I lasted 26 days.
And it you know, it wasn’t even an agonized “I can’t DO THIS ANYMORE!” kind of failure that dragged me down at the end. Honestly, I forgot. On the 27th day, Monday, August 24, I just plain forgot to eat a vegetable. This was the first day of the last week at Chatham before classes began. There were a million things going on at work. I spent the weekend prior at my boyfriend’s apartment and I usually don’t have much in the way of groceries for the following Monday. I have no idea what I had for lunch that day, nor what I thought about when I had whatever I had for dinner that night. My credit card statement shows that I did not get takeout. Whatever I ate came out of my fridge or cupboards. And the vegetable, which for the previous 3 and a half weeks had every day hung over my head in reminder, until I took my pic and cleaned my bowl, just did not call to me that day. I JUST STRAIGHT UP FORGOT.
And then I looked at my pics for that week and saw I had also managed not to take a pic on Monday, August 17, despite eating some form of vegetable that day, like the grown-up gourmand I was trying to be, and knowing that the set would never be complete anyway, I shrugged, and then I gave up. Because I never really wanted to eat a vegetable.
My experiment had some good results for me: one thing I found was that Birdseye Steamfresh mixes actually made nice office lunches. There’s a small fridge with just enough freezer space to fit one of them, and a microwave to cook it in. I eat a fourth to a third, and save the rest for another day or two in the future. Despite the many nutrients that are no doubt lost in the freezing and microwaving stages, it’s still a richer lunch experience than I usually have (see: cheese sandwiches). A couple days a week I go walk the track at the athletic center on campus and I can tell on which of those days I have had a satisfying lunch and on which of them I haven’t. I also found that having a vegetable on the side of things filled me up much more quickly, which is good, usable knowledge if I am trying to eat less of some of the more delicious and terrible things I regularly eat: red meat, pizza, pasta.
I got used to some of the foods that I ate; those I had never eaten before, and those which I had eaten, but never in a full portion. I’d say I turned a corner on broccoli; I can eat it now, with some hesitation, but I can finish it. Its best presentation is cold and dipped in ranch. Kale and spinach I find I also prefer cold. Salads I can eat quickly, and I needed less from the cheese and crouton families as I went along, though I found that ordering them in restaurants is pointless, because they almost all use iceberg lettuce, which is an abomination.
Not long after my experiment, this article and its rebuttal made the rounds on the web, with their relative interesting points:
Why Salad is So Overrated (The Washington Post, by Tamar Haspel)
A head of iceberg lettuce has the same water content as a bottle of Evian (1-liter size: 96 percent water, 4 percent bottle) and is only marginally more nutritious.
Salad Isn’t the Problem (Food 52, by Ali Slagle)
I’d define a salad as any combination of raw and/or cooked ingredients—at least one of which is typically a vegetable—that’s been doused with some sort of dressing. The salad that seems to be standing in for all salads in this article—a lettuce salad with some anemic vegetables—is just one type, and I think we’ve moved beyond this definition.
I get what Haspel is saying and it’s a good reminder for all of us that so many “salad vegetables” like the dreaded iceberg are basically nutritionally empty. They may have no calories, which to our fat-fearing culture screams, “Good for you!” but really it’s doing nothing eating paper wouldn’t also do for you. But then the Slagle article opened my eyes a bit to the idea of just mixing random vegetables together—lettuce not required—and going ahead and calling it a salad. I want to try a lot more of this. Mixes turned out to be the most successful meals I had during my experiment. Even my favorite Birdseye Steamfresh pack was a mix: Asparagus, Gold and White Corn, and Baby Carrots.
Still, ultimately, I never ate anything—and this is largely because of my severe limitations as a cook—that made me say, “This is delicious, and I would eat it even if I didn’t have to.” I will continue to try to crowbar nutritious things into my standard fare, and I will try to be more adventurous with my preparations, and someday I hope to meet that possibly mythical vegetable dish, the As Good As Pizza vegetable dish, or even the As Good As a Kinda Stale Store-Bought Cookie vegetable dish. I’ll keep trying.
Here is a link to pictures of
26 25 days of vegetables.
I’m working full time but not overtime, making a livable wage and taking on new tasks, the type that fall by the wayside when one’s life is in a constant state of stress and upheaval. I.e. my last two years.
Anyway, I’m trying to start exercising regularly and in earnest. My new office is located next door to our university fitness center, which is a major motivator. I’ve been walking the track (about 5000 steps or a full-length podcast) twice a week and I’m getting into swimming. (That’s right—last fall I learned to swim! Finally!) I’d like to do an activity like that 2-3 times a week, just to improve my cardiovascular health, strength, and stamina.
I also need to eat better. Please understand, this is not a promise to “eat healthy.” Such a sweeping reform is surely beyond my emotional or culinary capabilities at this time. I just need to concentrate on balancing my meals a bit better, as recommended by Michelle Obama. The government has abandoned the food pyramid of my youth and now ask us to arrange our meals according to the proportions shown on this plate graphic.
That quarter-to-third which constitutes the vegetable portion of the meal is routinely ignored in my meal-taking. So, in the interest of taking a significant but achievable step, I am attempting to put something (even if not always in that proportion) in that vegetable spot every day, for the next 30 days. Making this my…
I hasten to add that I will be eating many things in addition to the vegetables: carbs, red meat, candy, processed garbage. And I will be taking baby steps by having a serving of vegetables once every day, not every meal. (Does anyone eat a vegetable at breakfast? I seriously doubt it.)
For accountability, here is photo documentation.
Day 1: Wed. July 29: Sad Desk Salad
I finished it, not including a couple of the more mangled-looking carrots. And this was my whole lunch, everybody. Then a meeting next door broke up, and a department director came in and said, “There’s cookies over there, you guys,” and I ran to get one and they were all oatmeal raisin!
The only thing keeping me going is the knowledge that the Mac and Gold truck hits my neighborhood tonight! I will deserve it.
Let’s see how the next 30 days go.
#21 When an article of clothing or pair of shoes becomes unwearable due to holes or some other kind of breakage, throw it away AND purchase a replacement item immediately (which currently I tend to put off).
I’m officially declaring this list entry a done thing.
Here’s my progress: over Christmas I replaced a bunch of old and disintegrated clothing, mostly through gifted money. I also leverage my Discover Card Cashback program into money for clothes. (Ask me how!) So my wardrobe has actually experienced a significant—and utterly necessary—turnover in the last year or so.
Also, several times this past summer I’ve been faced with go-to products dying in action, and I have been reasonably prompt about replacing these things. My windshield wipers—which have always sucked since the day I got my car six years ago—finally died (the squeegee strip peeled right off the wiper). I looked online that day to see where I could get new wipers, and just a couple of days later I was at Advance Auto buying the damn things. The guy there installed them for me, which was a bonus. Speaking of my car, last fall I sunk almost a grand into repairs that I had been putting off for years, literally. That kind of thing takes a real bite, but it feels good to have it done.
On a smaller scale, this summer, two of my favorite pairs of shoes became unwearable. My all-purpose flip-flops and my all-purpose sandals. I had sandals that I could wear in lieu of my all-purpose ones. I made do. But I cannot be without slip-on shoes at any time—this is because I have a dog and need to step outside five and six times a day for long enough to need to have shoes on but short enough that the effort of actually tying on a pair of shoes seems like wasted energy. So I bought new flip-flops almost immediately—nice cheap ones from Target. Now that winter is approaching, my slip-on shoes will become snow boots. These are a challenge, because the last two pairs I bought became cracked and leaky almost immediately after putting them on. Neither pair lasted a whole winter, but neither am I budgeted to buy 2-3 pairs of boots per winter. The one thing I have learned—at least—is to quit buying boots from that website. This winter, I will spend a little more money on a good pair.
I also decided, as a bonus, that it was within the spirit of this category (kind of a preemptive strike against the hoarding mindset) to get rid of clothing items which are in good shape, but which I don’t or can’t wear anymore, or itmes which are begging to be thrown away. That T-shirt with the bleach stain on it? …from helping Jeremy scrub down the walls in that house he lived in his senior year of college? …five years ago? You were only saved by your utility as a dish rag. Two pairs of dress pants and several pairs of jeans from that period when I dropped 30 pounds because my gall bladder was out of whack and I couldn’t eat anything good? I had fun wearing you for that six months, but realistically I will never be wearing you again. (And I really don’t care, because—regardless of the Weight Watchers propaganda—you were not as good as cheese is.)
And I did that! I threw away a whole garbage bag’s worth of worn-out sweaters and threadbare T-shirts and holey socks. I also weeded out a bunch of stuff that was in good condition–five paper grocery bags full–that I didn’t feel inclined to ever wear again and took it all to a Goodwill donation station. Now I know where it is, now I know how easy it is to let things go, I can do more of it.
An interesting side effect of completing this step: I have become a much more effective problem-solver and decision-maker. For a long time I basically shrugged off the inconvenience and pain that is walking around in a pair of broken shoes. Now that I’m making myself resolve this issues sooner—now that it’s really beginning to dawn on me that I don’t have to wear broken shoes—I’m looking around into other corners of my life and thinking about how I can fix them, too. I’ve spent a lot of time trying not to be an extravagant or wasteful person, which is generally a good, virtuous trait. But I took it to a ridiculous extent, and did myself no favors by doing so, either. You know that expression about cursing the darkness (and/or broken shoes)? I am not doing that anymore.
#27 Make a monthly budget and learn to stretch my meager graduate student stipend a little further.
Previously, my attempts at budgeting were usually limited to the absolute vaguest kind of prohibited spending: “No, I won’t get a pizza for dinner, I’ll have leftovers. I’m trying to save money.” While this is a somewhat useful habit to get into, no real results tend to emerge from this.
So, for a few months, I catalogued every penny I spent. Then, I started to analyze trends. Without feeling too much of a pinch (without subjecting myself to devastating restrictions), how much do I spend on groceries? How much on medical expenses (prescription meds and the like)? How much do I spend on the dog (food! vet! it never ends!)? How much do I spend on miscellaneous stuff (it’s Saturday and I’m bored, how about Target?!?!)? And then, I realistically capped all those types of expenses and added it up. The theory is that I shouldn’t HAVE to spend more than X amount of dollars in any given month.
Then, I did some figuring based on my current temp salary. I determined how much I could realistically save per month working at this job. Then, I kept subtracting dollars per hour to figure out how much money I absolutely need to earn to keep to my current standard of living. This was particularly helpful, you know, because when I was looking for work, everyone asks what your salary requirements are and I never really knew what to say. You don’t want to put too much, of course—and I had basically no context for the going rate for temp office workers—but now I have an exact figure that I can submit. Because if I earn less than that, then I have to like, cut off my cable TV and sell my furniture on Craiglist.
I did all that budget work in September, but here’s what else I did, just this week. With some internet research, along with some old-fashioned estimating*, I put together a figure that would likely allow me to 1. apply to PhD programs 2. move to the city of whatever program I am accepted to and 3. financially survive the transition. This was actually a sort of depressing development: depending on how much I am able to save per month, I will be able to get back into the academic game in two to three years. That’s…longer than I thought.
But! When you’re in a situation like I am—where you feel basically like you’re sitting in the station, waiting for your train to come—it feels good to have an actual, trustable timetable in front of you.
*realistic estimation: settle on a figure I think is accurate and add 20% on the top
#8 Cook a real dinner every night for a month.
HA. Kidding. Of course I haven’t done this yet. I had scrambled eggs for dinner the last two nights. The night preceding those I had a baked potato. On the side of…nothing. Just a baked potato. With sour cream and bacon bits. It was delicious. But even though I did everything except harvest that potato myself (I bought it at Zagaras with a bag of his brothers), it’s still not really cooking, is it?
Oh, well. I don’t need to improve in every area of my life.
Because sometimes I do watch movies that were produced in this century.
I’m going to call this movie “Almost Almost Famous” because that’s the movie it reminded me of, without being quite as wonderful. (Make no mistake, though—I have Almost Famous on a high pedestal. Adventureland is still actually really good.) I don’t always love these types of coming-of-age movies because they tend to show the process by which nerds get introduced to conventionally cool behavior. The nerd gets accepted into the fold of the cool kids. The nerd gets drunk or does drugs for the first time. The nerd finds that the hot girl liked him all the time, etc. And that’s counterintuitive to me, because learning to be like everybody else is regressive, i.e., NOT a good lesson.
What’s fun about Adventureland (and like Almost Famous before it) is that even though the main character is in some ways accepted by the cool kids, he remains on the outside. Jesse Eisenberg, as the main character, is cringingly awkward for the first half hour / hour of the film, and only gets marginally better from there. But, wonder of wonderment, the awesome hip girl he likes (Kristen Stewart) is actually kind of a dweeb, too. When she finds out he has a stash of pot, she gets all excited because, “We can make pot cookies!”
I expected to dislike Kristen Stewart. I haven’t even seen her in anything since she was the little androgynous moppet in Panic Room, but because she’s so popular now and she always looks so calculatedly dour, I thought she’d bug me. Actually, she was great, and, I daresay, one of the main draws of the film. Her character was smart-mouthed but vulnerable; like a hundred different girls I knew in high school and college, making bad choices because she doesn’t think she deserves better ones. She was kind of hardened, in the way the cool girls that age always are, because they’ve seen things, they’ve ‘lived,’ or they think they have—but she was also supremely young. By which I mean, both Stewart and Eisenberg hit just the right notes—they made precious, youthful mistakes, but you root for them to just get there already, to figure it out.
Really funny, too, with 80s detail that is prominent but not overbearing, and lots of strange and hilarious sidekicks: Martin Starr (who is also very funny as a regular character on Starz’s Party Down) as the Gogol-reading games guy, and SNL’s Bill Hader and Kristin Wiig as the weirdly oblivious couple who head up the operations. Ryan Reynolds is a mechanic, a guitar-playing slickster who is idolized by everybody including himself.
So, you might have noticed that my birthday has come and gone for the year. In honor of the event, ABC aired the Lost finale, and also my dad made burgers. So, with all that going on it’s taken me a few days to get around to updating you all on my 30 Before 30 progress. (Read here for the complete background on 30 Before 30.)
The update is not going to be as detailed as the one I did at six months. This is entirely because the one item I actually did cross off in that time,
15. Pass my MA exam and graduate from Case with a Master’s degree
basically took up all my time and energy for those few months, leaving me a bit tapped out when it came to beating any other challenges. In fact, in terms of forward-moving progress, almost every list item is just about exactly where it was when I wrote back in November.
So all I’m going to do at this juncture is list the items that I’m going to concentrate on this summer, particularly while I am still between jobs. These are the items that are on the docket for the coming months.
5. Take swim lessons or learn how to swim properly through some other means.
‘Tis the season, right?
8. Cook a real dinner (nothing microwaveable or pre-cooked, and no take-out) every night for a month.
I was discussing this with my shrink (that’s weird, I know) and she thinks the best approach to this one would be to train for it like a marathon. Cook a real dinner for a week–take a few days off. Cook a real dinner for two weeks–take a few days off. This is probably what I will do. I’m also working on rules and guidelines and waffling over whether or not I will require myself to eat a vegetable.
13. Get in the habit of going to a gym with some kind of regularity.
I’ve actually been giving Sky a lot of great long walks out in the real sunlight, so this hasn’t been as necessary, but I still want to get in the habit, even if it’s only once or twice a week. My membership is good until August so I have until then to try.
19. Complete at least one of the large-scale independent projects I am continually envisioning but never do anything about because of lack of follow through.
File this one under, “seeing as I have nothing but time right now…”
23. Discover a new author I love, and read everything they ever wrote. Bonus points if the author is contemporary (i.e. still alive).
26. Figure out CSS so I can be a little more creative with my websites.
30. Go “unplugged” for one week.
This one I thought about a lot. I’m in the process of applying for jobs, doing a little bit every day, and in this day and age that happens almost entirely online, of course. I need to be checking my e-mail regularly and have access to my resume and cover letter files. And I need to be answering my phone. So, I thought, now is not a good time. But then, I thought, what happens when I have a job and I’m on a computer or whatever every day? Isn’t that a cheat? What if, then, I just blitzed through a ton of applications etc. and then let a week pass? Do some outgoing messages along the lines of, “I will be out of contact for seven days. I will respond to you as soon as I return,” and just do it? (More on this story as it develops!)