Is Good Health Intuitive?

keeping track and keeping active...

keeping track and staying active…

Did you know as we get older we need fewer and fewer calories?

And if we don’t adjust either our activity level or our calories consumed, over time, we will just automatically gain fat?

It’s a sad truth I found as I was researching one of those depressing topics I like to think about all the time:

What to expect as we get older.

But who in their right mind wants to keep track of this stuff?

When you are already at a healthy size, friends and coworkers and family like to tell you that you don’t need to pay attention.

Have a chocolate bar, or eight!

And maybe a bag of chips and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s or two, you could use it!

You really can skip a few workouts, why do you care so much? You look great already!

Food is so fun, and such a part of our social culture. If you keep track of how much you eat, have a philosophy about the types of foods you will consume, and try to maximize how much you move around, you might just be accused of being obsessive.

You might get labelled a kill-joy.

Or be accused of having an eating-disorder, an exercise-addiction or both, and just need to relax! I have heard these lines from others often:

We should be able to maintain how we are today by just listening to our bodies.

We didn’t need computers or gadgets or apps to tell us how to live before, or to add up numbers, why do we need them now?

Keeping track for life? That’s no way to live!

We all want to believe this is true, don’t we? That our metabolism now, is what it’ll be 10 years from now, or 20, or 30…and we can constantly just say yes to foods we love, and maybe later to exercise, because our bodies just know intuitively what we need to stay healthy.

When I first learned there were websites available to help us track foods and exercise, I never thought I would take to the process.

The whole truth on an online food journal

The whole truth on an online food journal

I remember as a teen, in solidarity with my mom, who was on and off Weight Watchers for years, I would sometimes write down what I ate in a notebook, because when you see it down on paper, supposedly this helps you see how much you have already eaten that day, and question whether you really need more.

But now, with online food journals and apps, you don’t just see McDonald’s Big Mac as a line item, you see McDonald’s Big Mac, 550 calories. 20g of Fat. 9g of Sugar (what? why?!), and 970mg of sodium (!!).

Numbers, so much more powerful!

Over the years, I have developed a complicated history with numbers. I am really great with them actually, but never knew about my analytic side until plopped in front of a Mac Classic and Microsoft Excel on the first week of work after college graduation and told to populate a database.

Overwhelmed at first, I eventually realized yes, you can actually be creative with spreadsheets! And so eventually became a marketing whiz, a queen of slicing and dicing data every which way, and more importantly, learned the art of fudging numbers, to make them say what you want them to say, even if they really don’t.

So when I tried an online food journal?

Skepticism was short-lived. As soon as I got my hands around the numbers, my wildly-creative analytic side took over. As if looking at client sales figures, I happily started summarizing nutrition and calories and exercise data every which way.

It was an empowering feeling.

For awhile. Until, that is, the numbers caused more confusion than clarity:

What happens when my weight fluctuates up?

Or if  the food journal shows a big red negative and I’m consuming too much.

Or if I just can’t seem to eat enough protein, when a recent article I read tells me I need more?

Or if I’m eating too much sugar one week. Or sodium?!

Or what if I’m tired and need to take it easy on exercise.

Or even more confusing, when I lift weights or do yoga, but don’t burn very many calories, am I still considered active? How do I account for this?

Sometimes no matter how I try, I can’t seem to fudge the numbers to work in my favor.

And they are the opposite of helpful: they drive me crazy! I start to obsess over every bite or step I take, wondering what I’m doing wrong and how I can fix it.

It’s times like these that make me ripe to start listening to those people who tell me: it’s just fine, you don’t need to be so disciplined! We don’t need numbers. Take the summer off. Or the winter.

Or forever!

You should be able to balance it all out intuitively.

We are advised by our doctors, and by the government, with their recommended food pyramid (although we could all debate at length whether we agree with it or not), how much on average we should consume at our age, height and weight, what those foods should consist of, and how much activity we require each day. And there are U.S. dietary health guidelines too: we are encouraged to read food labels, look at calorie counts, and keep nutrients in check.

activity2-001

a particularly active day–so motivating to see the numbers!

This brings to mind so many questions:

If we don’t need numbers, and we never keep track, how in the world can we know how this adds up each day?

Could I be an active couch potato? Someone who thinks I’m active because I work out daily, but in reality, I’m sedentary the rest of the time?

If we never look it up, how will we know the difference between the nutritional value of a Big Mac vs. making one at home? Or having chicken instead?

I have often thought about the fact we humans are more in tune to the needs of our pets than we are for ourselves. Would you not take your dog for a walk each day? Would you feed your dog 3 helpings of food instead of the recommended 1? Would you give your dog a food that wasn’t nutritionally good for him?

I don’t think so! Because the vet tells you when your pet is overweight, it’s tough on their heart, and they won’t live as long.

If you didn’t pay attention to their requirements, it would be considered neglect.

But how many of us will say we just don’t have time to exercise, or to take a walk? When we know we require it. And it’s good for us.

And how many of us say we only have time for take-out food, or eating on the run? When we know it’s healthier to make our meals at home.

And unlike our pets, most of us don’t measure our food, so honestly have no clue what we are eating each day, so may have false illusions around how much we have already had, and so say yes to the unplanned cookies or birthday cake passed around at the office that day.

I have been on this healthy lifestyle kick for about 5 years and have resisted listening to others for 4 of them.

But then last summer, I got sick of paying attention. I was bored with adding everything up, and tired of that obsessive feeling I got when the numbers didn’t reflect back what I wanted to see.

I felt great, and began to rethink the advice I was getting from others. Perhaps they are right and it’s time to test it out. I’ll just:

Listen to my body

Eschew the numbers….

And guess how I felt at the end of the year?

I have a fitness buddy, who once frustratingly declared:

 If I listened to my body, I would be sitting on the couch, drinking beer and eating cheeseburgers and fries all day!

This cracks me up, because I learned this to be true in my no-numbers experiment: the farther removed I was from keeping track, and with understanding portion control, the more out-of-whack my reality on what I was actually consuming became.

Does my body really give me signals, telling me what I need?

Can I trust intuition alone to balance the good with the bad?

Look at the news, and the obesity crisis. It doesn’t appear to me we humans have this natural talent. Maybe primitive man did, because back then they didn’t have access to fast food and restaurants and sugary snacks that cause them to want more, more, more.  They also were forced to expend energy during the hunt for their meal. But us? Not so. Food is everywhere we want it to be, and more.

During my no-track experiment, before I knew it, even though the foods I chose to eat were still healthy ones, those fist-sized portions eventually morphed into foot-sized ones.

And when did I take a walk last?

Was it yesterday or the day before?

Oh shoot, I had a project to do, and I barely stood up from my desk all week, how did this happen?

When I took that time off, I did feel more liberated.

I did have more fun. At first.

But then after awhile I felt like I had lost control. When the numbers are in front of you, you have visibility to make better choices.

Choices to stop eating. But also choices to say, hey, I have been great for the last week, the numbers say so! I’m going to Chanticleer tonight and ordering the full Matterhorn for dessert, not the mini!

And if things do go wrong, those jeans get too tight, or if at my yearly physical my Doctor tells me my iron or calcium or cholesterol levels aren’t where they need to be, or if I have less energy and don’t know why? The numbers will help pinpoint where I might need to make changes.

That to me, is even more liberating.

So you can see, since I’m defending numbers that have a history of driving me crazy in the past, this year I have started letting them seep back into my life.

But I’m trying to be smart about it.

And not too militant.

I still don’t use a scale, or measurements of any kind more than once or twice a year, because fluctuating numbers cause me a lot of angst. I’m going to stick with the as-long-as-clothing-fits-all-is-well philosophy.

I’m back to using a food diary to make sure I’m on track.

I haven’t returned to my crazy nutrient spreadsheet to see percentage trends on protein, carbs, fat, sugar, sodium, etc. But the numbers are there for me to see whenever I need a reality-check.

I mentioned in my last post, I find exercise numbers extremely motivating and last month decided to add one more health gadget into my life. I already track my workouts with a heart rate monitor, but added an activity tracker that I’m absolutely in love with. It helps ensure I’m not an active couch potato because it measures non-formal activity, like yoga, or gardening or cleaning, or light hikes that do keep me on my feet, but the metrics are invisible to me otherwise.

If the numbers show I’m too sedentary one day? I get off my rear and right the situation. For instance, last night after a heavy dinner, I saw I hadn’t been as active that day and suggested to my family we take a walk by the river. Without those numbers, I might have settled in on the couch and not moved for the rest of the night instead.

Right now I’m liking this gradual return to the numbers that help, and motivate.

It’s not a sexy or fun task, by any means, but more of a utility providing a realistic gauge on how well I’m managing my health.

Something very important to me.

I don’t know if I’ll still be counting when I’m 70 or 80 or 90 (I shudder to think!)

But right now, this alternative sure beats my questionable intuition.

What do you think? Do you pay attention to health numbers? Do they drive you crazy sometimes too? Do you do a good job intuitively keeping your health in check?

Mourning the end of a Chapter

Last week, I was driving along VT Route 30 towards my house, like I do multiple times every day.

One would think I was engrossed in whatever informative topic was on Vermont Edition that day, as loud voices were blaring through the stereo speakers. I’d bet you could hear it clearly from outside the car.

The sound reached my ears; but not one detail seemed to register.

Instead my mind was preoccupied with a jumble of incoherent thoughts. When at one point, out of nowhere, I snapped. Tears welled up in my eyes, and streamed down my cheeks, as they are now while I write this post, remembering the exact moment in the car when the meaning of those jumbled thoughts finally came to light.

the road to realization...

the road to realization…

I had started to reminisce in my mind about my current life, like it was already gone.

Why I did this?

It all stemmed from a decision made a few weeks ago.

A decision I thought was an easy, no-brainer, positive decision, because it is something I’m excited about, and ready for:

To go back to work part-time.

But what struck me while I was driving just then is that:

One very important chapter in my life ended: The stay-at-home mom years

And another chapter has just begun…

I thought I was a strong person; this weird feeling I couldn’t seem to shake last week took me by surprise because my whole life has been all about change. I have moved multiple times, held many jobs. Met so many different people. I thought I was the queen of coping strategies. Always just fine in the end.

But what’s clear to me now?

Transitions are hard for all of us, at any age.

I don’t recall ever thinking about my life as a book. And each major change, a chapter.

But that day in the car, thoughts moved from the excitement of starting a new challenge, to the fact that this chunk of time I had home with my son, fully dedicated to him, is now over.

And I’m a bit in mourning.

These past few years were certainly not perfect.  It was hard actually. There are so many good things about being there for your kids all the time. But for someone like me, who had always been career-minded, in control, and aware of my strengths, parenting full-time has this sneaky way of zapping any level of confidence you ever thought you had.

Strangely enough, while I never thought about my own life in chapters,  I have always looked at my mother’s life this way, and that has given me hope throughout my stay-at-home years, because she has gone through many reinventions. I have watched her morph before my eyes from a stay-at-home mom, to a student going back to get her MBA, and then to a computer sales-woman in the early 80s, selling beastly-large systems in a mostly male-dominated industry. She owned a retail business when we lived in the Newport RI area, and then became a whiz in the technology field in Silicon Valley. And just last month, she retired, and who knows what the next chapter will bring for her, no doubt there will be more.

Whenever I felt down about my worth, or productivity, or satisfaction at this stage of my life, as a woman, home with her child, reflecting back on my mom’s evolution through the years taught me:

Life today is not what it’ll be forever.

There’s still a long way to go.

Perhaps finally having the ability to visualize these chapters for myself is a sign of aging long enough to see when life patterns emerge, and also, visualize them in hindsight.

I started writing last year, because I love communicating with all of you on challenging topics, and this has been an amazing creative outlet, and has also helped combat the lack-of-positive feedback I sometimes feel when parenting, or managing the household. Making the commitment to write has also been instrumental in gearing me up for schedules and deadlines again, because I knew the day would come soon, where I would want to baby-step back into a career.

And so when I was offered this new opportunity, one I know will allow me to use some now-dormant talents but on a part-time schedule, I barely hesitated to sign that contract. I am ready to get those brain muscles working again, restore confidence I once had, but most importantly, make these positive changes without abandoning the much more balanced life I have now, or my hands-on parenting style in the process.

Is that too much to ask? I’m not sure…

This decision to return to work part-time will be a good one in the long run. It’s just a little bittersweet.

I have to think more about prioritizing everything that’s important; this will be the hardest part.

I’m scared as I think about my life now, and how it has evolved over the last few years. I hardly recognize the old me, the full-time career mom. I was so out-of-balance then, only concerned with my son and work. Today, my world has expanded. Along with family obligations and career aspirations, I have hobbies, I have likes and dislikes, and non-work issues that are so important to me.

I now also know it’s essential to look after myself; a priority that wasn’t even on my radar back then.

Regressing back is not an option.

As a perfectionist, with the desire to be great at everything I do. I worry, with one more priority in the mix:

What if I can never be great at anything…will I need to settle for just being good?

I want to be a great, present mom. One who is patient, and actively participates in activities.

a recent selfie of my buddy and me...

a recent selfie of my buddy and me…

I want to be a committed spouse, who is not just one/half of a parenting tag-team, we need to be supportive to each other as individuals, and as a couple.

I need to continue taking care of myself. You better believe I won’t be slacking off with exercise, or eating well.

I love to write, think about health, and motivate others. Will I still have the time?

and now…

I have to figure out how to do great in my new job.

Sounds like I’ll need to make some amendments to those goals I set earlier this year,  take inventory as I go, and decide what stays, what might go, and where I need to manage my time more efficiently.

Those watercolor classes I took last month were so fun, but I’ll have to hold off for now.

Perhaps I won’t learn Spanish this year.

Maybe my blog posts will be shorter and less frequent. I hope not, but it’s an option.

What about volunteering at the school? That’s so important too.

Will have to see how it all goes…

I was talking to my friend Tienne at Silverleaf Journal about this new challenge a few weeks ago, when she alerted me to the fact that I’m going to be living the dream of most women.

Really? I had no idea.

According to a Pew Research poll, most working mothers today wish they could work part-time.

But sadly, 74%  of moms who work outside the home hold full-time jobs instead; only 26%  are able to get their wish and work part-time, because the opportunities are just not there for them.

So I will consider myself lucky.

While I may still be in mourning over the abrupt end of the most significant chapter of my life so far.

And deep in thought about the changes I need to make.

I’m hopeful I can make it all work.

I’ll still strive to be great at whatever I choose to focus on; not just good.

As I turn the page and begin this next new chapter…

How do you handle your work life balance? Do you work full-time, part-time?

Or are you at home, but seeking something more? What options do you think are ideal?

Here is some additional research on work/life/mom balance I found useful, you might too:

http://www.workingmother.com/research-institute/what-moms-choose-working-mother-report

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2009/10/01/the-harried-life-of-the-working-mother/

http://cognoscenti.wbur.org/2013/04/02/lean-in-carey-goldberg

My Year in Writing: 7 Lessons Learned

winterriver

A year ago this week, on a snowy morning, similar to today, I nervously hit the “publish” button for the first time and shared my first blog post.

I had been writing for a few years, but my readers were a select, extremely supportive group of like-minded folks who were into talking about health. That to me was safe; everyone was always encouraging.

But opening up to people I do know? What would that be like? You have to think:

What do I want people to know about me?

How personal should I get?

What if people hate my writing?

Or disagree with me?

Or think I’m weird because the subjects I bring up like health, exercise, foods, parenting and self-image, are often unsettling.

Or what if they just don’t care at all?

But last year I was on this goal-oriented kick. I wanted to do something more challenging. And scary. My father died a few years ago, and I missed hearing his ever-reasonable advice. And so thinking about the one phrase he used to throw at me all my life, I decided writing and sharing my ideas, struggles and insecurities with friends, neighbors and family members, would be character-building. And I should just do it.

So here I am, a year later, wondering:

how the heck do you even measure character?

I’ll elaborate instead on what I think I have learned from the year, and we’ll circle back to that later…

Learning #1: Writing identifies concerns; keeps them top of mind. Sharing holds me accountable.

Are you the kind of person who loves a good challenge? Who tackles big problems head-on?

My husband is a bit like that. He’ll buy every book or relentlessly search the web until he finds answers and then develops a plan of attack.

Unfortunately, that’s not me. I’m an avoider of problems. If I identify one, I’ll think about it for a few minutes and then promptly put it out of my mind for another day. And often that day never comes.

But when you write it down, it’s different.

My biggest concerns seem to be ones that have no answer. They involve a constant balance. Thinking and re-thinking. And the recipe for success isn’t always apparent. Sometimes you think you find an answer, and then it changes on you.

How do I stay healthy over time? What if I’m bored with exercise and don’t want to do it. What if my kid is driving me nuts?What about adding back a career, how will I do this without losing myself in the process? How do I not gain weight on vacation when I want to eat everything in sight? How can I be there for my child when he needs me? How can I be happy with myself, and how I look, as I age?

See? All tough questions. But if I look back on a post where I made public resolutions. Or if my sister-in-law calls and asks about my latest fitness slump. Or if my friend stops me in the school parking lot and mentions she’s going through the same issue about too much sugar and too little activity with kids, and let’s talk. It all helps keep me on plan, and holds me accountable.

Learning #2: My motivation for fitness appears to be seasonal.

I make room for formal exercise each day, but there’s a big difference between being excited about it, and just going through the motions. As I look back throughout the past year, I can see a trend vividly in my writing. Every spring and fall, because I’d rather be outside, doing what I love best: hiking, taking photos, foraging for mushrooms, hanging around in the river and just enjoying the scenery, I start to resent strength training.

I did some research on exercise and seasonality and learned that athletes have on-seasons and off-seasons, as well as different expectations about their fitness level during each season: they have an in-training weight, and an off-season weight. And this varies sometimes by 5-15 lbs!

My take-away? I need to think like an athlete and just go with the rhythm of what I want do each season, and not worry that I’ll be losing a little strength. Going outside gives me a mental break, and that’s important And, like an athlete, I’ll just pick it up the tougher workouts again during an official training time.

I wouldn’t have identified this issue at all if I hadn’t written about it.  I know this will be tough, to adopt a new mindset, but am grateful I was able to at least identify the problem and work to resolve it as I think about the upcoming spring season. Alleviating the angst will be welcome!

Learning #3: Parenting challenges often intersect with my own, and help me grow as a result.  

I was hesitant to write about parenting concerns because I thought they were off-topic. But what I realize now is that we can’t be one-dimensional. No man or woman is. We can’t just think about work. Or health. Or our kids, in silos.

They all intersect and our needs are stronger at different times of the year, to deal with the challenges of all of them. I have found often when I work out parenting-issues I end up drawing conclusions on my own concerns in the process.

For example:

When I was struck by Brett’s sugar problem in school, it made me re-think my own foods and the activity I get throughout the day. His peanut allergy keeps us reading labels and although is a terrible problem to have, it has helped us choose healthier foods in the process. Brett’s inability to sit still and his solution, helped me find one of my own when I realized I had been sitting too much.

I could go on and on about this one! We adults, we are just big kids, and have similar concerns. It took writing about them to see this more clearly.

Learning #4: I have inspired my family. Maybe some friends too…

I’m sure a few of you have tried to have conversations with a spouse or other family member about eating well. Or starting to exercise. But nobody will ever make the effort until they determine it’s a priority for themselves.

I know this to be the case because I was like this. And I have attempted to encourage others who are not remotely interested. I have since learned my lesson and will not even discuss health topics unless they bring it up first.

Instead, I have been leading by example, building a fitness habit and thinking critically about every food that makes it into our kitchen. It has taken awhile, but my husband is fully on-board. I think his positive-health check and encouragement from his doctor a few weeks ago really helped too. It’s almost like a race now, he’s started the year in full force: making time to workout most days, even if he only has a few minutes. The biggest surprise has been his pro-active research on super-foods, and introducing them into our kitchen.

Using what I have learned in Spark, by John Ratey,  and Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, I have been talking to my son about the importance of moving and exercise and spending time outside. These conversations, and reinforcement on the same subject in his health class in school is helping him pro-actively seek movement when he needs it and he is having fewer focus problems in school.

As for friends, I hope the topics discussed here have helped inspire you in some way too!

Learning #5: Personal stories are best, and sharing gets easier over time

As a writer, I’m a reader, and a consumer of many different types of media, from news, articles, other blogs, magazines and books.

There are way too many articles I click open, and the message falls flat. As a reader, I’m not engaged. Someone is speaking at me, giving advice, but they aren’t actually with me. They don’t seem to get it.

I hope whatever I write is something others can relate to, and have found the more personal my stories are, the more personal and amazing the discussions surrounding the topic. 

Once another blogger friend mentioned she gets lots of comments like “great post!” or “nice!”. While any feedback is great, I am so thankful I’m generally blown away by some of the responses, details and sharing I get from readers, and thank each and everyone of you for adding to the discussion. As much as I like telling stories, I love hearing yours too, and your experiences, solutions and the open dialog can help all of us.

Now, I don’t hesitate as much before I press that publish button. I have learned, you never know who your writing will touch, so you might as well just say it!

Learning #6: The community I have met through writing has been essential.

I had no idea when I started writing how many amazing people I would meet.

And that these people, some in other countries, some who I have never met in person, but talk at length to about similar concerns, have been essential to my life.

I learned a few years ago health is a touchy subject. Most people don’t like to talk about it, so I would keep concerns to myself. Finding a community of awesome folks like Maggie and Marlene, and Chris and Tina, Jess and Lara, and Carolyn, Angie and Tienne, oh my this is getting long, but I could go on and on and on….

They have all been essential to my thought-process, and a pleasure to know.

I’m excited in year 2 to build more of a community and add to the experience.

Learning #7: Good Health is an enabler.

Health is not something I want to think about all day long.

One of my biggest challenges with exercise has been determining that point where I can get the most, best overall fitness in the least amount of time.

And of course I want to eat well, but not too much. And we all love foods that aren’t great for us. Where do splurges fit in?

As much as people like to think staying healthy is intuitive, I don’t think it is. As we get older, our bodies do slow down. We need to adjust what we eat and how much activity we get. That in itself is easier said than done, bench-marking what we need appears to be a moving target!

Good mental health helps too. How can I be a good parent if I’m not happy with myself? If I am not participating in activities I enjoy? Or setting new goals or challenges for myself?

For once, I am not avoiding the hard topics that have no answer.

I’m writing about them. And keeping them top of mind.

And hope to set up a good system so I don’t have to think about it so much, and I can move on to just living life.

I have said many times to myself when I need a pep talk:

Good health is not a given; it’s a choice. And my choice.

Good health will enable me to fulfill all my other goals and dreams.

In my 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and 90s.

Yes, I’m planning to get there, and to be independent like many of the other awesome women in my family.

After all that, what do you think, did writing help me build a little character this year?

So wish my dad was still here to live it with me, as he was one of my biggest health inspirations.

Perhaps I can’t measure it accurately, but I do think he’d say yes.

Would love to hear your thoughts and opinions. What do you do to keep health top of mind? If you don’t write, do you have a creative outlet that helps you stay focused?  

Thanks again for your year of support,  reading and sharing!

My Year-end Health Report Card

SONY DSC

It’s really great that I set doctors appointments a year in advance, because it means I won’t forget to call and make appointments.

But then, a year later, I am horrified when these appointments pop up unexpectedly on my Outlook calendar at the most aggravating times.

For some reason, all of them seem to come in a big wave at the end of the year.

And it causes me a lot of anxiety.

When I was younger, I took my good immune system for granted. I would go to an appointment and expect everything would be ok. And it was.

I remember when first out of college and well into my first career job with health benefits, laughing about the fact they really weren’t benefits at all, because I never used them.  I would go years sometimes between appointments with no repercussions. I guess I was one of those snarky kids Obama is trying to get to sign up for the new health plan to pay for the rest of us. Back then I thought I was invincible.

Never a cavity. No glasses. Normal height. Normal Weight. No broken bones. Not high-risk for anything too odd.  Normal, normal, normal…

But then a few years ago, something changed.

It’s like as soon as you turn 40, suddenly, even if healthy, you start getting the call-backs.

It started with my first call-back after a mammogram, that left me anxious for a good month, as I had to come back in for an ultrasound and then wait for results. Then for the first time in my life last year I had a call back after a Ob-Gyn visit, that resulted in a follow-up, something called a colposcopy that was pretty horrible. Even the hygienist at the Dentist’s office last year had me worried when she thought my gums looked a little blotchy.

What could that be? What am I doing wrong? Why am I falling apart? I began to wonder…

So now, in 2013, I don’t take normal for granted anymore and I’m please to say, so far so good!

I have two down already, Ob-Gyn last month, where I just received a letter in the mail saying I’m A-OK for now (happy dance!). And I just received a  thumbs up from the Dentist on Monday. Although I don’t think I did anything different this year, they told me I somehow stepped up my game.

The last reminder just popped up on the calendar when I logged in this week:  The Yearly Physical.

Typically the yearly physical is where I shine. I’m highly aware of everything I eat. I treat exercise like my career. My doctor, who likely spends all day warning people that they need to stop eating fast food and soda and start walking every day, or at least getting up from their computers once in a while, looks at me and says “don’t change a thing!”.

His only recommendation last year? Take a Vitamin D tablet, because in Vermont, we get no sun.

But the part that drives my anxiety sky high, is something you would never, ever guess.

It’s that I absolutely, positively, detest numbers.

And when I get that end of year report card from my physical, showing all my numbers–normal or not–they drive me into a highly-competitive state.

I suspect this is on account of my career as a marketer. If a number ever crosses my path, it gets swept up into a pivot table in Excel and sliced and diced 20 different ways, categorized and analyzed over time. And if there is any variation at all, I’m awake at night thinking about why, how and what if?

And the worst number of all for me is that silly one every doctor takes as soon as you walk through the door.

The one you get when you step on a scale.

Over the last two years, knowing my obsessive behavior in response to numbers, I have been working hard to rid my life of them. I had used calorie counting for a few years and stopped. At one point I micro-managed my nutrient intake (and yes, there was a way-too-detailed pivot-table involved) to ensure all my numbers were where they should be: protein, carbs, fat, sugar, sodium, etc…but eventually stopped.

And about 2 years ago, I unceremoniously relegated the bathroom scale to the downstairs closet. Because any fluctuation in my weight would make me think I need to bring back all the numbers to manage it. And I don’t want that anymore. Adopting the if-the-clothing-still-fits attitude seems to work well for me.

But when you go to the Doctors office, you can’t avoid it.

When I visited the Ob-Gyn a few months ago, although I felt slightly dumb, I asked the nurse if she would mind if I turned around so I couldn’t see the number on the scale, and asked her not to tell me. She was ok with it.  But with a yearly exam, I’m not sure that’ll work, because BMI, body mass index, your height and weight ratio, is all anyone really seems to care about. My husband actually told me yesterday they had a meeting about changes in the health insurance, and that BMI was now going to be tracked for our health plan from now on.

So the anxiety has started in anticipation of learning for a fact what I know in my mind already: that I have gained a few pounds.

Even though I know I’m ok. I’m healthy.

And that fluctuation is normal.

I’m going to have to turn on every coping skill I possess to keep this knowledge from driving me numbers-crazy once again.  But I’ll also be proud I didn’t let my appointments lapse, and that I do not take my health for granted like I used to do when I was a younger adult.

Every year now I get my health report card:  if anything does go wrong, we catch it early and then hopefully move on.

At least until next year, when I start to see those new appointments pop back up on the calendar, and the worrying cycle begins once more…

Do you find Doctors appointments make you anxious? Do you keep up with all your appointments now, or do you need to get better at that? Would love to hear your stories and discussion…

The Fitness Blues

When I first started this journal, my idea was this would be the place for me to work out my thoughts about staying healthy through the years.

And I wanted this to be about me as a woman; not a mom.

I didn’t want, more than anything, to be a mommy-blogger.

Not that there is anything wrong with mommy-bloggers, I read and enjoy many of them. I just thought because so many women, once they become moms, become so absorbed in being caretakers, keeping track of households, careers, kids, etc, there needs to be a place to voice our concerns. Because as often as we get swallowed into everyone else’s drama,  we too are people who matter. We need to be strong, healthy, and yes, happy too, if we are going to be good support for our families.

And if anyone cares to read what I write, if they don’t know this already about themselves, they can be reminded of this fact too.

But as I look back at my last few posts, actually most of them from this summer on, would put me in that mommy category. Parenting issues have invaded my brain. And as much as I would like to mull-over interesting  issues and health trends, I often become interrupted.

Hmmm, should I continue to pursue intermittent fasting? I read it’s really healthy and helps you ward off disease, but after trying it for a few months, I need to re-evaluate…

Oh, time to pick up my son from school….

I need to find a local veggie source for the winter, need to research all the options.

Are you going to town today, can you pick up prescriptions at the drug-store?

My friend Maggie told me about this company, 23andme, about how you can get genetic testing for your family and find out if you are prone to Alzheimer’s and other diseases? Can you imagine doing that? Would I ever consider it?

Hey, get off the computer, you have been playing Minecraft way too long…

I need to reschedule that yearly exam I cancelled last month…

Actually, Brett needs his well-check too, I’ll schedule that first.

I’m unmotivated right now and need to create a new exercise program before I build a new habit of laziness, what should I do?

Don’t forget, come early for the Halloween Parade at school today!

Where does the time go!

Often as soon as these questions come to mind, I’m forced to come down from the clouds, back to the school, back to the doctor’s office, back to finishing the last Harry Potter book with my son. Back to helping him do his homework, and lecturing him about the need for balance with screen time.

And these questions are forgotten for weeks, unresolved, until I bring them up again and start the same cycle of putting them off, putting them off…

Oh yeah, and did you know, we are out of toilet paper too? 

Argh! The indignity of it all…

I just want to concentrate for just a few minutes…my health and sanity are at stake!

There isn’t typically an immediate downside to putting off finding answers to some of my health questions.  But one of them has finally become a problem.

It’s that one about about needing to find a new exercise program. Because I’m in a big slump. Completely unmotivated.

I’m one of those people who does well with a planned exercise program. I need a schedule telling me what to do each day. If I have a schedule, no questions asked, like it or not, busy or not… it gets done. And for the last few years, I had been happily switching off between a few programs (P90x and ChaLean Extreme) where I have three days of using weights, and then the rest of the days I have a mix of outside walks, hikes or some variety of strength training and yoga.

But last month as I reached the end of my most current program schedule, as much as I love them both, I couldn’t bear to continue. The workouts were getting redundant; I have done each of them, in 3-month intervals, 3x.

So I decided to be unscheduled for a few weeks, to think over what to do next.

Each time I tried to take the time to research something new, I was disappointed. First of all, if you try enough of these programs, they all start to seem similar after awhile and it’s just hard to choose. I think, but if it’s so similar, why don’t I just do another round of what I have already?

But I don’t want to do another round. I’m bored.

Decision, interrupted. 

I began to take hikes up in the woods behind my house every day. October is so amazing in Vermont, I need to enjoy it.

The view at the top of my October hikes…

These hikes were challenging, and a welcome change from scheduled weight lifting.  And when your mind drifts a million miles away in parent-land, just feeling that air. Seeing the colors. The different trees. The feeling I get when I reach the top of the little mountain and look out at our cute little rural valley, it’s intoxicating.

But the beauty doesn’t last too long. As I look out the window today, and see the leaves almost all down from the trees. The wind is whipping, and it’s pouring out. And the need to answer my question about what next comes back to the forefront, because I’m not going out there…

I have read it takes 21 days to build a habit.

And after my wonderful month off, mindlessly rambling in the woods, I realize I took a few days too many. I lost my good habit. The one where I’m all for the challenge of one armed push-ups, army crawls, vertical jumps, chin-ups, right angle poses and hip openers, and heavy weights.

Instead I am left with the new habit of just wanting to move around mindlessly, not having to think too much, or work too hard. When I’m particularly unmotivated and it’s cold out, I even started strapping on the headphones, grabbing my kindle fire and streaming Orange is the New Black on Netflix, while mindlessly moving my legs on the elliptical.

When I’m done, I don’t even remember working out. It just isn’t all that satisfying.

This IS really good exercise. I know you are all thinking that.

But I won’t be hiking or walking much in the winter. And I’ll be bored if I am on the elliptical more than once or twice a week.

When you are in a slump, the first bit of advice a fitness expert is going to tell you is that you need to mix it up. Well, I’m trying. I agree with that advice.

But here’s the problem I’m starting to see. I need to stay motivated not just for 3 months or a year, or two years, I need to stay motivated to workout for LIFE. I have been in-tune with my health, making sure it is always a priority, for about 5 years, and I’m in this slump already.

What happens in 10 years? Or 20?

How am I going to keep mixing it up FOREVER?

Another bit of advice I hear from fitness experts, and try to add to the equation to pick me out of this slump, is that I need to set goals.  And I totally agree! I set goals all the time. But here’s the challenge. It’s all fun when someone wants to lose weight. Hooray, I lost 10 lbs! Or 50 lbs. I have reached my goal!  That’s so motivating!  But what happens when you are the same size for a long time. And you just need to stay there?

And then when you first start working out you can set goals like: I want to run a 5K, or a half-marathon. Or I want to increase my weights. Or I want to lose 2 inches off my waist. And you have reached these goals already. What’s next?

Keep going?

Make the challenges harder?

How long can I keep this up?

Do I want to keep this up?

And is it safe? Injury is not an option.

Thinking about how I might respond to these questions, about how far I really need to go with these never-ending goals to stay motivated, I am reminded of a phrase from one of my favorite workout videos, where Chalene Johnson tells us assuredly:

You are an athlete now!

Me, an athlete?

Because I show up every day and work hard at fitness? Hmmm…

I’m flattered by the idea, I hadn’t thought to categorize myself this way.  But it worries me too, because the more I get swept up in setting and achieving new goals, quantifying progress, looking at exercise as a sport, a competition or a job, or thinking about me, an athlete, the harder it is to ever feel like I am succeeding.

I don’t want to continue keeping score.

How do I show progress, without being so into it?

Without having to quantify every bite, every weight, every personal best?

I don’t want to think like an athlete…or a professional. I can’t lift more than I am already. Get more fit than I am already, unless I make a decision to take it a step further…

And I don’t need that.

I am after all, just a mom.

Decision on how to proceed?

Interrupted, once again, for now…

What types of tactics do you use to help get you back into the right frame of mind to stay motivated? Do you feel the need to continually one-up your goals? Or do you just not think about it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts…

What do you see?

it's not about perfect hair and smile, it's about where I have been

I moved to Vermont when I was 26.

At that time, all decisions were motivated by work, and this was my 3rd career and location move in 5 years.

My mother remarked a few times she thought I was smart to experience what it’s like to make my own decisions, to be on my own and independent as an adult. She and my father were married towards the end of college, as was the trend at the time for women. She went straight from her parents house, to college, to living with my father and having children soon-after.  My parents had a successful marriage and she was happy, but she did acknowledge to me more than once, she wished she, as a woman, had that opportunity to live as a young adult on her own.

To experience her career on her own.

To date as an adult.

That actually cracked me up at the time, my mom date? But I now get what she was saying 100%.  What I experienced during those years, on all levels, was invaluable and had I not learned what I did then about life, love, coping, independence,  I think my subsequent choices would have been bad.

Really bad.

I eventually made my life in Vermont more permanent.  I moved again within the state about 4 years later, changed jobs, and lived with my then-boyfriend, now husband. One day around this time, during a quick stop to a clothing store I bumped into a former co-worker, a grandmotherly woman, with long gray hair piled loosely in a bun and big round glasses worn down towards the tip of her nose. I met this woman in my first few weeks at the office, and we had a nice rapport, but we hadn’t seen each other since. Peering down through her glasses, she looked at me for a little longer than what you would expect to be polite, and eventually remarked:

“You look the same. But something’s changed. Your face has a new maturity about you now.

It looks great on you.”

I just smiled; not really sure how to respond.

Do you all know that change?

The time when you cease being that carefree, happy-go-lucky young adult with no responsibilities, and then become the one with many?  I was certainly unaware I possessed this new-found maturity as it happened, but as I think back, she was right.  I recognize the same changes in a few of my younger friends who are going through it now.

And I’m wondering today, a decade or so later, if yet another new level of maturity is taking shape.

Because when I look in the mirror, I’m tempted to do a double-take, something seems different.

A few days ago I read a blog post by Nicola Joyce, a fitness writer, who shared with readers  a video she created for the What I see project.  This project, founded by Edwina Dunn, in the U.K., sets out to explore how women globally answer this question:

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Are they reading my mind?

It’s not often a message appears exactly when you need it; I’m glad this one did.

This is a simple question.  But one most of us are never asked.

And probably have no idea how to put our internal thoughts into words, although we take glances in that mirror a few times each day.

I have not shared my story with the project yet, but I am fascinated by the question and have become enchanted with the stories of others who have submitted responses to the project. Some women respond based on how they look. And some respond based on who they are as person, and all they have accomplished. Some seem truthful and searching; their stories poignant. Some sound like they are saying what they want others to hear, but whether they are being honest, or just showing bravado, we’ll never know.

And, what would I say?

Would I be superficial and talk about my flaws, and all the parts of me I wish were different?

Or would I be one of the women who looks deeper, beneath the surface of the once-sparkling blue eyes, the ones with dark circles etched with what seems like permanent black lines. Am I one who thinks about the character of me as a person, and what I really, truly have experienced over the years and have to offer?

When I’m standing in front of that mirror, I certainly want to see the character within me. The independent, career-minded one who moved to Vermont way back when, and surrounded herself with loving people, built a safe and beautiful home and family. I want to see the woman who is a caring, supportive, loving mom and wife. The one who has made good solid choices.  The one who is a good friend. A survivor of many challenges. And I want to see the woman who knows she has needs too, and makes sure those needs do not get swept aside.

But sadly, in reality, I do not usually see her.

Instead, I see the here and now, and give myself a hard time.

What’s happening with my hair today?

Do these jeans look tight?

Maybe I’m not exercising enough.

Maybe I need to get some cover-up to gloss over these dark circles…

I’m the one who ignores the fact that aging does happen after awhile. And even if it happens gracefully, I assume this reality doesn’t apply to me, so what I see reflecting back never lives up to this high expectation.

It’s funny.

The subject of character.

When I was a kid, my father’s most often used saying to my brothers and me was “it’s character building”. Whether it was the result of doing our chores, paying for our car insurance or doing our homework, whatever we had to endure, that we didn’t like, built character.

We grumbled and rolled our eyes whenever we heard it.

He would laugh.

And as usual, with time, we all knew he was right.

I know I have that character he helped me build; I just need to see it for myself. To recognize it. To put value on it.

I used to like the fact I wasn’t the spitting image of either of my parents. My eyes and skin color resemble my mothers side of the family; my disposition and height from my father. But my look was truly my own. The perfect mix.

Just the other day, I was getting a haircut. With hair wet and slicked back, sitting in front of the mirror at the salon, I looked at myself, realizing for the first time I’m seeing more and more of my fathers face looking back at me.

He’s no longer here, so that’s a little eerie. I wonder if the last time he saw me, he thought that too?

Sometimes it takes me awhile to develop a new habit and act on it, even if I know it’s the right thing to do. Like knowing who I am isn’t just about what I physically see in that mirror. It’s the sum of all I have learned and achieved. The ever-expanding accumulation of maturity that grows within me, and on my face, as I weave in and out of different chapters of my life.

Maybe this is the difference I’m starting to see now.

The new-found resemblance to my father; now a gentle reminder to me each day.

No quick glances.

Take a better look, and appreciate more deeply the person staring back in the mirror each day.

And as my former co-worker said way back when, the maturity probably does look great on me…

How would you respond to this question?  An interesting question for men too, who are even less often asked about their true feelings. 

I’d love to hear your stories. 

And please check out the What I see website and view some of the videos and perhaps submit your story…you may get lost in them like I did.

Tradeoffs

Many people think they have to give up foods they love, or feel guilt after the fact when they indulge, but I don’t think that’s true. It’s all a matter of balancing the good with the bad. I have heard a few percentages quoted in the media, if you eat well somewhere between 85-90% of the time, then the other 10-15% of the time, you can live it up.

Although I’m not sure where I fall with percentages, I subscribe wholeheartedly to this philosophy. I’m one of those people who love different tastes, appreciate a good chef and the creativity of fusing unexpected flavors together. And of course, love the bottle of red and desserts that go with it. A few months ago, I wrote For the Love of Foods , with the message you can still achieve your health goals, but also live it up with food when the time is right.

This ideal has worked well over the last few years, but I have to come clean about one new problem that keeps cropping up after I have one of these dessert-wine-heavy meal evenings.

One I keep silencing every time I think about it, because I don’t want it to be true.

On these nights, I have insomnia.

And it’s awful. I go to sleep easily, and then wake at 2 am, like clockwork, and am not able to go back to sleep. I have searched the web, and it’s well-documented that alcohol can cause insomnia. But after a few months of testing, just wine, wine + dessert, only dessert, etc,  I have noted the problem isn’t really the wine by itself, as much as it’s the sugar in the dessert–or the combination of both.

This appears to be my new reality, and I’m faced with this tradeoff every few weeks:

Live to eat whatever I want for one fun evening?

Or not sleep, and suffer the next day by being tired and irritable.

But I love wine…I love dessert…I deserve it, really….help!

But I can’t tell you how awful I feel at 2 am watching the clock for hours and hours waiting for morning.

What to do, what to do…

When I know I want to write about a topic at some point, I create a draft with a title and a few descriptive words, just so I don’t forget about the topic.

Then promptly forget about it.

This idea, Tradeoffs, has been sitting in my drafts folder for a  long, long time, but after reading this post by Caitlin Kelly, at Broadside: I’m not where I expected to be, and subsequent discussion, I thought it was a good time to pull it out once again.

The stakes aren’t monumental if I make the wrong choice once in a while when I go out to dinner, I’ll just be uncomfortable and tired and need to make up for it somehow.

But there are other tradeoffs, either conscious decisions, or ones we haven’t realized we even made, that shape our lives.  And we question ourselves repeatedly over the conscious ones, wondering  if we have made the right choice.

Career/Family

My big life tradeoff, the one I keep questioning over and over in my mind, is my decision to jump out of my successful corporate career and stay home with my son full-time.

When I was working full-time and traveling, and generally frazzled and without sleep all the time, I remember glaring at those lucky stay at home moms, who could actually hire a babysitter so they could go out to lunch with “the girls”. I remember seeing them when I was out to lunch with my co-workers. Must be nice I thought. They have all the time in the world to play during their day.  But what I realized very quickly is that the mom stuff is actually really, really hard. These women do need to do lunch with the girlfriends, as often as they can!

Work problems taxed my mental capacity, sometimes stress was so great I would wake in the middle of the night all-consumed by issues with clients or with co-workers, or just overwhelmed by the projects I had due the next day.

Mom-stuff zaps me of all physical energy and at the end of each day, I’d love to curl up under a rock and fall asleep and just not speak to anyone….

But each day those brain-muscles are a bit underutilized. I kind of wish I had some of those more interesting work-like-puzzles to unfold.

Other trade-offs with this decision? Money is a big one. The ability to fix up the house isn’t really an option anymore. And that’s ok generally, until the washing machine and the dishwasher break at the same time, or when the toilet springs a leak…eventually this stuff has to be fixed. And I remember the days when I had a big paycheck, I used to collect orchids! Really, who does that? I think every orchid was probably $20-$50, and my beautiful collection slowly died out after my son was born and I wasn’t able to keep up with them.

I think about all the money I spent on that now, and on $500 suits, and other little throw-away luxuries I indulged in when I was working, and think, wow, I do wish I saved some of that for now!

The travel tradeoff, I think about this often. When I worked full time, I traveled so much for work, I never wanted to travel for personal reasons. But I could afford it. Now? I’m dying to get out of town. Would love to visit my mom and my brothers and sister-in-laws, and my niece and nephews. And I have plenty of time now. But the budget isn’t there.

Nope….it’s never easy.

But my son knows I’m here for him every day. I have the time to work on his challenges. I know what he’s eating. I know he has a good mix of what’s important in his day; nature, exercise, healthy foods, time together to read a book, build legos, catch frogs. He gets a good nights sleep and as much as he likes activities, with me around, he has more flexibility to be home when he needs to recharge.

He often is bummed when his dad is out of town on a work trip, and doesn’t have as much time for him. But we explain the tradeoffs his Dad is making now, so he and I can spend our days together. We explain to him this isn’t always the norm with kids who may have to go to daycare or after-school activities and not see their parents but for an hour or so a day. We explain Dad enables us to do what we do, keep our family happy and clothed and warm and cozy each night in our cute little house. It may not be the most up-to-date, a la HGTV, but it’s our home, and we are comfortable and safe…

My husband and I do find this family set-up very funny. We never expected we would be a traditional, Dad works; Mom stays home and cooks and cleans and takes care of the kids kind of family. But hey, it seems right now. And I suppose we will re-evaluate these decisions and make adjustments as we go.

I think I made the right choice. For my son, and for my family. Time will tell for me personally.

Health

When I think about day-to-day tradeoffs I make, most of them are account of my biggest obsession: health.

In that first year home after I stopped working, I was disorganized and overly-focused on my son, I didn’t bother worrying about myself. I thought just being outside with him meant I was getting enough activity for the day.

I didn’t have a lot of energy.  I couldn’t get a handle on my weight. And my back started to bug me all the time.

My son had the down time he needed, but I did not prioritize myself. Nothing in my day took into account any of my needs.

The tradeoff:

Child has attentive Mom 100% of the time.

But, Mom is sick, unhealthy, unhappy and impatient

This to me?

Not quite acceptable. I did some research, figured out how much to eat. I learned how to like exercise (something I thought I hated initially, read about that here) and then made time for formal activity every day. No more leaving it to chance anymore. I also learned to take time for myself when I need it. If I’m impatient and burnt out? I give myself a time-out.

Making changes isn’t easy, but I’m a lot happier. And I now feel great. Have no back problems. And as long as I have a good cup of coffee in the morning am mostly patient.

And you are asking, what are the Tradeoffs?

Sometimes I don’t feel like exercising. Sometimes I’d rather do something else.

Sometimes if it’s a super-busy day, I have to wake up early to get that workout in and that’s tough. I miss out on some sleep (again!)

Sometimes when he was younger I had to stick my kid in front of a video to make it happen.

Sometimes I’d rather do take out and not cook our meals

Sometimes I’d like to eat a gigantic bowl of tortilla chips and salsa all day every day without a care in the world about how this is going to affect me long term…

Sometimes I wish I didn’t have to think so hard about this stuff, because it is hard!

But it’s life…if you want to be healthy long-term, you can’t ignore it and hope what you read in the news about the need for eating well and staying fit do not apply to you.

At 20, you can get away with it.

At 35+? Not an option.

Just like my wine and sugar issues never bothered me before a few months ago, there are new realities that come into play all the time, and we have to figure out the best way to address it.

And there are even more tradeoffs:

My house is oftentimes messier than I’d like. My husband, a few months ago mentioned I should entitle one of my blog posts “A fitness buff’s dirty little secret”, to address the fact he found a zillion dust bunnies under the bed when he happened to look for something under there. Thanks hon.

Part of being healthy of course is foods. I cook a lot, and every night after dinner I am still stunned at my ability to use every dish in the house and am getting tired of dealing with the mess.

One little issue that has come to mind in the last few years is that my health focus has been so all-consuming I haven’t had much time to think about anything else, namely what I want to eventually do for a career.

From what I have been reading, every problem in life these days: lower stress levels, lower anxiety, better focus and attention, overall energy levels, fewer colds and sickness; better diet and improved fitness levels, along with some time outside are exactly what we all need.

And what most people do not get.

Nope, I don’t see too many downsides to this tradeoff.

But I do need to come clean on one other very little tradeoff:

This summer, if I want to write, my son plays Minecraft for way, way, way too long…

Mom, brain-exercised

Son, brain-frazzled…

But now it’s time to take it outside and we’ll both be ok for the rest of the day…

 

What are some of the tradeoffs you have made? Are you happy with them? Still trying to decide?

Big or Little day to day tradeoffs…

Would love to hear your stories and discuss. How are you handling them?

Bold but Senseless

WP_20130802_104-1A few years ago, my first boyfriend came to Vermont and we met for coffee. I hadn’t seen him in maybe 15 years? And I was worried.

There was this nagging feeling I had, not that either of us weren’t mature enough to have a cup of coffee together as adults, but about something I did to him back in the day.

Or didn’t do.

Basically communicate effectively at the end.

As an adult, I think back to the former me, and still shake my head in disbelief. I was such an awful person back then. That I could ever treat anyone with such disrespect.  But when I brought this up over coffee, so many years later, he laughed it off and said something to the effect of:

“We can’t be held responsible for what we did when we were like 20, 21….I mean really…we all did really senseless things back then”.

I was so relieved after all these years, and have thought about that sentiment often since, letting myself off the hook for quite a few dumb choices while repeating these words to myself.

I do however think back to that time in my 20s, and I may not have had much sense but I was fearless.

I moved from location to location following my career. I lived alone.

I explored new cities and towns when I traveled, all by myself.

I had no qualms about going into a restaurant by myself. Drinking wine by myself. Going to the movies by myself.  It wasn’t easy at the time, but when I forced myself, in the end, I was empowered by it.

My last state move, to Vermont, was no different. After the first few weeks of crying, wondering how I could make such a crazy mistake, thinking I could adapt to life in the country, I finally settled on a 3-bedroom house just for me. I need to be happy, right? Nesting is good.

When I was first learning to love the nature-girl life, I embraced it on my own.

I went for hikes in the woods.

Said yes to learning weird hobbies from new friends: foraging, running on river rocks, fishing, cruising around in the evening looking for critter sightings…

Once I learned what people around here did for fun, I went for it. I would run from river rock to river rock without worry, up and down my favorite spot along the Big Branch in Mount Tabor and go out looking for wild mushrooms deep in the woods.

And going solo? Never worried about it.

Last night, I was reminded of the younger, bold but senseless me , when I was on the phone with my husband, who is traveling this week. We were talking about what activities Brett and I had on the agenda for the week. I really want to go mushroom hunting; because there should be a ton of chanterelle mushrooms in the woods, but am not really used to going on my own anymore.

I asked my husband, “do you think it’s safe for us to go up to our favorite spot in the National Forest, alone?”

My husband sounded startled. “of course, it should be”, he said “why wouldn’t it be?”

I hung up the phone and wondered, when did I turn into that person who hesitates?

Who stops, and misses out, because she is scared?

There was one incidence, after I had lived in Manchester for a few years. There was a snowmobile trail from one side road near my house that opened up to the woods, eventually bringing you out over a walking bridge, that came out onto another side road. One day as I was walking from one side of the bridge to the next, I heard voices. Hiding behind a tree, I slowly took a few more steps, and then a few more, until I could see what was up.

Two stringy-haired guys, in their 20s perhaps, were taking tree branches and slamming them down on the windshield of an old beat up muscle car they had dumped there. Crushed beer cans surrounded them.  I turned around immediately and ran all the way home.

I suppose this could have been when I started rethinking solo walks deep in the woods as I never went over the bridge again after that.

Who knows who could be lurking around?

What if I wasn’t able to turn around?

What if they saw me?

What if? What if? What if?

All these thoughts in my head; I never used to worry like this.

I never needed to rely on someone else to do what I wanted to do.

But as a woman, and a mom, 15 years later, I have way too much sense for my own good.

So many years of anxiety about keeping my kid with a life-threatening food allergy safe.

I’m always at-the-ready with a safe snack and a few Wet Ones.

When it snows? Or if there is any inkling of black ice lurking on the roads, I don’t drive. It’s not safe.

Chemicals and insecticides in the environment and on our foods? Ugh. Must stay away from them too.

The news.

Abductions.

Identity Theft.

What else should I worry about?

Be careful on those river rocks, you might slip!

As I think back to that sentiment: We shouldn’t be responsible for what we did way back then, I realize after years of gaining more sense, something I desperately needed, I need to dial it back a notch and throw some of it to the wind…

I don’t want to resurrect the insensitive qualities of my early-adulthood of course, but need to get over the constant worry.

Can I be bold, and have common sense at the same time, can those qualities realisticially live side-by-side?

I’m tired of missing out. Tired of making decisions for my son that will cause him to miss out as well.

WP_20130802_007So today, I made the decision, Brett and I went to the mushroom spot by ourselves.

What if there was a weird psychopath on the trail? I think to myself…

What are the odds?

We’ll be ok…

As we rumbled along the deserted gravel road leading to the chanterelle spot we saw a sign:

Road Closed. Gated

Well, no chanterelles today I guess, but we enjoyed Plan B instead.

Not quite running , but some slow climbing on the river rocks.

And it felt so good to be out there again.

The breeze. The beauty of the rocks. The sound of the water.

I just saw a glimpse of my old-younger self again, and want to push myself back, but forward, just a little bit each day, so I can see this side of me a little more often…

Do you have moments when you don’t recognize yourself today? Without wanting to go back, are there qualities you had then you wish you could get back again? 

Would love to hear your stories and comments.

 

A Stairwell in Suburbia

Museum stairs: challenging to some, not to others…

At times it’s tough to get back into the health mindset on a Monday, but after a road trip, a reality-check from my mother-in-law, and a stairwell, today I’m actually kind of inspired to get started.

This newfound enthusiasm, after a weekend of poor eating choices, isn’t coming from some magazine cover telling me I can “Melt off 10 lbs!” just from reading this issue. Or from my junk email inbox with a message screaming “Want to Rock that Bikini Body this Summer…here’s how!??!”. Umm, yeah, I just got that one a few minutes ago…and it’s not from looking at photos Jillian Michaels looking perfect, although I do think she’s awesome, I’m guessing the photo is airbrushed and I’ll never actually look like her no matter what I try…

Do quick fix strategies and images of perfect people, keep me inspired? Not really…at least in the long-term

Nope. These don’t do it for me, at all.  These messages may cause short-term guilt and negativity to jump-start a little action, but they don’t keep me going long-term.

What is keeping me going this week? Some observations from a family trip to suburbia, in a town outside of Rochester, New York.

In contrast to where I live in Vermont, where we have two country stores, a library and little else, this town is all about big-box stores and chain restaurants. And we needed those stores because we had to purchase computer supplies for my 86-year-old mother in law. We spent the morning accomplishing our mission, but when we were ready to have lunch, hmmm, tough choices for those hoping to eat something relatively healthy. No quaint little cafe exists in this town, serving organic, local, grass-fed foods with right-size portions. The options: Fast Food? Ick. Hot Dogs? Apparently something super-popular in the Rochester area. No thanks. Applebees? I have a son with food allergies and I hear they aren’t great with that. Red Robin–oh, yeah, I heard they are a chain that gets the allergy thing. So that’s where we went.

My cute little "non-suburb" town...

My cute little “non-suburb” town…

Looking over the menu, it looked to me like the best non-salad choice was the fish sandwich, so I ordered that with sweet potato fries, thinking to myself, I don’t do this very often, It’s great to have a splurge meal every once in a while. Oh, and a margarita, I forgot I had one of those too! Yes, a splurge. I sat back, happy, relaxed, and took in the atmosphere, my eyes landing on the people at the tables around us.

A woman in her eighties eating a gigantic ice-cream sundae, probably bigger than her head, dining with what looked like her extended family. A couple, in their twenties, dressed all in black with matching dyed black hair, hamburgers oozing, soda-slurping. A table of middle-aged women with frizzy hair, laughing and talking and gesturing wildly, probably on their lunch break from work. And everyone eating way, way, way too much food. But having fun.

Can't we go here for lunch? Not in the Suburbs....

Can’t we go here for lunch? Not in the Suburbs….

I wonder if these folks are “regulars” and eat like this all the time, or are like me, on a once-in-a-while splurge?

Sadly, most looked like they did eat there everyday.

After lunch, it was time to do something fun so we set out to find the Science Museum.  In the car, my thoughts started to turn on me, like they usually do, from happy and relaxed to scorn. Why did you have to eat so many fries? Were they really that good, they really weren’t. Did you really need to eat every little drop of it? I put the negative thoughts on hold at the museum, where once inside, my husband and son ran off and started climbing four floors of open stairs to the top floor, while my mother-in-law and I tried unsuccessfully to catch them. As we were climbing, I looked down at her. She was a little slow, but I have to tell you, she was doing just fine with those stairs.

She didn’t complain. She didn’t ask me to find an elevator instead.

Mother-in-law Dorothy w/her granddaughter Brooke...

Mother-in-law Dorothy w/her granddaughter Brooke…

How many 86-year-olds do you know who can do that?

She and I decided to check out an exhibit on Native American villages, something most dinosaur-and-fossil-seeking kids had no interest in, so we had this whole quiet wing of museum to ourselves for a little while. I asked her whether or not she might come back to this museum with friends, since it’s so close to where she lives, and so beautiful. She would love to, she said, but basically none of her friends could walk around the way she does. The conversation drifted from the museum, to the fact that she is at this age where she is losing the people around her more and more. She became a widow about 8 years ago, but most recently this winter, she lost her best friend.

Later, back at her house, I started thinking about her lifestyle and pieced together some of the other conversations we had that weekend. My mother-in-law has a high-strung dog who needs to walk a few times a day. When I tried to help her bring sheets down to the laundry area, she said, oh no… she deliberately bought the house she is in now because it has stairs, so she could keep moving, and she will strip the beds and do the laundry herself. No problem. She drives everywhere, even in snow. After a few scares on black ice, I avoid driving in snow at all costs. When I mentioned that she just shrugged and said, “well, I need to do what I need to do, the store, lunch, class, so I drive”. She takes exercise classes a few times a week at the Y, that include weights and stretching and all sorts of movements. She, ironically, is a caregiver/companion to her daughter who has limited mobility from back surgeries, and to another younger friend each week.

I am thoroughly in awe of this woman. She makes me think a lot about my two grandmothers, both died a few years ago, but lived similarly active lives and were independent and happy and fun and young until the end. And to my dad, who I lost way too early, who was always on his bike rides and stretching and moving and still happily doing financial consulting and keeping his brain exercised, where others his age were slowing down.

This weekend was just a great reminder to me about why I want to always keep activity and health top of mind. Sure, it’s great to look good, “have Rock-hard Abs!” and “a bikini body by summer!!!”, like the women’s magazines like to remind us, but honestly, I think this message is all wrong. Inspiration to make changes, and to keep us focused on what is important doesn’t come from looking at perfect photos of models, we all know that isn’t attainable for most of us. Long-term inspiration comes from real people who live real lives. We see these people all around us, and make the decision about who we want to emulate, and the reverse, who we don’t.

I want to climb those stairs when I’m 86.

And I want to be confident to drive in snowstorms in Rochester.

And I want to have a yippy dog I still need to chase and bend down to pick up, and be able to do these things myself.

I hope I’m not the last healthy one left, as my mother-in-law seems to be, so will try to inspire my family and friends to keep their health top-of-mind as well.

Yes, we can sit back in the booth at Red Robin, and have a margarita and endless fries and whatever, and that’s ok once in a while. What isn’t ok, is getting mad at ourselves for living life a little when we need to, and then giving up on our health goals when we don’t think we have measured up… we need to be off as much as on, or at least I do, to stay committed for the long-haul. The chain restaurant staff won’t start singing “Here comes a Regular…” next time I walk in for lunch…

So it’s Monday, and I overindulged this weekend. But my mind is back where it needs to be, thanks to my mother-in-law, and I’m ready for the ebb and flow of the good and bad, and the careful balance it’s going to take to manage my healthy, active future.

How about you? Do you have role-models who keep you motivated? Would love to hear your stories…