Archives for January 2009

Bring on February!

spring day

To me, February is kind of like the middle day of football two-a-days, there is still a lot of work left, but you know you are almost done with them! This is how I view February and its relationship to the winter. It is kind of ironic I am using a summer football example, because the temperature was often in the 90s in Ohio during the summer two-a-days. Even though I hated the heat then, I could really use some of that heat right now!

At any rate, I have mentioned on here before I am not a huge fan of winter. This year hasn’t been too bad, even though it has been much colder than last year. I noticed on the forecast that this weekend is supposed to be “warm,” yes, in the 30s and even 40s, so that is pretty cool. I am ready for February, which is to say, I ready to be that much closer to spring!

Above is a photo of a nice, warm, spring day. As Fr. Wagner always reminds me, your mind doesn’t know the difference between reality, and what you think is reality, so just imagine you are there, walking and enjoying the fresh warm day, with a slightly cool breeze blowing.

Weight Loss and Fitness Blogs

What is a better way to keep yourself on track and share your own weight loss experiences? Well, the answer could be starting a weight loss, fitness, or diet blog. This blog is more than just weight loss, and is really about a sort of holistic wellness and health that includes, but is not limited to, weight loss, although weight loss is an important component to what we cover here (remember, we now have the official Life in Your Years Weight Loss Tips Page). This means that posting here is kind of like keeping a weight loss or fitness journal. Unfortunately, food is a tough foe, and I have seen weight loss blogs come and go, but I would like to link to some weight loss blogs I have found that a) are current, and b) may help you in your weight loss efforts. Please note that the majority of such blogs seem to be run by women, so I am not just gravitating to blogs run by females (note to my lovely wife)!

You’d Be So Pretty If…

Pretty-Face Heather

Discipline or Regret

A Merry Life

Chronicles of a Diet Drop-Out

The Token Fat Girl

I Don’t Want to Die from a Heart Attack When I am 25

Escape from Obesity*

Take some time to visit these blogs and offer some encouragement. Also, I just love the names of the blogs…very creative titles!

*- When I read the URL of this one, I thought it was “escape from mobesity,” and I thought, “hmm, is “mobesity” a trendy way of saying “morbid obesity?” Feel free to use that one folks.

Save Money, Go Open Source (Part II)

In a previous post, Save Money, Go Open Source, I listed various open source (and free) software programs I use regularly. I like the idea of open source software on a philosophical level, in that a variety of people can participate to make a program better. However, my main reason for loving them is that they are completely free! Using open source software really should be an important part of living frugally and embracing financial wellness. Below are a few more programs that I find useful that can save you a lot of money if you use them in place of costly proprietary software:

GnuCash – I posted on Getting to Know Gnucash, but I will summarize GnuCash here. GnuCash is the equivalent to software like Microsoft Money and Quicken. It handles things like mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts, expenses, etc. You can even import Quicken and Microsoft Money files, so you can just download your information directly from your online banking sites, and reconcile it. GnuCash isn’t quite as intuitive as Microsoft Money, and is more advanced software, since it uses double-entry accounting principles, while Money is a single entry system. The former is more thorough, but more difficult to understand. I use GnuCash for business and personal purposes. It can generate handy charts to show your income versus expenses, where your expenses are coming from, etc.

PDF Creator – This is a .pdf printer, which means that you can print any document, image, etc, on your computer as a .pdf file. If you install it, you will see it listed as an option on your list of printers. Once you choose to print with it, you are given a choice to name it, assign an author, etc, and then you can save the document in any folder that you like. This is a handy way to create .pdf files!

Free Mind – Free Mind is an idea mapping software, which reminds me of those “pre-writing” bubble-like diagrams we used to do in English class. It allows you to brainstorm and generate ideas. I haven’t played around with it too much, but it looks cool.

Inkscape – Inkscape is a nice vector graphics design program. It is like Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. You can make some pretty cool logos and art with it, and I haven’t even begun to utilize its many features. If you design art for bulletins, newspapers, e-books, etc, this software is essential, and could potentially save you hundreds on software costs.

CamStudio – CamStudio is a program that allows you to record your actions on your computer screen, which means you can make videos of what you do on your computer. You can also record audio while you do it. You can save the output as various video file formats, so you can post your efforts on You Tube, etc. This software is very helpful for individuals who are making software or computer-related video tutorials. I haven’t used it too much, except to test it, but there is a lot of potential here.

This round of Open Source programs isn’t quite as broadly useful as the last round. The last round included some major programs (like OpenOffice) that help us with common tasks (like word processing). However, these FREE programs I have just listed will help make your life easier!

Getting to Know GnuCash (Part I)

One of my goals this year is to develop both a personal and business budget, and keep better track of my books. When I went looking for software to do this, I looked first at open source sources. The option I decided on is GnuCash.

GnuCash is an open-source (i.e. free) accounting software package for individuals and small-businesses. I am beginning to use it for both business and personal purposes, to keep track of income and expenses. I wouldn’t call it super-intuitive, but for someone like myself with decent knowledge of computers, it is fairly straightforward. GnuCash is a double-entry accounting system, which means that for every debit you record, you have to have a credit somewhere else (for example, when a check is deposited in the checking account, it has to be debited from another source, i.e. from income). The same is true of all payments. For example, if I pay a credit card off, the amount also has to be entered into the checking account section. This is helpful for keeping good books, tracking income and expenses, and doing taxes later.

The first task I had to do was to set up and reconcile all of my accounts. This was time-consuming, because I have money spread out at various places in order to  get the  best return. This includes a good number of credit cards. Since I started this in January of 2009, I had to do a little calculating to reconcile the various accounts. I actually enjoyed it, because by using GnuCash, I am actually learning how to use double-entry accounting.

Gnucash seems to have a lot of features, many that I will not use at this point, but it meets my needs for the basic things I need to do right now. I hope to learn more as I move along.

I am a big believer in open-source software. It’s free. Period. And the quality of much of it is very good, and getting better by the day. In our current recession, I am surprised that more businesses aren’t using, and supporting the develoment of, open source programs.

How to Expel Phlegm From the Lungs

A gross topic yes, but for those of us who are congested in the lungs, it is good to know how to clear phlegm from the lungs. I think I have Bronchitis, along with virtually every other person I know! Exercise was difficult, but I am sticking with it.

There are some drugs and supplements that tend to do the job of clearing mucus from the lungs (for example, Mucinex or N-Acetyl L-Cysteine). However, I don’t want to pay for Mucinex, and even though I take N-Acetyl L-Cysteine for other reasons, I researched ways to expel phlegm without taking a pill. Here is what I did the other day that seemed to work, and I have provided a link to a Web MD article that explains some other ways to clear mucus from the lungs.

What I did:

While sucking on a mentholated cough drop, I took a series of deep breaths. As I did this, I could feel (at least what seemed to me like) mucus in my lungs floating. It was almost as if I was loosening it from the lungs. After that I made myself cough short and sharp coughs, which brought up more infected phlegm than I had previously gotten up.

Also, this article provides ways to cough up phlegm from the lungs, which is helpful. Below is my summary of one of the tips in the article:

1. Use Controlled Coughing – To do this, sit on the edge of a chair, keeping both feet flat on the floor. Lean slightly forward, and relax yourself. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, and fold your arms over your belly. As you exhale, lean forward. Push your arms against your belly. While continuing to exhale, with your mouth slightly open, and pushing on your belly, cough 2 or 3 times, in a short and sharp manner. The first cough is supposed to bring the mucus through the lung airways, and the next coughs bring it up and out. Finally, inhale again, but do it slowly and gently through your nose. According to the article, “Do not take quick or deep breaths through your mouth. It can block the mucus coming out of the lungs. It also can cause uncontrolled coughing.”

The article also explains other methods, like tapping on the back and chest, which I will let you read for yourself.

Also, hypothetically, Quercetin and Bromelain may help with lung congestion (or as commonly employed, a combo of the two).

The United States of Fatness

CalorieLab has come up with a listing of the thinnest and the fattest states in the union and results are not pretty. Here are a few of my observations:

1. As with cities, weather doesn’t seem to necessarily help states- Just as Miami was the least fit city according to Men’s Fitness, a state with a lot of warmth, Mississippi, ranked worst in the fatness survey. In fact, the warmest states don’t have that good of records overall.

2. The South Has Risen Again- In this case, it’s their weight. The former Confederacy, excluding Virginia and Florida, are all in the top 20 of the worst offenders. I don’t know if it’s the traditional cooking, but it’s bad news for the health of the region.

3. The Midwest Isn’t Much Better- The South may be bad, but the Great Lakes States and the broader Midwest have pretty bad numbers too. My state of Ohio is in the bad top 20 too.

4. Turning Blue States Yellow/Green- Green and Yellow are the colors given to states that are not as obese in the listing. Of these 15 states, 11 voted for Barack Obama. 

5. Mormonism has some health benefits- Just as Salt Lake City was the fittest of the cities, so Utah does pretty well in avoiding obesity. Mormons avoid caffeine and tobacco, which certainly has health benefits. It probably relates to obesity because I’ll bet that the sugar water known as Coke and Pepsi doesn’t sell too well in Utah.

6. Even the good isn’t that good- This survey measures obesity and even the “best”  state, Colorado, still weighed in at 18.4% obesity. In fact, with the exception of Washington DC, every single state saw its obesity levels increase since 2007.

Obama and the Future of Fitness

Men’s Fitness recently issued an open letter of sorts to Barack Obama as he gets ready to take the nation’s highest office. The letter challenges Obama to take the lead in getting the people of the United States healthier and fitter. Given the sobering statistics regarding healthcare costs in America, Obama must at least do something. You can read the complete list of suggestions, but I want to discuss a few.

-Set standards for school lunches- This is absolutely necessary, given that most kids eat crap everyday at school. My stepdaughter’s school has something fried on a bun nearly every single day with pizza on Fridays. This is scandalous in an age of childhood and adult obesity. If you make creative and healthy recipes backed by government funding (rather than just handing out free cheese and low grade hamburgers), change will happen.

-Re-instate gym class (and I would add, make it count)- Schools have eliminated gym class so now the little exercise children would get is gone. In the 50’s the USA got serious about math and science education and it helped us surpass all other nations in technology. Let’s do the same with health and fitness. And it starts with gym class where kids get active, learn fun ways of being fit, and receive the knowledge and encouragement to keep it for life.

-Deduct money for fitness- A bill in Congress proposes allowing tax deductions for gym equipment and fees. This makes sense. Give incentives for fitness. I think deducting so many health related items a year would be helpful as well (e.g. supplements).

It’s important that we keep Obama’s feet to the fire on the health issue. Our nation needs to get fitter and healthier. While I don’t expect the government to solve our problems, it can at least get out of the way and create incentives for better health.

More on “The Little Things”

Jonathan recently posted about the “little things” in his life, and I thought I would copy his idea. During the winter months, the little things matter more to me, because I am not a huge fan of the winter. My winters are generally not too bad, but I often struggle with them, because I like being outdoors.

About 5 years ago, I was going through a lot of stress, and that was probably my worst winter ever. One day I walked out of the house and the cloudy sky just made me feel trapped, a sort of claustrophobia caused by the dreary winter. I vowed to never have a winter like that again! So for me, it always helps to focus on the little things during winter. Note that these are little things that I am focusing on; I am not necessarily elaborating upon the big things like family, belief in God, etc, things that are foundational to my life.

Coffee – Like my brother, I enjoy the winter trips to Duncan Donuts for hot, creamy, coffee, but I don’t have one in my area, so usually I usually go to Tim Horton’s, which I like just as well. Most Fridays at work, we make a “Tim Horton’s run” where ones of us “buys” and the other “flies.” Jennifer and I also have gourmet Starbucks coffee that we got for Christmas that we brew at home, so I get a lot of good coffee. In the summer, I get more excited about iced coffee.

Work – I like my work. I live about a 1 minute drive from work, and work from about 7:30 until 3:00. This gives me time in the late afternoon to schedule appointments, take care of business, spend more time with family and friends, and go to the Y before dinner time. I am friends with my co-workers, and I have a good group of students.

Prayer – I enjoy my daily prayer. I often pray the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the daily, liturgical, prayer of the Catholic Church. I try to pray morning prayer and night prayer with my wife. It helps orient and structure my day.

Sauna and Hot Tub – Lately I have taken a more relaxing view about the Y. I do my full workout every other day if I can, but afterward I usually sit in the hot tub and then spend a little time in the sauna (steam or regular, depending on my mood). Recently, I have been going to the Y some on my “off days” just to walk a little and relax, because the weather prevents us from walking around our neighborhood like we do in the spring, summer, and fall. Afterward I hit the hot tub and sauna, and it is just what the doctor ordered this time of year!

Facebook – I am not on Facebook all that much, but I do enjoy keeping up with old friends and new ones. Outside of Facebook, I just have no way of meaningfully knowing that much about what my friends, old and new, are up to. Facebook provides that connection.

Working Out – I am finally seeing the kind of gains I have wanted for years. By this, I mean things like defined abs, low body fat percentage, etc. I am not always motivated to go the the Y, but once I am there, and run about a mile, I am ready to give myself a great workout.

Fitday – I have gone from Fitday being a necessary chore to an enjoyable habit. I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and I like having a record of my diet and exercise handy so I can track changes in mood, weight, etc, and see how my diet and exercise contribute to this.

The Fittest and Fattest Cities

Men’s Fitness has just released their list of the fittest and fattest cities in the USA. These kind of endeavors are always tricky since it’s not as easy as putting everyone on a scale and getting the average. The authors of the piece looked at several aspects:

  • Fitness Centers & Sport Stores
  • Nutrition
  • Sports Participation
  • TV Viewing
  • Overweight/Sedentary
  • Junk Food
  • Air Quality
  • Geography
  • Commute
  • Parks & Open Spaces
  • City Rec Facilities
  • Access to healthcare 
  • Motivation
  • Mayor & City Initiatives
  • State Obesity Initiatives
  • Then, they graded each aspect and tallied the score. The results were interesting with winter sports mecca Salt Lake City, UT being named the fittest city and near tropical paradise Miami landing the fattest spot. I guess this proves that good weather is pointless if you don’t take advantage of it and bad weather doesn’t have to be a disadvantage.

    I found it interesting that my city, Cleveland (well, the nearest city since I live in the country), made the fit list at number 15. We were docked for low air quality, junk food, few parks, and television watching while we succeeded in fitness options, commute, motivation, and sports participation. I think this is fairly accurate of how I would view Cleveland.

    Another Ohio city, Columbus, made the fattest list. I used to live in Columbus, and I would agree with that assessment as well. They got docked on most areas, so I’ll just mention where some positives emerged: sports participation, commute, and motivation. I guess all that motivation just doesn’t get translated into actual action.

    Philadelphia’s leaders, upon finding they made the fattest list, actually took concrete steps to correct that and are now off the list. Let’s hope Miami and the others find a way to get off it too.

    Where is your city and do you agree with the assessment?

    The Little Things

    With the worst day of the year fast approaching (although this year’s exact date will be a little different), I wanted to post something about stopping to enjoy the little things in life. I don’t want this post to turn into anything sentimental, but I do think if we focus on (and actually do) the little things we enjoy, stress is more manageable and we are healthier. Here a few of the little things that bring me pleasure:

    1. Dunkin Donuts- It has great coffee and espresso and free wireless. I can make coffee and espresso at home and do so often. And, I have the internet at home too. But, there is something nice about getting away to Dunkin’s, either alone or with family, just to relax and get outside the normal routine.

    2. TV- This one should not be overdone, of course, but watching a few programs or DVD’s that I really enjoy helps my stress levels. My faves are the Biggest Loser, the Office, Everybody Loves Raymond, McLaughlin Group, Who’s the Boss, and Eddie Murphy action comedies.

    3. A Nice Bath- Especially in the winter, getting into a nice, hot bath and just soaking is a great treat.

    4. Video Games- I’m 30 years old, but still enjoy playing games. Are they generally mindless? Sure. But, I think a lot: in my job, my classes, my hobbies, and life. Sometimes I just want mindless.

    5. Hanging with the family- Everyone is so busy that just sitting down and relaxing with my entire family is a luxury. But, I enjoy it a lot. Finding time for this really shouldn’t be something that requires effort.

    6. Prayer– This also shouldn’t be something that I have to make time for, but sadly, it often is. I usually pray in my car on the way to work and then with my family in the evenings. Yet, I also love the Liturgy of the Hours and other more traditional forms of prayer that I need to make more time for.

    Now it’s your turn. Find those little things in life that bring you pleasure. You’ll need all of them to deal with the winter days still ahead.