Thursday, January 14, 2010

what's in you wednesday

I read somewhere recently that if people want to significantly reduce stress in their life, they need to do away with their to-do lists and schedules. That bit of advice really surprised me since I didn't see how any one could function without a to-do list and schedule. But because I've had a lot of stress in my life lately, I was willing to give this new approach a shot.


Suffice to say, the first 12 days of 2010 haven't been very productive for us.

While we get the kids to bed before 8:00 every night, Charlie and I go to bed whenever we want to go to bed. Usually very late and after several games of Guitar Hero. As a result we wake up late. It's like our old days in college, except there are four children running around demanding that we feed them food that we don't have because shopping was on my to-do list.

During the day, everyone roams about not sure of what to do next.

Except me. Because I'm usually busy at work in my awesome pajamas.

Granted, we've all been very sick with a bad case of bronchitis and at least twice this week, I've been in a hot steamy bathroom with a hacking child in the wee hours of the morning. And we're slowly recovering from our Christmas vacation, which always seems to take a month. Even though I made a concerted effort to get everything down and put away, as I look around, there are still a few rogue decorations scattered here and there and I'm wondering if maybe I should just leave them up until next year?


The moral of this story is that after 12 days, I came to the conclusion that I can not and do not want to live without a to-do list. If having a schedule means that I will carry more stress than the average human, so be it. I'd rather have a little stress than feel like everything is totally out of whack and I'm living among a colony of slugs.

In an effort to combat this onslaught of crippling New Year atrophy, I bought a spanking new calendar for me, for Charlie, for our house, and I also bought a variety color pack of Gel pens. And I then surmised that there are very few of life's ills that cannot be instantly cured by an afternoon shopping for office supplies.

I then signed the children up for several classes through our local recreation center because they need structure and we need structure. They now have karate on Mondays, gymnastics on Tuesday, tap and ballet on Wednesdays and basketball on Fridays. Elizabeth also has speech therapy on Thursdays, so every single day during the week, something is happening.

I love it.

And our brand spanking new color coded calendars love it, too.

In addition, Charlie and I sat down last night and had a major talk about what we need to do to kick some major ass in 2010. Because as it happens every so often, we both felt like we had reached a point where our priorities were out of alignment. Our house was suffering - we were suffering - and most concerning to both of us, our children were suffering due to our inability to get our heads in the game.

You're up. You're down.

You're hot. You're cold.

You're on. You're off.

Such is the game of life. But we both recognize the importance of keep our eyes on the prize of satisfaction and contentment and feeling like we are living our lives the fullest we can. So last night, with glasses of ice cold water between us, we jotted down a few things to take on this New Year with gusto.


For starters, we are going to focus on our physical health. We are both going to lose weight. Not just because we're getting a bit chubby, but because we feel unhealthy. We're in the process of doing a COMPLETE overhaul on our diets. We are eliminating reducing our sugar intake and are bumping up our consumption of protein and fresh produce.

Here are some STAGGERING statistics that I recently read...

100 years ago, the average person consumed 15 grams of sugar a day. Today, our daily sugar intake is 189 grams ~ approximately 47 teaspoons ~ that are hidden in a wide variety of foods that we consume. Cookies. Soda. Cereals. Energy Drinks and Bars. The average healthy person should be consuming 32 grams a sugar per day, or approximately eight teaspoons.

In our family, Charlie drinks about three cups of coffee everyday and in that coffee, he puts no less than two teaspoons of sugar per. Sometimes, he'll have a Coke with dinner. Boom, that's another 10 teaspoons of obvious sugar for a total of 16 teaspoons, or twice his recommended daily allowance. This doesn't even take in to account the other foods that he's had throughout the day that are undoubtedly loaded with sugar. As for me, I can easily put away a box of Joe-Joe's (chocolate chip cookies, bag of M&M's, Dove Squares - insert your sugary poison here) without blinking. Considering two Joe-Joe's contain 13 grams of sugar and there are approximately 60 Joe-Joe's in a box, in three days, I've exceeded my two-week sugar allowance.

And then I wonder why my pants are tight.

It's because sugar is hidden (and not so hidden) in many of our foods that the average person is 10 to 30 pounds overweight. Did you know that the number of obese people has more than doubled since 1980? Excess weight can cause a host of health troubles including but not limited to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, sleep apnea, pregnancy complications, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease and fatty liver disease - just to name a few - and studies indicate that in the United States alone, more than $100 BILLION dollars are spent on health care needs related to obesity each and every year.


So yeah ... in addition to signing up for several physical challenges including a triathlon for Charlie and at least one, possibly two 3-Day walks for me, we are making it a PRIORITY to eat healthier. For instance, just tonight, I threw out all of our cereals that contain more than three grams of sugar per serving. We'll largely be eating oatmeal and Cheerios for breakfast from now on, with sliced fruit on top. And if I can find the time, I honestly promise that once a week, I'll do my absolute best to share a new healthful recipe that we've cooked up.

Now we're also planning to exercise our brains and improve our overall mental health by signing up for a class that interests us. Charlie wants to get back in to classical guitar and I really want to learn more about photography. Since both of us are busy during the day, we're looking for classes that we can take one night a week, on alternating nights, at a local Junior College.

AND THEN, we're planning to participate one day a week in a small group through our church. In the past, the time that we've spent with other people reflecting on spiritual matters has provided an excellent boost for every facet of our lives, including our marriage - our careers - our relationships and best of all, our overall family unit.

This might seem like we're taking on a lot.

But it's easy to make time in your life for things that you enjoy. And it certainly makes you feel better about yourself when you can look back on a day - a week - a month - or a year and think WOW, I really accomplished something!


Last, but certainly not least, we are tackling our financial health. While we are able to survive off of my income, we definitely took a hit in the wallet when Charlie was laid-off from his job last summer. And while money has slowly started to trickle in from his very part-time business venture, we recognize that overnight success definitely doesn't happen overnight.

It dawned on me as I was doing our bills last month that never in our entire lives have we ever really stuck to a budget. If we want something we buy it. Sure, we've always religiously (and aggressively) put money away for retirement (and more recently, savings), but for as long as we've been married, we've never done well harnessing our wants with our means.

Did I ever tell you the story of the 3-seater Sea Doo our first semester in Graduate school? Or the brand new Honda Accord our second semester? Or how about the beautiful cherry bedroom set our third semester? And then the beautiful cherry living room set our fourth semester?

Come on! Isn't that what financial aid is for?!

What about the bright red BMW convertible that we bought soon after I landed my job in the oil business and almost immediately before becoming pregnant with triplets and taking a year off of work? There is no doubt that if we had managed our resources better up until this point in our lives, Charlie and I would have ZERO debt. But we didn't and so we do. (But we also have some awesome memories and the same beautiful cherry bedroom set, so not ALL is lost.)

This year our goal is to throw, at a minimum, six extra payments in to our mortgage and pay for as much as we can with cash. Not credit. Not even debit. But cold hard cash. Or any coins that we can dig out from between our sofa cushions. I'm still not sure how exactly we are going to do that without a money tree in the backyard, but if the budget that I calculated last month is sound, there is absolutely no reason we can't.

It will take some very savvy planning and living on a TIGHT budget but I want to do it so badly that I wrote it on my list. And my new line of thought is that if it is on my list of things to do it shall be done. On earth as it is in heaven.


So, what kind of life changing goals do you have in store for yourself - or your family - this year?

Do you think it would be harder to live on a strict budget or give up sugar?

Personally, I think both will be extremely difficult. With any luck, I won't be driving a new Range Rover and supplementing my diet with Bon Bons come February.


  1. Sugar, Definately Sugar! You gave us food for thought that's for sure. We love listening to Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover and have adapted some budget ideas from that. We are PRAYING that dh will get a bonus this Feb that will help get all of our Medical and Consumer debt GONE. It definetly has taken some creative thinking. We'll then tackle our cars next year. We've already saved a ton on groceries this month, by having a planned menu and shopping list that's complete so dh doesn't go to the store 5X a week. Your new schedule makes me tired looking at it, but after 1.5yrs with hardly any extra curricular activities because of our new triplets, we are also looking forward to adding sports, youth group, bible study(me), and a men's group (dh). I agree that small groups have a big impact on the family. Have fun getting back in the game! You are inspiring!

  2. i guess it is easier to live without sugar than planning and spending.but surely u will b able to do so if u of luck, keep us informed.[ps-Henry is awesome!]

  3. Oh, for me, definitely harder to give up sugar. Although, if you tighten the budget enough to not allow for extra sugar related purchses, that could help ;)

    As happens often, reading your post made me think we are cut from the same cloth. I love my to-do lists. Partly for the satisfaction of crossing things off, and partly because I think it reduces my stress when I'm more organized.

    Something that has really hepled me with our efforts to eat a healthier diet is to do weekly meal planning. This also helps keep the grocery bills in check. I plan the meals, make the grocery list and do my best to stick with it. I'm the cook in our house and too often, especially on days that I work, I wouldn't think about dinner until 3pm when it was too late to defrost something or with no time to run to the store. We would default to take-out, which added cost and calories.

    I'm such a to-do list geek that I have "meal planning" as a weekly to-do that pops up in Outlook every Sunday, just so I can have the satisfaction of crossing it off!

  4. I think the idea of reducing stress by elimintating to-do lists is a bunch of baloney. It's what you put on your list that matters. There was an excellent show on PBS, a three part series, on happiness. You may want to track it down. Lots of good things to think about. Anyway, one of the points made was how many worthless, unsubstantiated self-help books are out there. The "get rid of the to-do list" reminds me of those types of books. -Karen

  5. I love your goals.
    As for me it has more to do with turning 30 than being a New Year's thing. I promised myself to be more healthy. I'm working out 6 days a week and saying "no" to sugary snacks (at least more than I used to). But more importantly I have promised myself to care less of what others think of me. It is a never ending uphill battle trying to keep up people's opinions of you. And finally and most importantly, I have decided to make sure people in my life know how much I love them. I have lost a couple of loved ones in the last year or two and I feel a tremendous amount of regret at not adequately expressing to them how much they meant to me. So one day at a time I plan to live out my goals. We'll see.
    Take care,
    Stacey McCastlain

  6. We already live on a budget. We manage our finances by knowing what comes in and what goes out (which is definitely less and that's the goal). We took Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University through our church. You might check out a program like that. Lots of great ideas and things to put into practice with finances.

    It would be harder for me to cut back on the sugar. I know that I'm a sugar addict. But I am making an effort to eat better (even if just slightly for now) this year.

    And I just got a gym membership that I need to put to use. I need to work on my scheduling too.

    Good luck with all your goals. You CAN do it all!

  7. Our goal is to be debt-free (except for mortgage) by the end of April. This year.

    Then we face the task of saving money for our next child whether they are adopted or biological.

  8. isnt' the sugar consumption amazing? I know I eat too much. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, I was borderline diabetic and the doc had me on a 20 gram a day sugar diet. It was hard but I did it, I looked the best out of three pregnancies too. Ate things like Nilla wafers instead of oreos:)

  9. We moved to a strictly cash basis about 4 years ago. I am the provider and don't make a ton of money. It was hard. I even made us give up cable tv - and just accept the free tv that comes from the antennea. We did without vacation and dinners out for a LONG time and somedays, I just plain hated it and whined a LOT. But it paid off. I lost my job last January and I knew that we could survive adequately if it took a while to find something. Luckily, it didn't and I am making more and we were finally able to take a mini-vacation and have splurged on a few dinners out.

    What is strange is after living on such a tight budget, it actually seems decadent to splurge on these small things now.

    It really makes you step back and decide what's important - and it's not the new Coach purse everyone at the office seems to have, but you.

    Good luck with your changes.

  10. My goal last year was to get on a budget. I did a lot of research and read a lot of blogs. What I was really looking for was inspriration and some tips/ticks. Through my reading a found a book called the Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. I am not even joking when I say that this book changed my life. It is extremely motivating to maintain the "strictness" of the budget. Definaty worth the $10 that it cost to buy the book...or in our case $150,000 in interest. After reading his book we were inspired to refinance the house to a 15 year mortgage and make additional principal payments on top of that.

  11. Stress exists in our biological makeup for a reason, and some of us need it to help those around us thrive. Good for you!

    I find that from scratch cooking eliminates a lot of hidden sugar and preservatives. My breadmaker bread contains WAY less of the sweet stuff (and sodium) than the store-bought kind AND it tastes better.

    I recently reduced the sodium in our diet, and now pre-made stuff makes me feel sick. It's just too salty. Of course, I did this in my husband's absence, so let's see how he reacts.

    My husband and I are reading "We Love Each Other But ..." together as our own version of reconnecting as spouses, and it's been good for the whole family.

  12. Jen, you inspire me. Thank you for ponying up everyday on this blog. It makes me want to be a better person. I have not seriously sat down to write goals for this year and have been floundering in a lot of ways for many months. I'm overwhelmed and not really sure where to start with anything. But your challenge to sit down to do it makes me feel better already. Thanks for pushing me...

  13. Well, for some reason I am not a sugar junkie, but boy, give me some salty ANYTHING and I'm a happy woman. Just as you recently realized how much sugar a healthy person should take in on a daily basis vs. how much you are actually consuming, I have come to a similar realization when it comes to salt. SO, I am planning on reducing my salt intake this year significantly.
    Some of our other plans include:
    -boosting up our savings and putting a big chunk in for college ed for both kids.
    -refinancing our house
    -planning out most of our vacations for the year. This will be the first year that we'll be vacationing on our own with our two kids (not visiting family). This was a huge part of our resolution for the year.
    -Small home improvements that cost little but make a big difference like: hanging pictures of us and the kids (we have NONE right now), hanging some much needed shelves so we have more places to display things. Currently, we have no place to display anything.
    -Backing up all of our thousands and thousands of digital pictures on CDS so we can free up the hard drive on the computer.
    That's all we've got so far, but we feel good about just finally being able to plan for the year!

  14. Bad advice about doing away with To Do lists. Where in the world did you read THAT? The single biggest factor in getting my sanity back after the birth of my triplets was realizing that it REMOVES stress for me to have a task written down (no burdening my memory) and then CROSSING IT OUT with a very large pen when I am done. The satisfaction factor is akin to a miniature spurt of adrenaline. Same with a calendar. You write it down and then just look & do, no thinking and trying to remember and losing track. My mantra for years: Unburden your memory.

    Realizing that lists do this for me, I actually made a list of activities that I can do with the boys (intructional, indoor, outdoor). It helps me switch gears on a dime when they lose interest in something. No shouting, "Play something else. Anything! Go outside! You have all those toys, do something!" I just look at the bulletin board and go, "Oh, play dough. Let's run a play dough bakery." Or even "Ooh, baths. You could use those. Grab some boats and go." I'm sure it's a personality thing; I'm glad you've discovered that calendar and lists keep you focused, on task, satisfied, and thus de-stressed.

    As with all your kids' new activities, I guess that's good... for you guess. Selfishly, it makes me sad. I guess I can write off us playing with you guys anymore. *sigh* You've been gone and busy so much lately and school starts in a few months... We're almost out of playing time. I guess I'll have to continue running around the park chasing my trio on their bikes alone. Can I tempt you? It's good "healthy" activity for you, chasing bike riders... I've lost six pounds in two weeks doing it.

  15. It's much easier to live on a budget if you make sure to budget in some "mad money", so that you can make some small discretionary purchases without busting the budget. It doesn't have to be much - maybe $10 or $20 per week.

    My best budget tip is to write down everything you spend, absolutely EVERYTHING. Then at the end of a month or two you can really see where the extras are going.

    I don't live with a strict budget now, but I have and I could again. My family gave up all sugar for a month once when I was a kid - then I thought it was hard but doable. Now... I'm not sure I could do it!

  16. Well, we generally live on a strict budget (being a one-income family), and since I am now officially a diabetic (gestational diabetes), I have to give up sugar for at least the next two months. Giving up sugar is harder.

    My husband and I are relatively debt-free (no car payments, he paid off his last school loan last year, no credit card balances carrying over) except for our mortgage, and every month that we can, we pay the late fee as an extra and put that directly onto the principal. If nothing else, it's kind of like making a payment toward our next house, because it really hasn't adjusted what we pay by much.

    And I could not live without my to-do lists and my Peanuts family calendar with its AWESOME grid that lets five people have their own column on the calendar. Between that and the pocket planner that I keep in my purse, I can actually keep track of my life.

  17. HEY... that SeaDoo was wicked awesome! Fun times!!!
    I (we) have no plans because right now there is a crazy force (called a 38-week old fetus) that will not let me plan ANYTHING! All I can do is watch Oprah and AI and eat Bon Bons, because I didn't win the Joe Joe's!
    You'd better come visit us on the 19th!!!!

  18. Impulse buys are only painful the next morning!! I thought the best part of your Blog post was how well you and your husband are able to communicate. Together you can can anything. This is one of my favorite quotes:

    "You have brains in your head.
    You have feet in your shoes.
    You can steer yourself any direction you choose."
    -Dr. Seuss

  19. I live on a strict budget and I eat no flour. No bread and no Joe joes. GASP.

  20. I guess throwing away the To Do List reduces stress for people who can't handle that they have "so much to do! ahhh!" ... BUT... I'm like you! I *need* the To Do list to keep myself sane and organized. It's more daunting to me (thus much more stressful) to feel lost/without a plan/strugging to remember what the heck I have to get accomplished. A To Do list is my saviour for keeping me from feeling any stress! So, I'd say this is a personality thing, haha.

    Hmm Sugar is probably harder for me, but that could also be because I have yet to start working at the job I've been hired for so I couldn't spend money if I *wanted to* (oh goodness, which I dooo). I love the "use cash" approach -- my parents do this, and I always try to as well; only charging things on credit right now because they are necessary and I don't have the career going yet (however, each month through my random tutoring and baby-sitting gigs, I pay of the credit card without incurring interest, so I feel good about that!).

    You can do it, I believe in you!

  21. Definitely giving up sugar is harder! Inspired by you and a few others who blog, I've started swimming this year. Of course, getting up before 5 a.m., hauling all my gear in an unheated van in single-degree temperatures 10 miles to the YMCA to do it, doesn't actually feel very much like I'm doing something "for me." Still trying to convince myself on that one.

  22. Michele: YES... but ... very few people are as DISCIPLINED as you. It must have something to do with that burly man you're married to that carries a club around his cave.

    Tracy: Charlie absolutely loved getting up early to swim. But for me, getting out of bed before the dawn to go jump in a cold pool ... BRRR. I don't think I could do it. I'd rather go for a leisurely jog on a mid-70 degree day once the sun is up. Thankfully since I live in SD, I CAN!

  23. Tough choice but we're opting for the tighter financial control. We've always been the "that's what credit cards are for" type.

    It's time to stop and take a long hard look at our finances and clean up the mess. We need the sugar (in moderation) to help us cope.

  24. *happy sigh* COLOR CODED CALENDERS! Yay!

    Hm... I definitely think it would be harder for me to cut sugar than it would be to live on a strict budget. I put our budget on a calender too. So we know what dates we are paying which bills and which paychecks they coincide with. So the budget thing isn't really that complicated for me.

  25. Organization and routines eliminate stress, not cause it. I only feel good and on top of things when I am checking off my list. I think many others feel that way too. So, for 2010, I am doing Jazzercise 3 mornings a week (kids get to go to, so they love the outing), mommy & me "school" one morning a week, MOMs playdate one morning a week. So that's planned activity for my twins and me five days a week, and gets us up and out early every day. Reducing debt. Dropping the 10-15 lbs (both hubby and me) that have crept on. Enjoying the moment more and worrying less about things we can't control. We're starting there, and see where it leads, but believe me all those things are on my "list" and I can't wait to check them off.

  26. Anything sudden and big is hard. My goal for this year is to take baby steps in all my goals. I'm trying to work my way out of my perfectionist who won't do anything if I can't do everything personality. Hopefully I'll keep moving in the right direction.

  27. Giving up sugar? Are you kidding? I still have 1/2 of a 25 lb bag left from xmas! But I'm extreme baker, so its okay....I'll find someone to eat it.
    It is amazing how much MORE money you have when you pay attention.
    For me the thing that has helped me most is not so much "the budget"....for me its "the forecast". Sitting down for a couple of hours and analyzing my irregular expenses for every month for the entire year has been extremely helpful. I figure out when our dmv fees are due, all birthdays, all parties, all holidays which may involve trinkets, all school registration fees, school picture get the picture.

    That way when I have money in my account, I know, I don't really have money OR that I'm changing my idea of what I'm going to do.

  28. Great list of things you want to do this year...sounds a lot like ours. I see someone already mentioned it but Dave Ramsey's Financial peace University is an amazing class that is done at churches and groups all over. It really changes how you look at purchases...but you already have some of the ideas paying cash. Dave Ramsey has the negative financial past to be able to talk about what NOT to do (bankruptcy), but now he is wealthy and he doesn't even have a credit score because he doens't use credit...for ANYTHING! And he runs a corporation now!

    Good luck with the goals. I enjoy reading your blog! Thanks for keeping on!