Everything Else, Writing

At home in the world

Downtown Champaign. Image credit: Vallejo Center for Learning Spanish, Champaign, IL

I didn’t love Champaign at first. Really, I didn’t even want to come here. 20 years ago when it was time for me to decide where to go to college, I didn’t fill out my application to UIUC—I hid it under my pile of first-choices, hoping my parents wouldn’t see. But they found it and I ended up applying, turning in my application a day before the due date, kicking and screaming all the way. I would never go to a state school. I was much too much of a snob for that.

But then my first choice wait-listed me. My second rejected me. And the third came back with a tuition fee that was double what we were expecting. So by default, I accepted my acceptance to U of I and at the end of that hot, lazy, 1997 summer, I reluctantly drove down to East Central Illinois (not Southern Illinois, like I’d originally thought) (oh my goodness I am a child of the suburbs).

The main Quad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Image credit: StudyUSA.com

I don’t remember much about my Freshman year other than that it was a total blast. Sophomore year I met my two best friends, both of whom I’m still close with. Junior and Senior years were spent deciding not to go to med school, adding a major, and graduating with no idea what I was going to do next. After doing a summer internship in downtown Chicago my Junior year, I was terrified to live in the city by myself, so I took a job my professor put me up for in the marketing department of a Champaign publishing company.

I was young and inexperienced and the people there took me under their wing, helping me find my first apartment downtown and teaching me the ins and outs of the office world.  I worked there for three years, during which I met and married my husband. He’s from an even smaller town than Champaign. And that’s why I’m staying.

Not because he told me he would never move to the city. Not because he told me Champaign was the biggest town he was comfortable living in. Not because he’s forcing my hand in any way. But because I want to. Champaign, compared to the city and the suburbs, is simple. Life here is easy in a way I never felt it was up north. Across the street from me is a cornfield. I pass cows every day on my way to work. These novelties were things I only experienced in my childhood when we would drive up to Lake Geneva for a vacation. While I occasionally feel that keeping-up-with-the-Joneses jealousy here in Chambana, I mostly live in the niche I’ve carved out for myself, experimenting with my personal style in dressing and home decorating, driving my SUV around the farm machinery that takes over the roads every spring and fall, and watching as more and more farmland is given up for homes and businesses, watching as the “suburbs” of Champaign move ever closer to the city, watching as even this little town in the middle of nowhere succumbs to the name of progress.

I am now the proud owner of this mug. Photo credit: @shopartmart; Art Mart, Champaign IL

I’ve dreamed of living other places: Chicago, Seattle, Oregon, Florida (or really anyplace that doesn’t have winter). But as the days fly by and my calendar points to May, summer weather and all that brings, I’m thankful for the changing of the seasons. The familiarity of the trees outside my window. The ebb and flow of the planting and the harvest that I now have a front-row seat to. There is a peacefulness to living here that I have not experienced anywhere else. And though I dream of other places, other cities, and other, busier, more glamorous ways of life, this will always be home.

This was written as part of Tsh’s celebration of her new book, At Home in the World, which comes out today. You can read more about it here: http://theartofsimple.net/athome/

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Parenting

On being the magic maker

This Christmas, for whatever reason, I’ve been putting extra pressure on myself to make the season truly magical for my children. Maybe it’s because they’re getting older. Maybe it’s because we’re going on vacation right before Christmas and there will be fewer presents under the tree. Maybe it’s because I finished my clinical a month ago and now I have an extra six hours a week to fill. I don’t know. But I have been doing some crazy, stupid stuff, all in the name of making this the BEST CHRISTMAS EVER for them. For example:

1. We have five advent calendars.
Not one, not two, but FIVE. NO ONE NEEDS FIVE ADVENT CALENDARS. Not even my Christmas-present deprived children. They each have the traditional chocolate one. Then there’s one we hang on the wall that has activities, candy, or small presents for each day. Then there was a Tsum Tsum one that was on sale at Target and who can resist the tiny Tsums? Not me; and definitely not my children. Finally, we have a set of Advent ornaments that I filled with candy and hung all over the tree. Kind of like the Elf, you have to find a new ornament every day. Don’t get me wrong, my children LOVE all these calendars and it makes waking up in the morning so much more exciting when you know you’re going to get to eat a bunch of chocolate for breakfast. But I have to admit I went a bit overboard. It’s like Sophie’s choice though—for next year, which would I eliminate?

2. I offered to host two Christmas parties, two weekends in a row.
HOW STUPID AM I? I love the holidays and I love hosting parties and I feel like Christmas is the perfect time to do it. I get nervous about inviting people to my house—what if they don’t come? But at Christmas, I’m not the reason to come over. CHRISTMAS is the reason to come over. Christmas cookies, Christmas music, Christmas presents, Christmas wine. COME TO MY HOUSE AND I WILL MAKE ALL OF YOUR CHRISTMAS PARTY DREAMS COME TRUE. Seriously. But while I’m getting better with my whole depression/stress/anxiety thing, hosting is still a little bit nerve-wracking for me, as I found out last night when Chris and I tried to assemble 11 tiny graham cracker gingerbread houses at 9 o’clock at night LIKE THE TOTAL CHRISTMAS PARTY AMATEURS WE ARE.

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3. I planned a vacation the week before Christmas.
Do you know what happens when you’re going out of town for a week right before Christmas? You have to get all your shit done EARLY. I was done shopping by December 1st. Done wrapping by the 9th. My cards went out the week after Thanksgiving. Our tree was up the week before. We actually have outside lights on our bushes that I didn’t have to nag Chris to put up. I’m not bragging here, I’m saying the holiday rush came a bit early to the Smith house, and now that it’s over I have to spend this week packing for our first family vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth. Then when I get back I’m hosting Christmas dinner. WHY DID I DO THIS TO MYSELF WHY?

It is all worth it, though (something I need to remember when I’m frantically running from grocery store to grocery store looking for milk chocolate stars). Sam is super-into our Elf, Peppermint, and if he wakes up before CJ, he waits so they can go down together and find him. Then he has to tell me where Peppermint is hiding, then bring me into whatever room to show me, just to make sure. CJ is old enough now that he remembers a lot of our little traditions, whether it’s asking me to bake a certain kind of cookie or checking on whether we’ll have ham again for Christmas dinner this year. I get such joy out of seeing their joy; I love making them happy. I love bringing the Christmas magic to them, making this season as special as I can. When they grow up, I hope they can look back on our Decembers with fond memories, and a true love for the magic of the Christmas season. And I hope that some day between now and then, I’ll find a way to be a little more relaxed this time of year.

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Everything Else

Thankful for the little things

There is so much going on in the world, and in my little corner of it, that I wanted to take some time to reflect on the all little things I’m thankful for every day. These are the little patches of happiness that bring me unmitigated joy, the seemingly unimportant pieces of my life that put a smile on my face and help me look forward to a morning of errand running, a quiet evening at home, or even a day at work. Before I list the things, though, I want to say thank you for YOU, for reading this, for following along, for commenting when you feel led to. I appreciate your thoughts, your words, and your support through this journey. I am grateful for all of it, truly.

My thankful list:

1. Red cups at Starbucks

2. Feet under the Christmas treefeet

3. Love between brothers

4. A caring touch from my husband

5. A compelling audiobook on my commute to work

6. A surprise package from a good friend

7. Finishing ALL my Christmas shopping early this year

8. The extra quilt on our bed

9. New recipes that turn out right the first time

10. Holiday traditions that our whole family looks forward to

When I notice these things, I pause and take them in. I try to enjoy the moment, to embellish it into my brain, so I can come back to it again and again. There are days when I worry too much about our budget and paying back my school loans and I think to myself, “We have so little.” But the reality is, we have so much.

Happy Thanksgiving to each and every one of you.

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Eating

On giving myself a break

I’m guessing it was pretty clear from my previous posts that I needed to take a break from Weight Watchers. A break from counting points, a break from healthy eating, a break from passing over the pastry counter at the grocery store, the coffee shop—even the donut truck at the farmer’s market. The deprivation had built up in me to the point that I seemingly only had two choices: binge eat everything in sight or give myself a few weeks off to enjoy the foods I was so desperately craving. I chose the latter. I stopped tracking points. I stopped weighing myself every day. I ordered that blueberry scone at Starbucks, along with my first (full-fat) peppermint mocha of the season. I bought a (small) cake and cut myself a slice for dessert multiple evenings in a row. I made cookie dough and we all sat on the couch and ate spoonfuls out of the big silver mixing bowl, not giving a thought as to whether we’d save any to bake in the oven. It was wonderful. It was just like old times. I was enjoying myself, and the food.

I didn’t completely shirk my healthy habits, though. I still had a protein shake for breakfast, a big salad for lunch, low carb snacks and (mostly) healthy dinners. What I was able to do with my newfound freedom, however, was eat a roll with my salad. Or eat the leftover pizza in the fridge without feeling guilty. I still shopped the perimeter of the grocery store, but I threw in some Christmas candy and Chex Mix for good measure. I drank a glass of wine, and I went out to eat and had a margarita. It was divine. It was exactly what I’d been missing, exactly what I needed.

I tried a couple other things as well. I researched low-carb, reading a few Atkins books and Gary Taubes’ Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It. I finally incorporated eggs into my diet and now I eat them at least three times a week. I started eating full-fat foods again, like butter, coconut oil, salad dressing, and cheese, and recognized that Gina’s right when she says those things are more filling, so you can eat less of them and still feel satisfied. I completely failed my DietBet, and realized that type of accountability group just doesn’t work for me. But the biggest thing I understood about myself over these past few weeks is that when I feel like I need a break from the confines of Weight Watchers, it’s okay to take one. It really is OK.

I’m planning to get back on track today, and to stay on track for as long as I can. I’ve prepped healthy breakfasts and desserts, my menu plan has been filled out, the fridge is stocked. Last week when I was feeling particularly low, I chatted online with a Weight Watchers coach and she encouraged me by saying, “Every day you track is a day you want to lose weight.” This is so true for me. During these weeks off, I haven’t tracked. And that’s because I truly didn’t care if I was gaining. I wanted to enjoy eating again, and that meant not logging every stray Oreo that made its way into my mouth. But that also meant I was gaining weight.

Another gem I came across recently: “You are no busier than a fit person.” I have not been working out regularly lately, making excuses to spend my scheduled time at the gym watching Sam’s gymnastics class instead of sweating it out on the elliptical. There are other reasons for that—we’re in a period of transition at home, with lots of changes that affect our day-to-day schedules, and I have needed the extra time to mentally regroup. But I’ve been using the excuse that I’m too busy to work out, and I’m not. I know I’m not. I just choose to use my free time in ways that don’t include exercise. And that could change too.

What I’m trying to say is, I had a great break, but I think it’s time it ended. I enjoyed not having to limit myself, but part of me misses tracking and the structure and organization it lends to my meals. Plus, I feel like there’s some power in it. When I’m tracking, I feel more of a sense of control over what I eat, and am more motivated to eat within my points. I don’t always feel this way, but a lot of the time, it really helps. Now that I’ve been through this, I’ve learned I’m someone who not only needs treats, but needs breaks, and maybe not for just a day, but for a whole week. And if I can incorporate that self-knowledge into my weight loss journey, I think I can be that much more successful.

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Eating

What I learned on my Junk Food Fast

First of all, Happy Halloween!

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Photo courtesy Target.com

A couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be a “fun challenge” to see if I could do a 10-day junk food fast. People, I’ll tell you, I lasted about a week. After I got through that 7th day I wanted chocolate so badly I broke down and made some muffins. And they were amazing. But I thought I’d share what I learned about myself during the fast in hopes it can help you if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, or even if you’re just trying to plan a week’s worth of healthy meals and stick to it.

1. Accountability works.
I’ve talked before about how I’m an Obliger, and that means it’s difficult for me to be accountable to myself. With this fast, I was accountable to SkinnyMom. Well, in my mind anyway. Knowing there was a group of Instagram followers who were trying to accomplish this goal right along with me really helped. And believing it was Brooke’s idea instead of mine made a difference as well.

2. I need treats.
I should have known this about myself, but I idiotically believed I could go 10 days without eating muffins for breakfast or having dessert after dinner. I don’t know what I was thinking! I should have pre-planned some healthy but delicious treats that I could have indulged with when the urge came. I did find some yogurt-covered pretzels, which were great, but other than that I felt too much like I was depriving myself, which is ultimately why I think I gave up on the fast three days early.

3. More specifically, I need chocolate.
I tried giving up chocolate for Lent once, and I did it, but I think only because I was still allowed to eat sweets. I have a major sweet tooth, but nothing satisfies it like chocolate. The combination of chocolate + sugar = pure bliss to me. The night after the fast I ate way too many spoonfuls of peanut butter that I’d dipped into a jar of chocolate chips (and yes, I’m definitely embarrassed to admit this!). But that was truly what I was craving. So if I ever do something like this again, I think I need to plan in a little chocolate so I don’t binge quite so dramatically when it’s over.

4. Eating clean makes a difference for weight loss.
This should be a no-brainer, but sometimes I need to learn things the hard way. At the beginning of the fast, I weighed 157.4 lbs. Seven days later, sticking to the fast the whole time, I weighed 154.8 lbs. That’s a loss of 2.6 lbs in only one week and to be honest, that’s a record for me. I generally lose about a pound a week, sometimes less, when I closely follow the Weight Watchers SmartPoints plan. But not being able to have my regularly scheduled muffins, turkey sandwiches on white bread, and bedtime Halo Top really made a difference.

So that’s it. Overall, I think the week went well. And I keep talking about “when I do this again,” but what I’m trying to get at is that I need to find ways to incorporate this new knowledge into my everyday eating habits, so I don’t have to do a fast again—I can just eat healthfully and allow myself planned, chocolaty treats every few days. Or maybe every other day. We’ll see.

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Eating

Self-sabotage

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So my weight has plateaued. I’ve been playing with about three pounds lately, losing them, gaining them back, and losing them again. These three pounds started as my nemesis, but are now a comfort. I’m so used to having them around, the number on the scale rarely shocks me anymore. If it’s excessively high, then yes, I’m shocked into clean eating and tracking like you wouldn’t believe. But when I settle back into that three-pound range, I feel fine again. Life is good. The three pounds are here to stay.

But life maybe isn’t so good. Maybe I started this program to reach a goal, and settling for a weight 15 lbs above that goal is exactly that: settling. Has my body just reached a weight it’s comfortable with? Or is it all in my mind?

I talked with a friend about this lately, a friend who’s also trying to lose weight, and we narrowed down the reasons for my stall to two things: failure and money. Both of these are rooted in that emotion which pretty much drives every part of my life: fear. If I reach my goal but I can’t maintain it, then I’m a failure. I’ve failed another diet, failed Weight Watchers yet again. I’ve failed to live up to the goal I’ve set for myself, the ideal that women in this country strive toward. I’m a failure.

And money. Yes, I’m shelling out $20/month to access Weight Watchers’ points calculator and a host of other online tools, but what about the money I’ll need to buy myself a whole new wardrobe? I’ve lost one pants size so far. Which means that most of my larger pants still fit, albeit loosely, and the smaller ones I kept around “just in case” fit perfectly. If I lose another 15 lbs I’ll have met my goal, but that will also mean I’ve lost another pants size, and then my smaller jeans will be too big and I won’t have any fallbacks. If one of the major goals of weight loss is to have a body that looks good, that means I have to dress it in a way that’s flattering. Which means I’ll have to buy clothes that fit. And a wardrobe overhaul is just not something we can afford right now.

Both of these issues are a symptom of a bigger one: fear. No one wants to be a failure, especially someone who looks so eagerly to others for approval. And yes, I don’t have the money to buy a completely new wardrobe all at once, but I bet I could get a few new pieces and fudge the rest until I do. I’m just scared of what life will look like then. Will I still have to track everything I eat, or will I instinctively know what not to put in my mouth? Will I still weigh myself every day? Will this truly be a lifestyle change, or was it another fad diet that I was just trying out for a few months? What happens when all of this is over?

Last night I sat in bed and cried to Chris that I just want to eat like a normal person again. I just want to enjoy fall. I want to bake pumpkin muffins and buy Starbucks lattes and snuggle under blankets and watch TV. I don’t want to worry about what having two muffins instead of one will do to my points. I don’t want to worry about the amount of sugar in a Pumpkin Spice Latte. And I especially don’t want to worry about trying to get 10,000 steps in when it’s freezing and dark and drizzly outside, like it is today.

I cried and I cried, I let it all out, and then I woke up today and went back to counting points. I went back to scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast, a Mason jar salad for lunch, almonds for snack. Bunless turkey burgers for dinner and berries and cream for dessert and people if I’m honest, all the fun has been sucked out of eating. Where are the tender muffins, the spoonful of cookie dough you sneak before putting the trays in the oven, the scone at your favorite coffee shop? Where are the chips you mindlessly eat on the couch, the bedtime bowl of ice cream, the gourmet donuts from the donut truck? Food is life to me. And food is such a big part of my life, especially with Weight Watchers, when I’m tracking everything so closely. And yes I have treat meals and yes I go out to eat occasionally but my day-to-day menu is so unfulfilling I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. So I’m asking myself these questions: (1) Why did I want to lose weight in the first place? And (2) Could I be happy being the weight I am now for the rest of my life? I feel like this plateau, after lasting so long, is no longer only physical, but mental too. There’s got to be a reason I keep doing this to myself. A reason I keep gaining back those three pounds. If I could only put my finger on it, maybe I could finally move on.

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