December 31, 2010

Roses and thorns

When I was young, my grandfather told my parents that he knew I would grow up to be wise. My dad asked how he knew, and my grandfather said that he saw me in a group of children, and while everyone else spoke, I sat there, very intently listening and just taking everything in.

I've done a lot of listening this week, and I've had a lot of chances to reflect on what I have seen, heard, and done. I'm very much looking forward to being back in Chicago on Monday night and getting back to regularly blogging by Tuesday or Wednesday. I miss blogging - in fact, I miss all my routines. I love my family very much and I love being in Connecticut, but I also really love sleeping in my own bed, and being independent, and eating vegetables that aren't drowning in butter.

To say I've been busy would be an understatement, yet it feels like I've accomplished very little. I feel like "busy" in Chicago and "busy" in Connecticut mean completely different things; on my own, I feel like I need to be constantly producing in some way, but here I feel like I am exhausted at the end of a day with no evidence to show that I did very much at all.

In brief:
  • Christmas was. It just was, I guess. A lot of build-up for a day or two. I made a great plan, I did not stick to my plan, I got back on track the next day. There have been a multitude of lessons learned, and I'll share them next week.
  • There was a pretty big snowstorm that ruined my plans with my college friends, which really upset me, especially after everything that happened with my best friend Jill these past few months. We've been talking, and we have decided to try having video chat dates a couple times a month - dinner or tea and catching up. I'm sad that things didn't work out and we couldn't hang out, but I remain hopeful and optimistic.
  • I've logged 30.25 miles for the Merry-thon, and I'm running my first official 5k tomorrow. I'm overwhelmed with a bizarre anxiety, a nervousness combined something I've come to identify as being a feeling I experience almost exclusively while I am in Connecticut. Again, something to be fleshed out in an entire blog post of its own. I'm going to do the best that I can, and know that no matter the outcome, you'll be hearing all about it!

I've been trying to keep up with reading blogs, and I've really enjoyed seeing people's reflections on 2010. I think my overall theme for 2010 was transition, because this was a year of big changes for me - passing my Master's exams and finishing school, getting my first grown-up full-time job, finally deciding to get healthy and losing eighty pounds. For 2011, I'd like to work on balance and consistency. I've done so much work with eating well and exercising that they have become like second nature to me; I feel confident enough to be able to sort of put those on auto-pilot when I get back to Chicago, in order to start focusing on more of my emotional weight loss issues. Being in Connecticut stirs up a lot of old insecurities, but I'm feeling quite ready to face those head-on when I get back into my own personal space and my usual routines.

And on that note, I'm off to start my day. I hope all is well with everyone! Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve! I'm looking forward to following everyone's journey well into 2011, and I feel very lucky to be sharing mine with all of you. I have fantastic intentions for this year, and I really can't wait for it all to unfold!

December 24, 2010

Roses and thorns

Happy Christmas Eve! (And if Christmas isn't your thing ... happy Friday! Everyone wins today.)

This has been quite a week, for sure. I've generally been enjoying myself and having a good time with my family - like finishing C25k (go me!), playing Wii Fit with my siblings, or going to my kid brother's chorus concert (he sang like a baby angel, it was totally precious!).

pierson playground
And, as expected, there has been lots of note taking for future blog posts. Looking back on all the worrying I did before getting to Connecticut, I feel strange - not because I worried too much, but because I had a very singular focus with my concerns. There are so many difficult challenges that I face here, and not all of them are about food. (For example, hearing from Scott. Serious yikes, with details to come later.)

It hasn't been terrible - though there have been snickers and sneers at what I choose to put on my plate, whether related to the food itself or the quantities I've chosen. It seems that there is a double standard: there's criticism if I choose more veggies and less meat, but if I reach for a cookie, they condescendingly ask if that works with my diet and then joke that I've "rejoined the Dark Side".

seriously yum
Also, my family is not big on meal planning, and in the seven days that I've been here, they've had at least four fast-food/takeout meals. If they bring it home, it's not too bad, since I can find other things to cook for myself - but the other night we were out late doing some Christmas shopping and they decided to go to Wendy's. Before I left Chicago, I had scoured restaurant menus to plan out better choices for these inevitable situations, and I had used the guide that I had prepared when we went to Taco Bell - but more fast food twenty-four hours later? It wasn't about calories, I just didn't want it.

I've kept a strong resolve, though, and I'm very pleased with myself so far. I have been doing well with maintaining a sense of balance, which is totally key. One thing that has helped a lot is this trick I read about in the Weight Watchers magazine:

i am so cool, right?
Before a holiday party or occasion, put on some bangles (I had these plastic ones laying around from my angsty teen years - you could definitely go fancier). When you have a "treat," move a bracelet to the other wrist. When you're out of bracelets, you're done! It's really helped me with keeping in control - even though it's not even Christmas yet, there have been an abundance of baked goods around, and I just can't play my usual role of official taste tester anymore. I chose six bracelets, with no significance other than having six different color choices, and most days so far, I've used only three or fewer.

How have you been?

December 19, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

When I first read about the Drop Dead Gorgeous by December challenge, I knew I wanted to be part of it. I was still really new to both weight loss and blogging - only a few weeks and about thirteen pounds in - and the idea of challenges really appealed to me. This seemed like a great way to ease my way into the world of blog challenges, since I felt so new and still very restricted at the time.

from isaiah zagar's magic garden - south street, philly
Fast forward four months.

I'm just a shadow of the girl I was then. I've lost quite a few pounds, but the now-and-then weight comparison is, I feel, really insignificant next to the things I have discovered I am capable of.

In August, I could walk around the block a few times. During this challenge, I started walking 5k's - and in two weeks, I'll be running one.

In August, I was wearing size 28 work pants from Lane Bryant. During this challenge, I bought a pair of size 20's for the first time since middle school - and next week, I'm going to the store and I'll be buying 18's.

In August, I knew only a handful of healthy-ish recipes (read: could be healthy but I either did something while cooking that detracted from the health benefits, or I ate waaaaaay too much of it). During this challenge, I made over a dozen new recipes - many of which I will definitely be making again ... if I haven't already! Zucchini boats and black bean burgers were definite favorites.

In August, I was dissatisfied and generally unhappy because I was facing a two-hundred pound weight loss goal. During this challenge, I have worked my tail off and took care of over a quarter of that goal loss - and I'm still working hard. And, amazingly, with taking better care of myself came other perks. I'm not dissatisfied. I'm no longer profoundly unhappy. I have my share of troubles and difficult days, but in general, I'm loving life and feeling healthy, beautiful, and just absolutely incredible.

(Drop dead gorgeous, you might say.)

December 17, 2010

Roses and thorns

Unless something huge and profound happens, I won't be regularly blogging while I am in Connecticut. I would, however, like to "check in" on Fridays (and I will post my last DDGbD update on Sunday), so I can keep in touch and keep updated with goings-on. It's going to be a little strange - I've posted every single day since I started blogging in August! But trust that soon I'll be back with even more stories to share!

I don't have a weigh-in to report this week, as I am scale-free in Connecticut. I'm feeling great, though - I worked hard in Chicago, and my first day in CT was challenging, but nothing I couldn't handle! I'm feeling good - great, actually.

Roses for the week:
  • I went swimming - twice. I am so happy to be back in the water.
  • I did NOT need a seatbelt extender on my flight - in fact, I had to tighten the belt!
    success!
  • Within a few minutes of being picked up at the airport, I was told that we had to stop at Stew Leonard's before going home. Stew's is a market in Connecticut - think grocery store meets Disney World, with free samples of everything (including cheese made in-store). When I was in college, one opened up right near the campus, and my friends and I would go there for dinner often. It's pretty amazing, and so I'm really proud that I survived this trip without eating a single sample ... or getting an ice cream cone on the way out!
  • I ran C25k week 9, day 1 - I usually run on a track or a treadmill, but this time I ran on actual streets and sidewalks. Unbelievable. I felt so amazed and proud when I was done! First, because I had ran three miles without stopping. Second, because my run went down to the town beach and back, and oh! how I have missed the salty air! And third, because I had really nervous that I wouldn't be able to run on the different terrain. The changes in incline threw me off a bit, but nothing fatal - I actually finished with a better per-mile pace than I have before on the treadmill! My knees felt much better than last time - yesterday's rest day did me good, I think.

  • I am writing this surrounded by sleeping sisters - brother is off to school, Mom is at work, and Dad is doing errands. And it is the most wonderful thing. I am so, so, so happy to be with my family - especially my kid brother, who is the most adorable person, especially around Christmas.

December 16, 2010

Go!

In a little while, I will be heading out the door for Midway Airport. This is a day I have been thinking about for months with mixed feelings: heading back east to see my family for the holidays. I'm excited but nervous. The most unsettling feeling is the one right in the center of my heart, where I feel at the same time familiar and like a stranger. I've known these people my whole life, but at the same time,my beautiful shoreline town in so many aspects, I am not the girl they came to visit in May. I am not even the same girl who went to visit them in July. I'm stronger. I'm more active. I'm a little more confident. And I'm eighty pounds lighter.

I've been panicking quite a bit about going home - excessively, even. I definitely have problems with anxiety, and one of the ways I've always dealt with it is to imagine every worst-case-scenario so that when things end up fine, or even mildly bad, they're never as bad as I imagined. It's really interesting, because most of the time, I'm intensely optimistic.

I've been worried about so many things in Connecticut - like staying active, eating reasonably, and not falling into old binge eating habits. My whole family will be carrying on as usual while I feel intensely conflicted - it's almost as if I am torn between my fidelity to traditions and to my new lifestyle. I want to belong. I want to be part of the festivities. And I want to make sure that I don't need to eat myself sick or refuse to get off the couch in order to enjoy the holiday right alongside everyone else.

I'm not heading into battle unprepared, though - I've got a plan. I've put together a folder of materials to keep me focused and strong on my goals - and I've made sure to make my goals reasonable. I cannot expect to lose the kind of weight in Connecticut that I do in Chicago - a small loss would be nice, but really, just maintaining would be a huge success. I want to stay active, enjoy treats in moderation, and prepare some healthy meals for my family. There are a lot of positives about going home that I have overlooked - like my mom's extensive array of kitchen gadgets that will make prep work easier, or the fact that cooking for six is a lot different than cooking for one, so a whole new world of recipe opportunities has opened up to me. I have the means and I have the motivation - now I just need to make sure I stay focused and do the best that I can.

In the folder, I've helpful articles on keeping active and eating reasonably well during the holiday season. I have a chart for filling out my merry-thon miles:

seventeen so far!
Seventeen miles so far! To keep up with my merry-thon goal (and to finish C25k [!!!]) (and to get ready for running my 5k on 1/1/11 [double !!!]), I have fourteen runs about my hometown mapped out by length - .5 to 3.1 miles, two routes for each except only one for 3.1 and three for 2.

And I have a sheet for keeping track of my days:

i hope this works!
I don't normally keep written records of calories, but since I will be out of my comfort zone, I would like to log my food, water, and exercise so that I can look back on it afterwards and see how the numbers at my post-vacation weigh in reflect my input and output.

Right now, I am feeling very brave. This is going to be a huge test for me - of my resolve, of my willpower. I'm charging head on into a situation that I have made a thousand assumptions and predictions about - and who knows? Maybe no one will make me feel like an outcast for celebrating the first Christmas where I didn't spend the day overeating. Maybe everyone will eat a little better because I do. Maybe they'll join me on walks. And maybe they won't do any of this. With luck, I won't be alone - but at the same time, I need to be strong even if it's just me eating off the veggie tray or jogging at the park. I need to be brave for me right now - I need to choose to do the right thing, even though it's the more difficult thing.

My Balance Board and Wii Fit Plus game are packed.

My pedometer and stopwatch are packed.

My workout pants and running shirts are packed.

Ready ... set ...

December 15, 2010

Pain

Last Friday, to celebrate the end of the semester, my friend Lorelei and I decided to go out and do something. Eventually we decided to get our eyebrows threaded, as it was something we both desperately needed to have done, and since Lorelei swears by the process, I said I'd give it a try.

Worst. Decision. Ever.

If you've never had your eyebrows threaded, it is truly an experience. The person working at the salon holds onto a thread with her teeth and both hands (that can't be sanitary, or good for her teeth), and twists and twirls the thread in such a way that it yanks out the hairs. Maybe it would have been easier if I had taken better care of my eyebrows in the months since my last brow waxing, but since they needed an awful lot of cleaning up, it seemed to take forever - and the pain made each second feel even longer.

It reminded me of being an undergrad and going to get my eyebrows waxed. I usually get them waxed, because when I try to pluck them, I start sneezing uncontrollably. But when I get busy with school or work, my eyebrows are my absolute last priority, and so my finals week treat would always be to go get cleaned up. There was a beauty salon in the plaza across from my dorm and the owner offered a discount - $4 brow waxing for students. Perfect! Without fail, though, every time I would have my brows done, the woman who took care of waxing would apologize profusely for how much it hurt. Maybe I flinched a little, but it wasn't painful - not to the point where this woman needed to apologize literally a dozen times. It was more of a reflex than anything else.

Pain is a really interesting thing. Everyone perceives pain differently based on previous experiences with it. Getting my eyebrows waxed is totally minor to me, especially since I have lots of tattoos (many of which are in very painful places) - the winter of my senior year, I finally told the woman, "Ma'am, I have a giant anchor tattooed on my chest. This does not hurt me." 2006 - and about 50 lbs ago!And she chuckled and proceeded with the waxing, only apologizing once or twice. Eyebrows? Insignificant. Tattoos on the tops of my feet? I was gripping the chair, I sweat through my clothes, and I uttered quite a few unlady-like curses.

This past week, I have been running week 8 of C25k - a five minute warm-up walk, followed by a 2.75 mile run, then five minutes of cooldown. I made the mistake of trying to run on Monday, the day after my 8k race - sure, it was just walking, but my legs needed to recover afterwards, so I had to stop after 1.25 miles. I had a strange feeling in my knees, and I'm not sure if it was pain. Yesterday, I went back to the gym and tried again, and I managed to get the full 2.75 miles done, but the same feeling was back in my knees. It didn't hurt the way getting tattooed hurts - it didn't even hurt the way eyebrow waxing hurts. It was more of a tired feeling than an excruciatingly painful one. But still, it concerned me.

What bothered me the most about these past two runs is that pretty much the whole time, I kept thinking about the Milgram Experiment prompts:
Please continue.
The experiment requires that you continue.
It is absolutely essential that you continue.
You have no other choice, you must go on.
I know it isn't right to compare running to knowingly torturing innocent people - up to this point, and including now, I totally love running. But I kept having to push myself to keep going - just get to one mile, you have to do at least that. Just get to a mile and a half, you really need to try and do that. Just do two miles, you've already done so much. Just finish, then you can move forward.

I needed more recovery time after Sunday, so Monday's run wasn't great. And to follow any running on Monday with more running Tuesday may have been a mistake - you need to take days off between runs to let your body recuperate, especially as a new runner. So hopefully my next run (tomorrow) will be better - I'll be physically rested, at least. It will be my first run in Connecticut, so we'll see how it goes. Hopefully no pain on any front.

December 14, 2010

Darling Mermaid Darlings

About a year ago, a friend of mine (Kat) hosted a series of dinner parties at her apartment. She's a great cook, so we ate amazing meals, and afterwards,ned and chuck - loveee she had us watch episodes of a television show she had been raving about called "Pushing Daisies." The show had recently been canceled, but Kat had both the seasons on DVD. From the beginning, I fell in love. It's kind of like "Amélie" with a science fiction twist - it's charming and colorful and twee, and the main character has the ability to bring dead things back to life. It sounds morbid, but it's absolutely delightful. The main characters are Ned (who "makes pies and wakes the dead"), Charlotte (aka Chuck, Ned's childhood sweetheart whom he has given life back to), Emerson (a detective who uses Ned's power to help solve crimes), Olive (a waitress in Ned's pie shop), and Lily and Vivian (Chuck's guardians, whom she has always referred to as her aunts).

In their youth, Lily and Vivian were part of a sisters synchronized swimming duo called the Darling Mermaid Darlings. They had wild costumes and put on shows that were wildly popular, until personal tragedies got in the way, and they gave up swimming. Chuck has been brought back to life, but in order to protect Ned's secret, she cannot let her aunts know that she is alive again. Having grown up in their care, this totally devastates Chuck.

as in english, for h2o
So, she enlists Olive to help her get her aunts feeling happy and living their lives fully again; one major component of Chuck's plan is to get the Darling Mermaid Darlings back in the water. The plan takes a long time to implement, as the sisters both have fears and anxieties about leaving their house and going back out into the world. One of Olive's attempts includes waving a cup of water with ellen greene and swoosie kurtz = totally brilliantdissolved chlorine tablets under Lily's nose - a smell she had once referred to as "bottled sunshine."

I can totally understand calling it that. Growing up, my grandparents lived across town, and they had a pool that we essentially lived in from June to September. My sisters and I would spend hours in the water - we wouldn't even get out for lunch, we'd just hang over the side and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There was a basketball hoop and poles for setting up a volleyball net, so whenever our cousins would come to visit, we'd have huge games. It was amazing, and in the background of these happy childhood memories, there's the olfactory soundtrack of chlorinated water. Just a hint of this smell is enough to trigger all kinds of amazing, happy feelings - euphoria, really. After I leave the gym, there's a fan that blows out air from the pool out to the sidewalk, and whenever I pass through it, I get temporarily transported back to my Papa's pool. I think about being a kid and loving life incredibly.

For my whole life, even longer than I can remember, I've been a big girl. Whether restricted by physical or mental limitations, there have been a lot of things in my life that I haven't experienced. such a fierce little beautySwimming, though, has always been something that allowed me to experience a normal, full life - no matter what size my bathing suit was, when I was in the water, I felt capable - weightless and unburdened.

However, despite loving to swim, I've managed to avoid the pool at the gym for over two years. There were always excuses, most of which boiled down to the fact that I just didn't want to be seen in public in a bathing suit. And that's a real shame, because one of the things I've always loved most about swimming is that liberating feeling I get from being in the water. There's a certain grace with aquatic movement, something I felt I lacked on dry land. In the water, I could temporarily escape from the reality of my weight situation.

And so, yesterday, after months and months of hesitation, this Darling Mermaid Darling finally got back in the water. It's a 25 meter pool, and I did 25 laps (50 lengths) - my arms will seek their revenge tomorrow, but it's well worth it. I can't do much more than an unrefined frog-style breaststroke, but that's alright - I'm just so happy to be swimming!

December 13, 2010

DLF

Yesterday, I woke up to a heavy snowfall and high speed winds. "Blizzard conditions," some called it. So, like any semi-sane Chicagoan, I got in the shower, got dressed, pinned on my bib, and headed for the bus uptown for my race.

This is just one of the reasons why I love Chicago. We can't shut down our lives because there's a little snow - otherwise, we'd get nothing done six months out of the year! My boss says that in the fifteen years she's been working for the university, classes haven't been canceled once. And I like that - in Connecticut, even a threat of flurries sends everyone to the grocery store for bread and milk. Here in Chicago, life goes on.

This was the view from the bus stop as I was waiting:

phone camera makes everything a little blue - i kind of love it
Less than ideal, but manageable. In terms of Chicago weather, this wasn't the worst I've ever seen. I kept checking my e-mail from my phone to see if there was any news about the race being canceled - I figured that I'd head out anyway, and even if I got all the way there to find out the race was canceled, I'd just head back and go walk an 8k at the gym. It's a Sunday morning during my vacation, what do I have that's better to do? (You know, besides laundry, dishes, and packing my suitcase for Connecticut.)

I had to transfer buses to get to the race, and as I got to the second bus stop, there was still no race update via e-mail. When I got on the Diversey bus, there were two other people in their racing gears, so I figured that while I might be crazy, at least I wasn't the only one.

The race started in front of the Nature Museum, and this is what the ground looked like as we waited for the start:

crunch crunch
They probably shovel and plow downtown, but in most of the non-Loop neighborhoods, it seems that clearing the sidewalks isn't really a high priority. In Pilsen, where I live, it just gets packed down - which makes for a very slippery commute, let me tell you! I've only slipped and fallen once since moving here, which I'm proud of - I'd rather take twice as long to get somewhere than rush and get hurt. Some folks I know in the city have really messed up their backs and/or knees from falling on icy sidewalks.

The race was sold out - which means a couple thousand spots sold. Only a couple hundred showed up to the race, though. It was really interesting to see so many people unaffected by the serious storm all around us.

right at starting line
Stretching, running in place ... yup, just another race, no big deal. People still wore costumes, even! Lots of Santas, Mrs. Clauses, elves, and giant gift boxes. Despite the reduced turnout, I was still so glad to be there. I know I say this all the time, but I love participating in races - even though I am not running them just yet, I love feeling like a part of something wonderful, a big group of people with a common interest. And especially this Sunday morning, where it was all the die-hards ... nothing was coming between us and those 4.97 miles, and that was great.

The only problem was that of the people who bailed on the race, it was mostly the walkers. Usually at these races, there are a few hundred walkers, and so even when I finish after quite a long time, I'm usually in good company. This time, there were only maybe a dozen of us.

the loneliness of a middle-distance runner
It wasn't bad since I had my Christmas tunes playing and the snow was really only a minor irritation, but still, there were tough moments - like how they packed up the water station before I even got to it, or how they put away the chip timer about four minutes before I finished, so I don't have an "official" finishing time. But there were some great parts that made up for it - as I was passing the four mile mark, some non-race runners were on the other side of the path, and quite a few of them cheered me on - saying to keep up the good work, and to finish strong, and that I was doing great.

And I thought, "You know what? I am doing great!" Because a lot of people decided not to even show up for the race, but I started.covered in ice, but loving it And when I finish, even if I am dead last, I'm still finishing! On Skinny Emmie's blog a while back, she posted a great concept: DLF > DNF > DNS. Dead last finish beats did not finish, did not finish beats did not start.

And, for the record, I was not even dead last - there were a whopping three people walking behind me. But the important thing is, we finished, and that's what matters.

With this race, I was really unconcerned with beating my time at the last race - the conditions just weren't ideal. I wasn't willing to break my neck in order to shave a few seconds off my time. I did the math when I got home based on how far I got into my winter playlist - 89m12s, about eight and a half minutes longer than my last 8k, and I have no complaints or regrets. I still felt like a champion.

December 12, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

sweet new race shirt
I've been struggling a lot lately, so I think this is a good mantra to keep in mind: the changes that I am making are not temporary. I'm not just losing weight so I can see what 135 looks like and then revert back to my old ways. I need to learn how to live a healthy, well-balanced life - eating well and exercising is great for weight loss, but with maintenance, the keys will be moderation and balance. I want to work on developing these skills now so that when it comes time to maintain, it's already second nature.

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 265

Of the 80 pounds I have lost, 67 have been during this challenge!

Progress on my DDGbG goals: This week's recipe was a white bean hummus, which I found on the website for Carb-Lover's Diet after Stephen had posted about the plan in his blog and on Twitter. I love hummus - really, though, I'm a huge fan of beans in general. They're delicious, filling, and super versatile.

assiète de crudités
This might not look like much, but trust me, it was totally tasty - and really easy to make! You take a quarter cup of white beans and mash them up with a fork (mine were only mostly mashed, because I was hungry and impatient). Add a tablespoon of chives, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and two teaspoons of olive oil. And voilà, easy as that - dip! I multiplied the recipe to fit a can of beans (all ingredients except the oil, which I honestly think could have been left out entirely) and had it with some veggies for lunch the other day. So good! I really liked the contrast of the lemon with cucumber slices. I'm recently obsessed with fresh mushrooms, so I have been snacking on those a lot lately. I've found a few more non-traditional hummus recipes that I will try when I am at my parents' house because my mom has all the fancy kitchen gadgets that I wish I had!

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: I'm proud that of fifty-five students, I gave forty-five A's and B's. I know they did the work to earn the grades, but still, it makes me happy - I must be doing something right!

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week: This week, I need to stay focused. Not going to work every day means that my day-to-day patterns are a little off. Last week I wasn't teaching, just grading, but it was already tough. This week will be even more challenging. I can go crazy, sleep until noon, and eat like junk ... or I can get up early like always, eat well, go to the gym, and do something every day to keep me out of the apartment (if I stay here, I go stir crazy and snack too much!). This morning I am walking a holiday-themed 8k race, that should give my motivation a big boost! A fun Christmas playlist to fill me full of holiday cheer:

awesome
Also, I'm trying to plan things to do around the city (like going to the Lincoln Park Zoo) and new things to do at the gym (I'm ready - I *WILL* get in that pool!), so that should help.

December 11, 2010

Final grades

Yesterday, as I turned in my grades for the semester, a familiar feeling of relief and satisfaction came over me. It means I have a couple weeks of vacation, which is nice, but also, it means that it's the end of my time with a few dozen students. a real escargot - paris, 2009Fifteen weeks ago, they were dreadful - not lost causes, just very unpolished. And now, after several months of hard work, their written and spoken French has improved incredibly. They've put in a lot of hard work, and their efforts have more than paid off.

It's really interesting to be on this side of the academic process. I was always the student who sent e-mails to professors, asking how I did. Now, as the recipient of dozens of similar e-mails, I find myself frustrated and overwhelmed. No one wonders about their grades for fifteen weeks, but in the thirty-six hours before grades are due, I get a dozen nearly identical e-mails, with small variations on the same themes:
"Mademoiselle, is there any chance you can tell me what the exact grade I need to get on the final to get a B in the class?"

"As far as my progress in the course, is it still possible to receive an A at the end of the semester?"

"I was hoping you'd be able to give me an idea ... I'm just really hoping I could receive a B in this course."
The thing is, everything that they submit gets graded and handed back to them, so with the exception of how they did on their final exams and an exact figure for class participation, they know how they did in the class.

I don't quite understand the panic - if you had received A's and B's on every exam, had come to class and participated every day, and had turned in your written assignments, how could you possibly think you'd fail the class? Even if you bombed the final, the worst you could do was a C, and even that sounds low! I'm a very fair grader, and no one has ever questioned a grade I have given - if you submit average quality work, you will see those efforts met with an appropriate grade. And likewise, if you go above and beyond and try your absolute hardest, of course your grade will reflect that.

I'm trying to keep this thought process in mind as I embark on a few scale-free weeks. I'm going to work hard and do the best job that I can for the rest of the month, because that is all that I can do. And in the end, after all my efforts, even if I can't quote an exact number, I should know generally how I have done. Doing the bare minimum or less will not magically produce high marks; putting in a solid, consistent effort cannot equal failure.

December 10, 2010

Roses and thorns

I lost one pound this week, making my current weight 265 and my total loss 80 pounds so far. Even NSVs can't save my spirits right now, and that's a shame, because there were several this week - like when a group of my students came for pre-finals tutoring and I admitted that I had lost 80 pounds this semester, and they applauded. Or another faculty member telling me that I was such a huge inspiration and that because of my saying that I was running, she decided to get back into running herself. Or buying size 20 jeans for the first time in ten years (and discovering that they are too big). Or this picture I just took of me wearing a pair of work pants that were tight on me in June:

those were lane bryant 28s. i can wear old navy 18s.
Emotionally, though, I'm drained. Just completely exhausted. I'm ready for a little time off. It just feels like everything conspired against me this week. With the stress of wrapping up the semester, I felt hungrier than usual, and while I worked out about the same as I usually do, it just wasn't enough to balance my choices (which, in retrospect, were not as great as I thought they were). I can still manage great losses with an occasional splurge - but a little something every day adds up.

I'm pretty disappointed in myself, to be honest. Not because my loss was "only" a pound - a loss is a loss, and I'm okay with that. But because I actively made poor choices. Mom made me feel bad on the phone, so I broke down and ate one of the ginger cookies. I'm trying to eat what's in the house before I leave for Connecticut, and one of those things was a frozen container of macaroni and cheese (and not my spaghetti squash with reduced fat cheese, either - the real deal, made before I starting eating better). art by baptiste ibar for the science of sleepAnd I knew my boss was ordering pizza for the staff for exam night, and so I ate dinner before I left the house - then I felt hungry post exams, and the sight of it filled my brain with all sorts of warm, comfortable thoughts, so I ate some.

My problem in these situation is not actually about the food so much as my feeling of not being in control. It's not about the pizza - I don't want things to be off-limits, I want to be able to control myself. My problem is with the fact that I forbid myself from having it and ate a full dinner, THEN had pizza. If I had just allowed myself the pizza to begin with, it wouldn't have been so bad. And when my mom made me feel bad, I ate a cookie - not the two or three dozen I would have eaten in the past, but still, I find myself turning to my old coping mechanisms when I feel stressed or overwhelmed.

I think I am especially disappointed because this is my last weigh-in before going to my parents' house. Right now, I am in Chicago, and I am in charge of what I buy and prepare to eat, and I am in charge of when I go to the gym and for how long. If I can't control myself here, how will I do in Connecticut when I am not in charge? I wanted to have a hugely successful last few weeks before heading to the place where I feel weak and powerless and vulnerable. This week was supposed to be a success, because this week I am here, and this week things should have been easy. Chicago is easy - Connecticut is hard. And this is not stair race hard. art by baptiste ibar for the science of sleepThis is not Couch to 5k hard. This is a different kind of hard, a mixture of physical and emotional, and goodness knows the emotional hards are my weak point.

I wish I could just take off whenever I wanted and go to the gym or to a park or whatever like I do when I am in Chicago - but without a car (or a drivers license, for that matter), I'm very dependent on everyone else's schedules. I wish I could keep my own food in the house to prepare for non-holiday meals without criticism. I wish I could offer to make meals for my family without being greeted by either gagging noises or teasing about my being a "health nut." I don't wish that going home will be easy, I just wish that it felt manageable, and not like some huge obstacle. Racing up my office building seemed huge, but I trained and I did it in great time. Running for a minute at a time seemed impossible, but now I'm running two and three-quarter miles at a time. So why does going home to be with my family feel so much tougher than everything else I have done up to this point?

One of my goals for this trip home is to focus more on feeling and less on numbers. My parents don't have a scale in Connecticut, and so this will also be my last weigh-in for 2010. I'm kind of relieved, to be honest. I want to feel in control and make the decisions that are the best for me and my body without fixating on numbers as much as I tend to do. I know exactly when I am eating well and exercising enough, and I will consider my trip to Connecticut a success if my weight upon returning shows maintenance. I'm not looking for a huge loss - or any loss, for that matter. I just don't want to gain. And most of all, I don't want to feel like I am not in control.

December 9, 2010

Purgatory

Amazing fact: I have been mostly done with my students final averages since Monday. All that remains is finishing up grading the final exams they took Tuesday night - one of my sections is done, I have one class almost entirely done (5 of 6 pages graded), and one whole class to go. Totally manageable - I'll be done with everything tomorrow.

This is terrific for so many reasons. First, because grades have to be turned in by noon on Friday, so I am usually up all night Thursday hurriedly trying to put everything together - and then I show up at my director's office on Friday mornings looking like quite the hot mess. And second, because as of this moment, I have managed to get through exam week without a binge. I'm pretty impressed with myself - sure, there is considerably less stress now that I am faculty and not a grad student. But still, my default reaction for dealing with any end-of-semester stress has always been to binge.

I can't lie - it's been tough. I've been pretty good with my eating choices, but I *have* eaten more than I usually do. from recovering lazyholicI don't have the urge to binge, but I'm feeling snacky - you know the feeling? I think Andrew summed it up best a few days ago:
It's important when you're exhausted to be extra vigilant. I want to put everything in my mouth. Cake, chips, the stapler. Today is a day I really need to count calories.
Amen to that. I went to the gym yesterday even though I wasn't scheduled to in order to try and make up for the extra calories, but my unofficial peeks at my weight are showing hardly any change from last week.

I think this is extra difficult because right now I am also transitioning into a new phase of my weight loss: a purgatory, of sorts. It's the limbo between my extreme high and my goal low, where things are neither great nor awful, neither fast nor slow. I don't want to downplay it - it's extremely important, and it's going to be challenging, but not "just getting started" challenging or "almost there panic" challenging. This phase presents more of a "staying strong" and "not giving up" challenge.

When I started, it was very easy to lose 4-6 pounds a week. Exercises I do now burn fewer calories than when I did them seventy-some odd pounds ago, and that's both awesome and frustrating at the same time. (Just like an awful lot of things weight loss related, I'm finding out.) Now, to get those kinds of losses, I have to either exercise a lot more or eat a lot less - and since work has had me busy, I've been staying about the same on both food and working out, and just accepting smaller losses. I am okay with smaller losses - I knew this would slow down eventually, and I'm trying my hardest to be proud of it.

December 8, 2010

About: Running

Today will be a marathon of final exam grading, followed by a much-welcome break to go to the gym and run. I'm in week eight of C25k this week - which is unbelievable to me. I couldn't believe I was capable of running for sixty seconds during the first week, then I couldn't believe I ran a full mile without stopping in the fifth week. Now, I can run two and a half miles like it's nothing! I totally understand what everyone has been talking about when they have used the term "runner's high."

lovelovelove nike+ ... it's so fancy and fun!
Last week, I was doing some research on running for the winter holiday survival guide that I am preparing to help get me through my trip to Connecticut. I am going to finish C25k while I am there, and then I will keep up my running for a couple more weeks before my first 5k on 1/1/11. Although I have walked in 5k and 8k races before, I wanted to see what information and advice was out there for first time runners in road races. Luckily, I found dozens of great articles on About.com, one of my personal favorite websites. I feel like About.com totally gets overlooked in terms of awesome sites. I refer my students to it often, as their explanations of French grammar are terrific, and there are a lot of quizzes with immediate feedback that can be taken for extra practice.

Two articles in particular were relevant, so I added them to my guide. One talks about outdoor running in winter - everything from how to properly dress to how to stay safe in less than ideal conditions. That article can be found here.

The other [ linked here ] gives tips for the day of your first race. Since I have walked races before, I'm familiar with a few of them - picking up your race packet early, eating a nutritious breakfast and drinking water on the course, pinning your race bib onto the front of your shirt, and not getting right up at the starting line (unless you would like to be trampled, or at the very least, cursed at). Since this is going to be my first running race, I'm going to have my support team at the finish line to cheer me on. I'm also not focusing on breaking any records - all I'd like to do is finish.

The one thing I found interesting was their last bit of advice:
10. Don't Wear the Race T-Shirt
Lastly, you'll most likely get a race T-shirt when you sign up for the race. Don't wear it until after you've completed the race. Not only are there superstitions associated with wearing it in the race, but it also makes you look like a rookie!
This one really made me think. The other stuff is pretty obvious - make sure you don't eat too much or too little, make sure you stay hydrated, etc. But this one left me wondering. go go green 5k - 10/23/10Even though they will be giving us shirts at my first running race, I'm planning on having my brother help me decorate a shirt to wear over a technical shirt and under a fleece (the race is along the Connecticut shoreline - not as cold as Chicago, but still pretty chilly!). But for my walking races, I've always worn the shirts that they gave us - most people do. It's neat to see everyone in the same uniform, ready to accomplish an awesome task. I posed the question on Twitter, and Jayme said that while she does not believe in superstitions, it does make sense to "earn" the shirt before wearing it. I had never thought of it that way!

What are your thoughts on this? Any other advice for a first time 5k-er?

December 7, 2010

Winter Wonderland Warriors

The fabulous Amy from Life's Journey With a Smile is hosting a pretty amazing challenge to help us all beat the winter blues. w w w - just what i need!Since I am the kind of girl who totally loves a challenge, you can count me in!

The details are in this entry of Amy's blog. Basically, each week she will be sending out a survey (always fun!), and we will post them in a blog entry along with a positive picture and updates on the ten goals we set for ourselves to achieve by the end of March. Here are my goals:

1. Achieve my 100 pound weight loss.
I'm about twenty pounds away right now ... I can do this!

2. Train for the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle Chicago 8k on 4/10/11.
A few weeks from now, I will be ready to run a 5k - by the end of March, I think I could reasonably add less than two more miles. A per mile pace of 15:00 or better is required (my pace in my first walking 8k was 16:12). I'm a little apprehensive because right now I am running 2.5 miles (about 4k) with a per mile pace of about 14:00, but I also haven't even ran a "real" race yet - my first is 1/1/11. So we'll see how feasible the Shamrock Shuffle is. It would be the biggest race I've been in so far, in terms of participants - I believe it's the second biggest in the city, after the Marathon. In any case, goal #1 will help with goal #2!

3. Begin looking for jobs (try to apply for at least one).
My contract at the university is up in May. I need to start looking for lecturer positions ASAP - the earlier the better, I think. I also need to update my CV - I'm competing with PhD's who also need jobs, so I have to pull out all the stops and let these colleges and universities that I'm the absolute best candidate out there.

4. Be an amazing teacher.
This sort of ties in with #3 - having completed my first semester of full-time teaching, I now have a whole list of things that I am not satisfied with and that I would like to improve on. I'd like to implement as many of them as possible for my Spring 2011 classrooms; this challenge will start before the semester begins and will end shortly after midterms.

5. Complete two of my 101-in-1001 goals.
I'm looking at you, reading based ones.

6. Visit three museums on their Free Days.
Every museum in Chicago has at least one Free Day a month - it's warm, indoors, and free. In the middle of winter in Chicago, you can't ask for a better deal!

7. Spend 1/4 of my tax return on new clothes.
I'm not expecting a huge return, but still, part of it needs to go towards getting clothes that don't make me look like a little kid playing dress up.

from velsen dot blogspot dot com
Yeah. Just like that.

8. Make art.
This is a really inspirational time in my life, and I would love to express some of these feelings via my artwork. Doesn't matter the medium, I just want to create as much as possible!

9. Do something every week to make me feel gorgeous.
This was one of Jess' goals for Drop Dead Gorgeous by December, and I totally love it. Especially at this point in my weight loss journey, I think that doing little things to help me feel lovely is incredibly important.

10. Go to the opera.
I know this seems silly, but I'd like to make it to the opera at least once before winter's over - it's such a lovely way to spend a few hours. Last year I went twice - I went with my cousin Sarah to see "Tosca" and with my sister Katie to see "The Marriage of Figaro." It's warm, relaxing, and totally luxurious - one of my favorite ways to spend an evening in Chicago!

December 6, 2010

Freak

I spent most of Saturday listening to Christmas records and cooking treats for my co-workers - it was finally snowing for the first time, and I was totally full of Christmas spirit. This may not sound like much, but I'm usually not over-the-top full of holiday cheer, so this was really wonderful. I think quite a bit of it had to do with the new-jeans-self-esteem high I was riding on, but whatever the source, I was grateful for it.

After cooking for most of the day, I headed to the gym to do my running for C25k - another two and a half miles under my belt! As I was leaving the gym, I noticed that I had a missed call from my family. Usually I wait until I get home to call them back, but seeing as how I had over ten minutes to wait for the bus and it was snowing, I figured a quick call would help pass the time and maybe even keep me a little warm.

My whole family was talking on the speaker phone - they were all sitting around the kitchen table playing a family game of Scrabble. With my heart full of spirit, I honestly wished that I were there. They asked what I had done all day, and I told them about baking dozens of gingersnaps, and I told them how proud I was of myself that I hadn't even eaten a single one!

There was silence. Then indistinct whispering.

Jokingly, I asked, "Are you guys talking smack?"

My sister Lisa quickly replied: "Yeah."

"What's going on?"

"You can't eat even just one cookie?!"

"Well, I could, but I don't want to. One cookie is like 150 calories. That's fifteen minutes on the elliptical machine. It's not worth it to me."

Then, my mom spoke up: "You're not going to be a freak when you come home, are you?"

Cue me, standing in the snow under a streetlight, sobbing.

I know what she meant: more "obsessive" than "circus side-show." But the tactless choice of words brought up so many deeper feelings that I've been harboring.

I spoke with a therapist a few weeks ago about my apprehensions about going home, which have been plaguing me since August when I started trying to eat better and exercise. The stress is based on more than simply maintaining healthy eating habits and regular exercise.

This is my family back in May when I graduated:

wisconsin cheese tour
This is me the last time they saw me, compared with me now:

ow oww!
I am by no means "thin" - at nearly eighty pounds lost, I'm still not even halfway to my goal. But I am thinner than I was, and (more importantly) healthier than I was, and that already sets me apart. I might not be the smallest one just yet, but it is likely that the next time I see them, there will be a huge physical difference setting me apart from them.

As I develop my identity as a formerly super obese person, I am losing a huge connection to my family.

There's always been an odd tension because my parents are blue collar folks with high school diplomas and I'm an academic professional with a graduate degree - not a problem, more of an odd distinction that we just can't relate or agree about some things - for example, my mom couldn't understand why I would want to go to college to study French literature, and my dad panicked at the idea of student loans. It's also difficult that they're all in Connecticut and I'm in Chicago, so if Mom is sick or Dan has a chorus concert, I just can't be there the way the others can. They are living a life that I am part of, but only as an extension. And so, wanting to eat healthy and exercise is another thing that sets me apart from a family I already feel hugely distant from.

I've always considered my family to be extremely close. I love them more than anyone or anything else in the world, and I would do absolutely anything for them. I know it's completely irrational, but my heart aches just thinking that they're not going to love me the same as they did back when I was inactive and overindulged on food.

My family, unsurprisingly, are big eaters - especially at the holidays. Everything is rich and heavy, and everything is excessive. I'm not planning on being a "freak" when I get home. I'm not expecting huge losses while I'm there, but I would at least like to maintain - that in itself would be a tremendous victory. I fully intend on enjoying the holidays (within reason) - but Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are only two of the seventeen days that I will be in Connecticut.

After hanging up the phone, I went home and finished making my cookies. I ate one, and it was highly unsatisfying. It didn't make me happy like it used to, and it didn't make me forget how sad I felt after what my mom said. I remember holidays past, sitting in front of the cookie tray and eating every single one of whatever my favorite kind of cookie was that year. I don't want to feel forced to do things I do not agree with because I want to fit in - I don't do that with friends or co-workers, and I certainly won't do it with my family. Hopefully doing well with my exercising will help keep me focused on eating well, and it will help counteract the occasional small indulgences - like I said, I'm not expecting the kinds of losses I see while I am out here in Chicago and completely in control of what gets bought, cooked, and served.

Speaking of exercise, as a final note, my dad called yesterday morning and, in true Dad fashion, told me that he had a surprise for me. He said he knew I was feeling pretty anxious about coming home and being able to keep up my good work, so he had a present for me: a one month membership to the gym in town. I'm so grateful - and partially relieved. I know that between that, the Wii Fit, and training for/running in my 5k on 1/1/11, I will be totally set in terms of physical activity. But the food is my big concern right now, and I'm still really anxious thinking about the pressure I will be faced with in terms of holiday eating (from my mom especially).

December 5, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

i love this face!
This is the time of the year where I get crazy with stress, and the littlest things can set me off. So I'm trying to focus on positives as much as I possibly can. This week, it was buying new pants, which was awesome threefold:

1 - They are smaller than the last pair I've bought.
2 - In fact, they're smaller than any pair I've bought in the last decade.
3 - I've never bought jeans "down" before - I've always needed to buy bigger, never smaller.

I put the receipt and size tags in my shoebox along with all my race bibs and timing chips - this is something to remember!

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 266

Of the 79 pounds I have lost, 66 have been during this challenge!

Progress on my DDGbG goals: My new recipe this week was, unfortunately, not a healthy one - I made toffee for my co-workers for Christmas gifts. It was pretty easy to make, and it's really lovely - I'm not going to post a picture here, though - this season is hard enough to get through without having to see sugary treats all over someone's healthy living blog! I didn't eat any, which was good - I wore my new jeans while making it to ensure that I stuck to my plan!

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: Finishing the semester in one piece! Well, I'm done with teaching, at least. This week will be full of grading, but once I am done, I get a couple weeks of vacation! And I am *so* ready for it.

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week:Finishing my Winter Holiday Survival Guide - a project I've been compiling to bring home to Connecticut to help me stay focused and maintain success while still enjoying my family's company and the holiday.

December 4, 2010

New clothes

I had originally planned on writing about running today, but last night I had an amazing NSV that I simply could not wait to share!

Yesterday was the last day of teaching for the semester, so to celebrate, I went downtown to do a little shopping. I always feel a little guilty buying myself things, especially right before Christmas, but I need some new clothes desperately. I could also justify this trip because it was to be paid for with birthday money - my friend Lorelei gave me a $25 Visa gift card for my birthday since she knows I've lost a ton of weight and I really need some clothes that fit.

Confession: I'm still wearing all my clothes from 79 pounds ago.

It's not so much emotional attachment as an attempt at frugality, I suppose. It's just hard to justify buying new things when I know the weight is falling off and none of the new clothes will fit in a few months.

I decided to go to Old Navy and look around - with all their holiday sales, $25 would go pretty far! When I walked in, my 345-pound-Mary instincts kicked in, and I headed right for jewelry and winter scarves. I've always wanted to shop at Old Navy, and while they do offer plus sizes, they only sell them online, not in stores. So whenever I am in there with family or friends, I usually pretend to be completely fascinated by shiny necklace and earring sets or holiday socks so I have something to do.

I drifted away from that stuff, and headed towards the actual clothing. There were so many cute tops! And sweaters! And coats! I headed over towards the jeans and decided to try on a pair, just to see how much more work I needed to do to get into them. Katie asked me the other day what size I am wearing these days, and I admitted that I honestly had no idea since besides a pair of track pants for running, I haven't bought any new clothes. So I grabbed the biggest size they sell - 20 - and headed for the fitting room.

sobfest 2k10, but worth it
This is me, in an Old Navy dressing room, wearing size 20 jeans. They fit over my calves. They fit over my thighs. And they button - without having to suck in or anything. No muffin top!

Not going to lie, I cried a little. I've never owned pants from Old Navy before - ever. The only bottoms I ever owned from Old Navy was a skort I had in eighth grade ... ten years ago. That was a 20, also, and it was tight when I bought it. These jeans are made of that stretchy denim, and it feels like I maybe could have bought 18s. Un. Be. Stinkin'. Lievable!

Needless to say, it took an awful lot for me to not sleep in the jeans last night; I wonder how many calories I burned doing a happy dance. It's so amazing, and yet at the same time, totally unreal to me. I mean, 79 pounds is an awful lot, so I knew I wouldn't be wearing the same size pants as I was in July. But somehow, I still find myself completely blown away by this. I can buy pants at a normal store!!!

December 3, 2010

Roses and thorns

For me, writing is an incredible stress relief - letting go of these thoughts really helps clear my head, whether via hand-writing them or typing them out. Ich liebe GlühweinThis has been a pretty emotionally heavy blog week, and I want to thank everyone not only for hanging in there while I told these long stories, but for all the great comments - I cannot thank you all enough for your support!

Offline, though, this week has been pretty much the opposite - it's been fairly relaxed emotionally. I'm down another five pounds, making my current weight 266 and my total loss 79 pounds. I really kicked butt this week with exercising - I had some slip ups with C25k (which I will write about tomorrow), but I got right back on track last night, running 2.5 miles (oh my goodness, I cannot believe that [a] I just said that [b] I actually did it!). So my total for Jess' December Merry-thon challenge is 2.5 miles so far - looking good! And as far as work goes, I'm on top of most of my work stuff, so no all night grading marathons next week like I used to do in grad school! There's a lot to do, don't get me wrong, but I have more than enough time to get it done and still sleep, eat, exercise, and even have a little fun.

Today is the last day of classes for the semester, and I can hardly believe it. I'm more than ready for a vacation, and I'm very excited about what Spring 2011 has to offer. I'm going to have most of my students again next semester, which is good - it makes everything a lot easier since the majority of the students will already be used to my teaching style. the bean!I will be teaching the last of the basic French courses, and although I have taught the material before, it was during an accelerated summer session (16 weeks of work in 4 weeks). So there will be challenges, but nothing outside of my capabilities.

I have a little bit of time in Chicago before heading to my parents' home in Connecticut for two weeks. I want to get ahead with lesson planning for the spring, get caught up with my laundry piles, and explore the city a bit, since Chicago at Christmastime is unbelievably wonderful. Ice skaters in Millennium Park (on my to-try list - I've always been too scared of falling!), the decorated store windows at Macy's, and the giant Christmas tree and the German Christmas market at Daley Plaza ... if that doesn't fill your heart with Christmas spirit, I don't know what will!

December 2, 2010

Part Three: Steve

After Sam graduated, I found myself trying to move forward. A friend suggested online dating, which produced more than its share of really terrible first dates. Like the guy who wanted to meet in the school cafeteria - the entire date lasted about seven minutes. Or the guy who made me pay for dinner because he drove - I don't mind footing the bill, but really, he drove 1.2 miles, and I was vegetarian at the time, so the bill was comprised of my $4 plate of steamed veggies and his $28 sushi boat. Or the guy who went on a fifteen minute tirade about how the French are a bunch of "surrender monkeys" - though, admittedly, it was pretty great later when he asked my major,e-town map love and you could see his mouth opening and his foot heading right for it.

My first first date, though, was remarkable. Extraordinary. Life-altering. And over four years later, still capable of devastating me.

I got a great job in summer 2006, working on-campus with a bunch of my friends - we got to stay in the dorms and basically get paid to hang out all summer. Incredible! I usually moved back home with my parents for the summer, so this freedom was going to be life-altering. I made plans for the whole summer, with everything from the usual promises (lose weight, get active) to a few new resolutions (stop sleeping around). The eating went awry after a few weeks, and with all my friends around, it was a lot easier to choose laying around in the air conditioning and watching movies over going out and exercising. But somehow, I had lost about ten pounds, and I was feeling really positive. And so, I decided to give online dating another chance.

Near the middle or end of May, I met a guy that I was certain that I would marry. We were so similar - we were both shy, intelligent, and we had a mutual love for the music of Belle & Sebastian. His name was Steve, and he was 24. We sent each other e-mails at least once a day for over a month - always long, always very interesting. It was so different than talking to Sam or Scott - this love was a real love, a love without pressure or expectation. It seemed really genuine, and after being so completely devastated by what had happened with Sam, I was very deeply affected by the things Steve would write in his letters or say on the phone. It just seemed so much more genuine. For example: my maternal grandmother passed away shortly after we started talking, and it was one of my first times that I grieved the loss of a loved one. If for nothing else, I was grateful to have Steve in my life at that time for the kindnesses he expressed and the well wishes he extended my way.
I hope you're doing well. I just hope, above all else, you've found some good people to hold you. I've been falling asleep each night with twilight convictions of seeking you out to find out how you are and give you a big hug...
But of course, Steve was complicated - he had gotten married the summer before with a girl whom he had met in college and who had been his only girlfriend. a picture he had sent me, i hardly remember this faceThey were in the middle of a divorce, and with all the maturity of a 19 year old girl, I thought that I could have waited - and not only waited, but waited as long as necessary so that we could be together.

I like to think about the two of us at that point in time as two shooting stars falling towards each other. It seems lovely and romantic, until you realize that really, we're both burning out with each inch we travel. I wish that I had been more familiar with the idea of transitional objects, because then perhaps I wouldn't have fallen so hard. The problem was that we were both in the midst of serious changes in our lives. Could we have fallen in love and ended up together? Yes, without a doubt. But only at another time or in another place. Under other circumstances, things could have ended up much differently than they did. We claimed to be looking for love, when really, we were looking for distractions.

And, oh, the poetic distractions.
... there is physical attraction for me. I like that you're a little on the short side. I like your glasses, and your curly hair. I like that you don't wear much make-up regularly, and that you wear comfortable clothes. Your neck and shoulders look soft, and I want to touch them, put my face in them. I'm fairly certain I could lose myself to your eyes...

...right now, what I want more than anything else is to smile at you and see you smile back.
I suppose that I was even more vulnerable than before because of everything that had happened in the preceding few months. a very very very fine houseThe random hookups were fun but emotionless, and really, that was what I needed to feel satisfied. I fell for him, hook, line, and sinker.

Finally, we decided to go out, and since we were decidedly not the kind of people who would be content with dinner and a movie, we decided to vary the theme a little. There would be dinner, but the rest of the evening, we would be squatting in his parents' old house (it was empty, they had recently moved but the house hadn't been sold yet). When he came to pick me up, it was overwhelmingly emotional for me, and I was very proud of myself for keeping my composure. I was flooded with sadness and remorse for everything that had transpired with Sam, with Scott, with the others. This was the one I was supposed to have waited for.

Dinner was lovely, and near the end, he leaned in and asked if he could hold my hand on the ride home. It meant everything to me. I was aching over having given Scott nearly all of my most important firsts, but the pain was soothed by the simple action of him taking my hand in his. This moment was all ours.

In the vacant house, we took his laptop and went up to what was formerly his father's office. We laid on the floor with a nest of pillows and blankets, and began to watch a movie I had brought: Jean-Luc Godard's "A bout de souffle" ("Breathless"). We got about ten minutes in before I realized he wasn't watching the film, he was looking at me. I scooted a little closer, and he began to caress my face and my neck. It was perfect. We kissed, and it was the exact fireworks moment I had dreamed it would be. It was soft and tender and unlike kissing Scott, there wasn't emptiness. This wasn't a placeholder, a mandatory stop before whatever was to come next - his kisses felt like there was something much more emotional behind them. One kiss became two, and then three. The socks came off, then the overshirts, then everything else. Yes, it was a first date. But after dozens of personal and intimate letters, it felt like I was being reunited with someone I'd known forever.

And then, as quickly as it had begun, he stopped. He said that he was feeling conflicted, that he was technically still married, and that he could not go any further. Suddenly, we were Adam and Eve, postlapsarian. We were aware of where we were, what we had been doing, and what exactly we weren't wearing. We scrambled to get dressed, then fell asleep on opposite sides of the room. We woke the next day with noticeably decreased excitement about being together, but we still spent the day together the worst of it now, i can't remember your face- complete with the most awkward lunch at a Japanese restaurant where he put his wedding ring back on. (Lesson learned: sushi dates and me? Not meant to be.)

Interestingly enough, we maintained contact for a few weeks after he dropped me off that afternoon, and we had even planned on a second date. His letters became more and more rare, though, and their passion was proportionate to their frequency. Finally, a day or two before our second date, he sent me a letter full of sadness and anger. He was sick, depressed, and he didn't want to go out anymore. He said he would send me an e-mail as soon as everything got better; I was ready to wait for him as long as he needed.

I waited a day, and then two. Then a week, a month, six months. An entire year went by before I got another letter from him. He told me that he was sorry, that he regretted having hurt me, and that he wished me all the best. In retrospect, I should have realized that our "love" story couldn't have ended any other way. He had left his wife without saying a word - how could I have assumed that he wouldn't have done the same thing to me? But so many things conspired against me with Steve - I was young, I was vulnerable, I was in the middle of an emotional growth spurt. And so, I ached and grieved for much longer than I should have - how can a person justify years of sobbing and difficulty falling asleep when there was hardly anything lost in the first place?

In June 2009, I decided that the statute of limitations was up on my feeling bad about everything that had happened. So, I bought a round trip plane ticket, Chicago to Paris, and spent a week trying to enjoy life and forget about him. I brought printed copies of all his letters and left them in France. I wish it had worked as well as I had hoped, but his ghost continued to haunt me for a few more months.

I had always fantasized about a "Casablanca"-esque reunion where I cursed the fact that of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, he had walked into mine. But as it turns out, a friend request via Facebook is my generation's signature heartbreaking romantic moment. We were "friends" for a few weeks before I subtly removed our connection. He was seeing someone else, which wasn't actually the most devastating part, as I was nine hundred miles away at that point. The worst was realizing I had spent years aching for this lost emotional connection, and he seemed wholly unscathed.

if you've read all this whining, you deserve a gold medal, seriously
And so, that's where I am today. I waiver back and forth with uncertainty about whether or not I can ever trust a guy - what if he's sneaking off with some blonde neighbor? Or what if I'm the one he's sneaking off with? And what if he just up and leaves?

My weight-related self-esteem issues were a lot of what got me into this mess in the first place, and yet obesity has been my shield. Thanks to this body, I generally remain alone, and no one can hurt me or leave me. At times, it makes for a very lonely and sad life, but I've felt safe. I've remained obese for so long in order to assure that no one sees me as a love object - if no one loves me, no one will leave me. It's terribly backwards thinking, but then again, logic has never been my strong point.

I am not simply on a quest to lose weight. I'm on a journey of self-discovery and identity establishment. I am seeking health in every aspect of my life, a major component of which is emotional weight loss. Having written these stories down the past three days, I feel as if some of the burden has been relieved. There's an incredible lightness, and I'm just as proud of that as I am of all the physically lost pounds.

December 1, 2010

Part Two: Scott

After hearing from Sam that I was not where I ought to be in terms of sexual experience, I sought to change the status quo. In retrospect, my logic was completely warped, and I really ought not to have taken his words seriously - he himself had a strange sexual past, including losing his virginity at fifteen to a friend's mother (which technically means he was raped). He had his own problems to worry about, and I should have recognized that instead of taking his words to heart. But at nineteen, confused and craving attention, I focused only on finding what I considered to be a solution to what he considered to be a problem.

The where and how of meeting Scott is better left unsaid, but put in the most simple way, he was a professor at the university I was attending. A few brief exchanges, conversations quick and to the point, and then, it happened. from blog dot newsok dot com slash bamsblog - not as random of an image as it may seemOnly a couple of months after Sam had told me I lacked experience, I began making up for it in that very same dorm room. It was fast, and more scientific than emotional - I didn't care about Scott at all. I was mostly thinking about the fact that what was happening, was happening. And that being on the other side of this ridiculous exchange would change part of my personal definition in a way that would change the way Sam saw me and thought about me.

I feel completely disgusted thinking about it now ... the fact that it even began, the fact that it continued to happen for as long as it did, and the fact that I continued to speak to Scott even after I found out he was married. I didn't know that he was married when I lost my virginity to him, and I guess I naively assumed that if he was willing to sleep with me, then of course he wasn't otherwise obligated. My only concern had been with my own awakening, my personal awareness.

I did not sleep with him again after learning this, but still, I didn't walk away like I should have. We maintained contact for a couple of years, in fact. I often wonder if the awful relationship-related things in my life are karmic retribution for this. But I hope not - if everyone was punished for the rest of their lives for stupid things they did as teenagers, absolutely everyone would walk around constantly suffering.

After Scott flipped the "non-virgin" switch, there were other men that I hooked up with, no strings attached. It had a drug-like effect, comparable to the way I feel after a severe binge. I was addicted to the attention, to the feeling of power that sleeping with strangers gave me. I had the power to command this kind of reaction in men - and I interpreted it as adding to what little personal value I had when I kept my legs together. The number of men is still fewer than I can count on one hand, but more than I should have. I'm not that kind of girl, and five years removed from the situation, I can honestly say that if I sat down with the girl that I was during that time, I'm not sure I would recognize her.

One evening, Sam came to visit me, and we took a nap together. He kissed my eyelids, my cheeks, and then, very softly, my lips. I almost cried of happiness. Finally, success! We laid there, and I listened to his heartbeat and the tick of his wristwatch, felt the rise and fall of his chest and the stubble on his face. upon waking.The alarm clock went off at 6:45, since I had to go to work at 7:00, and he hugged me and said goodbye.

Like many literary heroines in their moments of weakness, I foolishly believed that changing myself would change him, and that now that I had sacrificed my morals, everything would be smooth sailing from now until forever.

After our nap, I went to work, and he left my bed to visit that of another girl, a blonde who lived in another dorm building. I remember that it was shortly after Facebook had introduced the ability to add photo albums, and that evening, he was tagged in a pretty scandalous photo - essentially, her straddling him. He was smiling in a way I hadn't seen before, and it devastated me. Even now, I still feel heartbroken, an immense regret after having sullied myself for him.

I was making mistakes left and right, and the worst part was, I wasn't learning from them. I knew Sam was going off with this girl and others, but when we were alone, it was like I forgot all about it. And the problem was, if we were together, we were always alone. He was okay with taking naps with me, or with kissing and laying together watching a movie. But in public, it was quick waves or very quiet hellos.

The thing is, I don't doubt that Sam genuinely liked me as a person. We hung out a lot - almost daily, in fact. He was a writer and an actor, and he would read me his stories or scripts or we would watch a movie together and talk about it in that interesting way I always assumed college students and grownups discussed things.

my generation will have the shittiest relics of youth
And so it seemed fitting that one of the last times we hung out, I delivered a scene right out of an award-winning romantic comedy. He had showed me a wonderful book he had found, and he let me borrow it so I could sketch some of the drawings I liked from the cover. When I handed it back, he found it full of handwritten Post-It notes.
i will love you when your movies are hits, and i will love you if they aren't.

i will still love you if you have no money and you just write scripts all the time,

when you're in between jobs and cannot offer me anything except your love and a few dedication pages.
He said he loved me too, and immediately upon hearing it, I knew it wasn't true, at least not in the way I wanted it to be. I am not some character in a period romance, I don't want a secret love. I only want your love and your kisses if you're willing to admit to them publicly. He graduated later that semester, and luckily, out of sight meant out of mind.

I tried to go out with other guys after him, but generally without success. I tended to seek out guys who were a little strange and awkward, since these were the men I deserved. It seemed to me that I needed to find a man broken into as many pieces as I was, when really, what I need is to find some glue.

Tomorrow, part three: Steve.

November 30, 2010

Part One: Sam

I found this photo earlier this summer while organizing computer files. How young I was! And beautiful! And (compared with the day when I found the image) ... thin! i wanna go back in time and hug this kidI took this photo six years ago, at the beginning of my sophomore year of college. I was living in a suite with seven other Honors students - a "learning community," they called it - in a dorm typically reserved for juniors and seniors. We fought for the suite, saying we wanted a place where we could all study together - but really, it was about drinking and partying with older boys. I was never much of a partyer, but my college friends were, so I followed.

This picture makes me a little sad, if I reflect on the little girl that I was here - totally innocent, totally naive. One month after taking this photo, I met a young man who would set in motion several events that would change my life. His name was Sam, sort of. His name was actually Harrison, but he always went by Sam - his parents had named him after Harrison Ford, and when his grandmother heard that, she said that they were crazy and that she refused to call him that. She called him Sam, and so that's what he went by.

While working in the building having the residents sign in their guests, I became smitten with this boy that I always saw walking around. He had brown curly hair and always wore a sport coat, and I thought he was beautiful. I never spoke to him, but occasional glimpses always left me breathless. It was exactly what I thought my first real love would be like. there are far worse things to regretI finally got up the courage to talk to him, and as it turned out, he was even more incredible than I had imagined. Creative, artsy, interesting. We got to talking, and one night when all my suitemates had gone home for the weekend, he came to visit me.

We spent the entire night together listening to jazz music and talking while a thunderstorm raged outside. There was a little lamp in the common room that set a soft blue ambiance, and we talked about many things, eventually ending up talking about love. Laying on the common room floor, curled up in a blanket next to him, I admitted to him that I had never done anything like this before with a guy, and he responded in a surprisingly critical way:
"Really?! That's what high school is for, you know."
We need to step back a little, then, to talk about what high school was like for me. I was always very academically motivated, I was active with lots of afterschool clubs and organizations, and I had a part-time job in a florist shop. Dating was not a high priority - in fact, it really wasn't a priority at all. My grandparents met on a beach and my parents met in an elevator; I assumed that this part of my life would fall into place when the time and the circumstances were right.

When I went off to college in 2004, I decided not to go to UConn like half my graduating class, but to a different school in Connecticut to try and meet new people and make new friends. I loved my friends very much, but I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and start over. My friends were good students, quiet and shy, but we were all ready to get to college and experience all of it fully. she's my rushmore, maxAnd among my friends, it was universally decided that I would be the one most likely to meet my husband in the first week at college.

So to hear this from Sam, that I was innocent to a fault? My heart was broken. With all the wisdom of a nineteen-year-old girl, I interpreted his comments as meaning that I had catching up to do, and so I decided that I needed to cultivate sexual experiences so that this boy could love me, and so that I wouuld know how to love him.

Six years later, I can recognize the flawed logic. But at that moment, all I wanted was for someone to love me. I'm not proud of what I did, but at the time, I believed it to be necessary.

Tomorrow, part two: Scott.