Saturday, April 28, 2012

Preparing to Live Below the Line

I have been a supporter of CARE, a global development and anti-poverty organization, for a few years now. I recently got an email from them with a link to the "Live Below the Line" challenge, asking me to try to eat and drink for 5 days (May 7-11) with a budget of $1.50 a day, the global poverty line (for comparison, the U.S. food stamp budget is about $4.50 per person per day, and the average American spends about $7 per day on food).

The "Live Below the Line" challenge means using that $1.50 for all food, beverages, cooking oil, and seasonings. It doesn't include, like it does for 1.4 billion people really living under that line, things like shelter, medicine, education, clothing. Most of them are children.

It goes without saying that taking this challenge won't let me know what it's like to live in extreme poverty. I live in a house with electricity and a reasonable expectation of being safe when I sleep at night.  I can turn on my faucet and have safe, almost free, running water.  I have always had more than enough to eat. I have a car and access to medical care.

I say all of this because one of the main criticisms that I have seen of the challenge is that it is "playing at poverty" and is disrespectful and meaningless and does nothing to solve the problem. The U.S. challenge has raised almost $30,000 as I write this post, and the challenge hasn't even started yet.  The leaderboards list college and university teams, workplaces, and even high schools (the challenge is limited to those 15-60 for safety reasons). This challenge is getting whole groups of people thinking and talking about global poverty, which is important. If more people genuinely cared about the plight of the extreme poor, they might start to make a difference. There are smart, proven ways to address the root causes of poverty, like educating girls and  changing the way we do food aid (supporting local food supplies instead of dumping commodities), that could really make a difference if we all cared enough to demand it. I wonder what the Huffington Post blogger does to address poverty.

From my experience, just trying to plan meals for a day for $1.50 has made me aware of how spoiled I am. There is no way to do this challenge without thinking ten times as much about food as I'm used to. Sure, beans and rice are cheap, but if they are going to be at all palatable, I have to add spices and other ingredients, which all have to be accounted for. The guidelines suggest budgeting for whole packages of beans and rice. That means that strategies to buy in bulk amounts to save money per serving don't work.  Every decision is a tradeoff. If I buy coffee or tea to stave off caffeine withdrawal headaches, even a cheap package blows more than half my food budget.

I realized after I committed to this challenge that I don't usually think about how much costs. I went to Kroger, which sometimes has good deals on certain items.  Then I went to Aldi's, where I had never really shopped before. I didn't even know how to get a cart out of lockdown. I asked a nice man, who I saw unlocking one, and he held out a quarter to me. I refused it, digging one out of my own bag, and thanked him. Apparently to save money, Aldi's locks up the carts and make you pay a quarter to get them out and give it back to you when you put the cart away. Everything about the store is minimalist.  They usually have only one brand of a certain kind of food -- the store brand.  Every item is helpfully marked with the cost per serving.  I was studying the signs, shopping incredibly slowly.  Then I looked around and realized almost everyone else was shopping that way too. I felt ashamed of myself for the breezy way I usually shop. Sure, I read labels -- for calories -- and minimally think about price, but I don't spend my whole shopping trip calculating.  Normally, If I burn a dinner or spill something, I clean it up and get something else. I don't agonize about having wasted part of my food budget for the week. My husband and I both have full-time jobs with middle-class salaries, and we have no kids, so that puts us in pretty good shape, financially, even though like most Americans, we don't think of ourselves as well-off. I think that I will learn a lot from this challenge.

My husband is joining me so at least we can budget for our food together  -- $15 for the two of us. We are thinking simple: Lentil soup, beans with canned tomatoes and rice. We're skipping meat because it doesn't really fit in the budget, unless we go cheap (pink slime, anyone?).  We'd rather just forgo it. Vegetables, other than onions and potatoes, are really hard to fit in. A cheap bag of frozen broccoli was $1.99.  Fruit is really not going to fit either.  When I got home from the store, I immediately marked all of my items with their cost per serving and set up a spreadsheet to try to figure out how to make my food budget for the challenge work.

The other thing I did was go to my challenge fundraising site and donate the first $100 myself. I know I will save at least that on groceries. After the challenge, I'm sure I will want to give more.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Body problems, or clothing problems?

I just finished listening to a wonderful escape of an audiobook, Paris in Love: A Memoir.  The author basically translated her facebook posts and tweets about her sabbatical in Paris into book form.  I loved listening to the book, which she read, and then I had to find her website and read her bio.  She has quite the literary pedigree. I was discouraged, after reading how huge she felt in Paris, to see how svelte she looks in her photos. If she couldn't find clothes in Paris, there is no way I ever could.

I loved her descriptions of the fashion she saw in the streets of Paris, and really want to be like one of the chic women she saw. This has been an obsession of mine for a while.

I have several problems, which are either clothing problems, body problems, or a combination of both:  I think I need to lose weight and go shopping. I feel like I am hopelessly in need of a fashion intervention.



  1. Shirts with buttons do not button. Or, if I buy them big enough to button, they make me look like a houseboat.
  2. T-shirts make me feel lumpy. I am still struggling with the dreaded muffin top.
  3. I tried wearing control camis, but they roll up at inopportune moments and make me look like I am wearing a life preserver around my waist.
  4. I only have one pair of jeans that I really like on me.
  5. Every cardigan I find is too short. I want one that hits mid-hip, but they all seem to end right at my waist. I am already short-waisted and these skimpy sweaters don't help disguise it one bit.
  6. I hate ironing.
  7. I love jackets, but am afraid the ones I have are too stuffy for casual wear.
  8. I need nicer summer options. I'm afraid I look like a hobo in my faded and holey capris.
  9. I have cute clothes for special occasions, (at least I think they're cute, please don't photograph me, see next item), but only a few things I love for everyday wear.
  10. I can think I look perfectly fine in something until I see a picture of myself wearing it.
  11. I keep cleaning out my drawers and closets only to still have a whole wardrobe full of nothing to wear.
  12. I have cute shoes that hurt my feet and ugly shoes that are comfortable. Nothing in-between.
I'm feeling pretty down about this. I have so much trouble getting dressed lately. I know it's the excess weight but I have had very little success in my reducing efforts lately.

I think rather than go shopping randomly, yet again, and ending up with one or two new things (or worse, a whole bag of t-shirts from the sale rack), I need to figure out what pieces I really need to have to make a wardrobe instead of a collection of stuff that doesn't go together.  Here's what I think I need most (besides a better body):

  • Grownup, cute summer clothes. Enough with the t-shirts and Old Navy capris, already.
  • Some casual tops that are made of real fabric, not jersey.
  • Another pair of jeans that I like, or even two more pairs.
  • A cute jacket that doesn't look like a business suit blazer.
  • Some cute and comfortable shoes.
I think it's getting harder to find fashionable, age-appropriate stuff. Since the recession, I feel like most of the stores have been stocking cheaper, flimsier clothes. It's frustrating. I don't want to look like I'm trying to dress too young, but I'm not quite ready for Eileen Fisher just yet.  

Where do you like to shop for clothes that really work for you? I have been having so little luck making it work lately?

Monday, April 16, 2012

My beauty product additction: With product recommendations

My skincare and makeup addiction continues. Please don't judge me. In return, I'll share a little top ten of products I've found that I really love. Most of these are cult classics, products I keep hearing about. I am using Amazon Affiliate links mostly so you can click through and learn more about the products and their prices:
  1. NARS Orgasm Blush:  It's not just the name, though I'm sure that's part of the appeal. It's also that the peachy-pink color instantly wakes up my face and makes me look fresh and rested even when, like last week, I've been traveling and am so tired my face hurts. It doesn't come with one of those stubby little brushes you find with most blushes. That's okay, because those brushes aren't good for getting natural-looking color anyway. I use a long-handled angled brush to get that soft glow I'm looking for.
  2. Yves Saint Laurent Touche Eclat (Radiant Touch in Luminous Ivory: This is a little pricey but it actually does what concealer is supposed to do. I have dark undereye circles from allergies and have tried a lot of concealers and this is the best by far. It can be used anywhere you have darkness or discoloration or want a little more brightness.
  3. Clinique Almost Lipstick in Black Honey: If I put on a single layer, it gives just a touch of color, but a second layer deepens the color. It moisturizes my lips, which are always dry.
  4. Fresh Sugar tinted lip treatment in Rose: This is an even softer look than the Black Honey, and more moisturizing. It's a good touch of color for when you want that pretty no-makeup look.
  5. Dermalogica Sheer Tint Moisture SPF 15 in Medium: Another product for no-makeup days. It has just enough tint to even out dark spots or blemishes without looking like I'm wearing anything on my face.
  6. LORAC Breakthrough Performance Foundation: I use this on days that I need a little more coverage. It has a great closeable pump for travel, which is nice. It looks natural and has a nice finish. 
  7. Benefit Cosmetics It's Potent! Eye Cream: I notice that this one didn't get great Amazon reviews but I really like it. It's thick so a little goes a long way. 
  8. Benefit Cosmetics Triple Performing Facial Emulsion SPF 15: I liked the eye cream so much that I just bought its companion product. This is a nice, light moisturizer that isn't at all greasy.  It does seem to brighten up my skin, too.
  9. Dermalogica Clean Start Acne Starter Kit: I think it's unfair that I have adult skin that thinks, sometimes, that it is still in its teenage years. Because this kit is intended as a gateway drug to Dermalogica for teenagers, it's a little less expensive than their adult products.  I especially like the "Bedtime for Breakouts" treatment. The cleanser is nice, too, though I have heard it's not worth spending a lot on cleansers so I'll probably go back to my old drugstore standby Burt's Bees Acne Purifying Gel Cleanser when the sample runs out.
  10. NYX 3 Color Eyeshadow Trio #3 Nude/Taupe/Dark Brown: Just in case you think I only buy expensive products, this is a nice bargain eye palette.  I don't think it's worth spending a lot of money on color -- I'd rather spend it on skincare and foundation.  This is a particularly good deal because it seems comparable to expensive brands like M.A.C.  I like that it's not sparkly and that the pots of color are big. There is a mirror in the compact and the applicators are long enough to give good control, so it's good for travel.  The colors are very versatile. The dark brown is dark enough to use as a liner for a smoky eye, especially with a dab of water. Most of the time I just use a big brush to put the nude color all over and then add a little sweep of the dark brown at the crease, also with a brush, to give a more natural look. 
For someone who used to think of myself as low-maintenance, I spend a lot of time and money on makeup and skincare lately. I'm always looking for new finds.  Do you have any favorite products to recommend?

Sunday, April 08, 2012

An apology and a redirect

I'm afraid my last post might have seemed like a slam on Karen for posting the link about the models. It wasn't meant to be, and I apologize. Blogging is supposed to be a fun activity and I don't feel like I am in any position to be the arbiter of what is blog- and facebook-worthy.  I'm really sorry, Karen, because I love your stuff and I definitely don't want to criticize you for following your passions and doing what you want to do with your life. You're actually my hero for taking time off from your work to pursue your dreams.

In fact, following big dreams was exactly what was on my mind but I let the post go the wrong direction. It feels like women and girls are still not encouraged to dream about much beyond being pretty, falling in love, getting married, and having babies.  Those are all nice things, but if that is the only thing that you are good for, it doesn't leave much for the later years in life, especially if you don't have grandchildren.

Since I didn't have any children, the chances of grandchildren are pretty small. Even my cats have been neutered and are in their golden years.

I obviously did have other dreams, but I think I've always pulled back from them out of fear.  When I was in grade school, I told my best friend that I wanted to either be an artist or a writer.  She laughed at me and said that you couldn't just decide to be either of those, other people had to tell you if you were good enough.  I think that in some sense, I believed that too.  Somewhere in my head, I never thought it was worth the effort to write, especially, because I'd never be good enough to be published.  It's funny, because one of the things I have to do as a professor is to write and publish.  I was never sure exactly what held me back from going after my big dreams  Then I listened to this TED Talk from Larry Smith, and I finally see why. He called me out.  I thought that somehow I couldn't have my dreams (the big ones, at least) and be successful in my relationships too.  Watch the video, if you dare.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

It's not (just) the models

On her Facebook page, Karen posted a link to an article called "Supermodels Without Photoshop" asking whether women would feel better about their bodies if models appeared in magazines the way they really looked (even with the help of stylists, makeup artists, etc.) instead of in digitally-retouched images.

I thought about it. Maybe? In the 80s, well before Photoshop, I remember feeling about as intimidated by the images of Cindy Crawford and her cohorts, the original "Supermodels." And then Kate Moss with her prepubescent skinniness.  I know there was some measure of photo retouching available even then, but nothing that could completely transform the way someone looked the way Photoshop does.  Even if there was no photoshop, a professionally beautiful woman with access to stylists and perfect lighting, photographed hundreds of times to get that one perfect image, is still going to seem in a completely different league than a regular woman with a normal life.  Especially when that normal woman compares herself to not one other woman, but to the whole pile of photographs, asking why she can't have hair like Celeb A and thighs like Celeb B and breasts like Celeb C but with the midsection of Celeb D.  Especially when most women's romantic partners have access to an infinite number of pornographic images of Women E-XXX.

But I'm not so sure that the images themselves are the problem. After all, you only have to pick up any issue of Men's Health to see crazy, obviously Photoshopped images of guys with almost no body fat. Many men also spend a lot of time watching the athletic exploits of men with beautiful bodies.  All athletes look great, because their bodies are perfect for what they do.  Men don't seem to spend a lot of time agonizing over their bodies.  They might feel a little sad if their pants don't fit or they start losing their hair, but they don't define themselves by their attractiveness.  Look at an averaged mixed-gender group of people and the women typically look a lot better than the men but spend twice as much time complaining about how they look.

I think the real problem is unequal gender roles that send the message that women have an expiration date, and when we get too old and/or too ugly (and we all will eventually be too old), no one will be interested in us anymore, not just as sexual partners but as people.  No one will want to hear what we have to say, let alone want to see us naked.

Why do we spend so much time focusing on media images when the problem is so much bigger than that?  I think because the problem is so big and so depressing. It's a lot easier to spend our time grumbling that some entertainment writer called yet another gorgeous actress fat because she's carrying maybe seven more pounds than some other actress.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Taking a break from the diet tweets

I decided that tweeting what I was eating was getting a bit tiring (and potentially tiresome).  It was still a useful exercise -- it got me to be consistent with tracking, and more conscious of my choices. I may save it as a fallback strategy for when I want to keep myself more attentive and accountable.

I think Vickie is also right in her comment -- if I'm feeling defensive about the idea that other people might be judging my choices, why make those choices so public?  I was hoping to demonstrate that it's possible to choose from the full range of foods, eat satisfying meals, and still lose weight.  Still, a one-person experiment is not going to definitively prove that, especially a one-week, one-person experiment.

I like the Nutrition Diva's podcast because her ideas are so sensible. She recently said, "There are two kinds of people, those who feel the need to divide everything into two categories, and those who don't." She was talking about all of the studies that look at this food or that food in an effort to see what is "good" or "bad" for us.  Instead of looking at one food and declaring it healthy or unhealthy, it's better to look at the whole balance of the diet.  If anyone really wanted to do a truly effective nutrition study, they would have the subjects photograph every meal and snack and analyze the diet as a whole.

As for me, I'm going to keep working on tweaking my own diet according to my own nutritional philosophies and worry less about whether other people approve. Maybe once I'm a big weight-loss success, I'll let you in on all my secrets.
"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07