7 min challenge coda

Well, I did it, I got through the month.

I did spend two weeks with two separate but equally nasty colds and skipped one Saturday because I slept the entire day, but I made up for it with doing the workout on my break day the next week.

I am stronger now.  I can do 9 pushups in the first set and 6-8 in the second set.

But I hate it.  Every day I’d be like, well, I guess I should do the workout now.  And I would, but I never ever wanted to.  I never looked forward to it, even when watching the daily show during it.  I just do not want to be bothered.

So after Feb 28th I stopped.  And that’s that.

7 min is a long time

In which #1 chronicles week 1 of her 7 min challenge.  For, you know, posterity.

Day 1:  Jumping jacks are easy but tiring.  Wall sit, this seems easy oh but now my upper legs are burning.  Why are my leg muscles burning?  Woo, 3 push-ups, go me, I guess.  Cannot do another.  I cannot do a single abdominal crunch or sit-up.  Step up onto chair, another one I don’t understand.  Squats are easy… it’s like how I picked stuff up when I was pregnant.  Triceps dip onto chair, I have never done this and it kind of burns.  Plank… doesn’t happen.  First my toe slips on tax papers on the floor and then I am completely unable to do even one push-up.  I ran out of push-ups in step 3.  High knees running in place– no problem.  Lunge– why is this even an exercise?  The last two things don’t happen– no more push-ups left so no push up and roll and no side plank.  During this time, the kids keep coming in demanding attention, despite having declined to try the exercises with me.

Day 2:  It becomes clear why people online said the wall sit was a challenge.  My day starts with sore leg muscles that remind me they exist every time I walk.  My colleagues ask me if everything is ok and laugh when I tell them.  Two of my colleagues used to force their younger siblings to do the wall sit, they tell me.  Another one says, “oh, I tried the 7 min workout once,” and grimaces.  After dinner I force my tired self to do another set.  This time I get 3.5 push-ups and manage to at least start the plank.  Not the side plank (wait, my rear end is supposed to be off the ground?).  My 8 year old successfully completes the entire circuit and then runs off.

Day 3:  Still sore, but maybe not as much.  Or maybe I’m just used to it.  Back to only 3 push-ups, and forget any crunches.  And I’m pretty sure the side plank isn’t going to happen this month, but you never know.

Day 4:  Amazingly, no longer sore.  Still, took the day off from the work out because of teaching for 6 hours.

Day 5:  My sister asked how it was going.  I told her some exercises were more doable than others.  Not at all sore today.  I did four push-ups in the first set and one in the last (and was able to plank for a bit).  I feel great today and at first attribute it to my exercise regimen, but then realize that my nose is no longer dripping, my head is no longer muffled, and I’m no longer getting vertigo when I dip my head down.  Not being sick is AWESOME.

Day 6:  FIVE pushups in a row.  And 2 in the last set.  And I’ve discovered 7 min goes a lot faster if you’re watching the daily show during it on the other computer monitor.

Day 7:  Another 5 pushups in the first set and 3 in the last set.

The 7-min February Challenge

My sister convinced me to do this one.  It’s 7 min, she said.  There’s an app for it that you can download to your iPad, she said.

Of course, I actually looked up the 7 min workout and it isn’t really 7 min– you’re supposed to do 3 or 4 repetitions of it, which brings you to 21 or 28 min, really (not counting resting).

But 7 min of intense exercise is 7 min more than I am currently doing, and I’m fairly sure it will be challenging enough for me that I’ll be getting some health benefit, at least initially.  I am willing to bet it will push me beyond my normal endurance.  We’ll see.  (You’ll see.)

So what is this 7 min workout?  It’s this thing that the NYTimes popularized in this article.  You do a whole bunch of stuff very intensely for a short amount of time.  It is unpleasant, but relatively brief.   You can download the app here.  (Yes, I know it has plenty of detractors with valid reasons for detracting.  And no, I won’t push myself beyond mildly unpleasant because no, I don’t want to hurt myself.  Also I will allow myself a day off each week if I think I need to heal.)

Why am I doing it?  Because it’s winter and I’m a lump because the pool is closed and it’s cold outside.  This seems like as good a challenge as any.  And I can take 7 min out of my day (most likely after work) to torture myself for 28 days straight.  We’ll see if that leads to anything else in the future.

For those who haven’t been following us forever, why February?  Because February is the best month for challenges!  January may have that post-holiday guilt and new year optimism, but February has the bigger benefit of being shorter.

Note from #2:  My partner did the 7-minute circuit one time and it’s a doozy of hellish awfulness.  Feel free to modify to your own ability level!  Definitely start with only one 7-minute cycle.  I can’t even make it through one of them.  I am a wuss.  I am ok with that.  But 7 minutes is not very long to put up with things for a long-term gain! [EDIT: he says he actually did it 5 times before I saw him in his state of exhaustion.  So it’s not *that* bad.]

Anyone else doing February challenges?

March Mortgage Update: And a challenge update

Last month (February):
Balance: $63,643.06
Years left:4.916666667
P =$954.07, I = $260.34, Escrow = 613.58

This month (March):
Balance: $61,508.58
Years left:4.75
P =$962.48, I =$251.92, Escrow = 613.58

One month’s prepayment savings: $4.64

So how did we do with the challenge month?  As predicted, it’s more fun to do a saving money challenge when you don’t have to than when you sorta do have to.  Especially when you can “cheat” by going out for lunch a few times (or dinner when there’s a speaker or job candidate!)

The first week our grocery bill was crazy low (for us), something like $70.  But then the second week it was more like $200 (which is average/high for us since DC2 started us with hir no wheat thing).  Third week, $90.65.  Fourth week we went into the city and that doesn’t count.  :)  So eating nothing but cheap meals does seem to have an impact on our bottom line.

Other than the arepas and the fresh spring rolls, most of what we made was stuff we ate a lot in graduate school– and most of that was stuff my parents taught me how to make as a kid.  If we had to permanently lower our food budget, I think I’d get bored of mostly the same American/Mexican fare.  For a month, it’s comfy-cozy, but after that I’d need to do a better job with our quick and easy ethnic cookbooks.  There’s a lot of cheap quick healthy ethnic food out there, it just needs to get worked into our repertoire.

I was also reminded how important it is to know what’s in season and to have flexibility at the grocery store when you’re eating on a budget if you want fresh veggies.  I didn’t exercise this option because we’re pressed for time more than we’re pressed for money, but I would be much more careful about the kinds of soups and stirfries and so on that I do make.

And, of course, it’s seriously difficult to eat cheap food when you’re trying to balance not eating refined carbs (because of the PCOS) with trying to avoid gluten (because of the diaper rash).  Mostly we’ve been going the refined carbs route (as you’ve seen), but as DC2 weans (and my metabolism returns to sucking), we’ll probably go the other extreme.  Fruits and veggies, of course, are always good, and it’s nice to be price insensitive to them.

[Update:  On Saturday we hit a sushi place and dropped $73 for comfortably full with no leftovers.  I am reminded that even when we eat out on the cheap, ~$30, the price of one meal is generally about the price of 4 meals from scratch from the grocery store.  I’m still not used to having enough money to drop $73 on a meal out with the kids, but we do have enough and it was really good!  I don’t think we’ll be making sushi-from-the-good-sushi-place a weekly thing though.]

Most of all, I’m reminded that it’s nice to not spend time thinking about the price of things, and focusing on what looks fun, interesting, and quick and easy to make.  Being semi-mindful cuts our grocery budget a third to a half, but we’re willing to spend more to just not have to think about the monetary aspects of our eating, and to occasionally splurge without guilt.  (Plus, free reign at the grocery store may cut down on our restaurant expenditures!)

How do you balance money and time with food?

Food deserts and produce portfolios

We had a guest speaker who talked about food deserts.  Food deserts are areas of cities where people live, but there aren’t any grocery stores with easy access.  At best, people’s food needs are met at the local 7-11, but these convenience stores charge more than grocery stores would and don’t carry fresh produce.  People who live in these areas eat a lot of junk food and canned food because that’s what’s available, and they tend to get way too much sodium because even “healthy” canned food tends to be higher in sodium than its fresh or frozen counterparts.

The guest speaker claimed that food deserts don’t really exist, or at least that the problem is much smaller in magnitude than it has been made out to be in the media.  He didn’t show a map or anything, and I haven’t looked up the original research so I can’t verify that claim.

He then said that when low SES and middle SES people shop at the same grocery store, they buy different food portfolios.  Middle SES people tend to buy a lot more variety of food, and they’re more likely to buy the seasonal produce–the fruits and veggies that are cheap because they’re in season.  Lower SES people at the same grocery store tend to buy the same bundles of food every month with far less variety.

He attributed this difference to lack of knowledge about how to cook different foods, but we could easily assume that there are differences in ability to carry the food home or to process and store the food so that it doesn’t go bad (and the downside to food going bad is worse when you have less money).  It could also be a difference in time– working 2 or 3 minimum wage part-time jobs doesn’t leave much time to be creative about cooking or shopping, especially if you have to take several buses to get to the grocery store.

The bottom-line though, is that if we want to help people to eat more healthily and more inexpensively, we can’t just provide access to fresh produce.  We probably can’t also, as he suggests (and WIC is doing), just provide cooking classes.  There are many reasons that lower SES people in cities turn towards convenience foods rather than a variety of seasonal produce.

Most of the stuff left on my cheap eats list is pretty bready, and we can’t have that much bread and still feed the baby so no biscuits and gravy, bruschetta, or pancakes this week.  Also we’ve been too sick and exhausted to make casseroles, so no tamale pie, even though that’s a great cheap eat.  In reality we’d probably have chili and spaghetti once a week rather than once (or twice, if you count meat and veggie chili together) a month if we were trying to keep costs low.

Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup: We make the soup from scratch because the canned stuff is too sweet.  But with a can, this is a $4 meal, give or take.

lentils:  depends on what you put in it, the lentils themselves are <$1.  You could add a couple slices of bacon from your bacon stash, but we’re probably gonna go veggie with spices.  So some onion and garlic and mustard seeds… probably a $3 or $4 meal.

stir fry veggies over rice:  This’ll be different than the last stirfry, but the cost will be about the same.

taco salad:  This can get pricey– but the lettuce will be $2, the beans $1, then probably a jar of salsa for $2.  Meat will add another $2-$6.

quiche:  Same as an omelete, but add another $1 or 2 for the crust.

noodles with olive oil and garlic and cheese (don’t worry, OMDG, we’ll probably have a side salad with it):  YMMV.

leftovers!:  Free!

And that should be it.  Next week I’m totally going back to the Thai cookbook for stuff.  (If you have the exotic stuff on hand because you eat a lot of it, the Thai food isn’t so bad, but if you don’t, it gets pricey.)

Arepas: A gluten-free win

Many years ago we lived in a big city in walking distance to a wonderful little arepa place.  We’d never had arepas before and we instantly became addicted.

Arepas a kind of cornbread, round like a small corn pita-bread, crusty on the outside with soft melty cornmeal on the inside.  They hail from several Latin American countries, and the ones we craved are from Venezuela, where they split them in two to make sandwiches.  There’s a particularly addicting arepa sandwich called reina pepiada, which is essentially chicken salad with avocado.  Or a slice of fresh cheese.  Or just butter.  Oh oh oh.

Fast forward many years, and we’ve been unable to find arepas, or rather, we’ve been able to find plenty of Colombian arepas, but none of the Venezuelan kind.  After deciding it probably wasn’t worth trying to get to the 3 yelp-dot diner two hours away in the middle of nowhere, we figured maybe this was something we could make on our own.

So eventually DH got himself a Latin American cookbook.  It’s a bit intimidating… sort of the Joy of Cooking Latin-American style.  An encyclopedia for a continent and a half’s worth of cooking.

Then my mom bought the arepa maker off my amazon wishlist.  And we were in business.

Oh joy.

We haven’t quite mastered the amazing rosemary chicken salad of the big city, but we’ve got the avocado down.  And the arepas are heavenly.  Just as we remembered them.

You don’t actually need an arepa maker to make arepas, you can make them on the stovetop like pupusas or really thick tortillas.  But to get them just like the ones at the restaurant, the arepa maker was necessary.

Here’s an internet recipe.  The internet makes a big deal about using PAN harina, but we’ve been using instant masa instead to no ill effect.

This week in challenge eating :

Quesadillas (we actually had these last week, but pretend we actually did fried rice last week and not this week).


Leek and potato soup– Leeks are out of season, but we got some anyway.  $3 for organic leeks.  <$3 for potatoes.  And some butter.  So $6 for a big pot.

stirfry with the leftover cabbage and other assorted veggies

vegetarian chili– Same as meat chili, but without the meat.

spaghetti with meat sauce

scrambled eggs

On baking from scratch, from mixes, or not at all

When you’re trying to save money, it can be difficult to decide what to make from scratch and what to buy for convenience.  Sometimes it’s a time issue, but sometimes the price difference between products isn’t that big.  Sometimes the price difference is enormous.  Often the big difference is in quality.

If you do plan on doing a lot of baking a stand mixers is an important investment.  A stand mixer is well worth the time (and potentially money) that it saves if you can afford it.  That’s one of those problems with being genuinely poor– where are you going to get $250 or $350 to buy a high quality stand mixer so you can multi-task while making bread?  Without a mixer, where are you going to find the time to bake from scratch on a regular basis?

Some people balk at the cost of yeast when baking bread, but really you only need to buy it once.  If you’re going to be baking bread regularly you can keep a starter in your fridge and use that in place of store-bought yeast.  If you’re not going to be baking all the time, you can still save on yeast using the “old dough” method, which uses old dough to provide yeast for new dough, and the dough can be frozen for quite some time before reuse.  Once you’re down to the price of flour, sugar, and oil, homemade bread is a delicious but inexpensive carb.

Making your own mix when you have time might be an option.  Pancakes are super cheap from scratch.  Yes, it’s convenient to buy a mix and just add liquid, but if you’re really trying to save money, you can mix up a big batch of mix yourself and use it as you need it.  Similarly, you can make up extra waffles or pancakes for your own toaster-waffles (or microwave pancakes) on weekday mornings.

Cakes, on the other hand, are often expensive homemade than store-bought or from a mix because you start using butter, and even with on-sale butter ($2/lb at the holidays), it can start to add up, especially if you want to add things like chocolate or candied fruit.  Of course, the same quality cake will cost tens of dollars from a real bakery.  Supermarket cakes tend to be chiffon (using oil) or shortening.  They’re not as good, but may be less expensive than you making your own (especially when reduced for quick sale after an event).  If you’re really into chiffon cakes, it may be less expensive to make your own mix than to make from a mix, but you’ll have to run the numbers yourself.  Personally I don’t think store-bought cakes or mixes are worth it– if I’m going to eat something bad for me it had better taste really good.  (Store-bought brownies and mixes, otoh, can be pretty tasty.)

Similarly, if you have expensive tastes, then homemade may be worth it because you use higher quality and fresher ingredients than the store.  Granola isn’t peanuts to make depending on what you put in it (the oats are cheap, but nuts can get expensive), but it is so pricy to buy that making it turns out to be a pretty good deal.  Freshly made granola also tastes ambrosial.

The true benefit to making your own baked goods is that you control what the ingredients are.  There’s a lot of crap in a lot of processed foods, even in the pre-made mixes.  There are breads that are cheaper than flour, but I can’t bring myself to eat them.  We still have some wonderbread in our freezer from when FIL was here and he wanted to make french toast with bread (but not whole wheat bread).  (MIL shouldn’t eat it because of her diabetes.)

But often times store-bought is the way to go.  If you can find a sandwich bread you like, store-bought lasts longer and comes perfectly sliced.  Sometimes you only want one cookie and not an entire batch (and what’s the point in going through the effort of making just one cookie?  and you mean to freeze the dough or the cookies for later but…).  The kind of pastry dough you use to make croissants is a multi-hour if not multi-day affair of folding and pounding if you make it from scratch (though buying croissants made without butter is completely not worth it no matter how inexpensive).

Sometimes you don’t have time and it’s worth more to buy the convenience food so you can earn more money, even when we’re not talking about croissants.  However, baking is a good way to spend time with kids– they can help at a pretty early age.  And, once they’re old enough to do it on your own, the time calculus changes.  Obviously they need to make more cookies.

Sometimes there are sales that make store-bought baked goods ridiculously inexpensive.  Check out the day-old bin, and check for holiday-themed mixes and baked items after a holiday for real deals.

When do you bake, when do you buy?  When do you use a mix?

This week’s menu:

Fried rice.  This uses the leftover rice from last week’s stirfry, but if it doesn’t the entire meal costs <$3.

Fried kielbasa with onions and potatoes.  If you want to save money and aren’t worried about your gylcemic load, you can buy a big bag of potatoes.  The trick is that you have to eat them before they go bad.  Because of my PCOS we won’t be doing that– potatoes are a special treat that I need to balance with meat and/or vinegar to slow digestion so I don’t get blood sugar spikes.  But man I do love me some potatoes.  Kielbasa ~$3  Onion ~$1.  Potatoes ~$1

Homemade pizza.  Dough, sauce, cheese.  Bread dough<$1, sauce <$2 (we use canned pizza sauce, but if you want to go cheaper you can just get a small tin of tomato sauce and add salt and any spices you have on hand), cheese… can vary depending on what kind you use and how much you use of it, but let’s go <$2.  DH insisted on more pepperoni (<$2) and some mushrooms (<$1).  Base meal is <$5, more fancy versions will depend on toppings.  One recipe worth tends to have a lot of leftovers.

Black Bean Soup.  Black beans, onions, carrots.  This costs about the same as split pea soup from last time, but I really want to have it with sour cream, so add a bit more.  And we’ve got cilantro in our garden that’s thriving despite (or because of) the recent cold snaps.

Spaghetti.  Can of sauce, noodles.  ~$4.  ($3 if you make the sauce from canned tomatoes and aren’t picky about spices)  If you add meat, another $2-$6.

Wraps.  Wraps are like sandwiches, but with (flour) tortillas instead of bread.  You can put anything in them from sandwich fillings to leftover rice, bean, or noodle dishes.  They’re good on-the-go versions of a meal.   We are going to do fresh spring rolls instead because we still have rice wrappers from last time and DC2 shouldn’t have flour tortillas.  The price on this can vary tremendously depending on what you put inside the cover.   We’ll be doing noodles, lettuce, cilantro, mint (also thriving), and shrimp (DH wanted seafood and shrimp are in season), so not that cheap.  A less expensive spring roll option would use chicken or maybe tofu depending on tofu prices.

Sweet and sour red cabbage.  We might do this with the kielbasa instead of potatoes and onions, I dunno.  <$1 for the cabbage (and there’s usually leftover).


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