The Year in Review

Here we are at the end of another year. I barely get used to writing 2010, and now it's 2011. It is at this time of the year where people assess what went well, what didn't, and what changes might or should be made for the "new" year. Resolutions are made (to be broken) and the cycle continues. I am not immune to the reflection and earlier today when I was logging recent workouts online I decided to see where exactly I was a year ago.

Frankly, I was initially disappointed. The total poundage lost for 2010 was a mere 25 pounds. I was astounded. A full year of work, and that is all I have to show for it? Yes, I'm down at least two sizes and am in significantly better shape, but only 25 pounds?

So I went through 2010 month-by-month, looking at the workouts that I've logged and realized it hasn't really, truly been a year of work. I started off great -- typical January, no? Then February hit, and I went back to work at the IRS. Which meant I was working nights, and I continued to, at least a couple times a week, substitute teach during the day. The schedule was brutal on my body and something had to give. That ended up being regular workouts of any significance, and my eating also wasn't as good as it could have been. The fact that I only gained about 5 or so pounds between mid-February and July was amazing, because not only was I working like a fool but I also had quite a bit of travel during that period. I always put on weight when I travel and sing -- I think it is all the eating out.

So, take away 5 months from the period where I was really working to lose weight. 25 pounds in 7 months? Ok. Still not spectacular, but not horrid, either.

The period of mid-November to the end of the year also didn't really see any weight loss, unless you count the weight gained and lost during "that time of the month." But it was the holidays. Food -- good food -- and sweets abounded. I baked for Christmas gifts, made chocolate-covered pretzels, went to parties and gatherings. I kept my weight stable during a time when the "average" person usually gains 5-10. That is an accomplishment in itself that I have to give myself credit for.

Now we're up to basically 6.5 months where weight loss wasn't practical, if I'm going to be honest with myself. Which means I lost 25 pounds in 5.5 months. That I can deal with more easily!

Also in reviewing my year in workouts, I noted it wasn't until July when I started changing things up. Experts say that can be key to encouraging continued weight loss, that too much of the same workout causes your body to become accustomed to the exertion and the exercise becomes less effective. That is why many folks see a decrease in weight lost after the same workout regimen over the period of several months. In July I added Zumba classes to my regimen, and a few weeks later, weights. This changed up the regular elliptical workouts, and forced my body to exert itself in new ways.

Which brings me to another important point. Muscle weighs more than fat. I know I have gained muscle tone and mass while losing fat. That will make the scale tell a tale that might not be completely accurate.

Prior to these reflections today, I'd already made the decision I was going to do something "new" in 2011: take regular measurements. I'm going to set up an Excel spreadsheet with key measurements, and the first Saturday of every month (isn't it handy that January 1 is a Saturday?) I'm going to take these measurements and record them. This way, even if the scale isn't dropping as much or as quickly as I might like it to, I can see that my body is indeed changing and improving.

And hopefully this time next year, my reflections will be more impressive. :-)


Adjusting Perspectives

There is a no-man's land, or should I say, "no-woman's land," in women's sizing. It is that funny area when you get to the top of the misses sizes and the bottom of plus sizes, where numbers start to not only get bigger but also gain a W at the end. And you learn that a size 16 and a size 16W are two different sizes.

This is the land I currently reside in. It is thrilling to be at the bottom of the plus size section, and in some stores, OUT of the plus size section. I almost don't know quite what to do when I go shopping. But at the same time it is frustrating to be a 16W, because you aren't a 16. The difference between a 16 and 16W isn't just the fit, the curving. At one national retailer, I tried on a dress where the 16W was roomy enough for me to consider grabbing a 14W. Yet, over in misses land, the size 16 dresses wouldn't zip completely. At a different national retailer, size 16 misses skirts fit great. Size 18 dresses crush my bust like a bad corset. Go figure.

Right now, I'm happy to not gain weight over the holidays. My schedule has gone crazy, the sweets are prevalent, and it is way too easy to eat on the run and overindulge. With the schedule chaos, too, gym time becomes compromised. Talk about a one-two punch that can be devastating to my progress! So although the scale hasn't really dropped in the past month, I'm trying to not be too disheartened by it.

There are two things I have helping me stay that way. First of all is remembering that muscle weighs more than fat, and I can tell by how my body responds in various classes and situations that my muscles are becoming stronger. I can also see increasing definition, especially in my legs. Secondly is realizing when I look at a piece of clothing that I am indeed that "small." Last week I purchased a set of long underwear, as I'll be attending an outdoor pro football game on Sunday and the temperature will be about 20 degrees. I went by the size chart and my "old" mindset and bought a size 2x. The next day I was back, returning them, because they were too big. Not a little too big, but way too big. Yay for those kinds of victories!

I don't know how best to completely adjust my perspective, if the "fat girl" in my brain will ever be completely silenced. I've never in my life been able to shop in the regular sizes, and I'm about to turn 35. Talk about teaching an old dog new tricks; it will be like a whole new world. And one that I am ready to enter -- and stay in!


Where Has the Time Gone?

Wow. I logged into Blogspot to post on my other, work-related, blog and saw that I hadn't blogged here in almost 2 months. Where, just where, has the time gone?

Weight loss update: I'm now somewhere around 60 pounds lost. I actually did not gain any weight over Thanksgiving, which must be some miracle in and of itself. I did gain about 2 pounds the week prior because I was sick with a bad cold and took the adage, "Starve a fever, feed a cold" a little too seriously! One of my trainers/instructors at the gym said something interesting she'd gotten from a training seminar last weekend: that fat actually expands some before it goes away. Like, as the fat cells start to break down what is inside them, they actually get a little bigger before getting smaller. Whether or not it is true, we don't know.

I have noticed a few additional shape changes that I'm happy with, and in general I'm down to size 1X (or, at one store, the weirdly named 0X) and 16W pants/skirts/dresses. I haven't been this small since I was in high school. Now I don't want to brag, but how many women in their mid-30s can say that?

However... the insecurities still remain... the "fat girl" brain if you will. Just today when I laid out the pair of Old Navy size 16 jeans I'm wearing, I looked at them and this voice in my head said, "Really? You think you can fit into those? I don't think so!" Then I put them on and went out the door.

Speaking of insecurities, that brings us to the other topic I've recently starting covering in my blog: dating. In the last installment, I was bemoaning the reminder of how it sucks to be rejected. Here is where my "social life," if you will, stands at the moment.

I've had a couple more communication requests from guys on this dating website. And I viewed their profiles and chose to not respond. 600 points of compatibility, or whatever, but I didn't feel a connection. Seriously, they should take the advice given by the website and put up a thorough, complete profile. If you're paying that kind of money to try to meet someone, you should take the time and answer all the questions completely and thoughtfully.

Then last week I got another communication. I wasn't terribly optimistic, but I logged in and checked out this guys profile. Cue immediate intrigue. I definitely liked what I saw and read. And HE had made the first "move." Good start! We went through communication phase 1, and liked each other's answers enough to go to step 2. Now step 2 is where you send a list of 10 "Must Haves" and "Can't Stands." Frankly, I don't like this step because it seems like too much of an ultimatum too early on. (Also, it's been at this step where I've been shot down, so maybe I'm just gun-shy.) Apparently he could tolerate my list, and I approved of his, so we went on to step 3, which is open-ended questions. Well, open-ended to the tune of 1000 characters. And that's where things got... weird.

In his answers to my questions he diverged from the actual question (fine) to tell me he was no longer a paying member, he was taking advantage of free communication (fine) and he hadn't seen my pictures. Here I wish I could put in two sound effects: the sound of a record needle being scratched over a record, and that obnoxious insecure voice screaming insults. I had built myself up, thinking "here's a guy that I think is attractive, both in writing and in pictures. He seems to think the same of me, maybe a few extra pounds isn't a big deal to him!" only to find out he may not realize I'm still carrying a "few extra pounds." Or, as I prefer to say, am "voluptuous."

He DID give me his email address. That's a plus. I have to remember that, at the very least, he likes what he's read in my profile and answers. And my profile does say that over the past year I've lost 55+ pounds. So now I'm in twitterpation limbo. I don't know if he's gotten my answers to HIS open-ended questions -- which includes MY email address. I don't know if he's read that although I'm the size I was in high school, I'm still "voluptuous" and that's discouraged him or scared him off. I'm almost 35 and acting like a teen-aged girl, saying, "Omigod he's SO cute! Do you think he LIKES me?!?!"

Do we ever outgrow that phase? Please tell me yes!!

So now, dear readers... if you have any advice: how long should I wait to see if he emails, should I just get over my stupid insecurities and email him, etc., please send him along.....


Oh, yeah

Last night I blogged about re-entering, this time "for real," the dating scene. Around 1:00 or so today the site I'm using fixed it's technical glitch and I was able to finish retaking my questionnaire and get back to checking out my "matches." And was reminded of that one lousy thing that comes with dating: rejection.

You're probably saying, "But you haven't even been on the site for 24 or 48 hours, what do you mean, rejection?" There was one match that I was intrigued by, so I sent him the "first stage of communication," which is 5 multiple-choice questions of my choosing. His response was to archive me instead of answer. Translated: he's not interested. I didn't even find a record of him viewing my profile. I was a bit surprised to find out how much that stung.

So I licked my wounds and revamped my profile (which I was going to do anyway). I read up on some of the site's advice articles and reassessed my perspective. Although I'm a progressive woman, I do have some deep older-fashioned tenets about dating. For example, I hate making the first move, and I need to get over that. The first move is equally scary for guys as it is for girls. Yeah, according to the site 9 guys checked out my profile over the past 24 hours, and none of them decided to message me.

At least, not yet.

Blind optimism? Perhaps. But I prefer to think of it as an adjusted perspective. I checked out probably 30 profiles yesterday, and messaged only one guy. It wasn't because he was the only one I was interested in, not by far. Some of the others I just didn't have the guts to message. But I'm showing up on their profile page as having viewed their profile -- and not messaging. For all I know, some of the 9 who viewed my profile may be feeling the same way about me. It isn't that they aren't interested. It just takes a certain leap of faith to make that first step.

Fortunately this site has a feature that is sort of "first half step." Rather than just jumping into the questions, you can send an "ice breaker." This is a one-line message, like, "Your profile made me smile." Or, "Just wanted to say hi!" So I bit the bullet and sent out a few of those. After all, the advice articles encourage us to communicate with as many matches as we can.

Now, granted, there were a few that I pretty much automatically archived. A 39 y.o. guy who lists Mountain Dew and Pizza as two of the "5 Things He Can't Live Without" isn't really my type, no matter how our personality profiles match up. And I have to be honest, I have to be physically/visually attracted to a guy. Maybe this is shallow of me, but it is who I am, plain and simple. So, a couple guys got sent to the archive files because, well, they weren't pretty enough. And I'm sure I've been sent to a few archive files as well for the same criterion. Welcome to dating!

So from here on out, I just have to have a thicker skin. No response? You decide to archive me? Fine, you weren't the one, apparently! And I have to have faith in a great article I read on CNN a few months ago. It was written by a fabulous and beautiful single woman, and addressed the, "How Come You Aren't Married?" question that I have heard more than once. After all, according to my friends, I'm beautiful! I'm a great cook! I'm a wonderful person, so caring and sweet! I totally "get" relationships! I'm a great catch! The answer the author had was, "Because I haven't met the right one yet." She didn't mean it in a picky sort of way, but a practical one. We live in a busy, hectic society. Bars and nightclubs and church aren't necessarily the places to meet people anymore. Online dating gives us the flexibility to find out that "Mr. Right" lives a few blocks away, and we've discovered this because we were online at 2 a.m. -- when it was convenient for us -- and not because we just happened to be at the same place at the same time.

Now, I just have to quit obsessively checking the website. I think that will be easier when it isn't my day off... right?


A New Chapter

So what started out as a blog about random things eventually became a blog about my weight loss (mostly). And it will inevitably continue on that path, but I also made the decision to start a new chapter in my life which may lead to more interesting blogging. Having now three part-time jobs that I love, even when they stress me out, resulting in a decent salary and full-time employment schedule, I am happy. I am loving life. I feel like I am in a great place, and I finally feel like I am ready to share that with someone.

Yep, I'm entering the dating world. For real.

After much consideration, I have joined a popular internet dating website on a 3 month subscription. At $15/month, it was a really great deal, especially since the last time I tried a dating service -- a Christian dating service -- it cost me several hundred dollars and resulted in one date over a year. One date. And it was a really bad date, too. In the 24 hours I have officially been a member of this site, I've already had communications with some interesting men. I'm already getting more for my money. One happens to be out in CA, and I'm really not sure if I want a long-distance thing, but you never know.

Of course, at this moment I'm temporarily locked out. About 8 or 10 months ago when I first considered becoming a member I set up a profile and did the whole compatibility questionnaire. (The profile set-up is free; you have to pay to actually communicate with other people and see their pictures.) I'm now in a different place as a person and asked if I could take the questionnaire again. They agreed and I sat down to do my revised profile. I got to the second page and hit a technical glitch. One question, no matter how I answered it, wouldn't register an answer and the page would constantly send me back to that question saying I hadn't answered it. After a phone call to customer service, I was told the issue had to be resolved higher up than the technician could handle (and it was definitely their issue, not a problem with my computer) and it would take 24-48 hours to resolve.

Meanwhile, my profile is unavailable. I have no idea if "Steve" has responded to my initial communication. I don't have the option of seeing if I have the guts to send a message to "Michael" or "Shawn." And I can't go to the second stage of communication with "Richard." I also can't see all the new matches I was emailed today. After almost 35 years of singledom, broken up by a few relationships, I'm impatient over a 24-48 hour delay. Really, I'm acting like a little kid. If 34+ years of being single didn't kill me, another 24 hours won't either. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. That, and if he is the person that has been set aside for me, he'll still be there when my profile is back up. Lather, rinse, repeat mantra.

Will I meet that special someone? Who knows. Certainly what I've been doing -- hoping for chance or blind luck -- hasn't been working. I'm not one to go to bars or other social places to meet someone, and my new jobs aren't a source of single guys my age. In the 21st century, online dating isn't what it was 10 years ago when my AOL personal was a source for some sketchy action. I have numerous friends who have had success meeting people online. Granted, I know a few who have had less-than-ideal outcomes, namely divorce, but is that really to blame on how you met someone?

So for now, stay in touch. Whether I'm blogging about weight issues or being twitterpated or having my heart crushed, I'll find a way to share the information with a touch of humor. Or, at least, dry, cutting sarcasm.

Meanwhile, I think I'll go log into my internet dating site for the 236th time since I called tech support to see if they've magically fixed the issue. I mean, it's been almost 3 hours of that 24-48...


Keepin' On Keepin' On...

Well, I haven't blogged here in almost a month and I have no good excuse except becoming gainfully employed and busy beyond belief. Two half-time jobs plus an extra gig conducting a community choir means 50 hour work weeks. The main benefit to all this -- aside from a steady salaried paycheck -- is that the busier I am, the less I think about food.

There is a downside. Two, actually. Being busy means that sometimes the gym has to be what gives in my schedule, especially since my gym isn't open 24/7. And, it also means that I'm more prone to eating out and eating fast food. No one is perfect, though.

In spite of all this, it's been a pretty good month. I'm now at the 55 pounds lost mark, woo-hoo! And this weekend I indulged in some much-needed retail therapy, buying some clothes for fall. This time a year ago, I was wearing size 22 in Old Navy jeans. The jeans I purchased this weekend are a size 16. Granted, ON has been enlarging their sizes over the past few years; the waist/hips on the 16s I bought this weekend are about the same as the 18s I bought 5 years ago, but you can't beat the ego boost.

Then again, I tried on a skirt at Target. I don't think I've ever really been able to buy anything at Target with a number size on it that wasn't in the plus section. And unlike ON, Target has been doing the opposite with their sizes -- what used to be a 20, measurement-wise, became a 22. This skirt I tried on came from the regular misses section and was a 16. And, it fit. I also tried on a dress, size 18, which was plenty roomy in the hips, but corset-tight in the torso. You win some, you lose some.

That is one problem with weight loss: it doesn't happen evenly. I've lost more from my hips/abdomen than from my rib cage area, where I have a lovely roll. I have lost in that area across my back, and some in front, but not at the same proportions as my gut. It means my shape, my curves, are always changing and that size will continue to be an issue like with the aforementioned dress. If that is the worst that I have to deal with, though, I can put up with that.

Probably the best thing I've heard recently, though, came from members of my new church. I was featured in the church's bi-weekly newsletter in the "Getting to Know You" section. I mentioned that I had lost 50+ pounds, and was working on losing another 80. More than one person made a comment along the lines of how that HAD to be a misprint, where would I possibly lose 80 pounds from, etc. I know what the scale says, and weight can be deceiving, but the ego boost was appreciated nonetheless!

So in the words of my second cousin, once removed (or whatever she is), I'm keepin' on. My next big goal: to move the lower weight indicator on the scale -- the one that does 20 pound increments -- to the left one notch. 3 pounds to go for that!


Happy Anniversary!

Today marks one full year of me having a gym membership. August 1, 2009, I tore my MCL for the second time and not having insurance I knew I'd need access to certain machines to rehabilitate my knee. September 8, 2009 I was finally able to walk fairly normally on my mostly-healed knee and, application in hand, I headed to my local YMCA. I signed on the dotted line, and received my membership card.

I don't really know what exactly my starting weight was, on that day I signed up. I know what my weight was at a doctor's appointment in December 2007, and after that point I am sure I put on at least 15 pounds. So I am using that as my starting weight. After today's workout (just 65 minutes on the cross-training elliptical), I weighed myself again, as I usually do once a week. On this anniversary, my weight loss is 52 pounds. That puts me "right on track," according to the experts, who suggest one should not lose more than 1-2 pounds a week.

To summarize what I've been doing, here's a quick list.

I've changed my eating habits. I eat regular meals (especially breakfast), more whole grains, more fruits and vegetables. I try to not eat any later than 7:30; I usually have dinner around 5:30 and a low-cal dessert at 7:30. I've almost completely cut out caffeine -- I do on occasion have a cup of coffee, a mug of hot chocolate, or a Diet Coke -- and the same is true for traditional fast food. (I say "traditional" because I do get Chinese take-out a couple times a month.) Most importantly, I'm working on controlling my portion sizes. I'm not perfect. I do occasionally indulge in a big meal, that sweet that I really want, something like that. I just know I have to make an adjustment somewhere else, be it elsewhere in my eating habits or in my exercise. Speaking of which...

I spend on average 7-8 hours a week at the gym over 5 days. I usually take either Thursday or Friday, plus Sunday, off. What I do at the gym varies depending on my schedule. There are several classes I enjoy taking, and sometimes pair those with a cardio workout of my own. If I'm not working, my schedule is:

Monday: Zumba (50+ mins), followed by Resistance Training (50+ mins)
Tuesday: Zumba (50+ mins), followed by Hatha Yoga (50+ mins)
Wednesday: cardio on my own (35-65 mins), followed by a Pilates/Yoga hybrid class (50+ mins)
Thursday: cardio on my own (35-65 mins), followed by Hatha Yoga (50+ mins)
Friday: off
Saturday: Zumba (50+ mins), followed by Core Class (40+ mins)
Sunday: off

Obviously my work schedule, which as a substitute teacher is unpredictable, sometimes interferes with the classes, since those except the Tuesday classes are offered during the day. If I can't make a class, I do a 65 minutes "performance program" on the cross-training elliptical, which is a multiple "hill" program where half of it is done pedaling backwards. At least once a week, after that, I'll do 10-20 minutes of weights on my own. Frankly, I'm not very patient at weights on my own, so 20 minutes is pushing me!

The weight loss is a big benefit, but the real reason I'm doing this is to be healthier. High blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity run in my family. I've already been on and off medications for hypertension, and been diagnosed as insulin resistant, which is a pre-diabetic condition. Both of these can be controlled with diet and exercise. I don't have health insurance at the moment, and may have to get it on my own within the next year or two due to the legislation recently passed in Congress. I stand a much better chance of having a premium I can afford if I am within "acceptable" weight parameters. All this aside, I just feel better!

And the "you look great" compliments are certainly a nice benefit, too!


Dear Parents: Our Schools Can't Do It All

I work as a substitute teacher. I teach all grades except Kindergarten, and even them I see them when I teach elementary music, art, or computers. I have a unique perspective on the education system, seeing how myriads of different teachers organize their classroom, their lesson plans, their curriculae. The same is true for the schools, since no two schools set up their use of the "specials" (art, music, P.E., and at some schools computers) alike. Even recess is handled differently. And I know no teacher who would disagree with me when I say there are things that need to change.

Much is made about the "standards" that politicians, presumably with the input of "educational experts," have set for our schools. Teachers bemoan, and rightfully so, that they simply teach a test. Students are graded and judged on "benchmarks," and at some schools they've become so oriented to those benchmarks that anything else doesn't appear on their radar. As in, "I don't have to do this because it's not a benchmark." Teachers have to grade on how many benchmarks a student met. You can skip most all of your homework, but meet the benchmarks and you still pass. What is that teaching our students? How many people in the workplace can get away without doing a large chunk of their work, as long as "the important things" get done satisfactorily?

Another problem with benchmarks is that someone, somewhere, decided that by a specific point all 3rd graders should be able to do, say, their multiplication tables through 12x12. Not all kids pick up that concept that quickly! But, I'm sorry Mrs. Smith, Johnny hasn't learned his times tables by the 12th week of school, so he's behind and in danger of failing 3rd grade. Honestly, some kids need to be held back, but it shouldn't be because they didn't learn something as quickly as they "should." Those kids behind in math can probably read circles around other kids in their class, or name all the states and their capitals.

All this focus on standards has caused schools to begin cutting the "extras." Music, art, P.E. (yes, P.E.), even recess, are starting to disappear at an alarming rate. Never mind all those pesky studies that show that kids who have music and/or art do better in school overall. And who needs to listen to those teachers who complain about their kids being hyperactive in class because they don't have an opportunity to go blow off that steam at P.E. or recess? We have standards to teach! Our schools are behind the Chinese, the Japanese, the Swedish! Get those kids in the classroom and get them learning!

Add into this mix a woman I admire and respect, and whose platform I fully support: First Lady Michelle Obama. She's working on the epidemic of childhood obesity, and I see it first-hand working in an inner-city school district. It is indeed an epidemic. Just yesterday I had a first grader who probably tipped the scales around 50 or 60 pounds. Last year I had a 7th grader who was at least 300 pounds. Every school I am at, every class I am in, I see overweight kids. I know their pain; I was an overweight kid, too. I remember my parents telling me I should lose weight, but they never cracked down on what I was eating. They did enroll me in softball, which I loved.

So we have an increasing number of overweight kids and schools struggling to meet standards and cutting recess and P.E. Cue parental outrage, comments on not enough recess time, my kid isn't learning because s/he isn't meeting the standards, and calls to fire teachers or administrators. They are right about the recess time, and maybe there are some teachers and/or administrators who would be better suited in a different career. But outrage isn't the answer.

What can we do?

The first answer is fairly obvious: longer school days. The average school day is 7 hours. In Japan, the average school day is 9 hours, and many kids go to school 6 days a week and only have 3 weeks off in the summer and 2 over the holidays. Even if we only added one hour to the school day, and didn't add a single day of school, we'd still gain over 150 hours of instruction time. That would be the equivalent of adding over 21 7-hour school days, or just about 19 8-hour days. That's a full month of school days. Imagine if your child's teacher had another month! They could teach AND have recess AND P.E. AND music AND art! And wouldn't an 8 hour school day match the parental work schedule more closely, alleviating some child care issues?

The second answer is more parental involvement. It is more than parent/teacher conferences and checks to the PTA. How can you be involved? Here's a list of simple things.

- Sit down with them and review their homework. Don't do it for them! If it is something that you aren't great with, ask them to teach you how to do the problem. That is a surprising technique to help them learn.

- Turn every day events into learning opportunities. For example, making dinner can be a math lesson. "This recipe calls for 1 1/4 cups of flour. I have a 1/4 cup measure, so how many scoops am I going to need?"

- Spend a few dollars on inexpensive books of puzzles and at-home worksheets or some flash cards, all of which can be found at Walmart for $5 or less. Encourage your kids to do them. Many of them can be "sneaky" when it comes to education.

- If you can afford it, get your child into some sort of lessons or after-school activity. Piano, violin, guitar, swimming, tennis, fencing, art, dance, soccer, baseball/softball, gymnastics, the list is practically endless. If your child is hyper, pick something physical they might like. If they are more introspective, a team sports activity will encourage them to socialize. If that doesn't appeal, music, dance, or art will tap into their creativity and bolster their self esteem.

- Read more. Read to them. Read on your own, and set that important example. Libraries are wonderful things, and completely free! Not sure where to start? Ask a librarian for recommendations. If you are interested in fantasy, or mysteries, or romance, they can send you to authors or books you might like. An added bonus: libraries often have programs, especially on the weekends, for kids. If you are unemployed, use that time while they are at some fun program to utilize the free internet at the library and research and apply for jobs if you don't have access at home.

- Limit your child's TV, computer, and video game time. Encourage them to go outside and play!

- Family game times. Sit down as a family, or even just one parent and one kid, and play a board game or card game. Among the things that kids learn in playing games is how to share, how to take turns, and how to follow rules, in addition to counting, colors, shapes, etc. They may even learn how to be a graceful loser, because we can't always win!

- Model a healthy lifestyle. On the weekends or in the evenings, go for a family bike ride or walk. If you are overweight, work on taking the pounds off and set an example for your kids. If they see eating well and regular physical activity is part of your life, they'll want to emulate that as much as they want to dress like you and have a car like yours.

- Work schedules and time can be a legitimate issues. There are lots of after-school programs for kids through organizations like Big Brothers/Big Sisters and the YMCA that will target many of these things, and for those in financial straits these programs are often free.

Our schools are not perfect, but without parental support they are further hampered. Parenting includes educating your child and being involved in their lives. If you are negative about your child's school, don't express that negativity in front of your kids; they'll pick up on it and think that is how they should feel about school, which exacerbates the problem. Instead, find out how you can help your school or make up for its shortcomings. Proactivity will go a long way in creating a generation of kids ready to lead us into the future, strong and smart.


Subbing Summary - August 2010

Although I regularly post this kind of stuff on my Facebook page, I thought each month that I continue substitute teaching I should post a list of things students said to me or other such memorable moments. Most of these are quite hilarious. For August, this list is a little abbreviated, since school started August 13th. (Believe it or not, I subbed the first week of school. Even teachers have reasons to be out the first week!) I won't list every sub job I had.

Friday: Elementary Art
The lesson plan called for me to have the students write in their art journals "Places We'll Go." We talked about where they went this summer, if interesting, then I read aloud the Dr. Seuss book, "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" We then brainstormed some places they could go (or things they could be, for the older kids) and then they were to draw a picture of that in their journals. Clear, yes? Creative? Definitely. I had kids drawing safaris, outer space, playing in the World Cup, being a princess, some really great things. And then I had one student, a second grader, draw a picture of Walmart. Actually, it was her dad dropping her mom off at work at Walmart.

This same day also saw multiple "are you Mexican?" queries, to which the response, "No, I'm Irish" elicited, "Can you do that dance thing?" Apparently all people of Irish descent can jig.

On a brighter note, it warmed my heart to hear one student whisper to another when meeting me at the door: "That's our sub? She's so pretty!" Ah, the honesty of children! It often degrades me, being a heavier gal, so this was a welcome change.

Wednesday: Elementary Music
It inevitably happens. You get called at the last minute for a sub job, and when you arrive there are no lesson plans. In this case, the teacher hadn't even really set up his teaching space. There was a piano (digital with a sticking key - E above middle C), a file cabinet (empty), a tall shelving unit with doors (with a few random supplies in it), a couple of chairs, and a big empty space. Nothing on the walls, no chalkboard or white board. Cue pulling lesson plans out of various orifices! We did some Hokey Pokey, some Deep and Wide, action songs that kids (in theory) know the words to. Then I borrowed from the art lesson above and read them the Dr. Seuss book. Before that I asked them where they might like to go, what they might like to be when they grow up. One younger class had two particularly... interesting... responses.

One little girl said, "I want to do gymnastics, like cartwheels and stuff" and proceeded to do a back bend. I said, "So, you want to be a gymnast?" to which she said, "No! I want to do gymnastics."

Another little girl said, "I'm going to be a princess when I grow up!" This is a typical 2nd grade girl fantasy, so it wasn't my place to burst her bubble. I'll let her parents explain to her why a little black girl from the inner city probably won't grow up to be a princess.

Friday: High School Vocal Music
This was another "no sub plans" day, but fortunately the high schools have full-time accompanists and he certainly knew what was going on. While nothing humorous happened, one heart-warming thing did. A freshman choir class included about a dozen students I'd had a lot subbing at a middle school last year. One of them, Jesse, came to me at the beginning of class and said, "Yo, Ms. H. I don't mean no disrespect or nothin', but you been spending some time at the gym, ain't chu?"

Saturday: The Gym
Ok, obviously this isn't subbing-related, but it goes with the overall theme. During my core class at the gym, Sir Mix-a-lot's "Baby Got Back" comes on the mix. Our instructor, who is at least my age if not older (mid-30s) asks us, in all seriousness, "What does that mean, 'get sprung?'" Awk-ward. Fortunately my friend Dominique, who is also another instructor at the gym, managed to explain it without getting graphic or even more than nebulous. The rest of us just kept doing our crunches.

Tuesday: Elementary Music
This was only a half-day job, and for a good friend of mine so of course we'd talked and there were no surprises in the plans. My afternoon consisted of lots of action songs and telling stories about "Mr. Brown" and "Mr. Black" to demonstrate high and low. I only saw K-3rd grade. In one of my classes, I had a lighter-skinned black girl tell me I look like her mother. Unless her mother is white (possible), she might need her eyes checked.

But the best was in my last class, which was 1st grade. "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" can be a very active song, especially this rendition which also included "Neck, Elbows, Hips and Feet." After the first time we did it, I said, "Wow! That's quite a workout, isn't it? I might not need to go to the gym tonight!" A couple kids used that as a cue to tell me about their kinder-gyms, but one black girl in the front had a different take on it. She was considerably chunky and obviously out of shape, and she said with that overt seriousness that little kids can get, " I don't go to the gym." She sounded exactly like a stereotypical 30-something black woman, right out of a Tyler Perry movie.

Substitute teaching is an interesting and unique challenge. Some days I feel that I am not paid enough. Other days, I think I am paid too much! It requires creativity, patience, a firm hand, understanding, flexibility, and a desire to make sure students are learning. I do miss having my own classroom, and I'm taking some more steps towards having that again. But, until then, I'm going to keep subbing. And, keep the stories coming.


Weight Loss Psychoses

To say there is a great deal of psychology involved in losing weight is not a ground-breaking statement. I am not the first person, nor will I be the last, to say that losing weight is a lifestyle change, ideally a permanent one. The habits that lead to weight gain are innately psychological, and as I learned in a psychology class during my doctoral studies, we don't "unlearn" a behavior. We simply can't. We have to replace that behavior, that way of thinking, with something new.

I've learned a lot about myself and my eating habits over the past 11 months: when I'm inclined to snack, why I snack, why I make some of the choices that I do. It's been illuminating, to say the least, and I've been working to replace those thought processes. I've also started to realize, though, there are some other odd psychological things I'm dealing with as I lose weight. I don't think I'm alone in these, but I won't know for sure unless I throw something out there.

This isn't the first time I've lost a significant amount of weight. Twice I've lost a goodly amount of poundage; once intentionally, the other simply by circumstances of working all the time and subsequently eating less. The second time I hadn't realized I'd lost as much weight as I had until I went to buy new jeans and was down two sizes. This time, I'm being intentional about it again, tracking my workouts, reading up on what is effective and what isn't, making those lifestyle changes that I can stick with for the rest of my life. Replacing my behaviors, in good psychological stead.

Now I'm learning I have psychological ideations I need to address. I've never been a skinny girl. I was a big baby, and as far back as I can remember I was always wearing "husky girl" clothing. I never wore junior sizes -- they didn't have junior plus sizes when I was that age -- and I went from "husky girls" to plus-sized women's clothing. I've always known I was fat, but you don't ever feel as big in your own skin as you actually are. It's difficult to explain. I suppose, as much as I disliked being the big girl, I was comfortable in my skin. I knew generally how much space I took up. There's a certain security that comes from simple size, from feeling solid and substantial. As I get smaller, I'm actually getting weirdly insecure. Part of me wonders if I'll "miss" the weight, the size. I'm not very small yet, and I don't have the bone structure to ever be a size 2, but there's this weird lingering voice in the back of my brain questioning if getting smaller is the right thing. Words are failing me at the moment, but maybe other heavy gals out there who may or may not be reading this blog understand what I'm saying.

The other self-image factor I'm dealing with is how my body is changing shape. At my biggest, I knew where my worst problem spots were and how to dress my shape well. I didn't try to make any illusions, squeezing myself into inappropriate clothing. Those who know me well know my adage of, "Just because you can fit into it doesn't mean it actually fits." But as I lose weight, all I used to know about dressing my body is being challenged. Spot-toning is a fallacy, but at the same time weight loss doesn't happen evenly all over the body, partly because excess weight isn't carried everywhere in the same proportions. I'm now fitting into pants I haven't been able to wear for at least 3, if not 4 or 5, years, but because of how my body is changing shape they still don't look right on me. One pair I put on yesterday is overly baggy and saggy everywhere -- hips, thighs, butt -- but still manages to cling to and show my panniculus, my overhanging abdomen. 4 years ago, when I was wearing them regularly, I don't remember them being like that. Then again, they weren't as baggy, either. It is weirdly frustrating to know your pants are a size too big, yet if you were to go down a size they'd fit better but probably wouldn't look any better.

It's a matter of relearning my curves, I suppose. I also most likely have to come to terms with the fact that I may have the figure my grandmother had, and my mother, my aunts, and my female cousin all have: flat rears, square hips, very little waist-to-hip ratio. Hourglass figures do not genetically run in my family, at least on that side. (I don't know about my father's side, as I don't know any of my female relations there.) As a heavier girl, I had those hourglass curves -- and, of course, I also had curves I didn't want!

It's scary, frankly. I'm making radical, and hopefully permanent, changes to something I've known all my life: my body. It's also a little exciting, I suppose. Maybe I should lose the weight and dress like crap, and my friends will nominate me for "What Not to Wear." Or maybe I'll just lose the weight and still care about my appearance. But "WNTW"... it's something to think about...


Mug Shots!

My good friend and inspiration Tammy suggested I post some pics of my weight loss to date. Frankly, I've been a little bit hesitant because while losing 45 pounds (give or take) is certainly an accomplishment, as candid pics remind me I still have a long way to go.

However, today I had to head downtown to the substitute office that I work out of (I do substitute teaching) because I needed a new I.D. badge. Even before school was out last year, the ever-honest first graders were scrutinizing my badge and saying it didn't look like me. I figured it was the hair. Well, Rose the main secretary and I put the two I.D.s side-by-side and she started laughing and said, "Yeah, you needed a new badge! How are you losing the weight?"

Here I am in September 2009, about a week before joining the gym. The day I had this pic taken was the first day I could walk at all in heels after blowing out my knee for the second time. Sorry it's a little blurry.

And here I am today, August 2010.

I still have a ways to go, but now I can see what others see. I'll try to post more pics as I hit other landmark weight-loss numbers, saving the infamous "before and after" full body shots for when I reach my goal.


An Inspiration? Me?

For those who read this with any regularity, you know that the majority of my posts have been about my Battle of the Bulge. It really has become a focal point of my life. I suppose that is part of the overall lifestyle change that I'm going through, although I do hope I'm not becoming myopic. But I spent this past weekend visiting old (and new) friends in Raleigh, NC, and had a few additional eye-opening experiences.

It is nice, believe it or not, when you are picked up at the airport and the person who picks you up, upon seeing you for the first time in a year, mutters under their breath, "bitch." This, after thinking, "wow, she looks like a movie star!" (To that, I credit the Dolce & Gabana knock-off sunglasses.) So many people I saw this weekend immediately noticed that I'd lost "a lot" of weight. This included a person I'd met only once, and when I ran into her at her job SHE noticed my weight loss.

I still look in the mirror and see the work that has to be done. I think I've been gaining and losing the same 4 pounds this entire summer: I travel and gain them, I come home and lose them, and then I travel again. Even though I worked out in some way every day of this last trip, today the scale still said I was up 3 pounds. I wonder if those super-rich cupcakes from the party had anything to do with that..... but I digress. With so much up and down this summer, having this trip to reaffirm what I'm doing came at exactly the right time.

On top of that, I was told I was an inspiration. There are people I hold as to having inspired me -- one of them regularly comments on this blog -- and I see what they have done as astronomical. They've lost over 100 pounds. I'm in the murky 45 pound area, and while that's nothing to sneeze at, it's not the size of an adult person. I don't see that what I've done is anywhere near what they've accomplished. But I now have two people that I've directly inspired, and it's a little humbling.

My friend Mark in SC "blames" me for his current gym routine. Last Christmas I was out visiting him and gigging at his church, and I wanted to work out in the form of a walk. He asked if he could come along and although I warned him this was exercise for me, not sight-seeing, he really wanted to come. He thought my pace of 4+ mph was easily doable. I left him in the dust. He was really pissy afterwards, although I'd warned him, but it turned out he was pissy at himself. A week later, he got himself a membership at his local Gold's Gym and he has a trainer. He's lost a considerable amount of weight and regularly says our "little walk was a real wake-up call."

My "sister-in-law" Lisa just added her name to the list of folks I've inspired. She's a holistic health practitioner and has been doing some crazy dieting to lose weight, and she's been successful. But she also realizes that she needs to exercise. She's about to turn 50 and is harboring darker realizations, if you will, about her mortality. Lisa was aware that every day I was in Raleigh, I was working out. If I didn't make it to the gym, I did 30-40 minutes of Yoga at the house. We had several conversations about how I made the gym work in my schedule and how I made it part of my life, which gave her great ideas about how she can make exercise part of her daily routine. We are now going to text and such on a regular basis to keep each other motivated (mostly me motivating her) and we've planned that by next year we'll both be at our goals. For her, that's about 20 pounds. For me, that's 80 or so. Both are doable without starvation. For me, it's an average of 1.5 pounds a week, or 6-7 pounds a month. Or for a different perspective, about 30 pounds between now and Christmas, 24 pounds by Thanksgiving.

It's all a matter of patience and perseverance. And inspiration.


It's the Little Things

It seems like for everyone I talk to about losing weight and getting into shape, there comes a point where you don't really feel like you're making much progress. I know the weight is still coming off, slowly as is best, and I'm getting into better shape, but I haven't had a recent "wow, you look great" moment or anything to help keep me motivated. It almost makes me feel like I've plateaued. But I took a few moments to reflect and realized that it is the little things that I need to recognize.

Comparing oneself to others isn't always a healthy thing. It is also something that us humans have a hard time not doing. And admittedly it can have a few benefits.

A couple weeks ago I spent an all-too-brief visit with an old high school friend in her new hometown. On my last day we went to a local natural tourist attraction, some beautiful waterfalls that are best viewed from the base. It is about 60 feet down multiple flights of low-rise stairs. Of course, she who goes down the stairs ultimately has to come back up to the parking lot level. My friend is a 10 year veteran of our military, and although she's put on a few pounds since she was discharged, she's still very active. The climb back up, yes, I felt it in my quads, my pulse elevated, and I was breathing a little harder, but I could do it without major drama. My friend had to stop part of the way up. That was the first realization that I was indeed getting into shape.

Realization number two happened a few days ago. I was in my typical shorts and t-shirt ensemble for my beloved Zumba classes. Of course, we get to face a huge wall of mirrors during the class, and I've become a master at diverting my gaze. But at one point we were standing with our feet shoulder-width apart, getting ready for the next routine, and I realized when I looked at myself in the mirror that I had space between my thighs all the way up. This is new for me, probably since the day I was born. If that isn't motivation to keep up, I'm not sure what is!

My last recent realization, my last "little thing" to keep me going, was a friend also took this same Zumba class. She runs 5-6 miles most every day, so it goes without saying she's in pretty good shape. During the class, she had to stop a couple of times to catch her breath, while I kept going. Just another affirmation that I am, indeed, getting into shape.

According to the dreaded scale and my best educated estimates as to my starting weight, I'm closing in on the 50 pound mark. I'm still about 80 pounds from my goal, and I'm still in that murky clothing area between the low end of plus sizes and the top end of regular misses sizes. I still have a ways to go!

In a couple days I'll be traveling again, seeing friends I haven't seen in a year (when I was a very large maid of honor at their wedding) and hopefully I'll get a few "you look great" comments to further encourage me. Long-range goals are fine, but it's the little ones in-between that keep you going. And I'm keeping in mind, every little bit counts.


Gym - The New Catholic Church?

Today I posted a status on Facebook about not feeling guilty for skipping my Zumba class (knee), said I'd go to the gym later, and used the words "penance" and "indulgences." That prompted me to continue, saying that made the gym sound like the new Catholic church. Which, if you think about it, not only works but has some sad truths to it.

I'm not Catholic. I was raised Baptist and when I moved out of the house I also became an Episcopalian. As Robin Williams says, that's Catholic lite... same religion, half the guilt. But one does not do extensive graduate work in choral music and not learn some things about the Catholic church and its history. Rather than turn my inane little blog into a historical dissertation on the Catholic church's history of "indulgences," just know that waaaay back in the darker ages you could pay off your sins with "indulgences" instead of Hail Marys and Our Fathers.

Back to my observed correlations between the gym and the Catholic church... well, actually between the gym and church in general. And now, the list:

1. Devoted, intense Catholics go to Mass daily. Devoted health nuts work out daily. Correspondingly, you have your Catholics who only go on Sundays and maybe on certain Feast days, and we have those who go to the gym only to do the recommended 30 minutes, 3 times a week. Behind curtain number 3, we have what us church folks call the CEOs - Christmas and Easter Only - and every gym has the roster of members who sign up come early January and after a couple weeks rarely darken the doors of the gym again, unless they have an event or something and think two weeks of working out will help them drop 20 pounds.

2. The church has priests, the gym has trainers. You can go to church and pray and such without working with a priest, and you can go to the gym and work out without a trainer. Both experiences are made better with the respective leader, though.

3. In this day and age, every church is expanding its offerings to attract as many members as possible. So is the gym. Churches do various kinds of worship, have a plethora of study groups and social groups, things for the kids to do, things for singles of all ages, things for married people in all stages of life, ministries for the single parent, etc. Gyms offer, at times, a mind-boggling myriad of equipment, from cardio machines to free weights to weight machines, plus classes from spin to Zumba to core to yoga, child care, swimming pools, and showers with hair dryers included so you don't have to bring yours from home. People pick both their churches and their gyms based on the amenities, location, and the people already there.

4. People dress up to go to church. People dress up to go to the gym. If you don't believe me on the latter, go to the gym and see how many women (in particular) are walking around in perfectly matched & coordinated athletic designer work out clothing. (And, honestly, how few of those women actually break a sweat.) At my gym, there are plenty who wear just comfy shorts and big t-shirts, too, and at the same time you can walk into any church and see everything from "Sunday best" to outfits that make you wonder if they'd just rolled out of bed and gotten dressed in the dark. Without a mirror. With a color blind person choosing the outfits.

5. Both cost money. Honestly, this is a bit cynical of me. Obviously gyms have membership fees, although depending on where you go you can often negotiate lower fees or be scholarshipped. Churches don't require you to pay anything, but Biblically we are expected to tithe and if you've ever been in a church during a stewardship campaign, saying you aren't "required" to pay can feel like a real stretch. Nobody does guilt better than a church, except maybe your mother.

6. Both make you feel better overall. The Church nourishes your spirit, the gym your body. The Bible is full of verses about physical health - some have been taken to the nth degree to support those who believe medical intervention is wrong - and others have a double meaning when the writer says to "be strong." Paul admonished the church in Corinth in his first letter to them about their bodies being a temple of the Holy Spirit and thus should be treated with respect. The entire letter is full of analogies between a physical body and that of the body of a church. Conversely, the gym can help your spirit and the church your body. There are plenty of empirical studies showing that regular exercise helps wards off mental illness such as depression and even possibly Alzheimer's, and having a healthy spiritual life has been shown repeatedly to heal illnesses and injuries doctor's couldn't fix - the power of prayer.

7. You get back what you put in. There is a page or something on Facebook that I recently "liked" that says, "Going to church makes you no more of a Christian than standing in a garage makes you a car." The point of it is, just because you go to church doesn't mean you're a Christian. Likewise, just because you go to a gym doesn't mean you're in shape. I see so many people at my gym using the equipment but never elevating a heart rate or actually working their muscles. A membership card isn't enough, nor is just showing up and going through the motions. The same is true about church: just because you attend doesn't mean you are actually, in your spirit, participating. Or, honestly, participating at all. Go to church and see how many people don't sing during the hymns/praise choruses, and don't pray during the prayers. Why are they there? To be seen? To check something off the to-do list?

8. Both have obligations outside of their respective buildings. Going to church and participating and, if one is Catholic, going to confession, does not give you carte blanche freedom to be a wild and crazy heathen the rest of the week, committing every sin in the book and a few that aren't. Likewise, just because you go to the gym regularly and work out well doesn't mean when you aren't at the gym you can eat whatever you want and punish your body in other ways.

9. People join because they have a need. Yes, there are those who are already in good physical shape who join a a gym, and those with a great spiritual walk who join a church. But new members come because of something innately personal. I got my first ever gym membership because I'd blown out my knee for the second time and needed to rehab it. I also realized that I was in my 30s and facing life-long health problems without insurance if I didn't do something about my overall physical being now. Likewise, people turn to the church in their times of need. After 9/11, church attendance shot to some of the highest levels in decades. People face some sort of devastation in their personal lives, maybe a death, divorce, loss of a job, and they will often turn to the church or at least to their faith to cope.

And now, I have to head to the gym and do my penance for yesterday's Fourth of July family reunion food and beer indulgences.


The Fat Lady...Dances

Recently I discovered the joy of Zumba classes. One cannot live in South Florida, as I did, and not develop a certain love for Latin music and dancing. Now here in the corn-fed Midwest, salsa dancing is not quite the muy caliente rumba of Miami, but at least it involves decent music.

A Zumba class, for those who may not know, is a mix of Latin and Middle Eastern dance moves, combined with some more traditional aerobics steps. Every instructor brings something different to the classes; Irene teaches Saturday mornings and her classes are pretty traditional - a Latino Jane Fonda would feel right at home. Michelle teaches Monday mornings and her classes are heavy on the salsa and merengue. Dominique teaches Tuesday evenings, and befitting her young age, her classes are heavy on more street and hip-hop type moves.

Typical of gyms and dance studios, we do our classes facing a mirror. Seeing myself gyrating while wearing exercise clothes is about as appealing as cold, congealing spaghetti, so I rarely look at the mirror, and when I do it's more often to see some of the middle aged Midwestern women around me doing their comical variation of Latin dance. But one thing has become clear to me, and it is something for me to keep working on: I don't trust my body.

Eleven years ago this September, I had what an engineer would call a major catastrophic failure of my left leg. In a dance class as part of my graduate training, my leg gave out. I had a complete separation of my lower left tibia, as well as tearing almost every ligament in my ankle, tearing my MCL, and tearing the medial meniscus in my knee. A year ago this August, I re-tore my MCL. To say I don't trust my body is an understatement.

I used to be fairly good at dance. I went into it with my whole heart. I was the fat girl who could move, a sort of graceful hippo. My Zumba teachers have been impressed at how quickly I pick up the dance steps, and I credit living in Miami rather than a couple years of dance training and classes where, even as an opera singer, we had to learn 60+ counts of a dance sequence for a mock audition. But in my post-injury years, I've gotten to the point where I just don't trust my body.

It's not a conscious choice. Favoring my leg is still an unconscious decision. I'm working regularly to get past that, with gym workouts and making the conscious decision to do something that my gut would say "Your knee! Your knee!," such as going for a hike. Sometimes I come home and have to ice my knee or take an Advil. But I had to do the same thing while in therapy and know this is an extension of that. I watch professional athletes on TV come back from considerably more catastrophic injuries, so I know I can get past this, and continuing to drop the weight will help.

Meanwhile, don't question your Geiger counters. It's probably just this fat lady dancing off the weight.


Swimsuit Season: Ready or Not, Here I Come!

So in my last post, I talked about returning to the gym after a work-induced hiatus and blah blah blah. 3 times a week doing 30-35 minutes of intense cardio on the elliptical for two weeks is a start, but nothing to write home about, and then I was out of town again gigging. While out of town, I had fun. I went to the beach, lounged around the pool at my homestay. We had a kitchen, so I cooked. I came back from Florida with two obvious tan lines and 3 additional unwanted pounds.


Three days after returning, tax season officially ended and I was furloughed from the IRS. While I'll miss my friends and the steady paycheck, I'm ready for summer vacation. I'm breaking out the sunscreen and my summer reading list and spending quality time "holding down a lounge chair" by the pool, although given the temps I spend much of that time sitting IN the pool instead. And yes, I'm back at the gym, more intensely than ever.

Many sources state that one way to stay on track with a workout regimen is to vary it up. Previously, my way of doing that was by mixing up the tunes on my workout playlists and/or varying what I watched on the TV attached to the elliptical machine. I would also challenge myself to better my stats from my previous workouts in increased time, resistance, strides, or calories burned -- tapping into my own competitive drive. But now that I have the time in my schedule, I'm starting to explore some of the classes my gym has to offer, and am loving the rewards so far.

My newest love are the Zumba classes. If you aren't familiar with Zumba, it is Latin dance meets Jane Fonda, basically. It combines salsa, merengue, cha cha, etc., with some Middle Eastern belly dancing moves and a few things reminiscent of power aerobics of the late 80s. The music is generally Latin and infectious. Each of the classes at my gym is taught by a different instructor, so every class I go to reminds me of Opera Workshop at Rice when we were learning to do dance auditions: a very short period of time to pick up a series of steps. I love the dancing and I love the challenge. And, judging by the soreness of my muscles, I'm getting a great workout, too.

So now my plan is Zumba 3 times a week, plus returning to Yoga classes 2-3 times a week. Friday is the only day where my gym doesn't offer a class that interests me - hey, it's summer after all! - so on the days where there's no Zumba class (or no cardio class at all I want to do), I'm gladly returning to my elliptical. Of course, all this exercise doesn't do a lick of good without changes, or more accurately, a return, to better eating habits. I dropped $140 at the grocery store a couple days ago, and unless being social demands it, I'll be eating in and eating better again. Regular breakfasts, more veggies, smarter choices.

Which brings me to the last thing I'm dealing with: caffeine detox! I figured out that while working nights, it was not uncommon for me to consume 64 oz or more of Diet Coke or Coke Zero. That's a half gallon, or 3 ounces short of a two liter bottle of soda. It also comes to approximately 184mg of caffeine. Now according to the Mayo Clinic, that's within the acceptable limits, if not technically below them. (They state 200-400mg is "safe.") However, the sheer amount of soda I was consuming had effects on other aspects of my body; let's be honest, it tastes yummy but it's full of chemicals that we can barely pronounce. So I'm cutting back my caffeine intake, down to one cup of iced coffee in the morning (still 108mg of caffeine) and hope to gradually dwindle that to a few cups a week. I just feel better when I'm not requiring caffeine, but until I get to that point I have to do something otherwise the headaches during detox will debilitate me.

I have a goal, a certain number I'd like to be at before I go on my first vacation in about 24 days. If I don't make it, such is life; it's a pretty lofty goal to be honest and right at the edge of what doctors say is a healthy amount of weight loss. Still, it would be nice and certainly a great encourager. Until then, there's a lounge chair calling me, and Zumba at 5:30 followed by Yoga at 6:30.


A Plateau is Not a Setback

Today I spent a little time on the phone catching up with a good friend who is a wonderful singer and very reliable and talented blogger. The subject of our blogs came up and I admitted I hadn't been on mine recently. In fact, I haven't been doing many of the things I used to recently. It's amazing how life can get crazy so quickly!

I went back to my night job for the US Treasury Department (ok, I admit it, I work for the IRS) in mid February. Then, around the end of March, my substitute teaching became really busy. I spent 2.5 weeks working both jobs full time, as I took a 2.5 week sub request from a friend. When that ended, I took some time away from subbing, just in time for the overtime to kick in in major amounts at the IRS. I did a stretch of 19 days without a day off, and most of those were 10.5 hour days. This craziness took its toll on me physically and emotionally. It also tended to force me into eating poorly (mostly just eating out and quick) and to skip the gym. When I became ill with a really bad cold and went to see the nurse practitioner at my local Take Care Clinic, the effects of that lifestyle were apparent in my elevated pulse and blood pressure. I knew something needed to change.

School is out, and the season I work at the IRS is slowing down. I'm catching up on life and getting back into my "routine." I returned to the gym on Monday after a 6 or 7 week absence, and after making it through a half hour on the elliptical mostly at the pace I had been at (but not the resistance), I stepped on the scale. Expecting the worst, knowing my clothes were a little snugger, I was very happy to see I'd only gained about 3 pounds. Although I'm not where I wanted to be come June 1, I'm very happy to not be really any heavier than I was. It's a plateau, not a setback.

It is expected I'll be furloughed around June 17th, and school is already out. Being unemployed will have certain advantages, namely a return to a schedule that isn't nocturnal and the flexibility to go to the gym whenever and for as long as I'd like. I'm looking for work - unemployment covers most of the bills, but I'd rather be working, thankyouverymuch - but as long as I'm unemployed, gym and poolside reading sound lovely after 4 months of schedule craziness. Feel free to join me if you're in the area!


Size is just a number.....

There is one advantage, and yet at the same time a disadvantage, to losing weight: you have to put together a new wardrobe. That is, if you are losing significant amounts of weight. Some clothing fits fine, even when too big. Some does not. I saw this in photos of me last week wearing a black suit for a gig. I thought, upon mirror inspection, that the jacket was ok (not great) because of the seaming and structure, even though it could be taken in 4" if not more. Seeing the photos I realized that the excess just made me look like I was swimming in black fabric and had no shape whatsoever.

Fortunately for the first time in several months, I have a little bit of extra money with which to purchase clothing. This is a good thing, since I'm now down to about 2 pairs of jeans I can comfortably wear that aren't overly baggy, and no shorts that fit to take with me to Florida. Even my belts are too big, and given their styles can't be adjusted just by punching new holes. Knowing that more weight loss is inevitable, I headed for Old Navy, where I wouldn't feel too guilty about spending money on clothing that I know, or at least hope, that in a few months will be too big.

The downside to shopping after a big weight loss - I'm down around 45 pounds so far - is that you don't know what size you are. I used to know at Old Navy I was a 20, but not all 20s there would fit me, and the same was true for the size XXL. Knowing, walking in, that my current favorite jeans are Old Navy size 18s, that's where I started. I ended up purchasing a maxi dress, size XL (not XXL), a blouse, again XL, and a denim skirt, size 16. Yes, 16. I tried on and fit into a dress that was a size L. The XL was a bit big, the L a bit small, so I didn't buy it. But there was no denying the ego boost. I almost broke down in tears - the good kind - in the dressing room.

The next day I was out at the mall, looking for concert wear for next week and a dress for an audition and possible photo shoot. I almost bought a black blazer at Dillard's that fit wonderfully, and was a 16W. I ended up buying a similar blazer at Penney's for less than half the price. The tag on that says an 18, but I tried on other things there, mostly dresses, that were 18s and they were a little big. Not so big where I'd honestly consider a smaller size, but I knew in the back of my head within 2 months they would be too big and weren't worth the investment at this time. With less expensive clothing, sizing is more inconsistent. I did buy a gorgeous dress at Dillard's off the clearance rack for the audition/photo shoot that was a 16W. A cocktail/dinner dress for $27? Even if I only wear it twice I'll have gotten my money's worth! The last dress I bought that was a 16W, I was 21 or 22 - some 12 or 13 years ago.

I still have a very long way to go. It would be awesome if by this fall I wasn't shopping in the big girls' departments any more, something that would really be a "first time in my life" situation. As my body changes shape, it seems each time I look in the mirror I see something new I dislike, be it emerging cellulite or something that now looks ill-proportioned. But then I look at the tags that say sizes that no longer start with a 2, and I look at the bigger picture. Size may only be a number, but right now, seeing those numbers get smaller is the best ego boost I could ask for!


In Honor of Saint Valentine...

Sunday is that "holiday" that women tend to swoon over and men dread: Valentine's Day. Now, I have always been single on February 14th and this year will be no exception. I tend to put up a front of cynicism, referring to the date as "Single's Awareness Day (SAD)," or, more recently learned from a friend, "Bitter Single's Awareness Day (B-SAD)." Really, this is just a way to hide that I'm a hopeless romantic and lonely.

I think the modern reason for Valentine's Day is nice. It is a day for us to show that special person in our life what they mean to us, and thanks to mass marketing it is a date that everyone can remember (unlike, say, an anniversary). Few people know it started as a three day feast c. 197 called Lupercalia. Ancient Roman men would run around naked and whip women on the ass with goat-skin or dog-skin whips. This was thought to improve the women's fertility. Apocryphal stories of martyrs named Valentine dying on February 14 in c. 289 & 496, combined with stories that at least one of these men secretly performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers who were banned from marrying, gave way to the romantic history of the holiday. This would be further perpetuated by Chaucer, marriage courts in Paris, and Shakespeare in Hamlet, eventually getting us to fat, diaper-clad, winged babies shooting people with arrows, and heart-shaped, lace-trimmed boxes of candy.

Unfortunately now Valentine's Day has become horridly commercialized and an exceptionally high-pressure holiday. If you are single, it is practically a 6-week long reminder of your status, for once Christmas is over the stores explode with pink and red hearts. If you are in a relationship, the pressure is on for the best gift, the best day. This is especially true for guys. It has become the standard in society for men to have to go all-out on February 14th. If marketing is to be believed -- and unfortunately it does tend to shape sociological thought -- hetero men are expected to 1) purchase that expensive piece of overpriced jewelry that is now magically on sale, 2) get another unique gift, such as a custom teddy bear for about $80, 3) order flowers, which are coincidentally marked up between Feb. 1 & 15, 4) make the perfect dinner plans, and 5) give their female partner an amazing sexual experience. Oh, and don't forget the chocolates.

No pressure, guys.

Women, for their part, are expected to... um... look pretty? I have yet to see a commercial geared towards women and what a woman should get her man for Valentine's Day. I haven't even seen a lingerie commercial directed towards women, although I have seen them directed at guys (the gift for both of you). When did this become the day when men had to show women their affection, but not the other way around? Granted, most all of the women I know in marriages or relationships are good about doing something for their significant others. But we must be honest, there isn't the societal pressure on us that there is on guys. In fact, all this advertising has conditioned women to expect lavish gifts and attention from men.

Granted, I'm single, but I would honestly be happy for a quiet evening with an inamorata, just the two of us. The schedules most Americans keep preclude us from quality time. Is this something we're really going to achieve with a reservation at a crowded restaurant, where they want to turn the tables as quickly as possible to maximize the number of patrons on a special night? When did doing something together that both enjoy become so underrated?

My fellow ladies, I hope you'll stop and really appreciate your man and not put outrageous societal expectations on him. And men, I'm sorry this day has become so materialistic. Believe it or not, creativity goes a long way. That line, "it's the thought that counts?" Well, it really does.

So to my friends in relationships, congratulations. May you honestly enjoy your time together. And to all my single friends, it's almost February 15th.


Tebow's Super Bowl ad - So What?

The Super Bowl is about a hour away from kick-off, and like millions of people I've been watching most of the excessive pre-game coverage. (Really, 5 hours?) There's been some good interviews and feature pieces (I'm particularly glad that the current status of New Orleans was featured, for in these post-Haiti earthquake days we seem to have forgotten the blight many of our own Americans are living in) and some that I could've done without (is the Super Bowl pre-game coverage really an appropriate time for a political interview with President Obama? I think not.).

But I have now seen the "controversial" Tim Tebow/Focus on the Family commercial at least 3 times. And, as a pro-choice person, I say, "So what?" The word abortion isn't mentioned. Based on what his mother says, she could be talking about a difficult pregnancy, maybe a lack of quality health care. It is an invitation to view a website and to appreciate those in your life.

Being pro-choice does not mean forcing everyone to have an abortion. Pro-choice means having a choice, pure and simple. During the third Presidential debate, this question came up and our now President, then Senator Obama, had a very eloquent response. He said, in paraphrase, that he believed the best person to decide whether or not to have an abortion was the mother, in consultation with her family, doctors, and religious leaders. Pro-choice means women have the access to education and the option to terminate a pregnancy should that be the right choice for them.

Ultimately a woman may decide to keep her unborn child. I may be a pro-choice Christian, but until I'm in that position I cannot honestly say what I would choose. Should I make a poor decision and get pregnant right now, I'd probably choose to terminate because I'm not in a relationship, I'm not employed full-time, and I don't have health insurance. I'm in no position to care for another human being, to be a single mom. If one or two of those situations was different, I might make a different decision. But I simply can't say right now.

What I do know is that if I cannot make this decision for myself at this moment, how could I possibly make it for someone else? Who am I to tell someone they cannot end an unwanted pregnancy because it goes against my moral beliefs? I applaud those who work to educate women about their options when they get pregnant, and just as abortion should be an option, one of those options is also to keep the child.

I suppose the real controversy is that we get all het up (yes, I said het up) whenever someone makes a statement that is different than what we believe. Pro-choicers are upset simply because an organization that is pro-life has purchased a Super Bowl ad. This is the same childish behavior that has stalemated Congress, the "I'm against it simply because you/your party supports it." Guess what, America. It's time to grow up and be responsible adults. Quit getting your feelings hurt, justify your beliefs, and have mature dialogues. And as Jesus said, "Let him who is without sin throw the first stone."


Skinny Jeans

The other day, I wore my skinny jeans. For several hours, no less.

Now, I'm not talking about the "skinny cut" jeans, which are essentially denim leggings with zippers at the waist. (Speaking of that, ankle zippers on jeans are now coming back? Cringe.) I'm referring to the pair of jeans I bought without trying on, in a cloud of denial and size optimism, only to discover that they were too small and were subsequently relegated to the back of the closet. 5 years ago.

The fact that I can 1) button and zip them without resorting to the laying-on-the-bed technique and 2) wear them with some modicum of comfort for several hours is extremely encouraging. It ranks up there with the most encouraging things to keep up with weight loss, ever. It will still be some time before I'm comfortable wearing them in public, but it's a start, a step in the right direction. The past couple of weeks have been full of these encouragements, big and small, so here's my list of the ones I particularly love.

1. Hearing, "Have you lost weight?" This is particularly wonderful when it is followed by, "Well, it really shows" and/or, "I noticed it a while ago and have been meaning to ask." Hearing all three sentences together is a high better than chocolate decadence. (Well, maybe not quite, but you know what I mean.)

2. Fitting into long-shelved clothes. Now, this can have a downside -- you finally fit into/back into something but it's no longer even remotely in style. Fortunately, jeans are pretty forgiving in style, since you can find just about every cut at any given time. The rest of my closet is full of fairly traditional items. The only things I have to really watch out for are tapered leg slacks. But, knowing I can walk into my closet and wearing anything in there and know it won't just fit but look good is a great thing.

3. Pictures. When I'm off gigging, cameras are prevalent. So many pictures of me on Facebook are candid shots from gigs, and many of them are simply hideous. There's one of me doing my make-up and I, in concert black, look like the Michelin man in mourning with my ample rolls. It gives new meaning to the term "spare tire." Last week was another gig week for me, though, and the pics that have gone up are encouraging. Even *I* can see the weight loss. One candid pic that I saw coming was taken from what I was sure was going to be a horrid angle, but I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the pic.

4. Concert heels. At last week's gig, I wore heels. We stand for 75 minutes, give or take, on stone floors while performing. Even though I'd run around my college jobs in heels all the time, I rarely did concerts in heels. At work, I'd be sitting most of the time, not on my feet for an extended period other than to conduct or lecture. Concerts can be brutal, though. The heels I wore aren't the most comfortable ones in the world but they aren't inherently uncomfortable. And I did fine. I credit having 30 or 40 less pounds on my poor feet. Being a shoe diva, this has me all a-twitter.

For some people, these might be little things. I'm choosing to not advertise my weight loss on Facebook because I crave some of these reactions from people I see periodically. My goals are set around trips. By the time I return to Florida in mid-March, I want to pack those skinny jeans and be able to wear them all day with whatever shirt I choose -- not one that is flowy or blousy to hide a muffin or mushroom top. I have a dress that I love that now fits again but is not public-appearance-ready. I want to pack that, too. I have other gigs, other goals, but one huge one: there is a person, a good friend, who I won't see until late September. We won't have seen each other since December 2009. There was chemistry, but I ended up being "The Friend." You know how that works, ladies. My huge goal?

Make him eat his heart out.


My "Diet Plan"

Last week I was off gigging, and had a conversation with a friend & colleague about my weight loss. She wanted to know what I was doing to lose the weight, and we chatted briefly about mainstream weight loss plans. She had had some success following the South Beach Diet, but had ultimately put some of the weight back on. Another friend of ours regularly does Atkins, but I think he's been gaining and losing the same 15 pounds for 10 years now.

I have chosen to not go on a diet plan at all. I think that diet plans are great if you are only looking to lose maybe 20 pounds or so. Read the fine print on those Nutrisystem or other weight loss plan commercials whenever someone says they lost 50 pounds: it says, "Results not typical." Personally, I really need to lose a total of about 115-120 pounds to put me where I'm "supposed" to be. Programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig are better suited for more significant weight loss, but still, for many people much of what you achieve is often through their pre-prepared meals (especially on Jenny). Not only are the programs pricey, but you often have to buy their food, ostensibly for the rest of your life, to maintain your weight loss. That's just too many frozen dinners for me, who loves to cook!

I do have a couple of friends who have lost huge amounts of weight on Weight Watchers. One lost over 100 pounds, and another is starting to near the 200 pound mark. That is incredible and inspirational. I also know, though, that they will be counting points for, well, the rest of their lives. One of those friends I called once at 3:00 p.m. seeing if he wanted to grab dinner later. It had been a travel day for us both, and he said he couldn't because he's bad when he travels and he'd already used up his points for the day. At 3:00 in the afternoon. Now that's just not healthy to go from 3:00 p.m. to breakfast the next day, if you ask me. I applaud him for sticking to the program, though!

For me, whenever I try to keep track of my food to the calorie and limit the number of calories I eat, all it does is make me think about food. Suddenly, it's "I'm hungry but I only have 76 calories left for today." Or, "I really want a ________, but then I'd have to basically not have dinner because I don't have enough calories allotted." Really, it should be about a weekly amount, so if you do splurge one day you can still lose weight over the course of several days. Still, that is very hard to do when you are counting every little calorie that enters your mouth and you feel guilty for that indulgence.

So what am I doing? Better eating habits, period. Here are my "rules," for lack of a better term.

1) Eat three meals a day, and especially be sure to eat breakfast. This may seem like a Captain Obvious moment, but ever since I had 7:00 a.m. classes in high school I haven't been a breakfast eater. I love breakfast foods, but I just don't usually wake up hungry. Then, I overindulge in the afternoon and evening, when my body needs the fuel the least. A bowl of healthy cereal, or a bagel, or some yogurt and juice in the morning makes a huge difference throughout the day. Occasionally I'll have something with eggs if I have time and want more protein.

2) Eat more whole grains and fruits/vegetables. I've never been great about the fruits and veggies thing, but as I get older I realize that I don't mind a lot of the vegetables that I used to deplore. I'm still not fabulous, but I'm getting better. Soup is a very easy way to get those vegetables in, and when it is 20 degrees outside it is also a tantalizing way to warm up. When it gets warmer, I'll be back to my love of salads, as long as I keep tabs on my dressing. Even now, though, it is very easy to throw some spinach on a sandwich or into some pasta, or saute some peppers and mix them into scrambled eggs. Whole grains are easy to work into your eating habits, especially with the new dietary guidelines and everybody making or marketing whole grain products.

3) Try to not eat much later than 6:00 p.m. This one is trickier, especially when I am travelling. When I am home, and often getting up for work at 5:00 or 5:30 a.m., I head to bed around 10:00 p.m. so eating at 6:00 isn't that early. When I'm on the road gigging, often I don't get out of rehearsal until 6:00 or sometimes 7:00. Eating earlier in the evening helps me with that breakfast thing, since I'll wake up hungrier. And I do occasionally have a light snack before bed.

4) When possible, make lunch the biggest meal of the day. This is one thing European cultures do, and how many studies, best-selling books, and reports have we seen about how healthy and thin European people are? Americans tend to make dinner the big meal, but by that point of the day we've already used most of our needed calories. It's like doing a long car drive, then filling up the gas tank before putting the car in the garage. Rather than immediately using the gas, it just sits there. In the case of putting fuel into our human bodies, that unused fuel becomes fat.

5) Only eat red meat once or twice a week. I was raised a beef and potatoes kind of girl, and I loooooove my hamburgers. When I'm home, I don't cook red meat that often, but when I'm travelling or eating out suddenly anything red meat on the menu becomes like crack. There are benefits to eating lean red meat, but there are also some negative things, too. Limiting my intake not only helps me find the balance between the two, but it also gives me additional reason to ignore the McDonalds on the corner across from my apartment.

6) Don't deny myself. So many people backslide or put the weight back on because for so long they denied themselves something, be it chocolate, sweets, chips, butter, etc. It is all about portion control, and we are better off having a little bit of something bad than trying to fill that desire with low-calorie/low-fat/low-whatever foods that are ultimately filled with sodium and chemicals. I crave chocolate like most women, especially once a month. (Ladies, you know what I'm talking about!) Rather than just try to say "no," I have those 100 calorie packs of Hostess Cupcakes. They didn't really change the recipe, they just made them much smaller and they don't have that extra white icing on top. I think the three cupcakes in the package come to about 2/3 or 3/4 of a single regular-sized cupcake. But, I've had my chocolate and I'm generally sated, and I don't have any guilt. The same is true for cheese; a smaller portion of full-fat cheese is much more rewarding in flavor and ultimately healthier than having more of the low-fat (or, God forbid, fat-free) cheese, which is full of chemicals I'm not sure we were ever designed to actually consume. Quality over quantity.

7) Less alcohol. (Aaack!) When I'm home, I really don't drink that much, maybe the occasional cocktail or glass of wine. A contributing factor is the Kansas liquor laws, where anything other than a "cereal malt beverage" has to be purchased at a liquor store. (A "cereal malt beverage" would be beer or drinks like Zima or Mike's Hard Lemonade.) We can't even buy wine at the grocery store. Now the Missouri border is about 6 miles from my apartment, and in Missouri I can buy hard liquor at Walmart. Either going to the liquor store or Missouri, that's a special trip just for booze, something I have a hard time justifying. Consuming less alcohol is much trickier when I'm travelling and gigging, for where there are 2 or more musicians gathered there is usually a fifth. Alcohol is full of empty calories, although I do sometimes justify my Cosmos and Cape Cods by saying I'm getting my vitamin C in the cranberry juice. (If you want to feel guilty about drinking, look up how many calories are in a typical margarita.) This is just something I monitor like the above rule about moderation.

8) Consume more calcium. Apparently there have been some recent studies linking calcium consumption with weight loss. I haven't read them, but I'm still incorporating calcium not just for the weight loss but also because I have a history of broken bones and need the calcium and vitamin D for my skeletal health. Sometimes I feel like a little kid, having a glass of milk with my dinner, but that's okay!

9) Eat out less, and it is okay to get a doggy bag. The first part of this is easy, since I'm broke. It's not so easy when I'm travelling, don't always have accommodations where I can cook, and have a meal stipend, albeit a modest one. When I do get to eat out, I have to remind myself that it is okay to not clear my plate, no matter how I was raised and reminded of the starving children in the world. In fact, not clearing one's plate at a restaurant should be encouraged. Unless you are at one of the chains with the "right sized" portions section on their menu, most of the time what you get is equivalent to 2 or maybe even 3 servings. (Be wary of those "right sized" things; Weight Watchers tested their own meals at Applebee's and found that the nutritional information frequently didn't match -- the actual meal prep was higher in calories and sodium, mostly.) Also, having left-overs takes some of the sting out of the cost of eating out, since you're getting two meals for the price.

These are just my personal guidelines. This is not a diet plan, and I am not a medical doctor or nutritionist. This is something I can personally stick to, and I am definitely seeing results. I'm losing weight, I have good energy and mental clarity, and my insomnia is well under control. I credit those things with the combination of these adjustments to my eating habits as well as my obsessive gym time. If they work for you, that's awesome, and I'd love to hear about it!