Eight-Week Challenge: Week Two

Week Two: not much difference from Week One. Again, a reminder of my goals:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • walk at least 5,000 steps per day,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table, and
  • write at least 500 words per day for at least five days each week.

A summary:

  • Food: Close enough.
  • Walking: Not enough.
  • Magazines: Whew!
  • Writing: Oh well.

As for my last two goals: I am writing, though I’m in the research phase, not the putting words to paper phase.

I’ve been struggling with whether my story of life in Iran in the mid-1970s (what we now know were the good old days) is worth telling, or more precisely, what audience may be interested in the lessons I learned during my 28 months there. As part of my survey of comparable or competitive books, I’ve requested a hold on every book in the San Diego County Library on Iran if it deals with the period spanning 1950 to the present, with an occasional book dealing with history from before that time. All those books are showing up at the same time. I have eight checked out right now. Reading those must be my priority. Those magazines can wait.

This week I’ve read the following:

Sky of Red Poppies, Zohreh Ghahremani. A coming of age novel of two schoolgirls from families professing opposite political viewpoints in 1960s Iran. It was my great luck to meet the author this week at an event sponsored by San Diego Writers, Ink, where she read a portion of a short story included in SDWI’s 10th anniversary A Year in Ink anthology. I’ll be reading more of her work. The Moon Daughter is on my to-read list.

Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America, Firoozeh Dumas. A memoir focusing on the humor the author sees, perhaps only in hindsight, about her years as an Iranian émigré. Her comments regarding the prevalence of Iranians having nose jobs reminded me of the fact that nearly everyone I met in Iran asked how long ago I had had my nose done. Apparently, the one I was born with was the Iranian ideal. I contacted the author via Twitter and exchanged flattering comments, mine about her writing, hers about my nose.

Esther: Royal Beauty, Angela Hunt. When I expressed surprise that there were Jews living in Iran, my new Persian friend, Abie Beroukhim, explained that Esther of the Bible was Queen Esther, wife of the Persian King Xerxes. She and her guardian, Mordecai, who served in King Xerxes’s court, were part of the Jewish diaspora that chose to remain in what became Persia instead of returning to Jerusalem from Babylon when Xerxes’s predecessor several times removed, Cyrus the Great, released them from captivity in 539 BCE.

(An aside: Having read this story, I conducted a Google search for Abraham Beroukhim, Abie’s full name, and found this interview with his nephew of the same name. I’m glad that I had previously learned the sad news that Abie had been arrested in the early days of the revolution because reading—or hearing—about it from this link would have been too much of a shock. What happened to Abie is one of the reasons I want to complete my story—he was a major player.)

Iran Awakening: A Memoir of Revolution and Hope, Shirin Ebadi and Azadeh Moaveni. This is the first of Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi’s books detailing her struggles in Iran to defend those facing political persecution or the uneven impact of Iranian legal judgments on women who are considered worth only half the value of men. The most heartrending story in this book concerns the rape of a girl by three men who were arrested and charged. One of the men committed suicide and wasn’t tried. The other two men were tried and sentenced to be executed, but the girl’s family was expected to pay blood money to cover the value of the two men’s lives. In their struggle for justice for their daughter, they lost all their possessions, still failing to come up with the amount demanded of them. As a result, the two men were released.

Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran, Azadeh Moaveni. The author grew up in California as a result of her parents being caught there when the revolution broke out. In spite of her parents’ objections, she returned to Tehran, intending to remain, working as a journalist for Time. She fell in love, married, and gave birth to a child while in Iran. Nonetheless, the challenges of remaining true to her profession while not crossing lines her security services minder continually reminded her of proved insurmountable.

Until We Are Free: My Fight for Human Rights in Iran, Shirin Ebadi. The most recent of Shirin Ebadi’s books explains how and why she now lives in exile, unable to return in spite of having earlier chosen to remain in Iran, fighting injustice from inside, no matter what machinations the government devised to frustrate her in their attempts to get her to stop her advocacy for human rights in Iran.

So I’m writing through the research and reading I’m doing. That’s good enough for now.

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Eight-Week Challenge: Week One

It’s time to report on the results of my first week. As a reminder, my goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • walk at least 5,000 steps per day,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table, and
  • write at least 500 words per day for at least five days each week.

 

Week One Results

This is not a picture of success. My Body Mass Index (the measure of my nutritious food goal) remains in the desired zone, but the weight figure it is based on has been going up, not down. My failure to meet my activity goal—5,000 steps—contributes to this trend. I must do better.

I didn’t simply fail to reach my writing goal of 500 words per day. Except for the first day, I didn’t write any words at all. (I wrote the four posts published this week earlier and scheduled them for the first four days. It would have been cheating to count those words, right?)

My one success in Week One: cutting down my magazine backlog. Admittedly, I tackled the smallest magazines, the ones I could get through largely by skimming, not reading. That gives me breathing room for tackling the larger issues, Writer’s Digest and The Sun.

Here is some of what I learned from my reading last week:

From AARP Bulletin of March 2017: The median daily cost for long-term care in a semiprivate room in 2016 in North Dakota was $359, the fourth highest in the country. Only Connecticut, Maine, and New York costs are higher. More surprisingly, the median costs in the three states that border North Dakota were $205 (South Dakota), $215 (Montana), and $242 (Minnesota). I think the makings of a story can be found in those figures. I mean, North Dakota routinely appears on lists of the 10 best states to live in, raise children in, and for opportunities. Minnesota also appears on those lists. So what makes it so much more expensive to receive long-term care in North Dakota?

That issue’s “Scam Alert” article defines 19 terms to describe scams, most of which are related to online activity, though one, vishing, the use of recorded phone messages intended to trick you into revealing sensitive information for identity theft, may target someone who doesn’t own or use a computer. AARP often reports on seniors being targeted because of their greater vulnerability. (Did you notice I used “their,” not “our?” Denial, denial, denial.) AARP even offers Fraud Alerts to protect you from con artists’ scams and schemes. Sign up here.

Of more value to me are that issue’s article listing 50 ways to live longer. Those that surprised me include

  • Say yes to that extra cup (of coffee)
  • Eating hot chili peppers may add years to your life
  • Fidgeting is good. A 2016 British study finds that sitting for seven or more hours a day increases your risk of dying by 30 percent—except among active fidgeters, who see no increased risk.

The rest reflect conventional wisdom, not much news, or in my case, motivation.

Eight-Week Challenge: Preparation 4

Write More

  • Write at least 500 words per day at least five days each week.

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and very little writing. I blame the Goodreads challenge. Last year my goal was to read 50 books. That was so easy I met the goal before the end of August. So this year I set 75 books as my goal. Well, we’ve just dipped our toes into June and I’m only eight books short of completing my challenge.

For the remainder of the Goodreads challenge, my goal is to read books that relate to my major work-in-progress: a memoir of my two-plus years in Iran. That’s one strategy for getting me back on track with the memoir.

Last year I reviewed most of the books I read, to keep up the habit of writing. I began this year with good intentions, but few of the 67 books I’ve read so far have prompted me to write a review. I give out stars on Goodreads, but not much else. Writing up reviews of the more memorable books is a strategy for establishing better writing habits.

One new project for me this year is to encourage a group of women connected with my Sons of Norway lodge to write about their growing up years. We met this morning and I gave them an exercise to get them thinking. Our group doesn’t meet during the summer, but I promised (some may think I threatened) to send them writing prompts periodically during the summer to keep up the remembering. I wouldn’t dare send out a prompt without putting together my own thoughts to share. That’s my third strategy for improving my habit of writing.

And my last strategy: I pledge to share some of the wisdom I glean from all those magazines I will be reading. After that, I’ll be sharing the magazines themselves with my read-and-critique group, friends I think might be interested in them, or I’ll leave them in the doctors’ offices my husband and I seem to spend too much time in these days.

Eight-Week Challenge: Preparation 3

The magazine backlog

My third 2017 eight-week challenge goal is

  • Spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table.

My real goal is to eliminate the backlog so that means reading at least 4 magazines a week, even if it takes more than one day of reading.

In preparation for the challenge, I piled all the unread magazines into groups by title and identified those which no longer have value because the events in them are in the past. This culling step did not eliminate magazines simply because the issue date is in the past. The majority of the magazines I receive contain information of enduring value. I also discovered more unread magazines than the 45 I knew were in the pile. After recycling those I knew I would not read, I was able to reduce the number 59 to 35. Remaining in my magazine stack:

  • 5 AARP magazines or bulletins. These publications contain tips for seniors, especially regarding trends where fraudsters target seniors. Getting through these 5 publications shouldn’t take more than a week.
  • 7 Foreign Service Journal. Reading this monthly publication from the American Foreign Service Association sometimes seems like work. So I put it off. Repeatedly. When I finally get around to these, I skim most of the articles, taking very little time. But then guilt sets in. In spite of my retired status, I feel I should take more of an interest in international relations. Especially since our president seems not to care. I should be immersing myself in the finer points of our country’s relationships with other nations. No matter what, I will attempt to read one issue from this group each week of the challenge.
  • 1 Romance Writers Report. A friend shared this magazine with me to help me understand the requirements of romance novels. I don’t think this is a genre I will likely tackle, though romance fiction is among the most frequently purchased, at least in the United States.
  • 2 Toastmasters magazines. The monthly publication of Toastmasters International contains news of the international organization with informative articles on leadership and communication. Since Toastmasters will be introducing a revised educational program over the course of the next year, I need to read these magazines, even if they are months old, in order to understand the transition from the current system to the new Pathways system. The magazines are no more than 30 pages. Reading articles of interest will take no longer than one evening. The few remaining in my stack of the unread is an indication that I usually read them as soon as they arrive.
  • 7 The Sun. One of my favorite magazines. It has no ads. Every page is full of intellectually stimulating content. Essays. Poetry. Photography. Short stories. And the monthly “Readers Write” column. I want to read every word in them, and that’s why they get set aside. I know it will take me a full day to get through the entire issue. Once I finish them, I pass them on to members of my read-and-critique group. It’s my goal to read at least one of these magazines each week.
  • 4 Viking magazines. The monthly magazine of Sons of Norway contains useful travel information as well as historical, cultural, and educational articles about Norway. I hope to travel to Norway in 2018. Reading these remainders will take no more than an evening or two.
  • 1 Westways magazine. The June issue remains. Any other issues of this magazine went out during the culling since the contents are time-sensitive.
  • 7 Writer’s Digest. Another publication jam-packed with important information relevant to my journey as a writer.
  • 1 Writers’ Journal. The same friend who shared Romance Writers Report shared this magazine with me. I haven’t even opened it yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Preparation 2

Get More Exercise

My second 2017 eight-week challenge goal is

  • Walk at least 5,000 steps per day.

Yeah. That’s only half the distance I should be walking each day. But it’s a lot more than I’ve been walking recently. You know, in winter it was just too cold to go outside to walk. Driving to a mall might tempt me to buy something I don’t need or even want. And when the weather got better, I really just wanted a few more minutes to lie in each morning. What’s the point of retirement if I still have to get up early to do something I’d really rather not do?

That has got to change. So I will resume keeping track of the number of steps I walk each day. I’ll give myself a nice pat on the back when I reach at least 5,000 steps in a day, but I hope to step it up for something extra whenever I reach 10,000 steps. Hmmm. I wonder what the right incentive would be. I don’t suppose I should reward myself with ice cream.

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Preparation 1

Make Better Food Choices

My first 2017 eight-week challenge goal is

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories.

I was doing so well last year. I had adopted Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s recommendations in his book, Eat to Live, and was benefiting from not only the promised weight loss (with the more important reduction in the size of clothes I could wear) but also controlled my blood sugar level for six months without taking any medication. I also stopped taking a statin for cholesterol because I reduced the animal protein in my diet.

But then something got in the way. (Ok, I know, this is the beginning of the excuses.)

First, my husband wasn’t keen to join me on my nutritarian diet (Dr. Fuhrman’s term), so I was cooking two meals each evening, or more likely stir frying veggies for myself and then adding strips of meat to the same veggies for him. That option falls far short of the meat and three veg he prefers. For him, the veggies need to be cooked separately.

Then, no matter how much he praised the soups I cooked in large quantities to stock up the freezer, he started asking for something else instead.

So we tried going out for evening meals more often so I could stick with salads (dressing on the side, please) and he could have whatever he wanted. But something else on the menu seemed to catch my eye.

Eventually, the evening snack routine returned. I started out grabbing carrots and celery sticks. Then I added the hummus as a dip. After that, I started asking myself what’s it going to hurt if I just have some pita chips with that hummus.

One slipped step backward led to another, and now I’m right back to the weight I was before I started on Dr. Fuhrman’s journey. The good news: the clothes still fit, so something went right.

I’ll measure my progress the way I did last year, by calculating my Body Mass Index. I’ll be happy to keep my BMI at 25 or less.