January 10, 2008

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Slacker’s guide to resolutions
How little changes can make a big difference
By Hippo Staffy news@hippopress.com

Did you resolve to lose weight, make more money and be an outgoing person in 2008?

By the time Jan. 1 melts into Jan. 3, many a New Year’s resolution is already gathering dust along with the unwanted gifts and the holiday decorations. But you don’t have to promise yourself big changes — losing 50 pounds or finding a job that makes 20 percent more, for example. There are a few small things you can do to improve your quality of life.

Can’t afford a brand new wardrobe? For a few dollars per item, you can make the clothes you have fit you better.

Want to get fit? Instead of worrying about massive weight loss right away, create a workout that is interesting enough that you’ll stick with it.

Want to eat better? Instead of a diet overhaul, look for ways to get some healthier ingredients into the dishes you already eat.

Need more money for a rainy day fund or retirement? Especially if you’re younger, you can kick start your savings with about the same amount of money you’d spend on a couple of tanks of gas.

Use the recent bouts of snow and bitter cold as an excuse to give up smoking (pretty much an outdoors-only habit in most public places). And give your confidence a booster shot by improving your skill at and comfort with public speaking.

A better quality of life is easier to get than you might suspect plus it can be fun. And it doesn’t require as much pesky effort.

A more exciting workout
Devise an alternative to the hamster wheel
By Sarah LaPlante slaplante@hippopress.com

We’ve all done it: made the resolution go to to the gym every day for at least an hour.

Often, this grand plan will remain routine only for about a month until we get bored at the gym and start to find excuses about how little time we have to dedicate to fumbling around on an elliptical or treadmill.

The key to maintaining healthy exercise is remaining interested in it, experts say.

Dean Carlson, a personal trainer and the owner of CR8 Health and Fitness in Epsom, knows what it takes to keep at that goal of a smaller pant size.

“I started as a personal trainer after losing 80 pounds myself. … Part of our job is to motivate people, but most motivation is intrinsic ... [clients] don’t need motivation, they need determination and consistency,” Carlson said. He approaches each of his clients’ workouts on an individual basis, but he notices parallels in what trips people up on their way to success. They get bored, or they just plain make excuses; maybe it’s a fear of success.

“If someone loses five pounds in the first weeks, that’s motivation in itself ... Normally, we change routines every three to four weeks. That’s not just for motivation, but it serves a purpose as far as training goes ... your body adapts very quickly ... [changing your routine] every three to four weeks can keep you from being bored,” Carlson said.

“You [also] have to find something you’ll like doing. Exercise can be fun. You don’t have to just [run on] the treadmill,” Carlson said.

Carlson isn’t a fan of traditional cardiovascular workouts and bases most of his clients’ routines around strength training. Of course, in order to see any real form of success, Carlson maintains, changing things up a bit makes all the difference.

“Generally, when we talk about changing the program we change weight and resistance,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just something to keep your body guessing, so to speak ... you have to fight against your body wanting to stay the same,” Carlson said. Carlson’s approach to cardio veers away from the societal tradition of hammering away on a treadmill.

“I’m a big fan of, as far as cardio is concerned, not using the same machine all the time. Your body is more prone to injury if you keep the same patterns ... if you use the eliptical [all the time], you’re constantly using the same movement, you can injure yourself. I’m not a big traditional cardio fan. I encourage clients to get outside and enjoy doing what they’re doing. As far as cardiovascular, we do high-intensity cardio training. We do high-intensity [activity] for a few minutes and then return to a walking pace ... for no more than 20 minutes ... [this method] is more effective for fat loss than long bouts of cardio training and takes less time during your workout, which people are attracted to,” Carlson said.

At a place like Curves, the franchise of women-focused exercise centers, variety is built in to the routine. Exercisers move from station to station, doing warm-ups, aerobic exercise, strength training, a cool down and stretching, according to the Curves Web site.

April Johnson owns several Curves facilities in the Manchester area. Curves workouts are based on a 30-minute circuit training program that’s mapped out for members when they walk through the door, removing all the guess work about how many reps are required for an exercise or what machines work best for which muscles.

“[A Curves workout] combines cardio and strength training ... there’s no specific time frame and it’s all laid out, so there’s no brain work behind it ... [a member’s] heart rate is consistently kept up ... we use hydraulic machines so there’s no worry about how much weight to use and they’re a good workout for any fitness level,” Johnson said.

Curves facilities are much smaller than traditional gyms, so contact with other members is unavoidable. With that comes an instant camaradarie, which can help exercisers enjoy working out.

“I know something we value is personal relationships with our members. We know them all by name and there’s an accountability in that ... there’s always conversation, which helps non-gym-goers feel more comfortable ... it’s less of a hassle and more fun for them,” Johnson said.

Another key to Johnson’s members’ success is games. Johnson and her staff believe that recognition and accountability are truly key in members’ attaining the goals they set for themselves.

“We [had] the ‘Winter Olympics’ [recently] ... What I’ve done is based around reality shows ... We had The Biggest Loser, Survivor Island, The Amazing Race,” Johnson said.

A personalized wardrobe
How to make your clothes work for you
By Stephanie F. McLaughlin letters@hippopress.com

The beginning of the New Year is a tough time for lots of us. Not only do we make a list of things we have to do in order to like ourselves more, the weather works against us achieving our goals. The only things we want to do are stay inside and eat foods that will keep our bodies insulated against the cold.

Clothes, we think. New clothes will make us a better person! But then the holiday bills roll in and the only thing getting skinny in many houses this month is a wallet.

Don’t get too down, though. There are things you can do right in your own closet to make it feel fresh and new, without spending too much money. Follow these four steps in your closet and you’ll feel smarter, better organized and, most importantly, better dressed in no time. After all, those are all on your list, right?

Edit
First, take all your off-season clothes and store them in another location. Mornings are no fun anyway, without having to dig through piles of stuff you can’t wear today. Drop a few cedar blocks in a Rubbermaid tub, pile your clothes in there, add a sachet of something nice-smelling and put them away until May.

Pull out clothes that you haven’t worn in a couple of seasons. Pile them up on the bed. Pull out anything that doesn’t fit today. Your big clothes and your skinny clothes should not mock and distract you on a daily basis. They are a resource for you to call on when you need them. They should ideally be stored somewhere out of sight. If you must, you can put them at the far end of the closet, but they shouldn’t be front and center.

Start a pile for items that need mending or are beyond repair. Make another pile for things you love but haven’t worn in years. Finally, make a pile of things that may fit but that you just don’t wear.

Be ruthless. If there’s a perfectly decent white oxford that has yellow stains under the arms, get rid of it. It’s just a distraction in the closet. If things can be mended, then do it, or take it to your tailor. If they’re beyond repair, look to see if they have elements that can be hijacked to another item. Perhaps there’s good trim or interesting buttons.

Remodel
Start with the pile of things that you don’t wear because they don’t fit. Is there anything that you’d love to be wearing but that’s just a little bit off? This might be a candidate for the tailor. Or perhaps there’s an item in there that’s too obviously out of fashion because of its cut or its length. A good tailor can help you with those, too.

Kosta Moutsioulis of The House of Tailoring (119 Hanover St.) in Manchester says that you can remodel your clothes to fit better.

“If it’s too tight, you let it out; if it’s too loose, you take it in,” he said.

For men, the most common alterations he does are waist and sleeves; for women, length and waist. To shorten pants he will charge $10, or $12 with a cuff. For a skirt, he charges $14 to shorten with a lining and $12 for one without. Pleats are a whole different ball game. For a simple waist alteration, prepare to pay about $12, though Kosta cautions that every job is truly custom and can be priced accordingly.

For more involved jobs, whether it’s remodeling a whole suit or reformatting last season’s fashion, bring the item in and your tailor can tell you how much it will cost and how long it will take. At The House of Tailoring, most alterations can be done in 10 days to two weeks, though during prom season and the holidays they can take longer.

For ladies, turn unworn pants into capris, culottes or winter shorts. A long skirt can become a short skirt and a blazer can become cropped, fitted or turned into ¾ sleeves. Kosta cautions that alterations can become expensive, so make sure it’s something you love that you wish you could wear more often. For men, he says that suits for which you paid less than $250 probably aren’t worth remodeling.

Embellish
This tip is admittedly more for the ladies. We’re not talking about be-dazzling your wardrobe, but there are things you can do to update plain or classic fashions or staples that you’ve worn until you’re sick of them.

Add new trim to skirts, sweaters or even pants. Don’t just think horizontal trim, either. Give a pair of pants a tuxedo stripe or outline a cardigan’s placket with matching or contrasting trim. Add a fur collar to a tired blazer or jacket. Add beading or jewels to a plain skirt or t-shirt. Remove sleeves from dresses to give them a new shape. Give a tired belt a new buckle.

Take a trip to Martin’s House of Cloth (4 Ridgewood Road, Bedford) or Joanne’s Fabrics (Nashua and Hooksett) to get some ideas. Bring the item along and ask for suggestions from the staff if you need inspiration.

Swap
For items that are still wearable but not your size or style anymore, consider swapping with friends. Invite a number of friends and ask them to bring their unworn and unloved items. Display them all around your venue (laid out on couches, hanging on doors, etc.) Pick numbers out of a hat and each person picks an item in that order. Pour wine and begin.

Although men are much less likely to convene such a party, it’s their clothes that are more likely to be better suited for the next guy. So call it a Citywide All-Star Closet Jamboree and get swapping, guys.

A smoke-free you
It’s cold outside anyway — if you want to quit, now’s the time
By Alec O’Meara aomeara@hippopress.com

In September of 2007, the statewide ban on smoking inside New Hampshire’s restaurants and bars put one more nail into the coffin for the smoker’s lifestyle.

If the cost of cigarettes and the health concerns haven’t convinced you to quit, being forced to huddle on a sidewalk in sub-zero weather trying to finish a butt while non-smoking friends are warm and dry inside having fun might be enough to change some minds.

Look up almost any self-betterment “New Year’s Resolution” poll, and the goal of quitting smoking will land somewhere in the top 10. People want to quit, but that doesn’t mean they will succeed in quitting.

Those who attempt to quit smoking are divided into two camps by experts in the field. The first group, those who “just do it,” make a personal resolultion to quit smoking and then stick to that decision by willpower alone. These people are pretty much on their own and, if they are successful, don’t need outside help.

“Addiction hits everyone differently, said Kelley Argie, associate director of Makin’ it Happen Coalition and project director for “Kickin’ Butts in Manchester,” an organization that provides support and resource materials for quitters.

For those looking to go it alone, Argie recommends the “Four D’s” for when a craving strikes. “Deep breathing” or “Drinking water” can help quell the urge, as can any sort of “Delay,” as cravings usually pass in a minute’s time. If all else fails, Argie advises, simply “Do something else.”

New Hampshire is part of the “QuitWorks” initiative, a program initiated by the Massachusetts Department of Health. Since the program was launched, the departments of health in Rhode Island and New Hampshire have acquired grant money to participate. The site aims to help people who have concluded that they need outside assistance to kick the habit and are ready for a long, difficult battle with their addiction.

“The addiction to nicotine is more powerful than [addiction to] heroin or cocaine,” Argie said. “It’s not uncommon for it to take a few attempts for people to quit.”

The backbone of the plan is the “Try-To-Stop” hotline, a 24-hour call center that aims to support smokers as they fight off urges. The program also offers custom quitting programs with the help of the “Quit Wizard,” which involves taking an online survey. Call 1-800-879-8678 to tap into the resource.

A new drug called chantix is also available to help quitters through a doctor’s prescription. Chantix is given as part of a three-month treatment period to help curb nicotine cravings, said Argie.

Finally, future nonsmokers who want help outside the established medical profession often turn to a variety of holistic alternatives, including hypnosis. Argie said that the system has been both praised as an ultimate cure and derided as unhelpful, depending on the person. A self-hypnosis seminar is available through Catholic Medical Center in Manchester. Aside from tapping into the subconscious, constant reinforcement such as posting lists of reasons for quitting and enlisting the aid of family are often recommended alternative methods.

Nearly all informational sites agree that setbacks are common among longtime smokers looking to quit for the first time. Slips should not represent the end of the process. Instead, a new quit date should be set, Argie said, and the process should continue from there.

Consult a physician before using quitting aids such as nicotine patches or gums.

A confidence boost
Polish your public speaking
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

If there is one fear that is nearly universal, it’s public speaking. Jerry Seinfeld once said, “According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. ... This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”

Maybe you’re ready to conquer that fear. Maybe you want to get better at speaking in front of large groups. Maybe you want to learn how to better answer spontaneous questions. Maybe you want more self-confidence.

Whatever your needs for speaking, there is a group for you: Toastmasters, a group dedicated to public speaking. It’s an international nonprofit group that started in Santa Monica in 1924; there are 27 groups in the state that meet weekly or bi-monthly. For a nominal fee, you receive textbook guidance as well as positive reinforcement from peers.

“You learn that you don’t look as stupid as you think,” said Audry Schneider, a member of a Manchester Toastmasters group. “You may not be great speaker, but you’re an OK speaker.”

And with practice, she says, people improve quickly and dramatically in speaking and in confidence.

Last week, I attended the Amsokeag Better Communicators club in Manchester as a guest. In fact, anyone can come as a guest to watch the meeting. Jane Carrabis, who just ended her term as president of the club this week, recalled a member who was a guest for 14 months before she finally joined as a member.

“She was petrified to speak,” she said. Now she’s worked through the beginning manual, giving 10 speeches to the group, earning her a “Confident Communicator” badge. “The changes in her are like you can’t even believe. It’s amazing what it does for you.”

Carrabis has been a member for two years, since her boss at work informed her that she was to speak at a conference. “I wished I joined 10 or 15 years ago,” she said.

Every aspect of a Toastmasters meeting involves public speaking, from the speeches themselves to short introductions. There are roles within the meeting that allow participation and learning. It allows people who aren’t ready to give five- to seven-minute speeches a comfortable challenge to start with.

For those who want to work on impromptu speaking there are “Table Topics,” where the moderator throws out question to members. This reporter was called on to answer, “What does unalienable rights mean to me?” I sputtered, said a few nonsensical sentences, made a joke and then sat down.

What’s positive about the experience is that no matter how you do, there is a group of people who clap for you, list your strengths and tell something to work on next time. (Mine: I used humor to my advantage. “Maybe next time take a deep breath before you answer.”)

When people are thrust into those situations, they tend to produce adrenaline, sparking the so-called fight-or-flight response. The key, says John Fleming, professor of English and communication at Southern New Hampshire University, is learning to channel that energy to make a good speech.

“You need to be nervous to present a decent speech,” said Fleming, who has taught speech classes for years, nationally and internationally.

“The key to any good speech is preparation,” he said. “Know your audience, know what you’re saying and why you’re saying it.” He is confident that anyone can become a good speaker. “If you can walk and talk, you can give a good speech.”

He always encourages his students to check out Toastmasters as a way to continue practicing speaking. And once you attend a meeting you’re always welcome to come back. Many of the members of the Amoskeag group as well as members from other groups I spoke to while writing this article, like Mary Devine of Toastmasters of Manchester, asked if I was going to come back next week. I told them I probably would.

“Every time you speak to a person, you’re giving a presentation, whether it’s to one person or to 100,” Devine said.

A retirement account
The younger you start, the less you have to put away (in the beginning)
By Heidi Masek hmasek@hippopress.com

If getting serious about saving for retirement is one of your resolutions, there’s no magic formula for it. Since the outlook for Social Security or pensions doesn’t look good, unless you plan on your kids supporting you, you probably need to save.

What? You can’t spare cash for a regular savings account let alone save for years in the future?

One of the easiest ways to start, many advisors say, is to take advantage of a 401k (or 403b at nonprofits) qualified retirement plan available at work. Especially if the employer provides matching funds — essentially free money for you. Most don’t set minimum contributions, said Jeff Trombley of Edward Jones Investments in Concord.

Contributions can be deducted automatically from your paycheck.

“The best way to save for retirement is to have it on almost on autopilot,” said Jared Anderson, financial advisor from MassMutual Financial Group in Nashua.

If your company doesn’t offer that, you can open a traditional or Roth IRA (individual retirement account.) The total you can contribute per year has been increased from $4,000 to $5,000, or $6,000 if you are 50 or older.

In traditional IRAs and 401ks, money you contribute is pre-income tax. Funds growing in the account are not taxed until you start withdrawing, at which point “every penny is subject to tax,” said William D. Meyers, investment advisor from Meyers Financial in Concord. About ten years ago, the Roth IRA was created; contributions to them are taxed as regular income, but money growing in the fund is not, nor is what you withdraw if you are older than 59 and a half and the account is more than five years old. Roths have other restrictions.

Sorting it out
Age, income, goals and situation factor into deciding how to save.

How much you will need depends on when you plan to retire, your income and what you want to live on. The goal is often more than $500,000 for someone with an average salary and no pension.

Trombley said clients may start saving at a rate of about $50 per month and ratchet that up over months or years to reach more than five percent of income. “That’s when you start to see you have a chance to meaningfully replace your income when you retire,” Trombley said. Anderson usually recommends trying to save a total of 10 percent of income, including 401ks and other savings and investments.

Regardless of income, you need to figure out what’s coming in monthly and what’s going out, Anderson said. Sometimes you can cancel unnecessary expenses and apply the savings to retirement.

Taking advantage of employer matching funds and automatic payroll deductions can be particularly useful if you have a limited income. If you don’t see the money, it will probably hurt less to save it.

The younger you start, the better. You can’t get lost time back to compound interest. If you earned 10 percent as a flat rate of return, your money would double every 7.2 years.

If you need to pause or slow down retirement saving while raising children, money you started saving earlier will continue to grow.

While you are within eligible income limits, it may make sense to open a Roth IRA, Anderson said. You can have one in addition to a 401k. If you have changed jobs frequently, an option is to move 401k assets from old jobs into a traditional IRA account, Anderson said. That gives you control and fees may be lower. Traditional IRAs can be converted to Roth. (See 2008 tax law changes.)

It makes sense to start a retirement account as a teenager, which can be done with earned but not gifted income. Once young people gain awareness about money, they often continue to save, said Joshua Wright, senior vice president of investments and resident branch manager at Wachovia Securities in Manchester.

For older clients who find they need more than their current accounts will provide, Trombley works on different ways to “narrow that gap.” It might mean working more years, working part-time, or making choices such as buying a $20,000 car rather than a $30,000 one.

Risk
“Risk is something that you should take some time to look at,” Anderson said. Often, a questionnaire comes with a 401K plan to help you decide how conservative your investments should be. Take advantage of reviews or individual sessions with plan representatives. “A lot of people are in the dark when it comes to their 401k plan,” Anderson said. Knowing how to manage and choose funds wisely within the plan is important.

Meyers said he might tell a 28-year-old to allocate about 70 percent of retirement savings to riskier funds and 30 to “safe” investments. However, that should probably change over time so that person is in “safe mode” by his late 50s, Meyers said. Meyers considers “safe” as something with an absolute contracted rate of return, such as a fixed annuity from an insurance company or a certificate of deposit. That’s not everyone’s opinion.

Wright was one of the sources who compared sorting out retirement funds to researching buying a car. When investing, research funds and their histories. There are no guarantees, particularly in 401ks, so make an informed decision, Wright said. Meyers recommends getting a list of the various funds offered in a 401K and researching each, using sources like www.morningstar.com.

Who’s paid first?
There are various opinions about whether to pay off debt before saving.

Wright said he believes in many cases a person can work on getting rid of debt, creating short-term savings and saving for retirement at the same time. “They are all very important,” Wright said.

If you wait on retirement, you lose the advantage of compound growth rates. If you wait on saving, you can’t do things like buy a house. If you wait on paying off debt, you can’t buy anything, Wright said. How you prioritize how much is allocated for each depends on the situation. It helps to use raises or bonuses for those priorities, rather than splurging on a new TV, for example.

Trombley has recommended starting an investment plan regardless of debt status to clients for whom saving is not in their nature. Some work on both simultaneously to feel progress on both fronts, Trombley said. It’s more expensive to pay down debt gradually.

“Credit cards are murder,” Meyers said. He recommends paying off credit cards first. If you are paying 18 percent interest on credit card debt while making 8 percent interest on investments, you are losing money, he said.

Meyers recommends starting a savings account for emergencies before saving for retirement. That creates a reserve so you can use cash, not plastic, for car repairs, attending weddings and the like. He recommends ingdirect.com or emigrantdirect.com. They offer high return and automatic transfer.

Daniel Grossman, a financial planner from Nashua, recommends saving at least $1,000 as the “teeth and transmissions”emergency fund (not for dinners or vacations). Pay off unsecured debt like auto loans, credit card debt and second mortgages. Then build your emergency fund to three to five months equal to your expenses in case of unemployment. Then start saving for retirement, he said. He points to seven steps from Dave Ramsey at www.daveramsey.com. Trying to save without paying off debt is like “sailing with your anchor dragging,” he said. He’s even told some clients over 50 to take a break from 401k contributions to pay off debt. You don’t want to carry debt into retirement, and existing funds will continue to grow, Grossman said.

For specifics at any point, talk with someone with experience with retirement planning, even if it’s a parent, Wright said. Don’t just read an article with general advice and presume it will work for you, he said. Make some phone calls. The benefit of talking with professionals is that they have other clients’ experiences to draw on, Wright said. Others recommended being aware of who is working on commission, and checking fees and the background of firms you talk to. Also, if you are self-employed or plan to be, there are different vehicles, tax incentives and approaches to retirement planning, so ask an expert.

A healthier diet
Add a bit of whole grain to that meatloaf
By Linda A. Odum food@hippopress.com

One essential step to improve a New Year’s diet is to add whole grains to the menu.

“Whole grains are far superior to their refined counterpart,” said registered dietitian Erica Mumford. “They supply fiber, which helps level out our blood sugar after eating and keeps us satiated.  In addition, it helps us to maintain a healthy body weight and reduces our risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.”

Mumford also noted that whole grains provide many other nutrients in addition to fiber.

“These include antioxidants, which help to fight cancer; B vitamins, which are involved in energy production; magnesium, which helps with proper blood sugar regulation; and unsaturated fat, which is part of cholesterol management,” she said.

Just what is a whole grain? These three components to every seed must remain intact when milled or processed:

Bran — the outer layer of the grain that contains a majority of the fiber, plus the B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and zinc.

Germ — the part of the seed that sprouts the plant and contains the same nutrients as the bran, minus the fiber.

Endosperm — makes up most of the grain and contains protein and carbohydrates.

The milling process removes the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm.

All flour was whole grain until a few decades ago, when “the food industry figured out that if they took the bran and germ out of the flour, it would have a longer shelf life,” said registered dietitian Hilary Warner of Nutrition Works! in Concord. “It gave flour a finer texture, making for lighter bread and cakes.”

The Whole Grains Council offers these easy suggestions to add more whole grains to a daily diet:
• Replace half the white flour with whole wheat flour in recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes.
• Replace one third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.
• Add half a cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice, sorghum or barley to canned or home-made soup.
• Add three quarters of a cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey in burgers or meatloaf.
• Make risottos, pilafs and other rice-like dishes with whole grains such as barley, brown rice, bulgur, millet, quinoa or sorghum.
• Stir a handful of oats into yogurt.
• Buy whole-grain pasta or one of the blends that’s part whole-grain and part white.

Many packaged foods now say “Made with whole grains” on the label.

“The front of the box is all marketing,” said Warner. “Look at the nutrition label and the ingredients list. The first ingredient listed should be some kind of whole grain, like whole wheat flour, whole rice flour, whole oats or brown rice. Also, just because it is high in fiber doesn’t mean it is whole grain. Often manufacturers just add bran to increase the fiber, still leaving out the germ.”

“When white flour is produced, it is often enriched because it’s been stripped of the parts of the grain that contain nutrients. ‘Enriched’ indicates that some vitamins and minerals have been added back to the food, but not everything,” Mumford said.

Warner said there is a period of adjustment when switching from refined to whole grains, so be patient. It took her family two years to transition from white pasta to the whole wheat variety. She also noted, “Whole grains are delicious. Experimenting with the different ones can be fun.”