Thursday, 31 December 2015

SitRep2015: How did I do?

At the end of 2014, in this post, I set myself 15 goals for 2015.  Here is a quick summary of how I did.  (Challenge first then result):-

  1. £50 February.  We nearly made it.  As detailed here, we spent £58.83.  I will definitely try this challenge again.
  2. January is for finishing Projects/WIPS.  This is more difficult to measure because I didn't list the unfinished projects in the original post.  I think they included my Deco cardigan - still needs buttons - and the Woolly Nanette Tee - finished but the ends still need weaving in.   Let's just call this goal a fail and be done with it.
  3. Lose 15lb in 2015.  As detailed here, I succeeded in losing 7lb almost permanently, but I reckon I lost at least 5 of those pounds on 3 separate occasions.  Partial win.
  4. The 2015 Fitness Challenge.  Fail.  I'm still a slug.
  5. The Feed Me Gardening Challenge.  Almost total fail.  Gardening got away from me this year.  The only thing I managed to grow were courgettes and they were from two plants donated by DH's boss.  Maybe next year will be better.
  6. The 2015 Knit from Stash Challenge.  Almost a complete success.  I say almost because I had to buy two extra balls of 4-ply Blue Faced Leicester in order to complete my latest project, It Cannot Fail to Please from A Stitch In Time.  I was really good until October, when  I slipped at the Knit & Stitch Show and purchased two balls of Toft Alpaca Sock, 8 balls of Drops Alpaca and two balls of Jamieson's Soft Shetland.  Only the last has been knitted to date; I used it to make a hat for Dark for Christmas.
  7. The Fashion on the Ration Challenge.  To be honest, while I know I blew this one out in July when I bought a load of lingerie, I stopped tracking before then and don't know how many points I really spent.
  8. Learn French.  I have worked my way through 2 lessons of Duolingo every morning this year and, according to to the app, am now 7% fluent in French.  While I am far from being able to sustain a conversation, I know more French now than I did after four years of classes in high school.  I'll continue with Duolingo in the new year.
  9. To Throw a Fabulous 50th Birthday Party.  Big win.  I had a great party.
  10. To Read and Finish 15 Books in 2015.  Not quite a win.  I read 13 books, not 15.  Virtually every book I've read this year was on the Kindle app on my phone or iPad and a lot of them were free or cheap, thanks to joining the BookBub mailing list.  (I now have hundreds of books thanks to BookBub.)  Please, Amazon, update the app so that we can tag the books we've read and easily find them.   
  11. To move into the back bedroom.  Fail.
  12. The wardrobe challenge.  Fail.  I'm still waiting to make the big trip to IKEA to buy new wardrobes so that we can outfit the back bedroom and move.
  13. To make something of my new job.  Success.  I'm not quite back to the same point as I was with the previous role, but I'm close.  I've made friends with two of the business's senior people and, as of tomorrow, I will have a team of project accountants reporting to me again.
  14. To blog 26 times in 2015.  Fail.  Somehow, though, I remembered the target as 15 times not 26.  Once I post this, it'll be 15 times.
  15. To write that book.  Fail.  Although I have started.  Twice.
So that's a quick review of my 2015.  How did you do with your 2015 resolutions/challenges?  Do tell!

Wishing you a fantastic 2016.

- Pam

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

A lesson learned from a sewing machine

(As you may be aware, I am the proud owner of a Brother sewing machine.  It may be 24 years old now, but it does exactly what I always wanted; among its 21 stitches are a one-step button hole, a special stitch for sewing jersey fabric, takes a double needle, a sort of overlock stitch, etc. While it is in desperate need of a service - one of my 2016 challenges is to get it serviced and then to use it more often - this story isn't about it.  This story is about another sewing machine, not mine...)

I mentioned on Facebook yesterday, one of the few pieces of advice I ever dish out to people, when it comes to possessions, is to buy the one you really want.  If you can't afford it, then wait and keep saving up until you can buy the one that you really want, because if you don't, if you buy something cheaper that "will do", it never does.  You will replace the latter two or three times with another that "will do", because you'll always find a fault with it; and eventually it will cost you double what the original would have cost in the first place.  And you still won't be satisfied because what "will do" is never good enough.

This is a lesson I learned from my mother over a sewing machine.  My mum always wanted a super-duper machine that did amazing embroidery automatically, at the touch of a button.  Embroidery was one of her things, although she seldom did it by the time I was born.  It was too hard on the hands and the eyes.  Looking back I think that what she really wanted to do was make and embellish baby clothes - that was her great love - but it was never something that she pursued once I grew beyond 6 or 7 (I'm the youngest).  Her style for children's clothes was classic mid-20th century:  embroidered and smocked dresses, or velvet with a lace collar (she made lace, too).  It was a look that was well out of fashion by the early 1970's, by the time I was old enough to start to notice fashion.  Anyway, I digress...

The sewing machine was always part of our lives when we were little.  If we needed new clothes, they were home made.  A trip to the shops "for clothes" always ended up in the fabric department, selecting a pattern and some cloth, after we'd made a circuit of women's wear and children's wear.  Like knowing how to crochet, I do not remember learning to use the sewing machine or getting lessons on laying out a pattern on fabric, etc.  These are things I have always known, things I learned almost by osmosis.

The other place we would always visit would be the sewing machine department.  Mum would chat to the demonstrators, always checking out the latest models, occasionally giving them a test ride.  In the late 1970's, there were a couple of big home exhibitions at the Exhibition Buildings in Melbourne.  I remember wandering around them for hours with mum, always stopping at the stands run by the sewing machine manufacturers: Singer, Janome, Huskvana, Bernina, Pfaff.  (Oddly enough, I don't remember ever seeing a Brother machine.). We always looked at the high-end embroidery models:  some were confined to built in programs that were selected from a dial; others took an infinite number of cams that you dropped into a slot, which were expensive optional extras.  I remember Singer making the latter.  The machine mum lusted after, though, was the Pfaff:  it had multiple push-button programs and she was convinced that you could combine designs by pushing two-or-more buttons together at once.  

(Remember, this was before computers took over the world. Everything was mechanical or manual. (As an aside, one of the first conversations I ever had about computing was to discuss whether you could program a computer to drive a sewing machine to embroider a picture.  She'd got to me, too.))

Anyway, as I said, mum really wanted a Pfaff sewing machine.  Even if she didn't get one that did all the whizz-bang, you-beaut embroidery, she still wanted a Pfaff.  As far as she was concerned, they were the BMW of the sewing machine world:  German precision engineering, heavy duty but elegant and a dream to use.  They were also expensive, probably the most expensive sewing machines on the market at that time.  I don't remember the exact costs now, however I'd guess a top-of-the-range model was more than my dad's take-home wages for a month.

Somewhere along the line, mum convinced herself that her old, 1960-edition sewing machine just wasn't good enough.  If it wasn't the stitches, then it was too light weight for the type of sewing she wanted to do.   (Built into its own sewing table/case, it would literally bounce about if you went too fast.). That was her argument, anyway.  During my teenage years, she talked herself into replacing that machine. Twice.  Neither replacement was good enough.  Since she kept the original, I remember doing a direct comparison: beyond having a free arm (the original had a flat bed), there was virtually nothing the new machines offered that the original couldn't do; maybe a one-step button hole, but that was it.  (Frankly, though, as long as your machine can do zig-zag and change the length and width of its stitches, it can do a button hole.  I learned how to do that on the old machine.). If they had fancy embroidery stitches, I never saw them being used.  

I have absolutely no recollection of what was wrong with the second machine, that convinced her to purchase the third.  All I can tell you is that she continued to lust after a Pfaff.  Here's the heart of the matter:  mum couldn't bring herself to spend that bit extra on the Pfaff she always wanted and the substitutes never matched up.    

They weren't cheap machines, but individually each wasn't as costly as a Pfaff.  Collectively, however, she spent more on them than she would have done on the Pfaff she really wanted.  I remember discussing it with my dad, who found the whole thing as frustrating as I did.  Yes, Pfaffs were expensive.  No, they didn't have a lot of spare money to throw around.  However, if it doesn't match up to your expectations, why bother buying it?  Dad was prepared to spend the money, but mum would not.  In his mind and mine, mum already had an "it will do" machine, so if you weren't going to buy the one you really wanted, with all the bells and whistles on it, why bother?  Why not just continue to save until she could get the Pfaff?

This is when I learned an important life lesson:  if there is something you really, really want, don't try to make do with an "almost as good as but cheaper" substitute.  It will never do.  You will always find fault with the substitute.  Keep saving your cash until you can get the one you really want*.  I have no problem with you buying a cheap-as-chips "temporary" substitute/second-hand model if you absolutely need that piece of equipment**, but don't fork out two-thirds of the price of the one you really want on something that doesn't add up and then moan about it for years afterwards.  

Certainly, expensive isn't always better.  However, don't settle for something on the "it will do" basis when clearly it won't.  Just don't do it.  

- Pam

* Why do you think I waited and saved for years for a top-of-the-range-at-the-time iPhone?   It did exactly what I wanted, had a good camera and came with the most data storage.  (When it comes to computing, always buy the biggest storage.)   At that point, it's predecessor was 8 years old BUT 8 years earlier, pre-iPhone-invention, the predecessor was the exact phone I wanted so I was happy to wait.

** Of course, after using your "temporary" model for a while, you may decide that it is perfect for your needs and you don't actually want the other one after all.  At least you'll have found out without spending a fortune.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Excuses, excuses... No excuses.

The other day at work, while I was zapping my lunch, I plugged my meal into the app, and  I found myself musing on the various times I'd counted calories or kept food diaries of one version or another.  While large portions of my life have been completely diet free, every so often in the last 10 years, I've gritted my teeth and tried (again) to lose the 15lb of fat that settled around my waist after my thyroid packed in.  Virtually every attempt involved some sort of tracker.

I was an overweight kid, probably carrying 2 stone more than I should have been by the time I was 11 or 12. (One stone = 14lb = 6kg.) I think the very first time I tried to diet was when I was 13 and my mum had bought a Weight Watchers' cookbook, which amazingly included details of the entire original Plan.  On that occasion, I ruled up a few pages in an exercise book, to act as my menu/meal tracker.  It was filled in on the first morning then abandoned.  Keeping track of Weight Watchers portions was too much like hard work, particularly since I had to keep referring back to the cookbook, which was too big to carry with me.

A couple of months later, I found a "model" diet in Dolly magazine and tried that.  A modelling school and agency - I forget which - gave it to the magazine; it was the diet they dished out to all their potential models. The selling point was "lose a stone in two weeks".  All I can remember is that most meals consisted of two eggs, half a grapefruit and spinach.  Not being much of a cook at the age of 14, I mainly hard boiled the eggs and boiled the spinach, which was disgusting.  Making a frittata never occurred to me. 

Then there was some terrible yoghurt and bran diet, which I devised myself.  (Don't ask.)  I must has been 15 by then and working on the theory that yoghurt was low in calories, full of calcium and protein, while the bran would fill me up. That lasted a couple of days.  Not only did it taste horrible, but I was hungry the entire time,  No wonder the word diet became associated in my mind with suffering through terrible tasting meals.

By the time I was 19, I'd given up on diets completely.  They were far too much like self-imposed torture for no reward.  The only thing that I tried to do, food wise, was to eat healthily:  more of the dreaded vegetables (I hated vegetables), high in fibre and low fat (anyway, greasy food gave me horrible irritable bowel syndrome cramps).  Gradually, I learned to like vegetables.  I did lose weight but it was almost by accident, and my weight stabilised at about 10st (140lb).  For a long time, I didn't even own a set of scales.

Fast forward to 1991, when I was working for a certain cosmetic surgery company, as a cross between office admin and operating theatre nurse. They decided that there was money to be made in diets, so sent me as a spy to a rival clinic.  The diet I was given that day was all about quantities and choices.  It was not prescriptive - as long as I didn't exceed the stated amounts, I could eat anything I chose. No menu plan. No "it's Tuesday, therefore you can only have 5 eggs and a head of lettuce". It was easy, straightforward and, after a day or so, I decided "I can stick with this".  Religiously, I tracked everything I ate, wrote it all down so that I could reproduce the diet meals later on.  While the company paid for the first visit, I paid for the rest.  I went back every week for 13 weeks and lost 2 stone in the process.  For the only time in my life, I achieved the magic goal weight of 8st 4lb.  

It didn't last, but my weight stabilised at a perfectly acceptable 9st 2lb and UK size 12 for the following 6 years.  It was only when I started living on Chinese takeaway, after we'd moved house and my first marriage was falling apart that I began putting the pounds back on.  By the turn of the millennium, I was 12 stone and the heaviest I have ever been.  

I managed to shed some pounds, once DH and I started living together but I was still over 11st when we started planning our wedding in 2003.  At the advice of some friends, I resorted to Weight Watchers.  While I counted points, based on the then Plan and pointed up most of my recipes, I basically followed the same program as I had in 1991.  The need to be accountable was the main reason I attended meetings.  I wrote everything up and pointed it all in the weekly food diary sheets we were given. I carried the program handbook in my handbag and referred to it often for points values.  I even joined the website. It worked, too.  I was slim at the wedding and became a gold member weighing 9st 2lb.

Less than a year later, I had shingles and the resultant autoimmune response wiped out my thyroid.  The inevitable result of hypothyroidism was weight gain.  I ballooned up to 10st 10lb, but this time the weight primarily went around my waist   I returned to Weight Watchers in 2007, stuck it out for the best part of 9 months and got back to 9st 10lb.  When I lapsed, the lesson I learned very quickly was that it took very little over-eating to put on weight.  Living for a week, once a month, in a hotel at site did it.  By the time the Project left site in 2011, I was back at 11st.  

When I returned to Weight Watchers, the program had changed.  Everything needed to be pointed up again.  I downloaded the app to my phone but it was frustratingly clumsy.  I tried logging into the website every day - at one point, whenever I opened Internet Explorer, it would automatically log straight into the tracker pages on the Weight Watchers website.  Again I found it very frustrating. I'd track for a week or so and then lapse.  Heaven help you if you ate out - although Weight Watchers continued to publish their Eating Out guide in paper format, it was impossible to find the same information out digitally.  For several years, I kept trying to make the new Weight Watchers program work for me and kept failing.  Eventually, in 2014, I gave up completely and resigned my membership of the website, cancelling my monthly subscription.

I don't remember when I downloaded the app to my iPhone.  I do know that in September 2014, I had a play with it, thinking that so long as I counted calories, I might achieve something.  As weight loss tools go, it has been a revelation: it is a calorie counter:  not only can you plug in your recipes and count their calories, it has a database that stores details of millions of preprepared foods and thousands of restaurant dishes.  It is an exercise tracker, interacting with dozens of fitness apps and tools, like my Fitbit.  It can even be turned into a pedometer, if I forget to put the Fitbit on.  It was everything that the Weightwatchers app, etc, wasn't.  It is easy.  It is non-judgemental and every day starts with a clean slate.

You may remember that, as part of my 15-goals-in-2015, I challenged myself to lose 15lb this year.  Most days, I have tracked my food and my footsteps in and it hasn't been a hassle.  I didn't make goal, but I didn't fail too badly,  On 5 January, when I weighed myself upon our return from Miami, I weighed 10st 10lb.  A month ago, I weighed 10st 3lb.  At my lowest point this year, I was 10st 2lb.  I haven't weighed myself in December so a 7lb weight loss for the year will have to do. It has had a visible effect on my body.  People have noticed and commented.  I'm back wearing most of my size 12 clothing.  Next year, I will try to lose the final 8lb.

- Pam

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Thoughts on friendship

I had lunch yesterday with a very dear friend, someone I absolutely adore but don't see these days on a regular basis.  It brought home to me a few things:-

1). Good friends can pick up their conversations where they left off, even if it's been weeks apart.

2). Friendship is about sharing your lives, your hopes and your dreams.   You need never worry about sharing the latter with a true friend. They will help you clarify your dreams, not laugh at them.

3). There is no such thing as TMI in a conversation with someone you are really close to.

4). When you really  love your friends, tell them. Life is fragile.  They deserve to know.  There is nothing nicer than the feeling you get when you know you are loved by someone - it is like being wrapped in a hug.

- Pam