Coffee heat rising

Getting Back on Track

Ever think that if you could just go back to the old way you used to do things, your life would be a lot better? You’d get back on track, so to speak?

In some respects, we’ll never do that: we’re past the point of living without computers, e-mail, and fancy gadgetry. But in some of the fundamental ways we direct our personal lives, maybe we’re not yet beyond help. Habits change; the ones that change for the worse can be changed back to the way they were.

This train of thought came my way while I was wondering why am I so fat? I’ve never been overweight before. My father passed his slim build down to me, and he didn’t start to put on weight until he was in his 70s, when he had to eat the mediocre, carbohydrate-laced food at his life-care community, where he took to eating…hmmm….yes: two servings of pie after the steam-table dinner.

The other day one of the choir members brought real, true, home-made Napoleons and a genuine home-made cake with actual not-out-of-a-can chocolate frosting. This, in honor of the choir director’s birthday. Well. I not only ate one of the exquisite Napoleons, I had to scarf down a piece of cake, too. Afterward, I could barely waddle out to my car.

Whoa! On the way home, it struck me that when I was a young and slender thing, I would never have touched a Napoleon. Not out of any dietary prissiness, but because I didn’t like sweets. Those things would have gagged me, because they were just too sweet.

About ten or fifteen years ago, I developed a tolerance for sugary stuff. It happened when SDXB and I got in the habit of hanging out at the local gourmet grocery store over coffee. He would order just a cup of black coffee. The store’s plain coffee, however, is pretty awful, even worse than Starbucks’ basic battery acid. So, to get a hit of caffeine I would order things like lattes and mochas. And I would usually be hungry. The coffee was served out of the bakery counter, where 99.9% of the food offerings were…yes! Sweets! So to get something to eat, I’d order some carbs with baked-in sugar, usually things like apple turnovers.

We were hiking in the mountains almost every day, and so I didn’t put on much weight. But I sure didn’t get any thinner. What I did get was a craving for sweets. Once SDXB moved out, I managed to break the daily coffee confection habit, but it didn’t change the fact that now I’ll eat almost anything that has lots of sugar in it.

So I started thinking: What things do I do that I didn’t do when I was young and slim, and what don’t I do that I used to do? And what bearing do those things have on my present state of well-being (or not)? The answers are revealing:

Do now, didn’t do then:

Sit in front of a computer for hours on end.

Back in the day, we didn’t have e-mail. No one ever heard of a blog. News came on large sheets of paper folded together in things called “newspapers.”

Eat sweets

See above.

Drink in the middle of the day.

Not often, anyway.

Consume the better part of a bottle of wine during the course of a day.

Park next to the door of any store I went into.

When I got the crip space decal, I got into the habit of using the disabled parking whenever several other spaces were open. This led to a tendency to look for regular spots as close to the door as possible.

Drive instead of walk to nearby errands.

The grocery stores around here are not in safe areas; I won’t even park my car in their lots, much less walk to them.

Arrange things for minimal house and yard work.

Desert landscaping and tile floors don’t require much heavy physical work.

Spend endless hours writing and editing.

The type of writing I do does not require me to leave the house.

Seem to live in a constant state of chaos.

My life is so gestalt, I never seem to be able to complete a single train of thought. It’s interruption after interruption after interruption.

Did then, don’t do now:

Walked the dog at least once a day, sometimes more.

Greta the Gershep would walk without a leash, never chased off after cats and other dogs, did not wander into the road. And she was big enough to take care of herself and me. So walking her meant stepping out the front door: no hassles with collars and leashes and shilelaghs to beat off mean dogs and meaner humans.

Hiked in the mountain preserves fairly often.

• Until Greta got too old to climb up a steep grade, I used to take her to Squaw Peak Park all the time.

Rarely ate sweet things.

Parked on the far side of most parking lots and walked to the stores.

Averse as I was to burning my hands on the steering wheel, I used to try to park my car in whatever little spots of shade could be found. Around here, trees exist only on the perimeters of asphalt parking lots (when they exist at all). This required me to leave my car a long way from the door.

Walked to various errands.

The babysitter was a block away: I would push the kid over there in a stroller. A nice mall with a Penney’s and a Dillard’s-type department store was less than a mile from my house. Because I did a lot of handyperson work around our house, I used to walk up to the Penney’s to buy hardware items. The post office was about a mile and a half away; occasionally I would walk there.

Did a lot of physical work around the house.

We lived in a historic house that had to be shored up all the time. My husband wasn’t very handy, so I had to learn light carpentry, plumbing, painting, and repair skills. Once I spread, screeded, and pounded several tons of sand and laid 1,350 paving bricks to build a patio.

Did a lot more yard work.

We had a lawn. I used to mow it, until I finally drew the line and persuaded my husband to hire a yard guy. But I still cared for a pair of two-story-high bougainvilleas and a rose garden.

Walked all over a university campus two or three times a week.

I was going to graduate school and TAing 50% FTE.

Watched TV at night.

Nowadays there’s little worth watching on the broadcast channels. I can’t afford cable, and besides, by prime time I’m falling asleep.

Worked as a freelance journalist.

This required me to get off my duff, go follow people around, and interview them.

Had enough peace and quiet to read not just the newspaper but also whole magazines (and we subscribed a library full of them).

Had enough uninterrupted time to conduct telephone interviews, write articles, or grade student papers in single sittings.

Hm. The differences between then and now are that a lot more physical activity once appeared as a routine part of my life; when I was younger I had little or no taste for sweets; I never spent my days parked in front of a computer; and I used to be able to get things done without constant interruptions. I probably was writing more, but I worked more productively and so didn’t spend all my waking hours at it. With no e-mail, communication was by telephone or snail-mail.

An e-mail conversation, in contrast to three minutes over the phone, entails a volley of typing and reading, each entry of which interrupts what you’re doing:

MB [Scottsdale Business Association president], March 7, 9:28 a.m., re SBA: March invoice. [Bill is attached.]

Genesis Toole [Heaven only knows! Someone at Phoenix College; message routed direct to “Trash” but still pings if computer’s sound is on], March 7, 9:29 a.m., re YEE HAW!!!  Please Encourage Student Participation for Bear’s Day 3/7/12!!! A flyer for something in which I have exactly zero interest.

MB, March 7, 9:39 a.m., re Scottsdale Business Association: This is to remind everyone of our breakfast meeting tomorrow morning at 7:15 AM at the Good Egg.  Our featured speaker this week will be Karen from The Gainey Ranch Golf Club, and our featured speaker next week will be George our Financial Planning Expert.  Please be on time and e-mail me if you are unable to attend.

Associate editor, March 7, 9:49 a.m., re. client’s request for a W-9: I assume you’re having [the accountant] send stuff to Copyeditor’s Desk for tax purposes. Is this right? If not, I guess I can fill this out.

Funny, March 7, 9:52 a.m., re. client’s request for a W-9: You don’t need to fill it out. I sent a W-9 for the Copyeditor’s Desk. In 2012 as in 2011, your income will be reported as contractor’s pay for CED.

Associate editor: 9:55 a.m., re. client’s request for a W-9: Thanks. That’s what I thought. Just wanted to confirm.

SC [SBA member; senior loan officer at large mortgage broker], March 7, 9:59 a.m., re SBA meeting: I won’t be able to attend tomorrow – visitors from Chicago are in for Cubs game and golf.  These are guys I went to grade school and high school with, so they know where the bodies are buried!

SCC Announce [Something from Scottsdale Community College, routed direct to “Trash”], March 7, 10:08 a.m., re Adjunct Teaching Opportunities. Irrelevant job ad. [How do they persuade an economist to do 16 weeks of work for $2400? Wouldn’t you think a person with a degree in economics could do better?]

PC Announcements [Something from Phoenix College, routed direct to “Trash”], March 7, 10:09 a.m., re Position Available:  Instructional Designer (Specially Funded) at Phoenix College. Irrelevant job ad.

SCC Announce, March 7, 10:19 a.m., re SCC Planetarium Show, March 10, 2012. Advertisement for upcoming shindig halfway across the city.

KK: [SBA member, event director at spectacularly upscale golf resort], March 7, 10:25 a.m., re Scottsdale Business Association, Sure, sure. Anything to get out of my talk. Too bad, too. I was going to show the “not for the public” pictures from my Montelucia Resort trip last week.  Oh, well. Enjoy the game.    ;>l

In the span of an hour, 11 demands for my attention! Of these, exactly two were worth interrupting the progress of this blog post. That’s an average of one interruption every five and a half minutes.

Well, of course I don’t look at all these things the instant they come in. But still: eventually I have to sift through them seeking the messages that matter, then I have to act on those, then I have to delete all the rest. About a hundred messages a day land in my various in-boxes. Even when the effect is not painfully gestalt, it’s time-wasting. Hugely time-wasting.

Oh well. Back on topic (see what I mean?): So I get a lot less exercise than I did, just as a routine matter. Also I seem to be subjected to a lot more low-level stress, as in the constant barrage of interruption. The paying work I do requires me to stay seated between eight and twelve hours a day. Several more hours are spent in unpaid work, such as writing for an unmonetized blog, commenting on other PF bloggers’ sites, doing course prep, and grading papers.

No wonder I’m fat. No wonder I want a drink by noon.

Now, while it’s true that in my callow youth, I rarely drank at lunchtime, I suspect the total alcohol intake is no more than my ex- and I used to indulge during our glory days. We had wine with dinner every night. He would buy cases of half-bottles, because we realized that if we had to get up and open another bottle, we would quit pouring wine. This meant we each had about a glass and a half of wine with dinner.

However…when he came home from work, we always had cocktails. He would have a Scotch; I drank bourbon and water or Campari and tonic. And since dinner took an hour or 90 minutes to prepare and I was tippling while cooking, I usually had two before we sat down to dinner and wine. So that would add up to two swiggles of hard liquor and about a quarter to a third of a bottle of wine. Often, we had an after-dinner drink: I was partial to Grand Marnier.

Because I can’t afford aperitifs and liqueurs in my present state of penury, it’s entirely possible that I actually drink less than I did in my misspent youth.

In any event, when I ran out of wine and bourbon several days ago, I decided to refrain from buying any more. We could say I’m riding the wagon for Lent.


It occurs to me that a  lot of this stuff is habit. I can’t do much about the time-consuming dominance of computer technology in my life. But I could rebuild those habits that caused me to move around more. And I could get out of the habits of drinking every day and eating sweets every time I turn around.

I started walking the dog as soon as day dawns. Interestingly, if we can fly out of the house by 6:30 or 7:00 a.m., we can get back in time for me to grab breakfast before M’hijito shows up with the exuberantly disruptive Charley the Golden Retriever. And I’ve discovered that I feel a lot better and a lot more positive during the day after a brisk 40-minute morning walk.

And I’ve started parking as far from the door as possible in strip malls. The other day I went over the Trader Joe’s at 20th and Camelback. Left the car parked adjacent to 20th Street, a nice stroll from the store. Then wanted to go to the PetSmart and the Staples across the road. Normally, I’d drive over there, despite the aversive craziness of the parking lot. Instead, I took my life in my hands and walked across 20th, walked to the PetSmart, then hiked around a pile of commercial buildings to reach the Staples, then hiked back to 20th, recrossed the homicidal road, and climbed back in my car. Good! Did the same thing yesterday at the hairdresser’s and then at the credit union.

It doesn’t add very much time to your errand-running, but it does add lots of steps to your daily life. And that sure can’t be bad for you.

So far, I’m down one pound. Not what we’d call statistically significant, but better than another one-pound gain. Now to learn to resist the sweets…

What do you think? Can we undo habits that we’ve fallen into and rebuild old, forgotten habits that were better for us? Can we do it in 2012 without going off the grid?


10 thoughts on “Getting Back on Track”

  1. Your one point that really resonated with me is that I, too, didn’t like sweets as a younger person. And now I pound them down whenever they come within striking distance.

    What the heck is that all about?

  2. I’ve always liked sweets. 🙂

    But I think I’d be a lot more active if I didn’t have my current desk job — especially since I’m also at the computer writing and doing work for online classes. I got a FitBit pedometer for Christmas, and it confirmed what I sort of knew: between 9 AM and noon, and 1 PM and 6 PM, I hardly move at all. Maybe a bathroom break. I have big bursts of activity related to my morning and evening commute, and then I’m moderately active as I move around the house dealing with dinner and chores… when I do that. Usually I’m holed up in a comfy chair with my laptop. I need to move more!

  3. Much of this resonates with me, too. As a child, I did like candy and sweets, but by the time I was a young adult I wasn’t eating them very much, either. Then about two years ago I started eating them more and packing on the pounds. I was also having a glass of wine or two or a cocktail nearly every night. The amount of walking I did dropped dramatically just over a year ago when I developed plantar fasciitis and felt pain and stiffness afterwards. (I love to walk and really, really miss it.)

    I attribute my sloppy eating, drinking, and exercise habits to poor stress management and I’m trying to change that. It helps that I’ve been dealing with some sort of physical problem (gallbladder?) that leads to nausea and abdominal pain after drinking alcohol or eating fatty foods (and many sweets are also high in fat). So for the past two weeks I’ve been a tee-totaling vegan. I’ve definitely lost some weight since my clothes fit a bit looser (no scale here at home to weigh myself). Now I just need to get my butt to the gym where I can ride the bike for exercise.

    Eventually my doc and I will figure out what’s going on with my innards, but it’s not so bad to be eating so many veggies and fruits. I do miss cheese a lot though.

    Email and IM are the worst parts of my job. Just keeping up with all the requests I get fills my days. Unfortunately I’m also expected to complete projects and do my own admin work. *sigh* Now we see why the stress is so high and why I need to get better at managing it.

  4. I am certainly headed in this direction with the booze and the bad food. I agree that for me it’s poor stress management. Also, it’s the fact that I’ve relied on reasonably good genetics for too long and didn’t really pick up very many healthy habits. As I get older, I have nothing to fall back on. It’s like I’m learning things for the first time.

  5. @ Linda: I got plantar fascitis, too! From wearing Earth Shoes. Argh, don’t wear shoes with negative heels. It took about 18 months for the pain to clear up. My orthopedist recommended wearing shoes with medium heels; I found that Sanitas (the original maker of Dansko) helped a lot — available as seconds at

    @ E. Murphy & Linda: Isn’t it odd that all three of us experienced a craving for sweets in middle age? I wonder if it has anything to do with menopause?

    @ Budget Glamorous: It’s hard not to eat bad food when you’re on a college campus, or when you come home from work half-dead from exhaustion. And frankly, working for the Great Desert University is what drove me to drink (well…excessive drink). About three days out of every five, I would walk in the door and think, “I need a drink.” As in “I need a Valium.” Like many of my colleagues, I was using it to self-medicate for stress, overwork, rage, and depression. When those things are gone, the drinking habit doesn’t go away by itself.

  6. Yes you can go back, you just have to develop habits of exercise again. Also e-mail and cell phones have taken away all of our privacy. We can’t go any where or do anything without instant communication. It is so aggravating. I am surprised we are all not nuts! I answer my e-mail once a day and I make it clear to parents and colleagues that it had better be important. I do not allow people to leave messages on my cell phone. If I don’t answer they can call back or e-mail. I had to be strict as I was getting 35 messages a day and then people were angry because I did not answer the call. I just can’t. I would get nothing done. I never started drinking because I knew I would never quit!

  7. About a year ago I had my picture take for a government ID and was shocked by what I saw! My face was round! Since then I have lost over twenty pounds and I did it by cutting out sweets and dairy products and beer (which is pretty much the only alcoholic beverage I drink).

    Six months and minus twenty some pounds later, I have reintroduced the three major food groups (alcohol, sweets, and dairy!) back into my life.

    And I keep meaning to disconnect BUT…

    I just got a KINDLE Fire…OMG! I may never get off my a**! I can see the device becoming a major addiction, time sink, and money pit — all those $0.99 John Locke novels are adding up quick!

    And then I pulled a calf muscle! Sounds like a vast, right-wing conspiracy to me!

  8. You know what I realized as well? I recently just got back into the black budgetwise. That’s when I looked up and around and as if for the first time noticed that my life was “poor” in many other ways, including healthy habits and live association with other people. Maybe for those of us for whom personal finance is so high on our worry lists it’s easier for us to get engrossed in work and budget sheets and miss some of the other ways we can have a “rich” life. I mean that as no criticism whatsoever of you. I just noticed it about myself today. When I finally felt in control of my glamorous little budget, there was suddenly room to notice and think about other things. The budget is such a high priority for me that it shadows other things, which isn’t the right approach, I know, it’s just how it is.

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