Category Archives: Biking

Feeling Sassy and Full of Joy

The week after Thanksgiving when I stepped on the scale to see where I needed to go for the new year, and to see why my blood pressure was so high—I’m trained, like you are, to blame it on my weight, not stress or anything else it might be—I was shocked to find myself sitting firmly at 260 pounds. I’m 5’3″ tall, so 260 pounds is quite a little load to bear for someone of my stature.

I also looked in the mirror and saw someone who had recently come through a really bad depression, and when I say really bad, I don’t say that lightly. The details of that depression are fodder for a different essay, somewhere else, in another time when I am further away from that period in my life. I saw someone who was really stressed at work and who didn’t believe in herself the way I had always believed in myself.

I looked in my exercise journal and saw that I had been faking it at running, always having an excuse: my foot hurts, I’m too tired, or I was standing at work all day. I looked more deeply and saw that I was faking it at trying to play soccer. I played on Monday nights, minimally. I loved it, but I wasn’t pursuing it. I wasn’t swimming, biking, strength training, doing yoga, or anything that I wanted and needed to be doing. I wasn’t doing a lot of what I love.

I was simply existing. Unhealthily existing.

I’ve noticed lots of patterns in my life where I realize I’m drowning inside myself, so I throw out every life preserver I can think of. I change my diet, I exercise like a fool, I quit this that and the other all at once, and then I fail. The failure then makes me feel like I am drowning all over again.

I gave myself a couple of weeks to wallow.

The week before Christmas, I decided to cut out caffeine as a first step toward healing. I chose caffeine first, because I realized I was having difficulty sleeping, even if I quit drinking coffee before 11AM. I also realized that a lot of the caffeine I was drinking was in the form of really sugary coffee drinks, so I figured that would help with my January plan of cutting a lot of sugar out of my diet.

In January, along with caffeine, I cut out most added sugar. I say most, because I do indulge in one sugary snack each day, to allow myself some pleasure. I know me. If I don’t have some pleasure, I will fail. I’ve tried moderation before, and even failed at that, so I get one treat each day. Usually I choose a small hot chocolate with dark chocolate, no whip, and almond milk, but it’s getting too sweet for me, so I’ve switched to a Ghirardelli dark chocolate square with blueberry in it. Yes, I know chocolate can have caffeine, but less than half the caffeine in a double espresso or cup of coffee.

In January, I also joined with my brother to commit to 30 minutes of exercise each day. During the first couple of weeks, even 30 minutes of exercise seemed like hard work, but in February, I added another 30 minutes of exercise each day for a total of an hour each day. I am being very intentional and careful about what exercises I do each day, so that my muscles get a chance to relax and recover between days.

For March, I am adding in strength trainings. See? I’m trying to progress incrementally. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, I bike and swim. One Tuesdays and Thursdays, I strength train and walk, and on Saturdays and Sundays, I walk with my wife.

There are four main changes, aside from the above mentioned diet and exercise changes, I’ve made that have made a difference in my mental health, my physical health, and my spiritual health. I quit drinking alcohol. I meditate more frequently. I eat lots of good food. I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace.

I quit drinking. I didn’t think it was a problem in my life, but it was, and I wanted to be perfectly sober for the next four years if you know what I mean. I met with my priest—I say my priest, but I rarely attend church anymore—just to chat about my depression. We met in late July or early August. When I told him about what was going on, he said, “Well, have you tried not drinking? Alcohol is a depressant, you know.” Since he is “only” a priest and not a mental health practitioner, I didn’t heed his advice until January 19, and I haven’t had a drop to drink since then, unless you count the minimal alcohol in kombucha.

For me, alcohol was a huge stumbling block to joy. Did I have a hard day at work? Have a rewarding beer! Did someone piss me off? Have a Scotch to right things! Instead of dealing with the situation that upset me, I’d just drink until it felt better. I’m not sure that makes me an alcoholic, but it sure made me dependent upon a substance for healing when there are so many other things that are better for me.

I meditate more frequently. Whenever I swim, I treat my time in the pool as meditation. I focus on my breath and my form. Since I have my handy Watch to count my laps, I am free to simply focus on the silence of the water, the breath that comes in and goes out, the way body moves in the water, and the way the water feels against my skin.

I also meditate when I am not swimming, using an app called Insight Timer. If you’re reluctant to try meditation, you should check it out. There are guided meditations preprogrammed, and you can set your own program. I sometimes spend time in prayer after meditation or before, and I have to say that people notice a difference in me. A coworker asked me if I was okay the other day. I said yes, why. He said, you just look so calm and centered.

I eat lots of good food. I watched a video courtesy of our wellness group at work, and the nutritionist talked extensively about fixing a broken metabolism by eating enough good fuel. She said that many of us have broken metabolisms from low-calorie diets, from over exercising and under eating, or simply from not eating food that provides sustainable energy for our bodies.

Whenever I have wanted to lose weight before, I have always cut calories and exercised harder. This time I used the Mifflin-St. Jeor calorie calculator, which she suggested in the video, to figure out how many calories I actually need. I was surprised to find out that with my level of activity, I need about 1900 calories per day to promote fat loss. I’d been cutting to less than 1000 to try to lose weight, but according to the nutritionist, that is a level where most people’s bodies think they are starving, so adding calories is way to jump start our bodies into thinking we’re well fueled and can sustain our levels of activity.

I’m seeing my body change, and I am eating food to fuel that change. I’m eating food as fuel and for pleasure. This is a whole new way for me to relate to food. And I like it.

Finally, I am learning to be present, to be joyful, and to give myself grace. There are days when I mess up, when I treat people poorly, when I don’t exercise, when I eat things that aren’t particularly good for me, when I don’t meditate, when I wish I could be anywhere else besides where I am, where things are all joy and puppy feet and rainbows.

More often than not, I am in the moment. I am present. With myself. With others. With my pets. With nature. With [Them]. I. Am. Present. There’s a line in The Alchemist that says, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better. Forget about the future, and live each day according to the teachings, confident that God loves his children. Each day, in itself, brings with it an eternity.” I have found this to be true. Instead of looking for what will be, I’m learning that relaxing into what is and improving on what is, brings an eternity in and of itself.

Most days I am filled with joy, because why not be? If a small bit of joy can be found in front of me, why not revel in it? Why not try to use my joy to make others joyful as well?

And finally, I am giving myself grace. One thing about living in the present is recognizing that when I am not present, or when I do not have joy, or when I behave in a way that doesn’t recognize and honor the divine spark in those around me, I can be vulnerable, honest, gracious, and refocus. I can come back to being present. and I can improve on that present.

I’m learning a lot of new things about myself on this new journey.

Writing and Art; Cranes; 70.3; Eating Vegetables

I spent this past weekend with my friend Sarah A. Chavez while she was up here in the Cities for AWP 2015, and I sort of hung around the conference wishing I’d have spent the money for admission to it. I was thankful I was able to attend so many offsite events, since the readings are really the best part anyway. Sarah and I met and had breakfast with our friend Ahyicodae (Ico), who lives up here, and with whom I get the pleasure to have writing and workshop days now that we’ve made that connection. For me, these connections are the writing equivalent of my artistic connections with Lyn and Tish.

I get all fired up and excited about writing and art when I am around other people who are passionate about being creative, so once again the creative fire is lit under my smoldering and lackadaisical behind. I’m not making excuses, but it’s easy for me to become complacent about art and writing (they are a lot of work!) when I am not making art, not talking about art, and not feeling inspired. I am blessed to have many, many creative friends, both writers and artists. I am blessed to continually meet folks (like Nell, who was one of the first non-work people I met up here) who make the world more beautiful through their creativity.

I know I am flash-in-the-pan and have almost zero stick-to-it-ive-ness (what a word!), but I wrote a rough draft of a poem today and I started a short creative nonfiction piece this morning as well. I have the ideas for some artwork, and I know I just need to do it. The theme I am currently stuck on, and I blame the liturgical calendar and where I am in my life, is resurrection, rebirth, and reconciliation. I feel like I’ve died and come back to life, like a cliche little phoenix.

*

Here’s part of the CNF piece I started this morning: “Whenever I wash the dishes, I always look out the window toward the Mississippi River, which is about two blocks west of our house. Sometimes if I strain, I can hear the barges pushing their freight, and sometimes if I pay close attention, I can see interesting water fowl low in flight as they land or take off from the water, even though I can’t really see the river. Today I was standing by the back window in front of the sink washing the dishes from last night’s culinary success while thinking about everything I wanted to accomplish today. I noticed a hawk and a couple of other birds flying in an odd pattern over the neighbor’s house. I wondered why the birds were behaving so sporadically and scoured the ground for the neighbor’s dog, which sometimes runs along the street in front of their house. No dog. I traced the flight pattern up into the sky and was humbled by what was making the local birds behave so strangely. The sky was marked with the unmistakable giant white bodies and long, black-tipped wings of the whooping crane, a cast of about 50 of them in fact. My day became glorious in that minute of awe, and I continue to thank God that I am still here and that I am so blessed.

*

The thing I am struggling with the most in my life right now is the desire and energy to train for this half-marathon in June and the 70.3 in July. Neither race is going to be pretty. In fact, I think they are going to be very, very ugly. More factually, I think I’ll be lucky to finish them both. I am having a difficult time with running. I have the desire. I can remember what it felt like to be able to run 9 miles at a stretch with virtually no difficulty and no soreness the next day. I can remember what it was like to run 15 miles on a Saturday, being sore the next day, but not dying from it. My body wants to be there again, but with everything is so psychological. My mind says, “Remember how bad your legs and feet hurt after work and standing for 8 hours at a time. You can’t run after that. You need to go home and put your feet up and watch 97 hours of Murder, She Wrote. You don’t need to write or do art or run or swim or do anything but be a slug. You’ve earned it by working so hard.” I’m trying to focus my meditation and prayer, now that Lent is over, on positive self-talk in regards to triathlon-related and creativity-related pursuits. Today, I am going for a three-mile walk. Tomorrow, I am going for a swim and run. My goal is to never turn on the TV or open a book until I’ve accomplished my goals for the day. That sort of relaxing is my reward. I don’t read for a living anymore.

*

I’ve been vegetarian again for two weeks now. Psychologically, I feel 100% better. I always forget how clear my mind becomes when my life isn’t held in a balance based on killing creatures for sustenance. Physically, I feel about the same. My body is still store from work, and I still think I need to just lay about (see above). I think it’s worth being a kind-hearted eater to not have dreams about dying animals, and I think it’s worth it to be adventurous in the kitchen again. We’d gotten in the rut of eating the same five or six meals over and over again, but we’re shaking it up a bit these past few days. Yesterday, I made my first batch of saag paneer, and it was delightful and filling. And, I am mostly past a point in my life where I am willing to do pretty much anything to lose weight. I’m not. I’m more interested in living a consistent ethic of life, and a life lived well and not on the backs of innocents.

*

Now I am off to buy a cheap table to use for my printmaking lair upstairs in the attic.

Beginning Again Again. Homesick A Bit.

I was doing so well with my workouts.

For about three weeks, I didn’t miss a workout. I swam, cycled, ran, and lifted my little heart out. Then on week four, I felt a bit lethargic. I still walked a bit and I swam a bit, but I just didn’t feel right. Whenever that happens, I always assume I am getting sick and I try not to push my body past what it can handle. I was right. I had strep throat and some sort of ridiculous sinus mucus thing on top of it. I slept or stayed on the couch for two days, then I swam only 500 yards one day, then I rested for another day.

Today, I am back at it. After work, I plan to go for a 3-mile trail run, hoping against hope that it doesn’t get dark before I finish. I was too lazy to walk back upstairs to get my headlamp, so if it gets dark, I’ll just be running in the dark. With any luck the clouds will be thin and the moon will be out. I’m enough of a romantic to find running in the dark to be simply glorious and awe inspiring.

Tomorrow is cycling. Wednesday is swimming and lifting. Repeat. Rest on Sunday. Repeat.

*

This past week I was homesick a bit. I miss my friends and family. I miss knowing people. I miss Indiana. I realized on Tuesday that I felt so homesick because I had planned to go home to watch the school I graduated from swim against the school I previously taught at and the school who was my high school’s biggest rival. Basically, I wanted to see a three-way between Blackford, Jay, and Burris. Burris’s homecoming week was also this week, and as cheesy as I always thought it was when I was there for it, I missed it so much. I missed the stairwell decorations, I missed the dress up days, I missed the dodgeball games, and I missed the dance. I was fortunate to see lots of photos that my students had taken, but I wasn’t there in person. It was hard. I wanted to be at home watching my favorite students be seniors, but I was at work because my manager was at a three-day manager’s meeting along with every other Caribou manager.

Everything I did last week made me think of the fond things about home. I know full well that I am where I am supposed to be. I am more mentally healthy than I have been in a really long time. And, of course, distance and time have a way of softening the bad memories while simultaneously making the good memories better.

Nostalgia.

I’m better today. I’m less homesick. I’m getting more sure of my footing here. I’m stepping into gratitude for the things I have here and the relationships I’m building. I’m learning to live again in a different way, in a different place, with different opportunities.

 

Oatmeal Pancakes. Social Media. Kindle.

Today I didn’t wake up until 8AM, and I decided that I was going to take this day off as easy as possible, until I go to the gym later this afternoon.My workout today will not be an easy one, so I needed all the rest I could get. I’m basically doing everything there is to do at the gym, which I know is not the best course of action, but I am doing it anyway, because I have the day off, so I can spend as long as I want there working out. I’m swimming, biking, running, and lifting. Dumb? Yes. Oh, well. It’s not like I do that every day, but I’m sure I’ll be sore tomorrow.

EDIT: Just in the course of writing this and eating my breakfast, I’ve decided to go run outside on a paved trail I’ve been meaning to try out. I’ll take advantage of the unseasonable warmth. Then I’ll just go lift and probably swim. I’ll save biking for tomorrow. Or, maybe even, I’ll go run around the island at Fort Snelling. Such choices.

*

One of my favorite meals is breakfast, but I have no money to go out for a big lavish feast, so I decided to make myself some pancakes. Not just any pancake would suffice, of course, because I always need special pancakes. I used a basic pancake recipe, but made it gluten-free. Oh, and I added everything I love: bananas, oats, coconut, nutmeg, cinnamon, and maple syrup. I was going to add some protein powder, too, but the only flavors I have are chocolate and strawberry, which I didn’t think would taste very good with everything else. Maybe the chocolate, but then all I’d taste is chocolate, and I want to taste the bananas, oats, and coconut.

I also brewed up some of our special holiday gift coffee from Caribou Coffee. The name of this particular blend/roast is ¡Ay Caramba!, and it’s a Mexican coffee with subtle cocoa hints. Delicious with pancakes no doubt.

I just flipped the first batch of four little pancakes, and they were slightly darker than I’d like them to be, but the batter is pretty thick, so there weren’t any little bubbles forming. Thick batter is the problem with hearty pancakes. Thick batter is also the pleasure of hearty pancakes.

As I anticipated, these pancakes were amazing and they paired well with the coffee. One thing I do have to say about Caribou is that our roastmasters are pretty fantastic, even though they are obsessed with light roasting things. I seriously can’t wait for the Ethiopian coffee that’s coming out in February. Ethiopian coffees are my favorites, and I am confident that our roastmasters won’t fuck it up when it comes to getting the best taste out of them. It’s really nice to work for a company where people pay attention to details like that. And, I’m happy to know that all of our beans are Rainforest Alliance Certified.

*

I have a new love. Her name is Kindle Fire. Seriously, when my parents bought them for my brother and me for Christmas, I was a little taken aback. I love books. I love their pages. I love their ink. I love their smell. I love their feel. I would certainly never let anything come between me and my books, let alone this electronic thing.

Love is fickle. Love is so very fickle. And I’ve fallen for my Kindle.

Now I love the ability to read a book anywhere, anytime, on my phone, or on my Kindle. I am no longer that geeky girl who carries a book everywhere with her (or am I?). When I was younger, I stuffed books everywhere, sometimes even carrying them outright and bold, standing in line at the theater with my family reading a book, walking through the grocery store shopping with my mom and my brother reading a book, lying next to the pool reading a book, basically doing anything anytime reading a book. Needless to say, I was so popular. I was never ashamed of my love of reading. In fact, I sore of wore my oddities as a badge, but I always knew I was slightly out of step with the other kids around me.

The beauty of the Kindle is I can be reading anytime and it just looks like I am any one of any other mindless drones on my phone. Only while others play games or use social media, I’m secretly reading literature! I finally fit in (not so much)!

Seriously, though, I do love this thing. I have already read two books on the Kindle, and I’ve only been using it for a week. I love the Kindle Unlimited possibility, that for $10 a month I can read unlimited books. Are they books I’d normally read? Mostly no, but there are some really good ones, maybe just older ones, like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, in the unlimited library. And any book is a good book, I suppose, with the exception of the Twilight Series and Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ve found that there are very few books that are bad enough for me to stop reading.

I’ve also learned that in the realm of the literary, at least, I can have more than one lover. I can love my Kindle Fire, and I can love my print books. I will tell you that there will be no Toni Morrison, Louise Erdrich, or Margaret Atwood on the Kindle, unless, of course, I also own them in print. Those three women deserve real pages to be turned, real ink to be seen, and a real cover to be caressed. And, dare I say, simple realness to be savored with every sense.

And that’s that.

 

Weightlifting and Ground Kissing

The last time I lifted weights was just after college. I was trying like mad to lose weight to get into the military to become a medic and to eventually go to medical school, because the military was the only way I could think to follow that path. I needed to lose about 40 more pounds than I had already lost, so I did the only natural thing to do. I starved myself and exercised a lot. I was teaching at Garfield Elementary then and living in Hartford City in the downstairs of a haunted house that had been made into an apartment. I would wake up most days really early and go for a 4- to 6-mile run, then I would head into Ball State Recreation Facilities to either swim or lift weights, then I would teach all day, and finally I would come home and go for a 20-mile bike ride or so. I lost weight, but not enough, so I ate less. The eventual side effect of all of this was not acceptance into armed forces; the eventual side effect was dark circles, little to no energy, hair loss, and some permanent damage to my body.

I was, as some would say, a hot mess.

Today I start weightlifting again. I’ve found a plan called the 5X5, which uses five simple, full-body lifts (deadlift, overhead press, bench press, squats, and Pendlay rows) to condition the entire body over three workouts a week. Their goal is to lift heavier weights in succession, but my goal is simply to build and balance my muscles. Truth be told, I would love it if I could bulk up my muscles a bit, but my goal here is simply fitness, so I can swim, bike, and run more efficiently.

In order to be held accountable on my goal of moderation, I’m posting my general workout schedule here:

Monday: Run and Swim
Tuesday: Lift and Cycle
Wednesday: Run and Swim
Thursday: Lift and Cycle
Friday: REST
Saturday: Weights, Run (LSD), Swim (LSD)
Sunday: REST

I mentioned that my goal is to eat more protein, because even when I was eating strictly paleo, I didn’t eat enough protein, so I have started adding a protein supplement into my breakfast. I also plan to buy a bit more meat to eat throughout the day. My problem is that I love fruit, which contains lots of sugar and almost no protein. I guess I just mention this to say that I am trying to balance my body with exercise and the tools it needs to repair the muscles, so I can keep going.

*

Over the weekend, Bec and I watched the movie Unbroken. If you know me well, you know that I hate watching movies in the theater, and this makes the second one we’ve seen in three weeks, the first being Into the Woods. Unbroken was a beautiful, traumatic, hopeful, tragic film. The scene that moved me the most was when Louis came home from Japan and got off the plane and kissed the ground. Again, if you know me well, you know how I feel about the US, that we have pretty much as many flaws as we have positive attributes, but for some reason that scene struck me. For me, that scene wasn’t so much about the US as it was about being alive, safe, and at home. I am sure for Zamporini, the kiss was about the US, at least partially, since he was a soldier. (I just want to make a side note here that while I have little to no respect for our penchant for war and military might in the US, I do have the utmost respect for our military personnel. I love and adore several current and former sailors, soldiers, marines, air(wo)men, and guardians, and I appreciate the work they do and the sacrifices they make.)

That scene, when Louis returns home, reminds me of one of my favorite sayings by Thich Nhat Hanh: “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” Though it seems strange to pair a movie about war with the writings of a peace activist, there is a perfect connection between the two in my mind. If we could walk as if our feet are kissing the earth, we would have no need for war, because we would be so busy appreciating the beauty of our own lives and the sacredness of this earth. We would each revel in our own mysteries as we’re connected to this land, to each other, and to ourselves.

I’ve been noticing that many people function from their areas of insecurity and shame, instead of from their feelings of pride, worth, compassion, and love. We are a hurting people who keep continuing the cycle of hurt. By metaphorically kissing the ground, or imagining we are doing it with our feet as we walk, we move from a state of injury, shame, and hollowness to a state of appreciation and grace and love. Be mindful, like Zamporini, that you are alive.