Eight-Week Challenge Final Report

Eight-week challenge final resultsWeeks Five through Eight did not vary enough from the previous four weeks for me to have much to say worth sharing. In this final report I will focus on what I learned through setting out this personal challenge.

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.

Lesson One: It’s good to be humble.

I set out this challenge with the hope I could repeat my success with joining Queen of Blank’s (real name, Danielle) Eight-Week Challenge almost a year ago. My goals were the same. Why would my success level be any different?

That’s where a bit of humility comes in. Last year I joined a challenge set out by someone else. I wasn’t the only person to join her challenge, so I thought I would see similar success with others joining my challenge. But that didn’t happen.

Last year the challenge followed shortly after I took part in the April A to Z challenge. I discovered Danielle and a number of other talented writers through that challenge. I followed many of them and many of them followed me.

But then I didn’t do much posting to my blog once I completed Danielle’s Eight-Week Challenge. By the time I set out my own challenge, I suspect many of those blogging friends I met the previous year were no longer looking for information from me. I had been silent for too long. I should have taken part in the A to Z challenge again this year.

Lesson Two: Without peer pressure, I don’t follow through very well.

I managed to meet my first goal–eating nutrient rich food–throughout the eight weeks. My success with the other goals was not so good.

I managed to increase the number of days I walked at least 500 steps over the course of the eight weeks, but overall I walked less during this eight-week period than I did last year.

As for goal three–getting rid of the magazine backlog–it looks like I did well if you focus on the green cells on the chart. But the truth is that I read all the short, easy ones first. I got ahead of the goal very early. But those longer magazines, filled with meatier articles that I want to savor and not just flip through, those magazines are still on the end table, waiting for me to pick them up.

Goal four–writing at least 500 words a day at least five days a week. That’s where I really slipped up. This is the one I hoped I could jump start by having others comment on the challenge, boosting my motivation. My posts only garnered one true comment (thank you, Dana Ellington) and three correctly spelled and punctuated comments that I identified as likely spammers–clever ones indeed to get past the spam filter.

Lesson Three: Quality is not improved by greater quantity

Another challenge I have taken part in for the past two years is the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Last year I set my goal to read 50 books. I finished that number of books with months to spare, so this year I set my goal at 75 books. And I found I sometimes picked up thin books just to be sure I would reach my goal. I went for quantity instead of quality. I finished reading 75 books this year by the middle of July. But some of those books represent wasted time.

The one success I can take from my failure to produce at least 500 words each day, my fourth goal, is that I didn’t just put something together to turn the white space with a 0 in it green. I knew I wasn’t in the right frame of mind every day to produce something, even as a first draft, worth putting on paper or screen. So I didn’t settle for quantity.

This lesson makes me wonder if, in the end, setting up the challenge may have been a negative influence instead of a motivating one. I’ll have to try keeping my goals to myself for awhile.

 

 

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Eight-Week Challenge: Weeks Three and Four

Weeks Three and Four: small improvements from Weeks One or Two. 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.

My first goal, eating more nutritious food with fewer empty calories, continues on track. I did learn, however, that relying on nuts for nutrition isn’t as simple as pouring them from the giant bag of pecans, almonds, or walnuts I bring home from Costco. They need to be soaked first. And just dipping them into a bowl of water for 20 minutes before eating them isn’t enough of a soak.

My writing teacher pointed out the practice of soaking nuts to me when she assumed I already knew about it because it is commonplace in the parts of the Middle East she knew. I managed to live eight years in Middle Eastern countries without ever realizing the nuts people served had been soaked first. That’s likely because once soaked, the nuts were dried for storage.

Initially, I assumed the soaking was to make the nuts (or beans or other whole grains) more easily digestible, but a woman from my church filled me in on the most important reason nuts and grains should be soaked before eating: nuts are covered in enzyme inhibitors. Their purpose is to prevent premature germination and to store nutrients for plant growth. But when humans eat foods with these chemicals, the enzyme inhibitors reduce the absorption of important minerals and proteins causing nutrient deficiencies. Soaking and sprouting bypass this issue as they activate the seed and neutralize the inhibitors.

For a handy chart of how long to soak nuts, beans, and grains, check out this post from DaNelle of weedemandreap.

I’ve been working on how to soak and then dehydrate nuts and grains one at a time, starting with pecans which require four to six hours of soaking (add salt to the filtered water) followed by dehydrating. The dehydrating instructions DaNelle referred to (Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions) recommend placing the drained nuts on a cookie sheet and then placing it in an oven set no higher than 150 degrees for 12 to 24 hours. My oven won’t go any lower than 170 degrees, and so far I’ve been satisfied with drying the nuts in the oven for two hours. At that point they are crispy, slightly salty, and can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for at least a week.

In Week Two, I met my goal of walking at least 5,000 steps each day only twice (Monday and Tuesday). In Week Three I upped that to three times, and in Week Four, four times. And I increased the number of days I met my writing goal from one in Week Two to four in Week Three, but I fell back to three in Week Four.

I’m still reading other women’s stories about living in (and leaving) Iran. I’ve knocked off four of the eight library books in the reading about Iran series. Well, I finished reading three, and I read enough of one more to decide I probably wouldn’t learn much from it, so I moved it to the bottom of the pile, to be picked up and finished only after I read the two remaining books.

Journey from the Land of No: a girlhood caught in revolutionary Iran, Roya Hakakian. Hakakian’s story touched me more than others because her family is Jewish, as is the Iranian family I spent most of my time in Iran among.

While I lived in Iran, I saw no evidence of anti-Semitism or discrimination against Jews. But I was an outsider, an observer without enough common experience to notice the subtleties in behavior. I didn’t know how well known certain members of the Jewish community were, especially since many of the family names appeared Armenian.

Through Hakakian’s story, I learned I knew only half of the story of Habib Elghanian‘s arrest in 1975 shortly after I arrived in Iran. I knew he founded Plasco, a company that sold anything and everything made of plastic. In 1975, when the Shah’s government imposed a freeze on prices throughout the country in an attempt to stop runaway inflation, Plasco raised its prices anyway. And Elghanian was arrested, an action we Americans understood telegraphed a message to other businessmen that the government meant business. That’s the half of the story I knew. What I didn’t know is that Elghanian was a leader among the Tehran Jewish community. He was released within a few days, but less than four years later, after Khomeini returned to Tehran and established the Islamic Republic of Iran, Elghanian became the first Jew to be executed by the Iranian revolutionary guards, on May 9, 1979.

Hakakian’s story touched me so deeply because the third Jew to be executed by the Iranian revolutionary guards, on July 31, 1980, was my friend, Abraham Beroukhim. After reading Hakakian’s story, I searched for information about Abraham, Abie as I knew him, and I found an interview with his nephew and other related pieces. The research suddenly became very personal.

Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth—A Memoir of Iran, Camelia Entekhabifard. Entekhabifard’s story is similar to many other tales of how the Iranian government mistrusts journalists, both those from outside the country and those who took on the role as loyal citizens. Imprisonment seems inevitable. Even after being released from prison, the former prisoners are not free. They are expected to spy on others, to report on anything suspicious they see or hear.

Even After All This Time: A Story of Love, Revolution, and Leaving Iran, Afschineh Latifi. The most impressive character in Latifi’s story is her mother. No more than a few years older than I am, she was widowed and left to raise four children when her husband, Col. Latifi, was executed by the Iranian government in the early days of the revolution. Latifi’s mother is not the first strong woman to appear in the series of books I am reading, but her resolve, determination, and devotion to ensuring her children grew up as their father wanted are inspiring. She kept her eyes on the future, never sinking into the pit of remorse or disappointment about the past. When faced by a setback, she dug until she found the gold nugget of joy, an opportunity.

Oh, and I did read a few magazines, too. Making progress.

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.