November 13, 2010

Birthday wishes

Secret: I'm not crazy about holidays.

When my mom was a kid, her family had a lot of financial struggles, and so their holiday celebrations were very simple. On the other hand, my dad (the sixth of nine kids) had huge holiday get-togethers - Christmas mornings were absolutely chaotic. Think about it - if just his parents and each kid got each other one gift, there are already over 100 presents - then add aunts, uncles, and Santa! mom's santa collection - yikesSo when my parents married and had their own family, they decided holidays would be a mixture of their traditions. We have Mom's numerous little touches, mixed with the grandeur of Dad's holiday rituals. It calmed down a little a few years ago, but then when my brother was born, we got right back into the spirit of huge magical celebrations.

Almost every year, I have some sort of anxiety attack right before Christmas. Don't get me wrong: I love being with my family, and I love how happy it makes my parents to have everyone get together to celebrate. But I'm a pretty simple lady, and so a lot of holidays feel very overwhelming to me. I prefer more basic celebrations - small and low-key. It's not just Christmas, by the way. But no matter what the holiday, I don't get as excited as the rest of my family does.

My one exception, though, has always been my birthday.

As a kid, I would make paper chains to count down to my one special day of the year.this was five years ago? oh man. I would wear my favorite outfit to school (usually complete with a wild homemade birthday crown), my class would have cupcakes and sing to me, and my family would have whatever I wanted for dinner (usually Mom's homemade chicken parmesan). One of the best parts of having a November birthday was being able to blow out my birthday candles in a pumpkin pie instead of a cake - it has always been my favorite! November 20th was not only a day that I looked forward to, but no matter what happened during the other 364 days, it was the absolute happiest day of my year.

So the other day when someone asked me what the date was and upon telling them, I realized my birthday was next week ... it kind of shocked me. It was one of those revelatory adult moments where you realize that some of the things that were magical as a kid just aren't as special anymore. Now, with the stresses of daily grownup life, it can be really easy to overlook the simple pleasure of having one day that's all your own. And it made me kind of sad, to be honest. I wish I could recapture the joy I used to feel during every single waking second of my birthday.

So, I'd like your help.

Sometime between now and next Friday, I'd like anyone who is interested to send me a birthday thought. It could be advice, or a wish, or a quote, or an idea ... anything! Could be serious, could be funny, could be anything! Just write something out on an index card, take a picture, and e-mail it to me.

like this!
or like this!
it's up to you!
As per my family traditions, I won't be able to look at them until my actual birthday (which is so much harder with actual birthday cards - especially since one of my uncles always sends his cards two to three months early - they just sit there, taunting you!). But I'll open them Saturday morning and post them all here on my blog!

If you'd like to participate, please send your picture(s) to my e-mail address - and make sure the subject is "Open November 20!"

Thank you! :)

November 12, 2010

Roses and thorns

This was a really, really, really, really strange week. Luckily, I found a lot of inspiration this week, especially from my blog community. The things you are thankful and grateful for are so moving, and help keep me focused on what truly matters in life. The love letters we've written ourselves have been incredible. stuff no one told me dot blogspot dot comSome people even reached their goal weight, and I got a great sense of comfort from reading about the emotional side of weight loss - in no aspect of this journey am I alone.

But I was feeling really wishy-washy for a while. It was a lot of different things coming together - work stress, financial stress, personal life stress, dealing with my new body stress - and it all made for a really strange attitude. And - I was extremely tired all week. Moreso at the beginning, and as much as I really wanted to go to the gym or go out and do things, I just felt completely knocked out, and didn't want to push myself. This was not a case of me feeling lazy and not wanting to try. This was me feeling physically exhausted, and needing to focus on the bigger picture of my heath. Sunday, I slept about fifteen hours. If my body is able to sleep for twelve hours, eat some cereal, and then sleep for three more hours, I clearly need to rest. (Added perk: fifteen hours of sleep for a 280 pound person burns about 1764 calories. Win.)

I think part of the cause of this was my go-go-go attitude. I have so much more energy now than I did back in July ... really, more than I have had in years. And unfortunately, even though my body is shrinking at an incredible speed, my ambition is still faster. stuff no one told me dot blogspot dot com
Now that I can move around so much easier, it's all I want to do! But rest is just as important as all the other measures I am taking to get healthy and live a well-balanced life.

In the end, my week has ended well, sort of. My major anticipated stressor of the week, my observation, ended up getting canceled about an hour before it was supposed to happen because unfortunately, my boss had a personal emergency. I'm secretly hoping it's canceled and not just postponed - I don't mind getting observed, it just makes me a little anxious and with only two and a half weeks left in the semester (!!!), there's already so much to worry about without my director sitting in on me.

My other two sections have had a great week so far - they watched an old black-and-white French suspense film called "Les yeux sans visage" ("Eyes Without a Face") and their reactions have been great. They saw "Amélie" a few months ago, which I think is the Wonder Bread of French films - there's a time and a place for it, but there are heartier options out there to discover. We've had some really brilliant discussions so far about this movie, mostly dealing with morals and ethics, and I love it. stuff no one told me dot blogspot dot comThe "Amélie" discussions are always very plain, yes-no sort of answers. But they really got into this - even debating at points! - which makes me very proud as their teacher.

For workouts, I went to the gym a few times, and I've been getting back into the Wii Fit - once I signed up for the gym, I ignored it for a while, and I forgot how much I totally love it - besides my usual favorite (10-min Expert Rhythm Boxing), I've been getting into the Skateboard Arena and Island Cycling. Even though I know it's for the better, it's still kind of tough to deal with the fact that when I first started doing the Wii Fit, ten minutes of boxing burned 150 calories, and now it's only 105. For Couch to 5k, I did Week 4, Day 2 on Wednesday, and I loved and appreciated it a lot more than I did Day 1 on Monday. I usually run on the track, but there were a lot of people there Wednesday, so I did it on a treadmill - 2.7 mph for the walking, 4.0 mph for the run. Day 3 will be today, and I can't wait. I wish I could go back in time and find that 345 pound girl and tell her that I love running. She wouldn't believe me!

And speaking of numbers, my weigh-in: 276 pounds. Which means that I am down another six pounds this week. And which makes my total loss 69 pounds. Unbe-flippin'-lievable. My parents have been asking what I want for birthday and Christmas gifts, and I'm thinking that some new clothes are in order!

November 11, 2010

A love letter

Dear Mary -

I love you.

I know I have never really been one to express my true feelings, but now, I am moved to tell you this. I love you. I really, truly do. I love your green eyes and your curly auburn hair, even when you just wake up. I love your little hands and your big feet. I love your radiant smile and your contagious laugh. And, you know, it's not just physical - I love all that you've done, all that you're doing, and all that you are capable of.

kurt halsey dot com
And so, I just wanted to apologize for some things that I've said and done to you in the past. A lot of people have hurt you, and I know that wasn't easy to deal with. But I've hurt you more than anyone - I've hurt you really badly, and the fact that you're still here, fighting and giving every day your best ... well, it just shows how brave and resilient you are. You could have given up. You could have called it quits. But you didn't - you stuck it out, and you got stronger because of it. I'm sorry you were in the situation to begin with, but I'm glad you have let it become a learning experience instead of calling it a permanent failure.

Actually, I'm sorry for an awful lot of things.

I'm sorry that I told you you weren't good enough to do the things you dreamed of. I'm sorry that I deceived you into thinking I was rewarding you when all the time, these were punishments that got you further away from your goals. I'm sorry that I convinced you to settle for less than perfect because I didn't think you could reasonably do better. You can, Mary. You deserve the best of everything, and I'm sorry for ever letting you believe otherwise.

I know that the number on the scale isn't everything, but I can honestly say that since you've started eating well, exercising, and taking better care of yourself, I've noticed that you've begun to come out of your shell a little - going out, taking more chances, paying more attention to your appearance. It's amazing. You're finally experiencing life as you've dreamed about it for ages. Everyone wants their dreams to come true - and now, you're making it happen. You're a new person! And I know that as awesome as that is, you're scared. You're terrified. Admittedly, it's not going to be easy to adjust to. But I have faith in your ability to blossom and flourish, to achieve your goals and make the most of this new life that you never thought possible. In the past, I've been critical and pessimistic. From this moment, I hereby promise to be your biggest supporter.

kurt halsey dot com
You have an incredible life full of opportunities and possibilities. You're destined to do really great things, and I hope for your sake that you take every single chance that you can. You absolutely deserve it.



November 10, 2010

How To Have An Awesome Life

For some reason or another, I've been kind of wishy-washy lately - and tired. Very, very tired. I slept eleven hours on Sunday, then took a three hour nap an hour later. And yesterday, I could barely be coaxed out of bed - I knew I had to go to work, I knew I had to get there early, I knew I had so much work to do. But I could not motivate myself to get out of bed until the absolute last minute possible. It's weird, because even though I'm not the world's greatest morning person, I'm still usually okay with getting up and getting ready on time.

So when I got to work, I was reading the news online, and somehow one link lead me to another, and I ended up on this page. And I'm so glad. I love how the universe always gets you exactly what you need precisely when you need it...

How To Have An Awesome Life
By Kirk J. Schneider, Ph.D.

Find Awe at Any Age
You can have a life filled with awe at any age. You can awake each morning, potentially inspired, centered, with a sense that many options and opportunities stretch before you. Awe is a power unto itself, and by its very nature transforms us. The best part is it is free, natural and continually available. All you need is the willingness to awaken to awe, and to do so by trying a new approach to life.

Appreciate the Wonderment of Living
You're alive. That in itself is a reason to rejoice each moment. msi chicagoYou may have your rough days and your sad days, but as long as you are breathing you can access awe. When you get out of bed in the morning and put your feet on the floor, give thanks that you are part of a great adventure, an ever-expanding journey.

Get Your Day to Day Needs Met
Find a way to subsist, that is, put bread on your table and a shelter over your head, otherwise it will be very difficult to pause and appreciate the marvels of creation. If you are currently without these necessities, then go to a city or county-run assistance program to get back on your feet. It is a start for which your body - and your soul - will thank you profusely.

Savor Each Moment
Each moment is a gift. Savor it. Be in it. Even in the tough times, take a moment to breathe, ground yourself and become present in the moment. There is much more to your experience, right now, than you realize, such as the fact of your aliveness, the possibilities for discovery, and appreciation of a human connection.

Focus on What You Love
Life will be much richer - livelier - if you can direct your attention to what really matters to you, whether that's a person, a place, or an activity. Take time to consider bigger questions, such as how you are willing to use the space and time left to you.

Create the Capacity to See the Big Picture
Try to view your life as a passenger on an amazing journey. Realize that you are MORE than petty or narrow judgments about yourself. The destination is the journey as much or more than the journey simply leading to a destination.

Be Open to the mystery of Life and Being
An appreciation for the fact of life. Tip: Stay open to the possibilities and surprises of life, they may be around the corner. When you're in conversation or working, or just simply being, realize that change - often positive change - can spontaneously occur; and you can help to promote that process too.

Understand that Pain is a Teacher
Understand that as difficult as it is, pain can be an opening - as well as closure - to a new way of life. For example, if you are sad, perhaps you can view the sadness as a long neglected chance to slow down, appreciate subtleties, and consider life anew.

Develop an Appreciation of Balance
We all experience fragility and resiliency. To cope best with this life, acknowledge both your limits and your possibilities. msi chicagoRecognize that limits and possibilities play off one another and that to live fully one must be open to tearfulness as well exhilaration. Alone time, in-depth therapy, and meditation, can each play a vital role in the cultivation of a life of balance.

Stay Present and Accept the Change
Life is ever-evolving. An ability to stay present to, and accept, the evolving nature of life is a powerful skill. As painful as conflict can be, realize that, like everything else, it too shall pass, and something new will emerge.

Surrender and Trust in the Unknowable
Strive to develop the ability to give yourself over discerningly to the unknowable future. Realize that no matter how hard we fall, there is always a beyond that can "catch us." To the extent you can risk being open in these ways, you can derive continual benefits, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Take a Leap of Faith into Your Future
There have been many people throughout history who have suffered unimaginably and yet found solace in the wonders and puzzlements of creation. They have found a way to rise above the worst of times and grow from them, and find gratitude for all that is good. You are so much more than what you think you are. So take the leap if you dare, follow your grandest visions and dreams, and partake of the greatest investigation ever known—your own awe-filled life. Breathe in the awesomeness of life!

November 9, 2010

Kosher and delicious

Yesterday my mom had her surgery, and I was really ill-at-ease for most of the day. I called in the morning just as she and my two sisters were headed to the hospital, and she seemed very calm. It's times like these when I really regret moving so far away from my family. I love them so much - even with all the problems and stresses we've had to deal with in the past few years, I feel like we're all incredibly close and amazingly supportive of one another. And so, my heart feels very heavy when things like this happen, and I can't drop everything and be at their sides.

I told her about fifteen times that I loved her, to the point where she (jokingly) was like, "I get it, I get it!" The thing is, I'm very afraid of forgetting to tell my family how much I love them and how much they mean to me, so I tend to go overboard. On Christmas Eve, 2001, we were all at my mom's aunt Joanne's house celebrating my great grandmother's birthday - her birthday was Christmas Day, and her name was also Mary Elizabeth. reason number eight trillion why i don't smokeI was so tired when we were leaving that I didn't say goodbye to Great Gram, I just got to the car and fell asleep. And when we got home, there was a message on the machine saying shortly after we left, Great Gram sat down on the couch with all her birthday presents around her - she said that the pink bedsheets with roses were exactly what she wanted, and that she was so happy - and then she put her head on Joanne's shoulder and went unconscious. She died two days later, and I never got to say goodbye. I was the namesake. I loved her so much. And besides my uncle Johnny, I had never lost anyone close to me before. So I was devastated, and now I have a very strong fear of losing those that I love without their knowing often just how much I love them and how much they mean to me.

So when Mom hung up, I got a little teary, but still, I had faith in the idea that she would have told me if it were so serious that I needed to be there.

Let me just say ... longest day of work EVER.

I sent my sisters text messages a few times throughout the day, mostly variations on "any news???" She was scheduled to go under at 12:30, and the reply I got to the message (over an hour later!) was that she had only just gone in because it had taken forever to get her information together, mostly due to the fact that one of her tests had only just been taken last week.

"She's not worried at all, which is good."

Glad one of us wasn't! My heart was in my throat all day.

I texted again an hour or so later, and again, no replies for what felt like ages. I know there's little to no cell phone service in the hospital, but still ... it felt like ten times as long as it actually was. Finally, a message:

oh, mom
What a relief!

gosh i love her
Oh, Mom. I miss her so much. And even though I wasn't there, I'm really glad that both my sisters were. And I'm so grateful for modern technology so we can relay information so quickly.

I felt very relieved as I headed to the gym and took my stress and frustrations out on Week 4, Day 1 of the Couch to 5k (I can't wait to look back on this one and smile, because for now, running for five minutes is a real challenge!).

When I got home, I videochatted with my sisters and they told me some more of the ridiculous things Mom said on the way home from the hospital - like, "Really, does anyone care that Mariah Carey is pregnant?" and "I think - no, definitely, I definitely saw our cat in the recovery room." They talked about Christmas and getting us all into matching pajamas like when we were kids since we will all be able to fit into clothes from Old Navy or Target - it felt amazing. I'm focusing on positives.

So thank you everyone for your love, prayers, and support - today went well, and hopefully the tests come out fine. Of course, I'll keep you all posted!

November 8, 2010


One of the toughest experiences in my weight loss journey was the moment when I realized that I had an eating disorder. For most people, the term "eating disorder" conjures up images of supermodels and actors with bones sticking out and diets of coffee and cigarettes - and I had the same singular mindset. Someone with an eating disorder is either anorexic or bulimic - I had never learned of any other grounds. I had never really considered the semantics of it - that my severely disordered eating habits were, in fact, an eating disorder. But really, labeling it was the least of my problems at that point. The actual issue at hand was much bigger.

Like many people, I would eat whenever I was stressed out. Or when I was sad. Or when I was happy. Or when I was bored. Unlike most people, though, this was not just a little uncontrolled snacking here and there. It was ... well, unbelievable, really. Thinking back, I am amazed not only at the quantities of food I would eat, but at the speed. In college, I would go to every shop in the plaza across the street from the dorm - chinatown, may 2010a breakfast sandwich from Dunkin' Donuts, noodles with everything from the Chinese restaurant, a toasted sub from Blimpie's, and a pint of Ben and Jerry's from the convenience store. It would be gone - all of it - in under fifteen or twenty minutes. At the end of finals during my second semester of grad school, I spent $50 at the grocery store on crazy amounts of junk food, and I ate it all within ten minutes. I would eat until my mind felt numb - then I would fall asleep, and when I'm asleep, I don't have to deal with the problems at hand.

The food was bad enough, but the speed made it worse - my mouth would get sore and my stomach would hurt incredibly, but I loved it. Feeling pain meant focusing on something other than the fifteen page paper due in three days. Unfortunately, when I would wake up from my food coma, the paper was still there, needing to be worked on, and I would feel gross and ashamed.

Shame is another key component of this. I was extremely private about my eating habits. I very rarely ate in public, and if I did, I would pick at my meal so I could take it home and eat it as fast as I could. I had a friend who always joked about the fact that, over the eight or ten years of our friendship, he'd never seen me eat before. I mean, clearly I was eating sometime...

I remember one time this past spring semester when I was coming home on a Friday around noon - I had skipped breakfast and I was absolutely ravenous - and the McDonald's that the bus passes on the way home was having a Filet o' Fish deal - double the pieces of fish per sandwich for $2.99. I went, got two sandwiches, folded up the bag and hid it in my backpack, and then headed back to my apartment so I could eat them. When I got home, I put the sandwiches on the table and then went into my bedroom to change into after-work clothes, and suddenly I heard the front door open. october 2010 - 60 lbs lighterMy sister's afternoon class was canceled, so she was home early. She saw that I had two McDonald's boxes and asked if she could have one since she is also not a breakfast eater and so she too was pretty hungry.

I am so ashamed when I reflect on my thought processes of that day. I eventually gave her one of the sandwiches, but I was so mad at her. Enraged, even. And not just in the moment, but for days afterwards. Now, as I look back with a clear mind, I wonder why I was so furious. Because she took away the food? Or because she took away the privacy in which I conducted my secret eating rituals?

I'm very proud of the progress I have made so far - I have not binged in nearly three months, and that has not been easy, especially with the stresses of a full-time job, bills, friends, and family. But like with people who have problems with drugs or alcohol, my food addiction and my history with binge eating disorder are things that I am going to have to deal with for the rest of my life. It should hopefully get easier, but it will never go away completely.

November 7, 2010

Drop dead gorgeous

My positive sign for the week:

i think i love my face
My new mantra, and not just for the week.

Challenge start weight: 332
Current weight: 282

Four more pounds gone this week - which brings me to a total of 50 pounds lost while tracking my weight for this challenge! I can hardly believe it.

Progress on my DDGbG goals: The last of my original four goals was to tell my family and friends as often as possible that I love them. With everything going on with my mom, I've made sure to keep in touch even moreso than usual. For friends, though, this had been harder recently.

Today is Jill's birthday, and most people who usually read this blog probably have no idea who that is - the fact of which just adds to how painful it is for me. chicago 2007It's just amazing that I haven't mentioned her more in here. Jill is my best friend, my absolutely inseparable best friend with whom I went to college, and with whom I traveled to Paris for the first time, ... and with whom I have not spoken in several months. For some reason unknown to me, she just started ignoring my messages and my attempts to communicate. In the meantime, she has changed jobs and moved out into her first apartment, and I didn't even know her new address to send her a birthday card (which is a big deal, because we are intense letter writers and package senders - one summer, we sent about a hundred letters back and forth). I sent a card to her mother's address, noting that I was unsure of why we haven't spoken in so long, and letting her know that I hope she has a great birthday and I miss her very much. I'm not sure what will come of it, but it's going to be a difficult day nonetheless.

For my recipe this week, another soup - it got colder here in Chicago, so I wanted to make something warm, seasonal, and spicy!

omg yum
Spicy Pumpkin Soup Recipe
[Adapted from this recipe]

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
3 (15 oz) cans pumpkin purée
5 cups of chicken broth
2 cups of milk

1. Heat oil in a 6-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until softened, about four minutes. Add spices; stir for one minute.

2. Add pumpkin and chicken broth and mix. Bring to a boil and reduce heat, simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Transfer soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor. Cover tightly and blend until smooth. Return soup to saucepan.

4. With the soup on low heat, slowly add milk while stirring to incorporate. Adjust seasonings to taste. If a little too spicy, add milk to cool it down.
Per usual, I made changes - I don't have a food processor or blender, so I just chopped the onions really tiny - I like a little texture here and there with my soups, so it wasn't bad. Also, in the original recipe, the author said it was too hot, so she added some cream and brown sugar. I omitted both and doubled the spice quantities that I listed here (some of which were already much more than what she said). I never used to be able to handle spicy food until I started to eat healthier - now I totally love it. I think it has something to do with becoming more aware of food as something delicious and nourishing, and not just something I eat quickly and indiscriminately because I am bored or stressed.

This recipe made eight servings, seven of which are in my freezer. I like cooking something big like this and putting some away for busy/lazy weeks - like this past week, when pretty much every dinner I ate was something I had taken out of the freezer. I usually spend one or two Sundays a month cooking up a storm and then loading up the freezer with little containers of soup, or spaghetti sauce and mini meatballs, or some sort of chicken and vegetable creation I thought was delicious but couldn't imagine eating leftovers of for days and days.

ONE thing that you are proud of for the week: I had a couple slices of pizza for dinner on Friday night - and I didn't binge and eat a whole five thousand calorie pizza pie in one sitting! In fact, I didn't freak out over calories at all, really - it was only a few more calories than I usually have at dinner, not so many that it would throw off my groove - plus, I knew I would be working hard the next day, so I let myself enjoy this little treat responsibly. And - it was incredibly delicious. Thin crust, spinach, tomato, and goat cheese. A-mazing. It was like I had never tasted pizza before in my life, and thinking about it, that might be true. I ate it mindfully and savored the whole experience, and felt very satisfied afterwards. It's a big preparatory step for going home at Christmas - enjoying food without getting carried away. It felt like a huge victory for me.

ONE thing that you can improve upon for the following week: Relaxing! This is going to be a stressful week (mostly due to my teaching observation on Thursday), so I need to make sure I take enough time to relax.