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.

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: Week Eight Results

Week 8

Last week of the eight-week challenge is done! Whoo-hoo! Again, thanks to Danielle for inspiring others and me to take on this challenge.

I wish I had done better, but I’m pretty darn happy with having met the first goal, at least as measured by my body-mass index, for the entire eight weeks. And for cleaning up that backlog of unread magazines.

As a reminder, here are the goals I set for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • read at least five magazines each week to clear out my backlog of unread magazines, and
  • write at least 500 words (raised to 750 words once the magazine backlog was cleared) per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I tried one more twist on my eating habits this week, mostly to provide easy-to-prepare meals for my husband: I signed up with Blue Apron.  Our daughter-in-law signed up first, and after the first week she received three invitations for one free week of meals to share with others.

She shared one with us. The following Friday a refrigerated package arrived with everything needed for three meals-for-two: Serrano Pepper & Goat Cheese Burgers, Lemon Chicken & Green Beans, and Sweet Corn & Tinkerbell Pepper Pizza. I’ve cooked up the first two. Hubbie approved, though he did turn down most of the vegetable side dishes. More for me, so I can’t complain, though I would like him to eat more balanced meals, too.

I went ahead and had the burger the first night, though I fantasized about replacing the meat with a quinoa burger. I cooked up both chicken portions the next night, but left one for Hubbie to eat this week. I supplemented my meal with the rest of the summer squash he wouldn’t eat and the leftover veggies from the previous meal.

So now I have three invitations to send out to others interested in trying out Blue Apron. Interested? Let me know.

Exercise

The weather is getting warm here–one day was over 100 degrees by 9 a.m. Well, maybe that’s an exaggeration to get sympathy. But I didn’t always get up early enough to walk while the heat could still be beaten. So I missed my goal more often than I met it. I managed to get to at least the half way point more often than not, so I count that as a half win.

Writing

My writing goal to write at least 750 words at least five days a week took a big hit this week. Too much to do again. The bright light in this area is that I was able to finalize a couple of first drafts. And I realized that one reason I haven’t reached the point of sharing my writing is that my standards are higher. A year ago, I shared anything I managed to complete that had a beginning, middle, and end. But now I know that showing, not telling, is important. And the really difficult piece, admitting how I feel or felt about the story, has been a big challenge.

But I’ll keep working.

Overall

AverageAs a wrap-up for the eight weeks, I calculated the averages for my weight/body-mass index, number of steps walked, and number of words written (for at least five days of each week), to see if the overall picture is closer to my goals than the last week’s results.

I like it! At least there is no red.

 

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Seven Results

Week 7

One week left! Each week one of my goals takes a back seat to something. This week the goal I was short on was writing.

As a reminder, here are my remaining goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories and
  • write at least 750 words per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I continue to try out new vegetarian recipes–or more often just try putting vegetables together in new ways. This week I found organic strawberries and rediscovered what strawberries are supposed to taste like–so much better than the commercially grown and chemically treated bits that taste more like styrofoam than fruit.

Writing

WWIndexingEvent

My goal to write at least 750 words at least five days a week took a hit this week. Earlier in the week, the cause was too many other things on my plate–a common occurrence, according to my husband. And he’s right.

But the last three days the cause was my participation in the Family Search Worldwide Indexing Event for 2016. For those three days I reviewed scanned versions of draft records, death certificates, and lots and lots of Kentucky marriage records going back to the 1850s. Nearly every record I indexed suggested story. There were the cases of much older men marrying young women, very young barely-older-than-juvenile boys and girls marrying, even one case of a note being filed to request that a marriage license not be issued to a teenage boy and an older woman.

So many of the records of marriages in the early 1940s listed the occupation of the groom as US military. No surprise there.

All in all, I felt it was a good trade. Perhaps I’ll be able to marry up the experience with my writing goals in the future.

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Six Results

Week 6

Six weeks into the challenge, and my progress remains positive, though always with something just beyond my easy grasp. Something worth striving for.

As a reminder, here are my goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table (changed to read an average of five magazines each week from the backlog, now completed, so I’ve dropped the reporting), and
  • write at least 500 (increased to 750 since the magazine backlog is gone) words per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

I have been experimenting with ways to make my plant-based meals more interesting. For salads, I’ve added a variety of flavored vinegars including a great orange flavored one I found at Trader Joe’s. To complement it, I add orange segments to my salads, something I learned to do years ago when a church in my home area that hosted an annual spaghetti dinner found fresh tomatoes to be too expensive to use in their salads one year. They substituted oranges that year. It was so popular the church continued using oranges instead of tomatoes ever after.

Several months ago I purchased a spiralizer which I use to turn zucchini into a spaghetti substitute. Before I switched my diet, I would top the zucchini swirls with meatballs and sauce. Now, I add thinly sliced onions and julienned green peppers and stir fry them in coconut oil (long believed to be bad for health because it has saturated fat, but more recent studies indicate it has significant healthy properties). I add lentils, beans, or nuts for protein, and top it off with salsa. Today’s variety was a western salsa that included corns and black beans.

Writing

I increased my target for writing from 500 to 750 words each day at least five days per week since my magazine backlog is gone. And that is proving to be my challenge. My hope was to use the challenge to get more done on my memoir, but more often than not, I’ve been writing posts for this blog to get above 750 words. I’m pleased with having written more here, but disappointed that I can’t seem to get past the plateau I reached a few weeks back with my memoir draft.

I’m considering starting a  new project, a children’s book, instead of trying to plod on with the memoir. Perhaps I can bang some new thoughts from my brain by looking at things from a new viewpoint. And I have a built-in audience to try out the children’s book idea in our grandchildren.

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Four Results

Week 4

How Am I Doing?

There is a lot less green for this, the fourth, week of the challenge. But I knew that would happen. We were out of town for most of the week which means my walking routine was shot and I didn’t have time to write anything. But I did read, making a sizable dent in that magazine backlog.

As a reminder, here are my goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table (changed to read an average of five magazines each week from the backlog), and
  • write at least 500 words per day for at least five days each week.

Healthy Eating

The first goal was the biggest challenge since I wasn’t in the kitchen to prepare my own meals. I stuck to salads without dressing for most of the restaurant meals. Eating at the homes of family members challenged me more, though this is the season for fruit everywhere. I made the best food choices I could and watched the size of portions. By the time we got home, I had regained two pounds, but my overall weight is still well within my desired range. And now that we’re back home, I am back to walking first thing each day. Next week I should be almost back into the green for the walking column, too.

Clearing Up the Backlog

I began the challenge with a backlog of 34 magazines that included a couple of issues of The Sun from 2013. I now have only three magazines left to read. I read three magazines on the way to our destination, two while we were there, and three more on the way home. So at the half-way point in the eight-week challenge, I have almost knocked off the backlog.

But not only is the backlog almost gone, I also have met some amazing people through the interviews in The Sun in the process. People like The Rev. Lynice Pinkard, former pastor of First Congregational Church of Oakland and founder of Share First Oakland, a food-aid organization; singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco; Francis Weller, author of The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief; Daniel E. Lieberman, author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease; Linda Kreger Silverman, an outspoken advocate for the gifted; David Mason, the past poet laureate of the state of Colorado; sociologist Dalton Conley who asks questions about why some people get ahead and others fall behind; David Hinton, whose interest in ancient Chinese poetry grew from a youthful fascination with ecology, Eastern religion, and the American landscape poets of the West coast; and writer and herbalist Stephen Harrod Buhner whose 1999 book Herbal Antibiotics deals with how plant medicines can be used to treat bacteria that have become resistant to pharmaceuticals; among others. Each of the interviews has inspired me to read more non-fiction. And by following the links within this paragraph, you, too, can be inspired.

Writing Each Day

Once the backlog is gone–maybe even by the end of week five–I will increase my daily writing target. This week I plan simply to get back on track with at least 500 words at least five days each week. This post, with its 558 words, makes today a green day.

 

 

Eight-Week Challenge: Week Three Results

Week three. I knew things would change. Time for my report.

As a reminder, here are my goals for the eight-week challenge:

  • eat more nutritious food with fewer empty calories,
  • spend one day a week reading the backlog of magazines sitting on the end table (changed to read an average of five magazines each week from the backlog), and
  • write at least 500 words per day for at least five days each week.

week3

This was the week I knew would come–I stumbled. This week I stumbled on two: I didn’t get in as much walking as I had hoped, falling short three days this week; and I missed my writing goal three out of the seven days, one day short of my goal of at least five days each week.

But I still learned something.

First, I discovered that instead of having more energy on my plant-based diet, I found myself sleepy in the middle of the day several times this week. So I took naps. And that meant less time for writing and exercise. A friend, one with a solid background in nutrition, suggested it may be my diet is short on protein. She pointed out that it is necessary to eat a lot of beans to get the same level of protein I was getting before through eating meat most days. So I may cut short my goal of sticking entirely to fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes for six weeks and consider a four-week transition long enough. This should not negate my first goal; it will just temper how I manage it. It had always been my plan to add in other foods after six weeks.

Second, I concentrated more on the quality of my writing which diminished the quantity. A better goal, though harder to measure, is a balance between the two.

I know next week will be challenging. There are several events on my calendar that deserve more time.