Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Journeys

caminoI’ve been exercising. Regularly. Inspired by Kristin (see previous article) I’ve kept at it. My friend, Miriam Haugen, has joined me, too! We’re both noticing increased strength and endurance. And my Wii isn’t yipping at me anymore. Hurray for stuffing a sock in the figurative mouth of an inanimate device!

I’m taking my vitamins, minerals, etc. I can tell when I forget (which I do a lot) because my energy flags.

So it turns out that doing the right things make you feel better. Who knew?

I’ve been working on my insides, too. Being honest with myself about what I want – and DON’T want – in my life. I have journeys ahead of me, both literal and figurative (the map is a *hint*.) It’s going to be an interesting year.

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Back to the Gym

gym maui0152Doesn’t she look sweet? Nice?

Don’t believe it. Kristin’s my personal trainer while I’m here in Maui, and she’s wicked hard on me.

A personal trainer? Maui? Whaaa….? I know. It’s a surprise to me, too.

I quit going to gyms years ago because I couldn’t stand the steroid egos and butt floss. I’m at a fitness center this week only because the owners of The Gym Maui brought me here to Kihei to photograph their facility and their people. It’s a tough business, being flown to exotic locations, but I’m a trooper. And it turns out, now I’m a convert. This place is SO DIFFERENT from what I remembered back in the 90’s – it’s clean (no sweaty sock smell), friendly, and egos are kept firmly in check.

I’m going to look at local gyms when I get home. Me. In a gym. Hah! It’s the end of the world as we know it….

Meanwhile, Kristin has given me exercises I can do at home. Don’t be fooled by the lack of equipment. This workout got my heart rate up, and I definitely felt it the next day!

If you’re going to try this, be sure to consult a fitness specialist first. YOUR FORM NEEDS TO BE CORRECT. Back injuries put a crimp in any exercise program. 🙂

Kristin’s Workout for Chubby, Out-Of-Shape Women

(No, she didn’t call it this, and I’m sure she’d be horrified. But if I don’t mock myself, who will? Oh, put your hands down.)

Three reps of:

  1. Squats. (Really, REALLY important to get instruction the first time. These are easy to do wrong.) 15x.
  2. Tricep dips (using a bench, step or chair.) 15x.
  3. Step-ups. 10-15x each side.

When we’d finished the first rep, I thought, “OK, that was a nice workout.” Then she asked me to repeat it. And again. By the time I huffed my way to a finish, I thought, “OK, now THAT was a nice workout.” Then we moved on to floor work. Oh, dear.

Three reps of:

  1. Negative push-ups. (For those of us who are too weak to complete a push-up. You lower yourself slowly to the floor, then get on your knees, rise to correct position, and try again.) 10x.
  2. Triangle push-ups. (Put your hands together to form a triangle, and then pulse, short up-and-downs.) 10x.
  3. Try regular pushups AMRAP (as many repetitions as possible. I can do exactly zero right now.)

Three reps of:

  1. Crunches 15-20x.
  2. Crunches with feet elevated 15x20x.
  3. Alternating superman (lay on stomach, lift alternating arms and legs.) 15x.
  4. Plank (I thought, “Oh, good. I’ve got this one down.” As soon as she saw that, she added:) with alternating leg lifts.

Collapse and whimper.

Mahalo!

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The Simple Act of Waiting

_DSC9723I’m in Paradise. I landed last night, but it was dark and late (1 am) in my ‘native’ timezone. I awoke this morning to foreign bird call. Peering out the window, I see color! In Oregon, only the earliest flowers are in bloom – modest daffodils and daphne. But here in Maui, I am treated to deep color and lush foliage. Even the air is exotic – pungent and humid. I haven’t left my apartment yet. I’m drinking my first cup of coffee and enjoying the anticipation.

“The idea of waiting for something makes it more exciting” ― Andy Warhol

I’m the girl who never wants to know her gifts in advance, who neither peeks nor shakes. There’s such EXCITEMENT in expectant waiting. My latest camera was purchased without the benefit of anticipation because my previous, duct-taped camera staggered to an unexpected halt (the camera was DUCT-TAPED together, Cherie. How unexpected could its demise be?) at the very start of a two-week photo shoot. I had to cancel the rest of the day’s photography and rush to the nearest camera store to buy a replacement. Not only were the ‘salesmen’ (read: techies with no social skills) rude, but I didn’t get to anticipate. I still haven’t gotten over the disappointment.

“Of all the hardships a person had to face, none was more punishing than the simple act of waiting.” ― Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns

For some people, imaginative speculation brings anxiety and dread. For others, it is its own reward, and they never move forward into actualization. But I use it to heighten the joy of fulfillment. It’s like holding off an orgasm for just a few more moments. When the release comes, it’s deeper, broader. It’s more fun.

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

OK. I’ve titillated myself enough. Time to venture out!

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Headed for Hawaii

DSCF2264“Cherie, I need your help!” A dear client – who now lives in Maui – called me last week. She had photography needs, which she planned to attempt herself. She wanted me to provide long-distance guidance.  Being the altruistic person that I am, I suggested an alternative. Why didn’t she just fly me over there to provide direct services, saving her time and frustration?  She was delighted with the idea, so tomorrow I take off for sunny Maui.

That’s wonderful, right? Except that I’m still 18 pounds overweight. I’m EMBARRASSED to be seen in scanty clothing, and besides, my summer clothes don’t fit.

Beware Cherie the beluga whale, flesh acquivering as she saunters over the sands! Avert your eyes, children dear, lest ye be scarred for life!

I know, I know. How idiotic can I be? But I have to admit, after my initial delight, that was my next reaction.

I assessed my current clothing options. I had a bathing suit. It was two decades old, but it was one-piece and black. With a pair of exercise shorts, I would feel…covered. I had plenty of tank tops. I had a nice skirt. All I really needed to round out the ensemble was a pair of shorts.

So, yesterday I went downtown. I have to tell you, even at ideal weight, clothing shopping ranks WAY DOWN on my list of pleasurable activities. I hate shopping. I’d rather be reading a book. (OK, that’s not fair. “I’d rather be reading a book” is a very difficult mark to best. It was the standard during my dating days, which explains why I had two-hundred-and-forty-seven first dates and only three second dates.)

It was SO depressing. I started at Ross Dress for Less (newly opened, their signs have defaced the elegant brick buildings of the downtown mall. Shows what money can buy. It’s the only explanation for these cheap, plastic white and blue billboard-size monstrosities. Note: the same downtown governing board had a hissy fit few years ago when a small business tinted their windows too dark, because THAT didn’t conform with the aesthetics of their downtown vision) and then visited Kohl’s. Everything I tried on confirmed my fears – watch out for Cherie the Beluga Whale!

I went to Nordstrom. No, I wasn’t going to pay $112 for clothing I hoped would be too large by May. At Macy’s, I finally found shorts that didn’t cause my muffin top to expand as though it were being baked at high altitude. I liked them well enough to wear them out of the store, even though the saleswoman looked critically at me and asked, “Did you try a smaller size?”

No. Leave me alone. I feel comfortable. I feel attractive. I feel, for a change, like I’m not being squeezed in two.

Hawaii, here I come!

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Pelted with Lemons

lemonWhen life throws me lemons…

I get bruised. (Lemons are HARD little suckers!)

My fatal flaw is that I tend to isolate myself during difficult times, which escalates my abandonment fears, which then become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Which, if I’m not careful, can quickly place me in a powerful plummet – the world’s scariest E-ticket ride. (Yes. An old person’s reference. Because I am an oldish person.)

But if I can avoid the self-centered spiral, there is opportunity for tremendous growth. If I look carefully at myself and my circumstance, I might just learn something.

For example, over the past few days, I’ve become acutely aware of my own negativity in the face of this crisis.

Well, that’s natural. Right?

Except that if I fall into negative thought, speech and action, I don’t benefit myself. Or those around me. After all, this isn’t the worst of the worst of the worst. It’s just a thing.  And things pass.  It’s important to choose a positive outlook – even in the midst of painful things. Especially in the midst of painful things. I mean, it’s easy to smile when life is easy. But it’s the smile when life is difficult that shows maturity and wisdom – and joy.

And that’s what I want for my life. Joy. Deep joy. Joy that isn’t shaken by external circumstance. Joy that looks for good things even in the midst of bad things.

So here are five good things:

  1. I’ve lost three pounds in the past couple of weeks. Three MORE pounds, and my Wii will quit yiping at me. Hurray!
  2. Cherry trees are in full bloom, their precocious puffs proclaiming the imminent arrival of Spring.
  3. Daffodils are everywhere. Tulips will soon follow.
  4. Daphne. Oh, sweet daphne, whose siren scent floats in the air. Daphne alone is cause for joy.
  5. Caring people, who didn’t wait for me to ‘let them in.’ They’re already here.

You know what? Compared to famine, war, disease – the current crisis just isn’t that big a deal. A confluence of forces created a hurricane, but if I look at each separately – meh.

Squall, storm, typhoon – they’re all just wind and rain. After this current sequence has passed through, I’ll mop up the mess and rejoice that the sun has returned.

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A Wild Inside Pitch

baseballLife throws the damndest curveballs. It’s not fair. You straighten your jersey, step bravely up to the plate, stand with solid form, dig your heels in, hold your bat high, and whoosh! comes something you didn’t expect, a wild inside pitch that causes you to dive for the dirt. You end up with a mouthful of dust and bruises from the fall.

‘You’ is, of course, ‘me’ in this scenario, and it happened quite recently. I’d protest to the ump, but the potential for an inside sneaker is, after all, part of the game. Grrrr. I’m pissed.

I’d like to just take my equipment and go home. But life isn’t like that. First of all, the equipment isn’t mine. Second of all, I’m as home as is possible – prone beside the plate.

It would really help if I could hear the encouragement of the fans. But I’m face-first in the mud and I can’t see if there’s anyone in the stands.

So all that’s left is to stand back up. Take my stance. Dig in. Try again.

Here’s a secret every baseball player knows: I have to clear my head in order to continue my at-bat. I can’t clutter it up with rage about the last pitch. I can’t worry about what’s coming next. I just have to stand here with a clear head and a clear heart, and wait.

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Eliminating Poverty Overnight

basic incomeI believe in a national minimum income, also known as citizen’s income or basic income. What is it? Basically, minimum income provides each adult a check from the government with no strings attached. A check whose dollar amount is at or above the poverty line.

This is where some start choking and spitting their coffee across the room. While they wipe up their mess, let me quickly say: if we instituted a national minimum income in America, poverty would vanish overnight, because in one fell swoop, everyone would rise above the poverty line.

Nice thought, say the skeptics. There are just a few little problems. First of all, how would we ever fund such a program?

Funding is easy. If we replaced our current governmental social services with this program, each adult would receive at least 12,000. Without raising taxes AT ALL, we could lift every household in America above the current poverty line.

Imagine the bureaucracy we’d eliminate, because there would be no need to judge who is deserving. Everyone would be. Of course, THAT makes many uncomfortable. I guess it’s human nature to want to assay the worthiness of others – to group, divide, accuse. People feel more secure if they can decide who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

But this judgmental attitude is bad for society and for the individual. If I were writing in my spiritual blog, Ariyawen, I would tell the story of this guy who was once asked by a mob to judge a woman. Instead, he told the crowd to judge themselves, then doodled in the dirt while they slowly slunk away.

But humans are lazy. Given the opportunity, they’ll just sit around watching sports and soap operas. If people are provided a minimum income, they won’t want to work.

Studies have been done, and it turns out, that’s not true. For example, a study in Manitoba showed that decentivization was minimal – really, REALLY low – less than 3% in the most affected groups, which were mothers with babies and teens who were working to support their families. In other words, decentivization happened where it benefitted society – mothers were home with their infants, and teens were in school rather than at work. In addition, there were unexpected societal benefits. High school graduation rates increased, and hospitalization decreased.

Another study, this one in Namibia, showed that economic activity actually INCREASED, in part because people were empowered to start small businesses. Plus, the economy was stimulated because each household increased their buying power. Decentivization is a myth.

Fine. But I still don’t want other people to get money for free. I’m not OK with that.

Wow. Hypocrisy, much? What about health insurance? Most who have it receive benefits that far exceed their premiums. They get money ‘for free’, because they receive services they haven’t paid fair market value for. How about home ownership? Anyone who takes a tax deduction for home mortgage interest is receiving free money through reduced taxes. Free money that often exceeds the proposed minimum income. It fries me when people object to handouts yet fail to see that they are the biggest government and social ‘users’ of all.

Since I’ve publicly endorsed the concept of minimum income, I’ve been regaled with stories of welfare fraud and bad choices made by ‘the poor’. For each story, I’ve responded with my own stories of hard work, heroism and sacrifice. But these stories, mine or theirs, are anecdotes, not research.

Research shows that national minimum income WORKS to eliminate poverty and improve economies. Let’s stop being swayed by our inaccurate misconceptions (bolstered by the blustering of moralistic hypocrites) and implement it here.

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Fifteen Inches Deep in White Stuff

_DSF7560We haven’t seen the ground for almost a week. It’s buried beneath fifteen inches of white stuff. That doesn’t sound remarkable to those who live in many parts of the world, but here in the Willamette Valley, we can go for years without seeing any snow accumulation at all, so a foot of it brings our lives to a screeching halt.

I spent three days inside, working on wedding albums, reading books, playing games, talking on the phone with my kids and my mom…and going absolute starkers. I ventured into the snow each day *for fun*, but I have to be honest. I’m not a fan of the stuff. It’s cold, it’s wet, and it gets into my boots and my clothes when I walk or sled or…

Yesterday, the main roads were clear, though our LONG driveway was still treacherous. So we walked two miles into town. We’d intended to take the footpath that starts a quarter mile from our driveway, but when we got there, we realized it was not clear. So we walked along Highway 99W, sharing pavement with cars and semis. It would have been terrifying if everyone wasn’t going so slow. They were more afraid of us than vice versa, moving well into the oncoming lane to avoid any chance of disastrous slippage.

A two mile hike in the sun and the snow did wonders for my outlook. Walking fuels my desire for adventure.  I daydreamed about a road trip to St. Louis to visit my youngest son, a plane trip to New York to visit my oldest (and Yankee Stadium,) a trip to Gettysburg, where my daughter and family may be this fall. Then I made a mental list of the items I need to walk parts of the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails. (PCT and AT, for those *in the know*.) I wondered if I should add the CDT to my list. Even a few miles on it, and I could claim the triple crown of hiking. I thought of Iona, that holy thin place in the Scottish Highlands that whispers for my return…

By the time we reached the studio, I was ready to settle down to an afternoon’s work. Fog descended with evening’s dark, so we arranged a ride home with friends.

This morning, temperatures have moderated and it’s raining. Silly Pacific Northwesterner that I am, I was shocked to wake up to a still white world. Turns out, it will take days for our liquid sunshine to melt the snow. But my head is no longer fifteen inches deep in white stuff – I’ve cleared the cotton that clouded my mind. I’m ready to travel. Come on, Spring!

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Astaxanthin to the Rescue

Astaxanthin - super-oxidant!

Astaxanthin – super-oxidant!

The fun continues. As I mentioned in my last post, I visited the doctor for the first time in five years and discovered my cholesterol is too high. It turns out, the iron in my blood is also too high. WAY too high. A healthy range is 20-80 ng/ml. Mine is 166. Too high? You’ve got to be kidding me. I spent decades of my life with borderline anemia – at best –  due to heavy menstrual flow. Now it seems that menopause has wrought the opposite issue.

High iron blood levels aren’t good. They can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, cardiac arrhythmias, diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Yowza! Symptoms include fatigue, weakness, arthritic aches and pains, heart arrthymias, skin pigment changes, diabetes and premature menopause. If you’re over 40 and have any of these symptoms, it’s probably a good idea to have your iron levels tested.

Common causes of high iron levels are cooking in iron pans; eating processed foods that are fortified; drinking well water that’s high in iron; and taking vitamins with iron supplements.

I don’t eat processed foods – no boxed cereal, white bread, etc. I don’t take iron supplements. I don’t know the iron content of the well water I drink, but we use a Brita filter before drinking it, so I’m *probably* ok. (Though I’ll be checking it.) But I’ve spent a lifetime cooking with cast iron. I love my cast iron pans. Sigh. I’ve discontinued their use.

The easiest way to lower my blood iron level is by giving blood. I’ve avoided it most of my life because my constant anemia caused me to be dizzy and faint for days after donating. I’m happy to know that won’t be a problem anymore.

In addition, ingesting green tea and rosemary helps reduce iron absorption. Also helpful is turmeric. An iron chelator, it helps remove iron from the body. Here’s a earlier post about the wonders of tumeric:  Tumeric, Gardens, and not being a Know-It-All.

Finally, in my research, I discovered an amazing antioxidant: Astaxanthin. Found in salmon, krill and shrimp, it has many health benefits, including removing iron from the blood. Other researched uses include:

  • pain and inflammation relief. It blocks chemicals in the blood that trigger pain. It reduces inflammation – and unlike most anti-inflammatories, it’s completely natural.
  • fatigue fighting. It reduces muscle fatigue, increasing indurance and energy.
  • eye health. It reaches the retina, reducing diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, as well as everyday eye-strain and fatigue.
  • cell cleansing. It gets into every cell of the body, both the fat-soluble and the water-soluble parts. It’s far stronger than vitamin C, CoQ10 and green tea.
  • skin protection. It provides natural sunscreen when taken internally, preventing UVA damage.

I’m almost glad my iron levels were too high, because I might not otherwise have discovered this antioxidant. I’ve ordered a bottle. I’ll let you know what I find.

PS: I get all my supplements from Swanson Vitamins. Not all companies provide reliable products, but in every expose’ article I’ve read, Swanson is highly rated. I trust them.

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Bad Cholesterol!

Cholesterol-300x300

The effects of high LDL cholesterol

No medical insurance = no medical care. I hadn’t had a medical exam in five years, but thanks to Bryan’s military service we finally have an affordable option (I think everyone should have the same option, but that’s a rant for another blog post)  so I visited my doctor for a complete check-up.

Most things look great. But my bad cholesterol is too high. My doctor says, “Lose 20 pounds. Avoid animal fat.” And, she wants to put me on a cholesterol blocker.

I don’t trust western medicine. It seems that one pill leads to another and yet another as the side effects pile up. I did some research. The most commonly prescribed drugs are statins, which are very effective at lowering bad cholesterol. They also create a life-long dependency, and they come with side effects such as liver damage, muscle breakdown, diabetes, and neurological side effects such as memory loss and confusion.

No, thank you. What are my other options?

Naturopathic medicine is out. Their supposed efficacy isn’t borne out in objective studies. Acupuncture, on the other hand, has gained respect in the medical community, as clinical testing shows positive results for many ailments. But it doesn’t seem like acupuncture could have any effect on cholesterol. Or could it?

I did a little internet research. Acupuncturists claim that their practice can lower LDL levels, and they refer to several independent studies. It seems that acupuncture has positive effects on the liver, which is responsible for processing (manufacturing?) HDL and LDL. In addition, acupuncture assists with weight loss and stress management, which are two major contributors to high cholesterol.

That’s worth pursuing. I’m going to find an acupuncturist, and I’ll report my experience.

In addition, it’s time for a few diet changes. As you know, I already cook from scratch and avoid fast food. But I love me some butter, cheese, and animal fat (a nice, juicy steak. yum!) These are now OFF my food list entirely.

I created a list of foods to eat regularly. Many are already part of my diet, and some I need to eat more often. They include:

  • fruits, especially apples and oranges
  • vegetables
  • oatmeal and other whole grains
  • beans, including soybean products
  • garlic & onions
  • avocados
  • salmon and other sea fish (shellfish is a NO-NO)
  • seeds & nuts, especially walnuts
  • green tea
  • omega-3 rich foods (I eat enriched eggs. Yes, eggs are OK. One a day.)
  • shitake & oyster mushrooms
  • red yeast rice
  • hawthorne berry tea

Acupuncture sites and the Mayo Clinic emphasized that weight loss, exercise and stress reduction are hugely important. I already know all of this. Why is it so hard to implement? That’s the million-dollar question. To find the answer, I’m going to keep an ‘attitude’ journal. I’m not going to beat myself up for under-exercising and over-eating. But I am going to make myself write about it. If I choose to sit instead of dance, I’m going to write down why. If I choose to eat a bowlful of sunflower seeds (rather than a handful) I’m going to write down why. Let’s see what emerges. If I’m brave enough, I might even share what I find.

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