Budget sacrifices

We have a couple gifting occasions coming up this summer. Normally I don’t give it a whole lot of thought – if it’s a wedding I go to their registry, pick something out, order it, ship it, done. If it’s a baby shower, I do the same thing. If it’s a baby announcement, though, I like to go to some baby explosion store and buy some cute wearable. Because it’s a baby and they have amazingly cute, tiny things. And it’s remains a novelty for me to shop for tiny things.

Essentially, I make giving gifts all about me in the convenience and fun factor. Plus buying from a registry ensures the couple or parents get what they want or need, and the post delivery baby gift selection is typically functional as well as ridiculously cute. At my core I am pretty practical.

I never think about whether I’m being cheap or anything else. I typically have a budget range in mind that depends on who the person is in my life, their own circumstances, etc. In my mind gifts should be given and accepted graciously with little or no thought to cost. Of course, I am a complete Pollyanna who truly believes it is the thought that counts.

Lately here, discussion in my own life about weddings and baby showers are coming up more and more, and there seems to be a great debate over how much to spend on a gift. With 2 kids having weddings last year, apparently I should be more in the know about this stuff? Nope, not this mom of both a bride and a groom. The kids are adults, capable of handling their own gifting and financial affairs, and frankly the biggest concern I had was being the mother of “those kids” who did not write their thank you notes in a timely manner. Thankfully, both of mine got theirs done within a month of their weddings.

Sorry friends, I’m the last person you know to ask if a gift makes you look cheap. If you put some thought – even if the extent of the thought was to check their registry and select something – it counts. A few years back a client’s son was getting married and when I checked the registry, a single piece of their china was over $100, crystal was expensive as well. I felt weird giving a coffee cup or salad plate, so I wandered over to towels and such and purchased a set of towels that happened to be on sale. It was a registry item; obviously that’s what they wanted. I didn’t blow my budget and got them something they indicated they desired. My work is done.

This comes up periodically because I work with younger folk, many with a lot of student loan debt hanging over their heads and influencing their choices in jobs and career pathways. Something like gifts for a wedding and a shower can be major budget busters. One of my associates was recently asked to be a bridesmaid. She immediately said yes but is now having serious reservations about the idea once she began adding up the costs. There is an engagement party, so that means a gift. A shower gift, a wedding gift, the dress and shoes and jewelry, the bachelorette party, and it’s also a destination wedding. Ugh. I would have been tempted to say no to the invitation out of budget constraint, but I’m also middle aged and if my friends are getting married now, they are more far less concerned with the modern day wedding experience.

When is enough I wonder? I don’t know. I had the minimalist experience with my daughter last year and then the more modern tradition with my son. Both turned out beautifully and all parties are happy. My daughter had the small courthouse wedding she wanted, my son and daughter-in-law had the wedding of the decade (it was so much fun). The work leading up to the bigger wedding event was enormous, but that was what they wanted, so that’s what they had. I think they did a good job of managing costs and expectations, but it was still an expensive event. I also think it helps enormously that G and K are reasonable people – no -zillas that I saw or heard about – and were able to work with their friends to make the important parts of the wedding happen.

But I still know a lot of folks who worry about appearances. I suggest to my peeps that living within your means always looks good, but when you are a young attorney saddled with debt, most people only look at the profession and make the assumption that passing the bar automatically equates to healthy salaries. Perhaps, but when you factor in long hours, living expenses, and the burden of 5 to 6 figure students loan debt, they healthy salary sudden feels a lot like minimum wage.

This does not mean feel sorry for the well educated young professional, they have such a rough life. But it does mean that their lives are not so rapturously golden because they have a law degree and a professional job.

Once upon a time I was a budget coach, in that I helped people figure out their income and expenses and all the live they were presently living and really could not afford. It was some of the worst and most painful work of my life. Going through it myself was bad enough; trying to help people understand that their “needs” did not equate to cable television, 2 cars (with car payments), new electronics every year, etc. was a huge challenge. Once they realized they would have to give up most of if not all of their wants to pay down their debt, they wanted to get out debt as quickly as possible, which meant unsustainable budgets and more month than money and having to hit the credit card again for basic living expenses.

It was an ugly cycle.

I rarely do that kind of thing anymore. Dave Ramsey has getting out of debt pretty well covered if someone is serious about taking those steps. But chatting with my associate and her stress about the minimal expenses and bridesmaid obligations saddens me. Her heart is in the right place, her friend is her best friend since childhood. But the expenses are going to pile up and she is not going to be able to afford a cup of coffee for the next 7 months unless she diverts any bonuses (90% of which have been used to pay down her student loans) for the wedding expenses.

At least she has options; few people get work bonuses. Small comfort when she is trying so desperately to relieve herself of the debt burden.

Hard choices, difficult conversations ahead. But no, I don’t think she looks cheap for not wanting to spend thousands to be in her dear friend’s wedding. And yes, I do think her friend should understand if she says she cannot afford to be a bridesmaid and attend a wedding in Hawaii. If anything, I wish everyone were as disciplined and as driven to break out of debt enslavement. Law school was worth it, and student loans felt like her only choice at the time. I don’t care about that; what’s done is done. But I very much respect her smart choices now and the sacrifices that may have to be made to slay that dragon.

I am very proud of her, no matter what happens next. I advised she be true to herself, her values and priorities. True friends will understand or work with her to make it happen.

Death and financial train wrecks – different types of devastation

While the post title sounds like related issues, in fact they are two separate soundtracks running through my thoughts the past few days. Nothing pretty to see here, so if you are looking for my usual glitter-bombing unicorn outlook, this may be the post to skip.

Yesterday I spent a couple of hours with my client who lost his 13-year-old son last week; the young man took his own life. While he is a client, most of my self-employment clients are people I consider friends as well, the business just another anecdotal box of experiences we happen to share. Understandably, he is completely broken, destroyed by what has happened. That little boy was the sun and moon and stars in his world, and now he’s gone. Interlaced with grief, though, is this intense, white-hot anger from the circumstances that may time will cool and bring peace. I am not an especially religious person; I offer no platitudes about better places and safe from harm. As a mother who has been through the grief that comes with the death of a beloved child, such statements tend to piss me off even as I know that my children are only on loan, they are meant to grow up and become independent beings well outside my scope of control and direction. But 12, 13 – it is way too soon. Please do not ever suggest to me it’s God’s will, or it’s part of a bigger plan, or they are happier in their place in Heaven. Fuck that shit. Our children – we are good parents; our children should be her on earth with us, getting awkward and hormonal, getting angry and screaming at us, assured in how little we know and growing up into people who again like and respect us for the mere mortals we are as they mature into adulthood and realized that their parents are imperfect, do not have all the answers, but try their best.

In a lot of real and direct experience ways, I am someone who understands. I listened and pretended not to notice when he cried. There are no words of comfort in these situations, and sometimes it is only human warmth that makes us feel less alone and lonely with our tragic losses. As I still think to this day, when there are no words, hugs speak volumes.

Into this profoundly emotional and poignant time with one slice of my life, comes all the bullshit and pettiness of small-ball problems. Comparatively speaking, anyway. There are no universal bandaids that remove physic pain and perceived injustice, and sometimes my patience with those who want to escalate petty grievances into something bigger, badder, much more complicated and time-consuming – let’s just say I’m short and dismissive. Every person I know who works or has any type of relationship with expectation of performance and results has similar stories of such disagreements and less motivated, less first-choice options for bosses, coworkers, worked hired out. So I know I am not the only manager at any level in the world having to deal with people and their problems. And I also know what is a Very Big Deal to them is smaller than small-ball to me. Most of the time, I try to deal with them professionally and compassionately, even while telling them to grow up and get real.

In other words, more drama in the office. And it is not that I don’t care – I care very much, particularly as it impacts perceptions about me and my performance of my job functions – but when you are dealing with a slice of pirated information (salaries) and without complete context, the leg you’re standing on is kind of weak and shaking. When it comes up, I will deal with it. Right now, my head is filled with thoughts of death.

And I hate it.

I hate that my client and friend is suffering so miserably. I hate that another dear friend is thousands of miles away and alone and facing a procedure on his brain. I don’t think it’s just me that gets nervous when people speak of brain surgery, and to not be able to be present and there at this time – it’s really, really hard. While telling myself thousands of times daily that it will be fine, he will be fine, I cannot get my mind to buy the reassurances. Sometimes being a “hope for the best, imagine the worst” version of Pollyanna does not work out all that well for me.

Truthfully, I cannot imagine my life without him somewhere in it. M is far more stoic than I am, thankfully, but even he has his reservations and concerns. It’s BRAIN surgery, and no matter how normal and routine it might be for the surgeon and the specialized team of doctors and nurses, this is someone we love and it is a world-class BIG DEAL to the rest of us sitting on the sidelines and metaphorically wringing our hands and trying not to be consumed with worry.

So yeah, head is kind of stuffed to overflowing out my ears with thoughts of death and what life is like imagining and trying to shut off the imaginings of life after the worst.

Ugh.

Another of my clients asked begged (his term, not mine) me to work with his niece on her finances. I thought it would be relatively straight-forward; after all, my client is very intelligent and sensible, his sister (the referral’s mother) seems the same in the times we have met. I figured at worse she would have student loan debt and need some help with her budgeting.

Oh my, I was so very wrong.

We met yesterday, and after 30 minutes of discussing the state of her life, I put away the green tea I was drinking and order the fully caffeinated, full-sugar version of a coffee-flavored milk drink to fortify myself. It is quite ugly.

She is a college graduate with degrees in chemistry and literature. Her parents paid for college so no student loan debt. Her home was gifted to her from her grandmother along with just over 6 figures in cash. She is employed in the local hospital system, which brings to mind decent wage and benefits. The car she drove up in a later model Camray – nothing fancy or flashy. While she is telling me all this, I am listening and nodding and thinking she needs a financial planner more than she needs a budget coach.

Then she pulls out the sheaf of check stubs, bank statements, credit card bills. I am still thinking, okay, everyone gets into trouble with credit cards; it’s almost a right of passage. I can help her, I’m sure.

It is with the documents that the real story comes out and why her mother and uncle asked me to talk with her and see if I can help her out.

This girl is 29, working at a job that pays about $42K per year, because she only works part-time (20 hours per week) by choice. There is a maxed out line of credit on her paid-off home, she has less than $500 in the bank, and an astonishing amount of credit card debt racked up in just a few years. On top of which – before inheriting her home and money, she had declared bankruptcy because of other credit card debt accrued in college.

I asked her how all this debt came about and got some pretty vague answers about shopping and paying for a couple of fender benders to keep them off her insurance and travel and charitable giving. I asked what happened to her inheritance, and got similar responses, with the addition of … plastic surgery. Did I mention she is turning 30 in a couple of months?

Ugh. Financial train wreck? More like mushroom cloud of financial devastation.

While I suspected this was going to be a huge challenge, I valiantly tried to help her.

Does she have a budget? Yes, but she routinely runs out of money and has to use her credit cards. Okay, can she show me her budget. Well no, because she keeps it in her head. She does pay all her bills when she gets paid and lives on what’s leftover. Except with this much credit card debt, there is a whole lot more living going on than a single person should be doing.

Or so goes the judgmental budget coach in me.

I did not have time to crunch the numbers to even get a sense of where she was, so we set up another appointment for this weekend after I had a better chance to look through her stuff and figure out how truly bad things are for her. And after looking through all her stuff last night, it’s really bad.

Since I know quite a few people in her age bracket, I know it is not just an issue of financial literacy. Yet I cannot fathom how someone could go blow through a just over $100K in inheritance, take out (and then max out) a line of credit on a paid-off home, and run up enough credit card debt to owe just over $150K on a $42K per year salary. And yet, I have seen so much worse through the years.

I know and have heard all the arguments and sob stories about the evil banks and credit card companies taking advantage of the consumer. Bullshit. No one makes us take on debt, although I do know sometimes it’s an uncomfortable only option we have. My sympathy in this is primarily with her family, who – rightly – refuse to bail her out of this mess and merely try to find her resources to help resolve it.

The discord in this is that she is in such a deep, dark place of denial. The typical millennial mindset is stronger than average in this one (and I do apologize to all my very level-headed millennial friends who may be reading this vent).

Either way, she’s in a huge financial bind and it will get worse long before it gets better. I want nothing but success for her, but from conversations with her uncle and her mother, she is not listening to them and is unlikely to listen to me. However, I will do my best.

I think she sees herself as living a life of freedom, whereas I see a young woman anchored by debt and being smother by the increasing interest and monthly payments. She could sell her home – the only assets I see that she has – which would likely clear her debt. But I know already the idea will float like a lead balloon.

At a very minimum, she needs to request a full-time schedule and accept every single hour of overtime that is offered to make more cash. With some negotiation with her creditors we might be able to get her squeaking through each month and with a very strict beans-and-rice type budget.

Buuuuttttt – one of the first comments out of her mouth is that she is unwilling to work more hours. Her debt is a combination of shopping, world travel, philanthropy, and just plain deranged, out-of-control spending. Seriously, I cannot think of another way to describe it.

I cannot save anyone, except perhaps myself. For the sake of my client, I will do my best to create a realistic plan … that she’s unlikely to agree to much less follow through with. When I met her, before we began discussing her finances in detail, I thought she was smart, funny, interesting, and quite physically beautiful. We chatted briefly about fitness – she works with a trainer 3 times per week and does yoga religiously 4 or 5 times per week – and I briefly, VERY briefly, thought she should meet trainer J. Or one of the associates I work with.

No, oh no. I love and adore my trainer, I really NEED my trainer, and I simply cannot do such a horrible thing. And my associates, it’s important to me to maintain my professional relationships. My goodness – what if someone I happened to introduce her to actually likes her? No, just no.

I was actually relieved to find out she likes girls.

The bottom line, at the end of a difficult day on a multitude of levels, what I find almost sadder than the real life agony is this silly, silly girl with the great big entitlement boulder resting on her shoulder.

Some things, some choices, some events are so far beyond my understanding. Where I can help, I try my best to do the right thing and provide what assistance I can. Sometimes it’s out of my realm of expertise, and the eventual outcome is in the hands of others far more skilled and more knowledgeable than me.

I have my hopes for the people in my life – I want what I want for them, whether it peace of mind or recovering their health. When someone new wanders into my midst, if I can help I will try. If they refuse help, I can and will step aside and let nature take its course.

Doesn’t mean I have to like it much, any of it. Sometimes I just wish people did not have to endure so much hardship, and sometimes I just wish people would be realistic and make better choices about their lives.

My head is full of rocks

M’s bestie was here working on our front yard yesterday, so the process of front landscaping has finally begun. My patience with homeowner projects has expanded in the last 5 years, because while it has been almost 3 years since the concrete was poured, we went for 2 years without stairs from the deck to the pool deck, and only now are getting the front yard landscaped.

While I feel as if I do not care all that much about the front landscaping, I probably do care more than I realize. M and I – we are not lawn or plant people. Among the happiest of times here in our home has been when M ripped out the shrubbery in the front of the house as well as all the jungle-like features in the back yard. Truth be told, if I could have done it, I probably would have had the entire front yard encased in concrete and been done with it. County ordinances forbid that, though, and getting rid of oak trees in our corner of the world is nearly impossible. They are a protected environmental thing and require a permit to remove. Ugh. Don’t even get me started.

Anyway, our plan is for very simple, minimalist, stark landscaping. This requires rocks. Big rocks. Little rocks. Retaining wall rocks. And there are whole businesses in the business of selling dirt and rocks. Who knew?

So M and I spent a good portion of my workday yesterday visiting places that stock rocks. Even in rocks, M and I have expensive tastes. EVERYTHING we like is the higher end of the price scale, and when you’re talking about inanimate objects that are sold by the pound, the difference between $0.23/pound to $0.32/pound makes a huge difference. M is waiting on prices for a couple of big giant pieces of granite to grace our front yard.

The retaining wall we are building is sold by the pallet, and what we liked is $462/pallet versus the $348/pallet of a rougher stone. Thankfully we only need 2, but still. This is long-term, permanent stuff, so we had better at least like it an awful lot if not outright love it. I was not unhappy with the higher price, and I still want what I want, but I probably would have been happier not knowing the cost of the less attractive to my eye solutions.

And finally, the rocks for a border strip next to the driveway – white dolamite is about 3 tmes the cost of the basic salt-and-pepper gravel. But M really wanted the dolomite from the very beginning, and with our newest hatch plan to purchase some smaller natural slate slabs to use as stepping stones where we walk the most the dolamite is going to look nice. Again, regular manufactured stepping stones would be so much cheaper by weight than the natural slate, but oh well. I do not imagine us remodeling the front yard ever again.

I don’t think I am complaining about cost so much as musing that our eyes are always drawn to the most expensive solutions and materials available. Before we found the dolomite, we were looking at some pretty rocks that would have cost us thousands of dollars. We still like them, but not for this application. It would have blown our entire budget and then some.

So, after a long wait, our landscaping is in progress and will be done before I know it.

But until we get everything selected, my head is almost literally filled with rocks.

A rare money/finance post vent

This is a rare bitch-fest about the policies and marketing efforts of my big box gym. I find their behaviors and recent changes in fee schedules more upsetting for how it will impact other members more than the blow it delivers to my own budgetary bottom line. Unless you are in my realm and a member of my gym, this will be blander content than usual.

I enjoy my time in my gym, and I give 96.872% of the credit to my fabulous trainer. Teaching me to exercise safely and sanely is what I sought in engaging his professional expertise. Spoon feeding me enough technique and challenge for many small successes that build upon each other has allowed me to fall in love with moving my body via exercise. Graceful? Only if you think of a lumbering herd of elephants or wildebeest as graceful. Stronger? Oh yes, very much so, and it is shocks, amazes, and thrills me every time I finish something with what seems like such a weighty weight. I am competent at my pursuits, and I am doing things that mind would have balked at as way too complicated at best and just plain too hard always at various points in the journey. It has been almost 18 months, 14 of which have been about daily exercise of some sort, and all without any serious injury (frantically seeking wood to knock upon). The yoga and pilates practices I pursue help, of course. But there is no substitute for good education and a solid foundation of safe movement for my particular body with its quirks.

The funds I have invested in sessions and my gym membership – worth every single penny. Any generosity extended to J in terms of gifts or cash tips at replenishing my session balances have not been because I am such a great person who shares, but because he has earned it and deserves the compensation for the extra time and consideration he provides me. The stupid questions he’s fielded, the tearful meltdowns in text, the happy dancing when I finally conquer something that has vexed and dogged me. Mostly though – the inspiration and fascination that has built and allowed me to take control of my overall health and enjoy that significant success. Yes, yes, yes – I do the heavy lifting. For someone who has started and stopped, started and stopped exercise programs as much as I have, this consistency and stick-with-it-ness comes from finding the right trainer at the right time in conjunction with my own readiness to take the necessary steps to improve my health and my life. Money well spent, and if it meant I had to work longer and harder to continue to afford this sort of health-enhancing service, I would either give up other stuff I fritter money away on or work that much harder to earn greater income.

Yep, I feel very strongly about it. I am also not going to apologize for enjoying this luxury. It is not at the expense of my/our future. And believe me, I understand not everyone can afford the services of a personal trainer. Many people can barely afford gym membership at the least expensive option of gym chains. I truly do know and understand how fortunate I am. I give J such lavish credit because he deserves it. Ours is truly a training partnership, one where he has invested in me far more than just a couple of hours that contribute to his overall paycheck.

The gym itself, I have no such loyalty to, unfortunately. I like it well enough; it is conveniently located and I have met some very nice members and staff there that I enjoy seeing every day. But if J jumped ship tomorrow and went to some other club or a private training studio, I would most likely invest my training dollars there.

The training partnership is what makes my gym an asset to me, not the club itself or its facilities.

Because compared to other clubs in nearby communities, my gym is a red-headed stepchild in the chain. Which is odd to me, because the corporate office is in the same building and I would have thought their home club would be a much nicer facility.

It’s clean enough, has a variety of equipment. For what I am presently using it for, it’s perfectly fine and functional and could continue to be so well into the future. However, I routinely see a number of “out of service” tags on popular equipment. Rainy days like today, I can almost guarantee the roof is leaking and there are buckets and towels on the floors in specific places upstairs.

All these things are manageable. The pool is nice, except I never use it. I have no idea what the steam room and sauna are like, because I have never actually been in them. I get hugely annoyed that they continually run out of kleenex in the group fitness room and it seems to take a village at the front desk to get a replacement box. (This is a genuine problem for me – my sinuses seem to sweat in tandem with the rest of me during practice and I continually need to blow my nose.) But while I might very occasionally need to walk the entire gym to find a set of dumbbells in the weight I need (because someone has wandered off and abandoned them), there is plenty of equipment to get my work completed and usually without having to wait and wait and wait for it.

The members in my home gym are older; median age seems to be about my age, plus or minus a few years. There are a larger number of silver (senior) small group training classes because the demographic skews that way. Our community is not as affluent as others where the bigger, fancier, more feature-, equipment-, and floor space-rich clubs were built. It is my opinion and experience that our club has a more friendly, accepting feel to it, far less meat-market than others I have visited.

Unfortunately, our gym chain is a big box corporate monolith, a fully functional one-size solution across the board. And while I understand the bottom line better than many, I also understand the differences between clubs and facilities does not go unnoticed, particularly since we as members are following the same fee scale no matter which club we utilize. As a regular consumer of personal training services, a regular in the club, and an observer of other members utilizing other trainers and participating in body fit classes, I sense a deep unevenness in the skill level presented by the professional training staff, but again, no difference between getting a scary smart trainer like J who actively works to improve his skills versus a newly certified greenhorn who seems to be clinging to a standardized training plan for every single client.

It bothers me greatly, yet I know there is little to be done other than voting with my feet. I personally am not inclined to do that, because again, training relationship and what I want and need from a gym are being fulfilled. But many of the other members I have met, talked to, gotten to know through the months are fixed-income seniors, now going from a monthly flat fee unlimited group fitness program to a pay-per-class schedule that may cause them to move less because of financial considerations.

I begrudge no one from making a buck, or even lots of bucks. But it feels a bit shortsighted right now on the ground, where I am sitting and observing. I understand the group-think workings of a corporate entity, and I have a pretty good grasp of the economics, even if I do not have all the specifics on the moving pieces and parts with regard to the gym’s financial state.

But on the heels of an average 8% increase in training and small group training classes in November and a just announced increase in membership dues, I am quite irritated with the new investment corporation that purchased the chain in early 2016. I get that they are looking to squeeze more return on their initial investment. However, the data looks very different with the charts and spreadsheets and financial reports and projections they have reviewed and tweaked and the various scenarios they have considered before arriving at these decisions than the boots on the ground I see in my gym 6 days a week.

While I do not have the full background of how they arrived at these decisions, I know that it feels like an almost killing blow within my gym town. Had they simply raised prices 8% for training and body fit (small group classes lead by a personal trainer) it would be upsetting but mostly understandable. While I have not actually examined the new pricing structure myself, I have got enough of an eyeful and enough of an earful from other members to know it has changed as well. We are not talking apples to apples 8% increase; they took the basic 3-tier training packages and morphed it into at least double that number of package options. To get the best pricing – which is now 5.27% more – members must purchase a 72 session package, as opposed to the prior 40 session package. Not only is it a big giant chunk of change in one fell swoop, there are also no guarantees that the trainer I love working with will be the same trainer 72 sessions from now. Refunds should J jump ship? I will have to read the contract much more closely, but doubtful.

These things hit us directly in the wallet, and no matter how well they try to spin it, there is a big difference between 40 and 72 session packages in both pricing and commitment. Again, while I have not seen the schedule of pricing, it would only make sense that higher percentages of increase would correlate to the smaller training packages.

Such a shame. In my club, J is worth the cost, and I have no problem committing to another 36 weeks (we meet twice weekly). Training is a line item in my budget, and I save for the expense in advance of each purchase. Personal bias aside, he is the best trainer in the club, hands down. I do not get to see all the others in action, because they tend to work more evenings and I am almost always there early in the mornings. But I see J routinely in the gym at 5 a.m. working with other tribe members. Other trainers? One once or twice a week. The rest just prefer to start later or they do not have clients training before work.

If that were not bad enough, the small group body fit classes are even worse. They not only raised prices, they went from a monthly fee unlimited to pay by the class and buy in blocks of classes. The silver ladies – I see the same bunches of them every week, and honestly, they are amazing, hustling along from machine to machine and moving very spiritedly from station to station. Some of them are in there 5 days per week, and I know most are retired and on fixed incomes. It is a shame that several will likely be cutting back on the number of classes to maintain their ability to belong to the gym.

And of course on top of all that in November, they wait until December to announced monthly memberships are going up in January. The additional $48/year does not really impact me, but it does irritate me greatly. Because the club I use sees few if any of those dollars for updated equipment or facilities. The increase is in addition to the maintenance and facilities fee billed to every member household. Hard to be okay with paying these increases when there is no upgrade to facilities, equipment, or personnel.

It saddens me on one hand, and absolutely infuriates me on another. I am well aware of my personal aspirations for a perfectly fair and just world in which to dwell and how limited the opportunities to effect genuine change. Yet … it does seem like we are getting short changed on these increases. Our club does not seem to have any major renovations planned and no new equipment has been appearing on the gym floor. I have noted no increase in staff helpfulness or training skills being demonstrated.

I do not truly understand how a fitness center’s business model actually works, but I have some idea that those paying dues and never using the facilities anywhere subsidize those of us who are there all the time. I understand the push to sign up new members, sell more training packages and body fit class sessions. I completely understand a financial statement.

If the investment group were on the ground in town and seeing how things work in the smaller clubs, perhaps they would consider not alienating the large portion of seniors who populate my club. Raise prices if necessary – everything else is going up and it is understandable – but leave grandfather the unlimited package for existing members. Same thing for personal training packages – raise the cost if you must, but reward the members who use the gym and their training by offering the smaller packages with just the small increase in cost. New members are already paying more in monthly dues, I’m sure. Present them with the new cost models for body fit and for personal training and leave the rest of us alone.

Same is true of dues. Why am I paying the same fee if I only use my tiny, less modern club? Granted I could drive across town to the big jewel in the crown, but I’d happily pay less and only ever use my home gym. Given the opportunity, I imagine others might feel the same.

Marketing, how I loathe thee. They package it as membership offers use of any of the 19 facilities! Except I’m not going to drag my sorry butt clear across town to use another gym at 5 in the morning, and that is when I choose to get my practice done. Why am I paying for something I never use? Sounds wonderful in the glossy brochures, but reality is I have not been in another facility in years. Come 2017 I will probably branch out and go to the swanky place in the next town over, just because. I should get something for the extra $48 I’ll be paying each year.

Because while I know they need a steady stream of paying members, I would hate to see them lose existing members. Or referrals from existing members. Next month I am restarting design of a health and wellness program, and I am feeling very angry with my gym’s corporate masters. I work with people working off their law school loans, and while I know the club offered pretty good rates for corporate membership, I’m not feeling too inclined toward them right now. Probably I will get over it, but still.

While I am in a ranting mood toward the corporate overseers of my gym, my reaction is more because their shortsightedness hurts those who need and use the services most. I actually love my little facility, and I genuinely enjoy the people I see and interact with daily. However, I would love to pay these kinds of prices and have a team of really engaged, trying hard trainers leading classes and working with clients. Instead I see J and a couple of others working hard with their folks, and the rest sort of punching in and out and watching the clock while working with the members. I don’t get it, and this could be a shortcoming on my part, having worked in consulting the bulk of my career. In consulting, you become extremely conscious of the billability and building, maintaining, and enhancing the client relationship by doing consistently high-quality work. At the firm, my “clients” are the lawyers, parallels, and even my receptionist as well as the clients paying our fees. If I have high standards of performance for them, expectations for myself are higher.

One of the best decisions I made in my own career was to leave large corporations in favor of small firms and companies was because I began to question my own commitment and expectation of excellence. The level of personal satisfaction and success I have enjoyed cannot be compared to being one of many hundreds or thousands of managers at the same level in a large organization and having no voice either up or down the food chain. Years ago when I was a civil service employee, there was a saying: there’s never time to do it right but always time to do it over. Talk about crazy-making! For me and my personality type, it was a form of slow suicide to stay there and be stifled that way.

The career decisions I have made all rest upon my strong internal locus of control. Right now, I am my own boss in my own little firm or I am the administrative manager for a small law firm. In both cases, I have access to and direct influence with the final decision makers, and in a lot of areas I am the final decision maker. I am part of the body the sets and enforces standards of behavior, and while I am willing to work with just about anyone to achieve success, there is a strong expectation of personal responsibility and doing whatever it takes to achieve personal success. Each person I work with is an individual, judged that way and on standards based loosely their personal/professional strengths and abilities.

I guess my very length rant again big corp is that I am again disappointed by this big box gym not giving two shits about service as long as the members continue their ACH payments every month. In my vision of a more just and perfect world, the gym’s corporate decision makers would look more closely at individual clubs and recognize that the blanket decrees and decisions made are not always in their best long-term interests of maintaining a steady revenue stream.

And I also really want a living, breathing, glitter-bombing unicorn of my own someday.

To add insult to injury, right after reading about how my dues will be increasing by 4.44% next year, I receive another email survey from the marketing team requesting feedback on slogans under consideration. Are you fucking KIDDING me? I have long said the club’s marketing people are dumb as a box of rocks, and after that thought flitters through my mind I immediately think I owe the rocks an apology. Why on earth would they ask me, already a dues-paying member about their marketing slogans? And for goodness sakes, why on earth send me THAT email immediately after the modest 5.27% increase in personal training session fees (IF I purchase 80% more sessions at once than I have to now to get the best pricing available) and a 4.44% increase in monthly membership? My best theory is the marketing people are hoping for raw and honest feedback, because I suspect the pushback is going to be heated and angry.

I may write the gym’s big boss, because I suspect the condescending response I could receive in reply would be worthy of scathing mockery well above the my present level of supreme irritation, likely resulting in yet another 3200 word rant. But so worth it!

 

Money, happiness, enough?

Election week has been quite extraordinary in good and in bad ways. Work has been insane, I have been getting fewer than 5 hours of sleep most nights, and I have felt somewhat marginal some of the time. As they say, something has to give.

Thursday night as I worked at work-related tasks that are tedious and boring for a client I do not especially enjoy, I found myself wondering why I was doing this to myself. I had earlier in the day characterized myself and M as “hyper-responsible weirdos” and ruefully realize it is true in all aspects of our lives. Where I would have preferred to be writing/finishing my training session recap post, I was instead compiling information and writing a pretty dry report for people who were unlikely to read the detailed backup they insist upon and only skim the summary I provide. Even then, they would find fault, pick apart everything from the font and font size I use to the size of the margins to the pieces of my recommendations they disagree with or do not want to implement to comply with the law.

I was not an especially happy camper. Yet, I was well-compensated for my misery. Is that enough to overcome my distaste for the work I was doing?

The past few months, I have been thinking about this a lot. Money is a great equalizer, but when do you decide you have enough money? Or does anyone never have enough money?

We are far from rich, affluent, or even upper middle class. I work very hard for long stretches of days to keep my small business relevant and fulfill my responsibilities to the clients. I agreed to do the work within an established timeframe, and while there are notable exceptions where I did not receive adequate cooperation to meet deadlines, for the most part I do the work to ensure I hold up my end of a contract. For all this I am pretty well compensated, but I also pay a pretty hefty amount of taxes on the money I earn. Still, I have no basis for complaint from a compensatory standpoint. Yet anymore, it does not seem like enough. The trade-off between more money and less happiness – I believe my tipping point has been reached.

My part-time job has grown, expanded, evolved into more than a simple part-time gig. We are currently in discussions for the new year about my role and how much time I will be able to provide the firm. I do not wish to give up my 4 day per week schedule, and I like the flexibility I have for a later start on Mondays and Thursdays to accommodate my training sessions. The bosses understand and actually appreciate my commitment to my health and overall well being, so we are presently brainstorming ways to satisfy their desire for a larger share of my time and attention within the constraints of my desires. I have not asked for a raise; my compensation and benefits are already generous. However, the increase in hours and expansion of responsibilities has changed my place in our bonus structure, which pleases me greatly and seems far more lucrative and fairer to all sides.

These things are all very good things. I have a thriving small business as well as responsible position in a traditional employment situation. M and I have already achieved our retirement savings and long-term savings goals for this year, and if I took the rest of the year off from paid work we would likely be capable of handling our monthly expenses. Since I am not likely to take that much time off without pay, we are simply planning to continue to pad our interim savings account.

But it does feel as if we have enough. Enough money. Enough stuff. Our home is on track to be paid off within the next 6 years, about 5 years earlier than our 15 year mortgage term. We take good care of our vehicles, and our Toyotas – mine is a 2013 and M’s is a 2008 – should be fine until the mortgage is paid off. The rest of our expenses relate to household expenses, food, entertainment, gifts, vacations, general spending. We have a budget and follow it, and we do live pretty well below our means even if we are not especially frugal. All good things.

Looking at our retirement accounts and our plans for contributions through the next 10 years of my work history, I think we will have adequate funds in retirement. The way things are, though, we cannot count on anything or take it for granted that all will be well or better in 10 years. So we will continue to contribution to the retirement vehicles available to us, take care of our health to the best of our ability, and look forward to a simpler life when the older and grayer years do arrive and take hold of us. We have no plans for a retirement filled with travel and adventure. Ours is a pretty quiet, low-key life now and expectations are it will continue once I cease working at my present full-time schedule.

But it all brings me back to my present lingering thoughts: how much is enough? Should I chase the all mighty dollar just out of a sense of fear and anxiety and panic and to offset my lack of frugality now?

I don’t think so. I am judging the extra work, the lesser state of satisfaction as no longer worth it to me. With the expanded role in my firm job, I am going to relinquish and/or terminate several contracts with different clients, freeing me to pursue more work/happiness balance in my life. A solid core of self-employment clients that I enjoy will continue, and I will work hard and fight if needed to keep and always strive to make room for their requests. I feel confident we can make our ongoing business relationship flourish and thrive well into the future.

By cutting back on my self-employment business commitments – I expect as much as 50% – my income will drop as well, although not in a direct one-to-one proportion. Considering my self-employment income is about 35% to 50% of our annual household income, that is also not an insignificant drop. However, I anticipate my happiness/work/life balance will increase at a much higher percentage. While we will definitely has less disposable or saved income, money is not everything, or at least it is not to me or to us.

As I mentioned, we have a budget to keep tabs on our overall expenses and spending. Other than our mortgage we have no debt, and there is fat the could be skimmed from the budget if I completely stopped my self-employment projects. In our judgment and estimation, M and I have enough. We have more than enough. We are truly blessed and fortunate to have what we have, and it is not something we ever take for granted. We can afford our small splurges and to be generous when it seems appropriate and makes sense to us.

Is this the next level? Or am I just jumping from one plateau to another? Either way, it feels right to me right now. I can always go back to pursuing new clients and projects if I get bored or feeling panicked about the future.

Seems unlikely, though. Because right now, it feels as if we are building enough to make our modest dreams an eventual reality. Actually, we have more than enough; we have abundance.

Lucky to be rich in the ways my life feels rich.

My dietary equivalent of the no-fly list

Last night I was reading another blogger discussing the perfect cereal. It reminded me how much I love and adore cold cereal. Left to my own devices, I could easily, happily subsist on cold cereal and skim milk. There is far and away plenty of variety to keep me from getting bored, but I have the added bonus of being someone who can eat the same meals for weeks at a stretch without getting bored.

Is is entirely possible there are people in the world who continue happy, somewhat healthy lives living on cold cereal and milk. Unfortunately, I am not a member of this mythical slice of the population. Since I am diabetic, my intake of sugar and carbohydrates must be monitored and controlled. Cereal, even the healthiest, plainest, devoid of sugar versions of cereal are not the best choices of fuel for me. And if I can’t have even the semi-sweetened version (cheerios, raisin bran), cereal has become yet another item on my dietary equivalent of a no-fly list.

Once I gave up skim milk as a dietary staple, it was not that difficult to forego cereal. Of course, now that I am no longer eating cereal, M has taken up eating granola. For the majority of our years together, M has pretty much never eaten cold cereal. Now, it’s a regular thing for him to be eating granola of various types with his protein powder drinks. Thankfully I am far enough away from dairy products and the cereal I love to not be jealous or even wistful about what I’m not able to able to justify and include as part of my diet. Part of me thinks of it as a “cannot” eat it, but in reality it is more a “should not” eat it. I can eat whatever I wish, but there are going to be consequences for falling off the healthier eating wagon.

Which is why I find eating so complicated and tricky. Every body is different, and what works for me to keep body in its healthiest place is not necessarily tastebuds’ happy place. A typical healthy, balanced diet honestly has too many carbs for my unmedicated system to handle without blood sugar creeping upward and scale bouncing back and forth with the same 3 lbs. gained and lost. I have read labels. I have counted calories. I have counted carbs and protein grams. It’s not so much nothing works – I have learned a lot and gained good insight from the experiences and the experiments – but it becomes an additional burden and stressor upon me, another way for me to fail and weaken my firewalls against negative girl.

For awhile now I have known that I must do something to break the cycle. RD, my most fabulous dietician and friend, has told me over and over that maintaining a high protein and low carbohydrate diet is necessary and the transition is not easy. Some people are successful in going cold-turkey, but I am in some big giant camp of special snowflakes who want what they want and go down fighting, kicking, and screaming every step of the way to the healthier lifestyle place.

For almost a year now I have been working at this. For almost a year I have had mixed amounts of success, but I have made some progress. I eat a lot more vegetables. I eat more fruit than sugary snacks. I gave up dairy, not because anyone suggested I do so, but because I don’t really like most of the dairy I was eating (greek yogurt) and I only drank milk in coffee and with cereal or cookies. Giving up cereal and cookies has become a mandatory thing, coffee was not that difficult with the daily protein shakes and amino energy powder, and dairy therefore just got left by the roadside. Pasta became a once a quarter event where it was once a weekly meal. Still, bread and crackers and snacking lingered, and despite my daily protein shakes, I was still light on daily protein intake.

I’ve been working with Dr. Spencer Nadolsky for a few months now, and in a fit of frustration with myself I decided I would try what I referred to as my nuclear option – his crash course to drop 10 lbs. in a 3 week period of time.

Except I couldn’t locate it anywhere on my computer. It must have been a couple of laptops ago, or M wiped it off my former laptop when his PC crashed and we switched things around. I reached out and asked Dr. Spencer for the information again, and after some discussion, he prepared my smoothie solution which is accommodates my picky eating habits yet is based on a protocol he has been using for his in-clinic obesity patients. The eating plan is specific and fairly strict; I refer to it as the “fuck moderation” eating strategy. I’m sure Dr. Spencer will has a kinder, gentler name for it.

I have never been a follower of fad diets, and this is about as close as I come to that. However, I also know that this solution is not a long-term or permanent solution to my eating habits. This will be 4 to 5 weeks, max. My expectation is that being away from “regular” processed foods for this period will ease my craving and addictive habits toward them and allow me to make better choices. By the end of this 4 or 5 weeks I should have a better idea of what tolerable hunger is really like and more resistance to my eating triggers. A girl can hope, right? And think positively about the success potential.

While Dr. Spencer’s protocol indicates 3 meals per day – 2 protein shakes (up to 4 scoops protein powder) and a “lean and green” dinner with 6 to 8 oz. of lean protein, I had to modify this for my life and lifestyle and have essentially 4 meals per day, with a single scoop protein shake before my morning workouts, then 1.5 scoops for breakfast and lunch shakes. Small cakes, really, and again, every body is different in its unique needs. I require fuel for workouts first thing in the morning, and within the confines of how much fuel I am consuming under this protocol, I am making it work for me.

But even with my own personalization, this first week was not without setbacks; it is far and away a learning curve with my addictions and habits are lifetime ingrained and very powerful. I have snacked between lunch and dinner – a package of peanut butter toast crackers in my desk at work. I could not resist a piece of warm french bread with or the croutons on my salad while lunching with a client. A small slice of pizza at a working lunch. A 100 calorie bag of skinny pop after dinner.

I am not going to self-flagellate about my missteps; shit happens. But I am pleased with the 3 days where I did stay on track, stuck to the plan. I found myself not especially hungry-hungry, more addictive mind whispering that it was mid afternoon and time for a snack. Or seeing M’s spread cheese in the refrigerator and wanting to go raid his stash of crackers, which are actually a better, lower carb choice than saltines or snacking crackers. It became easier to simply look at my watch to and calculate how much time had passed since my last meal and get up and freshen my glass of water. This is my new, evolving method to overcome the urge to snack – I get up and walk around, add ice and water to my glass and just drink it down.

Even the imperfect eating days, I understand the circumstances and that this is a new thing for me. Like all things in life, I cannot change the past; I can only view each day as a new opportunity to do better.

I did have a social visit with my scale this morning – down 2.9 lbs. since last I weighed myself 10 days ago. Since I tend to trade the same couple of pounds back and forth, I cannot get excited about this as progress this week. However, I have my reminder sticky back in place to weigh in each morning going forward. Thinking about my A1c results and my daily meter readings, I should not be surprised about the uptick. A big giant part of this fuck moderation eating strategy can be traced directly to that result. If I had not been getting concerned about the up-tick in my meter readings, I probably would still be trying to do a better job monitoring and tracking my food intake. Fluctuations happen; trends are easy to spot with regular data collection. Or so says fab trainer J and equally fab RD.

Which is another tangential thing that has arisen in my electronic communications with friends. My village is staffed with younger folks – even Dr. Spencer is mid-30s at best – and some of my friends are dubious about how much genuine assistance I am receiving from such youth.

Hmmm.

First thought: why on earth would I pay professionals for help if their advice and directives (when followed) fail to produce results? Second thought: why the immediate discount because of their youth?

The first thought was intriguing and complicated, because now being mid-50s (as they are and older) trying to transform my health seems almost a waste of time and resources. Which shocked me, frankly. I mean, when I asked if it would be better to simply sit around and wait to die they kinda/sorta backpedaled. Retirement is looming large in their minds, saving for that is a priority. Their doctors tell them walking 30 minutes 5 days per week is enough. Portion control and balanced diets are adequate for their overall health. I don’t need a trainer to teach me to walk, right? The internet is full of resources and recipes to make healthy, tasty meals. I don’t need a dietician for that. Obesity? I’m not that fat. I surely don’t need an obesity doctor.

Their health issues are not mine, and such basic directions may indeed impact them in very positive ways. I have been there, done that; it didn’t work. What I have now, with my village, is working. Results matter.

But beyond that, let’s do some math. Being a numbers person, some immediate facts and figures came to mind.

Under the high deductible plan I have had for the past year, I have a $3500 deductible every year before insurance even kicks in. When I was taking Insulin, I was taking 2 different types. The cost for a 3 month supply at the was $1058 for 5 vials and $929 for 3 boxes of the fast acting insulin pens. Add to that the oral medications for diabetes, blood pressure (protect the kidneys), syringes, pen needles, test strips, lancets – my total bill for 3 months of medications and supplies was $2387. I know because I called and received exact pricing for drug costs when I started with Kaiser last December. Strange thing about that? I could do better getting most of my supplies on my own without using my Kaiser insurance at Costco or Sam’s club pharmacy.

So, doing the math of using my insurance for prescriptions alone, that’s $9548 for the year of insulin and diabetes care medications and supplies. My deductible is $3500 and my copay is 30% after paying that, so I’m now at $5314.40 annually in prescription medications and supplies to manage my chronic health condition.

Not using that amount of medication more than covers the annual cost of working with trainer J twice a week.

I feel no particular need or compulsion to justify my choices and decisions, yet I do want to understand their perspective, as narrow and illogical as it may seem. These are people with whom I have years and years of money, budgeting, and financial decision-making discussions with through the years. I could understand their fretting about the financial impacts of personal training if I were not putting in the effort to go to the gym and practice what I am learning. I’m in the gym 4 of the 5 days I’m not working with J and quite literally working my ass off. Same is true of RD and Dr. Spencer. I am truly not the princess type, but in this regard I have ben flailing around on my own for so long I absolutely need and require personalized help for forward progress to happen. The argument for return on my investment simply does not compute.

What they do not seem to grasp, and this could be where the big disconnect comes from, I would not be off medication without the level of exercise I pursue. I will not stay off medication if I do not modify and improve upon my eating habits. The trade off in quality of life is not something that can be measured monetarily.

Bottom line for me: we are in different places in our lives. Our outlooks, health, lifestyle choices differ pretty dramatically. On this we simply have to agree to disagree. Choices I make are correct for me, even if they don’t make sense to them and their money-hoarding mindset.

As for the discount because of youth, I think this is a combination of things. The friends I’m thinking of are being slowly downsized and outsourced in their careers and opportunities for jobs and replacement of equivalent income is nearly impossible. It is a very frightening situation. Intellectually, we all know its purely an economic formula; younger, less experienced people are a lot less expensive to hire. Emotionally, it has created an almost crippling sort of fear to find that age discrimination is alive and well and mostly ignored in the workplace. Making less income at what should be the peak of their careers, facing the prospect of an underfunded retirement or being forced out of the job market creates unexpected, unanticipated anxiety and stress in their lives.

I understand that all too well, and I feel for them.

But my village has skills and experience that I lack. Trainer J is a veteran gym guy, with lots of weight lifting experience and education under his belt and acquiring more with every passing week. RD is a registered dietician and spends his days working with people who really do not want to change their eating habits but the consequences of not following his recommendations and advice are dire. Dr. Spencer is an obesity doctor and works with a lot of patients safely modifying their lifestyle through diet, exercise, and medication support.

In their areas of expertise, all of them know far more about diet and exercise than I do, now and probably well into the future at best, probably forever is more likely. Since I am not capable or willing to experiment long enough to objectively evaluate all the sources of information out there, I have had to choose teachers, guides, information gatekeepers. Aside from their education and experience, I truly feel their real talent is their ability to package and present information to me in ways that make sense to me. Maybe a lot of their other clients are enjoying far more success in shorter periods of time, and quite possibly I remain the village idiot in the various training and healthier eating tribes. But so what? Someone is always going to be ahead or behind the average curve. The day I stopped comparing myself to my peers in the groups was the day i began to feel satisfied and allowed myself to be happy to learn what I learn, know what I know now. I try to follow their advice and directions, and I report back when and where I’m having issues. Chasing miracle cures or immediate results is not me, and my expectation of just trying to implement and seeing small, incremental successes has helped enormously. Still imperfect, but I am so much better than I was a year ago. If I learn that from a couple of 27 year olds and a newish physician then great! Yay for the wisdom and education and experience of youth.

Despite my description and reactions to the discussions here, they were not contentious or heated. One friend just received notice that his job is being eliminated at the end of this year, his third such layoff in the last 10 years. While we are the same age he and his wife were married awhile before starting a family and he has 2 children in private school. I sympathize and asked about prospects and at the present time there are none. His situation is sad to me, but our life and lifestyle choices are very different. Another friend is in bracing for round 3 of layoffs in her firm and expects to not miss the cut this time around. After nearly 26 years with the same firm, she’s completely paralyzed with fear about what to do next, how to even go about looking for another job.

Scary times, indeed.

These economic realities are partly why I started my better health quest in the first place. I knew I would be looking for other work at some point, and whether it’s ever acknowledged or not, obesity bias is a thing. Added to the fact that I am an older worker, not classical or mainstream pretty, and find trying to be charming on demand a huge drain on my mental and emotional resources, I was really worried about making a living when I decided to try and get myself into better physical shape. Whether my anxiety was a product of negative girl’s doom-and-gloom outlook or a reality that I just did not quite come face-to-face with, it was a strong impetus for change.

From where I’m standing (at my treadmill desk) right now – happier, healthier, and stronger – it is impossible for me to see a downside to my decision or to the village I have assembled. I know it’s a luxury, but far better than pricey spa treatments many of my friends promote. This afternoon I’m going to the mall to return a blouse my shoulders and upper arms are hulking out of, yet across the bustling and around the waist it fits just fine and is a complete and total 180 on my typical experience. And I’m going out on this mall adventure in another pair of jeans from the smaller size box.

Kind of impossible to argue about the expense and youth of my village when I am enjoying success and tangible results. Along with a chocolate and peanut butter protein shake for lunch.

All is well and the sun is shining in my realm.

Lets talk numbers

All over the various blogs I follow and forums I read there is chat about end-of-month numbers. As I just finished my self-employment invoicing, I have my own set of significant numbers to share

Work. At my part-time job, I logged 116 hours for the month and billed 152 hours for my self-employment gig, bringing my total hours for the month to 268. Spread out over 31 days, I averaged 8.65 paid hours per day. Obviously it was a very busy month! Thankfully this is not every month, and I already know September will be significantly lighter with vacation and time spent on G and K’s wedding. Still, I have the very best private clients and am employed by a wonderful firm. The rewards and compensation I receive from my jobs goes well beyond the money exchange. I am very fortunate and do not take it for granted.

Money. My income for August is the highest thus far this year, and our expenses kept admirable pace with that as well. Fortunately for us, my monthly budgeting process includes savings for periodic spending – wedding expenses, trainer J renewal, adding/deleting a vehicle from our car insurance, plus smogging/registrations/transfer fees for the various vehicles in the fleet – all were well within the budget line items. The rest of our spending was pretty normal and boring. Thankfully nothing unusual or unexpected happened to make an impact worthy of discussing.

Weight. I am down 3.1 lbs. for the month. One thing I have learned jumping on the scale every day and writing the number down, it desensitizes me to the experience. I am glad it’s moving in a downward direction, but other than that, I really do not care much at all what it says in terms of how much or how little. After more than a year of working at this exercise gig, I am remarkably improved and some measurements do not show on the scale or the tape.

Blood sugar. My average blood sugar reading the last 30 days was 103. High was 271 and low was a random 42, and I remember both incidents very well. Chinese food with all the sauces and starchy noodles is always bad, and there was one ultra low calorie intake day that resulted in a crashing 42 in the middle of the night. Both are unusual occurrences for me anymore.

Calories. I do the most superficial and generalized food tracking possible and call it good. Since I eat the same meals and same foods over and over and over again, I mix-and-match meals and preplan a week of menus in My Fitness Pal on Saturday or Sunday and then tweak if I have fallen far away from my preplanned day of eating. Mostly I do this for Dr. Spencer (who likes to see my percentages) and RD (who is a foodie and already knows I’m hugely boring in my eating habits). In August I averaged about 1527 calories per day, with my highest day being 2278 and my lowest being 1049. I have my baseline set at 1200 calories per day, and 40% protein, 25% carbohydrates, and 35% fat. Looking over the month, I was pretty closed to flip-flopped on protein and carbs – 48% carbohydrates, 35% protein, and 17% fat. There is part of me that is distressed by these numbers, but my current focus is mostly unmoved by my perceived failure in this regard. Eating is hard for me, period. Having these guidelines adds awareness of an objective yet I cannot seem to bring enough discipline to the forefront to make bolder or more drastic changes.

Exercise. I am not even sure how to state my numbers with regard to exercise. There are a few basic things where I moved up into a 5 lb. heavier dumbbell, and possibly to and fro on the cable machines. There are some exercises where I graduated from a green stretchy band to a red one, or where I lightened up to a yellow band but doubled it up instead of a single green. I added a second miniband on at least one – so I am using a heavy and an etra heavy – and I now use the extra heavy instead of the heavy band in general. These are just the numbers and changes I can recall right this minute. What I know is that I have not regressed or fallen down without bouncing right back up. For the amount of time spent in the gym, it averages about 100 minutes daily, with my lowest day being 85 minutes and my high being 260. In August I had 5 yoga and 7 pilates classes. For 26 days throughout the month I did at least 30 minutes of dedicated cardio for my August challenge, although my tracker says I averaged 42 minutes of cardio daily over the course of the month.

We are so dreadfully predictable and routine in our habits it is no wonder that I rarely have a numbers post.

A lot has changed for me since I began writing this blog, and most of the time it does not seem that big, dramatic, or even very splashy. Some of it has been difficult – letting go of long-time friends has probably been the worst. Most of it has been hugely gratifying, to the point that I marvel at the me beaming back at me from the mirror. I still have moments of feeling morbidly obese or just plain icky. But they are rare enough now that I do not have to make myself pause and reflect on why I feel that way, because I am literally stopped in my tracks wondering what has happened to me and why.

My friend J sent me a really, REALLY nice note earlier; it made me cry in is kind and sweet sentiment. It’s unlike him, really unlike him. I mean, 4 paragraphs and not a single f-bomb? For a good 20 minutes I was having a private, melt-down freak out, like something was terribly wrong, like terminal illness diagnosis kind of wrong.

But I think everything is fine. I think I am not the only one whose perspective has changed over the course of time. Makes me recognize how much I value those I am closest to, how their thoughts mature and evolve as life continues.

So much of my time is spent running numbers. Profitability. Expense ratios. Paying bills, paying salaries, budgeting. The weights, the scale, the tape measure, the glucose meter. Things change, every month, every year, sometimes every week or even every day. Numbers do matter in life, as all of the above illustrate. Yet the people and things I value and that matter most to me are not governed strictly by numbers.

Somehow, sometimes I get lost in this stuff. The numbers. The budgets. I am relieved to know I am still not an especially frugal person, that while numbers and budgets matter, I still value other things, frequently to a greater degree than money and numbers.

Family. Friends. Experiences. Feelings. Life.

Living my life feels particularly good and sweet these days. Because I am healthier, happier, and my outlook and self-esteem so much more stable. To have no real complaints and to be this level of satisfied is amazing. I am glad to finally find this sweet spot and revel in it.