Monday, June 22, 2015

On Exercise

One decision really can change your life.

Notice I said it can, not that it will. I've made lots of decisions, only to fail in the follow through. Last year, however, I made a decision that I stuck to with commitment and determination, and it really has changed my life. I decided to start exercising.

Let me be clear: I hated exercise. It was hard, it hurt for days later, and I'm really clutzy and uncoordinated, so just figuring out how to do exercises the right way is a real challenge. But I didn't like the fact that it was hard to carry my 18-month-old son up and down the stairs in our house, and that I couldn't walk around the block without huffing and puffing. I also hated my jeans size and my arms. Most of all I hated my arms. My arms were the breaking point. Maybe no one else noticed, but to me they looked like unsightly blobs just sort of hanging off my shoulders. Not pretty.

Toward the end of May, I saw one of those 30-day challenge things in my Facebook newsfeed. You were supposed to join this event and do three exercises (squats, push-ups, and leg lifts) every day and BOOM, you'd have toned arms, abs, and legs for a summer of shorts, tank tops, and swimsuits. So here's the one decision I made: I decided I hated my arms more than I hated exercise. I didn't do anything drastic. I didn't join a gym, or even that event. There was an image that had a calendar and three exercises for every day. So I stole the image (yep. I did) and committed to it. I'd heard it takes 21 days to form a habit so I thought if I exercised every day for a month maybe I'd just keep exercising for the rest of my life and create a healthier existence for myself.

It started off easy enough, something like 10 squats, 10 leg lifts, and a couple pushups. To be clear, at that point in my life I couldn't do one pushup. I tried. Not even one. I could do a few of the girly modified ones from my knees, so that's where I started. And oh my, I hated it. I hated it every day for a month. I remember thinking that 21 days is not long enough for me to form a habit, because I did it for 21 days straight and still hated it and would have happily given it up. But I was starting to see results. My arms didn't look so bad. My waist was coming back. I don't wear shorts, but I could have and not been totally self-conscious. I thought it might be worth it to keep going and see if I could maybe get back into my smaller jeans. The challenge was to get up to 100 squats, 100 leg lifts, and 40 pushups by the end of June, and I didn't do that. I leveled off at 50, 50, and 20. I was motivated, but not that motivated! After a couple months I started getting bored so I added in some videos a couple days a week, and a few more exercises. Like burpees. I don't know why I started doing burpees, and I still hate them, but I can do them and they seemed like a decent challenge so I kept doing them.

After about three months, I woke up one morning and realized I don't hate exercising anymore. It's been a year now, and I think I kind of like it. I exercise in the morning, before my kids wake up, because I just can't do it when they're around. I've tried and it's impossible. And I never exercise for more than half an hour because that seems excessive. I have friends who do the gym thing and that's cool. I don't want to see other people working out and I don't want them to see me, and I don't like equipment or monthly fees, and occasionally I can be highly self-motivated, so I just keep doing the home thing. I mix it up, talk to friends or look on the internet to find ways to change my routine when I get bored. I have a yoga app (FitStar Yoga) that I really like and use a few times a week, and I just started a new app (the 7 Minute Workout Challenge) that is going well so far. Just this morning I did 10 real pushups and I felt like a rock star. And although I've slacked off here and there during the holidays or when I had the flu, for the most part I continue to get up and do my morning exercise routine about 3-5 times a week. A year later, I can carry my kids around and lift cases of water in the grocery store, I'm wearing smaller jeans, I've lost maybe five pounds, and I don't hate my arms. Success!

Sometimes all it takes is one decision, with commitment and follow-through, to change your life. What are some decisions you have made? Or need to make?

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

On Avoiding Sugar

So I decided I'd like to lose some weight. I've been exercising consistently for awhile now (more on that in a later post) and although I'm seeing results in the mirror, I wasn't seeing them on the scale. Normally, I'm not a dieter. The very thought makes me want to do burpees. I hate burpees. But I thought, just as an experiment more than anything, I'd try avoiding sugar for about three weeks in April. Nothing too drastic. I think I might have lost a pound or two, but I learned some interesting things. Here are some of them:

Sugar is in everything

Okay, maybe not everything. But seriously. I was only avoiding sugar and other added sweeteners, but I swear, it's almost impossible to avoid added sugar unless you are also avoiding carbs, dairy, and processed foods, just to name a few. I actually had considered doing a Whole 30, a program that a friend of mine had recommended. I chickened out on that and just avoided sugar instead, but it turns out that's harder than I thought it would be. If I ever try this again, I'm going to go with the carb-counting method I learned from my nutrition consultation when I had gestational diabetes, or just suck it up and do the Whole 30.

Sugar makes me sick

Not even kidding. On one Sunday morning, after I'd been avoiding sugar for about a week, I accidentally ate two cookies out of habit. About 30 minutes later, I felt terrible. Heart rate went wacky, stomach felt icky, and I got a headache. Then went I went back to eating sugar on my daughter's birthday, I overloaded and believe me, I felt it. Clearly my body doesn't handle it well. Sadly, I know that and I just keep eating the stuff anyway.

Some things actually taste good without sugar

First, I should probably confess that although I significantly reduced my sugar intake, I also increased one of my other guilty pleasures: butter. I love butter. Possibly more than sugar. Yes, I realize that eating more butter probably balanced out eating less sugar, and could be the reason I didn't lose more than a pound or two, but I just kept telling myself that butter was better for me than sugar anyway. So I ate it on toast. Smeared it on pancakes and covered that with strawberries (yes I know pancakes have sugar. I checked the label. See? Everything has sugar) I cooked stuff in it. And it was delicious. Believe me, if a little butter is good, more butter is better.

Okay, enough about butter. I drink a lot of coffee. With creamer and flavored syrup and yes, sometimes whipped cream. All the good stuff. Well, I wasn't about to give up coffee - I've tried that, with disastrous consequences - but I was good and didn't put sugar in it. Sometimes I drank it black. I can do that. I like coffee. Sometimes I did put milk in it. And half and half. See what I mean about dairy? It's a problem. But anyway, I discovered that plain, unsweetened lattes are actually really tasty. So now I'll have my grande hazelnut latte with just one pump of syrup instead of three or four and guess what? It still tastes like an indulgent treat. A little bit of heaven. Happiness in a cup.

I also learned that plain yogurt isn't actually that nasty. Especially if you put raspberries or blueberries and a teeny dribble of vanilla in it. Or a teaspoon honey. Strictly speaking, honey is an added sweetener (read: sugar) but it sure does make yogurt palatable. And we get honey from a local guy who has his own bees, not the fake crap from the grocery store. So there. Anyway, just today I had some yogurt with raspberries and honey, and I didn't gag.

Also, homemade Chex Mix is really, really good.

Talking about what I'm not eating makes people uncomfortable

So much of our social interaction revolves around food. I gave up sugar and suddenly people were apologizing for eating it or making stuff with it, or asking me if I'd like dessert and then looking all guilty when I said no. I just wanted to make a sign that says "Please excuse me if my personal food choices are making you feel bad. Get over it." Instead, I decided that if I ever go on any kind of diet again (somewhat unlikely) I'm not going to tell people about it. It's just more trouble than it's worth. So yeah, maybe I'll just eat the brownie at the potluck. It's not gonna kill me. It's kind of like when the Apostle Paul talks about food in 1 Corinthians 8. Do what you have to do. But don't throw it in people's faces. Be kind, and gracious, and let other people eat what they want. It's a good approach to food, and to life.

So much for my brief excursion into dieting. Even if it was short and rather limited. My biggest conclusion? I actually don't eat that much sugar. I could eat less. But there's a reason why I'd rather exercise. I love food. All the food. That is all.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On The Avengers: Age of Ultron

Just like pretty much everyone else in America, I saw the new Avengers movie this week. And now, for your entertainment, I present my spoiler-free take on the film.

First of all, if you can, go with friends. Movies are just more fun with friends. I'd say this is a good date movie but I'm not sure what that means. As with most movies, Greg grudgingly went along with me to see it because he knew I would never let him hear the end of it if he didn't go. In his defense, he does like the Avengers. We also went with three other friends. The great thing about seeing Marvel movies with friends is that they are funny movies, and it's fun to laugh with friends. I mean, I don't know about you, but that's pretty much why I have friends. Right? Also, I like to talk about movies after seeing them, which is much more enjoyable if you're with a group and you've all just seen the same movie together. Bonus points if you or at least a couple of your friends are some level of Marvel geek, because then you can have heated discussions about things like Civil Wars and Infinity Stones and explain minute points that either everyone already knows or no one cares about. And more bonus points if you get more than one funny look from the server at the restaurant you go to hang out at after the movie.

So anyway. The Avengers. Quick synopsis: The volatile crew of superheroes known as the Avengers (or as Greg likes to call them, the league of beautiful people) is working to recover Loki's nasty scepter that caused so much trouble in the last movie. This becomes a problem, we eventually figure out why, there's lots of drama, interpersonal relationship stuff, and a freaky mean sentient robot who decides that the Avengers are the world's sickness and he knows the cure. Which is, of course, destroy the world (and humanity along with it). Since the Avengers are known for being rather fond of the earth (and humanity along with it), they figure they'd better stop him. It's not a perfectly constructed, watertight plot by any means, but it provides a good backdrop for all the fun superhero antics that everyone is really there to see. That and the beautiful people. Because let's face it, these people are superhumanly gorgeous. Eye candy, fun one-liners, and a really obnoxious villain who just needs a good butt-kicking are the essential elements of this film, and they deliver. I will leave the sarcastic criticism of various plot elements to the people of YouTube (HISHE, Screen Junkies, Cinema Sins, take your pick, there's a bunch of them and they rule the Internet) and just say yes, it's a fun movie. No, it's not as good as the first Avengers movie, which is on my list of all-time favorite movies. No, it will not win any Oscars. And really, who cares? Marvel knows exactly how to part millions of us with our money: Keep making movies like this. It works.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

On Being the Master of My Domain

As I'm sure you all know, I'm naturally a humble, unassuming person, even quiet and shy at times. (And if you really know me, you'll know there is some sarcasm in that statement, too. But it's mostly true. Or partially true. Sometimes) But there are times in life when it becomes necessary to say, Hey look at me! I'm awesome! For me, this is one of those moments. Because I have registered a domain name. See it there at the top of the page? See it? Awesome, right? Now all I need is an awesome website to go with it. And maybe something to sell. Like a book, or editing services, or something like that. Oh and maybe I should blog more often. Yeah. That would be good.

So there you go. Tell all your friends. And if anyone wants to volunteer to help me figure out the awesome website part, please email me or comment below. :)

Monday, February 9, 2015

On the Past

I've been thinking a lot about past events lately. For lots of reasons, not all of them good, but not all of them bad, either. I've also considered writing a memoir - crazy, I know, but all kinds of people are writing memoirs lately and it sounds fun. The past is a tricky thing. People say don't live in it, don't waste your time regretting it, what's done is done...the fact is, what's done is done, and there's not a lot we can do about it now. So if we can't change the past, which is true, and we shouldn't dwell in it, which is also true, why can't we just forget about it and move on? Is it possible that we're not meant to?

Memories are fascinating. They are not always accurate. They are colored by our impressions of the circumstances, the people involved, our moods, either when the memory was created or recalled. And so the past becomes this vast subjective thing, where conversations and events are altered through our interpretations and impressions, either true or false. Very often, memories of the past are tainted with regret. I should have made a better choice. I wish I'd known then what I know now. What if I had done something or said something differently? Could I have done more? Should I have done less?

Then there are the parts of the past that we'd just rather not think about. Dark old secrets, the kind that lay buried most of the time, but sometimes bits and pieces show up, not always at the most convenient times. What do we do with them? Try to forget them? Wish they had never happened? For what it's worth, here's the perspective I've gained this week:

The failures of the past are more than just errors in judgment that we wish we could forget. As a believer in Christ, cleansed by his blood, I am forgiven of all those mistakes, and even the intentional sins I've committed. But I still remember them, even though sometimes I wish I could forget. Why? Because those things have shaped who I am today. There is no point in wishing they had never happened. I am forgiven, I've moved on, but in that process, my life and my character were changed. There was most likely an impact in others' lives that they'll never forget, either. We do this life thing together, and in some way, every choice we make changes our lives and the lives of people around us, in good ways and bad ways, for all eternity. That knowledge makes me want to live better in the future, make better choices now, so that the impact I leave on the lives of others is positive, not detrimental.

We can't change the past. We can let it change us. Make us better, wiser, more forgiving of others' mistakes. And when those things do pop up and we remember them, we can also remember where we came from, where we are now, and find reasons to be thankful for the blessings in our lives, both now and in the past. Most of all, I am thankful for the grace of God that covers my past, redeems it, and makes me new.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19, ESV)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.  (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

Saturday, January 31, 2015

On Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Okay, for those of you who don't know, I'm just going to come out and say it: I'm a nerd. As a nerd, I consider myself a generalist in all things nerdy. But I do geek out in certain areas. One of them is the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. I just loved the idea of so many storylines tying together across several movies. I got totally into it. And then, after The Avengers, one of my favorite movies because it's just so much fun, came the ABC TV series, Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. For the purposes of this blog, I'm just going to call it SHIELD. It's on a brief winter hiatus right now, but I saw a sneak peek of the next episode and I'm so excited, I just keep thinking about it. So here's a blog post about it.

I've watched this show since the first episode, and haven't missed one. I've even watched all the Marvel movies that have come out since this show debuted, in order to make sure I don't accidentally miss something important. I know some people were disappointed that the show has its own plot and doesn't really tie in to the movies very tightly. As one of my friends put it, "I kind of lost interest when I realized that it's not really about the Avengers, just some people who sort of know them." But as the Marvel folks like to say, it's all connected. I think it's totally fun to set this show in a world where the Avengers really do exist and the events that happen in major cinematic productions also affect the lives of the "ordinary" people who make up Coulson's team of agents. And yes, the show does focus on Phil Coulson, Nick Fury's right-hand-man, who died so dramatically in the Avengers. And yes, he did die. And yes, he's alive now. It's a long story, and one that weaves through the plot of most of the first season. The series premiere poses the question, "What really happened to Coulson?" that gets slowly but surely explored through the course of the season. Along the way, we are introduced to a fun, engaging cast of characters. From the feisty and mysterious Skye, to the nerdy scientist duo, FitzSimmons, to hardened agents Melina May and Grant Ward, Coulson's crew proves over and over that a good team is greater than the sum of its parts. And that learning to work together often serves to bring out the best - and the worst - in people.

I think this show has great writing, decent acting, and a lot of really fun action and explosions and special effects and stuff. In fact, to skip ahead for a second, the winter finale of this season included some of the best special effects I've seen in a TV series. Admittedly, I don't watch a lot of TV. But still, it was awesome. But the real strength of the show is the characters and their chemistry. During the first season, I loved watching the bond that developed between Skye and Coulson, the fun interaction between Fitz and Simmons, and the questionable relationships between May and Ward and the other characters. It took a few episodes for all that chemistry to really start to come together, but once it did and I really started to care about the people in the show, I was totally hooked. It's also fun to see occasional Asgardians and cameos from characters in the Marvel movies, and I hope to see more of those in the future.

I think most people would agree that the real shining moments for this show happened after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Suddenly the plot that had been developing all season had a real focus, and specific enemies, including a brilliant betrayal. The season finale of the show was packed with angst, awesomeness, and fantastic one-liners delivered with the crackling wit I've come to expect from Marvel writers and actors. It was like a Marvel movie condensed into an hour and delivered on the small screen. I loved it, and I loved how it set up the second season, which has been excellent. Although Coulson is still the focus, Skye is also coming into her own, and the show has now shifted somewhat in tone. Instead of just reacting to the Marvel movies, it seems fairly obvious that the show is now building to at least one of them (Inhumans) and possibly more (Captain America: Civil War...?) It's a bold move by the studio but I think it's super fun. I'm eagerly anticipating the show's return on March 3, and trying to keep up with Agent Carter (which is also a fun show) in the meantime.

I'm slightly obsessed with SHIELD. My obsession has inspired internet research, long conversations peppered with exclamation points, and even a mild temptation to actually read comic books - okay, I've resisted that so far. But if you like Marvel movies, or TV shows with action and really good character development, I think you'll like this show. I don't have Netflix or Hulu but I think season one is on Netflix and season two is on Hulu Plus, so you should have time to binge-watch and catch up before new shows start up in March. Do it. Thank me later. And talk to me later, because I do not get tired of talking about this show.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

On Friendship

Through an interesting set of circumstances, I've recently had an opportunity to evaluate some of my closest friendships, and I've learned some things. About life, about friends, and about my friends, in particular.  I think some of it is worth sharing.

I'm not a particularly outgoing person. I used to consider myself an introvert and I suppose that's still true to some extent, although I like people much better now than I once did. I was very shy growing up, and being homeschooled didn't give me much of an opportunity to break out of my shell. It wasn't until after college, when I started my Mary Kay business, that I finally realized that I actually like people. Still, I've never had a huge group of friends. I tend to have a small handful of people that I know and trust, a larger circle of friends I genuinely enjoy spending time with, and then plenty of acquaintances who I'll smile and chitchat with, but who really don't know me at all. Most of those people tend to think I'm sweet. My friends know better. My close friends really know me, and love me anyway. At least, that's how I see it.

I find that in life it's helpful to think the best of people, but not trust them too much. Still, most of the time I'd rather err on the side of trust. There are times I regret that. But I'd rather love people and have real relationships where I might get hurt than put up walls and be fake. To me, that doesn't sound like any kind of life. Anyway, here's what I've learned about true friends:

A true friend is a friend all the time. Good times, bad times, fun times, hard times. A true friend knows my faults, maybe not all of them but most of them, but doesn't fault me for them. A true friend will listen to me go on and on for hours or maybe even days, or sometimes even longer, about what is going on in my life. Even after I say, "Ok, now I'm done. Oh wait, one more thing..." A true friend will listen to my secrets and my fears and keep them quiet. A true friend will have my back when times get tough. A true friend is honest. A true friend won't tell me "oh, you're fine, everything will be okay" when it's obvious that I'm not, and it won't. A true friend won't tell me what to do unless I actually ask for advice. A true friend is willing to let me make my own mistakes, pray me through them, and be there for me afterward without the obvious but belittling "I told you so." True friends can have fun doing little stupid stuff, and big fun stuff, laugh at a gazillion inside jokes, and talk about nothing or important things anytime, for hours if necessary. A true friend has the courage to correct me in person, rather than going behind my back.

I have discovered that I may have fewer true friends than I thought, but I am so thankful for the ones I have. I hope that I am always the kind of friend I hope to have in my life. Because when the hard times do come, and they always will, it's good to have a few good friends.