Happy Independence Day!!

Bunting 7-4

Clip Art by DigitalArtsi@Etsy.com

I consider myself a patriotic person, but you won’t find me doing the typical July fourth activities.  I live in Houston, where it is usually horribly hot and humid, even after dark when the fireworks start.  I am also not a fan of large crowds and traffic, two other factors I associate with most Independence Day activities.  

However, sometime on that day I will hear Lee Greenwood’s words and will get teary eyed.   The chorus of God Bless the USA begins:

And I’m proud to be an American

Where at least I know I’m free

And I won’t forget the men who died

Who gave that right to me….

It amazes me when I think about what those words are actually saying.  Lives were lost to protect many of things I take for granted- rights and a way of life I haven’t had to personally sacrifice much for.  I can worship God however I choose.  I can express my opinion without fear of arrest.  I had access to a free education.  I live in place that is safe for my family and if I get sick I have access to some of the best healthcare in the world. An argument could perhaps be made that there are people in this country who can’t claim those same privileges, but I am speaking here only of myself.  It fills me with incredible awe to realize just how lucky I am.  

I think it is especially present in my thoughts this Independence Day, as a close coworker and friend is on the last step on the long path to becoming a United States citizen.  She has shared the stories of the vast corruption in her home nation that leaves many of its citizens destitute, family members who do without basic medical care, Christians who fear assault or death for merely practicing their faith, and nights spent without electricity and other basic needs.  Again- It fills me with incredible awe to realize just how lucky I am.

So, no, you won’t see me out at a picnic or parade this July 4.  I won’t be playing with sparklers or watching other fireworks that evening.  However, I will be celebrating in my heart the birth of this incredible nation that I am proud and extremely grateful to call my home.  

Firework 7-4

Clip Art by DigitalArtsi@Etsy.com

I haven’t burned the kitchen down, yet….

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Photo by Devon Rockola from Pexels

Writing these posts has really opened my eyes to how much I have changed over the last several years.  I remember having the thought, at about the age of fifteen, that I had reached adulthood and moving forward from that point, I didn’t anticipate changing much.   I am SO thankful that I was wrong.  I have been happy to discover that even someone like me, with a lot of well-entrenched habits and ideals, can learn new tricks.

One of these is my approach to preparing food and eating at home.  I was raised by someone who didn’t enjoy cooking and kept our family fed on easy and cheap meals like hot dogs, pancakes, and potatoes and eggs.  I didn’t do much better for myself when the choices were left up to me.

Many of my culinary challenges were because I was simply uneducated.  As a young adult, living by myself for the very first time, I decided to cook a chicken breast.  I put it in a pan, without seasoning, and baked it in the oven for a long time.  I had no clue that sometimes less is more or why it was completely inedible.

I am naturally a finicky eater who married someone even pickier.  Our son, whose palate is challenged even further by autism, definitely has our genes when it comes to what he eats (or more appropriately- what he won’t).  When I did cook at home, things had to be simple and eating out was very common.  Unfortunately, my wallet and my waistline paid the price.  Even when I started eating better two years ago- I still ate out frequently; I just made sure my choices were fitting into my Weight Watchers points allowance.

I began looking at social media, searching for weight loss inspiration.  It was in that search that I found some recipe sites that had meals that were both easy to prepare and fit within my point/calorie budget.  I began to experiment and discovered for the first time in my life that I enjoyed cooking at home.  This was a huge surprise!  I had always turned up my nose at leftovers, but I find I would much rather eat those, cooked specifically the way I like them, than pay for restaurant food.  Eating out often leaves me disappointed and then I feel bad for wasting money on a splurge I didn’t enjoy.

As my confidence builds, I have started looking at meals outside the lower calorie recipe sites and contemplating how I can adjust them to suit me, both in terms of flavor and calories.  It’s actually kind of fun.  I have had to deal with some real bombs, but I have also been lucky that the successes have far outweighed the failures.

Simply Scrubs…

One of the side effects, for me, of being so overweight for so long, was that I really didn’t care much about my appearance.  Am I clean?  Do I smell good?  If I could answer yes to those questions I was good to leave the house.

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Photo by shattha pilabut on Pexels.com

Being overweight doesn’t mean someone is not attractive.  I know many overweight women who look great, but I have always felt like I was missing the “beauty secrets” gene.  I almost had a panic attack in an Ulta Beauty Store once, as I felt so out of place and was certain that everyone else in the store knew it.

It has helped that I have mostly had jobs where scrubs were required as part of a dress code.  I haven’t even had the freedom to pick the color- it has been navy blue (ugly), gray (even uglier) and forest green (better, but the shortest lived color choice).  However, no one could tell I lacked fashion sense- we all looked the same.

As I lost weight, I found myself much more interested in how I looked and I raised the bar a little higher than “clean”.  I have found I like pretty things and clothes shopping is not the chore I once considered it to be.  The dress code at my main job is either business casual or scrubs and I have been opting to look cute.

However, in recent weeks, I have had a desire to simplify and and declutter things in my life.  It struck me how much easier managing my work wardrobe would be if I went back to wearing scrubs.  There are no worries about matching shoes or accessories.  I don’t have to figure out which items have to be washed or dried a particular way.  They are amazingly easy to wear and lightweight enough to combat the heat in Houston.  

I am in my second week of wearing scrubs and have been delighted to find this plan works as well as I thought it would.  I am very comfortable and it certainly has simplified getting ready in the morning. 

I did make one allowance for style and picked a pretty color- it’s called azalea and I love it!

Denise in scrubs2

Becoming an early riser…

Thirty years ago I was an unrepentant late sleeper and resolute night owl; most of my activities didn’t even start until I got off from work at 9 pm, or later.  I told myself for many years that my schedule was based on my own natural rhythms and my brain just functioned better at midnight. Looking back with more mature eyes, I think it probably had very little to do with my circadian clock, but was more likely a justification for how I chose to stay up and sleep late during that period of time.  Either way I’ve evolved into one of those exuberant morning people that I used to despise.

I eventually had to join the real world where I’ve worked in hospitals most of my career and twenty-four hour staffing is a must in the department I work in.   Morning shifts often require a start time of 6 am, or earlier, and those first few years of rolling into the laboratory that early were pure torment. It didn’t help that, traditionally, this is the busiest part of the workday.  There was always an encounter or two with these cheerful morning types who I was certain wore this upbeat demeanor in an attempt to annoy me. Honestly, who could possibly be that happy and alert in the bowels of the day? I loathed them, at least until 10 am or so, when the reasonable part of my personality would finally wake up and join the rest of me.  It’s probably out of respect for the cranky grouch I used to be that I keep my morning bliss very low key.

Surprisingly, it was during my years on the night shift that my view of early mornings began to change.  There are many drawbacks to the graveyard shift, but the biggest one for me was managing my time off. I adapted a hybrid sleep pattern on those days that allowed me to have a few extra hours to enjoy myself without becoming totally exhausted.  I usually slept in two bursts- once during the afternoon and then again when my husband went to bed. I would wake up at 3 am or so, still partially tethered to the schedule I adhered to on workdays. It was during this period that I fell in love with that blossoming part of the day, when the sun just begins to peek over the horizon and reach tentatively across the sky.  The new day, in those moments, just seems to overflow with unlimited potential.

It took several more years and some employment changes before I got to a place where I could enjoy being up early on a regular basis.  I still love that time when the rest of the day sits unfurled before me. I have to admit that many times the plans I make in that quiet calm have gone unrealized as I rush through the rest of the day, derailed by distractions, and out of steam long before bedtime.  However, I know after a restful sleep, I’ll be able to try again tomorrow, in the freshness of another new day.

Weight loss win…

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It will never become the focus of what I write about, as so many others do it much more eloquently, but the issues surrounding my weight limited the amount of joy I felt for most of my adult life.  I’m not arguing that a normal weight is necessary to fully experience self-love and contentment, but being significantly overweight clouded and distorted my perception of myself and my surroundings.  For me, it’s not the weight that I’ve lost that has made the difference, but the celebration of my self-efficacy that has made the biggest adjustment in how I now see myself and why I am able to more fully appreciate the treasures around me.

I had a difficult and unstable childhood, raised by people who enjoyed upheaval and lots of drama. Many times food was scarce. I went from a skinny little kid to a chunky tween to someone who graduated high school already wearing plus-sized clothing.  I associated eating with personal security, stress relief, and other emotions. When I was a child nutritious foods were not usually offered and healthy eating behaviors weren’t modeled. As an adult making my own decisions, I continued to adhere to those well entrenched habits, even as I acknowledged that they didn’t best serve me.

Denise and Joey

I dieted off and on for many years, sometimes finding limited short term success, but more often failing to get through even a few days of whatever plan I tried. It often seemed futile to even make another attempt, but I knew that those who had found success often cited how they had tried everything repeatedly before finally finding what worked for them. I kept trying.

About two and a half years ago, I started a new job. During orientation, reps from the wellness program came in to do a presentation. I distinctly remember tuning out, thinking that I was way too unhealthy and overweight to participate.  However, I discovered a few months later that they offered Amazon gift cards as one of the incentives to adopt healthier behaviors. That was a rabbit I was willing to chase.

I started by walking.  If I got a minimum number of steps everyday I earned a few cents for shopping everyday.  I did classes. I went to the gym. I joined Weight Watchers. I built my Amazon wish list and cashed in.

Between June 2016 and April 2017, I lost 85 pounds.  My lab work improved tremendously. I could shop in the section of the store that housed regular sizes.  I even got enough points for the health insurance discount. I was on top of the world, ready for the first time in my life to finally get down to a normal weight, but then I hit a plateau.

Plateaus are part of weight loss. I really wasn’t worried, at first.  I had all kinds of tools I felt would work to shake things up for me. However, no matter what I did I couldn’t lose anymore. I did all iterations of the Weight Watchers point systems through various apps, counted calories, ate more protein, drank more water, started strength training, walked more, took maintenance breaks, gave up the Sunday splurge meal and dessert that I had enjoyed during my entire loss- nothing has worked.  The scale has not moved, not for the 10 months I diligently worked at it or since. It is easy to fall into feelings of frustration and despair, but at 50, I know my hormones are not necessarily helping this process. I’m not giving up.

I have been tempted to do low carb eating plans, packaged fixes, and even to start running. However, I know that for me, none of these are sustainable.  I refuse to start anything I can’t do forever.

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Right now, my focus is maintaining where I am.  I know, according to weight charts, I have more to lose, but I am really trying to be content where I am.  I am focusing on strength training, walking, building healthier eating habits, and staying off the scale.  I know this struggle will be with me for the rest of my life, but better health and a stronger body are crucial to enjoying this phase of my life.  I feel I’ve missed so much already.

Panera Strawberry Poppyseed Salad…

I have never been a fan of fruit in salad.  In fact, even though I have an incredible sweet tooth, I have always subscribed to the thought that sweet things belonged together and should not be mixed up with savory things in salads, stuffing, meat dishes or anything else.  A cheddar cheese slice on apple pie gets a definite “no”, while ice cream on apple pie is “more please” (especially if the apple pie is warmed- yum!).  For this reason I had always turned up my nose at this social media favorite.

I finally took the leap this week, as I was intrigued by its low calorie count and wanted to satisfy my curiosity.  I chose to pair it with half a Bacon Turkey Bravo sandwich and a bag of chips, which I knew would tide me over if I brought it back to my office and decided I didn’t like it.  I unpacked it from the bag and opened it, sniffing it suspiciously, looking for any weird odors that would push me to discard it without even tasting it.  I opened the little cup of dressing, in the same fashion, and took a really tiny taste. I wasn’t sure if I liked it, but…I wasn’t repelled.  I dumped the dressing into the salad, mixed it up really well, and took my first bite…it really wasn’t bad!  I ended up eating the whole serving (of half a salad) and really enjoyed it! The fruit was cool and juicy and the seasoning on the chicken wasn’t overpowering.  I especially liked the burst of freshness that filled my mouth when I managed to capture a piece of pineapple in the bite.  It tasted like summer to me.

I was a little disappointed to learn the next day that it was missing the promised pecans  (the location by my work is not really reliable about these things). However, I see more of these in my future and next time I will definitely be searching my bag before I leave the store to make sure I am not cheated out of them again.  Definitely two thumbs up!!

 

 

Here comes summer…

I live in the southeast suburbs of Houston and summer arrives early here and lingers with hot, humid days until long after school has started, and some years, even until  trick-or-treaters are roaming the neighborhood.  I have always been an avid fan of autumn and not so fond these sticky, miserable days.  For many years, while many of my northern neighbors and relatives were basking in the glory of June, July and August, I used to become depressed and resentful.  However, as I age and learn more about myself, I have discovered that I can often change my thoughts and feelings around a negative event, by changing the narrative and perception of I have of it.

Last year, I actually applied this way of thinking to summertime in Houston.  Instead of feeling the normal dread and girding myself for its misery, I looked for things that I actually enjoyed about this time of year.  I focused my energy there, rather than in a negative place.

It was hard, at first.  I am not a beach or pool person and generally, don’t like to sweat.  I found, as I worked at it, that I really could find things to appreciate.  The produce, such as cherries and watermelon (two of my favorites) is abundant.  The days are longer, which makes me feel more energized and productive.  The season is book ended with holidays (usually extra time off) and even has a bonus one in the middle.  The traffic on my commute is not nearly as congested and it seems the community as a whole slips into a more relaxed vibe as people vacation and rest.  I am highly anticipatory, and find one of my favorite things about summer is that fall is coming up close behind.  It was freeing to be able to let go of my horrible dislike of this season and embrace its positives instead.

As the heat index hovers close to 100 today, in early May, I am keeping my eyes peeled for the first cherries of the season and dreaming of pumpkins to come.