Monday, March 31, 2014

The Waistline War

I have been engaged in a war with my waistline, the scale, and my overall fitness for as long as I can remember.  When I say this, of course, I realize the war is not so much with these things as it is with the woman in the mirror, but I've worked more diligently in the last 2 years than ever before to correct lifelong bad habits and to find a balance between either extreme where my health is concerned, be it over-eating or obsessing about calorie counting and exercise.  It has been a long journey fraught with chocolate, cheese, and all things sweet and fatty.  In fact, hardly a moment has gone by when I have not thought about food in some way.  It's rather embarrassing to even admit, but true nonetheless.  

Between a minor knee injury, missing a few workouts, indulging in a birthday cake, a few fast food stops, and the dang Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla haunting me in the freezer, I've found myself on a slippery slope this week.  My willpower has been paper thin and that evil, highly-critical voice in my head is raging at my reflection with no mercy in sight.  This fault-finding gloom will, of course, get me nowhere… or at least not any place I want to visit again.  It is in an attempt to shut that nasty little voice up that today, I am acknowledging (oh so publicly) the accomplishments I have made by taking you on a tour of my pound-shedding trek rather than waste another second fretting over how far I still have to go.

Please understand how difficult it was to dig up the following pictures.  First of all, I have always made my place behind the camera, so pictures of me were few and far between.  Clearly a result of the second and not so surprising fact that I wasn't (and still am not) terribly fond of the way I looked.  Nevertheless, and again reminding myself that looking back can be quite cathartic, I present to you the "fat pictures."

(Note:  It isn't that nasty little voice calling me fat in these pictures.  I think it is important to be honest with yourself, and the first step for me was owning it.  I was fat!)

I have tried every possible way of weight loss you can imagine, most of the time gaining the weight back within a matter of months, if losing any at all.  Crash diets, pills, and cutting out any one particular food group never worked for me.  It didn't help that I always seemed to have an excuse for my unhealthy ways of eating and (lack of) activity- pregnancies, c-sections, nursing babies, long distance moves- but really it was simply the overwhelming notion of how much I actually needed to lose that kept me from getting off the couch.  Seems silly in retrospect.

My weight crept up slowly over the course of 8 years and 3 babies, but it was in May 2012, tipping the scales at 215 pounds, I decided enough was enough.  I was on a visit to Texas celebrating my (slender) sister's college graduation, and my sister-in-law shared her weapon of choice in the battle of the bulge- an app called "MyFitnessPal."  It was so simple… well, in the way that it worked anyway.  It gave me a daily calorie allotment and provided an easy way to log food and exercise.  Because I was painfully aware of my ineffectual habit of overwhelming myself with too much change too quickly, I chose to focus solely on portion control and not concern myself for the moment with daily exercise routines.  Naturally, when realizing how many calories were in certain foods (because they are listed right on the back of the box!), I made wiser choices in how I "spent" my given calories.

The first several weeks were torture.  My will-power has never been particularly stout, but the "215" staring back at me from the scale below had been forever burned into my memory and gave me the 215 extra reasons I needed to stay strong and move along.  When I felt I had my calorie-consumption under better control, I added regular physical activity by joining the Y and participating in group classes, like Zumba and Boot Camp.  With the gradual habit changes and unyielding persistence the pounds began to fall off week after week, a couple at a time.

Shocking, right? It was just as I had always been taught- the most effective path to achieving a healthy weight is through (proper) diet and exercise!

It's been almost two years now, and I'd like to tell you I never wavered.  I initially lost close to 45 pounds before a move (and various other excuses) broke my MyFitnessPal routine.  I have gained some of those pounds back (and then lost a few again), but I remain determined to get back on the horse each time I falter understanding that my lifestyle is still very different from where I began.

After grueling weeks like this one, I do well to recognize how far I've come and acknowledge the achievements of every pound or inch lost.  That can't be done without sharing these more recent pictures… with the sincere hope you forget you ever saw the others!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

What Kind of Cheeseburger Do You Want to Be?

Would you rather be a cheeseburger from Red Robin or McDonald's?

This may seem like a very silly question to you (unless you've recently participated in one of the many Buzz Feed quizzes currently circulating on Facebook), but it was in a moment of insane and sheer parenting desperation that I asked my son this very question.

We are coming off of a really tough couple of days.  There has been a lot of whining, fighting, and just plain ole grumpiness in our house this week.  Everything I have asked of my boys has been met with resistance and frustration.  Sadly, the bad attitudes haven't only belonged to my children either, and yesterday I reached my limit.  Each child took a turn throwing their own little fit…

And then it was my turn.

I try very hard not to yell at my kids.  I am no expert at parenting, but I have been doing it long enough to realize that irrationally screaming at them doesn't do any of us much good.  I learned this lesson years ago when I happened to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror as I was angrily shouting about the importance of obedience.  As you can imagine, the distorted fury on my face wasn't pretty.  It still happens more often than I'd care to admit, but I'm learning to at least recognize my limits.  Yesterday, as I crossed the border of rationality into insanity, I simply retreated to my room for a much needed "timeout."

Twenty minutes later, it was Christian who braved the uncertainty of Mom's mood and quietly came into my room, his face still stained with the tears from a battle over what little homeschool work he had been given that morning.

 At first, I didn't dare open my mouth.  I wasn't sure what he wanted or where it would go, but as he stepped closer to me with the clear intention of apologizing, I asked him, "What kind of cheeseburger would you rather be- one from Red Robin or one from McDonald's?"

I'm not really sure where it came from and I'm almost certain by the look on his face he was thinking, "That's it- call the looney bin!  She's lost her mind for sure this time," BUT I had his attention, and so I ran with it!

"Let me explain,"  I said.  "If we were going out to dinner and your choices were Mickey D's or Red Robin, which would you choose?"

"Red Robin," he answered.


"I like their food better."

"Me, too.  Red Robin's burgers are made of better beef, fresher ingredients, and served on a real plate.  They put more time and effort into creating their meals, don't they?  And they have better customer service, all making a visit to Red Robin more enjoyable and worth the higher price.

"THAT is what your father and I are trying to do with you.  If we invest in you by teaching you good manners, responsibility, independence, and we give you the opportunity for the best academic education possible, we're hoping you'll grow up to be… well… great cheeseburgers… or the best human beings you can be anyway."

He giggled, and with it came the very moment we needed to turn our day around.

I continued, "It's important though for you to invest in yourselves as well.  You have to want to be better burgers, and it isn't always easy.  It takes dedication in the pursuit of self-improvement.  That is why you're assigned the school work and chores you're given and why I expect you to do them with happy hearts.  They are meant to enrich your lives and make you better people.  Does that make sense to you?"

"Yes," he said without hesitation.

"So again I ask, what kind of burger do you want to be?"

"Definitely a Red Robin cheeseburger," he said with a grin stretching across his face.

"Good.  Now send Julian in here so he can understand the importance of being a good cheeseburger, too."

And with a hug, he gave another giggle as he ran off to find his brother.   As he did, I took one more moment to myself- but this time, it wasn't a "timeout."  It was more of a "holy-cow-that-just-happened."  I actually found a way, however off the wall, to explain to my boys that our expectations of them are not so we can call ourselves rulers of this little 3-man army we've made, but for their own health and well-being!

I'm not sure how long this light bulb will stay on.  It seems I've been repeating myself for years, and we've had so-called breakthrough moments before that have been shorter lived than I expected.  What I do know is I reached my kids better in that 5 minute conversation than I had in the few weeks leading up to it.  The rest of the evening went much smoother, too; school work that wasn't even assigned was completed, floors were swept and vacuumed without a word from me, and happily everyone's attitude was on the mend.  This morning I even awoke to Christian copying his charts for his Essentials class!  (If you knew how hard it was to get this kid to pick up a pencil, you would understand my elation in this gesture of his!)

So, now I am armed with the "Red Robin cheeseburger" weapon against defiance, and a once-again renewed perspective on parenting.  Discipline of all sorts will always be in my armory, but I won't forget that creative parenting strategies often throw their game off just enough to cross the great divide between parent and child, and truly move mountains.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Blue Balloon for Walker

Walker's birthday is today, February 20th... and he's celebrating his 10th birthday in heaven.

In 2008, a few years before we moved to Chesapeake and met the Gorney family, Walker, their youngest son died after a rigorous five months of treatment fighting childhood cancer.  Since his passing, every year on this day, family and friends send balloons of blue, his favorite color up to heaven.  I've known him only in pictures and stories, but he is not a child I will soon forget.

Walker Gorney
February 20, 2004-April 11, 2008
We've known Charlie, Laura, and their other two children, Mason and Aliya for almost 4 years now.  Laura was a mother in my Chesapeake area MOPS group.  It turned out they were also our neighbors and lived just a few streets over.  Laura is an out-going person, and like me, very open about her life story.  Though I was new to the group, it wasn't long before we were sharing our tales of adoption and loss.  At the time, Laura and Charlie had just begun the process of adopting their little girl, Aliya, and it seemed we were placed in the same MOPS group together, along with another adoptive mother by more than just chance.  It was the same year our family was reunited with Zach; a time of great rejoicing and need of support for our family.  There was much love in this group of ladies- for each of us in our precise time of need.

I have heard other stories of families experiencing various degrees of loss, including of their children, but never known any of them quite as closely as we have the Gorneys.  Perhaps it was this, or that Christian was born just a few months before Walker.  Whatever the reason, I have always been deeply affected by their loss.  This year, however, it has been made more real to me than ever before- as much as it can be for anyone who has never lost a child.

At dinner this past Monday, I was telling Carlos that Walker's birthday was coming up and that Laura was participating for the second time with the 46 Mommas in their Shave for the Brave event to be held in Boston this July.  Our boys asked about Walker.  As the youngest, Adrian, of course had the most questions.  We explained as best we could, but when I told them Walker was only four when he died, Adrian immediately shouted, "He's my age!"

I hadn't even realized.

It took everything I had to hold back the tears.  To look into the face of Adrian and know Laura was forced to say goodbye to her son at his age is heart breaking.  And then to look at Christian and Julian and know she has missed seeing him grow through the ages of 7 and 10 is completely unfathomable.  I've watched the Gorneys make their journey along the never-ending path of healing and life on earth without Walker.  I've seen Laura struggle with feelings of life and loss that I can't possibly understand, nor could anyone who hasn't buried a child, and even in those struggles with anger and the deepest hurt imaginable, she wakes up every morning and presses on.  More than that, Laura and her entire family are in a constant and passionate pursuit to honor Walker by participating in organizations that support research and funding for childhood cancer.

There are many, many types of childhood cancer and the statistics are staggering.  These cancers claim the lives of more children than any other childhood disease, and worldwide, every three minutes another kid is diagnosed.  Most of the time, the cancer has already spread to other areas of the body by the time of diagnosis.  These are just a few of the facts that organizations like St. Baldrick's and Alex's Lemonade Stand are raising funds to fight, alongside the families, like the Gorneys, affected by all forms of childhood cancer.

Our family has chosen to support Charlie and Laura in their pursuit both financially and in prayer.  I hope you will consider doing the same in any capacity of which you are capable.  This week, in honor of their son, the Gorneys are matching all $10 donations to Laura's participation in Shave for the Brave.  I have included links below for further information about childhood cancer, a few of the organizations that support research efforts, and, of course the web pages that share the story of our dear friends, the Gorneys in their own words.

Today and always, we send our love to Walker in heaven and to Charlie, Laura, Mason, and Aliya in Chesapeake.

Support Laura Gorney's participation in the 46 Mommas Shave for the Brave
Support Walker's brother, Mason as a St. Baldrick's participant
Walker Gorney's story through CaringBridge
46 Mommas Shave for the Brave
Statistics from St. Baldrick's
Statistics from Alex's Lemonade Stand

Blue Balloons for Walker ~ Feb 20, 2014

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Stepping Out in Faith

I'm thinking about doing something insane this next school year, and as with all leaps of faith, I'm pretty scared at the prospects of what I'm considering.

We have already decided to continue homeschooling with the Classical Conversations program.  We love the structure yet flexibility of both Foundations, the first level and Essentials, the second, and plan to continue through the Challenge A and B levels.  If you are considering homeschool as an option for your family, I highly recommend looking into Classical Conversations.

Here's where the crazy comes in.

The director of our area CC Foundations group is stepping down to start Challenge A for this same area.  Her youngest is aging out of Foundations and CC needs someone new to take over.  She approached me about the job, and I immediately said I wasn't interested... after politely giving her the most insane look possible.  Why would she even consider me?  We're fairly new to homeschooling, new to Classical Conversations, and new to Foundations- surely not qualified.  I was interested only in tutoring for the 2014-15 school year.

It came up in casual conversation over the last several weeks with a few of the other moms, all of whom paid me the great compliment of saying they thought I would be a wonderful addition as director.  Each encouraged me to at least consider the position.  Despite my attempts to remain reserved and low-key this year, these women saw something in me, and without even realizing it, I caught myself mulling it over as I washed dishes this weekend.  I set the glass in my hand down and gave Carlos a look of which I'm sure he is quite familiar.  It was my crazy-idea eyes; the same ones that led to MOPS leadership.  I think he laughed before I said anything at all.  His support is, of course crucial, and as always, God bless him, freely given.

This isn't the first time God has caught my attention just like this, in the everyday monotony, but I'm always surprised when He calls on me.  It often reminds me of Moses thinking Aaron would surely be better suited to saving God's chosen people from the grips of slavery.  He couldn't see past his own imperfections to imagine he could possibly be the one to do God's bidding.  I feel a little bit like that now.  It's terrifying.  I know I'm capable of fulfilling the obligations of director, but I'm worried I'm not up to it just yet.  Sometimes it feels so much easier just to be a member of the crowd rather than the one to step forward, but I suppose we rarely remain happy inside the comfort of our own little box for too long and I know for a fact we miss out on great blessings.

Admitting I'm interested is only the first step.  CC will have to approve, should I volunteer, followed by a great deal of training and prep.  This is a very big decision for us and one we will most certainly not take lightly.  Your prayers for clarity and sanity are greatly needed and appreciated as I make this decision with my family.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Winter Blues vs. Favorite Things

The winter has been hard and long this year.  My spirit is ready for spring, and so is just about everyone I know.  However, since "cold and dreary" has been thrust upon us yet again (though I have to admit I'm glad the white stuff was kind enough to stay away this round), I am composing a cheesy-yet-cheery list of my favorite things to shake the Winter Blues today.

1.  The little giggles of children.  First, because it is my favorite.  On a bad day, there is absolutely nothing that can make me smile like when my boys get tickled about something (or nothing at all, as is mostly the case with Julian) and giggle uncontrollably.  It is the purest sound of "happy" and should be listed in Roget's Thesaurus as a synonym for such.

2.  The company of friends & family.  My love language is "Quality Time," so no one should be surprised by my enjoyment of visiting with loved ones.  I would take a messy house and constant chaos over hours and hours of "me-time" any day.  What can I say?  I'm a people person.

3.  Music.  Do I really need to explain this one?  Music is magical, and therefore not something I could explain very well anyway.  I love all (well... most) music, from a little bird's song to the twang of Scott Avett's banjo.

4.  Foods that generally aren't considered healthy.  This one has been a blessing and a curse, as my waistline can attest.  Cupcakes, preferably red velvet immediately come to mind, as does Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream.  I'm also very fond of cheese and chocolate.  "May I have a helping of pure joy with a large side of calories and fat, please?"

5.  A good, sweaty workout.  Not something I can honestly say I've always appreciated, but after #4, I had to redeem myself!  My health and weight loss journey has been a long time in the making.  About 2 years ago, I weighed in over 200 lbs.  While I'm not yet to my goal weight, I have dropped more than 35 lbs. and I am far stronger physically than ever before.  I can tell you now- there is nothing quite like the feeling of muscles made of jello after a good, hard push-yourself in the gym!

6.  Accomplishments.  I am plagued by a terrible ritual of not finishing projects begun, and I'm sure I've referenced this nasty little habit before in my blog.  I fight very hard to overcome this almost daily, and I've learned to greatly appreciate the pride of accomplishing most any task.

7.  A good book & a comfy spot to read it.  My love of books truly began when I set forth to remedy the problem referenced in #6.  In desperation to finish anything, I made a rule- I would read a book and I would finish it.  It was simple and short-term... and I had to start somewhere.  That single accomplishment and the real-world-escape that book gave led me to another book, and then another, and voila!- a love of reading.

8.  The sound of water.  Raindrops falling.  Waves crashing.  Rivers and streams running.  Snow melting.  It would appear I just listed the tracks of a nature CD, I know, but I suppose they record it and sell it because others love it, too.

9.  The moon & stars.  A clear night in the middle of nowhere?  Yes, please!

10.  The perfect morning.  Coffee is most definitely involved here, and it hasn't gone unnoticed that a good day usually starts when I rise before the kiddos do.  It is, however, more about how I wake up as opposed to what happens when I do.  (Although, certain happenings can most definitely get me up on the right side of the bed, while others are sure to be the day's downfall. )

So there it is, ten of my favorite things.  It's no schnitzel with noodles, but I'm fairly certain Julie Andrews would be proud!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Tiny Little Light

Pardon the understatement of the year, but documenting a walk through a dark place is not easy.  While I've read plenty of reflections of life's infamous difficulties, I haven't actually read too many blogs in which people share this part of the journey as it is happening.  Not to go all "cliche" on you, but hindsight is 20/20 after all, and it is much easier, though I'm not saying it isn't difficult, to share from a perspective of joy and lessons learned.  It's no secret I'm not there yet.  Sadly, I don't have much else to give you at the moment but my wearisome walk, but my need to get it all out is strong.  There will always be pieces I cannot yet share, whether because it is too personal or because it is not mine alone to share, but it is in the hopes of finding a healthy way out of darkness, and maybe being a little inspirational as I go that I continue to post.

The point is all to say (and reassure my loved ones) I am constantly in search of improvement; of a little light to draw me out of this funk I keep droning on about.  It is with high hopes I tell you now, when I awoke this morning, I found my fight, my motivation to wiggle free of this unhappiness that has such a tight grip on me.  I don't know what was different about today (and I hope I feel the same tomorrow), but I made a decision to not look at my children one more morning and be overwhelmed with the sadness of not providing a better form of myself for them.

Whether it is human nature, something genetic in me, or a learned behavior, laziness and complacency have always been some of my worst habits.  Simply dwelling where I am is far too easy of a trap and one I've been known to fall into every now and then, but I absolutely refuse to be stuck here anymore.  God has blessed me with many gifts and I have taken them, like a new toy a child doesn't want to use for fear of breaking it and kept them in their box.  But toys bring the most joy when they're played with.  So, too, should I find delight in my callings.  I won't let fear, laziness, or a combination of both keep me from the many opportunities currently before me.

For many, many years, I have collected thoughts and ideas with the ambitious dream of one day publishing a novel.  Long shot?  Maybe, but I have always wanted to write.  In fact, my mind is constantly producing conversations and scenarios for beloved characters in novels I have yet to begin.  I have gobs of notes for at least three different stories jotted on random slips of paper stashed in secret spaces around my house, all saved for "when I have more time."  Well, I don't have any more time now than I've ever had, but I can't waste another second making promises to myself.  It's a "now or never" kind of pursuit at this point... and I'm choosing now.  Just a little writing a few days a week- nothing too overwhelming.  It may take decades to finish, but progress is my goal.  Besides, why not put all this emotional baggage to good use?  We'll just call it a therapeutic journey for mending my bent and broken psyche.  I have a sneaking suspicion that much of writing fiction comes out of life's little experiences anyway.

So there it is- a promise made to myself for the world to see.  I'm counting on your accountability here, folks.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Hiding in Fredericksburg

All the schools and offices in the area have called for a "snow day" today, so I'm giving my kids a break from homeschool, too.  We're a week ahead anyway and snow sounds like a good excuse to take a day off!  So, I have a little time and thought I'd take a second shot at writing this blog entry.  I started a week ago, but just couldn't get my thoughts together in the right words.  Not sure I can today either, but it's clearly something that is still weighing on my heart and on my mind.

As I've said before, I am nomadic by nature, so being a military wife has worked well for me.  I like change and I have always enjoyed moving (not the packing part, just to be clear).  It's a chance to start over; to reinvent or build on who we are.  It's not that I pretend to be something I'm not in a new place.  On the contrary- I am always true to and real about who I am.  Settling in new towns has simply given me the opportunity to nurture certain parts of who I am (people are multi-faceted after all) and to have a clean break with the things I should or want to leave behind.  I am a very social person and have been known to overly involve myself and my family in activities outside of our home.  This is an easy pool for a stay-at-home mother to drown in, though I'm not sure I could explain that to you if you don't understand what I mean.  It is, however, always a balancing act between my family's needs and my own, and it is one of those things I will always have to work at.  In any case, moving every few years helps these seasons of life begin and end neatly and naturally.

When our new orders came this past summer to move just a few hours north, I decided it was time to slow down. I am the woman who was not just a parent of a child involved in certain activities;  I was the mother leading and participating.  A mere year ago, I was in charge of childcare for MOPS with plans to coordinate the group the following year, leading Julian's Cub Scout Tiger Den, an active Senior Consultant in Thirty One, and a helper with our church's childrens choir in addition to many other less regular activities.  Many of our week nights and weekends were spent running to extra curricular interests, mostly in opposite directions, and our family was no longer benefiting from these activities, but rather drifting apart.  I rarely felt like we spent any time together, even in places where we were all present.  A relocation was the perfect opportunity to refocus.  And so I made a promise to Carlos and the boys-  I wouldn't jump into anything right away when we settled in Fredericksburg.

Needless to say and quite uncharacteristically of me, I have found it far too easy to keep this promise.  I'm beginning to see maybe I've even taken it too far in the other direction.  After six months of living here, we have joined only our homeschool group and the local y, and I have limited our involvement even in these organizations.  My problem isn't in being involved in only a few things.  No, the problem comes when I admit I haven't truly invested in the lives of the people we have met, nor have I allowed them close enough to invest in us.  We are, of course, friendly at school and I chat with the other mothers as the boys work and play, but it is only small talk.  Beyond the doors of the church we meet at and the y, we keep to ourselves where these families are concerned.  You see, I have found the process of making new friends to be exhausting this time around.  I don't like the isolation I have created.  In fact, the urge to get out is just as nagging as ever, but I just don't have the energy or the attitude to actively pursue new relationships.  I'm afraid the social butterfly in me has flown away.  Believe me, I know how dumb this sounds.

Our only saving grace from my anti-social antics has been old friends that happen to live in Fredericksburg; a family that already knows us well.  They are one of the many reasons we chose to live here instead of closer to my husband's job in DC, second only to the cost of living.  When we need a little fun, we call on them.  It is not healthy to not have a bigger local support system though, and it certainly isn't fair to these family friends for us to become their burden and responsibility.  I know they don't feel this way, but I'm worried it won't be long before they do.

So, what do I do?

Well, I have no immediate desire to crawl out of this isolated cave I've stumbled into.  I wish I could tell you why.  I'm not really looking for advice, but owning up to my depression (let's be honest and call a spade a spade here) seems to be the best place to start.  Sharing this is far harder than you will ever know.  No one likes to admit their faults and imperfections, especially not on the world wide web, but I'm clearly getting desperate for motivation to move on.  I want better for my children, for my family, and for myself.  My only hope is found in the will I still possess to make it better.  For now, taking one day at a time is all I can promise and I hope in my next post I can share a more inspirational and encouraging side of myself.

P.S. If you see me on the streets of Fredericksburg, don't let me get away with small talk.