Thursday, 27 December 2012

2012: My Review

I've avoided writing a lot of intensely personal posts this year, mainly for professional reasons, but it's now time for my (personal) year in review, so here we go...

It's odd, I never imagined being 32 years old and being in a position where I couldn't make ends meet. I thought I'd have my own property, a booming career, and a more intricately detailed life plan by now. In the past year, I've realized that, not only does a person need to fight for those things in this modern day, but also sometimes a person needs to resign or re-imagine his or her dreams in order to muscle through tough times.

Some of this, I admit, is my fault. Some of us are blessed with a life that nurtures confidence. Others of us go through things that tear us down and it takes years and years to rebuild that confidence. I spent my entire twenties thinking that I wasn't as intelligent or capable as others in the world of business. My entire career, from journalist to marketing professional, consisted of me constantly second-guessing myself, undervaluing my work, and, in some cases, allowing bosses to lead me blindly by the nose, instead of relying on my own intellect and research skills. I thought that I was sub-par at everything, regardless of praise or accolades from outsiders. If there is one thing that I have benefitted from in being laid off, it is the ability to step back and realize how wide the gap was between my perception of my professional skills and reality, and that my insights and instincts regarding my profession are better than those of most "gurus" out there. I've blown the poker faces off of several interviewers with my knowledge of user experience and marketing science. I've learned never again to undervalue my skills or debase myself so that people can treat me with less than the respect that I deserve. The saying is true, if you don't value yourself, no one else will.

Realizing my value in the professional world has been a blessing and it has opened the door for many great interviews and opportunities. Unfortunately, even with everything being in the right place, sometimes it's just the wrong time. I've had two "almost hire" situations in the past four months, where I thought I was just waiting for final approval from the "higher ups" before I received the offer, only to have it shot down at the last minute on a technicality, budgetary or otherwise. They say a person shouldn't get his or her hopes up until the deal is on the table, but it's hard not to get jazzed up when you hear those words, "We're just waiting on approval to extend the offer." Especially when it's a great job and you picture yourself there, sitting in your own office, imagining what your new day-to-day routine will be, thinking ahead on what projects you'll sink your teeth into first. It's heartbreaking when you have those daydreams snatched away at the last minute.

Luckily, I do have the immense support of friends and family, who have been there through all of the ups and downs with me. It's funny, I guess, that I've always been nice and cared for others, but I have never once expected anything in return. The support and kindness that I have received have been more than my heart knows what to do with. Accepting all of it is difficult. All I can do is be grateful and gracious and hope that I can get back on my feet soon so that I can start paying back and paying forward.

Speaking of being on my feet, of course, my life would be entirely different if I hadn't signed up with Team in Training this year. With a wonderful and supportive team encouraging me onward, I completed feats of fitness that I never thought possible, and continue to do so every day. I would never have gone for that full Ironman dream had I not had the confidence to run a marathon on my own.

Not only did Team in Training provide me with a fit body, more confidence and new, quality friendships, but it also provided me with the ability to give back to others in ways that I couldn't myself. Raising money for blood cancer, even though initially I had no connection to the cause, has felt overwhelmingly gratifying. I can say with certainty that I've helped to contribute to a cure that can help millions of people, forever.

One major thing I can say for 2012 is that it has toughened me up, more than ever before. I have endured a lot of disappointment, a lot of heartache, but I have also gained lots of love, great health, and a stronger belief in myself.

I don't set "New Years Resolutions" for a number of reasons, but I will say that I hope 2013 brings me a real offer to a great job, the ability to meet fundraising goals so I can continue participating in Team in Training, and that I continue to become a stronger athlete and a better friend to everyone in my life. I hope that everyone in my life who is struggling finds peace and a better situation in 2013. I'm going to throw these wishes out into the atmosphere and, with any luck, they'll come true.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

True Gratitude


I find it extremely ironic that people in this country spend one day piously declaring all of the things that they are "thankful" for: good health, loving friends and family, shelter--you know, the basics--and then, the next day they spend camping in front of retail stores, and then clawing each others' eyes out for the last discounted big screen TV. All of the warmth and good feeling that Thanksgiving is supposed to leave us with is promptly ruined by greed and commercialism.

It rips my heart out when I think that people actually die in stampedes of shoppers or get shot over merchandise on the day after a holiday. STAMPEDES OF SHOPPERS. A stampede is usually a term reserved for a herd of cattle. One member of the herd starts running and signals the others to follow suit. There is no thinking involved, just animal instinct. I cannot fathom that anyone could trod over another human being unless that person where not thinking, perhaps in some trance-like state.

It guts me further to think that companies like Best Buy and Wal-mart pay more attention to their bottom line and less to the danger that is caused by mob of deal-thirsty shoppers. If shoppers ripped each other limb from limb within the aisles, they'd call for a clean-up in Aisle Five, issue a statement of condolences to the family, maybe a quick settlement, and that would be that. The profits reaped from Black Friday sales are simply too great, and, besides, law enforcement isn't stepping in to resolve these problems.

Furthermore, many of the "big box" stores plunk their discounts right on top of the backs of their own workers, offering low wages and poor or no benefits. When you're out punching someone in the face for your new laptop, it's kind of a double-blow, and, eventually, that double-blow comes back to bite you in the butt, in the way of a downed economy, which forces you to seek deep discounts for your electronics, which pays it all forward once again in a limitless downward spiral.

I guess what I am thankful for is the ability to be compassionate and to find other ways to show my gratitude to others besides buying them things. I am thankful for the ability to think critically and to have a good moral compass. I am thankful that I try to be a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem. And I'm thankful that you are reading this. Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Power Of Heartbreak

There's a reason that people say that love is the most powerful force on Earth. People live for it, die for it, and do things that they never thought physically possible for it. Love can send us soaring toward rosie-colored horizons one day, and leave us dragging our wounded bellies along cold, hard rocks the next. One thing is for certain, love can teach us a lot about ourselves, and, also, heartbreak is heartbreak, and it always feels the same, every time.

Researchers have found that brain actually interprets heartbreak as a physical pain, much akin to holding a paper cup full of scalding hot coffee without the protective sleeve. Hold that coffee cup for days, weeks, months on end, and it can definitely do some damage. The experts also say that taking NSAIDS may help alleviate some of that heartbreak pain, but the only real healer is time.

The pain from heartbreak can be crushing. Some people can brush it off and pretend it's not happening. Other people (like me) have to wallow in the melty warmth of the depths of my sorrow and get all introspective for months until I come out and am reborn an even stronger person than I was before. At the end of every relationship, I look at myself in the mirror and say, "Well, here we are again, just you and me, going it alone," and I feel like a warrior. I paint my cheeks in tears and I wail and wail before I start my journey to find that stronger, wiser person.

Love's purpose is sometimes to tear you down so that you can rebuild yourself into a better human being. It is nature. Like nature, it is not always kind, but it teaches you to survive. It points you toward the way that you're supposed to grow by pointing out what is flawed in you. Love exposes all of your weaknesses, all of your strengths, all of your strengths that are also weaknesses.

Breakups are rarely even for both sides. When most relationships end, there seems at first to be a clear winner and a clear loser, but, as time fills in the gaps, both people involved become a little of both.

Love for a person is the hardest emotion to get rid of. It's like a stain on your heart; it takes a lot of hard work and the proper solution to get it out. Time can wear it away, but it never completely goes, and that's okay. A spotless heart is not one you can really trust.

They say that the average person falls in love seven to eight times during a lifetime before finding "the one". When I was a teenager, hearing that, I thought the number seemed so epic, so unreachable. Now, at 32 years of age, I've been in love six times. Each beginning feels like the first one, but each end feels like the last, like another will never happen again.

As we get older, the opportunities are scattered and the likelihood of finding someone is lower, but, also, our standards are higher. We know what we want. The chances, when, at last, we find someone, of that person being "the one" are much higher. Take comfort in the process and hang on. Don't settle for someone who doesn't fuel your heart. Until then, love yourself, for, even when turned inward, love can be a very powerful thing.

Monday, 20 August 2012

The Skinny On Getting Skinny (What's Not So Great About Losing Weight)



Don't get me wrong, I am so grateful and happy that I have lost much of the weight that I have needed to lose, and that I've overcome so many personal hurdles to get here. I earned every one of those 70+ pounds I've shed in the past year. There are just certain unexpected things about losing weight that people don't really tell you about because the focus is always on how amazing it is.

39" is what the tape measure that I wrapped around my hips this morning read. I don't remember when my hip measurement was 39" last. My waist, 28". Another inch off of my hips in two weeks, a half inch off of my waist. When I started measuring, my waist was 36" and my hips were 47". I now have two pairs of jeans left that actually fit me. Almost none of my dress clothes fit me. And I'm unemployed. I'm seriously considering heading to Goodwill just to find a few things that actually fit me in the meantime, because I really don't know where that tape measure is going to stop. I haven't even hit a full marathon distance yet. No one is sympathetic. They just laugh at me and say, "Oh, what a TERRIBLE problem to have!" No, really, it's not cool.

And then there are the advances. Advances, from men, of course, wanted and unwanted. I can't just go out somewhere with a girlfriend and hang out anonymously anymore without guys peacocking over. Sure, looking better has its perks when you're out: cute bartenders giving you their FULL attention and your having the luxury of the full effects of flirtation at your fingertips, but, most of the time it's annoying. In this town, I've learned, men are really aggressive. For example, I was waiting for a date (the guy was really late and he even lived nearby--bad, bad) in a chic Hollywood hot spot. A guy working on his laptop started chatting me up and invited me to come sit at his table while I waited for my date. Within a few minutes some of his friends showed up, and began flirting and vying for my attention. By the time my date got there, I was sitting at a table, surrounded by men. The laptop guy even had the nerve to hand me his business card in front of my date. The look on my date's face WAS priceless, however. Maybe he'll think twice about being so late to a date!

Anyway, while it's nice to have men interested in me, it does make me sad. I feel like I'm still the same me I've always been, maybe with a bit more wisdom, but it's only the outside that is different. I guess it's biology talking for most people, and it takes a lot of mental evolution to be able to look beyond basic appearances to what's inside of a person. In a way, I feel like my fat was kind of a way of weeding out the superficial and finding people who liked me the way I've always wanted to be liked: "Just as I am."

It's hard not to feel like the fat girl when you're so used to being one. I still look at clothing and think, "That's way small, I'm never going to fit into that," and then I do fit into it. Sometimes I look at other women, and I think, "She's so much thinner than me," and then we stand in front of a mirror or take a picture together and I realize that we're the same size. It's a total head trip.

I guess it takes time to get used to a new body, and these are the "shrinking pains" associated with it. Like I said, I wouldn't trade all of this in for the old me, but still, no victory comes without a little bit of bitterness.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Something to Get By On

While the road to weight loss is full of pitfalls, there are a few things I keep in my tool kit that have helped me on this journey. I thought that it might be helpful to some of you, who might be looking for some helpful hints. The most helpful tool of all, of course, is good, common sense. If you're not hungry, don't eat. If you're in serious pain, stop moving that part of your body. If it's light-colored spandex, don't EVEN think about it.

Moving on...

Foods That Let You Eat Healthy Without Making You Feel Like You Want to Kill Yourself:

1) Unsweetened Cocoa Powder. Overcome any cocoa crazy moment with what better than the real deal? I'm a big advocate of this stuff, especially the Trader Joe's kind. You can dump a spoonful in just about anything: smoothies, mushed banana, oatmeal, yogurt. You can even make a chocolate mousse-type dessert by slowly stirring in a little almond milk (add Splenda or Stevia to taste). If you're feeling especially daring, grab half of an avocado and blend it with a little sweetener and a spoonful or two of this stuff to make a superfood pudding!

2) Fage Total 0% Greek Yogurt. Whoah. Even if you don't like yogurt, grab this stuff. It's not quite as sour as most plain yogurt, and it's extremely rich and creamy. Try it in your fave recipes! It fills the role of so many creamy ingredients: sour cream, mayo, heavy cream, etc. I even eat this stuff plain with berries and it's really not disgusting.

3) Trader Joe's Roasted Seaweed Snacks. Most people love these or hate these. I admit that I'm more partial to the Wasabi flavored ones than the plain ones. I like to dip them in hummus or salsa in place of pita or tortilla chips, or just grab them for an afternoon snack. A whole package of these is only 60 calories, so you can chomp away guilt-free while catching up on your fave show on Hulu.

4) PB2 by Bell Plantation. O.M.G. So, powdered peanut butter sounds a little gross, but, believe me, it is a lifesaver if you're PB obsessed like me. First of all, we all know that two tablespoons of good ol' PB packs nearly 200 calories. That's a good chunk (even if you're a creamy lover like me) of your daily intake. So, some genius decided to dehydrate it and magically suck out all of that fat, which weighs down those normal TBs with unnecessary calories. PB2 has ONLY (wait for it) 45 calories per two tablespoon serving. You can put the powdery stuff in smoothies, baking recipes, and even reconstitute it with a little bit of water to make it spreadable. It's like a dream come true. Now I can have my chocolate and PB too--and I can die happy (after the races this year, of course).

5) Menage a Trois(red variety). Okay, so wine isn't really a "diet" food, but I feel like a glass a night is really beneficial. Not only is wine a great anti-oxidant, but one glass after work can really help as a stress reliever, especially if you make it kind of a nighttime ritual. Don't go over one glass (and I'm not talking a HUGE wine chalace--go for a small one). More than one glass can add more calories and cause a person to lose control after that (alcohol tends to make you hungrier in the first place). If you're a stress eater, a glass of wine and, like, five strawberries can be just as satisfying after a long day as a chocolate cake binge.

Additional L.A. mentions: I can hardly believe it, but Native Foods' vegan cupcakes are only 150 calories and head-poppingly delicious. So, yeah, get some!

Honorable "Unmentionables"("Diet" Foods I'd Skip):

Lean Cuisine and other microwave-ready meals. Dude, anything you microwave in plastic is not going to be good for you. Also, these things are loaded with sodium. There are so many other items out there that take as much time to prepare as these and are WAY more satisfying.

Most "Light" yogurts. These are usually watery and unsatisfying, IMHO. Yeah, they come in crazy, cool artificial flavors, but I prefer the real stuff that I can flavor myself so that I know what's going into it.

Reduced Fat Peanut Butter. The fat in nuts is probably the one thing that's good for you. Also, these PBs just use fillers to cut the fat. It doesn't even cut calories that much (maybe 10-20 per serving, which you could burn off walking around the grocery store). Honestly, most peanut butter out there is not good for you and filled with sugar and weird oils. If you are going to go with real PB, read labels. There shouldn't be anything but peanuts (and MAYBE salt) in that jar.

Exercising in L.A. (Ways To Get Max Results For Little Time WITHOUT a gym membership):

1) Pilates Platinum. Everyone I've met who has tried PP has said the same thing, "I tried that. It kicked my butt!" Yep, that's right. This class is challenging. When I was heavier, it was even harder, and I felt SO incredibly out of place as the only fat person huffing and puffing in a perfectly synchronized group of slender, strong chicks and dudes. However, if you stick with it, it's worth it. I had to quit for a while because of finances, but, now I'm back and find myself getting worlds stronger with just one class a week (the company recommends 3x weekly for maximum results, but I don't have that kind of cash or time at the moment). It's a total body workout: you get balance and core workouts side-by-side with leg and arm strengthening moves. Your whole body works in sync with this class, which, after my recent hip strain issue, I discovered is actually pretty much how your body should be working all of the time.

2) 1,2,3, Hike! There are several short, yet very effective hikes in Los Angeles. Find one near you! For the West Side, I recommend the Baldwin Hills scenic overlook, with its famous killer stairs, Charmlee State Park (3 miles with little elevation, but very scenic), Temescal Canyon State Park, which is 2+ miles straight up to the top. If you have time for a longer one, definitely, without a doubt, get to the Mishe Mokwa Trail near Ventura (it's gorgeous AND they allow doggies--Sheila loved it). Also, the Malibu Creek State Park hike is a lot of fun, where M.A.S.H. (the TV show) was filmed. A lot of people like to mountain bike there as well, but it gets pretty rocky and twisted in parts. I'd be scared to bike it.

3) There are TONS of groups that meet up for all kinds of activities all over Los Angeles. You can find run groups that meet in the evenings in your area, or on weekends. Some may have a yearly participation fee, which is usually nominal, but many of them are free. Check out the Nike runs. They have a mid-week run in Santa Monica and then a Sunday run every week, and they are totally free.

4) Get A Bike. Yes, it's expensive, yes it's annoying to find a place for in your home, but it also gives you SO much freedom. Once I stop wussing out about L.A. traffic, I plan to ride to work at least 2x a week, but you can ride so many places: grab a few things from the store, explore your neighborhood, visit a friend--all the while getting in some valuable cross training (especially if you're a runner like me).

5) Get A Dog. Okay, so this one's not for everyone obviously if you have allergies, a small budget, mega time constraints or you're out of town most of the time, a dog isn't the right choice. However, if you can fit a dog into your life, there are so many that need homes right now, and, guess what, the relationship is mutually beneficial. Dog gets love and food from you, you get lower stress and anxiety, less depression and more exercise! Even my little beag needs a good 45 minutes of walking a day, and so, no matter what, rain or shine, I have to get my butt out the door. A dog is like you're own personal motivational tool. "Get up and get out there or I'll pee on the carpet," is a better motivational phrase than I've heard from any of my previous personal trainers. Har har.

Honorable "Unmentionables" (things I'd pass up):

Joining an ultra-expensive gym unless you have a program in hand or a personal trainer, and it's on the way home or to work. People might be surprised that I say this. There are a thousand excuses we could give ourselves not to work out. So many people join a gym, get going for a few weeks or months, and then lose motivation. That gym membership tag hangs unused on the keychain for many months. Why? Working out at the gym is not fun, and when you have no direction, you quickly run out of ideas or stop challenging yourself. Instead, it's often better to find practical ways to fit fitness into your life and then join classes to push yourself to the next level.

Clothes Places That Are Awesome:

1) Target. Believe it or not, Target has some pretty decent workout wear for not a lot of money. I purchased 4 moisture-wicking shirts for $4 each recently! I found some really great loose-fitting yet supportive sports bra/yoga tops there that I wear all of the time for cycling or Pilates. If you make your way to the sporting goods aisles, there are also some less expensive DVDs and other gear. Not everything is amazing, but the workout wear is pretty good quality, just sayin. If you need something, check here first.

2)REI. Not only is REI staff knowledgable, but they also have some really high quality gear. I recommend the one in Manhattan Beach over the one in Santa Monica, actually, because I feel like they don't get as busy and are more attentive to customer needs. REI also often holds free classes for members in the store, so it's worth taking a look at what's up next.

3) Athleta. Yes, this company is owned by The Gap, but, in my book, it has two really positive "points": One, it has quality, functional gear, and, two, the company uses fit models in its catalogues, not twigs. I feel good about shopping at this place, but, like REI, it can get pricey, so like I said, for some stuff, check Target first.

4) Columbia. Columbia's gear has some awesome benefits, like amazing technologies in fabric that help to cool you, protect you from bugs and the sun, or heat you in the winter. Above any sporting gear company, they have far and away the best quality. I bought this amazing long-sleeve running shirt that cools to the touch when it gets sweaty. I've bought other shirts that claim to do this, but they don't. It's so amazing, I might just buy another one in another color, even if that other color is chartreuse :P

5) Besides being a generally awesome site on which to find discounted designer duds, you can also find discounted designer workout gear, which can be very easy on the wallet. My last pair of name brand running shoes from here cost me $35.99. I've seen shoes there for as low as $19.99. Enuff said. Just, sign up already.

Honorable "Unmentionables" (stuff I'd do without):

Thrift Stores. When it comes to sweat gear, you're probably not going to want to recycle someone else's stuff, no matter how cute it is. Like I said, check Target, but don't don someone else's stanky bacteria-infested clothing. Bleh.

Finally, I'll leave you with some overall self-improving tips:

1) You don't have to love your body. Did I just say that? Yes, I did. A lot of magazines and self help gurus give this trife blanket statement, "Love your body, no matter what size it is." This is total hippie bull puckey, and, practically impossible for most people living in today's Western society. There is no love for flab. Buuuuut--pause a minute--you need to learn to love the self, the self you are regardless of your body size. Get to know that person by challenging yourself in different ways. Write, talk, think about who you really are and what's going on inside. Listen to yourself. Forgive yourself. When all of that negative self talk comes in, learn to ignore it, just keep focusing on your goals and getting to know who you are. Beating yourself up is not going to help you get to your dream weight. I've tried it both ways, the self love thing works a lot better in the end.

2) Prepare for the long haul. Most people who embark on a weight loss goal lose weight rapidly in the beginning. The body starts responding to the diet and exercise changes by shedding pounds and the person feels motivated and ready to tackle the world. Of course, then, there's the inevitable point where the weight loss slows or even stalls and that's where most people get derailed. One thing I'll say that I've learned is that there is NO quickie diet that is going to sustain you, long term. The key is to make healthy eating a part of your natural lifestyle, and that takes time to adjust to. Also, life's not black or white. One day you might eat a big, fatty meal. Instead of bemoaning your loss of "control", take it in stride. One meal isn't going to pack on weight. In fact, your body probably isn't going to store all of those calories. A good rule of thumb is to eat within your daily caloric intake 80 percent of the time. A couple of "cheat" meals during the week (as long as you don't go crazy and eat a whole pizza), will still get you to your goals. It will take longer, but you'll be doing it in a sustainable, healthy way.

3) Think of non-food rewards. Buy a goal dress or pair of jeans, save up for a new gadget or workout item for when you hit milestones on the way to your final goal. I just got into a pair of jeans I bought last year that I could not even fit over my thighs then. Having measurable, visual accomplishments can be such a fantastic high along the way.

4) Compare yourself to others. Yes, another controversial thought. There are SO many people in the world and EVERYONE has struggles. There are so many people who are like you out there. Read success stories on the internet or in magazines. Use other people's stories to motivate you. Don't get bogged down in looking at what you don't have. Look at what you can achieve.

Honorable "Unmentionables" (thoughts I'd ditch):

Don't lose weight for anyone but yourself. Sure, having support and encouragement helps, but if you feel like it's someone else's dream, and not yours to see yourself thin, then that's not the right headspace you want to be in.

Don't use your fat as a scapegoat for everything. Even when I was at a thinner size, I used to think that, if a guy didn't like me, it was solely the fault of my fat. While that may have been true in some cases, there was no way that I could have known what the guy was thinking. I'd bog myself down with self loathing and spend a night bingeing, fulfilling the fat slob fantasy in my head. Take ownership and push past the whole "fat person" thing. Try new things, smile, get up in front of people. Don't shame yourself before anyone else can. Yeah, rejection and failure hurt, but not as much as it does in the end when you never try anything you're afraid of.

Now, go forth and conquer.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Why No Mountain Roads Go Straight Up

As a friend pointed out to me recently, Los Angeles is probably the worst city in which to deal with weight loss and body issues. It's not what people think, that Hollywood and people in "the biz" in this town are the strongest influences over the general population, but it's more like a cultural phenomenon. Fit people exude privilege here, their spindly limbs or huge shoulder bulk send a subconscious message: this person is one of the desirable ones.

With the cost of living here, weight really does separate the "haves" from the "have nots," or at least it provides that illusion of "having" from "have notting." Even if you "have notting" you try to look like you do. Unless you're a hipster, of course. ANYYYWAAYY...

Like I said, L.A. and weight loss goals can be rough on a person. It's annoying to lose a big chunk of weight and to still be fat and know you'll be "fat" for a very long time yet, perhaps forever, if you choose to stay in a town full of sticks and skinnies. I really sympathize with folks who are very obese and have hundreds of pounds to lose before they get down to a healthy weight. Back in St. Louis, I might have thought that a size 10/12 was a normal size, a size that didn't make me seem too chunky next to my peers. Here, however, I stand out like the pudgy sore thumb in a sea full of pinkies. Not cute.

What's worse is, while getting closer to my goal, I know that the progress will be arduously slow. And, all the while, I still battle not to let food have power over me. It's certainly much easier now to control my food intake, as my body is normalizing and my blood sugar levels are becoming more stable, but it's still a conscious effort. I still fear losing control, even though it hasn't happened yet. Sure, there are days when I eat a bit more than I should eat, but I keep telling myself that it's a lifestyle and that even skinny people have pig out days. One day of "pigging out" is not going to ruin all of the hard work I've put into this. I'm learning to communicate with my body, to find out what it's really craving, how much it really needs and whether I'm really hungry or just bored or anxious.

And I find substitutes for things. Instead of a big desserty binge after a stressed out day at work, I unwind with a bit of fruit and a glass of red wine. Weirdly enough, that works great for me instead of chocolatey ice cream or cookies. Weirder still, I haven't really craved chocolate, the love of my life, in at least a month. Wild.

I'm trying not to get frustrated about my hip keeping me from reaching my speed and distance running goals for the time being. Injuries can really make you feel like a lazy slob, especially when you were just getting that immense high from being strong and in-shape. I know that I will find that strength again, especially after starting my Team in Training sessions (you can follow my progress with that here: Patience is the lesson for this year. I guess I am a glacier.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Fear Factor

Facing your fears can almost be a baptismal experience. Each week, I try to do something that I'm scared of doing, from small things to larger things. I might do the same thing more than once, if I'm still scared of it.

Last week, I went rock climbing for the first time. I'm the type of person who will never go too near the edge of anything, who will never stand on a high platform or rock to get a closer look, unless there's something secure to clutch onto there. Walking off of a cliff backwards, as I did for the rappel, is normally not my idea of a picnic. Yet, rope in hand, I slowly scooted backward off of a 50-foot rock formation. Subsequently, I found myself digging deep within to fight the nerves that told me that my climbing legs were not strong enough, that my body, that I, was not meant to climb 30, 40 feet. Other people did that. Other, braver people did that. I couldn't possibly. But, I did.

Had I not had a patient, yet perfectly "asshole"-ish instructor in my friend, Travis, I would not have know what I was capable of doing. I would have given in to my own whimpering at 15 feet and called it a day. Travis did not let me give up on myself. And, you know what? I did it, and came out with my "Confidence Meter" moved up a notch.

Every time you do something that you don't believe that you're capable of doing, you build up that confidence meter. Thinking or saying "I can't," doesn't help with anything. You need to acknowledge your fears and push past them, even if it's a little at a time. This doesn't mean you have to be a daredevil, but look at the things you don't do or haven't done with your time. It could be joining a club, going on a 3-day juice fast, trying a new form of exercise or a starting a blog. Why don't you do that thing? Is it because you are afraid of some aspect of it?

Fear is not an excuse not to do something. Plain ol' fear can often trump common sense. Even when you're not in severe physical danger, fear can stop you from doing something you might otherwise enjoy. Your brain will come up with every excuse in the book to get out of doing something you fear.

This week, I told myself that I was going to ride my bike to meet a friend for coffee. As a newbie biker, L.A. streets terrify me. As time to leave drew near, I started thinking things to myself, like, "Maybe you should just drive. It'll be faster. Besides, you don't want to be all sweaty when you get there."

"NO!" I told myself. "Stoppit! Backing out of this is not an option."

My chain came off just as I rode out of my driveway and I had trouble fixing it. I wanted to give up, turn around, grab the car.

"No!" I said to myself. "You made a promise to yourself and you're going to do this."

I finally got the chain to right itself and quit clattering, and I was on my merry way again. Yes, I may have looked silly to a family walking by as I tried to start my bike up facing a huge hill, but, I made it there. And I made it home again. I felt free, happy and my Confidence Meter jumped up again.

Part of being good to yourself is helping yourself to grow. Challenges are great fertilizer. And, I promise, they don't stink :)

Tipping the Scales

DISCLAIMER: This piece is just my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me. I'm not a doctor, nor do I claim to be a fitness or nutrition expert. However, I have done my homework on the topic and speak mostly from personal experience.

The other day I was listening to someone on California's local NPR station talk about child obesity and ideas about how to combat it. He was the first person I've heard say, "P.E. is not enough." Yet, there exists a common misconception that weight gain and low physical activity are invariably linked and that overweight people are also indisputably lazy.

Exercise, while providing many,many health benefits, some that aid with weight loss, as well as a calorie burn boost, is often over-exalted in the war on obesity. Exercise alone cannot turn a food-addicted fat person into a thin person. Not no way, not no how. Or, at least, not without spending all day in the gym.

A thin body is primarily created in the kitchen, through choosing the right kinds of foods and, MOST OF ALL, controlling portion sizes (something I've often struggled with myself). Healthy habits over the long term will help a person get down to a normal weight. Add exercise and you get a winning combination, and a body that looks healthy and strong.

I've known many people, myself included, who were quite fit, but also fat. Why? They ate more calories than they burned in the gym. When I lived in London, I was quite hefty at 180-185 lbs, and I was in incredible shape, fitness-wise. I ran 3-5 miles every other day, used the elliptical, bike or row machine for 45 minutes 2x weekly, weight trained for 30 minutes 2x weekly, did 1.5 hours of Bikram yoga 2x weekly, PLUS I walked everywhere. All of the beer, chips and sweets, however, packed on the pounds.

Recently, I spoke with a triathlete who just completed her first Ironman. She told me that she gained weight while training because she thought that she could eat whatever she wanted. People training for an Ironman probably work the hardest of any athlete out there. If SHE can't eat whatever she wants, then someone who runs 3+ miles every other day at the gym certainly has to watch his or her intake.

I dislike the stereotype that fat people are fat because they are lazy. Rarely do I find that to be true. Do they eat too much? Yes, most likely, they do. Do they lack willpower and self control? In most cases, I would say, "No." I believe that there are several factors at play here. One is most definitely a person's overuse of the dreaded "carb." The sugars in refined carbs and even unrefined carbs have addicting qualities. They can trigger a person to overeat. Even if a person is not binging on carbs all of the time, the overload of sugars in the bloodstream (explained to me by several doctors as an effect of being pre-diabetic) cause sort of a chemical dependency on the sugars that come from food. Secondly, these sugars cause a boost in serotonin (the feel-good chemical in our brains). When we're feeling stressed or depressed, we often turn to food, even when we're not particularly that hungry. Pretty soon, we get addicted to that feeling as well. Combine those factors with a general overload in portion sizes, misleading packaging (like a big cookie being two servings instead of one, or a "snack" bag of something having two servings), and ads everywhere for food, food, food, food, FOOOOOODD...and you have a perfect storm for someone to get fat.

Losing weight when you have all of these factors against you is hard. If it were easy, then it wouldn't be a billion dollar industry. I've struggled and failed, and I've seen many other people I know struggle and fail. Maybe we get all the way to losing weight and looking great, and then our lifestyles change and we don't know how to adapt, or we get really depressed and we just don't care, and we gain it all back and more. It's heartbreaking, really. It bugs me that this country stereotypes the overweight, when MOST people in this country are overweight or obese.

Yet, here we are, with TV shows like "The Biggest Loser" where obese folks are publicly shamed, humiliated and "whipped into shape" by ferociously barking personal trainers. These people are our modern gladiators, struggling for their lives in an auditorium full of spitting spectators. We make weight loss seem even harder than it really is, and that these fatties need to suffer for their lazy transgressions. We need to see them sweat! Meanwhile, such a small portion of the program places emphasis on food choices and portion control, which is realistically a much larger chunk of the whole weight loss pie. Plus, shaming people may motivate them initially, but,in order to truly be ready for weight loss, a person must come from a place of self love.

Our culture does not create a self-love-fostering environment. If you're fat, forget it. It's as if you're not worthy of love of any kind, so why love yourself? Men walk around wearing shirts that say, "No fat chicks." Jokes abound. Weight gain and loss are such a huge focus in this country, but few of us actually focus on what's going on inside. We react with such disdain for fat people, we don't even give them a chance. People are cruel. While hate speech is unacceptable for certain groups of people, overweight people endure mooing, whale jokes and other such horrors. It really feels like people don't really want fat people to stop being fat. They'd have nothing to make fun of if the fat people lost weight. And still, in spite of everything working against them, a select few overweight folks manage to get healthy. Those people are a force to be reckoned with, in my opinion.

The worst of it is that some of these taunters are the "skinny fatties"--as I like to call them--people who are thin on the outside but who don't work out or eat particularly healthfully. They just naturally know how to get the right amount of calories that their bodies need, and their bodies probably waste a lot of those calories as well. They're the "lucky ones"--I guess--but also the types who are at extreme risk of health problems later in life, as well as obesity, once the "magic metabolism" begins to slow.

Overall, I think people make fun of things that they fear. Being an outsider can be scary. It's very easy to make someone the scapegoat for your fears and insecurities about not being a part of the "cool kids." Maybe saying that fat people are the lazy ones absolves a person from their own responsibility to be physically active. Or maybe they're afraid of what will happen if they stop hitting the gym. It's easy to find yourself scrutinizing a fat person. At a younger age, I even did it. I'd see an obese person walking down the street and think, "That person must do nothing but sit around and eat mountains of food all day." And, yes, it would make me feel good about myself. Looking back at it, I think, "What if that person would have been able to hear my thoughts?" And, what about the number of times that people didn't keep their opinions about her to themselves?

While I wish the best of health and happiness for all, I do think that we need to change our attitudes toward overweight folks. Why get hung up on stereotyping a person, when what they really need is our support in order to succeed.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Baby, Baby, Baby

Earlier in the week, a friend posted a brilliantly thought out and executed Jezebel article about childless women in their 30s and 40s. It was fascinating to me because I'm now in my 30s and definitely see the "now or never" age sort of looming in front of me, and I'm not sure what to make of it.

I've never felt a desire to have children, nor any motherly instincts. In fact, honestly, I think babies are mostly disgusting and not that cute. As a child, people tried to force baby dolls on me, but they'd be pristine in the package while I dug around in the dirt in the backyard or played with my My Little Ponies and Pound Puppies. As an adult, people always want you to hold their babies. Instead of feeling all motherly and kitchy-koo, my stomach clenches. Also, how am I not supposed to drop it? The things even lubricate themselves in a mixture of saliva, mucous and vomit, then, when you try to hold them, they wriggle and squall in your face. Yeah, babies are "SO appealing." Still, every mother tries to shove her baby in your arms. Maybe she's thinking, "Here, you kill it; I don't have the heart to."

At any rate, I thought that, by now, some kind of maternal instinct would have kicked in if it was going to do so. I mean, if kids came at least partially formed and potty trained (say, age 2-3 and up), I'd definitely be warmer to the idea of having one. It's the gross baby thing I really can't get over. It's so bad that, when I hear the word, "pregnant," I automatically think, "Ewww."

Pretty soon, as it says in the article, my window for even considering the idea will close. I mean, 10-15 years isn't really a long time in the grand scheme of things. And, if I want to further my career, a kid is pretty much a nail in that coffin. Not that careers can't be made with children, but it takes a lot of outside help and sacrifice to move things along. Still, there's that part of me that thinks, once the window closes, am I going to regret it?

There are moments I remember, that play back like home movies inside my head, of my mother reading to me when I was little, of her doing the voices of all of the characters in the story, or of walking in a wooded park and imagining together that it was some kind of magical faraway place, with fairies and unicorns, or Jim Henson characters. Nothing can replace those moments in my head. They are special treasures for me that, somehow, I'd want to pass on.

And when your old and alone in the nursing home, what then? Everyone else's kids would come to visit and I might watch then and sit there, thinking, "I missed out on all of this love because I was too selfish or too sicked out to have children?"

I guess every decision in life comes with consequences. But what most people don't realize is that indecision does too.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Raisin Hell

WARNING: Forthcoming rant involves dried fruit.

I woke up this morning with a craving for spiced oatmeal with raisins. Since I occasionally allow myself the steel-cut goodness, I thought that this was not an entirely unreasonable request from the bod. Vons was right next to Starbucks, so I'd grab myself a skinny latte, a pack of raisins, and I'd quickly be on my way to having a rock n' roll breakfast.

As far as strategic display marketing goes, Vons has a lot to learn. They position a tiny turnstile right in front of the bakery. This setup means that a person has to squeeze his or her way through the turnstile, and then faces the cookies. Now, I'm no retail expert, but I'd say that, if I were a person with a much larger than average posterior, I probably wouldn't feel like buying a dozen donuts after eeking my blub through that vice-like portal. I could be wrong, but, anyway, I digress.

So, on to the raisins. I sliced my way up and down every feasible aisle, looking for the dried fruit section. The baking section, I thought, might house dried fruit, or maybe the breakfast aisle. No such luck. I rooted around the fruit section, and, nothing but figs and apricots. Finally, down at the end of the snack aisle, I saw a section titled, "fruit snacks." Ohhhhhhh, okay. Right next to the fruit roll-ups and other sugary fruit-like kid treats, was the dried fruit section. I saw, Craisins, prunes, mission figs, YOGURT COVERED raisins, but...what was this, no plain ol' raisins? I was furious. How can a grocery store get by without carrying raisins? That's, like, a staple around the world. Are we so obsessed with sugars and corn syrupy goods that we can't be bothered with a traditional dried fruit? Plus, I mean, I don't eat raisins often, maybe once every 3-6 months, and the one time I have a craving, they just don't exist in the store?

Yes, I could have complained to an employee, but I didn't. I merely bought a box of Kashi oatmeal-raisin flax cookies, walked out, got my latte and went home. Two oatmeal flax cookies and a blog later, I guess the whole raisin debacle isn't that horrible, but, still, I'm astonished. Not that raisins are the epitome of healthy foods (they are very sugar loaded), but that we're teaching kids to eat them covered in sugary, fatty yogurt mixtures, or to try stuff that isn't even real fruit, is so contrary to what we now know to be nutritionally sound. If that's the norm, then, well, I'm happy to be the weirdo writing a rant about raisins.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Defense De Fumer

The signs in Paris, home of the stereotype of chic smokers, who wear black trenchcoats while spouting existential musings between cloudy nasal puffs, "Defense De Fumer" are now everywhere in support of public health. The signs mean, of course, "No Smoking," but, as an English speaker reading the sign, you'd think they were supporting it, defending it, if you will. In California, all smokers have been relegated to the outdoors. Nobody's allowed to smoke inside anymore, so those that do all seek their refuge on sidewalks, puffing away, ironically, as if their lives depended on it. As a former smoker, I fully understand that comforting feeling of a breakfast of black coffee and a cigarette (oh, yummy :P ), but, now, as a non-smoker, I'll say that there's nothing more bile-churning than whiffing a person's cig trails first thing in the morning. I think, because I used to smoke, the internalizing of the smell makes it even worse. My body remembers the damage, perhaps. It's even worse when I'm running, and I happen to pass a bus stop, or a person heading into work, and, as I gasp for oxygen, I get a big gulp of nicotine, ash and carbon monoxide. Eeeeeek and iirrrgg! Far be it from me to deprive any smoker of his or her right to smoke. You're an adult, you know the risks. I know I have to suck it up (yuck) and deal with the occasional nearly asphyxiating breaths of toxic air as I pass you people. I know what it's like to smoke and think, "I'm outside, the smoke isn't getting on anyone. No one is forced to breathe it." Occasionally, though, we are, and it does still get on us, in our hair, in our clothes. It's nasty. Even smokers will admit, it's nasty. I guess I'm just ranting. I'm not advocating to end all smoking, indoors or out, like I said. I'm just grossed out, like I am with all the dog poop and garbage on the sidewalks of Los Angeles. But that's for another chapter, another rant, in this semi-urban adventure.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Another Step In The Right Direction

Oh Holy Smokes. I'm doing this. I could be crazy, but I've signed up for two half marathons this fall. The first one is with the support of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training Program, where I'll be getting coaching, team support and more. And guess where I'm running it; Disneyland! Of course, I'll have to bug everyone and their mother for donations to reach a fundraising goal, but even that doesn't sound SO horrible.

The second half marathon is in the beautiful San Luis Obispo area. I planned that one first, but realized, after breezing through to my 10K distance, October 14th was a very long ways away, even allowing for injury, fatigue and vacation (or "Idawanda" time). When the Disneyland one popped onto my radar in September, I figured that one could be my first, plus I might even get my picture with Mickey ("One side, kids, I just ran my butt off! I get to hug Mickey first!")

My former self would never have imagined running such lengths. The most I'd ever run was five miles, maybe five and a half, at my fittest. Somehow training for 13.1 seems do-able now. I think something in my brain might have warped from all of this California sunshine. Or maybe I'm just that much more confident in trusting myself.

Fitness and weight loss, I've juggled books, videos, gym memberships, diet shakes and guilt for many years. I never truly believed that fitness and lightness would come to me. I always had thin, fit friends. A couple of years ago, my thin friend and I used to run along the beach a few days a week after work. At that time, I felt like a lumbering walrus, struggling to drag my thick flubber across the boardwalk pavement. She, on the other hand, ran near the shoreline, her thin limbs sleek as a dolphin's as she skimmed lightly along the glittering water. My envy just weighted me down further.

There comes a point at which you just have to take responsibility for yourself, your actions, your inactions, and find a way to live your life that is loving and healthy. Once I let go of the hate, the guilt, the envy, I merely had to deal with reality. Reality is a number of things:

1) You didn't gain weight overnight, you won't lose weight overnight.
2) Food isn't going to make you feel better if emotions have the best of you (and neither is alcohol).
3) Exercise does help you feel better, if emotions have the best of you (and so do friends and family).
4) You're not in any kind of competition-everything you do, do it for yourself.
5) Don't count your failures, just learn from them and get back on the horse.

I've rarely ever been past my plateau weight. I'm working hard to get there. I'm currently 15 lbs away from the normal plateau, and 30 lbs away from my skinniest adult weight. I don't feel that it's all that interesting or novel for me to write a weight loss blog. I'm less than 50 lbs away from my ideal weight, but I'll post my goals here, just so you know what I'm up to:

Current weight: 170 (size 10-12)
First Goal: 150 (size 8-10)
Ideal weight: 135 (size 6)

Dream fitness regimen:
Run 25-30 miles/week
Bike 30-50 miles/week
Pilates 2 hours/week
Swim 1 hour/week
(plus walking the dog, hiking, horse riding)

Current 10K training time: 63 minutes
Goal 10K training time for May: 60 minutes

Goal Half Marathon time (race in Sept): 2:00

At any rate, what I've learned from all of my ups and downs is to keep going, find support when you need it, and, oh yeah, don't stop til your feet cross the finish line.

I'll be posting more about my half and my progress here (in case you want to give me some money--or maybe just throw an "Atta girl!" my way).

Here goes nothing!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Ode to Vintage Pyrex

I'm not domestic. I'm not one of those women who gets a little thrill over cute oven mitts or who relishes buying new dish sets and cookware. At least, I thought I wasn't.

Lo, a Pinterest poster's charming image of vintage Pyrex dishes, stacked neatly with their cheerful pinks, blues and golds, glossy and shining, had me scouring etsy for vintage Pyrex finds. Looking through those finds, it made me a little sad, or, maybe sad isn't the word. Melancholy? It made me feel a little nostalgic, a little homesick, for something I'd never really experienced myself.

Looking through the good, solid American cookware of the 1950s and 60s, I saw things we'd never even think to use nowadays: butter dishes, gravy boats, ornate serving pitchers for coffee. The art of serving guests has almost completely deteriorated, and these items, once useful tools, are now antique relics, destined for a shelf somewhere, at which younger generations can marvel.

Yes, I know, we must press on and let progress and technology guide the ship. We women don't have time for gravy making or for setting a proper table and making sure that everything matches, and that napkins are folded just so and all of the spots are gone from the silverware (the GOOD silverware). As a modern, professional woman, I'm glad that I am where I am. The last thing I'd want to be would be enslaved in a kitchen, chopping and boiling away. Gravy boats had to drop anchor for my professional happiness and success. Still, I can't help but feel a lump in my throat for that simplicity we traded in...But, then again, maybe that's just 'cause I never learned to make decent mashed potatoes.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cycling Back To Reclaim Old Victory!

I'm about to harvest my hard-earned tax money for the year, which couldn't have come at a more opportune moment. Today's the day I bought my very first bike, ever. That's right, EVER. And now begins our story...

It sounds like this "poor me" sort of story, entitled, "My Parents Never Bought Me A Bike" (booh-hoo), but, really, I didn't exactly feel like I was missing out on anything at the time. This was 1985 and my parents, both very entrepreneurial hairdressers, were busy, developing their fantastic new invention, the world's first computer imaging software for the hair styling industry.

The software itself worked like this: A hairstyling client's face was lined up in its proper place using appropriate cross-hair markers and a video camera, and captured onto a computer screen. Then, the stylist could choose from a list of hairstyles which he or she wanted to try on the client. the style would appear over the client's own image and the stylist could adjust the size, color and length using a pen mouse. It was all pretty advanced for the 80s. I liked that they let me play with it when I was left at the salon all day. I always made my hair pink with big mall bangs. I liked Jem, a lot.

I was always very good at entertaining myself. Back in those days, when daycare options were sparse for folks like us, and when my parents were traveling with the imaging system, I depended a lot of my own imagination and books to carry me through the recreational hours. We lived in St. Louis suburbia, in a subdivision with no children my age (mostly babies or very small children), and nowhere for kids to go anyway (the nearest stores were a 20-min walk away). So, relegated to the back yard and to the few sleepovers or playdates that I did have, the option of "going bike riding" never came up.

As for my parents, I don't know if they were so busy at the time, that teaching me to ride wasn't an upfront and center consideration, or whether because I never asked for one, they never even bothered. I asked my mother one day why I never got a bike and my sister did, and she said, "I don't know. I guess maybe you never expressed interest."

That answer alone didn't hold up as a solid reason for me. Sure, there are some skills, like learning ballet or skiing, that should not be forced on a child, but bike riding is almost like learning to type nowadays. You can get along fine without it, but it's pretty difficult when everyone else around you knows how. If you can coax a child into learning to type, you can coax a child into learning how to ride a bike. My guess is, the parents were busy and didn't have time to waste coaxing. So, they never bought me a bike, and they never taught me to ride.

Years went by. My sister got a bike when she was 7 or so, maybe 8 even. It was her birthday and she'd asked for it. That was fine with me, as long as it didn't cross over to my territory. I guarded my turf like an alpha canine: I get horseback riding, art, books, dogs and the color blue, and you can have stuff I don't care about, like ballet, gymnastics, ice skating and pink. The laws were never verbally outlined, but strictly enforced when broken. So, the bike fell into her territory by default. I had no need for a bike, so I thought.

My French uncle and aunt and cousin came to visit that summer. They were the ones who taught my sister to ride her bike. I stayed inside with a book while they begged and pleaded with me to "move a little, it's good for you." Horn-headed as I am, I allowed their pleas to drive me further into my shell, and I covered myself in my fantasy world, where it was more fun and bike riding people didn't exist.

After they'd left and the summer days dragged on (I don't remember the last time a summer day dragged on for me as an adult), I found myself observing my sister and her little friend, weebling around the subdivision on their bikes through my bedroom window. Something sour started to develop, which spread into a delicate flavor combination of longing, jealousy and fear.

Her bike was too small for me when I pulled it out. It was a kid's mountain bike, forest green, with nice, fat tires. If I could just find out if I could balance on it, I thought. I sat on it at the top of our driveway, which slanted down ever-so-slightly. Down and down and down I repeated coasting until I thought, I'm going to coast around the block. Shaky, I went, coasting down the big hills. I was too afraid to put my feet on the pedals. When I did, the bike would wobble to the side and I'd panic. I could feel I was getting the hang of the balance, I was almost there, until...the neighbor saw me.

Poor woman. I don't mean to blame her for my inability to ride a bike. All she said as she drove by was, "You're almost there!"

And I was mortified. Here I was, 12 years old, and I didn't know how to ride a bike and my little sister did. The shame of hiding such a secret from peers was bad enough, but now, even my neighbors knew. I put up the bike and never tried again.

On through teens and 20s the years marched on. I accomplished a lot to be proud of in that time. I lived abroad, I studied in London to receive my MA in International Journalism, I traveled, I tried new things, I picked up many skills, but, still, I'd see them, what seemed to be everyone else gliding along on two wheels, and I'd feel that sourness again and again. The freedom of movement, the elegant limbs, the ease of the pedal strokes, all struck me with indescribable awe. Someday I'll find a way to learn, I'd tell myself.

At any time, I suppose, I could have bought myself a bike and I could have gone to a parking lot and piddled about until I learned, but, mostly, it was about the shame. It'd been my deepest, darkest secret for so long, the shame had grown into my skin. Only my closest friends knew. I'd observed typical 90s sitcom episodes, like "Friends" where Phoebe learns to ride a bike, or "Frasier", where Niles is the cycling newbie, and, in both instances, the adult non-cyclists were treated like ridiculous fodder for an episode of jokes. But it was almost like, "Yeah, but we know in REAL life no adults exist who don't know how to ride a bike. That's just absurd!" The horrific embarrassment ignited by pop culture grew a forest fire that kept my little secret inside for many more years.

By the time I hit 30, I'd sweated out most of the fear of trying new things, challenging myself in new ways, both in my professional life and personal life. Now that I was living on my own in Southern California, where there was lots to do and the weather was mostly almost always awesome, I set myself a goal of having more adventures and learning new skills. It was time to explore, get bold and find out what I was made of.

Ironically as part of that whole adventure, I found myself meeting a great guy who happened to be an active cyclist. He competed in a race not long after we first started dating. It took me a while to muster up the courage to tell him my secret. How on Earth could I tell a person SO passionate about biking that I'd never learned how to ride?

One day, when I somehow eeked out the bold streak to tell him. He was surprised, but very supportive. "I'll take you to a parking lot, we'll take it slow," he'd assured me.

As much as I appreciated his chivalrous and kind response to my dilemma, the thought of falling headfirst into a concrete parking island in front of him was anything but sexy. Sure, maybe it was my shame taking hold at this point, but I wanted to see what other options were available.

Much to my surprise, "How to Ride a Bike" courses were popping up all over the country. REI offered a "How to Ride a Bike" course right in my area! I looked for the next one and I was shocked to see that it had filled up.

"They say it's their most popular class," my boyfriend had mentioned after a trip to REI one day.

I admit, I didn't sign up right away to the next available one. The holidays got in the way and there were lots of things to distract me, not to mention financial issues, that kept me a little bit distanced from my goal. Luckily, my boyfriend, who never forgets anything I tell him (amazing, especially for the male species), sent me an email while I was spending Christmas with my folks, detailing the next "How to Ride a Bike" course on January 22, 2012. Within a few clicks, I was committed to finally attempt to conquer a lifelong source of embarrassment and limitations.

The date came galloping up, and, I'll admit, that morning my stomach felt a little jittery. Some of it was excitement, some of it was definitely laced with fear. Either way, no matter how difficult a feat this was going to be, I wss going to master it.

The instructor was from Ecuador, one of those very handsome, rugged types with a thick accent. He stood on the other side of a line of bikes, while his co-instructor, a thinner all-American white guy, adjusted and checked each one. One-by-one the students arrived and looked around at each other. All ages, sizes and colors we were, but each of us ported that same timid look, like, "Are we really going to do this?"

As our instructor had us go around and talk about our reasons for taking the class, I realized that I wasn't the only one who had carried this secret around forever. Each person in the class had been burdened by the same shame as I had been, some for even longer than I had. We all seemed excited when the instructor said, "95 percent of the students who take this class learn how to ride a bike by the end of the class." Our shame would end that day.

First exercise: Coasting. We were instructed to get a good start by forcefully pushing with our legs to gain some momentum, then we focused on our balance while we would glide along with our feet lifted off of the ground. The first coast felt wobbly and scary, but as I continued down the hill over and over, I felt something begin to click as my glides got more graceful, less wobbly and less scary.

"Come over here, I'm going to put your pedals on," our instructor said, motioning to me after about 20-30 minutes of gliding practice.

He showed me how to push off and start pedaling, the part where, long ago, I'd never gotten past. I was nervous. The first start, I didn't get enough momentum and ended up wobbling over to one side before I put my feet flat on the ground. the second time, I lifted my feet up and found the pedals. Before I knew it, I was balanced and pedaling. Balanced and pedaling! I was riding a bike!

As the first hour wore on, I was gliding around the parking lot, practicing smooth turns and picking up speed fearlessly. I couldn't believe it! It was me, ME, the person who had for so long carried this weight in my heart. As I floated effortlessly around the parking lot, I felt a new surge of freedom, like a gust of wind under the wings of a falcon.

Horn-headed as I am, I had to find a bike right away because I was hooked. Needless to say, it was hard to keep myself from being distracted at work, while so much excitement was bubbling inside of me. I clawed my way through my responsibilities, just so I could see the weekend again.

Early this morning, my boyfriend and I headed to the bike shop. The sales guy who helped us had an accent too and a pleasant countenance. He guided me through the zillions of bike choices (I'll admit, I know nothing and he could have sold me a pogo stick and I wouldn't have known the diff), and I agreed that I would try out three of them.

I was still nervous about trying them. I wobbled around on the first bike and had major trouble steering at first. Not that I'd expected perfection, but I hadn't expected to have been such an unattractive, ungraceful spectacle in front of two guys (as well as other passers by). The second bike I tried felt much easier and I careened smoothly around the try-out area. Okay, so I got my mojo back a little bit, and I didn't end up in the bushes or face-planted in the concrete. I saved face in many ways, I guess you could say.

Ultimately I chose bike #2, a Trek 7100 women's hybrid bike in a sparkly light blue color. I got a helmet to match. It's SOOOOOOO cool! My first bike. It's here on my turf and I'm ready for the next step.

P.S. Pic of me + bike (named, "Victoria") coming soon!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

A Whale of an Unanswered Question

So, here we are, 2012, and the first question that pops to mind is: Why are we still unable to draw whales?
Now, before you think that this question is coming out of left field, I purchased a whale watching tour on discount via, an adventure deals site for people like me who don't spend all of Fall and Winter watching football or chasing dust bunnies back under the rug. So, my place is a mess and I don't know who's going to win the Superbowl, but I am going to Newport Beach next weekend to scan the waters to catch a glimpse of a fin or a spout or some giant monster out there in the deep. However, as I was thinking about whales, it occurred to me, our iconic image of a whale is that of a creature with a big, somewhat spherical body and a smaller tail behind. That iconic image looks nothing like a real whale.
Exhibit A: One of our most beloved 21st century icons, the Twitter "Fail Whale"

This poor fellow, albeit cute, is not a whale. Or, more accurately, if he were dropped into the midst of a pod (look it up) of whales, they probably would reject him as some kind of a mutant. Yet, if we posted up his picture on the wall of any preschool and asked the kids, "What is this?" They'd all shout, "It's a whale!"
Now, put up an image of your average humpback:

and you'd be met with probably a small sea of confused faces.

Why do we draw whales so oddly? No other animals appear so distorted in their iconic images: a dog looks like a dog, a fish looks like a fish, a cat looks like a cat. Sure, they're cartoonish and not 100 percent accurate, but the severity of the whale warp is just way too profound for comfort.

Maybe said whale shape comes from times when people couldn't go underwater to observe these creatures. They look as though they have big hump shapes while swimming, so, in fact, that whale shape may have been a hodgepodge of the shapes that they could see. Either way, now that we know what whales REALLY look like, can we start drawing them the right way?

Shamu says, "Yes!"