Thursday, July 31, 2008

$125/week Grocery Challenge

I decided to take up the challenge of MSN Money writer Melinda Fulmer "Can a family eat on $100 a week? The goal was to feed her family of four healthy food for $100, or less.

Wenchypoo made a few inquiries of Fulmer, to clarify some of the rules she used during the challenge week. I don't think she's received answers yet. She decided to work up an organic shopping list for herself & Mr. Wenchypoo, while including the special dietary requirements of the Wenchkitties (Kittywenchlets?). The shopping list is here.

Since my family is larger than Fulmer's, I'm going with a $125/week budget. This will be just food. Health items and household/cleaning products will be kept separate from the list.

I'm not sure how Fulmer balanced the contents of her pantry against the shopping lists, so I'm adjusting for that as well. I have several items stocked up in my pantry and freezer - chicken breasts, oatmeal, coconut milk, my irish breakfast tea, etc. Most of these will need to be restocked over the next few weeks. Oatmeal is the exception. I buy 3-4 months worth at a time, for breakfast muffins and cookies. Less than $10 at Costco, so it's not exactly a budget buster.

I'll be doing the challenge for four consecutive weeks, to balance out the supplies I have on hand. Will be restocking as I go, so that will be part of the budget. In planning out the last two weeks of the challenge, I'll be packing school lunches for three children, five days per week. I'll be picking up a few items, such as juice boxes and granola bars, over these first two weeks, to minimize the big jump after school starts.

I do my shopping in smaller trips, since I often shop by bicycle. Haven't decided yet whether I'll update for each trip, or just give an end of week list and total.

Something in the Air

I have a whole new appreciation for Air Conditioning this week. After the night of breathing unfiltered, 80+ degree, soupy air, we're all stuffy and drippy. Benadryl and Claritin, all around. Nobody feels ill. It's just that same thickness of brain and body that comes with the height of pollen season, mid-spring. Guess there's something to those Air Quality Index number I hear on the radio each morning.

I'm headed off to the gym, to give the indoor (AC!) track a try. Might make it around more times than I care to count during a full hour, might only be 10 laps followed by a race to find kleenex.

On the bright side, this gives me the chance to spend the time running to think of fun things to say about "the family that runs together..." with runny noses in mind.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Spray Starch for the Soul

Yesterday was an odd day. Not enough sleep, in a bit of a funk, restless in both mind and spirit. Baking, laundry and ironing were my salvation. Nothing like the smell of oatmeal muffins coming from the kitchen and combining with spray starch on linens fresh from the dryer to soothe the soul.

At least, until the tree limb came down through the power lines.

No damage to house or property. Fell into the street. Didn't even take down the lines; just knocked out the power to the street. The Georgia Power crew had us up and running again in fairly short order, kind of. It did put a stop to the ironing, mid-basket.

Today's trip to the Atlanta Botanical Garden is on hold while we wait to hear about tree service. There are a few more branches in the overhanging sweetgum which should probably be trimmed before the next big storm moves through.

I'll be working on my $125/week grocery challenge update, and keeping the kids occupied with some chores around the house.

And, I'll get back to my ironing. A little more starch and steam ought to set me back to rights.

Walk/Bike Neighborhoods

I found a fun mapping site today. Picked up the link at Riding Pretty-Bicycle Chic. (A super fun site of biking goodness, by the way.) The site is Walk Score, and allows you to plug in your home address, a neighborhood in which you might be interested, your office, etc., and find out how high it scores for walkability.

I popped in the address of the park / arts center in my neighborhood, and....
My neighborhood scores a 43 - Car Dependent. There are a lot of stores and restaurants in the 1.5-2.5 mile range, which are outside the walking area, but which are quite reachable by bicycle.

I agree completely with the Car Dependent status though.

The bike lanes, where available, are neither wide enough, nor clearly marked. It's alright for me to ride out to the store, but there's no way I'm taking children out on that 24-inch ribbon at the side of the road. The elementary school is about 2 miles away, but down a narrow and winding 2-lane road, without sidewalks. The car is a safety necessity, even though we could easily walk that distance. In fact, the sidewalks are spotty along the sections of main road we could walk to reach a few restaurants and stores. Along Johnson Ferry, there are stretches with no sidewalks. The sidewalks which do exist are only on one side of the street; and not even on the same side of the street. To make the .8 mile walk to Roswell Road, we'd need to either cross back and forth to stay with available sidewalks and grassy curbs, or walk in the street along the areas without.

I'm not a supporter of government created and controlled roads; I think the private market, or combination public-private solutions would be far better and less expensive than the junk our tax money is purchasing now. But that's a completely different discussion. If the government is going to be in charge of our roads, the least they can do is work for safer transport for all commuters, and not just those in cars. After all, it's part of what we're paying all those fuel taxes, SPLOSTS, and property taxes for, isn't it?

Aside from my gripe about the roads, Walk Score is a pretty darn cool mapping tool. I will probably spend way too much time playing with it over the next couple of days.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Half Training, Week 3

Mon Stretch/Strength
Tues 3 mile, Easy; 3 mile bike (errands)
Wed XT - 6.5 mile tandem ride
Thur 5 mile, Easy
Fri Rest Day
Sat XT - 4.8 mile hill ride (Whole Foods - flour, milk, and other heavy stuff. Ugh!)
Sun 5.9 mile, Long

Total: Run, 15.2 miles; Bike, 14.3 miles

I was only supposed to increase the mileage by two this week. Ended up with a 5.2 mile increase. I know it was too much for one week, but it's offset by the drop in my bike mileage. This weeks' rides were all store trips or family rides. My daughter trailed behind my hybrid for six miles on the Riverside bike path in Roswell. Turns out, stabilizing both of us while hitched gave me quite the core workout for the day. We'll try it again one evening this week.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Can a family eat on $100 a week?

If I take a look at the grocery budget from a couple years ago, I'd say yes. Not so sure now. My grocery list has simplified over the last two years, yet the amount spent has gone up by about 20-25%. I've even eliminated some convenience foods, and have cut my coffee consumption down considerable and the daily energy drinks are gone.

Growing kids have changed the quantities of many items, but the other changes really should have offset any increase. Carrots, apples, grapes and bulk cashews and sunflower seeds go quite a bit further, for less, than yogurt covered raisins, potato chips and prepackaged individual sized trail mix. Not seeing a big savings though.

Inflation. Ouch.

Wenchypoo has a link to the MSN article Can a family eat on $100 a week? by Melinda Fulmer. The article details the budgeting and dietary issues of the author's challenge to feed her family of four on $100/week. She almost made it, but considers it a win at $105.03.

From Wenchypoo:
We could probably do it if FOOD was the only thing counted--no sundries at all--eating organically. In fact, I'll try it next week, since this week's organic order has already been placed.

I wonder if the article means $100/week in PRICE or COST PER SERVING? All they say is "no coupons, gardens, free food, etc."--all must come from a grocery store of some sort.

I've written the author for clarification, and told her of my intentions to take her up on this challenge using organic food. Right away I have the advantage by not having kids to feed, and multiple food allergies to deal with.

I'm curious about the answers. I think I might just try $125/week, for my family of five, during the month of August. It's back to school time, so I'll already be working on stricter meal plans, with early morning breakfasts and packed lunches. Working out dinner menus for the week at the same time isn't too much of a stretch.

It's easier if all the household, health/bath, and dog items are not included in the weekly total. If they are, I'll just need to be a bit more diligent in preparing oat/flax muffins and waffles in advance for breakfasts. And keeping baked goods going for lunches/snacks. There will not be much room for prepackaged items.

I'll try two weeks with just grocery chains (Kroger, Publix, Whole Foods, Trader Joes), then two weeks with my favorite asian & farmers' market back on the list. I know right now which weeks will have the greater variety of produce, and the lower cost. The two weeks of just grocery chains will have an offset in fuel cost, since I can ride my bike to the store and leave the gas guzzler at home. I'll be going every day, but I can burn extra calories while I do. The farmers and asian markets are across town, so they'll be a once a week thing those last two weeks.

The toughest thing for me will be figuring out alternatives to the food bars I take on rides and runs. Replacing those prepackaged sources of balanced carbs & proteins will take some experimenting. If I'm going to put the kids through this though, I need to be prepared to cut out my $2/bar convenience food.


The sidebar at MSN contained a link to a similar challenge last November by MP Dunleavy. She attempted to cut the grocery bill for her family of three in half. It was an entertaining article, as she weighed the high value of her husband's helpful trip to the grocery store against the extra $33 he spent. They exceeded the slashed budget, but found several ways they could gradually cut back on costs for the future.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Random Goodness

Was decluttering my iPhoto massive Miscellaneous folder today, and came across this gem from three years (ish) ago:
It's marvelous. All three kids are looking in the general direction of the camera, and smiling. My daughter's eyes are closed, and mine too. That's okay though, because we were both laughing at a very silly joke at the time. Don't remember the exact topic, but I think it had something to do with Captain Underpants bedtime reading.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Biking in Traffic

I really enjoy riding my bike around for errands. Grocery stores, produce stand, bank, pharmacy, Target, running stores and coffee, all within 1-1.5 miles from the house. It's stress reducing, healthy, and quite often faster than going by car.

Today was an extra great day for bike errands. There was a crew working on something at the side of the road, so the traffic was funneled down to one lane. The bike lane was quite open, so I zipped past all those cranky-looking drivers. Felt quite chic with my little bike basket, too. White capris, blue canvas espadrilles, flowing blue top, sunglasses, ponytail streaming behind me in the breeze.

Unfortunately, Fleet Feet was out of the 10 ounce bottles for my fuel belt, so that's an errand for another day. Browsed a bit, and enjoyed the air conditioning for a few minutes before heading over to Trader Joes. Picked up my veggies, strawberries, tamari roasted almonds, lavender salt scrub and 12-pack of toilet paper, then headed home. Not by the same route. The bike lane would not have been open on the way back; that's where the utility truck was parked. So I needed to take my triangle running route, Roswell to Abernathy, home. I headed north on Roswell Road. This was BIG for me. I'm not a fan of Roswell Road traffic when in my big old truck, let alone my little hybrid bike.

Even during lunch hour traffic, it was not at all scary. As a bonus, it was downhill. Decided to treat myself. Pulled up to Starbucks' front door, popped in for an iced vanilla latte. Took a big sip, then popped it in the basket with the shopping bag. The Abernathy portion of the ride was a bit more nervous than the Roswell, seeing as how it's only a two lane road, without shoulders or bike lane. Traffic wasn't bad.

I think I'm just about ready to branch out for longer road trips on the bike. Not today, because I have a map of Statesville, NC to "pretty up" this afternoon, but soon. Watch out Borders, here I come.

Half Training, 1st 2 Weeks

I'm really glad I started a couple of weeks early on Hal Higdon's Half Training Plan. Sick kids, pop-up storms, poor air quality and a lovely new road rash on my right knee have made for some adjustments. Here's the rundown on my first two official weeks:

Week 1
Mon Rest Day
Tues 3 mile, Easy
Wed XT - Swim with kids
Thur 3 mile, Easy; Rowing (Strength)
Fri Rest Day
Sat XT - 40.2 mile ride (Silver Comet Trail)
Sun 4 mile, Long

Week 2
Mon Bikram Yoga (Stretch/Strength)
Tues 3 mile, Easy (if running w/3 kids and dog can be considered "easy")
Wed XT - 22.6 mile Ride (Group Road Ride)
Thur Off (Sick Kids)
Fri 3 mile, Easy
Sat XT - 20.5 mile ride (Silver Comet)
Sun 4 mile, Long (Trail run by river)

Wiped out while crossing an intersection during last Wednesday's group ride, so no Bikram for me this week. I can't stand having jeans over the giant strawberry on my right knee - there's no way I could manage the kneeling poses. I have to get better about the shoe/pedal combo at slow speeds.

It was a great weekend for hanging out with the kids. My ride and run were early, so the afternoons and evenings were spent swimming, watching movies and playing board games. Am keeping fingers crossed this week goes about the same as last, minus the sick kids part, of course.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Running Like a Girl

I wear running skirts to the gym and trail. I ride in a wrap cycling skirt by sugoi more days than I wear cycling shorts. I like the skirts. I suppose this makes me part of the Skirt Culture from the August issue of Runners World.

They have a pretty thorough line up of choices. Longer, shorter, looser, spankies, boy shorts. The reviews just weren't good enough. Each skirt had only positive comments. That doesn't help me, any more than only negative comments would. Is a pro & con for each skirt too much to ask?

A negative comment about a tight fit from a person with curvier hips would have tipped me off to a particular skirt being a good choice for my rectangular frame.

A mention of a fit being fantastic, but there being no pockets, would mean it's not a good choice for my longer runs over the next several months.

I'm left with the same problem I had before. I still have to track down each and every skirt for trying on. A few negative reviews could have narrowed my options to three or four. Ugh.

Since I already own and LOVE my cycling skirt from sugoi, I'm likely to add their running skirt to my wardrobe. (see above) It's a similar wrap style, has a floral embellishment, and has removable compression shorts, so I can switch out with padded cycling shorts. I like the multipurpose clothing!

Anyway, I'm seriously considering the Footloose Dress, from SkirtSports. (I've also heard Asics may have one out soon.) I like the idea of not fidgeting with a waistband, especially once I hit the 90+ minute runs. I can toss a pair of compression shorts (with pockets) under it, or my bicycle shorts for cross training days.

If it ends up being my favorite running gear, I'll need to figure out a few add-ons for fall running. Don't know if the full hoodie would be needed.
Maybe a shrug? This one is from shelia moon (Team Estrogen), and though it's an armwarmer choice for cycling, might just be another great crossover piece.

First Half

I signed up for my first Half Marathon. The 8th Silver Comet Half Marathon, October 25.
I started my official training schedule on Monday, with a Rest/Easy Cross day.
Tuesday: 3-mile run. Ended up being my fastest 5k time to date, as I ran the (5k) park trail while watching lightning streaks and counting the seconds until hearing thunder.
Wednesday: stretching. The 2-mile easy run was dropped because of another late day storm.
Thursday: 3-mile, plus 10 mins of rowing. (Should be run & strength training)
Friday (today): Rest day.

The Rest Day is killing me. I woke up this morning, wanting to run. Not long, not even particularly fast or hilly. Just a run. But Saturday is a longish ride; Sunday a 4-mile run. In the interest of not overdoing it, I swam with the kids, and spent some time spinning the smaller ones like tops on their floats.

I'm working my way into Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training Plan. It's a 12-week plan, so I'm actually a couple of weeks early in starting. Between kids' back to school schedules next month, and pop-up thunderstorms over this month & next, I may need a few extra 'doh! days. You know - those days you slap yourself on the forehead because you totally forgot having scheduled a 7-year checkup at the pediatrician, a follow-up for the teenager at the orthodontist, and the dog's annual shots all on the same day.

Not that I ever do anything scatterbrained like that, though. I'd have scheduled at least two or three extra things, in a completely different part of town, thinking that XYZ day was sometime next week.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Sign Design Fail

From FAILblog. Seeing as how I spend my days making street maps, travel guides and custom maps, this is my favorite of the FAILs. (Hat tip to Cranky Fitness, for including this in a post about all the conflicting information we hear from the various research folks.)