortable. I don't like standing in those shoes or walking in them for too long. They were definitely made for riding.
There's nothing saying that you have to have special shoes for riding, of course. In that case, it still might be nice to take a second pair, however. First, on rainy days you're not going to want to wear wet shoes all day. Second, you might not want to wear your cold-weather biking shoes in your office all day. Third, sweat. Always the enemy of the office cyclist, sweat.
Again, though, you don't have to change shoes. HusbandX ran into the problem of smelly bike shoes, since he didn't have enough room to carry them or anywhere to store a second pair at the office, and a friend suggested that it could be solved with a very simple homemade item. Take a pair of socks and fill them with dried beans or rice, or both. Then add something good smelling, either essential oils or cloves and orange peels, cinnamon sticks. Sew the socks shut. Whenever you're not actively wearing your shoes, put the special socks in them. The beans and rice will absorb moisture while the essential oils or citrus and spices will take care of any smell.
Wash the shoes regularly, too, if you can.

With my long lunch break I went
for a walk downtown.

Especially for ladies, have a few hair supplies on hand. I can't speak to guys' experience, but helmet hair is just not a great look for most women. I keep some bobby pins and hair ties in a pouch with my ID, bus card, building card, office keys, bike lock key, etc. I also keep a spare pair of earrings in there, in case I forget to wear some. (Don't mock. Earrings can make a casual outfit seem a bit classier and more work appropriate. Since I almost never wear makeup, either, having small touches like that can make a difference in how I'm perceived--slobby or au naturel.)
I usually end up doing my hair on the bus. Nothing terribly elaborate, because bus, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve to make my hair look like I spent time on it without actually spending the time on it. It also helps cover things up if my hair is wet from my ride, or sweaty, or if I just didn't get a chance to wash it and it looks a little greasy. I'm quite certain that every other woman (and probably man, too) reading this post has her/his own tricks for hair, so just don't forget the supplies with which to do them. Like the underwear, they're small enough that you won't notice them weight-wise but they make a big impact on your comfort and the way you present yourself to others.

Take a sponge bath. Most of the time this shouldn't be necessary, but there are occasions when you find you've over-dressed for the weather, or you pushed yourself harder than usual to make it to the bus/to work on time, or you're just feeling slightly under the weather so your body has decided to rid itself of all fluids via your skin. It's simple enough to carry either a handkerchief/bandanna or a very small towel and I've found that they're invaluable, for so many reasons. Douglas Adams was on to something. Among its many uses, I can give myself a quick rubdown with my towel, plus some soap and water, in the most crucial spots. If you really plan ahead and have deodorant in your desk, smelliness won't ever be a problem. If you don't plan ahead on the deodorant, however, you're most likely still okay. If you really need it for some reason, you can always give yourself another quick rubdown later in the day.
You probably won't need the winter
biking gear I brought to my brother.

Everything I've mentioned carrying with me fits into a moderate sized pannier along with my lunch, bike lock, phone, and Nook or book. It's not particularly heavy and I can attach my helmet to it before slinging it over my shoulder for ease of carrying. (The strap is just large enough that I can hitch it up over my arm onto my shoulder.) I even have room for a small grocery run after work, if needed.
Everyone will have their own favorite method for carrying their stuff, of course. For HusbandX it's his beloved Osprey pack. (I mention the brand by name just because they've been so fantastic. Lifetime warranties, people! His previous bag finally gave out and they offered him a new one, free of cost. He got to pick out the color and everything.) I don't like having things on my back when I ride, so the pannier (which I stole from my brother) works well for me.

Why do I write so much about biking? It's not just because it's frugal, or because it's fun, or because it can change your life for the better and make you happier. It's so that shit like this doesn't happen. What kind of country do we live in, that motorists can kill bicyclists without any repercussions? We need to get a critical mass of cyclists going in this country to make it more normal, to put more infrastructure in place so that people can cycle safely, and so that drivers are aware of cyclists. I'm tired of hearing about how dangerous biking is, because it's not in most circumstances. It's unaware, oblivious, impaired drivers who are dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians, not the other way around. Considering the number of people who die in auto accidents each year, driving is just plain dangerous no matter what your mode of transportation is.

I came the closest I've ever been to getting hit last Friday. It was dark, but I had lights and reflectors. I waited at the crosswalk to get across to the bike path. I was doing everything the way I should, but I could not account for the woman who was going to come speeding up around the corner and turn right without actually looking right. I screamed, I waved an arm to get her attention, and in the end I had to stop forward motion by bracing myself against the vehicle. The only reason she didn't hit me was because she made an illegal turn into the far lane. Comforting. Don't worry, though, she didn't bother to stop and actually apologize or ask if I was all right. She just sped off.

And that? That's kind of a normal bike-and-car interaction. If anything's going to change, it needs to come from people like us. People who decide, you know what? I'm not going to let fear rule my life. I'm going to strap on a bike helmet and ride defensively, but I'm going to ride. I've heard of people riding with one leg, people riding with epilepsy or degenerative illnesses. There are definitely times when I feel like a star for biking. I usually feel pretty badass when I'm riding, because I'm doing what roughly 95% of the country won't. But the truth is, it's not a superpower that I have. It's not that others can't do what I do, it's that they talk themselves out of it. They won't. And that's plain silly. Why hold yourself back from something which has the power to make your life so much better?