Rethinking Thanksgiving Traditions

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In a few days we’ll be trading leaf-bare Maples for Palm Trees.

And we will be leaving the jackets in the car at Albany Park & Fly; they won’t be needed.

Instead of rolling in leaf piles, the kids will be swimming in the pool. Splashing. Laughing.

On morning walks we won’t be shivering, or stomping through frost-covered grass and dried out goldenrod, surrounded by silence, and perhaps a few crow calls. And no need to check for ticks after we come inside. Instead we may be walking along the Bayshore. Sun beating down on us. Other walkers, and runners, dogs, and cars streaming past. We will look out over the bay, to the city skyline. Then turn to look the other way, and we’ll admire the beautiful homes, flowers and landscapes, one after another lining the street.

So different, in every way, from home in Vermont.

my niece with an anole!

my niece with an anole!

When the sun comes up, the little lizards, anoles, will be out. The kids will be on the lookout. Chase them down and in the case of my son Brett, who still has one for a pet from last year, perhaps if he’s fast enough, he can catch one.

Then there is the annual ladies day in Hyde Park, spent primarily at Anthropologie, maybe then to Williams-Sonoma for a last-minute gadget for the big feast, and then out to lunch and coffee with my mom and sister-in-law Brooke. This takes place while the kids, my husband and brother Greg take Brett, Jake and Anna on an adventure. This year, Tom has booked a Dad/ kid guided fishing trip.

jake fish

my nephew Jake fishing last year…

While my mom and I catch up all the time, Brooke and I don’t get to talk at length as much during the year, and this girls-day is one of our valued times to reconnect. To really talk. About everything. This is a day I now think about often throughout the year while at home, and anticipate, as that once a year treat.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Florida  is a rather new tradition, as of the past few years.

Although I traveled often for work over the years, whenever I had visited Florida, I just remembered highways, shopping centers, tourist traps and convention centers.  But when my brother and his family moved to the Tampa area for work a few years ago, and I visited for the first time, I was pleasantly surprised.

The trees were all really cool. Sprawling. Huge. I had expected all the homes to be cookie-cutter planned developments but they are the opposite.  Each home in the neighborhood seemed unique in it’s own way. And it was warm! I love Vermont but after the fall leaves turn brown, and since we don’t even get much snow anymore, the late Fall through Winter time-frame, I can take or leave….

trading in the down coat for short sleeves and shorts...

trading in the down coat for short sleeves and shorts…

I grew up in Rhode Island, and remember Thanksgiving as being relatively traditional. At least in the sense that it was cold outside, and when I looked out the window, what I felt and saw: the cold, after-the-harvest look of the fields and trees, was probably similar enough to what the Pilgrims felt in nearby Massachusetts.

My parents moved to California in the mid-90s, while my brother Ken was in Minnesota, Greg moved around often, and I stayed on the East Coast. Thanksgiving became our time to get together; and as California became the new destination, we had to rethink our definition of what a traditional Thanksgiving might look like. It felt odd at first to be experiencing mild weather at this time of year. And instead of spending most of the time outside, we would see the sites: The CA Academy or Science, the Aquarium, The Zoo, Alcatraz, the Airplane museum. And endure endless traffic.

But many years have since passed. We all have families and complications with school vacations, conflicting schedules, and in-law families competing for time. Add that to the cost, inconvenience and the amount of time needed to travel for an entire family, going to California just isn’t all that convenient.

It is no longer a given that we all get together at Thanksgiving.

Location and attendance lately had become kind of a free-for-all, until my brother Greg offered to take whoever was willing to show up. Sometimes it’s all of the families. Sometimes just a few.  Florida happens to be one of the only places we can fly direct, and be there in a few hours, so Tom and I have decided as long as they’ll take us, we’ll show up!

There are other new traditions we have developed over the last few Florida Thanksgivings. Particularly about food. And how could I write an essay without the mention of health?

When I think back to past Thanksgivings in California, we didn’t get much activity. We took dog walks each day, but they weren’t what you’d call heart-pumping activity. And we visited the Redwoods in Muir Woods numerous times. Although there is a trail, because of the different ability levels we had with kids and parents in tow, the hiking wasn’t exactly strenuous. We do all have one thing in common in my family-we love our red wine.  And we love snacking.  We would hang out in my parents open kitchen-dining room-family room. The game would be on. The cheese and crackers and tortilla chips and wine would come out…a little earlier than we are typically used to. My parents frequented wine country, and always had some new vineyard find they wanted us to try. On one of the days, the guys took a long bike ride along San Francisco bay, but we ladies? Nothing.

The result: Endless snacking.

And activity? Not so much.

We always felt like blobs at the end of the week.

More recently, in Florida, much of this routine remains the same. As soon as Greg picks us up from the airport, we typically hit a Starbucks, and then stop at the local wine shop to select what we need for the week. At home, the Boursin cheese and brie and salami and crackers emerge on a tray; while we do our best to eat it all, there appears to be a never-ending supply to keep munching on. And we do keep munching…

a little poolside reading w/Anna

a little poolside reading w/Anna

But there’s one difference.  Instead of sitting around, we are all so much more aware of ensuring we stay active. And while we indulge in a big way, we bond over keeping fit as well.

When I exercise at home, I typically work out solo. But part of the new Florida tradition involves poolside workouts with my brother.  It was a few years ago, where Greg urged me to try a p90x workout with him. I was scared. But his enthusiasm and assurance it wasn’t beyond my ability, helped give me the confidence to try it with him, and that experience prompted me to tackle the full program when I came home. Last year, we did something a little different:  the brother/sister poolside workout. No video this time. It’s too nice outside. Greg takes the lead; but I make suggestions, and we learn from each other, each morning. I was self-conscious at first, a few years ago, having the whole family walking in and out while we are out there in plain sight, looking super-unattractive. But after a while I got used to the commotion of other family members dropping by to watch, or even participate for a few minutes. My mom sometimes stops by for a little stretch or a yoga pose. Macy the Golden Retriever or Sweet Pea the pug may drop by too, and a few times I found myself in plank, or coming up from a push-up to find myself nose-to-nose with one of them.

macysweetpea

workout audience, Macy and the Pea

And it’s not just the two of us. There appears to be more of a silent understanding now. Just because we are not in our regular routine, it doesn’t mean we have to slack off in all areas. By keeping active, we won’t go home feeling awful, and that’s so important. The poolside workout isn’t for everyone: Brooke usually heads out to see her trainer. My mom takes walks and does some light weights. Tom disappears to go fishing early on some mornings and takes walks. We are together, but we know nobody will miss us if we need to run off for 45 minute or an hour on our own, to ensure our individual needs are met to balance out all the crazy eating.

As I think about next week and the Thanksgiving table,  I can picture it now.

Greg is tending to the turkey, smoking in his prized Green Egg.

my brother and the prized Green Egg.

my brother and the prized Green Egg.

Tom and I are making roasted root vegetables; and perhaps we can sneak a few sweet potatoes and turnips from our Vermont CSA into our luggage, to share the harvest…

Brooke is making the sweetest most decadent yam casserole, that she learned to make at home with her mom in Oklahoma.

My mother makes her Minnesota Wild Rice Soup.

And we top it all off with a few apple and pumpkin pies, and perhaps a run for Ben and Jerry’s once the kids are asleep.

We’ll get up the next day, and after another poolside workout, we’ll head for the airport.

We are stuffed, but don’t feel so bad.

It doesn’t matter what it looks like outside. Or how authentic our meal or whether the Pilgrims did it this way…  our latest evolving tradition includes the best of everything: family, time together, indulgence with foods and wines (because it wouldn’t be fun without that…).

But also a respect for each family members different approach to health.

Our new-found tradition to keep inspiring each other every time we get together, and keep cheering each other on is a good one.

Our Thanksgivings for the last few years have been in warm sunny Florida, but regardless of where they may be in the future, this mutual respect for health as a family will ensure we’ll all be there for each other, making new memories and traditions, for many, many more years to come.

And I for one, am thankful.

How have your traditions changed over the years? Traditional or not? Does your family help inspire you to stay active? Or the other way around?  Do you wish you could be more active during the holidays? Would love to hear your thoughts and stories!

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?

Two Wheels on the Road…

SONY DSCI have had “buy Brett a bike” on my to-do list for months, and it has been the one item on there I have been reluctant to cross off.

He had one of those balance-type bikes, purchased by my mother a few years ago, where he could just scoot along and lift his feet and put them down as needed, and that was sufficient for a few years.

But he didn’t have pedals.

Or have a need to learn any skills to help him stay upright for any length of time.

You see we have a long, steep gravel driveway, with a scary hairpin turn in it. And we don’t have neighbors or neighboring kids for him to feel the need to keep up with and make him want to learn. Instead we have a river and trees behind us. We do cool things in our yard most other kids don’t do, right?

We fish.

We catch bugs and frogs.

We walk and stomp around in the river.

We skip rocks…. who needs a bike?

So my husband and I, as parents, slacked off and let it slide.

When we were in Montana last month, Brett met a new friend at the ranch named Asa and even though there were only gravel roads, Asa had this new bike he was extremely proud of, with big tires that worked just great on the dirt and gravel road. And it would have been nice if Brett could have joined him instead of having to just walk alongside him.

Asa is 9, and had great skill on his bike. Brett, at 8 1/2?

Note to self: when we get home, buy this kid a bike!

He needs to learn. Every kid needs to at some point, don’t they?

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Testing out the new bike at Grandma’s house with a paved road.

I finally did cross that chore off the list last week, on a trip to Rochester to visit my mother in law, where we found ourselves walking in front of a Dick’s Sporting Goods, with no excuse like: “I’m too tired” or “We don’t have time”.

I haven’t really thought much about riding on a personal level over the years.

I guess I liked riding my bike when I was a kid. I did grow up in suburbia, and had friends who rode around with us in the neighborhood. I have memories of riding with my brothers, chasing the ice cream truck.  I have one memory of falling and losing a tooth, and running home alongside my bike, blood gushing from my leg, but excited my fall would mean I would get a visit from the tooth fairy that night.

As an adult, not by design; maybe just by default, I have pursued outside activities involving my own feet, not wheels.

But when I do think about the sport, I think about my Dad.

When I was a kid, my father was always gone on Sunday. This was his day to take an epic bike ride with his friends.

I have always admired him for taking this time to do something he loved. Instead of being like one of the millions of Dads out there who had no hobbies, and just work work worked, and did what their wives told them to do, my Dad took that time for himself. He would stretch for a long time, maybe an hour,  and then head out. I’m sure he got a lot of flak from my mom because of this, since she had to stay home with 3 obnoxious kids by herself all day.

But he knew he needed this time for himself.

And he was able to stay in great shape this way and clear his head.

My parents moved to the bay area, south of San Francisco, in the mid-90s and on one of my first visits to see their new home and new town, my father drove me around to see some of his favorite bicycle routes. He would often go along these super windy roads, and along the bay. On many visits, we went up Kings Mountain Road, in Woodside CA, to go to the restaurant at the top. The first time he took me up there, as I complained I needed a Dramamine and felt sick from the curvy drive, my father told me this was one of the roads he would frequently ride on his bike.

What? You really ride your bike on this road?!

I remember saying “Dad, this road is going to be the end of you if you keep riding it…”

He just laughed. And continued riding along these roads he loved for years. And still, on Sundays.

But then 2 years ago, while at home in Vermont on Memorial Day weekend, I was just sitting down to a glass of wine after a long day in the garden when my mother called, hysterical.

My father was in the hospital.

He had an accident on his Sunday bike ride. She didn’t know much else.

It wasn’t on scary Kings Mountain road. It was another one.

We never learned what happened exactly, as there were no witnesses, but my brothers and I were told to get out to California immediately. The next day, I walked into Stanford Medical Center and found my father in a coma with traumatic brain injury. He died about a week later.

He was only 67.

I have been told, well, he died doing something he loved. And that’s true.

I try not to blame bicycling.

Just as I have tried not to blame Memorial Day weekend over these past 2 years. Because honestly, I have always loved Memorial Day weekend and do not want to demonize it for the rest of my life. I was told early on when I first met my husband that his mother lost someone she loved dearly on Thanksgiving, and has always hated Thanksgiving.

I adore my mother in law, but to hate a holiday for that long? I didn’t want to live the rest of my life that way.

Last summer, one year after losing my father, I was on vacation on Cape Cod and my family went off to do something else while I took the car to visit a few shops by myself. I had a few messages on my cell phone from my mother. Doesn’t she know I’m on vacation? I’ll call her later.

But then a text “Call me”.

So I pulled over to the side of the road to do just that.  I learned that it happened again. This time to my parents dear friend. Accident on his bike, he had been hit by a car and was was in the hospital.

And most certainly would not make it.

As you can imagine, it hasn’t been so easy for me to let bicycling off the hook, like I have been able to do with Memorial Day weekend.

When my son starts to ride a bike, will I get back on a bike too?

My motto these days has been to be open and willing to try new things.  Especially activities that take us outside and keep us moving.  When Brett learned to ice skate a few years ago, I put a pair of skates after 20-some-odd years. And I did fine.  And he has been learning to ski.  So last season I put skis on after a 10 year lapse. I had been so nervous I wouldn’t remember how, but once out there, I loved it.  I was proud of myself for taking that initial step to try again because now this will be an activity we both can enjoy.  Because that’s all it takes sometimes.  Just take that one step, and you aren’t nervous anymore.  You can move on from any emotional barriers.

But what about bicycling?

I can’t remember the last time I was on one, maybe in college? I should say yes, of course I will retry that, and Brett and I can ride together.

But still I hesitate.

At this time of year in Vermont, I see bicycles and cyclists everywhere.

Tour groups. Tourists. I see people of all ages riding along on our narrow windy back roads, with no room for cars and bikes to work together side-by-side.  This brings tears to my eyes more often than any other trigger. When I look at the faces of these cyclists, I see my Dad.  When my father visited us in Vermont, the first thing he did was go to the bicycle shop in Manchester and rent a bike for the week. He loved riding along and around Route 30 and visiting the little towns. Stopping at the country stores and chatting with whomever was inside. And snapping photo after photo of the farms, the flowers, the houses, the mountains…

And all I can think when I see these people is :

Why are they out there?

Do something else!

Don’t you know the roads are dangerous!

But as some friends reminded me yesterday, as they were headed out on a bicycle tour in the Finger Lakes:

“There is risk in anything and everything”

This morning I opened up the manual on Brett’s new bike, as I’m thinking we can start practicing this week. I see “Warning”. “Caution” every few lines.

Is this supposed to reassure me I’m doing the right thing?

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Warning! Caution! Yikes!

I suppose not.

But I have ideas on where we can practice with no chance of seeing other cars or hazards.

And we’ll see how he does.

I think this year I’ll ask for new skis for the holidays, so Brett and I will be able to go more often and experience this sport together.

But we’ll wait and see whether I’ll hop back up on a bike.

I won’t say never, but maybe next year my head will be in the right place to take that initial step over the emotional barrier I still have with bicycling today.

Do you have any tough memories associated with activities, or times or places that you have a hard time getting over? How were you able to get over them? Are you glad you did?

Are there activities you have retried because of your kids or other family members?

I would love to hear your stories and comments.

Words from Strangers

No jeans for a few weeks, just waders...

No jeans for a few weeks, just waders…but I’ll get back to them soon…

I have been wracking my brain, wondering what I need to do to snap out of this lazy post-vacation summer trance I have been in for the last few weeks, when I remembered this conversation with a stranger that made me smile, and finally commit to stop whining about feeling down, and start to refocus.

On the way to Montana a few weeks ago, on the plane from Charlotte to Denver, my family had two seats in the front, while I had an aisle seat about 10 rows back. I was looking forward to this separation, anticipating some rare uninterrupted time with 1Q84, the thousand-plus page Haruki Murakami novel I had started a few weeks prior, and with my family around, my kindle would  likely remain off.

Towards the end of boarding a super-thin young gal with long straight dark hair, worn cut-up jeans, a tight red knit blouse, and spiky- high heeled boots, plopped her bag into the middle seat next to me.  The grandmotherly woman in the window seat and I did that polite-smile-thing everyone does on an airplane, and we each went back to our reading, hoping we didn’t need to engage in any conversation just yet.

After an hour or so, and a little more snoozing than reading, I woke up and looked around. The young gal, noticing I was awake,  glanced over to me a few times, smiled and out-of-the-blue just asked, “So, what are you, like 27?”

I looked at her, a little stunned, first of all that she would think I was that young, and second of all, that she dared to ask my age. Didn’t she learn you just don’t do that?

“Ummm, no”, I replied.

“30?”. I looked up at her again.

“35?” I was silent. “higher?” nod.

I don’t think I ever gave her the true number, but she was visibly stunned and I was a bit embarrassed by the reaction.

“Wow, you look sooo young!” She shook her head in amazement.

You can imagine I was more receptive to abandoning Haruki and engaging in a little conversation after she mistook me for the older-sister type, as opposed to a mom type ( after some conversation, it sounded like her mother may have been my age or younger).  I learned that this gal is actually 20, and she was on her way from Louisville, Kentucky to Montana to surprise her boyfriend, and go live with him for the summer.  She was a bundle of nerves, wondering what his reaction to this very big surprise was going to be. I would be too…can you imagine taking this kind of risk?

Today, as I think of it, I actually wish I took her contact information just so I could find out what happened!

But instead, I’m back here in Vermont, having a tough time getting myself back in my health routine and feeling worn down.

I have been back to exercise every day, but I have taken it slow, it’s not very intense.

My diet has been a mess, I still haven’t been able to kick that dessert habit I developed from vacation.

Why I have been slow to make these changes I don’t really know. Some of my friends and family would say a few weeks of lazy mindless diet and inactivity is what I need, because they think I worry about it too much, and I have to admit the allure of doing so is appealing. You are thin! You shouldn’t have to work so hard! You could use a plate of cookies…no worries! I hear them say…

But sadly I know the truth.

Letting go is great in short spurts, but if I do this too long, laziness will become a habit. I have heard it takes about 21 days to build a habit–good or bad–and I’m nearing the limit on settling into some bad ones!

Thinking back to the young woman on the plane, and that conversation about looking young makes me realize I have lost sight of a few things over the last few weeks.  I forgot that feeling young, and looking young is a choice (even if I know in fact, I do not actually look 27…), and one I want to stick with. I remember too well how I felt before I made these change in the first place, and do not want to find myself back there again. Yes, the motivation this time is a little vain; I typically like to say my fitness quest is for health reasons, but how can I not like the idea that people think I’m younger, I mean, why not let that motivate me for as long as I can get away with it?

So starting today, here’s the get motivated to feel young so I don’t feel like a lazy blob plan that should get me back to feeling like myself again in a week or two:

  • Get more sleep! This is one issue I have been slow to address but it keeps resurrecting itself every few weeks. I don’t get enough sleep and have dark circles under my eyes pretty much every day. I will plan go to bed earlier on some nights, and address the source of my new, unwanted insomnia habit. I’m positive this is the main reason I have been in such a slump.
  • No dieting, but monitor foods and cut the sugar- now!   Back to monitoring my food diary again, something I have let lapse in the last few months, to make sure I realistically know I’m keeping to the right food quantities. On vacation, portions get bigger and the reality-check of quantifying will get me back in line with appropriate portion sizes again.
  • Keep moving. It has been so hot and humid. Keep going on the exercise schedule, but make sure to start in the morning instead of later in the day when it feels like it’s 90 degrees. I just started a new exercise program, called Focus T25,  that I hope will work–it’s only 25 minutes a day of formal exercise to make sure I have some structure to the schedule. And then the rest of the time I’ll spend making sure to keep active all day with Brett: creature catching, river walking, mushroom hunting, berry picking….just hoping that humidity goes down soon so it’s a little more bearable!
  • Keep away from the scale. I don’t weigh myself anymore. Ever. I know many people live and breathe by the scale and it would be tough for them to stay away from it. But this works for me…  no good is going to come from seeing + 5 lbs on the scale.
  • And finally, stay away from jeans.  Instead of depressing myself further by spilling out over the top of my jeans,  I’ll avoid them at all cost and stick to the yoga pants and skirts for now. And maybe if it stops raining and the river behind my house goes down, we can just go fishing every day, I can hone some of my skills learned on the Firehole River a few weeks ago, and I can wear my ever-forgiving baggy waders until I’m ready to be seen in jeans again…that would be fun, I think every gal needs a pair for weeks like this…

So there you have it in writing. I’ve got the plan now!

And here’s one more little call out to that sweet gal on the airplane, who I hope is happily still in Montana with her boyfriend.

Your inadvertent compliment to a stranger on an airplane a few weeks ago resonates still.  These words are just what I need for inspiration to refocus this week.

Thank you!

Have you ever had a conversation with a stranger that inspired you in some way?

Have you given a compliment lately, or recieved one that made a big impact?  

Please share your story and add to the discussion on how you manage to re-energize after a vacation or a lapse in focus.

If you are reading this by email, please click on the comment button and tell your story!

Vacation Reset

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Today I sit. And sit, and sit and sit.

Staring out into space.

Wondering if I’m glad to be home.

And wondering how to snap out of vacation-mode and get back to real life.

Yesterday, my son and I endured a time-warp kind of day in the hands of the airlines, starting in Idaho Falls, then Denver, then Charlotte, then eventually Albany, where tired and dazed, we collected our 100+ collective pounds of suitcases and bags, and stepped into the Albany Park and Fly van, where the driver eventually brought us to our car.

Oh great, another hour and a half of driving to go. We hadn’t eaten anything but a few snacks all day. I mentioned in some of my other posts my son has a peanut allergy. When leaving the house for a trip, we always pack a supply of safe foods in a bag to ensure he has something safe to eat along the way. But on our way home, we didn’t have the time to replenish, and just had a few snacks left, and after a week of dragging around the same granola, crackers and dried fruit, neither of us were interested in eating them. I doubt any of you have noticed this, because you don’t have to worry about food allergies, but every restaurant in every airport has a sign that says basically if you are allergic to anything, we have it in our facility so eat at your own risk! So we keep airport-restaurant eating to a minimum, picking up a Greek yogurt if we can find it, and that’s about it.

Once in the car, we headed north on 87, through Saratoga Springs, and then over to Washington County. Around a half hour from our house,  Brett finally looked up and complained he was dying of hunger.  He had been such a great kid all day. Barely eating anything and not really caring. I had been surprised; he’s not typically shy about whining when he needs something. But at the moment, there was nowhere to stop, so I rummaged through my snack bag and eventually pulled out a piece of provolone cheese.

It looked ok. I had packed it before I left and usually cheese is ok for awhile outside the refrigerator, right? I had been munching on some cheddar a few minutes before and it tasted good.

But then: Sudden scream from the backseat.

“The cheese went bad Mom!! My stomach is killllling meeee!”

Oh come on,  really?  I have just spent 14 hours traveling, carrying bag after bag, one on each side of me and around my neck, plus a booster seat, so if I was unbalanced in any way, I would have toppled over. And I spend all day every day of my life, and especially on vacation, trying to keep this kid safe from peanuts and nuts when we eat outside the home. And then he keels over from bad cheese?

He continued to moan, flailing around in his seat for the next few minutes. The realization: this might be serious.

Did I really just poison my son?

I had been blasting Steve Earle’s Burnin’ it Down before that, visualizing Steve burning down a Wal Mart in a town pretty similar to the one I was driving through, but had to turn him off. Brett’s eyes were closing. He leaned over into the middle console. Should I stop and make him get out? Well, if I can make sure to hear his breathing, that works.

He fell asleep.

I listened to him breathe as I drove.

And all these horrible scenarios played out in my head about what would happen if he wasn’t ok. And what I would do.

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An ominous welcome home to VT

About 10 minutes from my house, along Vermont Route 30. The sky darkened and rain started hammering the windshield. Is this a sign? Should I have stayed on vacation?

We finally reached the house at around 9pm; I woke Brett and wrestled him out of the car. He perked back up within a few minutes. Whew, sigh of relief! I pushed through the front door, leaving the car doors open and all the bags still out on the driveway, and headed immediately to the refrigerator. Having been away for the past week, the fridge had been empty and sad, but I saw some eggs, and made us a few omelets. Brett was so hungry, he ate two of them, and since we were still on mountain time, we stayed up late snuggling, talking about our trip, and making up for lost time with the pets in the house who all needed a little care.

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Our home last week!

Aside from the drama on the way home, this has been an amazing week. As soon as school ended on the 13th, we took a day to pack, and then flew out to Montana, staying at Firehole Ranch, on Hebgen Lake, and visited Yellowstone National Park. My husband was there too; he stayed for a few extra days, so had to miss the dramatic drive home. In Montana, I had one day of fly fishing with an amazing guide and now feel like I finally could do this myself. We had no access to internet. Maybe one bar of cell service; enough to send a text in certain rooms of the house, or check email, but that’s about it. I’m feeling completely out of touch with everything.

With the News. With Facebook. With Twitter. With WordPress. With my Fitness friends.

With my exercise agenda. With foods. Oh, the foods from this week! I can’t even begin to tell you what we ate, and I tried to keep up on activity with walks and some exercises out on the cabin deck, but as my heart rate monitor would display at the end of the week, it was an “incomplete training week” at best.

This morning the jeans are tight. I’m still craving desserts and wine.

But I’m looking out the window now and it’s beautiful here in Vermont too.  I needed that break from civilization and media and devices. And I wouldn’t admit it before, but the break from fitness and schedules and balanced eating was kind of nice too.

It was a tiring and stressful journey yesterday to get here, and we are both still in a zombie-like state of mind, but we are both safe.

Maybe it is indeed good to be home.

For the next few days Brett and I will stay on mountain time, and gradually re-emerge from vacation-mode to home-mode in a more focused way, but not today, tomorrow sounds about right…

For the Love of Foods

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Dessert? Yes please!

Oh yeah! A date night this week.

I’m very psyched about that.  Our friend Kiernan hangs out with our son for a few hours every 2-3 weeks so my husband and I can have an official date night. Unlike most people in the US, who eat outside the home an average of 4-5x /week, we really only go out for dinner on these planned nights, unless we are on vacation or out of town, or on an occasional lunch with a friend, but not often in between.

There are a few reasons for this. One being there aren’t too many places to go. We live in a small community, and most of the restaurants worth going to are either super-expensive, so you don’t go very often, or the food is mediocre or at least equal to what we can make ourselves, so we might as well opt for home. Also, when you don’t feel like cooking, the urge to call for delivery is non-existent because no restaurants offer that here. And of course, with my son’s nut allergy, it’s tough to go anywhere spontaneous, we have to preview menus and make calls to restaurants prior to going to ensure his safety. And take out? Again, too much work learning all the ingredients. This gets a little tiring.

So yes, date nights are special. And in preparation, I get super-excited, start thinking about where we are going to go, what I might have, and then think about my diet for the next few days so I can plan accordingly.

My friend Chris, who is also my most loyal blog reader and commenter (thank you Chris, you are the best!), posted a funny observation on her newsfeed the other day. She was at a conference dinner with a group of cardiologists, and she noted most ordered steak dinners with a beurre blanc sauce, with wine and dessert. She was a little surprised they didn’t go for more heart-healthy options considering their profession, and when she asked them about it, they mentioned it was a splurge meal.

Funny. But I can definitely relate.

One of the things I love about date night, or going out at all, because I don’t do this often and I plan carefully, is that I can and will eat whatever I want.

When the server comes over to us and asks if we would like the wine list, of course! Appetizer? Absolutely, how about the Duck ravioli with Potstickers, or at one particular place…Parmesan truffle frites (!!).  Bread. Oh yeah. Salad too? Yup. Entree? The fish special sounds pretty good over a decadent Wild Mushroom Risotto, with fresh vegetables of course. And for dessert.. that Molten Chocolate Cake sounds amazing. And no, we will not share…

I get a lot of stares. I think mostly because people wonder how the heck anyone my size can eat so much. Maybe they think I’m one of those annoying people who can stay slim and eat like a lumberjack, and giving them that impression is kind of fun. It drives me crazy watching someone hold back from ordering what they really want at a wonderful restaurant.  No butter for bread, or even worse, no bread at all. A salad or boring chicken dish for dinner. And, oh no…no dessert, that would be bad! My biggest pet peeve is skim milk in a cappuccino or latte ?? I mean really, that can’t be all that good? And then the person looks miserable during their meal, and stares longingly at everyone else’s, sad about their need to be “good” , but also feeling virtuous they were able to avoid temptation, while others were not.

How is denial good? I just want to say to them, be careful about what you eat the rest of the time, but when it’s worth it, enjoy!

A few weeks ago I did a search, wondering if I could pin down a statistic estimating the percentage of people who lose weight who eventually gain it back. There really wasn’t a specific number aside from “most”. But the one concrete number I saw more frequently than others was “over 80%”.

It’s no wonder so many people do gain that weight back. Because when on weight loss programs,we are told we need to deny ourselves of everything we love.  No alcohol! No sugar! No bread! And then when we lose the weight on this quick fix denial diet, we are so scared to eat anything ever again because we are afraid of gaining the weight back. The problem is though, we all love food! We love the smells, the tastes. We love to be with friends and family, and wonderful foods are always around. Denial is not sustainable for the long-haul. If you love and appreciate different foods and cooking, continuing to say “no, thank you” forever just sucks the life of you.

So “most” of us fail. Because we can’t live up to the ideal of eating perfectly clean 100% of the time. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

According to the Center for Disease Control and other sources, including my own experiences,  keeping eating patterns consistent as much as possible day-to-day, and planning for special occasions, is one of the best ways to keep your weight in-check over time.  Many people, I know, cringe at the idea of keeping a food journal, but it’s really helpful in learning how much you eat throughout the day, and weaning yourself off the foods that can put you over the edge. A journal can also tell you the reverse: when I have eaten well, often I can see there’s some room on the menu for a little decadence. I have been keeping a relatively loose journal for about four years.

My basic diet, during the day typically includes: Breakfast: coffee with cream, melted cheese (either swiss or cheddar) on mixed grain bread (homemade), 4-5 oz of homemade whole milk Greek yogurt. fruit, a little maple syrup. For lunch: local eggs, one or two depending on what style. Sometimes with veggies. Perhaps another piece of bread or more yogurt. Snacks: Sunflower or Pumpkin seeds. Fruit. Sometimes cheese and crackers. Often frozen blueberries with whipped cream. For dinner, we rotate meals with lots of fresh veggies, local beef or lamb or chicken or fish, a few times per week, quinoa or pasta. And wine, a little most nights.

And that’s it. Kind of boring but it works for me.

But then, on date night, or dinner at a friends house? Watch out!  Similar to Chris’s cardiologist friends (assuming they are being honest and not just embarrassed to be caught in the act of eating the opposite of heart-healthy…she did say they were all in good shape…), keeping to relatively similar meals most days, and keeping to the exercise schedule, I can splurge when it’s worth it.

I stagger the good with the not-so-good .

If unplanned decadent treats tempt me, I decide if it’s worth it and if it will balance in my plan, and make a decision.

If I’m indifferent, I don’t eat it.

Now obviously this strategy will be more complicated if on vacation, or on a business trip or during the holidays and for some reason huge amounts of tempting foods are placed in front of you at each meal. It’s much harder to plan that way and say no, so you need a slightly different strategy. But when at home and with a typical routine, this works really well.

If you are a good- food-loving person who struggles with finding this balance, try to find that menu consistency day-to-day.  Try eating in more often, or taking your lunch to work or when on-the-go. This strategy may help you to enjoy yourself a little more when it’s truly worth it. Because that one piece of Toblerone pecan pie, or a few glasses of Cabernet, or piping hot sourdough bread, or cream rather than skim, these will not make you gain weight by themselves, but being able to indulge in the sensory smells and tastes when the time is right is sometimes just what you need to find that strength to be disciplined and on track the next day.

Now, to decide where to go for date night tomorrow night…I think the Parmesan truffle frites may be calling my name!

Do you have a good strategy to balance your love for different foods with achieving a healthy lifestyle? Would love to hear your stories!

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CDC article on Maintaining Weight: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/keepingitoff.html

To check out my Exercise Strategy, because eating this way is dependent on staying active as well: https://afitandfocusedfuture.com/2013/03/19/strong-arming-the-future/

Myfitnesspal – a great website w/ mobile apps for keeping a food journal to help keep yourself in check: http://www.myfitnesspal.com/

It’s a fine line…

Self-directed. Self-assured. Smart. Strong.

In great shape. Healthy. I have been described over the years as having all of these qualities.

By others.

I’m just wondering why I can’t believe it, or see it, myself? Perfect example, last week…

On a beautiful sunny day last Friday my friend Eve and I hopped into my Subaru mom-car ( I was wishing it was a cool classic convertible a la Thelma & Louise, but hey, it worked…) and we made our way along the curvy Vermont roads to destination: Saratoga Springs, NY.  The mission? To check out a few very targeted women’s clothing stores while our kids were at school. It’s finally warm out, almost-summer-like, and we were both in need of a few new things that weren’t either turtlenecks or made of SmartWool. We didn’t have a lot of time, but since all the clothing stores nearby have closed (we miss you Garnet Hill!), the hour-long each way trek to Saratoga was the closest option but needed to be quick and targeted.

With a much-needed stop for coffee and something really decadent at Mrs. London’s, we had time for three stores. We both tried on a ton of things. Eve gravitated towards dresses, and she tried them all. Me? I tried a mixed a bag of stuff. Living the river-mom lifestyle I do, with a gravel driveway and a Labrador Retriever always shoving wet muddy sticks into my legs, I worry about getting a little too over-dressed on most days so I usually end up with jeans or whatever I can wash easily. At the end of the day though, Eve did much better than I did. Everything she put on looked fantastic! And everything I tried on? Hmmm, well, this embroidered peasant shirt that looks so beautiful on the hanger makes me look dumpy. And this striped dress that Eve looks great in looks ridiculous on me; matronly. That’s the best word to describe it. And this? I look awful in patterns.

What the heck? Why do I look so odd in everything?

Or do I?

Honestly, I really thought I was over this self-confidence thing. You would think after awhile we get used to how we look. We get used to our own personal style. But I’m truly mystified by the fact my eyes do not see even remotely what other people see. I’m the perfect example of that Dove Beauty video that was floating around the web last month. Where the women describe themselves as completely different from how others describe them. At home I try on my clothes all the time, and find the same problem. What looked great in the store just doesn’t look as good at home. Or actually, it looks good sometimes, but then I get a glimpse of myself in another mirror or a reflection, or photo, and think, how the heck could I have thought this looked good in the first place.  It’s like I see myself through these fun-house mirrored glasses.

I don’t think I was always this way. Honestly, I always had a pretty good self-esteem. But it has been worse in the last few years, and I’m thinking this has to be one downside to being so focused and in-tune with my health and fitness level.

Since starting this blog, I have stayed away from any mention of weight itself. And I did this intentionally because I haven’t been worried about losing weight for awhile now, since I did finally shed all that extra baby-poundage about 3 1/2 years ago then refocus my efforts on fitness-related challenges. I actually put my scale away about a year and a half ago because for me, a very numbers-oriented person, trying to always hit the same number on the scale was a toxic experience. If there was any fluctuation at all, and as I’m sure you all know, there always is fluctuation from day-to-day,  I didn’t cope well with it. But today I’ll talk about it because I think there is a myth that needs to be dispelled about being the right size, or the right weight. And how this ties into our self-esteem.

How many times have you said to yourself:

If only I just lose that 5,10,15, 50  pounds…

Or, if only I’m a size 4, 6, 8, 10…whatever your size of choice is

Or, if I can just fit into those old jeans from high school…

I will be so happy! I will look fantastic in all my clothes! I’ll look great in photos! And once I hit that magic number and magic size, the tough part will be over. I’ll be done.

And I will love how I look.

It sounds just like the perfect fairy tale ending, doesn’t it? “And they lived happily ever after...”. Nobody knows what happened to Cinderella and the Prince after they ran off together, I mean really, do you think their life was always perfect? Does the story really stop there?

You don’t “live happily ever after” either once you hit the magic number. Actually it becomes even more of a challenge because now you have to figure out how to stay there! I have learned that yes, health problems do start to go away when you are the right size and focus on being fit. You have a great amount of energy and more endurance.  Your physician will tell you your BMI is normal and you are on the right track. That part is fantastic. Celebrate!

But the self-perception part for me has become confusing. My eyes and mind have taken a little longer to adjust; or maybe the way I see myself is all just relative. Just because I am the right weight doesn’t mean suddenly I’ll like the way I  look  in photos. I still have bad hair days. I still change clothes 5 times before going out because nothing seems to look right. I still have fat days. I still see where I need to improve. When I try clothing on in stores, like last week, I still don’t think I look that great in everything…actually, most things!  I have almost stopped asking my husband’s opinion on an outfit to find out if I look ok or good, or if something makes me look big, because I really want to know sometimes, but he so often just scoffs at me, kind of in disgust, like are you joking that you don’t know this, you always look great?!

Hmm, how the heck am I supposed to know this?

I’m sensing there is a fine line in my fitness quest between being on it, and being on it way, way too much. And maybe I’m leaning a little too far in the wrong direction… I do what it takes to keep up with being fit every day for health and strength reasons, yet somehow the line gets blurred. Maybe because I can’t visually see great health as a direct result of my efforts. I only get those quantitative numbers once a year when I get a physical. So maybe getting more focused, and sometimes overly critical on visual appearance becomes the default.

I heard a TedTalk last month while I was in the car listening to NPR, and have thought about it often since. It was with Cameron Russell, a model, talking about beauty. One part really resonated with me, when she mentions the low self-esteem of all models in particular. Always being forced to look a certain way. Always focused on being thin. And the stress of having to maintain this for their jobs.  No, I’m not even remotely model-like, but you can see why I get where they are coming from. If you are trying to hold this super-high standard for yourself, you will get more critical.

Take away the scale and the measurements, and where do you look to see progress?

It’s all in the details. The more you look. The more you see. The more you feel you can work to improve. I don’t think my inability to see myself with clear vision stems from trying to live up to overly-idealized photos of women in magazines or actresses on TV or in other media. I really don’t read beauty magazines, or watch shows with overly vamped up women. I don’t want to be them. It must come from this inner-perfectionist quality I have developed for myself in the last few years that has warped my ability to truly see who is looking back at me in the mirror. Because I know the person I see can’t really be so bad…

And I just wish I could tip that fine line back a little bit, because maybe right now I’m a little too on it.

How do you feel about yourself?

Are you too critical, too on it sometimes in your quest for health and fitness, sometimes for your own good?

How have you ultimately found the balance? Would love to hear your stories.

Below are two videos: The Cameron Russell TedTalk and the Dove Sketch video. Please watch…worth the time.