Building A Solid Fort(night)

First of all, let me say that I think American English really should include the word fortnight. It’s so much more succinct than two weeks. Anyway….

In our last visit, I told you that I had started to build some new, healthier habits. To date, I have ridden my stationary bike for 30 minutes on each of the last 16 days (fortnight plus four) – today being number 16 and I got it out of the way this morning. And, yes, I marked it off on the 21-day calendar that I have hanging on my fridge. That visual, while perhaps childish, is a really good motivator. I see it every time I walk into the kitchen. It reminds me to ride the bike on days when I haven’t done it yet and on days when I have, like today, it gives me a great sense of accomplishment to see all of those days marked off. I have five more days on this calendar and I will have completed the 21 days.

Even now, I can already see a MASSIVE change in my attitude! In the first few days, I hated it – like I started hating it 30 minutes before I even did it. I had to force myself to do it and I pretty much trash-talked myself into completing the 30 minutes. This morning, I had to encourage – not trash talk – myself only through two minutes of the highest intensity setting. (Have the bike set on Rolling Hills so the intensity changes from level 3 to level 5.) And yesterday! Let me tell you about yesterday. But, first, I have to start with last week.

Last week, the hot water knob in the shower was stuck; so, I had to fix it. Saturday, my computer showed no password box on the login screen. After a full day of trying all the fixes I found on the HP website and on YouTube, I had to reformat the thing. Monday, the dryer died. All of those things joined a thousand other stressors in my life resulting in a full-on anxiety attack at work yesterday. I called Dad to talk me through it, which was SO great I can’t even tell you. When I got home after work, I did something I haven’t done in a very long time – I did not respond to stress by eating.

As I’ve told you before, I’m a stress eater among other things. If I’m stressed, I take a lawn chair and a spoon to the Publix frozen food section and make myself at home. Okay, so I don’t actually do that, but I do hit the ice cream aisle pretty hard and I eat the whole pint at one sitting on my couch. Yesterday, I didn’t do that. When I got home, I did some chores then I rode the bike. And I felt better. I felt better because of the endorphins and because I won an enormous battle over my own bad habits. It felt truly fantastic.

I’m excited about this attitude change and I want to keep this momentum; so, I am making another 21-day calendar with the same habits I’ve worked on this month plus a couple of new ones. My first two weeks were solid with this cycle and I am feeling psyched about the rest of it. To be honest, I’m feeling kind of psyched about getting the next challenges started!

 

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Counting the Days

For about 20 years, I was a smoker – sometimes with a two pack a day habit. I quit when my son and I had the flu for a week followed by a week of pneumonia for me. Since I couldn’t breathe, clearly I couldn’t smoke. After I recovered, I thought I would see how long I could go without a cigarette – you know, since I’d already gone two weeks. For quite awhile, I counted the days since my last smoke. Then, at some point, I quit counting. Cigarettes just didn’t figure that large in my mind anymore. Now, I think I quite about 10 years ago, but I’m not really sure. I’ve come a long way from those early days of counting the hours.

This morning, I rode my stationary bike for the seventh consecutive day. I have a little calendar on my refrigerator with the days counted out to 21, which is the number of days some experts say that it takes to form a new habit. I hope so. I hope that on day 22, exercising is again something I just do, not something I think about and count. But, if it’s not, then I’ll make another calendar and continue marking off the days until I don’t think about it anymore.

In just seven days, I’ve noticed these changes:

  1. The skin on my face looks brighter. I don’t know if that is from the increased blood flow, the more frequent exfoliation, the increased water intake or something else, and, really, I don’t care. My skin looks noticeably better and I’m all for that.
  2. I sleep better. Making my muscles do some work and actually tire themselves out a bit is making my sleep much more restful.
  3. My lower back hurts less. For months now my lower back has been a tightly coiled spring. Getting out of bed has been a slow and slightly painful process. And I have to be up and moving around awhile before I can bend over to pick up the dogs’ bowls. The last three of four mornings have been much easier. While I still have to move awhile before I can bend over, but the pups are getting fed much sooner than before.
  4. I hate it less. Less be honest, I hate to exercise; I really do. But, this morning, I didn’t dread getting on the bike and the hatred didn’t set in until about four minutes into the 30-minute ride. The ride this morning also seemed to go much faster, but maybe it was the episode of Fixer Upper that I was watching.

I have a very long way to go and I know that; but, I’ve made a solid start and I’m proud of that. I like the change I’m seeing in my spirit and I know that soon, I will see changes in my body shape, as well.

I’m certainly counting the days until that happens!

Tending to Bloom

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. Growing up, I saw myself as a fat, smart, teacher’s kid whose social skills were somewhat lacking. I don’t know how others saw me, but I always saw myself as Less Than. Most of the time, I could just muddle along without what I believed was my weirdness and unattractiveness being called out in neon letters. Except on Valentine’s Day. That was the day when the pretty and popular girls got flowers, balloons, gifts, etc., from friends and/or boyfriends. I didn’t get those. To be fair, lots of girls didn’t get those things, but it didn’t hurt me that they didn’t get gifts. It hurt that I didn’t get them. I saw it as just one more way that my being Less Than was publicly noted.

Except one year.

That year, the student council sold carnations just like every other year – red, pink, and white. Red was for love, pink was for secret admirer, and white was for friends, I think. And just like every other year, there were girls walking around with bouquets of blooms and other girls with book bags – mine was blue, heavy, and the only thing I expected to carry all day. But, then, when a student council representative was delivering blooms to one of my classes, he had one for me! A pink one! I was convinced it was a mistake, frankly, but he said it wasn’t. Someone had bought a secret admirer flower for me.

All day, I felt like the Ugly Duckling that was suddenly a swan. I wondered who could have sent it, hoping it might this guy, afraid it might be that one. I spent the whole day feeling special. Like the flower in my hands, I bloomed.

As it turned out, the flower was from my sister Chele, who was away at college. She and I share some of the same insecurities and she wanted me to feel special.

I’m not going to lie, at the time, I was 17 and little bummed that the flower was from my sister and not the guy I had a crush on. But, you know what? I can’t even remember who I had a crush on anymore, but my sister is still here.

For the most part, we are like chalk and cheese, my sister and I. We don’t look alike. We think differently. We have different priorities and tastes. We fought as children. We have fought as adults and we will likely fight again. But, she is my sister. When I needed to feel special, she did that for me.

For the last couple of years, my sister has been my roommate. The last time I lived with someone I hadn’t birthed was nearly 30 years ago. It takes some adjusting to live with another adult and, for the most part, I think that we have done a pretty good job. I believe that she is a gentler person than I am and that living with her makes me a nicer person. I have to be more aware of what I say and how I say it. I have to be more mindful of my thoughts and of the attitudes that I allow to take root in my mind.

Family relationships, friendships, romantic relationships, marriages, all require work on the parts of every party involved. I have said it before and I truly believe it: relationship failures are never the fault of only one of the parties involved. We have to be honest with ourselves and own our own parts in the failures. For many years, I was careless with my relationship with my sister. I was careless in my words and in my attitudes, and I did a great deal of damage to our relationship. I am still working to repair that damage and to avoid doing further damage. We are our parents’ only surviving children and she is important to me. I try to show that in small things, but I could do better. All relationships need to be nurtured.

This Valentine’s Day, it is my goal to think less about how others see me or whether others love me. It is my goal, rather, to give love to them, to tend my relationships to help them bloom – in red, pink and in white.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Keep Your Prayers

We’ve got work to do.

I’m sure that I’ve mentioned before that my son and I lived in New Orleans when Katrina hit. We left before she made landfall; but, we lost nearly everything we owned in the storm. A renter, I could not afford renters’ insurance; so, when I say that we lost nearly everything, I mean that we lost it.

An experience like that really colors your view of things afterwards. It becomes a watershed moment of your life and you are forever changed.

I became angrier. Well, not angrier, in general, but certainly angrier about particular things – hypocrisy and sanctimony to name two.

A friend of mine asked her brother whose friend owned a climate controlled storage unit to call his friend to see if he had a unit available for her to rent. She didn’t ask her brother to ask for a donation or a discount, she just asked him to make a phone call. She would have done it herself, but she was elbow deep in vat after vat of the reconstituted sewage that she was washing from the belongings she had actually been able to salvage from her house. Let me reiterate: she asked him to make a phone call. That’s it. A phone. Call.

You know what he said? He couldn’t. He had to go to his church to participate in a prayer walk to pray for all the victims of the hurricane.

Say what?

His sister had lost nearly all of her belongings – a victim of the hurricane if ever there was one – but he couldn’t actually help her by making a phone call. He had to go pray for a bunch of strangers.

Right.

This week, I shared a GoFundMe page benefiting a former colleague whose fiance had an aneurysm nearly a month ago. He has been in neurological intensive care ever since and the prognosis is not especially good. Between them, this couple has five children. They both work hard at unskilled jobs, but are living paycheck to paycheck. Now, their income is 40% less than it was a month ago since he is on medical leave in the hospital and she is on intermittent leave to be there with him. In my post, I tagged about 80 people – some of whom worked with her, some of whom didn’t. (Honestly, I couldn’t remember who had and who hadn’t.) Several people commented that they loved her and were praying for her; but, guess how many contributed. That’s right. None. Not one of the people who said that they loved her, were praying for her, were sorry she was going through this, etc., had five bucks to send her way to help her keep the lights turned on.

I was, and am, livid.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that people have to contribute to every little thing that comes across their screens. I don’t think that people have to contribute to everyone they know. I don’t think people are required to do anything, really. Don’t want to give? Then don’t. But don’t claim to love someone while you turn your back on their need. You can do something – babysit, make dinner, clean their house or maybe you’ve got an extra five bucks laying around somewhere. If 50 people gave just $5 each, that’s $250. That’s the electric bill and maybe a tank of gas. Trust me, when you’re down to your last $10, you are thrilled with anything someone chooses to give you.

While my experience after The Storm certainly made me angrier about some things, it made me more grateful for other things. I am so grateful to the sweet friends and strangers who saved me from bitterness by reaching out to us – those people who prayed for us, but who also made sure we had food and clothing and shelter.

Sure, pray for people, if that’s your thing. Pray for the Afghans who are reeling from yet another bombing in Kabul. Pray for our country with its idolatry of ignorance and malice. And, yes, pray for people you know, but help them. Prayer is all well and good, but when you’re drowning, you need a rope or buoy. When you need to keep the lights on, you need a little more than “thoughts and prayers.”

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and :thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.” – Matthew 7:15-20

 

 

Perma-Snoozed Pledges

All of you that have displayed mature judgement throughout your lives really need to stop reading now because I’m about to confess that I have failed to do that – sometimes in spectacular fashion.  Usually ethanol is involved (mmmmmm! Raspberry cosmos.)

For those of you that are with me in the Alternating Thursdays Chowderhead Club, you may be familiar with Porcelain Throne Pledges – “I swear I’ll never drink again!” You and I both  know that those pledges are as binding as those of Thomas Stanley to Richard III – valid only until Henry Tudor showed up. Mine were valid only until my Party Goblin did. (That’s what Iliza Shlesinger calls it and, frankly, I think that’s a perfect name for it. If you don’t know what a Party Goblin is, then you’re probably one of those people I told to stop reading in the first paragraph. But here’s a clip anyway: [profane language warning] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS8NdCtOrM8).

But, Porcelain Throne Pledges aren’t the only ones I don’t honor and My Party Goblin isn’t the only thing that breaks them – sometimes it’s the snooze button.

At the end of any particularly wasted day spent binge-watching Scott and Bailey or reading some formulaic mystery novel, I find myself in bed, pen and paper in hand, making a list of all the things I’m going to do the next day to make up for being such a slug. I go to sleep with a feeling of resolve knowing that I am going to atone for my sloth! (That bit should be read like a Shakespearean actor.) Then the alarm goes off. I can choose to get up and honor my resolve, or I can hit the snooze button and kill it.

Guess which one usually happens.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King, Jr Day. Dr. King had a great many wise things to say, one of which was, “If you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk, if you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means keep moving.” Such simple advice; but, I’m struggling with it mightily these days. It’s not like I’m setting myself tasks like resolving world conflict or solving the mystery of disappearing socks. My lists include basic things like “clean the bathroom” or “take off the recycling.” These are not difficult tasks, but I can (and do) find a million reasons not to do them. My intentions and resolve are great; but, I kill them with the snooze button time after time.

Is it just me?

Listen, my Party Goblin is old – like Bette Davis old, like dusty mummy Valley of the Queens old – and she hasn’t been summoned in a very long time. She’s really not much a threat to me anymore, but, the snooze button – now, that is still a big problem. If you’ve found a way to consistently defeat it, please share your secrets with me. I could use a little help.

The Struggle is Real

I haven’t posted since mid-October which might lead you to think that I failed in my OktoberFast mission to avoid ice cream and dirty dishes. I am super proud to announce that I did, in fact, successfully complete my OktoberFast and, although I have since eaten ice cream, my sister and I have continued to keep our dishes washed and put away. You know, like grown-ups and stuff.

My office is in the home of the couple of work for. Their home is always very neat and clean which has led me to be more diligent in keeping my own home neat and clean. Well, maybe “keeping” isn’t the right word. A better word would be “making.” As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been much of a housekeeper. I’ve been better at it some times than others; but, I’ve never kept my house Company Ready. But I’m getting closer and that feels really good.

I have believed for a long time that the state of my house often reflects the state of my spirit. When I am depressed, my house is VERY messy. When I am up-beat, my house is more presentable. The correlation really isn’t accurate right now because, although my bed is made daily and my house is vacuumed and dusted weekly, my spirit is struggling. I spend a lot of time alone. I’m fat again. I’m out of shape. My ankle/foot hurts almost all the time. Finances are always a struggle. It has gotten me down.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been down like this, although I wish the last time had been the last time! I know that I have a history of beating times like this 100% of the time; but, I’m just so sick of fighting, you know? The struggle is real and, frankly, I’m tired of it. I’m tired of it and that doesn’t help anything, either. Yesterday was particularly bad.

Then I talked to a friend.

I’ve shared with you all that I have been treated for depression since I was in my early 20s. For more than half of my life, I’ve had a monster living in my mind – a monster that tries to destroy me on a daily basis. I tell with absolute conviction that without a handful friends over the years (you know who you are), that monster would have won. While the monster is not threatening my life at the moment, it’s certainly being a pain. I don’t like to call on my friends with every episode for fear that they’ll get tired of hearing about them. (I know I get tired of experiencing them, for sure!) So, I was reluctant to tell my friend what was going on in my head yesterday. However, the man reads me better than nearly anyone I’ve ever met. When I finally told him what was going on, he said this:

“…you’re on my team and I’m on your team.”

It humbles me and amazes me every time someone chooses to like me. I’m hard to get along with. I’m hyper-critical. I procrastinate. I’m often full of shit. I try to be better. I am rarely successful. But, I try. I struggle. My struggle is real.

So is my team. I thank each of you.

(Team t-shirts coming soon!)

 

There’s Always a Reason to Cheat

On your diet, that is.

Last week, I told you that I had given up ice cream for my OktoberFast. I don’t really know that you can appreciate just how big a sacrifice that is for me. I used to say that Little Debbie was my homegirl; but, y’all, Debs ain’t got nothing on Ben and Jerry. If you don’t understand that, then I can safely conclude that you either: 1. don’t like ice cream (and what kind of mutant are you?) , or 2. have never tried either Phish Food or Karamel Sutra. (Side note: this Spring, I started cheating on my boys from Vermont, though, by taking the High Road. Their Aztec Chocolate is transcendent. Seriously.)

But….that’s not really my point, plus I’m drooling on my keyboard.

My point is that I love ice cream and that I notice its absence acutely. In spite of this – or rather, because of this – I gave it up for OktoberFast…..totally not thinking about my friend’s birthday being in October.

Traditionally, what do we have for birthday celebrations? Cake and ice cream! Yes! So, when discussing his birthday dinner, we agreed that I could take a “time out” just for that one night. After all, it was just one night. And it was his birthday, for pity’s sake!

Right. It was still cheating.

I made a commitment to myself at the beginning of October that I would keep the sinks clear of dishes and that I would not eat ice cream. Neither commitment really matters to anyone else but me; so, who really cares if I lapse? No, not lapse. Cheat.

I care.

We were celebrating. That’s a good reason to have something special, right? Sure. It’s as good an excuse as any to cheat. So is having a bad day, having a good day, or Thursday. There’s always an excuse to cheat if you look for one.

I’ve regained 80 of the pounds I lost six years ago with just that kind of thinking. “I can have it just this once.” But it wasn’t just once, was it? That one cheat day became a cheat weekend, then a cheat month, then fat pants with elastic waistbands.

It’s just like several of the times I quit smoking. I would go for months and even a couple of years without a cigarette. Then I would be with a group of smokers and I would think that I could have just one. BAM! I’d soon be back up to a pack a day on regular days and over two packs a day on the weekends. The truth I had to face was that I couldn’t have just one. I was (and still am, I suppose) a nicotine addict. One hit of that Camel Light and I was hooked again. Intellectually, I know that my body responds to all addictive substances in basically the same way – the pleasure centers of my brain go nuts. And my brain doesn’t really care if the cause is a cupcake or a crack pipe. It just knows that it’s getting something it likes and it wants more of it.

Ultimately, my addiction isn’t to ice cream. It’s to sugar and to casein, the protein in milk that, when broken down during digestion, releases opiates called casomorphins. To be fair, there is some debate on how much of an effect casomorphins have on the human body; however, sugar is still there so my issue remains. In the end, I have to break my addiction to sugar by drastically reducing my intake of refined and added sugars. Ice cream is just the first step.

And, just so you know, I bought the container pictured above for my friend to enjoy ice cream with his cake while I limited myself to cake. Hey, it was chocolate ganache and I never claimed to be a saint. I obeyed the letter of the law. Obeying the spirit of the law will come later when I’m a little stronger.

As for OktoberFast? I’m still faithful and going strong.