Thursday, June 30, 2011

20 Pounds Lost!

Despite beginning my four week stay living in a dorm, I've now lost over twenty pounds. Because I'm working at this summer camp, I attended my first Weight Watchers' meeting without Stacey. The funny thing is we were both texting each other during our respective WW meetings -- she in Carrollton and me in Denton.

One of the things I've found myself doing is making the process a game. I strive to maximize my point usage, including snacks. I've not been afraid to use every point I'm allocated for the day, but I continue to work on making smart choices. This has meant adapting my snack habits.  I realized today, when I shared in the meeting about what has been working for me, that one of the problems with weight loss is that very few "experts," including doctors, give specific practical advice. I have found that the WW meetings do.

One specific practice that I believe has significantly helped in my weight loss is taking a look at my food choices and replacing some with healthier alternatives. For example, my morning ritual used to include two Pop Tarts with my morning espresso. I've loved Pop Tarts as far back as I can remember. The point totals for Pop Tarts (translate that into calories or added pounds) is the equivalent to a large breakfast.  To make matters even worse, I often ate two more Pop Tarts with my afternoon coffee. Now I have discovered VitaTops as a healthy replacement. Essentially these are muffin tops. Eating these reminds me of that Seinfeld episode where Elaine's old boss has opened a muffin shop. To make it a complete breakfast, I also have a bowl of oatmeal and add three slices of lean center cut bacon for protein. If I want to go low on points, I can eat the Vita Top and then make a one egg English muffin with Canadian bacon and some Laughing Cow cheese. Stacey currently makes those for me before she leaves for work and then I warm them up in the toaster oven.

More recently at lunch, I have stopped using mayonnaise with my turkey sandwiches and replaced it with spicy mustard. I could use a low calorie mayo, but even that costs a point or two. My view is that I would rather spend that point on something more substantive than a teaspoon of spread. It's this perspective that has made WW intuitively work for me. I liken it to being on a cash only budget. When you are out of cash, you can't spend any more. Like that cash budget, you can also set aside points and splurge when you want to. I can plan to have a Pop Tart or even pizza if I like.

One of the interesting observations I have discovered about weight loss is that you can see the change on the scale but you don't necessarily see the change in the mirror. Not because you haven't gotten smaller, but because you see yourself everyday. One other way of tracking success is measuring inches. I have not done that. Instead, I have "measured" the weight loss in the clothing I can now wear. Yesterday I wore a pair of shorts that have not fit me in nearly three years.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, June 27, 2011

Top Ten Things Thankful for While at Summer Camp

I am one of the many high school teachers who works during his so-called summer vacation to earn a little bit extra. I'm fortunate to be one of the debate coaches able to work at a debate summer camp. Every year about this time, I spend four weeks living in a dorm with over 200 hundred high school students. I am the Assistant Director of Residential life, or better known as the Dorm Dad.

While earning the extra money is great, the four months can be trying. I am accustomed to sleeping in a plush king size bed. Here I sleep on a twin bed without a box spring which takes some adjustment. Then there's the dorm food. (I've long bypassed this by bringing food for breakfast and lunch). The hours are crazy and it's nearly impossible to maintain any semblance of a healthy sleep schedule because we alternate office and on call hours.

Last night, I was thinking -- despite some of the relative hardships -- there are a few things for which I am thankful. Here is my Top 10 List of things I am thankful for during summer camp:

10. Taco Cabana - This fast food Mexican restaurant has one of the best nutritional guides for a fast food joint  and it has some healthy choices at affordable prices. I particularly like their build-your-own taco bowls. 
9. Better Oats - This is a nifty way to eat oatmeal daily. The packaging pouch also acts as a measuring cup for water. A pouch of water added to the contents in a paper bowl, nuked for 2 minutes and I have a hearty and healthy bowl of oatmeal.
8. Poncho Liner - I don't know what it is, but even as warm as the dorms get, I can't sleep without some sort of cover. The US Army poncho liner I received when I went through boot camp in 1984 still serves me well. This is the best piece of equipment I was ever issued in the Army. It is light weight and keeps you warm enough during fall, but it's light enough not to heat you up during the summer.
7. APOGEE WiFi - The wifi in the dorms has been nothing short of excellent. Even when the students return from lab and you know they are all doing research, the speed remains fast. This has enabled me to continue to blog, track foods on Weight Watchers, surf and watch online videos.
6. Handbrake - This freeware software allowed me to rip DVD's of movies and TV series like Seinfeld and Friends we own. While there is some debate about whether or not this fair use under the law, my personal opinion is that a person should be able to convert DVD's he purchased into a more mobile format. Being able to "handbrake" those movies onto my hard drive saved me from having to lug all those DVD's to camp and risk losing them in the process.
5. Netflix - While I am at camp, I really do cut the cord. The last thing I want to do is lug around something as big as a TV. Netflix, especially the iPad/iPhone app, has allowed me to watch movies and TV shows (I'm stuck on Scrubs right now) while I am eating a meal or when I am winding down at night (or early morning).
4. iPad - This will be my first year at the camp with our iPad. The biggest advantage I've gained from having it with me is that I can leave my laptop in my room when I have duty. I can use the iPad to check mail, review roster lists on Dropbox or read a book while I have office duty. I also use it to watch Netflix when I am going to bed.
3. King of Fans - Over the years I have worked at this summer camp, my biggest complaint has been the temperature in the rooms. Admittedly I like it cold so I am setting myself up for disappointment, especially when temps can hit 100 n the Texas summer. This year, I brought my super velocity King of Fans and I am very comfortable.
2. Close to Home - Now we can't take advantage of this all the time, but I do like the close proximity to home. It's about a 25 minute drive between the camp and our house. This means, Stacey can come and have dinner with me at least one night a week. It also means if I have forgotten to bring something she can bring it to me more easily. Recently, Denton opened its train system. I am tempted to try taking the train home once while I am here.
1. Gmail Video Chat - The one thing that helps keep me sane is the ability to video chat with Stacey every night before she goes to bed. It makes it seem like I am not really away from home. I also like the fact that I can see and "talk" to my puppies: Calvin and Hobbes.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night...

The new Green Lantern movie opens today at theaters across the land. The story is about a test pilot, Hal Jordan, played by Ryan Reynolds, who encounters a dying alien who gives him a magical ring. Accepting ring, enjoins him to an intergalactic group of super beings. The movie is based in part on the Emerald Dawn story arc.

The early reviews are not good. The consistent theme of the write ups is that the movie spends too much time filling in the back story of the character. Others say the special effects are solid.

I must admit I have a bias against DC, being a Marvel-Man myself. Nevertheless, it seems DC can't hit a winner with any of its comic based movies that do not have Dark Knight in the title.

Stacey and I are fans of Ryan Reynolds so we will probably catch it later in the summer. If you want to watch an under-rated movie starring Ryan Reynolds, catch Chaos Theory available to stream on Netflix.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Food for the Soul

Blessed Pope John XXIII
During an RCIA session I was teaching on the Eucharist, I commented that my mother told me when I was a boy, "you are what you eat." I was trying to make the point that partaking in frequent Communion is a good thing, that by receiving the body and blood of our Lord, we can't help but become more like Him. In the middle of that talk, I had this thought: if I am what I eat, does that make me a potato? You see, I've never met a potato dish I didn't like.

I had an epiphany during our parish lenten mission. The speaker, Father Thomas McDermott, O.P., closed out one of the sessions by challenging us to pray about the one thing that was getting in the way of our spiritual growth. I was immediately hit with the thought that my weight has inhibited my ability to do more in the service of God and my fellow man. This was my biggest obstacle to getting closer to Christ.

So this realization has added a spiritual spin to my weight loss journey. I have now included prayer in asking for help in my weight loss.  I know losing weight will not come without difficulty, but those challenges will be opportunities to offer it up

I have searched for a patron saint for the weight challenged; there is none. I have two thoughts on potential patrons for those of us who are overweight: St. Thomas Aquinas and Blessed Pope John XXIII. There is some debate about whether or not St Thomas was obese, but there is no question that Pope John XXIII was. I have chosen him to intercede for me in my fight to get fit. I even have a picture of him as my wallpaper on my phone.

I now have a higher purpose for losing weight -- not to look good, but to be healthier so I can serve our Lord better. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Day's of Summer: Title 1, Physicals and Outlines

My cluttered desk and laptop.
Today will mark the first day of summer break that didn't involve me having to work.  Monday was supposed to be my first day, but I had to attend a Title 1 training.  Yesterday, I had to finish an essay for the IPT Masters program to which I have applied.

So how do I get to spend my first day off? I am going to get poked and prodded for Part 2 of my annual physical exam. I don't know why I do this to myself every year.  I have about two weeks between the time school ends for the summer and when the debate institute I work at begins.  For those two weeks, I try to cram in all the doctor visits I have put off.  I sprinkle in a few honey-do's and the two weeks are done.

I hope to spend the last half of the day outlining part of the story for the book I am finishing this summer.  I might even spend some time developing some character back stories to help them come alive for me. Both of these will be new approaches for me as I normally just sit down and start writing. 

Stacey will tell you the worst part of my writing process is that I can labor over a sentence or even a word choice for hours.  In all my years of writing for school, work or pleasure, I have never started with an outline.  In fact, when I was required to turn in an outline in school, I would write the paper and then fabricate an outline to go with it.  I also don't do too much rewriting (in the traditional sense) because I spend a great deal of time editing as I go. This slows me down.

This summer I am going to scrap my old way of writing and try a few new things.  First, I am going to try using some minor outlining in my process.  Secondly, I am going to set a daily goal word count (2,500/day) and not worry about editing until later.

I figure the old ways have not led to a complete novel so change is in order.  Wasn't it Einstein who said doing the same thing over and over again and expecting new results is insanity?  

Monday, June 06, 2011

Summer Book Project

So the results are in from the poll I posted on this blog to help me decide which book project to finish this summer.  The winner is...(drum roll)...Lights Out!

While I have no intention of placing a page limit on the book, I do believe it must be at least 400 pages long. This means I will have to write an average of 2,500-3,000 words a day for the time I have available to write full-time this summer.

My hope is to make this book project interactive.  I will post excerpts from the book as I go along and I may even post difficulties with character development or plot sequences. We'll see.

Friday, June 03, 2011

How I Overcame a Challenging Week for Weight Loss

In the past week, I have had to attend a retirement dinner, a post graduation brunch, an anniversary dinner and a post-graduation dinner.  With the exception of the anniversary dinner I did not have much control over any of the menus. Despite all the available fattening fried foods, I was able to stay on track every single one of those days.  Here's how I did it:

The Retirement Dinner
The challenge started when I realized we were having the retirement party at Mattito's, a local Tex-Mex restaurant that has some pretty tasty food. I had originally thought we were going to have a fajita bar and that I could simply get some of the grilled chicken with guacamole and veggies. I learned the day before we were having various appetizers, things like chimichangas, quesadillas, flautas and lots of chile con queso. I voiced my concerns to Rozana, one of my colleagues who had organized the event. She has been an avid supporter of my recent weight loss. She told me not to worry because she would call the manager and get me a special plate. So the night of the retirement party I managed to resist the queso (it wasn't easy because it looked so good). Rozana reminded the manager and out they came with a plate of grilled veggies and a grilled chicken breast. I added some guacamole and one cerveza with the meal and I still managed to stay under my budgeted points for the day. The key was the willingness to voice my concern and having an advocate to work out the details. Thanks Ro!

The Post-Graduation Faculty Brunch
I am in charge of organizing the faculty brunch after our school's graduation ceremony. Three years ago, with Mr. Palagonia's arrival as our new principal, we began having these faculty brunches at the Original Pancake House on Lemmon. The biggest challenge with planning to eat here was a lack of nutritional guide on their web site. (Note: I think will write a future post on some of the better restaurant's that post their nutritional guides on their web sites) Nevertheless, I knew they carried both egg whites and egg beaters as substitutes for all their dishes. Since we had to wait a bit before we were seated, I looked over the menu and determined I could substitute egg beaters for the eggs and still eat the migas without the cheese. Instead of ordering the regular pancakes, I ordered a small stack of buckwheat pancakes with sugar-free syrup. 

The Anniversary Dinner
I wrote in a previous post about the wonderful experience Stacey and I had celebrating our anniversary at Texas de Brazil. While the post may have suggested that we threw out point counting for the meal, we did not. For starters we both saved our "weekly points" for the special occasion. Secondly, we both ate low point meals prior to the dinner. Finally, I calculated the points for the cuts of meat I knew I would want to eat. I placed myself on a mental limit and when I hit that limit I turned the tab over to red and called it a night. I also chose to not eat dessert but instead enjoyed a bit more meat for the same amount of points.

The Post-Graduation Dinner
This Tuesday our youngest son Alec graduated from Calvary Christian Academy. We decided to celebrate his graduation tonight. We all gathered at our oldest son, Kevin's house. He and his wife Kate were wonderful hosts. The biggest key to success was communicating with Kevin in advance and asking if he could make his famous tacos with turkey or low fat ground beef. He opted for the 93/7 ground beef which got us in the ball park. Kate, having achieved her goal weight thru Weight Watchers last year, helped us by buying other WW friendly items like 2% Mexican cheese. Combined with these healthier choices, we made sure to also portion out reasonable servings and not create Dagwood tacos.

I am no expert and I have a long way to go to reaching my goal weight. I can only share the few things that have helped make this work for me. (My mantra has been if I can do this anyone can) First, when eating out, don't be afraid to ask for healthier substitutes. Secondly, plan ahead by budgeting points, checking menus and when possible look at nutrition guides. Finally, get friends and family to join in helping you. You might be pleasantly surprised at how willing they are.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Musings on Another School Year in the Books

Each year I teach seems to end faster than the one before. Tomorrow will be the last day for the students, which is effectively the last day of school even though I have one teacher work day and staff development ahead of me. 2010-2011 was a crazy year. 

Two weeks after my wrist surgery.
I began the school year by missing the first two days of in service training because Stacey had to have emergency surgery to remove her gall bladder. The following month we had three of our ten cluster teachers (including me) have to undergo some form of wrist surgery. Mine was due to "Mommy thumb" from picking up Hobbes. We've lived with the threat of budget cuts, pay cuts and layoffs all year. This dominoed into losing experienced teachers who took incentives to retire. After seeing budgets 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, 4.0 and 5.0 we still don't know for sure what will happen next year. One thing we do know -- we will have a new superintendent.  Dr. Hinojosa has taken another job in Georgia.

Opal broke her wrist in a fall at school.
The debate season started in earnest the first week of school. The debaters showed up ready to work (well most of them) and we enjoyed early and consistent success throughout the year. 

This year marked a major transition for the team in more than one. First, everyone on the circuit including me expected this to be a rebuilding year.  We had lost several outstanding seniors to graduation, including two that had qualified to the TOC: The Tournament of Champions. 

Ivan Garcia & Rolando Velasquez with last minute preparation.
One other area in which we were transitioning was the use of tubs. Below students are preparing for an early tournament with their debate tubs. Within a few weeks we went paperless and the policy debater began debating by retrieving their evidence from laptops. This helped in saving the cost of printing and the room on vans.

Katia Ramirez with her plate from UNT.
While we were rebuilding we had a solid crop of freshmen novices join the team this year. We had eight novice LD Debaters and four novice CX debaters. We students from each group earn trophies early on. While I try not to emphasize winning with the beginners, I can't help but be proud of the "baby debaters" when they get their first trophies. It's probably one of the most enjoyable parts of being a debate coach.

Last year, I got thrown back into teaching our Sophomore Law class. I was against it at first. In the end, I had a blast working with them on their independent research and it helped me get know several of the non-debate students. One of the groups stood out for their creative projects and just plain being fun to work with. This year as juniors all of them were assigned shadowships at the County Courthouse so I rarely got to see them.  This did not keep them from surprising me on my birthday with a homemade cake.

The debate season can be long and tedious. The long weekends are becoming more difficult for me to recover from and the tournament food is one of the reasons I am doing Weight Watchers now. 

Nevertheless, the season was a good one. Our students were in elimination rounds in every local tournament we attended. I lost count of the number of trophies they won. We had more students earn TFA state qualification points than in any other year.  This group included three freshmen.

Finally, in a year when we were supposed to be rebuilding, the CX team of Garcia-Velasquez (pictured at top) made it to the elimination rounds at TFA State. We had never had a team or debater do that before. In fact, no one from our district had ever done it. 
The War Room: getting ready for TFA State.

Sadly, we had to conclude the year on a bit of a downer. Steve Goodall, who has been a teacher at our school since I was senior, retired. He waited to make the announcement until the last week of regular classes. Goodall and I have never agreed on anything political, but I have always enjoyed the bantering back and forth. Often in the first few years I taught, he and I would engage in a mini debate about a current event and draw in the freshmen. Goodall grew from being my former teacher, to a colleague and eventually a friend.  He will be missed.

I am looking forward to the two weeks I will have off before I head to the Mean Green Debate Workshops. I have a lot of reading planned along with some writing (like tightening of this blog).