Unmentionables – Part II

Because knowledge is power, I’m sharing some of my favorite brands for fluffy ladies.

A word of caution – for the sake of your skin, do not try to go the el-cheapo route with workout clothes if you can avoid it. You want to avoid chafing, rashes, welts, etc if you’re participating in high-impact activities on a regular basis. Invest in a few quality pieces and launder them with care.

Dear Kate – I wear several of their underwear styles but I favor the “Hazel” for workouts. I don’t bother with the barrettes – my breasts give those thing the side-eye “please girl, that thing couldn’t hold a chicken breast!” Their 3x size was fitting me when I was over 300lbs, so they really do provide a true “plus size” cut. I now wear the 2x. I keep them looking like new by following their care instructions to the “T”. I know what you’re going to say – the price! I hear ya, sister. However, consider building your own set of 3 to take advantage of their coupon or sign up for the mailing list for another coupon opportunity. They are well-constructed and long-lasting.

Zella – I really like their tanks. The fit is generous without being baggy. They are soft and hold up to a multitude of washings. I am a pear-shape and these taper nicely at the hip instead of bunching up over my tummy. Their pants run a bit small if you have large hips and a generous bum like myself.

Old Navy – I know, I know. Didn’t I just criticize them in the last post? If cost is the difference between you getting out and getting moving and you staying on the couch, then buy stuff at Old Navy! They ALWAYS have crazy coupons. So it’s not really a financial loss if you get a pair of capris for $10 and have to replace them in 6 months. They size up to 4x (about a 24) and they have high-waisted pieces that are great for avoiding the dreaded “muffin top”.  Their pieces will last quite a while for lower impact activities or if you don’t run crazy amounts of miles in a week. I actually wear their little short thingies under fit n’ flare dresses instead of spending a fortune on Spanx. Again – launder carefully to keep the fabric in good condition.

Katie K Activewear – A newer kid on the activewear block! Their pants definitely make me feel that my jiggly bits are secure. The fabric is super soft and they offer fun prints and colors, proving that you don’t have to be saddled with an army of black leggings for workouts. Their tanks are very form-fitting but they just debuted a looser-fitting tee that I am eager to try. They size up to 3x. I am currently a 22 in most pants and their 3x fits me quite well (thunder thighs and all). They offer a coupon code if you sign up for their email list. I snagged a pair of capris from their sale section for $44. The shipping is pretty speedy and their customer service superb.

Lineagewear – I love these leggings for yoga and barre classes. The prints are super fun and they will be sizing up to a 4x after completing an Indiegogo campaign! These legginggs are really stretchy so you may be able to size down. I don’t recommend them for running because of the fabric (not enough moisture wicking for me) that they use but you can make that call for yourself.

Enell – some of us don’t need a sports bra so much as industrial-strength ace wraps. Nell provides a lot of support by keeping the girls tucked in close with a mid-length, front closure bra. No underwire. It’s not especially sexy, but you won’t be in pain after that 5-miler or kickboxing class. I like the higher coverage for yoga when I don’t want to unwittingly flash my classmates. Lane Bryant also has some pretty good sports bras that allow you to adjust the shoulder straps.

Lane Bryant – Yes, another one from the blacklist. Their Livi Active line is getting better even if it’s not my favorite. Most of their pants will not hold up for high-intensity activities where you sweat heavily. I find the material gets water-logged and sags. I tend to favor their tops as they provide a roomier fit than other brands and are better at wicking sweat than their pants. Avoid anything with the word “stretch” in the description. “Stretch” has no place in fitness wear. They used to have a great capri/legging that actually had compression, but I’m pretty sure it’s as elusive as the Vaquita.

I also find Zeazorb powder and BodyGlide to be essential for avoiding chafing and rashes, especially in the summer.

To prevent nasty fungal infections like intertrigo – always change out of wet clothes ASAP and dry your skin before putting on clean, dry clothing.

Unmentionables

Chubby folk fall under that low rung of society beneath children and the elderly.

Those who should be neither seen nor heard.

Obviously, if you allowed yourself to balloon to the size of a larger zoo animal, you clearly could have nothing of skill or value to contribute to society, right?

I have certainly spent a large portion of my life trying to make my body appear small in a variety of settings that clearly illuminated just how I fit…

…into the seat at the movies or the theater

…into that airplane seat belt

…into the roller coaster car

…into the crowded elevator

…into the revolving door

The thought of donning form-fitting workout wear and bouncing up and down is terrifying for many of us. It wasn’t until recently (like in the last 3 months) that I stopped wearing workout wear that was several sizes too big. Exercising as a 300lb woman felt not only humiliating but physically impossible. And even if you’re a badass body positive babe who could give a flying fruitcake about what your “imaginary audience” thinks, there are very limited options on the market for holding all of that fluff together.

Companies like Lane Bryant, Forever21, Old Navy, and Torrid insult plus-size ladies with their poorly functional line of “athleisure” wear. How am I suppose to run that race in all that cotton!?

Companies like Nike, Under Armour, Lululemon, Athleta – should I go on? – make a thinly veiled attempted at clothing the curvy lady by providing “special sizes” that they lump with maternity wear. Seriously? “Special Sizes”? It’s like a size 20 is a disease or something.

Oh, and by the way, you can never get those sizes in the store – yet another slight that aims to highlight just how little we think of those who aren’t a size 00-10. You’ve got to spend an arm and a leg on shipping only to realize that their size 20 must have been meant for a husky 10 year old and not a grown-ass woman with breasts and hips. And if you happen to find a retailer that does offer “extended” sizing, chances are that they just blew up an outfit like a marshmallow in a microwave without any thought to proportion so that the size 8 woman gets a well-fitting garment and you get a trash bag.

With all that being said, who wouldn’t be uncomfortable throwing themselves headlong into a hike or run or spin class? Who would want to attempt a downward dog pose while worried their capris will split? Who would feel confident and comfortable moving their body and sweating in front of others?

Up until now, I refused to do jumping jacks unless someone was ready to secure all the jiggly bits in place with Duck Tape.

This summer, I really wanted to focus on working through my insecurity of being a literal hot, sweaty mess in front of other people. Naturally, I signed up for a 10k on August 28th (The Philly 10k) to force myself to run through the summer – a time when many Northeastern US runners slack off significantly because of heat advisories and crippling humidity.

Summer smashed into Philadelphia this week. I am already dreading July. We went from cold and rainy to 90 in the span of a week. I completed my first 10k training run (following the Hal Hingdon novice plan) today with an easy-peasy 2.5 miles at 0900 when it was already 77 degrees. I wouldn’t call myself a trail runner, but I much much prefer a good trail to a sidewalk or road. The trail has the added benefit of a lush tree canopy that prevents the sun from bearing down on you as if you’re a sunny-side up egg egg in a cast-iron skillet. The trail also provides fantastic scenery and enough flowery Honeysuckle perfume to ensure that I am not focusing on the body odor that must surely be emanating from every pore.

It was a sweaty, sweaty run. There was also very frizzy hair and cheeks so red you’d think someone had been chasing me. It was also a great run. I changed my intervals from 3:1.5 to 2:1 and felt that my run:walk transitions were much smoother and my pace got a wee bit faster.

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I relish the sweat now. It’s a badge of honor.

I just make sure to wear one my trusty hats to keep it all out of my eyes.

 

Dead F*cking Last

IMG_26785 for CHOP Run – Philadelphia, PA – 5.21.2016

One of my worst fears came true today.

I finished last in a race.

Not last as in “back-of-the-pack” last.

The Philly Fire Department paramedics were stalking me with their ATV — last.

The geese on the trail were out-pacing me — last.

Last two feet over the Finish line — last.

I am-going-to-throw-in-the-towel-and-quit — last.

D.F.L.

Dead. Fucking. Last.

Thinking about it one Bloody Mary, one beer, and several hours later, though, I am A-ok with that.

My anxiety failed to convince me that I wasn’t worthy of finishing. For the first time in life, my body is overriding the self-doubt and self-deprecation and my legs are carrying me; propelling me forward like the coupling rods on a locomotive, further and further. I am actually almost glad that it happened so that I could stop agonizing over the some-day possibility, dust myself off, and say “so what!?”

As trite as it sounds, I feel that I am a winner. I am never going to “win” any race I enter but I am slowly conquering that part of me that refused to even make an attempt.

“A winner is just a loser who tried one more time.” (George M. Moore, Jr.)

I am glad that I have kept trying. That even though my original goal was weight loss, that I have not let a scale dictate my accomplishments, that I have exceeded the meager expectations I set for myself, and that I continue to seek the life the exists outside of my comfort zone.

Every time my nerve denies me (which is often when you are stuck inside the insecure body of a 320lb person who just CAN NOT be you), I channel my inner Cheryl Strayed, remembering my favorite words from Emily Dickinson, and I go above my flippin’ nerve. Nothing I accomplish ever seems pretty (there were two Beauty Queens in this race – WITH tiaras) – it is sweaty and uncomfortable, skin chafes, my hair gets frizzy, and my thighs ache the next day. It gets done, though.

Dead Fucking Last will always trump D.N.F.

Did Not Finish.

{This experience also provided me with a rare moment of grace. Another race participant, whom I loosely know through the Philadelphia running community, re-entered the course AFTER he had finish his race to find me and run with me to the end so that I did not have to finish alone. I will always remember the instant, warm sense of comfort that comes when someone else reaches out to convey that “hey, you’re not alone in this”. I will strive to pay forward that kindness to someone who may find themselves in my shoes.}

 

Goodbye Gastric Band!

It has been over a year since I began my journey from fat to fit. My priorities and goals have changed dramatically during that time.

In January 2015, my priority was weight loss to become a thinner person. My goal was fiercely driven by shame, vanity, and embarrassment. I so wanted to feel small, to not take up so much space in a room, on an airplane, in a theater seat. I wanted to wear a clothing size whose number was not also accompanied by an “X”.

After a shower, I would stare at myself in the mirror and gape open-mouthed at the expansion of my flesh – it oozed in every direction like a marshmallow in the microwave. I couldn’t remember exactly how I got to that very moment except for the vague recollection of cumulative moments that involved lots and lots of food and the belief that I was so far gone that no amount of exercise could change what I had become. I also felt deep, hot shame over having had gastric banding in May of 2012. Now I was even heavier than when I had the procedure 3 years ago. Could I be a bigger failure!?

Today is April 26th 2016 and I have whittled myself down from a weight of 320 pounds to 273. I am an athlete. I have become a runner, completing three 5k’s with more races on the horizon. I have begun a yoga practice. I have tried a zip line and swung through the trees on a fine June day. I have kayaked and been able to pull myself out of the boat. I have made wonderful new friends. I went to a New Year’s Eve party. I started working as a Nurse Practitioner. I have discovered a community of body positive athletes. Somewhere along the way, my goals shifted focus from becoming a thinner person to becoming a happier person.

I am happier when I exercise. I am happier when I achieve concrete goals. I am happier when I use food as fuel and not as a friend, reward, or punishment. I am happier when I am surrounded by supportive, like-minded people. I am happier when I am strong enough to do the activities I’ve avoided for years. Am I “thinner”? You bet! And don’t misunderstand me, it feels exhilarating to pull things out of the closet that I couldn’t wear for 2 or more years to have them slip right on. That feeling is icing on the cake, though, because most of my joy is now derived from becoming the person who says she is going to accomplish something and then does so. I don’t know if I will ever be considered a “thin” person but I am becoming more and more comfortable with focusing on the journey rather than the destination. I love that there are others out there who agree; who believe that you can still be “fat” AND fit, that your fitness is not equal to your dress size, that you don’t have to keep yourself hidden away until you’re ready for that “after” photo (Mirna Valerio and Tulin Emre  have some very powerful words on these topics).

This week has been a true milestone for me. After 2 years of complications stemming from the gastric band, I had it removed yesterday. I feel so liberated. I am free from that young woman who thought that she had to have surgery to be healthy and happy. Free from that young woman who was depressed and despondent. I am so excited to eat raw vegetables and to not have to leave the table in the middle of a meal and to be able to fuel my body properly to continue to achieve the fitness goals that I set. I got some skeptical looks yesterday from the surgical team – “you? a runner? riiiight” – when I asked when I could return to my training plan. I think they were put in their places when my resting heart rate  of 48 caused the monitors to alarm. We still have a lot of barriers to break through in the healthcare industry when it comes to the obesity debate. I feel that I am a better Nurse Practitioner because I can use my own experiences to inform my interactions with my patients.

I took photos to commemorate this moment. I am proud of the progress that I have made. My skin is not taught, my belly is not flat, and now I have 5 extra scars to add to the landscape. I am wearing my first pair of Katie K Rushhour Capris, though, and that is very exciting. Talk about a woman who supports #fithasnosize. I am inspired by women near and far who are also putting in lots of hard work to achieve their own dreams. In a world where we focus on how social media can be used for so much evil, isn’t it nice to see all the good that it does, too?

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*Can we also talk about how I bought this City Fit Girls tee 2 years ago and it finally fits! It’s 2XL and my Katie K capris are a 3x plus. Get them before they are gone – they are on sale now!

 

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The Things In Our Head We Never Say

Let’s talk about those things in our heads that zip along our neural pathways.

The things we never talk about.

The things we do in secret moments.

Things that cause regret and self-loathing and self-flagellation for days afterward.

And when I just can’t get those thoughts out of my head it feels like my mind is a pinball game being played by someone else – that little silver ball ricocheting over every emotional sensor and lighting it up like the night sky on the 4th of July.

“Why did I do that!?” “Ugh, I hate myself” “So ugly” “So fat” “You can’t do this” “That was a TERRIBLE run” “You’ll never get better”.

If you’re a woman (or a man, but I can only speak from the female perspective) in the 21st century who is struggling towards some sort of goal, I do not have a doubt that there are times when you’ve been inches from throwing in the towel and re-embracing every bad habit that you were trying to purge from your daily routine.

For me, emotional binge eating is the rabbit hole that leads through twisting caverns to the angst-y thoughts and feelings above. There are many things that can trigger this primal NEED to eat something sugary (usually, almost always, unless the dairy industry goes belly-up — ice cream): a busy, stressful day at work; good news; bad news; those moments when I remember that my dad is dead (because after 6 years you just sometimes really kind of forget that it ever happened); being awake late at night; accomplishing something. Really, there are just a myriad number of things that can pique the desire for self-soothing with sugar.

This week, the rabbit hole involved a particularly long fall with a hard thud at the bottom. The specifics are not particularly important but, for the first time in several months, I actually gave in to the beckoning finger of my weakness. The call is ever so soft, like the hiss of a serpent’s tongue just beyond your ear. It is not loud, but it is persistent. There was ice cream AND cookies AND pizza. I didn’t meal prep and plan ahead. I didn’t get my usual days of exercise in.

And here is where I think the root of the problem lies:

BAD RUNS.

You know what I’m talking about. Those days where you feel impossibly slow and uncoordinated. Like a gumby doll that is trying to move like a gazelle.

In the running community we tend to all shamelessly ask about pace and PR’s and long runs and mileage. As a new runner, my top 3 concerns are 1) getting it done 2) not injuring myself in the process 3) being consistent. At this point, I could care less about my miles per week or my pace per mile. I’m only running 3-4 miles – enough to complete my October 5K. My main priority is cardiovascular and pulmonary endurance – ensuring that my body is well conditioned enough to complete the race without face-planting on the pavement somewhere in the middle.

But I let the chatter get to me. I started comparing myself to everyone else.

When I started experiencing numbness in my left foot during runs, I FREAKED out. It slowed me down and I had to walk for portions of time which affected my splits and made me feel like a total failure. So, naturally, I started skipping some runs because I was afraid my foot would go numb. And if my foot goes numb, why is it going numb? Do I have some unknown neurological or orthopedic problem? Did bedside nursing ruin my back? Will my foot always be numb when I run? How is it that I’ve only lost 30lbs!? Well, of course my foot is numb; I’m still so fat!

You see what I mean, it’s a vortex of ridiculous thinking that ends in self-loathing and sugar binges.

This morning I woke up after a busy work week of seeing dozens of patients and gave myself my “snap out of it!” pep talk. I reflected on all that I have accomplished since I began this journey in January. I have exercised more and more consistently than at any other time in my life. I started practicing yoga – something I have been scared of doing for years because of my lack of flexibility and bodily grace. I went to the City Fit Girls FitRetreat and met beautiful, strong women of all shapes, sizes, abilities, and backgrounds. I finished my Master’s degree in Nursing, became a Nurse Practitioner, and started a new job. I adopted the most adorable senior dog!

And those are the things that matter. How fast or how far I run are a drop in the bucket and are really not even accurate measures of the person that I am. Emotional eating will always be a struggle for me, but I continue to hone my ability to spot my triggers, recognize warning signs of impending doom, and skirt those smooth-talking sugary serpents. The best thing about this life is that the sun will rise to warm a new day, a day during which you can just start over so to speak. I can’t undo a bad day, a bad week, or a bad month, but I can make different choices going forward and get back on my proverbial horse after falling off.

Health, wellness, and weight loss don’t come effortlessly. I think it’s important to give a voice to the things we struggle with, to speak those thoughts in our head that we think no one else has. There is safety in numbers. There is also acceptance.

If you have also been struggling with a personal goal – keep on, be persistent. Revel in every accomplishment.

One of my favorite quotes is from Rainer Maria Rilke and I think it is quite applicable in times where we lose faith in ourselves:

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final”.

Lastly, a bit of cute to get you through. My Lhasa Apso, Chappy. He is somewhere between 13 and 15 years old.

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Recognizing a Health Hero

This is the piece that I would have written if I hadn’t missed the dang deadline for the Be Well Philly “Health Hero” essay contest. I felt that I should still send these words out into the world because we should be talking about the amazing people in our lives.

Tema Esberg saved my life. I know that probably comes off as a ridiculously hyperbolic statement, but it’s true. Each year of my life, for as long as I can remember, the scale has marched steadily onward and upward towards one freakin’ huge mountain of a number: 313. At 5’3″, that is an insane amount of weight to be carrying around on such minimal scaffolding. In January of 2015, I turned 30 and felt that the universe was giving me an ultimatum to either grab the controls on this runaway train of emotional binge eating and weight gain or witness the epic, fiery crash into diabetes, high cholesterol, and disability that was to be my inevitable end. I really couldn’t continue throwing excuses down on the tracks as I had just graduated from my master’s program at the University of Pennsylvania, I had pretty much processed the grief of losing a parent at age 24, and I did have some money that I could put towards a gym membership or other fitness-related spending.

I met Tema when I signed up for one of those snazzy package deals for Balance Chestnut Hill via GILT. I plunked down a hundred or so dollars for five sessions with their B.I.O (Balancing from the Inside Out) team and figured that I could commit to 5 sessions before jumping in wholeheartedly or bailing and never looking back. As a fat person, I am largely (oh yes, pun intended) skeptical of most things that suggest that I just might reach the goals that I want to achieve. Afterall, next to Nursing, weight loss is my other full-time job – one that doesn’t pay, one with a terrible boss, and one where I never excel. I also tend to be skeptical of those in the fitness/wellness profession because I am often being told that I need to conform to what they envision as “success” – cut out sugar; what the hell, cut out 5 food groups!; exercise until you feel like you want to die; spend $100’s of dollars a week on classes and training sessions; lose 20lbs in 2 months; send daily emails that include every single morsel of food eaten; weigh myself weekly; and on and on. I end up undertaking things to please the professional, to obtain approval and acceptance, which just ends up feeling like a whole lotta work that I’m not doing for myself. Fat people are often “yes” people. The more I say “yes” to someone else, the more I disappear within myself. I end up with no voice, unable to be accountable to even myself. Eventually, I rebel like a 13-year-old who has just discovered punk music and I rage against that machine that wants me to cram my round peg into the square hole and then I quit.

Tema, though? She’s my soul mate. I’ve been working out with her at least once per week since February. If I could serenade her (which NO ONE wants me to do), I would sing “Wind Beneath My Wings”. It would be like a scene out of Beaches and everyone would cry. (If I ever get married – this could be a real possibility if I overdo it on champagne during the toasts.) She really does lift me up. She responds to my crazy text messages of self-doubt and self-loathing with pure positivity and encouragement and love. She affirms the negative feelings I’m having with empathy but then makes it clear that she is not attending my pity party and I better find something to like about myself (Bad run? Ain’t no thing as a bad run, girl! Only the one you didn’t do!). She is joyful. No sir, she does not hide her light under a bushel. She shines brightly which makes you want to shine just as bright. She constantly reminds me of my progress during our workouts and compliments my moves even if I look like a whale trying to walk across a tightrope. She varies our workouts so that I never seem to realize they are getting harder (a sneaky move since I tend to run far far away when workouts are intense). When I wanted to start running, she got out her pom poms and cheered every milestone. She even put together a women’s running group on Sunday morning’s to keep me motivated and help me find a safe space within the running community. She NEVER asks me what I’ve been eating or what I weigh. EVER. That may actually be the lynchpin that makes all the difference. She knows that I am making progress because I can do things now that I could do six months ago or because I tell her about the clothes I can fit into now. Tema has helped me to dig up the woman inside of me who is active and healthy and happy.

Do I want to be under 200lbs? More than you know! But I am surprisingly content with the journey. I’ve lost weight, I’ve become stronger, I’ve tried a whole host of new things and inserted myself into new social situations, I’ve rediscovered some great wardrobe staples. Tema saved my life because she helped me uncover a new identity. One where I am a person who exercises, who kayaks, who runs, who ziplines. She helps me keep the self-doubt and self-loathing at bay. That’s what was killing me. The anxiety. The depression. The continually feeling “not good enough”.  Forging a new identity isn’t as complicated as one might think. I imagine it’s the same way people discover their identity as a vegetarian – it’s just something you believe in, something you do every day, something you are passionate about.

If anyone is meant to be deemed a “Health Hero”, it’s Tema. She is the little spark inside of me that whispers “even when you are going through hell, keep going”.

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In Which I Become the Person I Want to Be

I started running in March.

I had been working with a personal trainer – Tema of Potentia Personal Training – for a few months and felt the itch to tackle what I felt to be the mother of all fitness challenges.

My brother has always been fond of telling me “you’d lose weight if you just started running”. This from the mouth of someone who has been phenomenally athletic since childhood, excelling in multiple sports, maintaining the physique of a Greek god despite appearing to be a bottomless garbage pit for all sorts of foods from those dreaded inner grocery store aisles.

Sometimes, during my walks (the earliest form of cardiovascular fitness that I attempted), I would feel myself going faster and faster to the point where I felt that my feet wanted to take flight beneath me. I would punch up the MPH on the treadmill and tentatively jog for 30 seconds or so until I couldn’t stand feeling so self-conscious about everything jiggling up and down between my neck and my knees. The feeling persisted, though. I wanted to move more and cover greater distances. I wanted to propel myself down local trails under my own power. I wanted in to that secret club that runners seem to so enjoy being a part of. I wanted to put my mind to something of a physical nature and actually accomplish what I set out to do. For once. Just one bloody time.

And I wanted my brother to stuff it.

Naturally, I turned to the Apple app store. Because there is an app for EVERYTHING (and if there isn’t, it probably wasn’t important anyway). Even overweight 30 year old nurses who fancy themselves runners. Trust me – it’s called “5K Runner”. I started the program with a healthy dose of self-doubt, anxiety, and trepidation. How many times had I attempted to lose weight and magically morph myself from sloppy slug into the svelte, physically active butterfly I imagined myself to be? I’ve lost count.

The beauty of the 5K Runner app (or the Couch 2 5K or whatever other “learn-to-run” method you might use”) is that it actually works. If you are persistent and consistent – my trainer’s mantra – your body adapts to the new levels of physical activity as your cardiovascular endurance increases. My weight did drop. A healthy 25lbs came off in the weeks it has taken me to complete 62 runs. Honestly, I thought it would be more. This is probably because I still sometimes maintain the fantasy that I will go to sleep one night and wake up the next morning in a new body. Since March, I’ve really had to come to learn to appreciate the work my body is doing – the increased lung capacity I’ve developed, the ability to go from lifting 2lb weights to 10lb weights, the feel of jogging up the stairs in my house without feeling like I need my rescue inhaler, the new jawline that has emerged out of the fat.

At some point, exercise in general and running specifically became about more than weight loss. Physical activity is something I look forward to, I enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment, I love the floating-on-cloud-9 feeling that the endorphin rush brings. I’ve made so many new friends with the new-found confidence I have developed. My calendar is filled with fitness events of all things! It turns out that the running community isn’t the exclusive club that I imagined it to be. If you run, you are a runner. It doesn’t matter your size, shape, or speed. As long as you get out there and get it done. It’s the non-running community we should all be afraid of – that is where the detractors lie. Those are the people who will question your motivation and your will.

Those are the things that I have to continuously remind myself of when I step on the scale and realize that I am not yet below 250lbs. I have to pat myself on the back for dropping below 300lbs and keep plowing through the nagging, biting, excoriating self-criticism that says “you are failing”.

Recently, I started subscribing to Runner’s World magazine. This is where I “met” Mirna Valerio. She is my new hero. Others might see her as the exception, but I see bits of her inside of me. Her story snapped me out of my most recent funk with the whip-like crack of a bungy cord, yanking me away from barbs of my own self-loathing. Read it. You’ll be inspired, too. It will given you the sweet sustenance you need to power through your own roadblocks.

So now my nose is back to the grindstone.

One foot in front of the other.

Persistence and consistency.

(And I am feeling pretty darn smug knowing that my brother is a little more tight-lipped about his comments now that I am officially – a “runner”)

  
 

Heirlooms

I can be overly sentimental about the things I love; collections or bits and bobs of things that evoke a certain memory or glimpse of a bygone era. I am especially fond of those things handed down or gifted to me by family members – pieces given out of love and the desire to pass along a good story or two.

I have written about my Aunt C before and her knack for choosing just the right gift for me. We share the same birthday and she seems to know this innate part of me that few others see. This year, for my birthday, she sent me the most dear ceramic spice shakers from her own kitchen. Also included was a compendium of recipes and stories from a local Philadelphia bakery called ‘Brown Betty’. Lastly, she included her own family recipe for old-fashioned lace cookies from her mother’s kitchen.

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I keep my spice shakers together with other special gifts from my Aunt C – a decorative light plate (Aunt C has small bits of whimsy like this throughout her California bungalow), a knob for a drawer to hold all those beloved bits and bobs, and a vase shaped like a bunch of radishes (to honor my passion for gardening).

I’ve made the “Plain Cake” recipe out of the cookbook several times now – a cake that was born from a Brown Betty family recipe shared at Sunday dinners and yearly birthday parties. The flavor of the cake, buttery and golden, tastes like home, like family. You feel sated and enfolded in warmth as it melts in your mouth.

If we are to accumulate “things” in this life, I am glad to have such a collection of things that lovingly speak to me of family and tradition and history when I use them.

28

28.

An age I never really imagined I’d see when I pictured myself as some fuzzy version of a “grown up”. When I was a child and in a hurry to grow up I definitely imagined myself at 16 – getting a driver’s license and having the time of my life in high school. I also imagined myself at 18 – going to the prom, starting college, making my own decisions. I don’t really recall any thoughts about life past that point. I’m sure that, at age 10, few kids are thinking about their future selves at 30. Of course, there were the traditional girlish fantasies about marriage and children that I acted out with dolls and my little girl friends, but the possibility of it seemed so remote that it was difficult to realistically picture it actually happening. And now that January 14th has come and gone, I feel that I have so many milestones behind me that I am rather unexcited about moving forward.

I still don’t feel like an adult because I have so many goals yet to achieve thanks to mistakes and detours I have made along the way.  I am still in school, working on a 3rd degree so that I can become licensed as a nurse practitioner in 2014. I can’t remember a time when school wasn’t a part of my life. Many of my coworkers, who took what I would consider a more traditional approach to life, are in long term relationships, have gotten married, and/or now have children. I don’t think I appreciated how much losing a parent in adolescence could stunt one’s progress in moving towards “the future”. Despite finishing a nursing program and starting work in a career that I am excited about, I have still felt a bit stuck and rooted to one spot by my desire to return to life before the absolute-worst-day-of-my-life  in 2009.

Grief, though it wanes over time, is fairly omnipresent. I mean, does one ever not grieve the loss of someone they love? Since my birthday, at least 5 people have told me that 28 is a good year. I don’t know where this consensus comes from or if there is even any truth to it. Several individuals have told me that 28 was their “best” year, that really good things happened to them. I hope to high heaven that they are right. I could use a dramatic twist or turn along this road I feel that I am traveling along at a plodding pace. I can feel all of that potential energy that has built up behind me over the last 4 years about to launch me into some great kinetic state where change happens and achievements are made.

Luckily, I started my new year off right with a hearty brunch at Terrain at Styer’s with some of those nearest and dearest to me. Nothing reminds you of what is most important in life than the important people with whom you surround yourself.

These ladies know me better than most.

These ladies know me better than most.

 

We survived nursing school together.

We survived nursing school together.

 

Winter Traditions

Time has certainly gotten away from me this winter season. Isn’t that always the case, though, when Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s go flying by in quick succession? I think bears have the right idea with hibernation. Ideally, I like to slow down in winter – try to go to bed earlier as the sunlight is so fleeting, relax more with reading or crafts, and cook hearty dishes whose leftovers taste better as the days wear on.

I don’t think I have a favorite season. I seem to appreciate each natural cycle of the year for its unique personality – spring brings a sense of hope and awakening and rejuvenation as the days lengthen and stretch their legs, summer is full of energy and doing and our attempt to wring every last bit of joy out of each day, autumn is a riot of color as the leaves change and the heat and humidity give way to “sweater weather”, and winter is full of tradition, change, and expectation as we enter the new year.

I love our winter family traditions here in Philadelphia. They have changed over the years (my father no longer types out a Christmas morning letter from Santa, but the dining room centerpiece from the local florist arrives years after year) and feel a bit different than they did when I was a child, but the ritual layers beneath are mostly the same. I still think that there is something quite magical about the whole season despite the dark and cold that surrounds us.

Preparation – 5 or so years ago, our next-door-neighbors started a tradition called “Advent Soup Night”. In the Catholic tradition, Advent is the season of preparation before Christmas when Christians look forward to the joy that Jesus’ birth brings. It is a time of reflection and quiet as individuals think about all that has transpired in the past year and look ahead to the excitement and fresh start that is implicit with the coming of a new one. We celebrate this season by getting together with our neighbors and friends each Sunday evening for 4 weeks before Christmas. The evening notably features soup and bread. Each evening features anywhere from 2-4 soups depending on who is trying out a new recipe or if there is demand for an old favorite. Over the years, people have added small appetizers, wine, and dessert, turning our humble meal into a bit of a feast. Before eating, our host leads us in a reflection that is universal to all guests regardless of personal faith. Often the themes address darkness, light, hope, joy, sorrow, and peace. Then we sing a verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” before everyone grabs a bowl and heads into the kitchen. Advent Soup has become one of the most important traditions in my holiday season and I often find myself out of sorts if I have to miss a night due to work.

The tree – As long as my mother lives and breathes, we will have a live Christmas tree. A Douglas Fir to be exact. It’s scent heralds the coming of Christmas and I never get tired of finding the same, decades-old ornaments hanging from the branches.

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Easy, peasy Christmas banner

The lights – We always have little electric candles in the window. Actually, we keep these up year round. At Christmas, my brother and I add lights to the exterior of the house, carrying on the job my father would have done. There is nothing more comforting than coming home to those warm, tiny lights. No matter how long or how bad my day, I can always find my way home.

The food – Cookies are imperative. Each year, I try out a new recipe or two in addition to the tried and true “roll out cookie”. This year I added spiced and candied nuts to the mix. I usually gift these treats along with other edibles I have preserved throughout the year. I find baking very soothing. And what is more satisfying than a warm, homemade cookie?

The gardens – My mom and I have love taking in the holiday lights display at Longwood Gardens. I look forward to dinner in their cafe, hot chocolate, and strolling the grounds as the sun settles in for the night. In the dark, the landscape is a sea of colored lights upon the trees. The conservatory has a different theme each year – this year it is “stars” – that is elaborately conveyed through the many rooms of flowers and other flora.

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Roof of the conservatory

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Paper lanterns

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Halo of stars

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Kumquat Tree

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Water features

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Fantasy table display

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Outdoor display