Life. Love. Kindness. Joy.

I’ve had some opportunities to think about death lately. Lots of them, actually. And I’ve been wavering about whether or not I should actually write this post, because it’s a bit off the beaten path of my usual schtick. (And it’s loooooong.)

But that’s ok. It’s my blog, and I’m going for it.

So we spent some time with my husband’s 96 year old grandfather recently. With no disrespect, he has never been the kindest man, so we were quite surprised to see a very different side of him after a year alone following the passing of his wife of 72 years.

He was looking back, voicing regrets, dispensing wisdom. We listened. The voice of a man facing the end of his days, with everyone else gone before him, is not to be ignored or taken for granted. I saw it as a gift that I’d like to share with you.

Here’s the thing, peeps. Not a single one of us is getting out of this thing alive. I don’t say this to be morbid or make you sad or fearful, and this is by no means a YOLO kinda thing, because that’s just not my bag, baby.

I say it simply because it is true. It is one of the essential facts of our existence, but one that we are uncomfortable talking about openly. Like if we all keep real quiet about death, we can somehow manage to outsmart the powers of the universe and LIVE FOREVER!

Oh wait, I forgot–that actually totally worked for…uh…yeah, right, NO ONE, EVER.

So why not embrace this essential truth instead of skirting around it?

Let me help: We’re all going to die someday. I am. You are. Each and every one of us.

Even if we are pictures of health and safety…even if we always wear our bike helmets…even if we never, ever drink too much or smoke cigarettes…even if we are strong swimmers, change the batteries in our smoke detectors regularly, drive cars with side impact airbags and Anti-lock brakes, and work out regularly and eat whole, clean, organic foods most of the time.

Before you start to think this is a “Life is short, eat cupcakes all day, bitches!!!” type of post, Imma stop you right there.

Everything I’ve noted above is an important practice that we should keep doing to be as healthy and happy as we can during our time here. I’m going to keep doing all those things.

But in the end…well, it ends. No matter what. No matter who. No matter what.

Think of it, mull it for a bit…like I’ve been doing.

Now before you get all mad at me for making you think about your inevitable death and stop reading the blog all together because you don’t know what the hell happened to that sassy, snarky fat girl that USED to write this not-so-serious blog about how much she could push press, take a second to realize that accepting the reality of death is actually quite freeing.

Because once you’ve accepted the dying, you can get on with the living. The REAL living.

tragedy of lifeAnd the LIVING, people, is what this post is about.

The more I’ve thought about this lately, the more excited I’ve been to LIVE. I was heading down this thought path already in my efforts in the recent past to be more in the moment, show gratitude for the people I love, and work on loving myself more and caring what others thought less.

But this face to face encounter with someone contemplating so intently the end of his days–and having lost more than enough people near and dear to me far before the ripe old age of 96–it’s given me a bit of a shove.

I’m 39 years old, and I still feel like I’m 20 something. I feel like I have many, many long years ahead of me with the people I love. I certainly hope I do, but there are no guarantees.

ca9f3010ea8e03c2644a69ec86ee7d0bSo what do I want to do with my limited-time life? What do I want to accomplish before my unknown expiration date? How do I want to be remembered?

If that goddamned proverbial bus cracks me in the ass TODAY, would I have regrets other than the sadness I’ll leave behind in the lives of the people who love me?

And lest you think me cliche, let me say that I’m not talking about creating a bucket list, either. Help me out, here, Thoreau old buddy:

a4fff66b2a003e846467c690b7bac9b2OK, well I’m not exactly talking about going into the woods. But the rest is so right on. Living deliberately. Getting at the essence of life, my life. And LIVING it while I’m here.

For me, this is a deeply personal thing. I’ve been soul searching. What ARE the essential components of my life? My world? My existence? What do I stand for? (Most nights, I don’t know…)

Here’s what I’ve boiled it down to: Love, Kindness, and Joy. With INTENTIONAL caps. Word.

Let me elaborate. (Because I always do.)

LOVE: I want to love fiercely, and be fiercely loved. I want to feel it oozing from my pores. I want to feel love and gratitude spilling out of me like baubles in a too-full jewelry box. I think I’ve been afraid to say and live this in such an unabashed way before. Why is that? Why would I want to hide the passionate love I feel for my life, my family, my friends, and the beauty in the world around me? Why wouldn’t I want to gush with gratitude for all I am and all I have, to let it bubble up and overflow, touching every person I come into contact with every day of my life?

stop lookingWell, I do want to do that, but frankly it’s hard not to focus on the negative, the annoying, the everyday stupid BS. So I’m not saying I’ll be a perfect picture of love and gratitude at any given moment of any given day. Most assuredly not when some jackass cuts me off on the highway, for example, or when my kids leave the friggin crayons out AGAIN and the dog eats them AGAIN and I’m cleaning up multi-colored turds in the yard for a week.

I’m saying I plan to practice loving with passion and ferocity as often as I can, including loving myself. And I have a sense that the more I practice, the better I will get.

KINDNESS: I just finished reading another amazing book by Khaled Hosseini called And the Mountains EchoedI recommend this book–and any of his books, for that matter. His writing is gorgeous and the stories he tells are so rich and authentic.

So in the book one of the characters said something that’s been sitting in my heart ever since (where I hope it will take up permanent residence, at least most of the time). Reflecting on her own life, she says: “I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret. You will never say to yourself when you are old, Ah, I wish I was not good to that person. You will never think that…It would not have been that difficult…I should have been more kind.”

This line sticks in my throat. It is NOT that difficult to be kind. What does it cost me, but perhaps my pride sometimes? Big deal.

Listen, everyone has their faults, and people can be incredibly annoying. I often find myself incredibly annoyed by people, most especially the ones I love. I acknowledge as I write this that it is unfair, but here I am admitting on the Interwebz.

(Sidebar: if you are someone I love, this is me admitting that you have probably annoyed the shit out of me at one point or another. But I am just as aware that I have probably annoyed the shit out of you just as–if not more–often. So let’s just acknowledge our individual annoying qualities, be kinder to each other, and move on with our lives. Love ya!)

See? Acknowledging that people are flawed, human, prone to bad choices and idiosyncrasies, bound to hurt each other sometimes–sometimes hurt each other deeply–does not indicate that they are any less deserving of kindness. (Note to self: It really doesn’t make them any less deserving of your kindness. Stop being a bitch sometimes.)

And like the character in the book notes, kindness is something I have never regretted giving, when I have chosen to bestow it upon people. When I have (rarely, but ever more frequently of late) chosen to bestow it upon myself.

I commit to choosing kindness more often, so that eventually I will become a characteristically kind person, both to myself and others.

JOY: Here we are, the big finish. Joy. What brings me joy? So many things. Hugging my son, and feeling his sharp bony ribs when I squeeze him. Marveling at the fact that this boy that I once carried in me now has a tiny boy-mustache growing. Hearing my daughter belly laugh. Seeing her admire herself, unabashed, in the mirror. Dancing. The sound of my husband’s car pulling in the driveway. The wide smile he sometimes flashes, not nearly often enough. The feel of his arms around me. DisneyWorld. Lifting heavy weights. Setting out on a road trip at the crack of dawn with a car full of people and snacks. Writing this blog. Coffee on a quiet morning. Reading a great book. Friends who get me. Watching my kids work together on something, and speak kindly to each other while doing it. My dog. A sunrise as I drive to an early morning workout.

The list could go on, but I think you get it. The point is that living, to me, means recognizing all these things as sources of pure joy and adding more of them to my life…or at the very least, recognizing and acknowledging them when they are in front of me.

And dumping all the crap that doesn’t bring me joy.

Now listen, we all have to have some crap in our life. Responsibilities. Obligatory STUFF that is decidedly non-joyful. Cleaning the cat box comes to mind.

The reality is that we can’t necessarily “front only the essential facts of life” as Thoreau did. Well, technically Thoreau didn’t have to front ANYTHING–he had a rich aunt who took care of him or something like that so he could afford to just laze around at Walden Pond for a couple of years and write about icicles and whatnot. Me? I got billz and such. And you probably do, too.

So, practically speaking, we can’t just run around all the time doing only the things that bring us joy. (“Cupcakes! Spending sprees! YOLO, bitches!” Uhhhh, no.)

But when we’re 96, what will our legacy be? I mean, I definitely don’t want my legacy to be, “She didn’t pay her bills or clean her toilet because she was too busy eating cupcakes/loving people/being kind and joyful.” The thing is this: I’m just a regular person, so I’ll have to have a job and scrub the floors and be a respectable member of society. I don’t expect to have to get out of doing those things.

I don’t expect or need to be famous or widely renowned or anything.

I don’t care if I win any races, and I’m all set if I never have the body of a fitness model…because I am probably just as fit as most of them already and I’m committed to the idea that what a body can DO is more important than what a body looks like.

No, those things aren’t of critical, 96 year old end of life importance to me personally.

When that bus of doom knocks me into the afterlife, or whatever comes after this, I want my kids and my husband to know that they were loved, and loved fiercely.

I want my friends to know how utterly grateful I was for their joyful presence in my life.

I want someone, somewhere, to have been brightened, even in some small way, by a kind act from me.

I want to be remembered as someone who was passionate, loving and kind, and full of life, laughter and joy.

Oh, and I want to squat 250. That would be pretty cool too.

Your turn.

Apples to oranges, and silencing the evil voice.

They say comparison is the thief of joy. (Who are “they,” anyway? And where do “they” come up with all these clever sayings? I digress…already. Typical.)

The point is, I agree. (Well, somewhat…but more on that later.) I agree in theory, but, as with most of “their” clever sayings, this one is so much easier to say and think about than to actually believe and live into it.

I KNOW…I know, I know, I know that I’m not supposed to compare myself to others. My rational, logical brain repeats the phrase to me regularly in an annoying old schoolmarm voice.

But there’s another voice, too. An insidious, evil little bitch of a voice in my head that sometimes just won’t shut the hell up.

“You’re the fattest person in the room. No one is going to like you here,” she whispers into my ear at a party.

“That Tuff Girl can do unassisted pull ups! You’ll never be able to do those. You’re too heavy. You’ll ALWAYS be too heavy,” she scoffs during a workout.

“Look how ‘together’ that other mom is! She’s not running around from one place to the next like a crazy person, always five minutes late. SHE didn’t forget to turn in the money for the teacher’s gift. SHE sent in the permission slip on time,” she taunts me when I arrive, breathless and with metaphorically windblown hair to a school function.

(I told you she was an evil bitch.)

So yes, in all these instances, comparison IS stealing my joy by shifting my focus to negative and spotlighting the things I see as my weaknesses instead of strengths.

And today’s message has a story, of course. If you’ve been hanging around the FFG FB page, you might have noticed some new photos. I did something that terrified me and signed up for fitness shoot, and the pictures came back yesterday. I shared a few over there and will be doing some updating around here with the rest of them.

As I reviewed the photos, I got super excited. I saw progress in those photos. I saw confidence and empowerment and general badassery in myself. I was proud.

Two of my amazing friends also did the photo shoot and I was absolutely bowled over by their photos. Strong, confident, kickass women who I am so very lucky to call my friends.

But I did it, guys. I did that thing that I am not supposed to do. I compared. I compared my pictures to my friend Samantha’s, and in doing so, I lost some of the initial joy I felt at seeing my own pics.

Me and Samm push press Me and Samm planks

Me: Wow, Samantha looks amazing!

Evil Bitch Voice in My Head: Better than you! Who were you kidding taking these pictures in the first place, fat girl?

Me: Shut up. We’ve both worked hard to make the progress we’ve made. We both deserve to feel awesome about these pictures.

Evil Bitch Voice in My Head: OK, sweetheart. You keep telling yourself that. But I’ll be HONEST…nobody wants to see your pictures when they could look at someone like Samantha.

Sigh.

And on goes the battle. I fight this battle every day, sometimes every minute. And it’s a hard battle, for sure, with casualties on my heart that are tough to overcome.

But I’m not giving up on it. I’m going to keep fighting until I silence that noxious little bitch for good.

And here’s something else I’m working toward: a type of comparison that ADDS joy instead of stealing it…because there are some kinds of comparisons that can do that, which is why I only somewhat agree with the statement I opened this post with.

What I mean by that (incredibly convoluted) idea is this: when I compare who I am today with who I used to be, I can draw confidence, strength and joy from how far I’ve come, instead of a cancerous focus on how far I still have to go.

Comparisons like this one:

very heavy me StephLowRes-13This comparison shows the difference three years makes. My guesstimate would be about 45lbs of fat lost (including, apparently, an entire chin), and a ton of muscle and self-confidence gained.

But beyond that piece, more subtle–but to me, far more important–differences shine through in my posture, my expression, and my attitude in each picture.

The first one shows me leaning forward a little, with my shoulders raised up a little bit…clearly uncomfortable with having my picture taken. My smile seems to be trying to overcompensate for my utter lack of confidence. I distinctly remember having this photo taken, and the discomfort I felt at that moment about the way I looked. I hated being in pictures. I hated being in my body, and it showed.

In fact, at one point I showed that old photo to my friend Samantha. I also distinctly remember her response when she saw it: “That is not the same person I know today. I don’t know who that person is.”

Compared to this new picture, she is absolutely right. It is me, but a completely different version of me who had no idea how awesome she was and could be.

By contrast, the current photo shows my unwavering gaze, my firm, confident posture–chest out, shoulders back–and how at-home I feel with some heavy weights in my hands.

THIS is the me of today. THIS is the kind of comparison I need to be making, and the kind of comparison I am going to keep bringing myself back to, no matter how hard it is.

So take THAT, evil bitch voice in my head! You are going down.

——————–

*Special thanks to Samantha for letting me share her pictures and talk about how amazing she looks in a very public forum. I continue to be so grateful to have you in my life for so many reasons. Heart.

*All fitness shoot photos (ie, all the pics here except for my hideous “before” shot) are credited to the very amazing Eric Brushett. Any weird stretching or photographic wonkiness should be entirely blamed upon my amateurish attempts to create collages, and not Eric’s mad photography skills.

Anesthesia.

So earlier today I had an endoscopy. I’ll spare you the gory details–well, wait, I don’t actually have any considering they knocked me out for the procedure. I was pretty grateful for that, to tell you the truth. I had visions of barfing all over some poor nurse at the activation of my gag reflex.

Today’s fun venture was the culmination of a week of misery, pretty much. Something crazy happened when I swallowed a normal-sized piece of boneless grilled chicken last Saturday. As though the chicken were coated in shards of glass, I experienced that painful scraping and slicing sensation in my throat–like swallowing a chip with the sharp edge dragging its way down.

Five days later…five days of painful, difficult swallowing and esophageal spasms that feel like labor pains in the middle of my chest, I was having this endoscopy.

But this post isn’t about an endoscopy. Necessarily.

I was just lying here in bed, trying to fall asleep despite my discomfort, trying to piece together my pre- and post-anesthesia experience.

I remember them positioning me on the gurney. I remember a soreness and an ache spreading through my hand (where my IV was taped) and into my wrist and thinking, “They’ve started the meds.”

I remember feeling sleepy, and wanting to say out loud that I felt sleepy, but not really being able to do it.

I remember having a very fleeting moment of panic, because the anesthesiologist had never specifically said, “I’m starting the meds now. You will begin to feel sleepy. Count back from 10.” (Or something like that. Like, give me a little hint that we’re starting this party, bro!) But then it was done. I was out. Panic, over before it even really started.

The next thing I remember was the doctor laughing as she recounted to me how I said  “I feel so groovy,” right before I zonked. (Oh, it’s over? You’re done shoving that thing down my throat already?)

Then I was in another room. “Did I fall asleep again?” I asked a new nurse that I hadn’t seen before. How did I get to that new room, with that new nurse? How had I missed it?

I remember her saying my husband wasn’t in the waiting room, and they were going to call him. Then, I blinked, and he was there, like magic. Next thing I knew–poof!–I was sitting in a chair instead of laying on the gurney.

I remember a lot of laughing. I remember realizing I was the one laughing.

At some point, I changed out of the hospital gown and into my clothes. When and how this happened remains a mystery to me.

I remember the nurse showing us some pictures of my esophagus, and me commenting that my esophagus was “stunning.” (It really is, if I do say so myself.)

I remember feeling like time had passed, but I didn’t really remember what had happened. So I asked my husband how long he had been there, what we had been talking about, if I had fallen asleep again. He said I hadn’t, but I couldn’t remember any of the talking. Huh.

After that, the edges of my memory get a lot sharper, and the holes are gone. I stumbled out to the car, leaning on him, giggling at mostly inappropriate times. My sincere apologies to the women who must have thought I was laughing maniacally at them when they stepped into the garage elevator.

We came home.

I’ve been poking at these holes in my memory, testing them, trying to see if I can fit something in there. But I can’t find anything in my brain to fill them with. It’s a very strange feeling.

So as I was lying here in bed just now, it occurred to me that life is full of metaphorical endoscopies. (You know I love a good metaphor!) They are challenges to be overcome. Pain to be suffered through. Fears to be faced. Problems to be solved. Trials to be endured.

It made me wonder, what if we had a symbolic anesthetic to temper the effect of life’s struggles? To give us soothing holes in our memory instead of the jagged edges of heartbreak, anger, sadness or defeat? That might be cool, maybe.

To feel, instead of my endless frustration with this fitness journey, just numbness until I reached my goals. To be spared of –to steal a phrase from my old pal Hamlet–the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. To move through this life with an “off” button for the struggles and pain we face as people with souls that aren’t bulletproof, with breakable hearts, and with susceptible bodies.

It sounded good, for a few minutes.

But then I remembered something else. I remembered that feeling and enduring those things make it possible to feel love, victory, happiness.

Oh, yeah. Right. Those.

I’m pretty sure this is makes us human; we endure the pain, the fear, the discomfort of whatever it is we’re going through, and know we’re alive and that we will, again, feel joy. Even if it completely and totally sucks right now.

We cope with failure and know that we will rise to try again. Maybe not today. Maybe not this moment. But again.

And in the process we get stronger. Never invincible, but stronger at least. Stronger in heart, in body, and in soul.

So to me, this is courage. This ability to endure, despite the pain and the obstacles. This persistence in living and seeking out the joy and love even as we withstand despair.

Even though the promise of numbness is sweet, I choose courage to bring me through. To get me to that next experience of victory on my journey.

So, yeah, that’s all I got, really. I feel like I should have more to say, but it’s 11:37 at night, waaaaay past my bedtime, and it’s possible that these are the nonsensical ramblings of someone still shaking off the effects of anesthesia.

But no matter how I feel when I re-read this post in the morning, I’m pretty sure I’ll still think that–while I very much appreciated the kind of anesthesia I had today–I’d much rather live my life without the metaphorical kind I dreamed up while I was lying here in my bed.

Choices.

choices So nearly two months ago, I got a pretty awesome freelance opportunity plunked down in front of me. Reputable client, work I was digging on, and the potential for some sweet gravy on the budget. And while our budget isn’t hurting, who doesn’t salivate over a little gravy once in awhile?

I chewed on it for three days. Tried to brainstorm “solutions” for how I was going to fit in the work in addition to the rest of my life.

Of course, this opportunity came just after I had written this, so I was definitely feeling the heat of keeping up with all my shit already.

But, the choice seemed clear: I should definitely take the job. The money would be great, and I’m good at what I do, so I could easily make it work.

The choice seemed (also) clear: I should definitely not take the job. I had no business adding more stuff to my ever-expanding plate, even stuff I really like.

I’ll cut the suspense. I didn’t take the job.

I mourned the loss of an interesting freelance job (and the gravy) for a day or so. Or maybe a week. I spent that extra money in my head. A new car was involved, obviously. (But more on that later.)

Here’s where I’m going with this: choices sometimes suck, and you may or may not know if you’ve made the right one. I agonized over this one but ultimately I knew it was right because it was in line with the values and goals I was setting for myself:

Stop adding. Love my people. Work on myself. Focus on what’s here.

I also got a nice little karmic victory a week later when my boss sat me down and awarded me a promotion and a fat (phat?) raise…about the equivalent of what the freelance job I passed on might have been worth.

It’s nice when the universe sends us a neon sign telling us we’ve made the right choice.

But of course, that’s not always how it works.

Sometimes, we make a decision and second guess it. Sometimes, we have to make and stick to a decision over and over and over and over and over even though it makes us wonder if we’re really taking the right path.

Which brings me to this:

VW Jetta

Behold the anatomy of my embarrassing car

This is my car. My 10 year old, broken down, beat up, dented and dinged, dirty with cat paw prints, somewhat humiliating car.

Sometimes I call it the babysitter car, because it looks like something a college nanny would drive.

I can’t really blame my kids for throwing their trash all over it.

It’s been a good car for 10 years, got me where I needed to go, made 2 trips to Florida and back (or was it 3?) and I really loved it before it turned into a cringe-worthy piece of crap.

Much of what’s wrong with it could be fixed, creating a slightly more respectable form of transportation for me, if we didn’t keep saying we were going to get a new one “soon,” so might as well just leave it.

I could probably clean it a bit more often, but you know…I’m getting a new car “soon,” so what’s the point?

(I WILL get a new car this year. You know, soon.)

So why am I still driving around in the shame-mobile? Technically, we could afford a new car. Like any other family, we could afford lots of things, but not everything, so we make choices.

For the last couple of years, I have traded the excitement of getting a new car for a healthier lifestyle.

Working out at a reputable studio like Bodyology with amazing trainers costs money. Eating whole, unprocessed, mostly organic/nitrite-free/free range/grass-fed foods is not as cheap as Hamburger Helper from Walmart.

For the last year (almost exactly), our family has spent $350 a month on a fitness membership. By my calculations, that’s a monthly payment for a pretty sweet new ride.

When I think about that, sometimes it does make me second-guess this decision I keep making.

Maybe I could scale back my workout schedule and work out by myself a couple of times a week. (Yeah, THAT would happen.)

Maybe we don’t need to spend so much extra money on these fancy-schmancy “whole” foods. (Sure, great idea. Extra helpings of hormones, chemicals, and GMO’s, please!)

And when I really think about it, although I’m totally psyched to get a new car (soon, I swear) and not feel like a broke-ass 20-something everywhere I go, it’s also not nearly as important to me as our healthful lifestyle.

harry potter choices

This post would not be complete without one of my favorite Dumbledore quotes.

Choices show our character and indicate our values.

I’m not saying I’m suddenly proud to be driving my crappy old car or anything. I’m just saying that when I think of my ongoing car-shame as part of the price I pay to keep moving forward with my goals, I can keep on living with it.

(But seriously, not that much longer.)

So, what choices are you making, and what do they say about you?

 

Put on the suit.

Fun fact: I am a huge Avengers fan. So when I title a post “Put on the suit,” there’s really no excuse for me NOT to include this photo:

avengers

Oh, hello.

But this post isn’t necessarily about superheroes. Well it sort of is. But anyway, on with it.

So it’s been a crazy week. (“What else is new, Steph?” you ask.) The school play is tomorrow night so we’ve been running to dress rehearsals, and preparing for shows tonight and Saturday night. But before we GET to Saturday night, we also have a big children’s event at church on Saturday morning, followed by lacrosse practice, then my son’s birthday party on Sunday.

Not to mention the fact that I have family members arriving tonight at 6pm to go over to the school with us to see the play, and the house is a mess and I have no conceivable time between now and 6pm when I could actually clean it. Well, I guess I could be doing it now but I’m pretty sure my husband and kids wouldn’t appreciate my running the vacuum at 5:03am. So yeah, dirty house + impending company=more stress.

My blood pressure just rose writing those two paragraphs.

But in the midst of this week, I had a very cool epiphany on Tuesday.

Tuesday was a kind of “meh” day. After a school delay because of MORE WINTER WEATHER (I can’t even talk about it) I worked from home for most of the day. I also had to miss my date with the iron at 6am because of the aforementioned weather.

I had a ton of work to do but couldn’t seem to get focused.

I tried to focus on cleaning up around the house but still felt so “off.” So I told myself I was too busy (not) working to clean.

I accomplished very little that day except eating a bunch of crap that was in my house for no good reason. You know, just because it was there and I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so stressed and unproductive. So obviously, eating some shitty food was the right answer.

sarcasmI tried to cut my losses by planning a work out date with my husband at 6pm. But I couldn’t find a sitter.

General malaise ensued. More food was eaten. I figured it was a wasted day and got on with it.

Then I decided to stop being an asshole and signed myself up for the 7pm class to do the ole “kid switcheroo” as my husband came out of the 6pm class.

At 6:20, I (rather reluctantly, in full disclosure) went upstairs to get ready for my 7pm tabata workout.

Again, full disclosure, I tried to think of some excuses that would make it okay for me not to go.

And then it happened.

I pulled on my sports bra and workout gear, and I immediately felt better.

I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was somehow true. As soon as I was in those black pants with my sweet ass blue training sneaks on, I felt like myself again.

The bad day was left behind. The crappy food. The sense of general wrongness.

I was ready to go kick some ass. (And I did.)

For me on Tuesday, those workout clothes were my equivalent of Ironman putting on the suit.

Ironman

It felt wrong to choose a photo that did NOT include RDJ’s face.

So what’s your suit? Put it on, and kick some ass.

***update: At 7am, I managed to clean up my house a touch, with the help of a handsome husband. I wouldn’t call it “clean and pretty,” but at least  it is “vaguely presentable.”***

A squishy belly miracle.

Sometimes, when it’s been awhile since I posted, it’s because my life gets insane on me. I love writing this blog, but it’s always the first thing to get dropped when I have too much on my plate.

Sometimes, though, I don’t post because I’m just not sure what to say.

A lot of times, a dry spell means some combination of the above two factors. Which happens to be the case in regard to the last two weeks of blog-less-ness.

A lot of stuff has been swirling around in this noggin of mine, and I’m trying hard to wade through the chaff and get at the hard little nuggets of wheat and wisdom. No easy chore.

Sometimes, I catch myself asking, “When will things slow down? When will I have a chance to catch my breath?” And then I remember my favorite quote (which I’ve posted before but will surely post again):

  • “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.” — Fr. Alfred D’Souza

So that’s the thing. This IS my life. The life that I’ve created. The harried madness that I call my day to day existence. And I like it; it’s a good life, but I’m always wondering how to not miss it. How to keep from letting it all rush past like a subway train while I am left, swaying on my feet, in its wake.

I look at my kids and see that they are, inconceivably, 6 and (almost) 11. BIG kids. School kids. My son can rightly be called a pre-teen, and that is fairly astounding news to me. I’m not quite sure how that happened, and I’m even less sure how to–if not slow it down–make sure I don’t wake up one day to an empty nest and say, WTF just happened?

Maybe that’s an inevitable part of parenting.

But this post wasn’t supposed to be about parenting, per se.

The thing is this…I love those kids beyond reason but, by God, am I doing this right? Am I present for them? How much of my time is the right amount to give them when I’m trying to balance it with everything else I want? With myself? What about my husband? My job? My friends and extended family?

This feels a lot like the last post I wrote, but it’s different somehow in my head, and I’m not sure I’m explaining it right.

I guess what I’m struggling with is how to balance this at times fun and at times excruciating fitness journey with the rest of my life. Because while I am on a fitness journey, I don’t want the fitness journey to define me, my life, or my family’s life.

I am not a trainer. I am not a fitness or nutrition expert. I don’t have an overwhelming desire to make any of those my profession in the future.

But I do want to be a fit person, and LOOK like a fit person, and promote and encourage fitness and healthful living with my family.

I want to send a message to my daughter that a woman’s body can be strong and powerful.

Mine is.

But society tells me that my strong and powerful body is not pretty or ideal, and I agree. I hate on it. Wish it to be different. Think things like, “Life will be better when I’m not fat.” (I recognize the objective ridiculousness of this statement, and yet I still believe it applies to my life.)

So what message am I sending my six year old daughter by my constant and open struggles to change how my strong and powerful body looks?

It’s a question that keeps me up at night, because I’m pretty sure what I’m teaching her is that how a body LOOKS is far more important than what a body can do.

Luckily, she doesn’t believe this yet.

Just this morning, she came to me as I getting dressed, and lovingly cupped my belly in her hands. “I love you, Mommy,” she said. “When I’m a Mommy am I going to have a squishy belly like yours?”

She looked up at me with bright, eager eyes that said, “I hope so!”

In that moment, I felt the pure and uncapped love of a six year old for her mother.

She was completely unaware of the shame I felt about my “squishy belly.” Blissfully ignorant of the ways in which that shame claimed so much of my daily mental real estate.

To her, it just meant it was me. No inherent judgment, just love for me as I am.

It was kind of a miracle.

In that moment, I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. What was it all for, this concentrated dedication to making my body LOOK strong and powerful instead of having it just be enough that it IS strong and powerful?

Don’t mistake me…I love working out and the way it makes me feel. I know that clean foods make me feel and perform better, and I have no plans to abandon them any time soon. Our eating habits as a family have changed in a radical and sustainable way in the last year and a half, and that’s been a very, very good thing.

What I’m talking about is the intense energy and focus I’ve expended on which foods to eat, and how much, and how often, and which are “good” and which are “bad” and which give me gas and which ones so-and-so says I should eat and which ones so-and-so says I shouldn’t eat and which ones make me poop often enough and which ones trigger a binge and which ones fill me up the most and which ones to eat directly after a workout and which ones NEVER to eat on a rest day…it just all gets to be too effing much sometimes.

Sometimes it feels just as disordered to me as my days of gagging myself over the toilet bowl, or chewing every bite of a carrot 100 times to make it last the entire lunch period.

If I stopped thinking about food so much, maybe I’d be showing my daughter that food does not have to rule her life like it’s ruled mine.

If I stopped thinking about food so much, maybe my life wouldn’t feel so harried and stressful sometimes.

If I stopped thinking about food so much, maybe I’d have more mental energy to focus on my family, those people who obviously love me more than I love myself, before this part of my life slips through my fingers.

Because in the end, life is good right now. It’s not without it’s challenges and obstacles, but despite my squishy belly, at this moment, my life is lovely and wonderful…and that should be enough.

Tightrope

Oh, life balance. Why do you elude me?

This is not me...because I am not a mannequin. But I do wish I had a purse like that.

This is not me…because I am not a mannequin. But I do wish I had a purse like that.

Because seriously, I am trying. This journey to badassery is just one piece of the somewhat absurd juggling act I call my life.

I’ve been trying to determine what it looks like to me to create balance with respect to my fitness journey, especially in the last few months.

Balance in all aspects of my life is a huge issue for me. I am passionate about so many things, but struggle to find that perfect mix. And, as you may already have realized if you’re a regular reader of this blog, I ask a lot of myself, so that kinda adds to the pressure.

On any given day, there are a gazillion and one demands and questions vying for attention in my oft-addled brain. Here’s a sample, just off the top of my head:

  • Am I eating too much? Am I eating enough? Am I eating the right foods? I know they’re not the right foods, but why the hell are nachos and Oreos so delicious? I mean, really?
  • Why is my house such a disaster? Will I ever be able to keep it regularly clean? Or possibly afford a housekeeper?
  • How can I be a better mom/wife/sister/friend/daughter/member of my church community/co-worker/human being? Am I raising good kids? Am I making a difference for my family/in the community/in the world?
  • Seriously, why does my daughter throw her shit all over the house? (Oh, I think I just answered my second question…)
  • I wish I didn’t have so many commitments.
  • I wish I didn’t have so many pets. Wait, that’s a lie. I really do like my pets, but GOD, there are just so MANY of them!
  • Maybe I’ll ask my co-worker to train me in Photoshop. That would be a good skill.
  • Shit, I have to make a dentist appointment. I freakin hate the dentist.
  • Oh, that reminds me that my son needs braces. Better get those in the budget.
  • Did I turn the damned crock pot on this morning?
  • Did I pay the cable bill yet? Didn’t we say we were going to drop to basic and get rid of our land line? Are we still doing that?
  • Did I work out hard enough today? I felt like I was dying, and I kinda still do, but now I’m wondering if I could have done more.
  • How can I better support my husband at his new job?
  • Speaking of my husband, we haven’t had a date night in like forever. I wonder if I can get a sitter this weekend. Oh, wait, we can’t this weekend. Next weekend? Nope, not gonna work either. UGH!
  • Oh, hell, the hamper is overflowing again.
  • Am I stunting my children’s social lives by not making more playdates? Should I examine the possibility that I don’t make more playdates simply because of my utter loathing of the word “playdate”? Oh, God, I’m a terrible mother.
  • I should call my dad today.
  • I should call my mom today.
  • How can I be more organized? How can I teach my kids to be more organized?
  • Maybe I should start a Pinterest page for my blog.
  • Maybe I’ll just watch Castle now.
  • Maybe I’ll clean up a little.
  • No, I really should be working!
  • Sonofabitch, I forgot to send the wrapped shoe box with a hole cut in the top for my daughter’s class Valentines. Along with additional materials for her to decorate it with. Why was that supposed to be in TODAY when Valentine’s Day is more than a week from now?!? Now she also needs 2 bags of mini marshmallows and “a hundred of something” by Friday. BLURG!
  • MUST. FINISH. BLOG.

I definitely could have gone on for awhile, but I’ll spare you more of my madness. I’m pretty sure you get the point. I have is a set of overly high expectations for myself and a very full plate…just like most of the awesome women I know. (Holla if you feel me!)

So this journey to badassery is a lifestyle–a lifestyle of doing the best I can with what I have where I am. And the fitness piece of the journey is just one aspect for me–a very important aspect, but just one.

If there are weeks when I can only work out four times instead of five, it’s not going to make or break anything. It just is.

If there are weeks when my nutrition is not optimal because of life madness or bad choices, ok. I’ll pick up and move on.

If the house isn’t “drop-by visitor ready” at every moment, so be it. (Please don’t drop by. Like, ever. I need at least 1 hours’ notice before any visitors arrive.)

This is life, peeps. And I’ve gotta make sure I’m actually LIVING it, not just enslaving myself to some absurd set of standards I’ve created in my head.

Balance, Daniel-san.

So I may forget stuff, I may not always have time for everything I want to do, and sometimes I may have to change my expectations.

I may teeter and stumble along this tightrope walk that I call my life’s journey.

I am far from perfect.

But as I struggle to meet all of my obligations, check off my to-dos, and work towards my goals, I must remember to enjoy it.

I can’t get caught up in the details when life offers me a chance to just live.

And I’m pretty sure THAT’s my definition of balance.

Yup.

Yup.

 

 

In Which I Live My Personal Nightmare: An Extended Metaphor

It was just an ordinary Tuesday morning, on my way to 6am class with Mike to lift some heavy shit and generally be a badass. You know, whatevs.

When suddenly, the powers of the universe turned against me and this happened:

*Disclaimer: I did not actually take this photo. But this is very nearly what I saw.

*Disclaimer: I did not actually take this photo. But this is very nearly what I saw.

Seriously, out of nowhere. One second, no snow. And the next…

And I turned into a whimpering lameass, just like that.

So ok, here’s the deal: I consider myself a reasonably courageous person. I push to step out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. I don’t hate snow or anything, and I *can* drive in the snow.

But…I am freaking terrified of driving in the snow. TERRIFIED. Like, literally white knuckles on the steering wheel, stiff back, every muscle clenched.

It is my kryptonite, probably because of a few car-losing-control-in-snow-or-ice-holy-shit-we-are-all-going-to-die experiences from way back when. I avoid driving in snowy or–god forbid!–icy weather at all costs, especially when there are hills involved.

My drive to the gym involves going down a very large hill on a highway. I have unabashedly cancelled workouts because of weather due to my crippling fear of driving on this hill in snow or ice.

So you can imagine my terror (yes, terror–go ahead and laugh at me for being a lameass, but it is true) when I got caught in what I can only call a “flash blizzard” en route to my workout.

I literally could not see the road in front of me. I was on a stretch of the highway with a 3+ mile space between exits, and the next exit was, of COURSE, at the bottom of the aforementioned terrifying hill.

I couldn’t turn around. I couldn’t keep going. I COULDN’T EFFING SEE THE ROAD!

I whimpered a little. I may have even sobbed a bit. This was my nightmare, people. It was 5:45 and still dark, and the snow was, like, EVERYWHERE.

I considered my options:

1) Just sit there, stopped on the side of the highway, until it cleared and I could see better. And the trucks came to plow. Or someone came to rescue me. (This option would likely include more sobbing).

2) Keep going. (Let’s face it, this option would likely also include more sobbing.)

I’m proud to say that it only took me about 30 seconds to discard option 1 as completely lame and out of character.

So I sucked it up. I kept going.

I kept going VERY slowly, and driving on the divots in the side of the road–you know, the ones that make that annoying loud noise when you start to veer off the lane–because at least if I could hear that noise, I knew I was going in a straight line.

Of course I had to keep going, because by the time I got to the next exit I would have already done the hardest part–the hill. And once I got down the hill, there was no point in turning around and heading home.

So even as I’m writing this, I feel sort of ridiculous. It all sounds very dramatic. (Of course, if you know me at all by now, you know this is partly just me.) But even for ME, it’s dramatic and definitely so lame.

But we all have our fears that seem absurd and make us feel like total pathetic wimps. This is mine (well, I also have an almost-as-crippling fear of mold, but we can talk about that another day).

Pathetic wimp that I was, I put on my hazards and crawled down that hill at like 10mph. More whimpering occurred, along with some praying, and the full expectation that at any moment I could and most certainly would lose control, slide over the side and pitch down the mountain in my crappy little car.

Dramatic? Yes.

Real fear? Definitely.

Obviously, I made it and lived to tell the tale. I was only a couple of minutes late for class, and still kinda shaking when I got there. I’m not proud, but against my will, I had to face this kinda ridiculous fear and push past it. Because chances are, if I had known about the “flash blizzard,” I wouldn’t have left my cozy bed.

It’s a good lesson…

Thanks, MT.

Thanks, MT.

But I think there’s more to my little story than just the fear aspect. I really thought about it after, about what it was like sitting on the side of that road, trying to decide what to do, where to go from there.

I didn’t think I could go forward. I couldn’t turn back. I had no one but myself to rely on at that moment, and I had to dig deep, regardless of how silly the fear might have seemed to my rational mind.

At the end of my workout, I left the gym sweaty and feeling badass again. When I walked outside, the sky was perfectly clear as the sun came up. Like the little flash blizzard had never even happened. Son of a bitch.

Even when you think you can’t go forward, turning back isn’t the answer either. Weather the storm; it’ll be worth it.

It’s a pretty sweet metaphor. I’ll let you ruminate.

2012 Wrap Up and Stuff

So it’s 2013 and, Happy New Year, yo!

I try not to make too big a deal out of the new year because I want to make sure I remember that really, any day is a fine day for a new start. I used to be one of those peeps to make excuses about “waiting for the new year” just to procrastinate on any given goal I might want to achieve when I was, in fact, perfectly capable of starting to achieve the goal like, right now.

But it’s still true that we just finished a busy holiday season and the calendar change does provide a good opportunity to assess where we were, where we are, and where we want to be. Let the assessment begin!!!

I was just thinking about this today…specifically, where I was a year ago. Between me and you (and the entire interwebs, I guess), the truth is that last January I was in  a very, very dark place. Here are a few reasons why:

  • I wasn’t working, after leaving a job that was a terrible fit. This terrible job was one I took after much deliberation about whether I should leave my previous job that I loved and hated in equal parts. I had no love at all for the terrible job. It sucked in every way possible and was soooooo the wrong place for me. I knew at the time that leaving this awful horrible j-o-b was the right thing to do, but as three months passed with no offers–including a job opportunity for which I put in more than 60 hours of work to prepare a kick-ass presentation, and got the “wink, wink…nudge, nudge” from the selection committee, only to get a big, fat “no thank you” middle finger a week later–I was really started to feel regretful about leaving the first job, and generally worthless for being totally unemployable and a complete loser. It is a horrible, horrible feeling.
  • I had just lost my aunt. On Christmas Day. Enough said.
  • I was turning to food to cope with my grief, sadness, and feelings of worthlessness (see bullet 1). The more I ate, the worse I felt…causing me to eat more. I starting no showing for workouts, making me feel even worse (and subsequently eating more…you get it.) Instead of fulfilling my goal of continuing to lose, I was gaining back. More serious suckage.

So for these crappy reasons, I was in a place where I felt like I was letting everyone down, including myself.

I was failing my family financially.

I was failing my friends by withdrawing.

I was failing myself in pretty much every way I could think of.

No matter what I did, I felt like I couldn’t climb out of the huge hole of sadness and alternating self-pity/loathing I found myself in.

Life sucked a year ago. Or at least, I was making it suck by my pitifulness. (I just made that word up.)

In my case, a year made a huge difference, and I am grateful for the changes I made in that year.

It was a year of hard work, persistence, and focus.

up and over high

Not a year of perfection, by any means, but a year of decent progress on many fronts.

A year where I truly came to appreciate how lucky I am to have amazing, wonderful people in my life to support me and keep me on the straight and narrow.

A year in which we took an amazeballs cruise–paid off completely in advance (a financial goal, MET)–and it was pretty much the best. vacation. ever. With seriously awesome peeps. (Heart.)

disney cruise vacation

Seriously. Amazeballs.

A year in which I landed myself a job that was waaaaaay better than anything I had applied for previously. I just had to wait it out for the opportunity that was juuuust right for me. (The waiting sucks, though.) In this job, I am recognized for my value and in 2013, I am looking at a promotion and a pretty sweet raise. Ka-ching!

2012 was a year where I steamrolled my fear of being seen as the “fat girl on the stage” and did this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VaBHAXb2THo

and this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yCRTp88YUBs

Word.

So I set some goals, I reached some goals. Others took longer than I expected but I kept the momentum going.

In 2012, I started this blog, and, even though from October on I struggled to find time to keep up with it, I put myself out there, got some interest from all you delightful people, and knew in the back of my mind that I would be back when life calmed down a bit again. (Here I am, and howdy!)

All in all, it’s a year I can be proud of. And I am proud! I rocked a lot of shit this year! (How about you??? What did you rock in 2012? Share in comments or on FB!)

But let us not rest on our laurels. That is so NOT what being a badass is about.

So, the big question is, WHAT NOW? It’s 2013. What’s next? What challenges and goals do we want to rip the heads off of this year?

Honestly, I’ve been struggling to create my goals for this year, so I guess I have to take my own advice and go back to the drawing board. I want them to be specific, and attainable, but still challenging enough to be scary and shove me out of my comfort zone.

So I’ve got some work to do.

Stay tuned, and in the meantime, either share your 2013 goals with me and the peeps, or take some time to do your own work on creating badass goals so we can make 2013 as awesome as 2012.

Tribute

So today would have been my aunt Donna’s birthday.

We lost her to pancreatic cancer last year on what was the saddest Christmas ever.

Donna was my godmother, and she was the awesomest kind of badass woman you could imagine: a tiny, feisty little Italian lady who was smart, motivated, ridiculously organized, and full of energy and compassion.

She was a role model to many, including me.

Some of her life I only know from stories I’ve heard from my family and Donna herself. But I hope to share my remembrance of her as best I can, even if the details aren’t exact. Starting waaaaaay back during a groovier time…

Lookin’ good in the late 60’s or early 70’s. My mom on the left and Donna on the right.

Oh yes, that adorable little baby is yours truly.

Of the three Bigna girls (my mom and her two sisters), Donna was a typical oldest child. She was the responsible one. The one who did all the dishes while my mother hid in the bathroom. The one who got the best grades and went to college. The one who argued passionately with my grandfather about the social justice issues of the time. The one who married the right guy–my Uncle Bruce.

Now, I moved around a lot as a kid. We moved to FL for awhile when I was 5, and then my brother and I came back up to CT to live with our dad when I was in fourth grade.

Once we were back in the same state, we saw my aunt and her family every year around Christmas. My cousin Ryan was an only child and therefore–I believe–got better toys than my brother and I. So we played hours of Coleco over there…but I digress.

The Christmas visits became a tradition, a very important one for a kid like me who didn’t have such a rooted childhood. As I got older, it morphed into a Christmas Eve dinner tradition and I refused to give it up when I got married. Christmas Eve at my aunt’s was a non-negotiable. And really, who wouldn’t want to go to a Christmas Eve dinner with my aunt and her tacky-but-awesome Christmas vest?

There was also wine involved, as evident from all our red cheeks.

Now me, I love an adventure. A new challenge. I’m always looking for the next thing, and I have a related habit of letting go of things too quickly. From my aunt, I learned about the importance of tradition. Of laying down roots, keeping commitments, and being a person that people can rely on. I’m so grateful.

And you could always rely on Donna. When my daughter Emma was gravely ill and we were in the Yale PICU for two weeks, Donna called every day, at the same time: “Just me, honey. Checking in.” Her voice became such a comfort to me, and in her last few months, I made a commitment to her and myself that she would hear from me, every day. While I wasn’t able to call or text her at exactly the same time every day, I honored that commitment and I think–I hope!–it comforted her in some small way.

Donna was full of both passion and compassion. She was an amazing combination of kindness and serious Sicilian attitude.

From her, I learned to stop giving up so much of myself, to instead say “enough” or “that’s all I can do.” I thought I was being giving, but I was really making myself disappear.

My aunt taught me about boundaries, where to draw the line to preserve myself and my own family instead of spreading myself too thin just to try and please others. Which happens to be a very, very bad habit of mine…but I am working on it, thanks to her.

Donna didn’t take any shit. There were schedules, people. There were lists. You followed the goddamned schedule, you kept things moving, or woe to you. You’d be at the business end of Donna’s ire, or, more likely, just left behind as she briskly went on with the plans. Your loss.

My aunt listened. It didn’t matter that some years we only got together two or three times. She listened to my marital problems, my struggles helping my dad through two recurrences of brain cancer, my trials and tribulations with my career, and my mom victories and complaints.

She gave great advice. Sometimes it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but it was what I needed to hear, and she (usually) delivered her pearls of wisdom with firm kindness. Because–duh!–she was always right.

I am a better woman for having heard and internalized all she’s ever taught me.

Donna loved fiercely, and was fiercely loved.

My badass aunt is most assuredly running a very tight ship up there in Heaven, but down here, she is missed every day, by so many.

Happy Birthday, Auntie.