Wednesday, February 2, 2011

These Pants Are a Size WHAT?!

The Challenge with Weight for Women in their 20s

I'll admit it: I gained a couple lbs. I'll spare you the before-and-after photos, but just know that after college I put on (quite) a few pounds.  The funny thing was, I didn't even realize it.  I slowly started gaining after graduation.  My work life was intense: 80+ hour work weeks, travel with an expense account and great restaurants, and no time for exercise.  I was getting married to Andrew and loving life - I was literally fat and happy.  I can't believe I didn't even notice as I kept having to buy bigger pants! 

As I started to educate myself on proper weight and nutrition information, I was completely surprised by how little I knew.  I found out that my BMI classified me as "overweight".  (Are you kidding me?!)  Lesson learned.

The good news is that the weight came off pretty easy, actually.  I lost 40 pounds in the last two years with proper diet and exercise.  (I told you I wasn't showing "before" photos!!)  It was a complete lifestyle shift for me.  And although I miss the BOGO doughnut deal in the Microsoft cafeterias after 3pm, the skinny jeans are worth it. 

But now I look around and realize I wasn't unique in my experience.  Many of my twenty-something girlfriends have struggled with weight gain.  According to a study published by USA Today, it's very common:
Many married and single people in their late teens and early 20s gain a significant amount of weight — an average of 15 to 30 pounds — over five years. But newly married men and women in that age group gain 6 to 9 pounds more than their peers who are single and dating.
Check out this list of Challenges We Face in Our 20s by Small Steps to Health (summarized):
  1. Our lack of an exercise habit
    How many of you were active in high school or college, but stopped once you got a real job? Am I the only one with my hand raised?
  2. Our lack of a nutritional diet
    This is result of a diet consisting of french fries, sugary cereals, pastries, chips, and pizzas (the typical college diet). 
  3. Our lack of self acceptance
    We learn to pass judgment on ourselves from the women in our lives, especially our moms. If we had moms with a healthy relationship with her food and body, chances are we will have a healthy relationship too.
  4. Our lack of knowledge about our bone mass
    After 35, we stop adding to our bone density. By the time we are 18, we accumulated 80-90% of the bone density we will ever have. Chronic dieting, eating disorder, and lack of physical activity lead to weight gain, but they also lead to a depletion of our bone mass.

The good news: there seems to be so much more awareness around it among my peers these days.  When we get together, we talk about men, parties and social plans, babies (sometimes)... and weight loss strategies.  So here are some of the outcomes of those conversations, from my best girlfriends who are all in this together:
  • Diet.  And not the South-Beach-this or Atkins-that.  It's the reasonable calories and portion sizes smaller than Cheesecake Factory anything.  It's balanced nutrition with protein, carbs (gasp!), fat, fiber and vitamins.  Lots of veggies, fruit and whole grains.  It's reasonable and can be delicious.  (Okay, not apple-fritter good, but like really-sweet-orange good). 
    • Do It: My girlfriends who have been most successful have cut their calorie intake.  This alone made a huge difference for me, personally.  Simply not eating the Big Mac seemed to work well.
  • Exercise.  Ouuuuuch, I know. And honestly, I work out so I can eat.  Not many of my friends LIKE working out (except Tiffany, who loves it).  But this isn't rocket science. If you burn more calories than you take in, you lose weight.  Burning more calories = able to eat more calories... Yes, please.  My friends work out in all different ways: Pure Barre, CrossFit, weight lifting, strength training, traditional cardio, yoga, Zumba, long-distance running, etc.  Whatever works best for you, do it at least three days a week. Starting with adjusting your diet is the easiest way to lose weight but adding in exercise (of any kind) will accelerate your results.  Plan on 1-2 pounds per week for healthy weight loss. 
    • Do It:  Switching it up and trying new routines, classes, and facilities keeps you interested.  I've just signed up to run a 5k in April and half marathon in June to really test myself.  I'm running with girlfriends in each (and definitely wouldn't have done it without their suggestion in the first place)!
  • Accountability. Everything is easier with someone holding you accountable.  My friends and I share recipes, talk about our results (both good and bad), exercise together and provide encouragement.  My husband and I go to the gym together and make plans to eat healthy.  We all agree that having the system of support to be accountable makes a massive difference.  Moreover, I find tracking both the food you eat and exercise you do is the key differentiator between staying on track and falling off.
    • Do It: Get your friends on board so you can avoid diet-bombing party food, binge drinking and 4th meals.  Plus, exercising with a friend is awesome!  I have a yoga membership with Kara, a marathon-training plan with Lori, and a strength training schedule with Andrew.  I also track it all online to keep the course.
  • Reward. For me, it's shopping for new (skinny) clothes.  Celebrate your success with your girlfriends by having a night out, going to the spa or having an exercise-oriented outing (like a game of tennis or skiing). 
    • Do It: One thing we love to do is to buy a Groupon or Living Social deal that we can all share.  I'm looking forward to the night out at the Can Can where we can toast to our success in the last few months.
Key Resources:
These are tools I've found or that have been recommended to me that sincerely help make the process interesting, fun and easy.
  • Weight Watchers Online: I've been an online-only member for 2 years and think it's the simplest system on the market.  The Points Plus program (new) has worked well for me and lots of my friends.  The have great recipes, a tracking tool, an iPhone app and lots of information about how to be healthy.
  • SparkPeople: Recently I've started using SparkPeople instead of Weight Watchers Online and really like it.  The numbers are more exact and their calculation method for determining caloric intake is incredibly helpful.
  • Run Keeper and Map My Run: Great running-related tools that allow you to plan runs or track runs you've done.  Search for new local routes or competitions.  Both have iPhone apps that track your progress as you run so you don't need one of those computer watches!
  • I love this site because it's got thousands of recipes and they include the nutritional information, so it's fool proof planning!
What do you do to say fit, informed and healthy?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Buy YOURSELF Flowers Every Week!

Simple Pleasures

My Mama always said:
"If you can, buy yourself flowers every week." 
And she did.  So I do too.

Buying myself flowers is something I've done since I bought a home more than 4 years ago.  For me, it's elegant and special. Who doesn't want to come into a home full of flowers?!  (Allergy sufferers excluded)  My mom has even trained me to plant a bouquet on my picnic table while camping!!  It's the simple pleasures.

My secrets are simple and work!  So here's how I do it with 4 easy rules -
  1. I buy my flowers at the grocery store.  I've certainly bought plenty of bouquets at local farmer's markets or Pike Place, but they never last more than a couple of days.  I have also bought them from my local florist, but they tend to cost way more than what I would pay at the grocery.  I shop at QFC, which has a great selection.  Plus, I don't really want to make another stop outside of my grocery outings... easy is good!
  2. I buy flowers that last.  Because I buy them at grocery stores, they tend to only stock flowers that are durable, like mums, because they live longer.  I always pick durable flowers that tend to last more than a week.  (Okay, so I should say buy yourself flowers bi-weekly!!)
  3. I break my flowers into multiple bouquets.  It's not rocket science, but with a little creativity, you can make those flowers go a long way!  Making multiple, small bouquets works with my small house and budget but makes it feel luxurious.
  4. Be as creative as you want!  I always vary my arrangements, vases, locations and types of flowers.  I pick the colors that inspire me as I stand in the florist section and that tend to match the season.  I sometimes create lots of small bouquets, and other times just two bigger bunches.  I'll pull in foliage from my yard (when we have some) and add color and volume up the bouquets.  Just go with whatever looks the best!  Generally, I group bunches of color and one type of flower together and vary the height.  Or I'll pick just one color and select different kinds of flowers that match.  And just remember - you get to pick something new the following week (or two).
Budget: Buying flowers is something I love, so I always make it fit in the budget.  Lately, I've been buying the Big Value packs for $9.99.  Generally, they will last me 2 full weeks.  At that rate, we'll spend $240 per year.  To me, that's the best deal out there!  For less than $250 I can have fresh flowers in my house all the time!!!  Cha-ching.

Making Flower Arrangements

The Big Value Bunch for $9.99 at QFC... Just watch!

This week, I selected pink small mums, yellow daises and white/pink alstroemeria

Step 1

I like to cut open the package up the seam vertically.  I lay them out and figure out how I'd like to bunch them.  This week, I've decided I want to do one big bouquet (with mixed flowers), and two small bouquets (of matching flowers). 

Step 2

Pick your vases.  I have this white vase that I love and only needs a few stems to look full (due to the small opening).  Sometimes I use drink pitchers or mason jars or anything I can find that catches my eye around my house (nothing is safe!). 

Tip - if you are using a short vase, you can use scotch tape to create a grid pattern on the top to hold short-stemmed flowers from falling in.

Step 3
I learned this technique while watching the Martha Stewart and my farmer's market florist. 

It's really easy to make great looking bouquets.  Start with the biggest (showiest) flowers first.  Hold them in your left hand and strip off all of the leaves or shoots that will ultimately fall below the water line in the vase.  Then, start to fill in the other flowers, holding the bouquet below your eyesight, so you can see it from the top and sides.  Make the center of the bouquet higher than the outsides, creating a dome shape.  When you like the look, eyeball the height relative to the vase you have.  Cut all of the stems at once in a straight line.  Test them in the vase and cut until they sit as you want.  Ensure there are no leaves touching the water so as not to spoil.  Voila!

Now all you need to do is admire your work!  This week, I used a few willow branches I had left over from a professional bouquet I received a few months ago to add a little drama to my main bouquet.  By putting them in high-traffic areas in my house, I always get to see them when I arrive and leave. 

Centerpiece of my coffee table this week - Hello Daisy!
My small table with two bouquets feels intimate
What will you create this week?

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Year - New Goals

I'm always pumped to start a New Year.  There is something exciting about the prospect of focus, clarity and priority that comes with a January-1 fresh calendar.  I'm not the sappy-resolution type, but I am someone who likes to focus, make a few goals and then stick to them.

I declared 2010 the Year of Fitness.  As I started my year in January, I took a look in the mirror and realize I sorta looked like a swollen version of myself.  (I'll spare you the "before" photos).  It was clear - I just needed to prioritize my fitness and get back to a better version of me.  With the help of Weight Watchers and a gym, I lost 30 pounds in 2010.

So what's up next?  What process can we all go through to set us up for success as we approach a new year?  Here are a couple of resources I've been looking through to set up my 2011 plans:
  • What It Takes to Form A Good Habit: This article is a great primer to clearly think about what is achievable and how to generally accomplish resolutions.
    • Key Take Away - It takes 21 days to form a habit and accountability is key.
  • Planning and Orderly Week: A great review of how to generally make your life more organized (to fit in your new goals).  Love everything about this!
    • Key Take Away - I already have a day I use to prep my week (Monday) and plan my meals in advance (Sunday) but I hadn't thought about scanning my paper documents into an electronic format before, so will check that out.  (Won't be planning my outfits in advance though, I can tell you that!)
  • Virtual Finance Bootcamps: There are several to choose from but I like the daily-email approach to get in financial shape!
    • Key Take Away - The Personal Finance Basics got me on the phone with our financial advisor to get a new IRA set up already!
  • Keep Your Workout Schedule: They call it excuse-proofing your workout plan.
    • Key Take Away - I plan to draw up a schedule and of course, attach a treat to my results!

Time to make some commitments (they say accountability is important so here it goes).  In 2011, I hope to create my BEST SELF in the following ways:
  1. Get in good financial shape.  We've been focused on clearing off all of our bad debt and now want to start aggressively saving, and paying off ALL of our debt.  It will take us longer than one year (helloooo mortgage), but we'd like to do make a big dent in 2011.  This will mean sticking to our budget, prioritizing big projects and expenditures and trying to maximize our earning potential.
  2. Train for a half marathon.  Okay, this sounds a little crazy coming from someone who HATES running.  But that makes me almost want to do it more.  Lori has got us on a training plan and I am going to at least attempt to run more than 3 miles at a time.  (Cripes, it hurts already)
  3. Consistently use my organization system. I have this problem with planners - I have never found a great system that works well for me, so I constantly switch between methods.  I intend to stick with the system that has worked best for me and use it each Monday for my weekly planning session.
  4. Entertain more.  I love it - why limit myself to one party once and a while?  We love to have friends over for movies in the backyard and would like to start more regular get-togethers for poker, dinner parties and more! 
  5. Rock at my job.  There is nothing better than doing something you love and doing it really, really well.  I have big plans for JeffreyM Consulting as I move into my second year there and can't wait to have the business impact I desire.  This will be a year of growth for the firm and for me as we figure it all out.
  6. Sleep more.  This may sound counter-intuitive after the last post (since I work late all the time)... but seriously, all is better when I get more sleep.  When I asked the doctor why I was tired all the time and she replied, "because you don't get enough sleep", it became clear.
  7. Focus on my relationships.  Making all of this fit in a 24-hour day (while trying to get 8 hours of sleep) is tough.  But I intend to whole-heartedly focus more on my relationships.  I want to spend great, quality time with the people I love (especially my husband).  No compromise.
Oh goodness, well his can't be a complete list, but it's a start.  I certainly have lots more things that I will do (like finally get good at gardening and paint the house), but as I learned - it's about focus and priorities.  I really do believe that saying:
If you do the same thing you have always done, you will get the same result you have always gotten. 
What will you take on to be your best self in 2011?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Swap Party - Steps 5, 6 & 7

The Third Post Following The Swap Party - Steps 1 & 2  and Steps 3 & 4

Step 5: Decorations & Set Up

Okay, so the guests are invited and menu is finalized.  As I'm thinking about those things, I also think about the logistics of the party.  My house is tiny (I call it a "postage stamp")... so I have to be creative with how we squeeze folks in. 
For the swap party, I needed to use almost the entire house to fit all 18 guests and all their swap stuff!  I actually made a map of each food & drink item, the serviceware needed, and where it would be located so I could make it all fit!  Check out my slick map:

Decor: With Christmas right around the corner, my house is decked out with red and gold.  I only used about half of my decorations this year because we just seem to have SO many.  I parsed it back and only pulled out my favs - which has made my small house look less cluttered.  I put small touches of holiday decor in each room, with the focal point being the tree in the living room (fake) and garland over the large window in the dining room (real).  And of course, fresh flowers fill in the rest!

Step 6: Par-TAY!

The party flowed really well and went as follows:
6:30 - Guests arrive (and they were ON time!); eat and drink
7:30 - Swapping starts (see below)
8:15 - Swap raffles
8:30 - Group game
9:30 - Guests depart
The swap itself was easy!  There are a bunch of ways to do it but to be most simple here's how it worked:
  1. Each person brought up to 5 swap items
  2. I wrote their name on a post-it note for each item they brough (5 items = 5 post-its)
  3. They could put the post-it notes on any item they wanted
  4. If the swap item was undisputed, the winner took it home
  5. For those items that had multiple stuck post-its, we brought them all together at the end and I held mini-raffles.  Everyone wanted to watch, so I had different guests pull the winners for each "race".
  6. For anything not selected, folks were free to mull through and take things as they wished (a little after-market trading).  Then, anything truly left over was donated.
After the swap, I wanted folks to have a way to get to know one another and stay longer!  So Andrew and I had fun coming up with our very own version of Holiday Clue!  We split up into teams of 2, and I passed out game cards that included:
  • Suspects: Santa Clause, Prancer, Abominable Snowman, Hermey (The Misfit Elf), Scrooge, Mrs. Clause, Kevin McAlister
  • Weapons: Candy Cane Shank, Poisioned Hot Cocoa, Nutcracker, Broken Glass Ornament, Yule Log, String of Lights, Snow Shovel
  • Rooms: Living Room, Dining Room, Kitchen, Bathroom, Bedroom, Regal Begal (Basement Bar), Laundry Room
Check out the gameboard and pieces:

In Step 3, my #2 core belief in party planning is to consider the party phases.  For this one, I wanted to do something for everyone who had stayed up to this point in the night.  We had about 10 people left, the game was over and folks were looking to munch (you know that time of the night, right?).  So I whipped up some stove-top popcorn.  But wait for it... I then topped it with WHITE TRUFFLE OIL and salt.  OMG, to die for.  My friends devoured it and I liked that it was a little special treat for the late-group!

Finally, I love to leave folks smiling and knowing I appreciate them as they leave... I handed out to-go treat bags to eat on their drive home!  Andrew and I had a blast making the yummy gifts to tie in with the party - Peppermint Chocolate Pretzel Sticks.  I just wrapped them in celophane bags with a "thank you" tag, and had them waiting in a basket by the front door.  They were a hit!

Step 7: Survival (The Recap)

This party was super fun (all my fav ladies were in MY house)!  I scored some sweet swap stuff.  I got to plan, prep and host a party.  I did it on a budget and made it feel like it wasn't.  And I think my guests had fun too!  All in all, a successful event!!

Things to do differently - I would start my day-of prep work sooner.  I had to work until about 4 and didn't even start getting ready until then, so I was moving at super speed to try to catch up.  I never like to be unprepared when the first guest arrives and this time I was.  Also, I probably could have done one fewer dish and still had enough food (but that wouldn't have been fun, would it?!).

Finally, I sent a Thank You email to all of my friends who joined the party to make sure they know we are on for next year!

Swap Party - Steps 3 & 4

The Second Post Following The Swap Party - Steps 1 & 2 

Step 3: The Party Plan
So many details, so many options... just one party.  I wish I could have a party every weekend, I really do.  I have THAT many ideas for all the things I want to do to entertain!

So when it comes down to planning a party, I think it's more about filtering than about creating.  It's like that Coco Chanel quote: "When accessorizing, always take off the last thing you put on."

Here are my beliefs when planning a party:
  1. Ensure your guests are treated as such, and require nothing but their presence.  If they bring wine or a hostess gift, it's a bonus!
  2. An event has stages - from the welcome, to mingling, to the main event, to the wind-down, the last few attendees.  A well-planned event has elements in each phase, even if it's just more drinks!
  3. I like to do something different, that people haven't seen before... planning the "different element" is awesome!
  4. Use white plates for everything.  It always matches, makes the food look great and feels like it's been catered.  For everything else, I use stuff I find around my house and make it look like I meant for it to go together.
  5. Just know this - shit is going to go wrong.  Inevitably I won't be ready when the first person arrives.  I will spill on myself or the dog.  The fire alarm may go off (and they are all connected so the whole house will be in lock-down).  So I thank my husband in advance, pour myself a glass of wine and do all I can to minimize risk.
The Planning Process:  It's not rocket science.  I clip articles and pictures from magazines I get regularly (Better Homes & Gardens, Martha Stewart).  I save the email distributions I get from my fav sites in a file in One Note or PowerPoint and refer back to them for ideas (, DIY, Real Simple).  I love to go online for weeks and look through all of the latest trends in parties (check out My Fav Links for the quick list). Just thinking about all that I COULD do is the best part!

For me, I like to use Excel to do my actually planning.  Here's a snapshot of the file I use.  It's simple template that tracks attendees, decorations and items to purchase (including budget), plus a to-do list. I link right to the recipes or images I need in the file, so it's fool-proof!

Step 4: The Menu Plan

Between and, I come up with a ton of ideas.  But some of my favorites are things I just make up!  Because this party was on a Friday night, I wanted to have substantial food so my guests could just come straight from work.  But I didn't want anything too hard, since I also had to work and didn't have a ton of time to prep. 

My food principles, generally:
  1. I try to balance the entire menu between food I make from scratch, stuff I assemble and stuff I buy.  It makes things so much easier than making everything myself!  
  2. I take into account my guests' dietary requirements as much as possible - I had vegetarians and gluten-free guests at the party, so I tried to include food they could all enjoy.  
  3. I rarely serve fancy cheese that is hard to eat.  When I first started entertaining, I always bought stinky cheese that I love.  But after doing this a while, I've learned that cubed Tilamook cheese is a best-seller at parties.  I will still do a nicer cheese, but it has to be approachable - like a plate of blue cheese + brie (everyone loves it).
  4. I like to do healthy food and a little bit of indulgent food.  I actually think healthier food is harder to do - since I can throw a stick of butter in anything and make it taste great.  Finding a balance with good-tasting healthy food is hard - but many of us are trying to watch our weight, so it's appreciated.
  5. I've moved to doing things that are easy finger food, and simple to eat.  I sometimes serve things that require plates but rarely with forks if we aren't sitting down - it's just too hard to balance with a drink (clearly, my priority).
  6. For drinks, I try to pick one or two drinks to feature so we don't have to buy a whole bar.  I'll do a signature drink and then usually several types of wine or beer.  I always have non-alcoholic options too, like Peligrino with limes.
 Here's what landed on the Swap Party Menu:
  • Crudites of sugar snap peas, carrots, cucumber spears, cherry tomatoes and hummus - served in small individual bowls
  • Upside-Down Mushroom Tarletes - served in rows on a rectangular white platter
  • Teriyaki-Marinated Grilled Chicken Skewers - served simply in a chafing dish to stay warm
  • Antipasti Tray with cheddar cheese, marinated olives, pepper deli turkey, sliced cured meat, and cashews - served in big chunks on a large white tray
And I always do an appetizer that's out when people arrive.  I usually don't stray too far from this classic:
  • French bread rounds (toasted simply with olive oil and salt), a head of roasted garlic (made the night before), pesto spread (store-bought), sliced pear, and two cheese options (I used camembert and gorgonzola).
  • Wasabi peas - I had them in a bar once and just think they are a cool alternative to nuts.  I get them in bulk at the specialty grocery store.
For dessert, I used a Groupon I had been holding onto for months for Cupcake Royal... ladies love mini-cupcakes!  I also made some chocolate-dipped pretzel rods that I rolled in heath bits (a party hit!) - served in a new pot to look almost like a floral arrangement.

For drinks, I wanted a variety of holiday goodness:
  • Picture of Poinsettia Cocktail RecipePointsetta Cocktail - instead of shaking each one individually, I made up a pitcher and pre-poured them in champagne glasses with cranberries floating in each
  • Chilled White Wine - Pinot Grigio is my fav, so it was on hand - served in stemless wine glasses (for clutzes like me)
  • Mulled Red Wine - I don't love egg nog, so why not serve a hot beverage that totally reminds me of Christmas!  Cider-y, wine-y, spice-y... yumm-y!
  • Hot Beverage Bar - hot coffee and cocoa with all the fixin's, including whipped cream, Peppermint Schnapps, and Irish Cream Liquor in clear glass bottles with matching labels - served in my wedding china cups and saucers (wahoo, get to use them!)
  • Pellegrino with limes - always.
Check out Steps 5 through 7 Up Next!