Living

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Our Families Shape our Lives (And I am thankful)

I’m going to take a break today from discussions about food. I’m sure there’s a collective sigh of relief from all my readers, the few of you that are out there. Today I want to talk about family and being thankful.

I was blessed with two sisters and, although we didn’t get along all the time, we’re cornerstones in each other’s lives now that we’re adults. I don’t know what I’d do without my sisters.

I was also blessed with two loving and dedicated parents. We had rough patches and there were financial and emotional struggles, but through it all my parents stayed together and provided a stable and caring home. They raised us to help our family members and forgive any faults that might irritate us. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like if they hadn’t toughed it out together; if they didn’t love each other too much to give up.

I am not a perfect person. I am well aware of this. I also don’t expect perfection from others. I give credit for that to my parents because they taught me that when you love someone, you love them, faults and all. I don’t know how to love any other way. I love my friends down to the bottom of my soul. I love my family the same way. I love my son’s father this way as well.

We’ve had some really rough times and we haven’t always dealt with them to the best of our abilities. Sometimes communication failed and things looked bleak. We’ve been round and round the rollercoaster ride numerous times now and somehow, we keep coming back to each other.

So I was asked the other day… “How many more times are you going to go through this?” and my answer, at least to myself, was “as many times as it takes.” I honestly hope that we won’t repeat our mistakes of the past but I know that even if we do, it was worth taking the chance. This isn’t a dream or make-believe, this is reality. Merging two lives together takes work. Making and sustaining a healthy and happy family takes even more. Anyone who tells you it’s going to be easy is a moron. Sometimes things fail and you’re left with scars. And sometimes you’re given the chance to mend what’s been broken. I honestly believe that if you don’t take those chances in your life you’ll always wonder “what if”.

I don’t feel this makes me weak. If anything, it makes me stronger. I have the strength to fight for what I want in my life, to face my fears and try not to let scars of the past hinder my future. We are family, together with our son, and that isn’t something someone should give up on lightly.

I saw this picture the other day in my news feed and was reminded again how solid my base for family and relationships is.

Maybe I’m old fashioned or stubborn, but I don’t believe in giving up. I do believe that most differences can be resolved, problems can be fixed, and that; through mutual respect and love; time can heal wounds. If nothing else I will know, deep down, that I’m living my life in a manner that won’t leave me wondering “what if”. And, in the end, no matter how things play out, my son has two parents who love him to the bottom of their souls.

Family provides us with perspective. How we are raised influences how we live our adult lives. I count myself blessed that I have such a strong support system, a solid example of how love can thrive in even the most trying of times. We all take different paths in this world and the only constant is change. But no matter how much you change you know that there will always be people who love you just the way you are.

Our son is going to grow up with similar examples, a variation of my childhood themes, and a supportive and loving family. I couldn’t think of a better way to raise our son than to teach him to lead with his heart, not let fears hold him back from attaining his goals, and to love without judgment.

I guess that despite all of my claims that I wouldn’t be; I’m very much like my parents. In all the best ways.

I took time today to reflect on the most important people of my life;  how they’ve helped me grow into the person I am and how I know they will continue to shape the person I am going to become. I am thankful every day of my life to be so blessed.

When was the last time you (really) sat down and thought about the people you love? When was the last time you thanked them for loving you just the way you are (no matter how many times you’ve changed)?

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Oops… There goes my food budget.

Our Clean Eating adventure began with a trip to one of my all-time favorite Grocery Stores: Trader Joe’s.

It’s like Whole Foods meets Aldi and I’ve been in love with TJ’s for years, if for nothing else than the cheese section. It took over an hour and a half, which, if you’ve ever been in a Trader Joe’s, you know is a long time, because the store itself is fairly small when compared to other local grocery stores. I went over my budget, by like, a lot and there was a mind-boggling amount of label reading involved, but all in all I’ll happy with the way my fridge and cabinets are stocked right now. Whole wheat pastas, ethically raised chicken and beef, organic fruit, and a couple of really phenomenal cheeses. I’ve got almonds, cashews, pistachios, and hazelnuts to snack on. There are lettuces galore – all beautifully vacuum sealed in my fridge – and fruit a plenty.

Last night’s dinner consisted of hamburgers, made with 94% lean beef and seasoned lightly. They were served on lettuce wraps, not because we can’t eat buns, but because I forgot to pick some up and didn’t feel like running out to the store to read the ingredient listings again. Add in some organic sweet corn on the cob and a baked potato and it was a meal fit for a king. Not the most experimental menu item, but still rather satisfying.

One of our large challenges is going to be portion sizes. We’re allowed an almost unlimited amount of fruit and veg, but we’re as used to overeating on meat as the rest of the US.  The burger patties were pre-portioned, so we were allowed one each. Satisfying but not overly filling, we followed our meal up with a fruit salad for dessert. Fresh Pineapple, nectarines, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries with no added sugar; it truly didn’t need any. Once all of the flavors mingled and we started eating my son’s father looked over at me and said, “This is probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted in my whole life”. That made me smile.

In addition to my excursion to Trader Joe’s, I’ve been picking up a few clean eating foods here and there the past month. I’m extremely pleased with one brand I’ve come across in particular. Bobs Red Mill has a line of products to suit our new dietary needs without sacrificing flavor in the littlest bit. As I was browsing the aisles in one of my local markets two weeks ago, I came across their line of products. All lined up on the shelves and minimally packaged in their clear plastic bags, and I was instantly smitten. I picked up the seven grain blend pancake mix. We had these for dinner last Thursday. I altered the recipe just a smidge and made them with unsweetened vanilla almond milk (about ¼ cup more than the recipe called for) to lighten up the heavy batter just a little bit.

They were amazing with just a couple of tablespoons of 100% all natural organic preserves. They were also unbelievably filling and I was only able to eat three 4” pancakes.

 

My adventure actually started Saturday when I started overhauling my kitchen supplies. Sure I was going to have to throw away a bin full of food I approached my kitchen with apprehension.

I took an inventory of my freezer and found:

Three bags of broccoli

One bag of Green Beans

Two pounds of baby scallops

2.7 pounds of boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 pound of ground chicken

8 Salmon Filets

1 Salmon Steak

Two Ahi Tuna Steaks

A pound of lean beef steak

And a couple of bags of frozen fruit.

I cleaned out all of the non-clean-eating friendly foods and donated them to my parents and other family members. I’m happy to say that there is nothing left in my kitchen that doesn’t meet our clean eating standards and I didn’t have to throw away much at all.

I gave up all the powdered drink mixes, baking mixes, cereals, processed boxed entrees and “instant” sides. Still, when I go to grab a snack or pack my meals for work, I don’t feel deprived. Almost any recipe I love can be adapted for clean eating and I have a fridge and pantry completely overflowing with nutritious clean eating options for meals and snacks.

My finances recently took a hit (with all the days and holidays off deducting hours from my paycheck) and I’m going to be watching every penny for the next few weeks but looking at what I have available for meals, I don’t feel broke in the least.

In fact, the burgers we had last night were topped with a cheddar cheese that was so decadent that I almost feel rich. If you have the ability to get to a Trader Joe’s, I highly recommend the Londoner Cheddar. It’s white cheddar, medium sharp, and it just melts in your mouth. Slightly tangy, it’s got a very mellow after bite and it went phenomenally well on our lettuce wrapped burgers. With cheese like that you don’t need mayo or ketchup. Just add a slice of heirloom vine ripened tomato and you’ve got a meal bursting with complex flavors to tease your palate.

I even found a clean eating indulgence. I LOVE peppermint patties and was actually upset that I’d have to give up my York brand (along with snickers and balance bars) but I came across a version that TJ’s carries made only with Dark Chocolate, Honey, and Peppermint oil. I daresay they’re actually superior to the York version and I couldn’t be happier.

My son’s father got a good laugh out of my Vacuum Sealer binge, in which I vacuum sealed just about everything perishable to extend refrigerator shelf life but, since he’s benefitting through the fresh and tasty meals I’m making, he was smart enough not to make any wise-acre comments. Now, if I could just get my finicky almost three-year old on the “let’s eat something other than bread and cereal” train, I’d truly be over the moon. One day at a time, I guess.

 

The SHIT they put in our food and other highlights.

By now it should be quite clear that I am not a writer. A poet, I used to be. A mother, I am most definitely. A woman striving to live the “good” life, absolutely. I share what I feel is worth sharing and sometimes I blog to clear my head.

Today is a little of both. I haven’t blogged in a while and my brain is swimming with thoughts I need to express; some of which may actually be worth sharing.

Progress, on almost all fronts, has stalled to a certain degree. Following a money crunch, I couldn’t re-up my fitness classes this session. And, without appointments to keep me on track, I got lazy. Well, as lazy as one can get when you still have a two-year old to keep up with and a life to live. I’m not gaining or losing weight and my clothes still fit great, so I’m not going to sweat it too much. I know I’ll get back into my classes because I enjoyed them so much and I actually miss them.

We took a family trip to the Dells, where I formed a whole new obsession for Bikinis. I now have four of them. My reasoning is that I’m looking for the “Perfect” bikini. But, since I’m limited to JC Penney (where I can charge them) I doubt the “perfect” bikini is going to be found this season.

My little man, who is so close to being 3 that I don’t want to call him 2 anymore, started swimming on his own during that trip. Safely bundled up in his life vest he now kicks and paddles back and forth from mommy to daddy and back again. He jumps off the short ledges, disappears under the water, and pops back up with an enormous grin on his face. It brought tears to my eyes. Bittersweet, proud, and sad tears that only a parent could fully understand. My beautiful little man is growing up and these “little” days will be coming to an end way too soon.

Warrior Dash is this Sunday and I’m fairly certain I’m going to die. But not before completing it. I’m more worried about the heat (projected high of 92) than the running; and the obstacles just look like fun to me. If I can finish under an hour I’ll be happy. But, yeah, I might die afterward. If I do – at least I’ll die with a smile.

I’m preparing for July 1st, when my new, back to basics eating habits are fully enacted. I’ve been cleaning out my cabinets and fridge, trying to put new practices into place in increments and cleaning out all the “junk”. I’ve always been an enthusiast for whole foods. But I’ve been accepting of the “junk” in our lives as a necessary evil or perhaps, just a familiar friend. But as I more actively read labels, more and more products go back on the shelves permanently. Mac and Cheese? HOLY CRAP. Bye. I can make that from scratch in the same amount of time the boxed stuff takes.

I realized that the whole grain, high fiber, super yummy, no HFCS, etc bread that I buy from Trader Joes goes bad in a matter of days if I don’t keep it in the fridge. At first this upset me. Then I realized – wait for it – REAL FOOD SHOULD GO BAD IF NOT REFRIGERATED!!! I know, right. It was like a super startling epiphany. It is NOT natural for bread to sit on your counter for two weeks and not sprout mold. It’s not natural for it to stay soft for two weeks without refrigeration.  There’s a lot of things about our food that we’re used to that isn’t natural. In fact, it’s biologically, ecologically, and chemically just wrong!

And at the same time, there are other things that work in the reverse. Fresh eggs, just laid, can last for weeks (over a month) on your counter or in the coop. But, once washed and processed, they must be refrigerated and they keep for two weeks – Max. I watched an episode of “how it’s made” that included Eggs and it infuriated me. Now, keep in mind that I already buy cage free, organic, humane brown eggs but was willing to substitute regular eggs when money is tight because there’s a big difference between 88 cents and 2.49+.  Not anymore.

Hens (which normally have a life span of 8-16 years depending on the breed and living conditions) are kept in an environment where they are exposed to artificial UV light 24 hours a day, to simulate daylight, and fed a steady diet of hormones, both of which increases egg production. They lay 1-2 eggs a day (normally the best breeds lay a max of 1 egg a day or an average of 1 every 36 hours) and reach the end of their “useful” lives after only 72 weeks. Do the math, that’s a little over a year. And then, of course, they’re sent to slaughter where their unnaturally large chicken breasts (sometimes over a pound each) are sold to consumers for 3-4 dollars a pound.

I’m sickened. Truly, some days I think I should become a vegetarian, because the way we treat the animals we consume makes me sick to my stomach. But I’m far too honest with myself to try becoming a vegetarian. What I can do is purchase meat from animals that have been humanely raised, organically fed, and ethically kept and slaughtered. I already did this when I could afford it. Now, if I can’t afford it, then I either eat less meat or none at all. I can’t keep contributing to the artificially low-cost of meat that is achieved through such heinous methods. It’s a personal decision, and one I came to surprisingly easily.

This will mean some tweaking of my budget come July, because in addition to getting rid of all products that are highly processed and cooking from scratch, I now have the added expense of higher quality meat and eggs. I’m hoping this will balance out with the lower cost of fresh veggies, grains, rice – etc. We’ll see.

I don’t understand how we became so accepting of all of this, pardon my French, shit that we allow in our food. In a relatively short period of time in human history we moved from a 100 percent natural diet where even canned goods were generally homemade to a diet that is 85% chemically or genetically modified. And we wonder why we’re fat. Evolution hasn’t provided us the genetic tools to digest this garbage we’re stuffing into our bodies any more than it’s provided us a way to clean the pollution from the air before it goes into our lungs and our bloodstream. How is it that at the same time we learn more about the human body and how to keep it healthy, the more processed and polluted our food becomes. Technology is allowing us to learn so much more – but it’s also allowing for the development of all this shit that’s going into our food. We were healthier in our food habits back when the human race, in general, didn’t know anything about how, why, or what was healthy.

You wanted to eat, you had to cook. I bet it was a lot easier to eat less (for example) potato chips, when you had to obtain, peel, soak, and fry your own. Hence the logic behind my new lifestyle… When you think about food and snacks, you’re more likely to reach for fruit, vegetables and nuts if the alternative is time-consuming prep work and cooking. That should be reserved for major meals. And if all you have in the house is healthy snacks, you won’t be eating a full bag of potato chips or M&Ms, because they just aren’t there to be eaten.

This isn’t a diet. It’s a return to the way we were meant to look at food. It’s a return to the way we were meant to eat food. And it’s going to be difficult as hell for someone who was raised on a “modern” style of eating. I’m not going Paleo, or Atkins, or Southbeach or whatever trendy title is being thrown around. I’m just trying to get back to the natural way of eating for humans. Fruit, grain, nuts, meat; Less additives and processing and more real food.

I’ve also been looking more into the future of my education. I want to go into Nutrition. Period. I don’t know how I’m going to manage the internship that’s required to get my R.D. but, that’s two years away – minimum. So I’m not going to borrow trouble. I’m just going to pursue my dreams and do what I can, when I can, to make things happen. If it means I have to get my Masters (which usually includes the internship) and take out a huge student loan to live on when I do it, then so be it.

I’ve always been fascinated by the different nutrients, vitamins, bacteria, and acids that occur in food. I find it amazing the way they work inside our bodies and I honestly feel that I’ve finally found my calling. So I’m going to reach out with both arms and step into the unknown. I’m going to hope that, through sheer stubbornness, everything works out.

I’m also looking at buying a house – but I think I’ll leave that story for another post.

Women: Our Sisters; Our Enemies. It’ Time for Change.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “The only thing holding women back is other women”. It is absolutely ridiculous the way women feel they have to compete with each other by tearing each other down. Snarky comments, unwarranted insults, callous judgment; we’re terrible to each other. What we don’t see is that it’s not only hurtful toward the person you aim it at, it’s self-detrimental as well.

I get that we’re conditioned from birth to be the prettiest, to compete for the attention and affection of other, to be jealous of any girl/woman who has something we covet. But at some point in time, we all grow up. One would think that in growing up we’d be able to teach our daughters, nieces, siblings, etc… to be better women.

The other day I saw a heavier woman jogging on the side of the road. A few years ago I would have thought to myself  –  “Keep going girl, lord knows you need it.” Now I think “Good for you, keep it up!”

It took years of mental conditioning to go from criticizer to cheerleader. We pick on each other on the basis of looks, weight, personality, intelligence, fitness, clothing, boyfriends/girlfriends, occupation, gpa, parents, siblings, children, child rearing practices… the list can literally go on and on. Every single nuance of your life is open for criticism so that another woman can benchmark and unconsciously rank herself against you.

She’s prettier than I am: -1pt

Her house is larger -5 pts:

She drives a nicer car: -3pts

 She’s got much larger boobs: – 1pt

but

Her husband is fatter than mine: +3 pts

Her son got a D in English, mine got an A: +6 pts

Her nose is crooked: +4 pts

Her lawn looks like crap: +3 pts

Her ass is sagging: +6pts

If we could count cards in Vegas the way we tally our social ranking as women, we truly would rule the world.

The problem is, we don’t keep it completely internalized either. The above tallying would converse something like this:

“You look great today, Sally , are you trying new makeup? I don’t know how you keep up with your mortgage payment, don’t you every worry that John will lose his job and you’ll get foreclosed on? The leather seating in your car is so extravagant, it’s too bad it’s not available on my car, but you know my car is eco-friendly, so no animals were hurt in the process of building it. Do you think that much cleavage is appropriate for our outing today? I mean, we’re heading over to a “play-date” so my son can help Johnny Jr. with his English homework. Speaking of Johnny Jr., it looks like all this studying has him behind on his chores, I couldn’t help but notice your lawn is overgrown…. Oh, Johnny Jr. doesn’t handle that? Please tell me John won’t be out there mowing shirtless again. Maybe all of us could hit the Gym together later, I mean, I go every day so my ass doesn’t start sagging.”

And this would be the conversation between “friends”. Can you imagine the out-and-out hostility between people who don’t know each other?

Even with as enlightened as I try to be, I rank myself without thought sometimes. It’s hard work to deprogram a habit you’ve had ever since your school friends pointed out that you were still carrying a Teddy Ruxpin lunchbox when they had already moved on to Barbie or Rainbow Brite. These habits start in grade school. Even my optimistic self can’t conquer them overnight.

When I catch myself rating what I have, how I look, or anything else about me, I have to pull myself back. I have a great family and supportive friends, I’m active and fit and healthy and I’m providing my son with the best foundation I possibly can. I have to work harder at not judging myself than I do at not judging others.

How much do you judge others? How much do you judge yourself? Is there a male perspective out there you can share with me?

Women, answer me this, why can’t we be one large sisterhood? Our mothers and grandmothers fought for equality with men in the workplace, in the political world. They fought for the freedom of choice. We can choose to work. We can choose to vote. We can choose to raise our children as we see fit.

Why, when they struggled for this equality, do we now see fit to terrorize other women based on their choices or even worse, on their looks?

The next time you feel you have the right to judge another woman, think about whether or not you’re doing it just to make yourself feel better. Seek out your own insecurities and attack them with the same vigor you attack other women and maybe, just maybe, we can finally take a step towards building a web of support and cheering on other women that changes the future of womanhood for the following generations.

Smile sympathetically at the woman whose child is having a meltdown in a public place instead of shaking your head in disdain.

Cheer on the woman who has the confidence to jog in public for working to better her health.

Be supportive of a woman’s choice to breastfeed, or bottle feed, or co sleep or detachment parent.

Embrace the crooked noses, the uneven skin tones, or any other physical trait that makes a fellow woman unique.

Spread laughter and acceptance so that you can reap laughter and acceptance in return.

To any woman who reads this who has ever been judged by herself or others, let me say “I accept you, I support you, and I will cheer you on as you struggle to make your path in this world. Be happy with who you are and I will be happy for you as well!”

Just my thought of the day.

The 30 Day Challenge

I consider myself diet conscious. I try to eat right. I’m working on exercising more. I have a keen interest in nutrition and the holistic benefits of natural food. I’ve considered going vegetarian, but confess readily that I’m an omnivore so it’s unlikely to happen. I devour nutrition books and information the way other people shovel down French fries (figuratively speaking). I know what’s good for me, I know what’s bad for me, and I strive for moderation and balance.

Even then, I know that it’s not quite enough.  And, because I am easily distracted, I know I’ll never step my game up and meet my own standards of food unless I challenge myself to do better. So today, I’m thinking, it’s time to start planning. It’s going to take planning before I can implement my 30 day food challenge. It’s going to take preparation and the steely resolve of the truly determined.

Unfortunately, I cannot achieve everything I would like to. Veggies and fruit completely grown at home (or at the very least through a crop share), Amish Chicken raised locally on a sustainable farm that produces equal quality in their cage free eggs. A diet completely lacking in refined sugars and flours that doesn’t sacrifice taste. A handsome, half naked, tousle-haired Australian chef to do all of the cooking for me – because I do NOT have this thing people call “free time” often enough. Clean counters, cabinets and refrigerator shelves that house only the easiest, most nutritious snacks and meals. The list goes on and on… truly.

Current Progress

I gave up sugary drinks as a child because soda makes me sick to my stomach, literally.

I love broccoli, spinach, kale, lima beans, green beans, black beans, white beans, cucumber, bell peppers, and tomatoes. I strongly dislike carrots but I eat them because I know they’re good for me. I’m not a fan of corn and avoid it whenever possible.

I cut back my coffee intake, even though I drink it black, to help my sleep schedule.

I drink, on average, a gallon of water a day.

I eat a ton of fresh fruit, veggies, yogurt, eggs, and chicken.

I exercise a minimum of 4 times a week for 45-90 minutes each time.

I get approximately 8.5 hours of sleep each night.

I have reached the point where I consistently consume the 1250 calorie minimum I set for myself (this was a big one for me.).

The New Plan

Remove all refined flour items from my diet. No crackers, white pasta, cookies, etc. 100% whole grain from here on out.

Remove added sugar and sweeteners from my diet as much as possible. This means checking labels and deciphering the ingredients.

Adhere to portion sizes strictly.

Reduce intake of highly processed food.

Add two fish meals a week.

Institute a “meatless” day of the week.

Reevaluate my cabinets, counters, and fridge contents. Donate or pitch any items that don’t meet my new goals. Stock shelves with handy snacks.

Increase and diversify my vegetable intake; shop at local farmers markets when possible.

Maintain workout schedule.

Maintain water intake.

The Hurdles to Overcome

All of this sounds easy, until you consider my life and the people in it. We can start with my 2 year old son, who is on what the doctor calls “the white diet”. Common for children his age, he eats only chicken nuggets (fried with smooth batter texture), chips, crackers, and pretzels. We have tried everything with him. My parents even stopped arguing with me when they saw how he would sit there and refuse to eat, even after having fasted all night while sleeping, for three hours. He’ll honestly cry for three hours and refuse to eat ANYTHING that doesn’t fit on his personal approved list. I kid you not. He doesn’t eat cookies, candy, ice cream, Jell-O, or even cake, because he has “texture” issues with them. That’s one difficult factor.

The next factor is my parents who, bless their hearts, feed me dinner about 3-4 nights a week because I work and am in school 9 months out of the year. Typical dinners include a lot of white pasta, heavy sauces, and double portion sizes. Add in my sister, who is a huge believer in eating healthy but also a faithful Herbalife user who, (no offense because I love her to death) seems to think that I shouldn’t eat two of my daily meals, I should drink them instead.

My best friend and hetero life-mate is also my partner in crime. We have the ability to support each other in our goals, but also tend to rationalize and justify each other’s slip ups. This is a double edged sword, but I wouldn’t give up time with her for the world.

Then there is my son’s father. He’s a healthy guy who’s lost a lot of weight, toned himself up, and is running a new business as a personal trainer. He’s a great inspiration and adheres (mostly) to the chicken, rice and veggies rule of weight loss. He’s also my biggest deterrent in this, because I cannot stand the idea of eating the exact same thing 3 – 6 times a day, or worse, the same meal for breakfast, the same lunch, the same dinner, etc… every day. If my meals are that boring and repetitive, I’ll never make it.

An additional complication is that I spend so much time shuffling from my place to my son’s father’s place, travelling with an overnight back twice a week. Whatever I eat has to travel well.

The Planning

Now, I know that people overcome obstacles worse than these all the time but we are all different and, knowing myself as well as I do, I know my own limits.

Here is where the planning comes in. I purposely set a start date for this challenge of July 1st, over a month away, to give me time to get over the stress of training for Warrior Dash as well as give myself some downtime following a rough spring semester. It gives me time to purchase items I need and organize my life and living space better. It allows me to investigate and collect recipes. And all of this allows me to formulate a plan of attack for the food prep I’m going to have to do every Sunday. Because that is pretty much the only day I have each week to prepare my meals for the week.

I’m going to need to pack a full day’s meals every night before bed. Breakfast, snacks, lunch, snacks, etc.  On days when I won’t be home I have to pack or plan dinners for me and my son’s father.

I have to figure out how to accommodate my son’s picky eating (which our doctor says he’ll grow out of eventually) without tempting myself.

And, more importantly, I have to get the people I love on board with it. They don’t have to join me, but I don’t need them unintentionally sabotaging me either.

I’ll keep you all posted with updates as progress is made. And, if anyone has any recipes or ideas to share, I’d love to see them!

Keep Calm and Tread On.

 

A Progress Post – To Keep Me Honest

For those of you that don’t know -The happy, shining, optimistic, “totally have a handle on everything” type of people, can lose our focus and perspective too.

In the first quarter of this year I lost 30 pounds due to stress. I had what was, basically, a nervous breakdown. I am the opposite of a stress eater. I suffer from stress induced anorexia, I also tend to not eat when I’m really involved or occupied by something. Obviously no one, not even me, was happy with my weight loss. But when I got a handle on things and was able to drag my happy, optimistic self back up to the gleaming surface of the world again, I decided I was going to seize this moment and turn it in my favor.

It was time to take something that was unhappy and unhealthy and turn it into something beautiful and empowering.

I resolved to eat better. Not healthier, per se, because I already focus on veggies, fruit, and moderated portions. But definitely more often and on a routine schedule – so I started packing a full work days’ worth of meals every day that included snacks and vitamin supplements.  I limited my coffee drinking to before 11:00am and I increased my water intake to nearly a gallon a day. I started tracking my calories again.

I signed up for Warrior Dash, which forced my unmotivated behind to return to the gym (where I hadn’t been for 4 months) where I signed up for two boot camp and one spin class each week.

I’d lost the weight, which was half of what was holding me back. Now it was time to tone and strengthen.

So, to keep myself honest, this is my progress report.

To date: I’ve gained 5 pounds but lost: 4 inches on my hips, 1.5 inches on my waist, and 1 inch on my chest.  I wear a size 6 jean (7 juniors) but I now have to wash and dry them on hot and after wearing them for an hour or so they sag in the thighs and butt. Official sizing charts put me in a size 4 (5’6” – 34, 25, 36) but we’ll see about that.

The bikini I purchased for motivation is, because I’m a moron and bought a large, too big on the bottom. So I’m going to have to buy a new bottom prior to our trip to the Dells at the end of the month.

On the exercise front: I can run a mile at a 6 mph pace without stopping or feeling like I’m going to die. My squats go all the way to the floor now and I have actual muscle in the back of my arms, as opposed to old lady pigeon wings. I don’t even complain about the diamond push-ups in boot camp anymore.

I’ve been lazy with my running program. I’d like to say I’ve been too busy with school (I just finished another 4.0 semester which brings me to 3.88GPA overall) but the truth is I’ve just been more interested in having a life. I’m going to try to get back on board with the running, but I won’t kick myself too hard if I don’t, since I’m still taking classes during the week.

My food intake has improved, but it’s not perfect. I do great on the days I’m at work, but on Thursday and the weekends I forget to eat, I sneak coffee in the afternoons, I don’t drink enough water, and I completely forget about my vitamins. I’m working on a solution for this… Probably making a week’s worth of meals on Sunday, so I have no excuses not to eat. But, at least on average, I’m meeting my calorie minimum every day!

All in all, I’m glad I’m back to my shiny, happy self. I’m determined to continue on my path of personal growth and, barring another extremely traumatic series of events, am hoping to avoid any more nervous breakdowns because it’s really not the preferred method of losing weight.

This post is my way of keeping me honest about my progress this far. Pictures might be added at a later date.

Life Lessons – Anything Worth Having

Life Lessons

Anything worth having is worth working for.

My parents may have taught me this lesson a little too well. Because I believe that everything takes work and I’ve reached that point in my life where I want things for myself and my family I have a tendency to take on more than I have time to manage.

I have a two (almost three) year old at home. I work and, even though I’m underemployed, that’s 30 hours of my week not including my commute. I’m a full-time student. I’m training for a 5k obstacle course. I’m looking to buy a house. I’m researching 4 year degree options. I’m trying to have a social life.

It’s exhausting, to be completely honest. But I feel accomplished and proud of myself every day. I have an amazing support network that’s filled with people who cheer me on when I’m struggling, support me when I’m worn out, and encourage me to be my best.

When I hear stories of women who get an advanced degree while working full-time with 2 or more children and little to no support system I am astonished. I honestly don’t know how they manage it. Even with all of the resources at my disposal I struggle to balance work, home, and school. I couldn’t imagine doing it under more difficult circumstances. I applaud every one of those women – they are my inspiration on rough days.

The lesson that you have to work for the things you want seems to be one that isn’t applied well these days. I know too many people, generally younger than me but not always, who seem to feel the world owes them something. The problem with that philosophy is that eventually life smacks you in the fanny and makes you get to work.

Even when you’re willing to work life sometimes smacks you in the fanny to remind you to work harder. The last four years of my life felt like a never-ending struggle. In work, in life, in my relationships. Even though things are evening out for me now, it made me realize that maintaining a good, happy life takes continuous maintenance. I’m good with that. I may come home exhausted, I may look at my studies and desperately want a night off, I may have to bike out to the middle of nowhere and vent my frustrations, but at the end of the day, I can reflect back on every struggle I’ve had and know that it’s worth it.

The next time you feel your shoulders slump in defeat over a setback or something that didn’t work out the way you thought it would ask yourself if you’ve put in the work. Have you earned it yet? Answer yourself honestly. I’m a firm believer that if you’re willing to dedicate yourself to making something happen, you’ll eventually reach your goal.

Keep Calm and Tread On.

Magazines are Ruining Your Relationships! (a meandering and nearly unstructured musing on relationships.)

“Top 10 Tricks to Keep Your Relationship Strong!”

“Seven Secrets of Successful Couples Revealed.”

Get in line at the checkout of any store and these headlines pop out at you, challenging you to pick it up off the rack and add it to the cart full of stuff you probably don’t actually need. You thought you were happy with your relationship, but maybe those “successful couples” know something you don’t.

We’re cultivated from birth, in our culture of consumerism and vanity, to always look for the next best thing. Nothing is ever supposed to be good enough. There’s always a better version around the corner. And there are magazines, commercials, and all other forms of marketing there in the background whispering, always whispering, that you’re probably not as happy as you should be. With yourself, with your thighs, with your food, with your children, with your relationships; you don’t even realize it but as a woman everything about you is under a slow, steady, never-ending merchandising attack.

Stop at the magazine rack the next time you‘re at your local bookstore and note the difference in headlines. Ironically, the Men’s Magazines and the Women’s Magazines might feature a beautiful woman on the cover, but for completely different reasons. When was the last time you saw a Men’s Magazine that said “10 Sex Moves that Will Blow her Mind and Bind her Heart”? The sexism of the media and advertising has been much debated over the years but all you really have to do is walk through a store and pay attention to what lines the aisles; the differences between how things are labeled for men and women.

Cosmo Spoof

Women: Your wrinkles, laugh lines, cellulite, graying hair, dull uneven skin, lifeless or limp tresses, saggy arms (boobs, thighs, butt, whatever) are all HORRIBLE. You will hate yourself forever if you don’t fix them. Your children are not smart/cute/advanced/gifted/spoiled/organic/indulged/enlightened/etc.. enough and will grow up to be gang banging serial puppy murderers if you don’t catch up. Your relationship is NOT happy! You’re deluding yourself if you think it is.

Men: You need to increase your physical and sexual performance, take this supplement. Look at this half naked model on the cover; she likes puppies and her turnoffs are drama, carbs, and puffy-beer bellied men. You should work out more. You should also eat lots of meat, drink lots of beer, watch lots of sports, and be practically chained to your grill.

Yes, that was a very sexist view of the marketing strategies aimed at women and men and it represents just the two extreme sides but really… walk through a store and really look around. If you’re not offended, then I applaud you. Eventually, we’ll go into depth about the garbage that bombards women from the day they’re born and makes them so neurotic, but that day is not today.

Today I want to focus on relationships. Now, you might ask why I lead in to this subject the way I did and there are a couple of reasons for that.

1.)    American culture presents relationships and the associated value of said relationships differently to men and women.

2.)    Men and Women have been trained to view relationships differently.

3.)    There’s a good chance that something is sabotaging your relationship and you don’t even realize it.

4.)    It’s my blog and I can lead in to a topic any way I want. So Nyeh!

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way:

We’ve all be taught to look for the fairy tale. True, all consuming, match made in heaven, they lived happily ever after, love. The pieces will fall together perfectly and it will seem almost effortless. Even when you fight it will be (relatively) easily resolved. “I’m Sorry” always heals all wounds.

Wow! What a load of CRAP! You might find your perfect match and it might feel like that – for a little while. But all relationships eventually require work. They will not always be perfect. You will argue. You will fight. “I’m sorry” sometimes won’t count for shit.

Now we can move on to the real heart of the relationship issue:  

Women learn early that a relationship is essentially required in order for her to be complete. Men, however, are taught to be complete on their own. This isn’t anything new and really shouldn’t be surprising to anyone. But for some reason, I’m fairly sure I can hear the indignation of the women reading this right now.

“I don’t need a man to complete me!!!”

And you’re right. You don’t.

But, chances are, you’re still acting and thinking like you do. See, a woman secure in herself and her relationships reads that and thinks “That doesn’t apply to me.” She gives a little shrug and moves on to a different blog. She doesn’t get upset or defensive. She also doesn’t buy magazines because they have such enticing articles as”2012 – your astrological predictions for lasting love”.

If it makes you feel any better, I’m with you. I still get defensive; just not as often as I used to.

The more aware you are of yourself and your surroundings (including the little landmines that try to sabotage your relationship and self-esteem) the more you’ll be able to be like the confident woman who read that and clicked the little “x” on their browsers thinking “Wow, what a completely ridiculous thing to say. That blog totally doesn’t apply to me.”

The more aware you are, the more you’ll challenge the way you view things. Why do you think your wrinkles are ugly? Why do you think your cellulite makes you less attractive? Why do you think the stretch marks you gained while creating life are hideous? Where did you get the idea that you have to wait for someone to sweep you off your feet? Who do you think has the perfect life and why do you think so? How much airbrushing do you think that model needed?

You’ll challenge yourself so much, in fact, that you could end up viewing everything in your life differently. But you have to be willing to ask and answer the hard questions. You have to give up your current mindset (” This is wrong with me”) and adopt a new one (“this is right with me”).

In all relationships (friends, lovers, family, etc…) each person brings something to the table and needs something in return. Both parties come with baggage, surprises, and scars. But they also come with unique views and, hopefully, characteristics that can help you achieve a better personhood. See, a good partner won’t complete you (sorry, Jerry Maguire fans) but it should assist you in your personal evolvement. It should be something that you can grow with, something that gives you room to be yourself, helps you feel secure to become the person you’re supposed to be, and provides support, encouragement, and love in times of setbacks or frustration. Just don’t expect it to always be perfect. Because, there is no such thing as perfect. 

I’m not going to give you a list of the top ten things you should do to make your relationship better.

But I will tell you what I’ve observed Happy couples doing. I say happy as opposed to successful because… how do you judge success in a relationship? Longevity? A couple can be miserable but stay together for 60 years. So… let’s go with happy.

1.)    They respect each other: They might tease, joke, or play around. But they have a mutual respect for each other’s feelings, opinions, and input.

2.)    They feel secure together:  I think that a small degree of jealousy can be a good thing. You should feel protective of your relationship and partner because it holds high value to you. But at the same time, you should feel that your partner is as dedicated to your relationship as you are. You should feel completely secure in yourself and how your partner feels about you.

3.)    They’re open, honest, and accepting with each other: They have nothing to hide from each other, so nothing is hidden. They wouldn’t think twice about saying “Hon, there’s an email from my sister on my account with the address, would you mind printing it out while I finish getting ready?” They know how each other feel, they express their feelings without fear, and they’re not afraid to have detailed billing on their joint cell phone account. Usually, if someone acts like they have something to hide it’s because they’re hiding something.

4.)    They still say please and thank you to each other: In other words, they don’t take it for granted when their partner does something for them.

5.)    They’re still affectionate towards each other: even when the super passionate period cools off. Small touches, protective gestures, and loving body language are the little physical I love you’s that show in a happy couple.

6.)    They make decisions as a couple and keep each other informed: This goes hand in hand with respect. No one person has the full power to make all the decisions and no critical information is ever held back.

7.)    They have similar interests, opinions and hobbies, but they are not attached at the hip. They’re as comfortable doing their own thing as they are doing things together.

8.)    They’re both willing to work when things get difficult: It’s never a one sided relationship. No one wins, no one loses. They both win when they work things out.

9.)    The good is more valuable than the bad: These people place more value on the good times than they dwell on the bad times. The good things they share are worth more to them or are enough to make the bad times easier to get through/work out. They can go through a stretch of hell, when everything looks bleak, and it seems to last forever. But, no matter how bad it gets, they work through it together without forgetting how they feel about one another.

10.) They mean it when they say “I’m sorry” and they understand that forgiveness doesn’t come with a time-table. Little things are forgiven with a kiss while large ones are forgiven through mutual effort and willingness to forgive.

I’m sure there are many nuances to these happy relationships that I’ve missed. But those seem to be the common; underlying themes to every couple I know who is truly happy.

The world, your friends, the media, without even trying, is going to try to sabotage your happiness.  So I guess the only thing I’d add to this list is that when you feel angry, or hurt, or upset, or unhappy in your relationship; that you ask yourself “why” you feel that way and then answer honestly.  Is it a “toilet seat” issue? (the equivalent of being angry because you sat down on the cold, porcelain rim of the toilet or almost fell in – in other words, something you should let go of.)

Is it something that needs to be thought about further? Is it something that needs to be discussed?

You might learn something about yourself, what you expect/need from a relationship, and, at the very least, why you respond to things the way you do.

Do not let the media, society, your family, or even this blog tell you how to be happy. Question yourself and what you think you know. Next time you’re in a grocery line and you’re thinking you want to pick up a magazine, get the one with the collection of 30 minute meals. It’s less likely to make you dislike your body, your home, and your relationship.

And keep in mind that I’m divorced and currently single. So I probably know absolutely nothing about the actual practice of building a solid, lasting relationship. I can only try to interpret what I see, be happy with who I am, and try to implement it when I find a partner I feel is worth it (and me).

Oh, and I avoid magazines that have headlines that say “Top 10 Tricks to Keep Your Relationship Strong!. Really? 10 tricks to a strong relationship? Something about that just doesn’t sit right with me.

Assumptions

The next time someone assumes something about you that isn’t true:

Try to breathe. Take a step back. And remember not to assume something about them in return… (Mainly that they’re an a$$hole) because it’s counterproductive and only damages your own mental health. Remember: Keep Calm and Tread On.

I Am Woman! (or: I Cry Over the Darnedest Things Sometimes)

It’s been a busy couple of weeks with my semester winding down and finals to survive. I had wanted to post this particular topic much earlier in the week, but sadly, just couldn’t find a spare few minutes to sit still and write it out. But, late is still better than never.

As a woman I often feel like the very things that set me apart from the opposite sex are the things I get crucified for. If I cry I’m too emotional. If I’m quiet when I need to think I’m cold or angry. If I’m strong then I don’t need a partner. If I’m weak then I’m needy. All of this leads to an extreme amount of confusion and guilt that I try very hard not to cave in to. I am me and I’m good with that.

But every once in a while, my own emotions catch me by surprise and confuse me even more. I’ll start with the most recent time (there are two that I want to cover here).

On Wednesday, I arrived home from work to find my little one sick with a fever. He was lethargic and generally miserable, with no apparent cause. I cuddled him, kept on him to drink water, and finally gave him some Tylenol to bring down his temperature. I don’t panic over these things but I don’t feel guilty for that, because I have such a large number of kids in my family that I know when to panic and when not to worry. But as 5:00pm rolled around, I started worrying. See, I have a spin class on Wednesdays. I paid for it. I didn’t want to miss it but at the same time, I felt like a bad mother for abandoning my little one when he was sick.

It’s not like I was going to leave him in the care of a stranger or someone incapable of cuddling him with the same amount of love I give him. He was staying with his Nana (my mother) and I would be home in an hour. But as I was settling him in and taking care of the last-minute details I suddenly felt like a horrible mother. Despite the fact that I knew he would be okay and well taken care of, despite knowing that he didn’t have anything serious, I felt terrible.

This ties back in to my habit of feeling guilty whenever I take time to myself but it was obviously amplified by the fact that my son wasn’t feeling well. A brief discussion with my mother reassured me that he would be fine, that she would call me if anything happened – no matter how small, and I left for class. Class is a whole three minutes away from home (five if I get caught at a red light) but I cringed the whole way there, because there was a small part of me that was really happy to not be missing it.

I fell into my usual groove at class and for a good half an hour I actually forgot about work, money, relationship problems, and … my sick little man, cuddling at home with his Nana, waiting for me to come back. As I walked back to my car my shoulders slumped and my drive home was a study in guilt and anxiety. But when I got home, my little one was passed out comfortably on the couch in his little diaper, his Nana diligently standing guard and rubbing his little back. His fever was coming down and he was just tuckered out now.

My heart lightened as I gathered him in my arms and he touched my face for a moment and whispered “Mommy… Hi Mommy” before sleepily burying his face in my shoulder and returning to a restorative slumber. The guilt washed out of me as I realized that part of being a mommy is being able to pick responsible caregivers for my child. I trust his father. I trust my mother. I trust my sister. These are the people who care for my little one the most often and I know that they have me covered if I have to work, study for school, or even just attend a fitness class I paid for in advance.

That night I read a news story about a woman who killed her 22 month old son for interrupting her Farmville game. I was horrified and saddened, but instantly glad that I’m the kind of mommy who feels guilty for leaving her ill son with a loving caregiver for a fitness class.

**As an aside for those of you wondering, my little one was back to his perfectly happy adorable self by the next morning.**

The other event I wanted to write about occurred a week ago. Having noticed that none of my workout pants were fitting properly anymore (and therefore no longer suited to working out in because they kept trying to fall off me when I run) I took my mother and the little one with me for a quick run to JC Penney last Thursday during our usually weekly errand run. I grabbed three new pairs of running pants, a couple new shirts,  checked out and we left. My mother has mobility issues, so we had “rock star” (read:  Handicapped) parking.

As we were walking to the car an elderly gentleman approached me from his van and asked me in a thickly accented voice “could you please give me a boost?” It took my brain a moment to process the scene… Me, my little one in my arms, my mother, this elderly gentleman standing next to a van with out-of-state license plates in the handicapped parking place next to us… Well, to put it simply, where I live I’m more accustomed to being approached by someone panhandling. Also, “boost” isn’t the commonly used term in my region.

Of course, once my brain (a little slow because Thursdays are my day off and I’m usually rushing around without thought) finally caught up I replied “Absolutely, of course!”

This elderly gentleman looked unbelievably appreciative as I got my mother and son settled in the car. He looked a little anxious as I backed my car out, but then relieved as I simply pulled in closer to his van so the cables would reach easily.

We fumbled for the hood release on my car – in my defense I’m not unversed in general vehicle maintenance, but my car is brand new and I’ve never had to pop the hood yet – got the jumper cables hooked up and his van started with very little fuss.

I smiled to his equally elderly wife, who remained seated in the van, as I closed the hood of my car. But as I tried to walk away I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder.

“Please,” he said as he stopped me, “For your time and trouble” as he tried to hand me four dollars that his wife had apparently fished out of her purse.

I was mortified. A kind deed should be its own reward. This couple was likely someone’s grandparents, I thought, as my mother and her grandson sat in my car.

“No, really, it was nothing. I’m glad I could help. Please, have a safe trip” I said as I held my hand up in a gesture of refusal.

It took a few minutes of assuring him that I wouldn’t accept his money, and then my mother refusing to take the money for my son through the window when he tried another angle, for him to realize that we really wouldn’t accept his money.

He said “thank you” one more time as we pulled out of the parking space, a look of gratitude on his face. I’m pretty sure it was that look that was my undoing because as we drove away I started crying. I simply couldn’t help it. The tears came out of nowhere and I’m still not quite sure of the cause. Was it that if that had been my grandmother (rest her soul) or even my mother, I would hope they would find someone to help that would refuse the little cash they had available? Was it simply tears of being glad I could help someone out? Was it the example I was setting for my child who, still too young to understand, that the deed is its own reward? Or was it that I suddenly thought “Oh dear, I hope I didn’t insult him by not taking his offer of compensation for my time!”

So there you have it. Women are emotional creatures. It is part of what makes us such appealing creatures. We’re emotional yet strong enough to endure almost anything. We’re loving but sometimes need time to process without being thought of as cold. We laugh when we should be crying and sometimes cry when we should smile. We have tough exteriors but are easily wounded. We’ll forgive easily but not trust without time and proof. And whether you realize it or not, we tend to feel guilty for taking time for ourselves, which is why we do it so rarely… Love us for these qualities and we’ll never fail you. But please, please, don’t say things like “you’re so emotional” like it’s a bad thing, because it makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us when really, it’s perfectly natural for us to be that way.

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Judgement Day

Warrior DashJune 17th, 2012
Judgement Day: A day to push past my limits, cavort in the mud, and celebrate with a beer!
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