Monday, November 30, 2009

Follow Up On Excercising to Combat SAD

Well it has been a little over a month since I started exercising in the morning to combat my Seasonal Affective Disorder. I thought I would write a post to follow up on how it has been going:

Actually, it has been great! Now, don't get me wrong, I don't pop out of bed singing in the morning... exercise is not some magic bullet. However, it has made a huge difference. In my post about SAD and its effects on me, I tried to explain what it was like for me to wake up each morning when it's been dark. For some reason, the lack of light in the morning has really hit me hard. Setting back the clocks at the time change helped a bit and it was a bit lighter in the morning, but only for a week or two. Today when I woke up it was as dark out as if it were midnight. Before I started exercising regularly, this made it incredibly difficult for me to get out of bed. Have you ever taken cold medication and had it knock you out, and then try to get up? You know that feeling like your limbs are made of lead and your head is underwater? It was something like that, except that when it happens under the influence of cold medication, you can pretty easily laugh it off. Maybe not at the time, but later anyway. When it isn't the result of something you can control though - and it happens morning after morning - it become depressing very, very quickly. There were times that I found myself wondering if having a job was worth it. Not that I would actually act on that, but these ridiculous (though regularly occurring) thoughts show how bad it was getting.

It didn't matter how much sleep I got, either. I tried going to bed earlier and that just made it worse! Even if I felt like I was going to be able to fall asleep when I went to bed, once the lights were off I became restless and ended up being awake far past my normal bedtime, which meant I was overly sleepy on top of everything else!

So, a little over a month ago, I began exercising...

I am getting up 40 minutes earlier than I was. That gives me time to get up, get into my workout clothes, go downstairs and turn the lights on, then exercise for 25-30 minutes. I'm not doing anything terribly strenuous - some yoga stretches and light aerobics, mostly. (In the evenings, I try to do another hour, but that depends a bit on how busy I am. I've been able to do it most nights, though.)

The exercise has made a big difference. I still wake up wishing I could sleep in a little longer, but it's that normal "weekday wishing it was the weekend" feeling. It isn't depressing at all. As a coworker of mine who gets up really early said - "it isn't getting up an hour or two earlier that is hard, it's the first five minutes." In my case it isn't even that. The first minute I open my eyes I might be wishing the alarm hadn't gone off, but a moment later I am dressed and downstairs, and by then, everything it fine.

I'm feeling really good and glad to have shaken that depression. In addition, I've gotten the side benefit of losing a little weight. It seems the past few busy months have taken a bit of a toll on my waistline. I managed to eat pretty healthy, but I was eating rather late at night. I'm talking dinner at 10:00 p.m. - or much, much later. In my younger years this was no problem, but I have finally come to accept that, now that I am in my late 30s, my metabolism has changed. The late meals were not good for me, and that will be something I will have to work on when I get busy again. Anyway, the exercise has been great and I am now pretty close the same weight I was when I was married (which was the last time I had a scale.) I have to believe that those few extra pounds weren't helping my sluggishness any either!

I received a lot of supportive and interested comments on the original post. If you are dealing with SAD, I encourage you to check them out - along with this advice from my friend Tracey:

I too, have difficulties with SAD and everything you said is awesome!I am sure you have done your homework on this, but medically SAD is thought to be caused by lower levels of the hormones/chemicals Melatonin and Serotonin in the body. It is also considered an Environmental Psychiatric condition, so all that you're doing to change your environment is wonderful!

I strongly dislike taking any medications/supplements, etc..But when it gets really bad for me I take Melatonin in a small dose. There is a very respected health-food store in our area (you know the one), and they are VERY educated on SAD and can recommend anything from vitamins to different teas to help. is a great reference for SAD. And has a lot of info as well.

Here's hoping to a happier winter!

Photo of figure in Cobra pose (one of the poses I do in the morning) by: The Other Martin Taylor
via flickr

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Happiness is... Free Recipes

Today, I fell in love with Google, all over again.

I am pretty good at hunting things down on the internet when I need something, but every now and then I forget to even look. Today I was able to use Google to quickly and easily find two recipes I thought I had lost.

Back when I was married, my ex and I did a lot of cooking. Naturally, we owned a ton of cookbooks. We also were fond of cooking magazines like "Food and Wine" and "Cuisine." Since I'm the type of cook who enjoys being in the kitchen in part because I like making and trying new dishes, that gave us all the more reason to buy a lot of cookbooks.

When we split, the cookbooks were roughly divided up. I got all of mine that I had before the marriage and some that were gifts to me while we were married. He kept the ones we had bought together or that were given to him. For the most part I was absolutely fine with this division, but later I realized that in his books were two recipes I loved... and missed.

It is very rare that I miss a recipe. As I said, part of the reason I like to cook is to make something new. My father was the same way. He liked to make a recipe once, maybe twice, and then he was pretty much done with it. You really had to cajole him to make something if he was bored with the recipe. His apple pie was a prime example. My father made the best apple pie ever. Seriously, I have yet to have a pie that rivals his. Heck, I wish I had a tenth of his pie crust making skills! As I recall, he enjoyed making the first few - it was a challenge. For years after that though, it took begging. Mom would buy bushels of apples, which she kept on the three season porch. We knew then that it was time to start asking for homemade applesauce and apple pies. Mom made the applesauce, so we could get that pretty easily, but the apple pie took some work.

Now that I cook myself, I understand his reluctance. Once I've made something more than a few times, it stops being fun for me and starts becoming work. So, the fact that I actually miss recipes is really saying something! I didn't really want to buy the cookbooks that these recipes were in again - it seems a bit silly to buy a new cookbook for just one recipe. I did consider, briefly, going into a bookstore and attempting to find the cookbooks and then copy down the recipe there, but this wasn't quite as easy as it sounds either. While one of them would probably be fairly simple to find, (it was in one of the Mayo Clinic's cookbooks,) the other was from a "Food and Wine" supplemental - somewhere between a magazine and a thick cookbook, it wasn't the kind of thing likely to be on the bookstore shelves. I had no idea where I could get that from again, especially since I didn't remember exactly when it came out. So, I was pretty sure one of the recipes was lost forever. ...that is until today, when I typed both of them into Google and they popped right up!

They are:

Chili Dusted Pork Chops

Shrimp and Mango Curry

(Really both of these are summer dishes, but I was thinking of them because I have both pork chops and edamame in my freezer right now. )

I bring this up for two reasons - 1) I was incredibly happy to find both of these without having to spend a penny and 2) it was a instant object lesson in keeping it simple. Seriously, for the last year and a half, whenever I thought about these recipes (which happened every now and again this summer) I would think about going to bookstore with a pad of paper and a pen or trying to order these cookbooks used online so I could get a good deal on them - it never occurred to me until today to simply type "shrimp mango Mayo clinic" into Google and see what showed up on the search results! It was just reminder that it's frequently a smart idea to start with the easiest and less expensive options first - you can always get more complicated later!

Photo of the pile of cookbooks by: pirate johnny
via flickr

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Grocery Shopping Review - Meal Planning from the Market

A few months ago I started buying my groceries on the envelope system. For the most part, it is working really well. My food budget for the month is $125, so I take that out around the first of the month and tuck it in a special spot in my wallet, then just spend that when I shop. I have gone over a few times, usually at the end of the month when something unexpected comes up, but I am not going over by very much (or very often) and I am going over my budget a lot less than when I was using my debit card instead of cold hard cash.

This month I started my grocery shopping by going to the farmer's market. You might not think there would be a lot at a farmer's market in Michigan in November, but you'd be wrong! There was a ton of produce to choose from. As part of my effort to soak up sunshine before the winter darkness sets in, (and me trying to get a bit more exercise,) I walked down to the market on a crisp fall morning. I bought celery, carrots, beets, leeks, onions, Brussel sprouts (still on the stalk - I love that!), ham, turkey, eggs, kale and potatoes. There were also tons of things I didn't buy - squashes of all colors, pumpkins, apples, radishes, parsnips... the list goes on and on.

Anyway, you might already be seeing the problem with my trip... I bought a lot of root vegetables and you know what? Root vegetables are heavy!! I was so tired bringing home my haul that I had to stop over at a park on the way home and just sit on a park bench for awhile and rest my arms! It was good though, more exercise than I planned on certainly (next time I buy that much I'll bring my car!) but overall a worthy trip.

The next thing I did was start putting together my menu...

Normally I put together my menu and shopping list before I hit the market, but it was fun to change it around a bit and instead let the market inspire my shopping. I piled up all my produce on the dining room table, got out a couple of favorite cookbooks, grabbed a cup of coffee, and then picked out my menu according to what I had. As I figured out how I was going to cook each thing, it got put away. And while doing that, I also made my shopping list for the additional ingredients I was going to need (and, of course, added the nonfood items like aspirin and window cleaner to my shopping list.)

I then went through my coupons and hopped online and found a few more. As I did, I broke my list into parts depending on where I wanted to shop. More and more I am hitting certain stores for certain things, rather than getting everything at one big megamart. For example, I got those locally grown products at the farmer's market, then I went to a small butcher shop/market for some other meat and produce I couldn't get at the farmer's market. Next I hit Save-A-Lot for some canned items, aluminum foil and dried lentils, Rite Aid for pharmacy items (I had a $25 gift certificate) and finally the megamart for the last items on my list - and the ones I had coupons for.

So basically, when it comes to fresh vegetables and meat, I buy it locally and look for the best quality. I may pay a little more than at the megamart, but I am okay with that.

I do try to use Save A Lot for canned and dried items that I don't have coupons for. It isn't one of my favorite places to shop, but their prices are so low, it is worth the trip.

I waiver between CVS and Rite Aid for pharmacy type items. It just depends on who is running the better deals.

The megamart becomes the last step. Before I used to go there first and get everything, but now I pretty much only get there what I can't get elsewhere - or when I have coupons.

It's been working well - my savings tend to even out. I may spend a little more on free range eggs, but I save on the non-produce items. All in all, its a system that is working for me. Here's just a few of the things on the menu for this month:

Tex-Mex Turkey Chili
Risotto with ham, portabella mushrooms, carrots and peas
Quiche with turkey sausage, leeks and mushrooms
Homemade onion soup
Grilled chicken salad with artichoke hearts
Steak, oven roasted beats and Brussel sprouts with pecans


Photo by: freeformkatia
via flickr

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Monday, November 16, 2009

My Experience with Giving Through Freecycle

Last week I was insanely busy at my office. We are going to be moving at the end of the year, and last week we started cleaning out our storage area. We need to get some units cleared out so that they can start moving them over ahead of time. Well, since going paperless quite a few years ago and having gone through several downsizings, we have accumulated a ton of miscellaneous office supplies. Most were gathering dust in the back. Since we don't use them anymore we don't want to move them over to the new office, where we have considerably less storage space.

The first thing we did was go through and take all the stuff we wanted to get rid of and put it all in one spot. Then we encouraged employees to help themselves. Then we donated a ton to to a couple of charities (churches and preschools.) We still, however, had some things left - and those I decided to Freecycle.

I am going to give you my personal views on working with Freecycle-ers. Let me state these are merely my opinions after 5 solid days of giving away office supplies, getting emails from over 100 people and giving things to over half of them. Your experience in your town might be completely different. First off, I love the concept of Freecycle. Basically you post what you have, and people who are interested email you and then (theoretically) come pick it up. Here we were looking at this huge pile of "office stuff" and my boss and coworkers wanted to pitch it all. But the hippy in me, combined with my inner frugal Dutch woman, could not bear to see all this perfectly usable stuff go into a landfill! On the other hand, I didn't have time or energy to deal with eBaying it. I didn't want to make trips to the post office, package it all up, then still have to deal with what didn't sell. Besides, I didn't have that much time - everything had to be gone in a week. Essentially I just wanted to wave a magic wand and make it all disappear. My magic wand was Freecycle....

I would post an item on Freecycle, say 500 used manila folders. (They are perfectly good if you turn them inside out or great for craft projects.) I would very clearly ask people to tell me how many they needed. When they responded, I would give them driving directions to the office and ask when they were picking them up, and for a name to hold the items under. Once they responded, I would grab a scrap paper and jot their name and the day they were coming, and put it on the item. I had a holding area for items waiting to be picked up and I had sections for different days. That way when someone showed up I could easily grab their stuff for them. This part all went pretty well... the quirky part was dealing with the people themselves.

Here are my little rules for Freecycle-ers:

1.) I immediately delete any emails that use text speak. First of all, this is a completely personal thing - I hate text speak. It feels incredibly disrespectful to me. If you can't take the time to type the word "you" I don't want to attempt to have a conversation with you. However, there is a practical reason to delete these emails as well - people who are too lazy to type, are too lazy to return emails. Every time I broke my own rule and responded to a "Will U Save these 4 me?" email they never responded with a name or time for pick up. In fact, not one person who used text speak actually picked up an item. Nothing irritates me more than me taking the time to set something aside for you and you not even bothering to come pick it up.

2.) If someone can't follow the directions in my post, they are going to end up being a pain. This little lesson took me a long time to learn. I would write, in all caps, at the bottom of each post, "PLEASE, TELL ME HOW MANY YOU WANT. This helps me distribute these among everyone who is interested." For example, I had 6 working 19" monitors. Big fellas, these were monstrously heavy and took up a ton of desk real estate - but hey, they worked - and I was giving them away free. People would say they were interested, but not how many they wanted! Well, this just makes more work for me, because now I have to check - and in the meantime I was getting deluged by emails. I finally learned to give away items to the people who responded properly first, then if I had anything left, I would offer it to the non-direction followers.

Amounts weren't the only directions people had a hard time following, though. For example, on the monitors I included in my post the size and weight, and encouraged people to bring someone with a strong back to carry them. Well, you guessed it, I ended up offering one to one of the people who didn't tell me how many they wanted. Who did she send to pick it up? Her 60+ year old mother, who was about 5'3" and maybe 100 lb soaking wet and her father... who had a broken back! Seriously, I couldn't make this stuff up. Guess who (while wearing heels) ended up loading it into their van.... yeah....

3. People who can't follow driving directions are wackjobs. Okay, I know this sounds horribly judgmental and I am not known for my keen sense of direction myself, however, as bad as this sounds, it's still true. I don't mean wackjobs in a scary sense, I mean it in that kind of affectionate, slightly frustrated, roll your eyes kind of way. I gave everyone very clear, very simple directions for how to find our office. Of the 4 people who called from the road to get directions - every single one of them was a wackjob. I'm not sure the correlation between not being able to follow driving directions and being wacko, but there you are. Maybe they not only dance to their own drummer but they drive to their own navigator?

Two of these folks wanted to talk to me forever afterward. These were not comfortable conversations - these were "conversations" where I pretty much didn't get a word in edgewise and where I kept hoping a coworker would rescue me. One of them went by her "stage name" which was vaguely uncomfortable to for me to say. Lady Fallopian Tubes, (not her real stage name, but close enough) completely creeped me out. The final directionally challenged wackjob called three times, apparently not believing 1) my driving directions, 2) the hours I said we would be open, 3) that we were really an office and 4) that we would actually give away all these great used manila folders and monitor stands. Sigh.... I think he wanted to chat too, but I pretty much gave him his items then hustled him out the door.

4. When you find a good one - give 'em all they can carry. Some of the freecycle-ers were great! They followed directions, picked their things up on time and thanked me, and then left. They were awesome! These folks I loaded down - not only with what they originally wanted, but they were the ones I emailed later with a "Hey, I also found this... could you use it?" One of my favorites was a gal who was opening her own law office with four of her fellow recent grads. I hooked her up - she said it was like Christmas! That's me... helping the Michigan economy 1 box of legal sized green hanging folders at a time.

5. Freecycle helps everyone - even though the week was rather hectic, I feel really good about it. Not only did I keep a lot of stuff out of the landfill, I also managed to unload things we would have had to pay to get rid off. We had hundreds of pounds of broken and/or unusable (by us) computer, printing and fax equipment. To have that picked up and recycled would cost us about $.12 a pound. Thanks to Freecyclers - especially the local Steelworker's Union who took 3 broker Phaser printers (at 100 lb+ each), 3 broken fax machines (65 lbs each) and all the supplies we had for each (thanks guys!) I saved the office quite a bit of money. I like that a lot.

Photo by: fatmandy
via flickr

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Monday, November 9, 2009

Style on A Dime... or Less

So, I've been writing about redoing my home to fit my style. A couple of weekends ago I tackled another room - my living room. Once again, I was able to completely change the feel of the room - without spending a penny.

First let me tell you a little about the room. It is fairly large room, roughly rectangular in shape, and painted an odd sort of gray green. The paint is matte, which was undoubtedly chosen to hide the waves and ripples in my 100+ year old plaster walls. The color reminds me of a Victorian doctor's waiting room - think dull, slighty depressing, grayish olive green. Obviously I did not choose this color, and someday I might change it, but I have to say that despite the fact I am not crazy about the color, they did a good job painting it.

This is the front room of my house. If you imagine a horizontal rectangle, the top line across has windows to my front porch. The front door is in the top right corner and the entryway to the rest of the house is in the bottom right, making an informal hallway. Originally my couch was on the short wall facing that hallway (the left side of the rectangle) and all the furniture was based off that.

The couch, and its matching chair, are incredibly striking, and part of the reason I don't mind the paint color - they make it work. Once again (as with most of my furniture) this was passed on to me by a friend. The couch belonged to my friend Tracey and it is in her rich, decadent, exotic and unforgettable style. First off, both the chair and the couch are huge. That was actually the reason I ended up with it - when she moved, it didn't fit into her new place... literally, they couldn't get it through the front door. So, she ended up storing it in her father's garage. Well, at the time I had an empty living room and offered to at least get it away from the car fumes and garage mice and store it at my place. It barely fit in my house - we had to take off both doors from the house, all the legs and finials off the couch, and then it took three men (one sober, one tipsy, one three sheets to the wind) and a time space continuum to get it through the door. I've always told Tracey that if she wants it back, it is hers... unfortunately I am not sure it is coming out without a saw!

Not only is the furniture big, it is in rich, gorgeous colors. It is deep brilliant red, black and gold in an intricate combination of tapestry fabrics. The back and arms of the couch are very tall, which is why it was so hard to get it through the door. In addition to the couch there is a big overstuffed chair, which is almost a love seat, (except that the lovers would have to be pretty skinny to sit side by side,) and a huge square ottoman. Honestly, this is not furniture I would have chosen, I think I would have been too scared to be that bold! My friend Tracey, however, is fearless when it comes to furniture selection and she has stunning taste. The best part (for me,) is that this furniture works with the room and the paint color. The warm elegant colors of the fabric keep it from being dark and cold. Since this room is kind of a formal parlor room (no tv here), it all works together well.

Also in the room are a few other big pieces, the grandfather clock my father built, a glass coffee table and few other things. This was what I had to work with...

The first step was to clean out the room - everything, except the couch, chair and grandfather clock, had to come out! I pulled, pushed and carried everything from the photos on the walls to the rug on the floor into my dining room. Then I pushed the couch and the chair over against the wall with the windows and got out my trusty Murphy's Oil Soap. After a good sweep I got down on hands and knees and once again washed the hardwood floors. When one side was dry, I pushed the couch and chair over and did the other side. (I did not move the grandfather clock. It is a pain to move and I hate doing it alone. It was fine right where it was.)

Since the couch is the largest piece of furniture in the room, that was the piece I needed to place first. I wanted to do something different with it, but my choices were limited. I was thinking about focal points - what do I want people to look at? I had had it against the wall opposite the doors, which frankly, isn't that much of a view. I don't have a fireplace, tv or piece of great art (common focal points) in there, so what to do? I put it against the windows when I was washing the floor, and could immediately tell that wasn't going to work. As tall as it is, it blocked out half the light. Besides, these are pretty much floor to ceiling windows, I was afraid of sun fading the material. I couldn't put it opposite from where it had been - that would put it directly in the path of anyone entering via the front door... they'd have to somersault over it to get in!

Really, that just left one choice, so I put the couch on the wall opposite the windows. This not only changed the flow of the room, it made the the windows and the grandfather clock into
focal points - perfect! Now it looked like I was trying to make the room make some kind of sense. Next I positioned the rug and the chair. As I did, I noticed another effect that I liked. Because the couch was now on the "long side" of the rectangle, it shrank the room up a bit. In the past, because furniture was on both "short sides," the room felt pretty big and distant. It was fine if I was in there by myself or sitting on the couch with a friend, but when I had people over, I noticed that the furniture made the people sitting on opposites sides of the room really distant from one another. If you were sitting on the couch and someone else was in the chair, with the big distance between you and the ottoman and coffee table in the middle, you almost felt that you had to holler to the other person! Changing the placement made the room a lot more intimate and better for conversation.

As before, I brought in only the furniture that I wanted. Here is something that is crazy to me - changing the way things were arranged made more space... again. Just like in the last room I did. In fact, I actually added one of my chairs that had been in the library (it is gold, so it matches), a large side table that hadn't worked with the new library lay out, and a lamp.

Here's another quirky thing - when I had the furniture how I wanted it, I went to work on the pictures. I have two large framed prints that had been hanging over the couch. All the time, I knew I had hung them too high. It is a fault of mine, I always hang art to high. Recently though, I read something in a design book about figuring how how high you want to hang your art... then lowering it 3". This has been great advice! I've used it a couple of times now, and sure enough, things look better. I was dreading rehanging these pieces - they are so, so heavy and my ex had put them up with big molly bolts. It was going to tear up my walls.

But then something happened... even though the prints were too high behind the couch, that changed now that my gold chair was in front of them. My gold chair also has a tall back - even taller than the couch (it comes up to my shoulders when I am standing next to it.) I put it in front of the prints and a low bookcase nearby and poof! It worked. The prints no longer look like they are hanging in space. Believe me, I wish I could tell you that it was planned, but it wasn't. It just all came together... like magic.

There was only one problem when I got done with the room... now my dining room was full of things I wasn't going to use, from both my living room and my library room!! My next project was to clear that out. I now have a holding area of furniture in my basement that I need to make decisions on. I will either pass it on via the "undeeda" network (you needa chair? I gotta chair.) or sell it in next year's garage sale... or find a new home for it in my own home as I finish up the rest of the rooms in my house.

I am really pleased with this project so far. I am slowly, room by room, making the spaces in my house my own, without spending any money. Now admittedly, I have cleared out some areas that I look at and think, "I need a new _____ for there." but, I am not in any particular rush to go out and buy. I also am rather happy with the deep cleaning each room is getting. It had been awhile since these floors were scrubbed, the furniture vacuumed, the windows washed. I'm also going through each room as I finish with it and making a dream list - writing down everything I would do if I had an unlimited budget. Some things are big and out of my price range, like installing a gas fireplace in the living room, but others are very doable on my budget, like giving the metal register covers a fresh coat of black paint.

My next room will either be the dining room or the bedroom. The dining room will be the easier of the two, so it will depend on how much time I have. The dining room, though, has some potential for big projects, so we'll see if I feel up to tackling it. In the meantime, I have two great rooms that I love and feel very, very comfortable in.

Photo by: Browserd
via flickr

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Frugally and Naturally Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If you live in a part of the world where you have dramatic shifts in climate during the seasons, you are probably familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Here in Michigan I know a number of people who are affected by it, some severely. In those cases it goes beyond a temporary case of the "winter blues" or "fall doldrums," it is a level of depression that can affect their jobs, relationships and overall health. I've been lucky. In the past I have not been very affected by season change, in fact, I love fall and winter, so I look forward to it. This year, however, has been a little different.

SAD is caused by a number of things, but one of the biggest causers is the change in daylight. Here in the Midwest our days are getting shorter at a fairly rapid pace. The lack of natural light is hard on the system. Personally, I am having a problem with the lack of light in the morning. Now when I talk about struggling with these fall mornings, most of my coworkers roll their eyes and make comments about me not being a morning person, but that isn't what is going on at all. To explain the difference, let me give you a little history:

I've worked at my present job for 10 years now. For the last 8 or so, I have worked a slightly odd schedule. For three or four years I worked 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and for the last few I have worked 10:00 to 7:00 p.m.. Now, I like these schedules. In fact, if I worked at home and could set my own hours I would probably work on the 11 to 8 shift, because that is when I am the most productive. However, I wasn't doing that shift because I hated mornings, nor was I sleeping in until just before I went to work. I liked these schedules precisely because they allowed me to exercise in the morning or do things around the house. In May, my boss eliminated the 10 to 7 shift I was on and the last hold outs, a coworker and I, shifted to 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.. And you know what? It has been fine. I've had absolutely no problems all summer with the new schedule. My only minor complaint is that I miss extra hour at the end of the day when things were quiet to get things done in the office - but the mornings were fine.

Then, mid October that all changed...

At first I thought my difficulties with mornings had to do with my busy schedule, but it didn't feel that way. It felt bigger, darker somehow. I don't really have good words to describe this, but when the alarm went off in the morning, it felt wrong to get up - unnatural. I felt like I was struggling underwater, fighting to get up and get out of bed. It was starting to affect my mood.

After my schedule eased up, but the trouble with the mornings didn't, I realized what was going on. Just a couple of months ago, getting up hadn't been a problem at all. Now it was like climbing a cliff. It had to be because of the seasonal change.

Now there are fairly expensive ways you can combat this - you can purchase sunlamps and light boards to sit by. I also found a fabulous clock that has a lamp in it and it slowly lights up the room and wakes you with soft melodic chimes. It is fabulous and very cool... and over $200. That is just silly, when a simple digital clock costs less than $10 and I can use my cell phone as an alarm for free. Another option is to do what many older Michigan residents do - just move to a warmer state for a few months! None of these are really in my budget though, so I had to find alternatives. I really didn't like the way I was feeling and felt I had to do something about it.

Daylight savings was last weekend and that helps some. This morning when I got up, the sky was a pale silvery gray, but there was light, and that was great to see. But let's face it, that is only a temporary fix, the days are going to continue to get shorter and January and February are long cold, dark months here in Michigan. Here are my solutions:

Get Enough Rest at Night - Okay, this might seem obvious, but remember, my problems with mornings do not stem from lack of sleep. However, I don't want to compound my problems by not getting enough rest. So, I am making sure I am in bed by a reasonable time each night.

Getting Up Earlier - This sounds like the opposite of what I just said, doesn't it? Here's the thing, I'm trying to get to bed in time to get 7-8 hours of good sleep, while at the same time planning on getting up a half hour earlier than I was. I am doing it for two reasons: The first is that I am finding it is much better for my body and mental health if I get up a little earlier and allow myself time to slowly wake up, than it is hitting the snooze button and getting an extra 8 (or 16, or 24, or 32) minutes of bad sleep and then having to rush to make it out the door in time. The other reason I am getting up earlier is -

Exercise - Honestly, I hate exercise, but the effects are tremendous. I am getting up and doing 15 minutes of yoga stretches and 10 minutes of light aerobics. Nothing too strenuous, just enough to get the blood flowing and the brain synapses firing. Then I am doing another (more active) hour at night. I've been at this a week now and I already feel so, so much better. I used to take yoga classes regularly, but when life got busy and I was stressed, I stopped going. Isn't that always the way? When we get stressed and life is rotten, we stop doing the exact things that are best for us, like exercise and eating well - just when we need them the most! Which brings me to -

Eating Well - I have been trying to balance out my meals a little better lately. I always try to eat well, but I tend to go on kicks where I ate the same kinds of foods a lot. Currently that "kick" is having a small portion of some low fat meat and two veggies. One of the big problems with this time of year is the heavy amounts of food and calorie laden dishes. I'm trying to improve my overall health by eating well and getting a variety of nutrients. While there are some different studies showing the value of vitamins in fighting SAD, I figure whatever I can do to improve my health will help!

Drinking Water - Lots of it. In part this is because I have been exercising more, but also this time of year is very hard on skin. I have very dry skin and with being inside in artificial heat, my lips and skin can crack. Lots of water helps. It also is a good beverage for the evening, because unlike many other beverages (pop, juice, alcohol) water doesn't effect sleep behavior. That doesn't mean I am cutting out my hot chocolate or hot cider with cinnamon, it just means I am trying to have them early enough that the sugar and caffeine have time to get through my body before bedtime, and I am washing everything down with big glasses of water.

Getting Sunlight - This has not been easy the past couple of weeks, as we've had a lot of rain and cloudy weather, but when I can, I am opening my blinds and letting in the sun. The best place for me to do this is work, where my office gets quite a bit of light in the morning. Since Seasonal Affective Disorder has to do with the lower amount of natural light, I'm trying to soak up the sunlight when I can.

Turning on the Lights in the Morning - Yes, frugal me is actually turning on lights! I am such a Scrooge when it comes to my electricity bill, but not when it comes to my mental health. I am turning on the lights in the morning as I move about the house a lot more than I have in the past. It is a psychological thing, but it helps.

Appreciating the Season - The final thing I am doing is trying to take time to notice and appreciate these beautiful fall season. The leaves are mostly down now, but fall is a beautiful time of year. Winter is too. I'm trying to remind myself to be grateful for the changing days.

How about you? Do you have Seasonal Affective Disorder or know someone who does? What tips can you give? As I said, I've been making these small changes over the last week or so and really noticed a difference, what works for you?

Photo by: gato-gato-gato
via flickr

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Monday, November 2, 2009

The Automatic Budget

I haven't been writing about my budget a lot lately and I realized it's because I don't think about it as much as I once did. It took me over a year, but finally my budget is almost completely automatic! It is absolutely fabulous.

Let's take a look at some of my monthly expenses and how I am taking care of them each month:

Mortgages - I have two properties, each with two loans. All of these payments are taken care of every month with online billing.

Life and Auto Insurance - Since my home insurance is paid out of escrow, these are the only insurance costs I have. Both have odd billing dates - the auto is semiannually and the life is quarterly. Basically what I did was add up the cost of both over the course of the year and then divide by 12. Each month that amount is set aside in a special online savings account I have just for Insurance. When a bill comes in, I just transfer over the money from the account and pay it online.

Utilities are a bit different...

Gas at the house, and both electric and gas at the cabin, are on budget plan billing so each month I owe the same amount. I have online billing just pay those three bills automatically. Electric at the house is one of the few checks I actually cut each month (though, of course, I do it through online billing.) I did it this way because this was one area where I was really working hard to decrease costs. I think I have pretty much gotten it as low as it is going to go, so I am considering doing the budget plan for this one too. It is so nice to have a set number each month - then I can just schedule to pay it and it goes.

Cell phone - My cell phone bill is one of those ever changing bills. I have no idea why. Fortunately, it is almost always within $5 or so of what I plan on, but it is off enough that I cut this bill separately. Trash and water I treat just like insurance - I estimate the amount I will spend for a full year, divide by 12, then have a little bit put aside each month.

In fact, that is how I handle all the rest of my bills. I have a car registration fund, car maintenance, Christmas, and emergency funds - all which take out a little each month. I hate getting surprised by bills, so this way I am ready when the time comes.

For the two things I spend the money on the most - Groceries and Home Improvement, I have gone to the envelope system. I take $125 for groceries and $100 for home improvement out in cash and keep them in separate places in my wallet. Since doing it this way, I almost never go over, and usually I actually have money left over. The only other two things in my budget that are slightly unpredictable are Entertainment/ Dining out and Buying gas for my car. Since I started focusing on trying to only dine out with other people and making it a social occasion, I have really cut down my bill. I still miss dining alone, but having the extra money in my pocket is worth it. As for auto fuel, I always come in under budget - maybe because my budget is set too high. I still expect gas prices to rise.

Essentially, the way my life is structured now, I know that unless I am dining out - any time I use my debit card I am outside of my budget. This knowledge has scaled down my spending a lot. When I do use the card, I know why I am doing it and how much I have to spend. Same thing with cash that doesn't come out of the grocery or home improvement funds. Doing all this may sound like a lot of work, but it means that I don't think about it during the month. I just stay on track and everything else takes care of itself.

Photo by: massdistraction
via flickr

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