September 29, 2019

Getting Prepared for Counting Calories (and hopefully drop these extra pounds I picked up!)

Getting Prepared for Counting Calories

Like I've mentioned, if I want to get any of this extra weight off, I'm going to have to go back to the tried and true method of counting calories. I was able to lose weight in 2017 by becoming very in-tune with my body (and not counting anything), but that just doesn't seem to be working for me anymore. Even though I "hear" what my body is saying, I just can't seem to do what it's telling me.

When I get into a groove with calorie counting, I don't mind it. I kind of like it, actually, because I'm such a numbers person! But when I'm unprepared, I hate it. I absolutely hate having to figure out the calories in the recipe I'm going to make for dinner--especially when I'm starving and I just want to hurry up and eat.

I've done calorie counting on a whim, and I never last more than a day or two at most. And I think it's because I go into it unprepared (mentally and physically). The times I've been successful, I've prepared myself. And that's what I've been doing lately. I want to feel confident going into it.

(I talk about this like it's some enormous, meaningful life change, haha--I realize it's just calorie counting! But I want to stick with it this time, so I'm taking it seriously.)

Step 1: The night before you start counting calories, eat all of the junk food in your house so that you're not tempted to binge on it when you start counting. (KIDDING! But you know we've all done it...)

Honestly, this is what I've done to prepare myself:

I choose what method I will use (pen and paper, or an app of some sort). Currently, I'm a big fan of the Fat Secret app. I used to use My Fitness Pal, but the ads got to be too much when I was entering food items, and Fat Secret is much simpler. I like simple. (I wrote a whole post about why I like Fat Secret here.) Pen and paper has always been trusty, too, but this time, I will be doing Fat Secret.

Fat Secret app screenshot

Next, I make a meal plan. Usually, I plan out dinners for the week by going through my homemade recipe book, and I have a few different options for breakfast and lunch. Once I plan out the meals, I make a list of all the ingredients I need and I go grocery shopping. (Most of the recipes in the book can be found on my Recipes page on my blog)

My recipe book

I always make sure to buy a few "convenience" foods that I can use as a back-up if my day doesn't go as planned--frozen dinners, Spaghetti-O's (a guilty pleasure of mine), things like that. That way, if my kids make plans with friends and Jerry's at work, I can just eat something simple without saying, "Oh, screw it! I'll go through a drive-thru and eat all the food."

To solve the problem of cooking dinner when I'm starving, and trying to measure foods and count calories, I prepare all of the counting work ahead of time. This is probably the most important/helpful thing that I do to prepare for calorie counting: I take the time to create a "recipe" on the app of my go-to recipes (family favorites, things I make frequently, basically everything that is in my homemade cookbook).

When meal planning, and I'm going to be making a new recipe, I also take the time to enter the recipe into Fat Secret so that I don't have to figure anything out while cooking.

Then, when I'm cooking dinner, I take out my recipe book and cook the recipe as I've written it. I do measure or weigh most things (for things like onions, I just cut up an onion and I don't worry about whether it's considered "small" "medium" or "large"; and some vegetables I just eyeball as I'm cooking. I'm very good about not being "heavy handed" while portioning things out.

(I specifically remember the first time I thought about this. When I was losing weight back in 2009-2010, I remember measuring out a cup of spaghetti. I was tempted to make it a heaping cup and count it as a cup--and then it occurred to me that the only person I'm cheating is myself! I can certainly do that, but then it will have an effect on my weight loss, so what's the point? As a result, I'm always honest when I measure my foods.)

Using a food scale is always helpful, too. There are a lot of foods that are very inaccurate with their measurement versus weight. One of them is an avocado--when you log 1/4 of an avocado on an app, for example, it's lists quite a bit more calories than when you weight out your 1/4 avocado. So, you're not getting as much as you should for the amount of calories you're counting!

This also works in reverse sometimes (actually, most of the time). When I weigh out a serving of oatmeal (40 grams), for example, I get less than 1/2 cup (the serving size). I've yet to find a good food scale, however. The one I currently have is super annoying--touching the button that changes from grams to ounces rarely works because it's SO sensitive that all it does is change the weight as your finger touches it. I don't want anything fancy! Just a digital scale that tells me grams and ounces. I'll start looking for a new one.

The night before I start counting, I make sure to write everything out that I plan to eat. That way, when I'm hungry, I don't have to decide what to eat--which usually leads to eating too much. I don't do this every night, because I have no idea what I'm going to be in the mood for, but I do have a basic idea of what I'll be eating.

When I count calories, I don't change the foods I eat--I eat what I enjoy, healthy or not, and I just keep track of the calories in it. So, I don't have to make "special foods" apart from the family. I just cook regular recipes with regular ingredients (no low fat or "diet" foods). I prefer eating quality over quantity. This comes in handy when meal planning--keeping it simple, as I don't have to alter recipes to be lower in fat, carbs, etc.

I also don't worry about carbs or protein or fat, or anything else. When I eat what I enjoy, I find that my body tends to eat fairly balanced over a period of time. Some days, I might eat nothing but junk, and other days, I might be on a super healthy food kick. Usually it's somewhere in between.

Something else that I do to prepare for calorie counting is that I plan for a treat to have in the evenings. (I consider the difference between treats and snacks to be this: a "treat" has no real nutritional value where a snack does have value.)

I find that if I plan to include a treat to look forward to each evening, I'm much happier with calorie counting throughout the day. I used to do wine and chocolate, but now that I'm not drinking, I will probably have an alcohol-free Heineken and some pretzels or fruit snacks.

Yesterday, I planned out our meals for the week. I'm going to make Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal and then eat that all week long. Lunch is always the hardest for me. I usually end up putting together several snack foods--cheese, apples, toast, pretzels with hummus, things like that. Doesn't this oatmeal look so good?! It tastes like fall. And I'm ready for fall. (The recipe is here: Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal.)

Pumpkin Cranberry Apple Baked Oatmeal

Finally, I look at my schedule and think about any situations that I may have to deal with--going out to dinner, getting together with friends, spending the entire day at Eli's baseball games, etc. I make a plan for what I'll eat, and I usually plan a lighter calorie day around the situation.

When I was super strict in 2009-2010, I usually didn't eat at all in those situations and I would eat at home before or after. However, I've since realized that I want to live a relatively "normal" life while counting calories (much like I did in late 2015-early 2016).

I didn't have any strict rules--the main thing I focused on was eating "normal" sized portions (the calories helped me to figure out what that was) and eating just four times a day--breakfast at 8:00, lunch at 12:00, dinner at 4:00, and snack at 8:00. I felt my best that way, and it worked very well for me.

So, tomorrow is the big first day of calorie counting, and I feel prepared! I've been working for the last few days on getting my recipes entered into Fat Secret, meal planning and grocery shopping. Jerry is totally on board, too--he wants to drop about 20 pounds.

If I manage to stick with this and see some progress, I'll even start doing Wednesday Weigh-Ins again! My mom mentioned today that I should take photos every five pounds or something, and put together a video like I did of my initial weight loss. I haven't watched this in forever!

There obviously won't be as drastic a difference if I work on dropping 20-30 pounds, but I'd still like to document it. And who knows, maybe it will be pretty noticeable. I miss the confidence that I felt as I was losing the weight in 2009-2010. Even at my current weight, I felt so much better than I do now. And that's really why I finally feel ready to do this... because I want to feel better.

FYI, here is my past post of "How I Calorie Counted My Way Back to My Goal Weight" which explains more about how I count calories. I got a lot of questions about it because it was working so well. Slightly different in what others do, because I don't put a "cap" on the calories I can eat each day. But it works for me! And you know I always encourage doing what works for you, because we are all individuals.

Here goes nothing! ;)

September 28, 2019

My Weight Loss Goal List from 10 Years Ago (and how it measures up to my current body/weight)

It occurred to me recently that next year will be 10 years since I reached my goal weight. Because it's a nice round number, I want to hit that date with a bang. I want to look and feel as great as I did 10 years ago!

I have a full year until then, so I'm going to try to come up with a plan to reach those goals. With over a year, I can make some serious goals that will require dedication. I think that would be great for me! (Using the seasons--fall, winter, spring, and summer--as guidelines will be helpful. I can start with the goals I wrote for fall).

Anyway, all this had me thinking about the beginning of my weight loss journey (I hate the cliché phrase "weight loss journey" but I'm not sure what else to call it).

At this point 10 years ago, I'd been on Day 41 of counting Weight Watchers' Points. I wasn't going to Weight Watchers meetings or anything; I had all the program materials at home, so I just used that to follow the plan on my own. And I was a bit of an expert--I'd joined and quit so many times before, it was no big deal for me. And I honestly didn't think that time would be any different.

So, 10 years and 41 days ago:

I hadn't yet started running. I wasn't do any exercise at all, actually. Changing my diet was hard enough, and I hated exercise, so I didn't force it.

I weighed 235.5 pounds, which was a loss of 17.5 pounds from my starting date of August 19, 2009.

On September 23, 2009, I wrote this list of things to look forward to when I'm "thin"--things thin people may take for granted (I didn't specify what "thin" meant, however--I think that, at 167-ish pounds right now, my "old self" would consider my current self as "thin" at this weight. I certainly don't feel thin right now, but when I was 235 pounds, I would have killed to be at this weight!):

1. Bend over and tie my shoes without holding my breath.

Thankfully, I can do this! It didn't take too long before this was possible (maybe three months into my journey?)

2. Take off my wedding rings (they've been stuck on my finger for more than 2 years now).

Yes, I can take them off. And I actually did... permanently. It's not that I don't want people knowing I'm married, but I am not a jewelry person (well, except for my ears) and I didn't love wearing my rings. So, after discussing it with Jerry, I sold them. Maybe someday Jerry and I will get simple bands. (He had to take off his ring frequently for work, so he doesn't wear his anymore, either).

3. Wrap a normal-sized bath towel ALL the way around me.

I can definitely still do this. It's hard to remember NOT being able to, because I have so much extra room now. At 253 pounds, I remember there was a gap in front that wouldn't close.

4. When I go clothes shopping, looking for clothes I LIKE first, followed by finding my size--right now, I automatically look for my size, THEN look to see if I like it.

I hate clothes shopping right now, because my size is so much higher than two years ago. I recently  found myself looking at sizes first, and then whether or not I liked the item when deciding. I remembered this goal on my list, and I corrected it. I started looking through clothes to find what I liked, and then checked the size. So, this one is a so-so.

5. Sit Indian-style on the floor.

I know that "Indian-style" is not politically correct but those of you from my generation probably know what I mean. I'm not sure what the PC term is now? Anyway... Yes, I can still do this, and I find it very comfortable sometimes! I sat on a hill today at the cross country meet, and it makes my legs feel good. At my thinnest, I could sit on an airplane seat like that! I most certainly couldn't do it with the extra pounds right now, though.

6. Sit on the floor at all without shifting positions 100 times from being so uncomfortable.

This is another so-so. I do change positions a lot! It's not usually because of my weight, though; it's usually because of my pain. I have bad back pain, so I try to sit in a way that makes it comfortable. However, holding still is hard for me.

7. Wear CUTE bras and panties, rather than the comfy granny-panties.

Sadly, I've gone back to the comfy granny panties! I really miss wearing cute panties, but I don't feel "cute" wearing them. I just don't love how my body looks when I'm naked (or close to it) so I dress for comfort rather than how I look. This is a bummer! (Jerry thinks so, too)

8. Ride a bike without my butt hurting really badly.

I haven't ridden a bike lately, so I'll have to do that. The couple of times I was going to ride it, the tires needed air, and I didn't bother looking for the air pump (sheer laziness, I know). The last time I rode, though, I was able to do it without my butt hurting.

9. Enjoy getting my picture taken.

No, no, and NO. I hate it right now! I can't help but compare it to how I looked even 18 months ago. I wish that I truly didn't care, but I'd be lying if I said that. I think even if I lost just 5-10 pounds, I'd feel a lot better about myself. The only pics I have right now are ones that others have taken (usually at cross country).

10. Wear clothes comfortably, without tugging my shirt down.

This is another no. I'm very self-conscious right now about how things fit (or don't fit), and I still tug at my clothes to hide the spots I dislike (my stomach, arms, hips).

11. Sit in a lawn chair without worrying about exceeding the weight limit.

Definitely don't have to worry about that anymore, unless it's a child's chair ;)

12. Go to an amusement park without worrying whether I will fit into the seats on rides.

I haven't been to an amusement park in a long time, but I'm sure that at this size, I'd fit just fine on the rides.

13. SINK in a pool instead of float.

I haven't been swimming (I really hate the pool) so I'm not sure about this one. My body fat is up quite a bit since last time, so maybe I'd float. Who knows?

14. Sleep without snoring.

Luckily for Jerry, I don't snore ;) Nor do I have sleep apnea anymore, like I did at 253 pounds!

15. Cross my legs with ease.

This depends on what I'm wearing, I think. If I'm wearing tight jeans and sitting in a smaller chair, then it probably takes effort. But if I have room to shift my weight to one hip or another, then I can cross my legs.

For the most part, I'm much better off now than I was 10 years ago. I think that most of the issue I have with my weight now is cosmetic. There are few physical things that I wish were more comfortable--like cross my legs with ease, exercise (running feels SO challenging right now), and doing activities that normally (when thinner) wouldn't make me out of breath or sweaty.

One of the biggest positives right now is that I am much more active on a daily basis than ever before (well, maybe not when training for the Chicago Marathon, haha). But because I love doing projects around the house, I put a LOT of blood (literally), sweat (literally), and tears (literally) into my projects. I love doing them, and as a bonus, they are tough work!

I had been planning to share pictures of myself at that size--from September 2009, at 230-240 pounds, but I don't have any! I actually just have the following picture, from Noah's first day of kindergarten:

And my most recent picture (sitting "Indian style" with the kids at cross country):

September 25, 2019

Quitting Binge Eating: 6 (Fresh) Activity Ideas That Helped Me To Stop Bingeing

6 Fresh Activity Ideas That Helped Me To Stop Binge Eating

As you all know, my weight is up quite a bit from my goal--I've been hanging out in the mid-160's for several months. I'd love to get my weight back down to where I feel comfortable (about 145 is the maximum I'd like to be; when my weight gets higher than that, I start to feel the negative effects).

However, despite the semi-recent weight gain, I've stopped binge eating. I don't know exactly how long it's been, but I literally can't remember my last binge. I've certainly eaten more than "normal" occasionally, and portion control is an issue sometimes; but I've not had an actual binge in a very long time.

Over the years, I've learned to use new activities to help me stop binge eating (both when I was losing the weight in 2009-2010 and currently). I hate reading these types of lists, because they normally are very typical--each list is the same: go for a walk, read a book, call a friend, take a bath, etc. Those things rarely appeal to me! So I hope my list is a bit more unique.

Here are some things that I found useful in keeping my hands and/or mind busy:

1) Playing solitaire with a real deck of cards. 

I like using actual physical cards to play solitaire, especially when playing my favorite game, Grandma's Game. There are some games I play on my iPad, but I absolutely LOVE that particular game--so much so that I actually made a video for my blog about how to play it. I didn't know the name of it for about two decades! My mom taught me when I was little, and I loved it right away. I've only won once in my life.

Anyway, the benefit to using a real deck of cards (or two decks, in my case) is that it keeps your hands busy. You don't want to get food on the cards, obviously, so eating + solitaire = mess.


2) Completing projects around the house (and learning new skills in the process).

As you know, this has been my latest pastime that I just can't get enough of! While making over my entire house (DIY-style), I learned SO many new skills--drywalling, painting, cutting and installing trim, making my own countertops, installing new doors, building custom shelves, and lots more.

I discovered that I love painting (furniture, trim, doors--anything other than walls). There are very few things left in my house that haven't been painted recently, haha. A fresh coat of paint makes a huge difference in how something looks, but it also keeps my hands busy. I like to put on a good true crime podcast and take my time painting. (My current favorites are Morbid and True Crime All The Time)

I also learned that I love woodworking. This is my new favorite hobby. I learn more each time I make a project, and I'm getting better at it every time. I discovered power tools that I'd never used before and now those are pretty much my favorite things that I own. I would choose a trip to Lowe's over a mani/pedi at the salon any day!

It can be an expensive hobby, so I am limited as to how much I can do. I also have a small car, so transporting materials isn't easy--the maximum board length that I can fit is 8 feet; and sheets of plywood have to be cut down at Lowe's. Anyway, once I get started on a woodworking project, I don't want to stop for anything--I hate leaving projects half-finished. Even if I am starving, I would rather skip a meal than quit in the middle of a woodworking project.

The past couple of days, I've been working on a set of steps for my side door. We had a small porch there, but it was a waste of space because we rarely use that door; not to mention that the wood was starting to rot and it was in really bad shape. I'll post photos of that soon.

Another household project that I loved working on was replacing the trim along the floor and the casings around the doors and windows. There are several windows and doorways that I haven't done yet (again, it's an expense), but when I do them, I love the process of measuring and then cutting with my miter saw (that I bought used on Facebook Marketplace for cheap!). And then using my Paslode (again, Facebook Marketplace) is embarrassingly exciting for me, hahaha.

building a kitchen island

3) Organizing a drawer or closet.

If you're not into organizing, this obviously isn't for you; but I absolutely love the result of taking something that is very messy and making it very neat. It's super satisfying! It's also not something that I can do while eating, and it makes me want to continue until it's finished.

If you're unsure where to start, I'd start by going through your closet and finding clothes to donate. For me, this takes up a lot of time and energy because I try on almost everything as I decide whether or not to keep it. After reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I was inspired to reorganize my clothes and to ditch 95% of my clothes hangers.

It truly was "life changing". The day I organized my clothes (including socks and underwear) into neat folds, I haven't had a messy drawer since! It's very easy to keep up with once it's done. The original process was a HUGE project, but I found it fun to work on and again--it kept me from binge eating.

folded clothes

4) Making my own recipe book.

This was a long project, and always ongoing. First, I created a Pages/Word template so that all I had to do was fill in the boxes with recipe name, ingredients, and directions. Then, I gathered all the recipes that I used frequently or were family favorites and I typed them into the template. After that, I printed them, put them into page sleeves, and organized them in a 3-ring binder.

I use it all the time when meal planning and cooking. (Actually, I will include the template below, in case anyone wants to use it! You may want to change the font to your own liking and save the template as your own, so you don't have to change the font for each recipe.)

This project was very helpful in two ways--one, I kept myself very occupied by initially making the book. It took several weeks of working on it for a couple of hours here and there. Also, as I mentioned, it's super helpful in everyday life! When I need meal ideas or when I'm making a grocery list, I don't have to find each recipe on my computer or search through cookbooks. I just pull out my binder. Occasionally, when I make something new and we enjoy it, I'll add it to the book.

Recipe templates: Here is the template to type in and print recipes. Just save it to your computer as a template.

recipe book

5) Organizing photos on my computer. 

At this moment, I have over 30,000 photos on my computer. It's insane! Since I wanted digital copies of all of my photos, I started by either scanning or taking photos of the photos I had copies of. Obviously, taking photos of photos isn't ideal, but it's certainly more than adequate. You can't even tell that it's not the original on most of them.

After all photos were digital, I saved them to a folder on my computer from every source I had (flash drives, external hard drive, my phone, etc). Once they were all on my computer, I put them in a folder and saved them all to my external hard drive (just in case something should happen to my computer, I have a back-up).

Then, I started to go through them and change the dates on the ones that I'd scanned in (otherwise, the date on the photo will be the date you scan it rather than the date it was taken). To do this, I used a very cool app called ShootShifter that allows you to organize photos in a folder. On ShootShifter, you can drag photos to the order that you want and correct the dates, filenames, and other things. This is my favorite app for correcting dates/times, because all you have to do is drag the photos in the order you want, and it will automatically correct the dates based on your preferences.

Then there was a problem with duplicate photos. SOOOO many of them! I downloaded an app called Duplicate Photos Fixer Pro, which allows you to use your preferred settings to find duplicates (or near-duplicates... like when you take 2-3 pictures in a row to make sure no one is blinking, etc).

When all of the photos were corrected and duplicates deleted, I created a brand new folder and saved them there--both on my computer and my external hard drive.

The next step was finally organizing them. Since I have a MacBook, I have the Photos app on my computer (I'm not sure what the Microsoft equivalent is). I uploaded all of my photos into Photos (I hate that they didn't come up with a slightly more creative name than "Photos" for the app!).

From the Photos app, I started tagging the faces in each photo. Once you tag several of the same people, the app itself will search for people that it believes are the same, and you can accept or deny the tag (it saves you from having to tag every single photo).

I also created keywords for things like pets, races, travel, food, etc., and I added the keywords to the fitting photos. I created albums of photos using the "Smart Albums" feature--you list a guideline or two, and the app will take all of those photos and put them into an album.

For example, I can make a Smart Album with photos that include "kids" and "pets"--so the app will automatically take all of the photos with those keywords and put them into the album. Then I will have lots of pictures of my kids with our pets. I have Smart Albums for things like races, food, holidays, etc. Then, when I need a photo (let's say I'm looking for a race photo to use on my blog) I can just sort through that album until I find what I need.

screen shot of Photos app

6) Knitting or crocheting.

This one isn't a very unique idea, but during the beginning of my weight loss, this was a huge help to me. I obviously didn't want to eat while knitting or crocheting because I didn't want food on the yarn I was working with! This was also something that I could do at night when watching TV after the kids were in bed. Prior to that, I would put the kids to bed and then dig out the binge food to eat while I watched my shows.

I also started to choose more complicated patterns (like lace) because you have to pay very close attention to the pattern while knitting. One missed step or dropped stitch could be detrimental while working an intricate pattern. Now that I've been really into podcasts (which weren't really a "thing" back then), I can listen to a podcast and knit or crochet at the same time.

lace baby blanket

Well, there you have it! Hopefully these are some helpful ideas. If you have more ideas, I'd love to read them. It basically boils down to finding things we enjoy doing MORE than binge eating. And the things on this list fit the bill for me. Despite the weight gain, I'm thrilled that I'm free of binge eating (hopefully for good)!

September 23, 2019

My Choice to Be Jerk #1

This is one of the most vulnerable posts I've ever written.

That is saying quite a bit, considering I've shared about my constant battles with weight gain/loss, depression, anxiety, my bipolar diagnosis, sex, setting and failing at goals, and even photos in my underwear after I had my skin removal surgery.

Spence died today.

And I'm going to write about my choice between being Jerk #1 or Jerk #2 in the situation. I hope that it will help others make the choice as well.

There is so much I want to write about, but to do so, I have to start at the beginning.

Who is Spence?

I grew up in a very small town (two-square-miles-with-only-one-traffic-light small) and everybody knew everybody. From the day I was born until I was 15-1/2, I grew up in a small neighborhood of about five square blocks with roughly 10 houses per street. When I say everybody knew everybody, I'm not exaggerating.

I was very lucky to have several kids in my neighborhood that were the same age (give or take a year or so) and we all grew up together. In fact, there was a girl my age (Sarah) that lived just two houses away from me--and she was even born just three days before me! We were completely inseparable all through our childhood, and we were even college roommates later on.

We even celebrated our birthdays together. Remember when you could have birthday parties at McDonald's and they would give you this cake? I loved eating the sugar pieces on top! haha

There was a small group of kids on my block that remained very close as we grew up (including my brother, Nathan): brothers Brian and Mike, who lived next door to me, as well as their younger sister Stephanie; Shannon, a "latch key kid" who lived across the street; Sarah and her brother, Joe, who lived a couple of houses down; brothers Lance and Spence, who lived behind me; Chris and Matt, who spent time at their grandma's house frequently; and a few other kids who came and went.

Standing at the bus stop before school:

(I have no idea who is on the far left of this photo below, hahaha). Left to right: Unknown, Lance, Nathan, Sarah, me, and Spence and Joe in front.

Brian, Shannon, Sarah, Lance, and I were all the same age--isn't that crazy for such a small town? Mike, Nathan, and Joe were the same age as well, a couple of years younger. Stephanie and Spence were much younger (in relative terms)--about five years younger than I was. But our "core" group consisted of myself, Nathan, Sarah, Joe, Lance, and Spence.

Sarah's mom, Sue, Lance's mom, Wendy, and my mom (also Sue) were close friends considering they had children of the same age and were going through the same stages of life together. So, our three families would get together quite often.

I remember a tradition that we had every Christmas--we would do a book exchange and meet at Pizza Hut or Chuck E. Cheese's for dinner. It was kind of a secret Santa thing--we'd draw names and buy a book for each other (our parents chose them, of course! haha)

Below... Clockwise starting with me in the blue pants with a mullet cut: Nathan, Spence, Lance, Sarah, and Joe. We were at Chuck E Cheese's for our Christmas book exchange.

I hate to word it this way, but Spence was kind of the oddball of the group. Sarah, Lance, and I were the same age; Nathan and Joe were the same age; but Spence was a few years younger, and when you're only seven or eight years old, that's quite a difference. So, I'm ashamed to admit that I was never close with Spence. I remember playing with him when everybody was very young, but once I was about 10 or so, things started changing and everyone was moving on with separate interests.

We still hung out during the summers playing sandlot baseball, but I don't remember Spence ever being a part of that. I don't know if he wasn't interested or if I just didn't notice him, but my memories of spending time with Spence end at around 10 years old.

Lance, Sarah, and I were close--in fact, Sarah was my maid-of-honor and Lance was the best man at Jerry's and my wedding! We've known each other for about 37 years, and most of the memories I have from my childhood involve the crew I grew up with.

It's no secret that my very favorite place I've ever visited is Portland, Oregon. Before I ever visited Portland, however, Spence actually moved there! He lived there for about eight years before he got sick.

Each time I went out there, I felt a nagging feeling like I should get in touch with him to just have coffee or something; but I felt it would be awkward because we were never close friends. Spence and I were acquaintances, and hadn't spoken in probably over a decade.

So, I didn't get in touch with him. Ever. I still kept in touch with Lance, and I still saw Wendy now and then, but not Spence. At Christmastime, I have always invited my childhood crew over for board games and laughs and sharing memories. Rather than deliberately invite Spence myself, I would just mention to Lance that he's welcome to bring Spence. He came once or twice, but even then, I felt awkward about what to talk about.

Left to right: Joe, Nathan, Lance, me, Sarah, and Spence

In November of 2017, my mom called me with news that shocked me to my core: Spence had multiple tumors in and around his brain and they were going to do a biopsy to see if it was malignant. A couple of weeks went by, and the results showed that it was, in fact, cancer. Stage IV glioblastomas, fast growing tumors in the brain. Inoperable.

Spence was only 30 years old! He was perfectly healthy until he showed only two symptoms--the first was phantosmia (smelling things that aren't there). He mentioned it casually to his parents because it was an odd occurrence, but he wasn't alarmed. Shortly after that, he had an epileptic seizure. Coincidentally, Joe was there with him in Portland when it happened and he went with Spence to the emergency room.

And that was that.

Spence decided to move home to be with his family and to undergo chemotherapy and radiation to hopefully prolong his life. When I heard the news, I was very torn. I wanted to reach out to him, but I didn't want to look like I was just doing it because he had cancer. So, I had to choose:

Jerk #1: Do I reach out after all these years and tell him I'd like to be part of his life again, help however I could, or just generally be a friend? It would be obvious to him that I was doing it because he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. "Oh, I have cancer and NOW you want to be my friend again? Thanks, that's so nice of you."

Jerk #2: Do I just ignore it and not reach out, so that I am not one of "those" people who shows up when something bad happens?

I could be a jerk for reaching out to him in this horrible situation, or I could be a jerk for NOT reaching out to him in this horrible situation.

At the end of the day, regardless of what he would think, I decided that if I was going to be a jerk, I wanted to be the one who reached out. I would tell him that I care, that I'm sorry we haven't kept in touch all these years, and I know the timing is very shady, but it's what prompted me to reconnect. If he wanted nothing to do with me, I would totally understand and respect that.

But Spence was so kind! He talked to me like we've been old pals for years and didn't show any negative feelings about the timing of my message. It was November, so I immediately started planning the annual get-together at my house for Christmas, and I was sure to deliberately invite Spence. (To be honest, I'd read up on glioblastomas and I thought that 2017 may be his last Christmas.)

Spence came, and so did Mike, Nathan, Chris, Lance, and Sarah. Since Spence and I shared a love of Portland, we chatted about that. It felt like getting to know him for the first time. And I'm so glad that I did.

Below... Guys, left to right: Mike, Spence, Lance, Nathan, and Chris; in front is me, of course, and Sarah.

That New Year's Eve, Spence had a party at his mom's house. Sarah was in town from Phoenix and a few of the other "neighborhood kids" were there. I also met some of the kids that were Spencer's age and had lived in our neighborhood (I didn't know them because they were so much younger than I was). Hearing their names, I knew the families--like I said, everybody knows everybody. It was cool to get to hear about our neighborhood from another perspective.

Spence did chemotherapy and radiation, which seemed to be working well to keep him from going downhill. The tumors seemed to stop growing so quickly, and before I knew it, it was Christmastime again. And we were blessed to have another neighborhood get together with Spence. Lance, Nathan, Sarah, Shannon, and Mike also came. Here is my favorite picture from that night. That's Spence lying across our laps. (Shannon, me, Mike, Lance, and Nathan sitting on the couch)

This year, Spence's health took a turn for the worse. He started having more and more seizures. Eventually, the doctors said there was nothing more they could do to prevent the growth of the tumors. Spence chose to go home in hospice care to keep him comfortable while the cancer progressed.

I knew I wanted to go see him at least one more time. When my friend Sarah (a different Sarah) died from melanoma in 2014, I didn't go see her once the cancer had really taken its toll. I visited her in the hospital when she was still in fairly good health with hopes of recovery. She even mentioned wanting to try to go for a run with me when she was better.

I don't remember how much longer it was before she passed away, but I do regret not going to see her one more time. And I didn't want to regret not going to see Spence. I also wasn't sure if he was feeling lonely, bored, or wanted visitors. I asked several times, and each time he told me that yeah, someday would be good; but from what Lance and his mom said, it sounded like he wasn't up for visitors for a while.

And then one evening in late July, I got a random text from Spence, inviting me to go visit him. I went that Sunday with my mom, and I brought him a couple of gifts--just a Red Wings mug and some cozy socks. It was so hard to think of what to chat about. His mind was foggy, so I just tried to make small talk. Mostly, I chatted with his parents (who are seriously two of the most fantastic people on this planet).

Later that day, I looked for some old home videos of the neighborhood kids that would make Spence smile. We texted for a little while, and I felt happy about it. He seemed to be doing good.

That night, Spence had multiple seizures and had to be heavily medicated to stop them. Over the next six weeks or so after I saw him, he was in and out of it, sleeping most of the time. The texts that we'd shared (we mostly talked about our favorite junk foods! haha) were the last contact I had with him. I asked Lance last week how Spence was doing, and he said that he was pretty much the same, which was all they could hope for at that time.

I went grocery shopping on Friday and I bought the ingredients to make some lemon lentil soup to take to them (Noah has an appointment on Wednesday just around the corner from their house, and I figured I'd stop by and bring them the soup).

And then this morning, my mom called me to say that Wendy called her and said Spence had passed away in his sleep at around 8:00 this morning.

I knew it was coming--for 22 months--and Spence and I weren't very close friends. Still, I cried. I cried for his mom, because the literal worst thing in the world would be to lose a child. I cried because Spence was so young and hadn't experienced so many things that healthy people experience as they age. And I cried because of how dumb it was that I didn't get in touch with him a decade ago. Or at least called him when I was in Portland.

But I am grateful that I chose to be Jerk #1. I'm not sure how I'd feel right now if I'd made the other choice, but I'm sure I wouldn't feel good about it.

September 22, 2019

What makes us follow through with our goals? (and 10 of my goals for fall)

"She believed she could, so she did" bracelet

(The bracelet was given to me by a reader several years ago--I love it!)

On this post, I am going to list some goals for fall 2019.

I'm sure you're rolling your eyes just as hard as I am, regarding the idea of my writing goals for fall when I haven't really met many of goals I've set in the past couple of years, haha. However, even though I am not great at following through with my goals, I usually end up having one or two of them "stick"--which is better than nothing.

Quitting drinking alcohol, for example...

That was one of my New Year's Resolutions (cliché of all clichés) this year. My goal was to give up alcohol for a year starting on January 1st, 2019. I had my last drink just before midnight on December 31st, 2018.

I cannot tell you how many times I said I was going to quit drinking over the years--for a week, a month, a year, forever--it was always one of those things that I said I'd try and then I'd give up shortly after. For some reason, however, this time it stuck. It's been 264 days, and I have no doubt that I'll make it to December 31st. It's NOT easy, but with the streak I have going, I really don't want to mess it up now.

Another example is weight loss...

I have almost made umpteen attempts to lose weight in my life before I was *finally* able to drop 125 pounds between August 2009 and November 2010. I made weight loss goals more times than you can count, and they never stuck. Until one time, it did! That day, August 19, 2009, I had no idea that it would be the last day that I would weight 253 pounds. I had tried so many times and quit that I just expected it to be another tally mark of failed attempts.

Here is the 125-pound difference way back in 2010 (look how young I looked!):

In June 2017, I prepared a budget to pay off my family's credit card debt. It felt like the trillionth time I had written a budget. I don't know if I ever even got through a single month without giving up. Yet, 14 months after making that get-out-of-debt goal in 2017, I made my final credit card payment. It's been over a year, and we are still debt-free.

Running is yet another example of goals that sometimes sticks but sometimes fails...

I attempted the Couch to 5K plan several times and gave up on it. I thought being a runner sounded so exciting, and I wanted to be one; but I didn't want to put in the work. It was too hard! However, in 2011, I made (yet another) goal to run a 5K. Since Couch to 5K was too hard, I tried my own way that I liked better. And after just a couple of months, I was running over three miles at a time. It'd stuck--I actually followed through and became a runner.

There are SO MANY examples of goals or short challenges that I've made and then not followed through on: giving up sugar, eating vegan, going to bed at a certain time every day, eating only whole foods, read a particular number of books, etc.

So what is it that makes us follow through with our goals sometimes and not others? I can theoretically set the same goal 100 times and only make it work ONCE. What was different about that one time? I think it has a lot of variables: timing, mindset, support from others, mental health, external stressors, physical heath, motivation, determination, sacrifices, money, and about a thousand others. If those stars (variables) align just right, the new habit may stick. Otherwise, it may not be the in the cards that time; so we try again later.

I'm sure I can't be the only one who sets goals and only manages to follow through once in a while; I'm just the one who writes about it online and then has to admit when I quit ;)

Anyway, the whole point of this is that just because I've failed at (certainly the majority) of the goals I've set doesn't keep me from wanting to set goals for all sorts of occasions: the new year, the first of the month, my birthday, summer... hell, even just a random MONDAY.

Even if I don't reach 90% of the goals I make for myself, that still means that I accomplish 10% of them. And 10% of them is certainly better than none. Or just giving up hope altogether.

I think the reason I like goal setting so much is that it fills me with hope. Having hope is a reason to live, and without it, it's easy to give up on everything. So, I continue to set goals (whether I publicize them or not) and I have hope that I will accomplish them. I might do so, but if not, then I'll probably just try again.

I wrote recently about my summer goals and the results--how well I did working on those. (Spoiler, if you missed it: Not very well. But not a total failure, either!)

So, with tomorrow being the first day of fall, my very FAVORITE season here in Michigan, I'm going to set some fresh new goals. Fall starts on September 23rd and ends on December 22nd. That's three months. I think three months is such a great amount of time to make some changes and create new habits. So, I'd like to focus on forming some new habits.

I'll write them here and do my best. Then, at the end of the season, we'll check to see if any of them actually stuck ;)

Goals for Fall 2019:

1) Get my weight down under 145. That's roughly 20 pounds, which is do-able for three months' time. I will do this with portion control and an eating schedule (8:00, 12:00, 4:00, and 8:00, like I used to). If I start to see some progress, I'd like to start doing Wednesday Weigh-Ins again.

2) Get back in the nightly routine with the family to go for a walk in the evenings, then watch a show and have a bedtime snack together. I loved this routine!

3) Drink 64 ounces of water a day. Period. Ice does not count.

4) Run for 3 miles every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. I will do heart rate (MAF) training because I enjoy it more.

5) Read 15 minutes every day.

6) Take a multivitamin.

7) Write in my journal and read a chapter of the Bible before bed (I've been doing this for several weeks now and I want to continue)

8) Cook dinner at least six nights a week (it doesn't have to be anything fancy--even just spaghetti with jarred marinara counts).

9) This is kind of generic, but I'd like to make decisions that are best for me: both mentally and physically. It's hard to give examples of this now, but I'll try and write things down throughout the next few months to specify what I mean by it.

10) Write a blog post four times a week. Ideally, I will form this into a schedule, but I will have to work on figuring out what days are best. For now, I'm just going to aim for four days a week.

(If you don't already subscribe, you can get notifications of new blog posts sent to your email inbox--that way you don't have to keep checking for new posts. You can subscribe by typing your email address in the little green box on the right sidebar of my blog. Or--I think this link might work. Just click where it says "Get Runs for Cookies delivered by email". Don't worry, I don't send out newsletters or anything. You literally will just get a notification of a new post.)

And there they are. Nothing new--I think I've attempted these habits about six trillion times since I started Runs for Cookies! But maybe this will be the time that sticks... you never know ;)

September 21, 2019

How to Breathe While Running (Nerd Alert!)

How to Breathe While Running

One of the girls on my cross country team didn't have a very good race on Tuesday. I thought she did great, but she refused to talk to me after the race, so I wasn't sure what the problem was. Her mom later told me that she was upset because she said she had a cramp in her side during the race. Her mom said that she thinks it may have to do with her breathing, and asked if she should be breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth.

I haven't done an informative post on my blog about running in a long time, so I thought it'd be fun to write about this! (I may have written about it before, but if I did, it was a long time ago; so here it is again).

Breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth is actually a very common misconception (for running, anyway--I think there are reasons to use it in other situations). There is a super nerdy explanation for it (seriously--breathing, something that is literally as old as time, has a "right way" and a--well, let's call it an "inefficient" way when running (I don't want to call it wrong, but it's definitely not the best way). I'll write more about the nose vs mouth part at the bottom of the post.

In 2014, I was invited to the Runner's World Headquarters in Pennsylvania (along with several other running bloggers). We had a weekend of seminars all about running and I met some of the coolest people known to the sport. I was so geeked out! It was fantastic, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to learn everything I did.

Anyway, one of the seminars was given by Budd Coates. If you're not familiar, he is pretty much one of the most amazing runners in the sport. I'd never heard of him at the time, but I discovered that I was learning from a major running LEGEND... all about how to breathe while running.

Budd Coates describing how to breathe while running

First, a short bio: Budd's marathon personal record is 2:13:02. That's not a "half" marathon--I'm talking a full 26.2 miles. He ran TWENTY SIX POINT TWO miles in 2 hours and 13 minutes. Insane!

Also, he has run a sub-3:00 marathon in each of FIVE decades. Imagine that... every 10 years older and running sub-3:00? For five decades? Unbelievable.

Oh, and not to mention that he qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon not once... but FOUR times. No biggie!

So, here is what I learned about How to Breathe While Running. Who better to learn from than Budd Coates?

When it comes to injuries, most runners will have problems with just one side, whether it's a stress fracture or runner's knee or hip flexor, etc. The possible reason for this is that we may be exhaling exclusively on that side. (I discovered that I was a 2:2 runner--meaning that I would inhale for two counts and then exhale for two counts. You'll see below why that's a problem.)

There was a study done by some very smart doctors at the University of Utah who discovered that the most stress to your body occurs when you begin to exhale. This is because when you exhale, your diaphragm relaxes, making your core (abdominal muscles) less stable. The impact of your foot strike (equal to 2-3 times your body weight) plus less stability in your core is basically a recipe for injury.

So, when you are exhaling on the same foot (left or right) for every breath while running, you are putting significantly more stress on that side of your body.

And that is how Budd came up with the brilliant idea of rhythmic breathing. He wondered if he could develop a rhythm that would allow him to exhale on each foot alternately throughout the whole run. It worked perfectly for him--no injuries and running his fastest marathon times.

The rhythmic breathing is done by an odd/even pattern to alternate the foot that absorbs impact on the exhale. You also must make sure you're using your diaphragm to take deep breaths and maximize oxygen intake rather than short shallow breaths.

To do that, you need to make sure that when you inhale, your diaphragm engages and moves downward, which makes your chest puff out a little (because there is more room for air in your lungs). Because it's impossible to run (or even live, duh) without oxygen, more = better when you're challenging your cardio system during a run.

Rhythmic breathing works like this:

Inhale for an odd number of steps and then exhale for an even number (one less than the odd number). For most runners, this is a 3:2 ratio (inhale for three steps, exhale for two steps) because we do most of our running at an easy pace--or at least we should be! (Read this post about the easy run. It totally changed my running for the better when I finally practiced what I preached.)

When you spend more time inhaling than exhaling, you're minimizing the amount of time exhaling (where your body absorbs the most stress). That way, you are getting the most oxygen out of the least amount of stress.

So, for a 3:2 ratio, inhale for three counts and then exhale for two counts. I always count it in my head like, "1-2-3-1-2"... but you can do whatever you'd like. "In-two-three-out-two". I would practice it while sitting or lying down before trying it during running. But I found that when I did it while running, it felt very natural. I had to concentrate on it for a few runs, but once I got the hang of it, I do it all the time now. I don't have to think about it--it just comes naturally.

Now, when you are running faster, your breathing is going to get faster. So, you can change the ratio to 2:1... inhale for two counts (steps) and exhale for 1 count. When I do my super slow runs to keep my heart rate low, I even do a ratio of 4:3 (inhale for four, exhale for three). It takes some experimenting to find out what works best for you; but like I said, most runners will use a 3:2 ratio.

There is another rhythm that is slightly more complicated, but I'll throw it out here just in case you want to try it. This is for very hard work (sprinting to the finish line, etc). The rhythm is 2-1-1-1. You would inhale for two steps, exhale for one, inhale for one, exhale for one. And repeat. I haven't even tried that, but it was one of the rhythms that Budd suggested.

And to answer the question about breathing through your mouth or nose? The best answer is both! We will maximize our oxygen intake by inhaling and exhaling through both mouth and nose. But if you have to choose one or the other, the mouth is the way to go. You can experiment with this to feel the difference:

1) Close your mouth and keep it closed. Then breathe in through your nose. Notice that you aren't getting very much air? (While holding still or sleeping, it's comfortable; but when running, it feels like you're suffocating.)

2) Pinch your nose shut and then breathe through just your mouth. Much easier than breathing through your nose, but I think it feels like my nose is stuffy or something.

3) Now, relax your mouth in an open position, and breathe regularly. You'll probably notice that you breathe in and out through both your nose and mouth most of the time anyway without even thinking about it! But you'll definitely notice that you get the most air this way.

Also, is this not the coolest race shirt?! I did a half-marathon for cystic fibrosis, and this was the race shirt we were given. It's my favorite race shirt I've ever gotten!

September 20, 2019

Summer Goals Follow-Up (Should I even bother?! Haha)

Let's see how I did on my summer goals, shall we? ;)

With summer ending in just a couple of days, I thought this might be a funny post to write--because if it isn't obvious, I definitely didn't nail the goals I set for the summer. And I write that in jest. I'm not being (too) self-critical, I promise.

But I actually was curious when I went back to read my summer goals, because I forget what my plans/goals were. I just know that I most likely haven't been doing them. I'll write my thoughts as I go through the list. Here is my list:

Physical Health

To be at peace with my body exactly the way it looks (whether that's at this weight or if I should gain or lose weight).

I wish I could say that I'm at peace with it, but I'm most definitely not. In fact, I think I feel worse about it. Surprisingly, I haven't gained weight(!) but I haven't been eating well (see "Diet" below) and I haven't been exercising (see further below) so I just feel like a blob. Here is a photo from our meet on Tuesday. I cringed when I saw it.

Diet - My plan was to really listen to my body and pay attention to what foods make me feel good and what foods make me feel bad. And then do what feels best as far as food goes. I also wanted to drink more water--aim for 3 quarts a day.

I have been terrible with this. I haven't gotten in much water at all (I drink tea in the mornings, and then I chew ice all day long, and occasionally have an alcohol-free Heineken or a Diet Squirt in the evening. I used to suck down water all day long! This is something that I want to make a priority; even if I change nothing else, I need to drink more water.

Taking vitamins

I haven't been doing this, either. I get SO nauseous when I take a multivitamin (even half a vitamin makes me feel like I'm going to vomit). I may buy some Flintstones vitamins, and see if those are better. If they are made for kids, maybe they won't be as rough on my stomach.


My plan was to follow my Summer Challenge List (running or walking, whatever I felt like). I wanted to try to hit all of them this year, because I've never done that before. I did great for a few weeks and got a lot of them checked off, but something happened to throw me off and then I just never got back into it.

Wearing sunscreen, always

I actually have been VERY good about doing this. I bought some SPF 110 for my face and SPF 50 for the other exposed parts of my body. Any time I'm going to be outside, I wear it.

Flossing my teeth daily (I have no problems with brushing, but flossing is something that I have always had a hard time making a daily habit).

Well, I certainly haven't done it daily, but I've been working on it and do it more frequently than before.

Living a more active lifestyle in general the way that I used to

I'm not really sure how to count this. I have been doing lots of "projects" (woodworking, painting, etc). Since I spend a lot of time in the garage moving around, I sweat a LOT. And I am frequently super sore from using muscles I'm not used to using.

Here is an example--I can't tell you how physically demanding it was to scrape all the paint off this door! (This was our front exterior door--somehow, the paint blistered and peeled the vinyl off underneath and it looked horrible. I scraped it all off and then repainted it (with a paint that is meant to withstand high temperatures). And THEN, I did the same thing with the side door! Before and after:

Continuing to stay sober of alcohol

Yes! Going strong--not a single sip in 262 days.

Get a check-up with my doctor and have bloodwork to see my health numbers, including vitamins.

Haven't done this yet. I keep telling myself that I want to drop some weight first (if my numbers aren't good, then my health insurance may add a premium on for high cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, weight, BMI, etc. I haven't gotten everything tested in over a year now, so I'm nervous!).

Mental Health

Taking my meds on a regular schedule (I'm very good about this already).

This is no problem for me. I have a little container that holds my pills for the week, so I take them first thing in the morning.

Cutting out caffeine, with the exception of a modest amount of tea.

I've done good with this. I had coffee a couple of times and my anxiety was sky high, so I've learned that I just can't have it. I've been enjoying the tea in the mornings, though.

Writing in a journal daily, even if it's just one or two sentences.

I've done really great with this one! When I lie down in bed at night, I write in my One Line A Day journal, and then read a chapter in the Bible.

Do a few brain puzzles each week.

I love the Lumosity app, so I'll use that as well as the old-fashioned logic puzzles in a book. I've really gotten into this lately. I tend to go through phases with it, but I've learned that playing the mind games is a great way to control my anxiety.

Read more books

I've definitely done this--I read several books, including the extremely long Pillars of the Earth trilogy.

Do some crafts that make me happy (crochet or knit, wood work, bullet journal, sew)

I have done a few wood work projects, which I love doing (I wish the materials weren't so hard to get to my house--buying plywood and getting it to my house is a huge pain. I can't do bigger projects, because I have to have the plywood cut down small enough to fit in my car. I've used up almost all of my leftover materials, so if I want to do more, I'll have to buy more.

Live my life the way that makes me happy, and screw what anyone else thinks

I think I've done well with this. Mentally, I've been very stable all summer. I haven't had many (if any) conflicts, so I haven't had to worry about what others think.

Read a chapter a day from my Bible

Doing great with this! Like I mentioned before, I really find it disturbing, but I want to continue to read it and hope that it gets better.

Continue to feed the birds and squirrels (I look forward to feeding them every day and it makes me feel happy)

This is probably my biggest joy of the day. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but the squirrels have become like pets to me. I've named several of them and I can tell them apart by subtly different markings and by their personalities.

Tuck, for example, is super bold--he runs right up to me when I go outside, and he's even climbed up my pant leg to get a walnut. I definitely spoil the squirrels, but I adore them. (Sadly, squirrel hunting season started last weekend, and there are hunters in the woods across from my house. I try to keep "my" squirrels in my backyard as much as possible so they don't venture into the woods.)

I did, however, quit feeding the birds. When I got the bird feeder, all the birds around the house attracted hawks. When I saw a hawk nearly take off with a squirrel, I did some reading a discovered that having bird feeders can attract hawks because they prey on the birds. Now that I got rid of the feeder, I haven't seen the hawks around!

Find new ways to relieve anxiety

I have a no-fail relief of a specific game on Lumosity--it's super fast-paced and it's impossible to think about anything other than the game, so I forget my anxiety while playing. My anxiety hasn't been too horrible lately (and maybe it's thanks to Lumosity). It works really well to take my mind off of things because I am so focused on the game.

Relationship Health

Spend more quality time with Jerry and my kids--family game night, family movie night, walks in the evenings, etc.

I wish I could say we've been doing great with this, but we've been so busy! With my cross country and the kids playing baseball, our evenings are kind of crazy. We did go see Toy Story 4, though. The picture isn't good, but there's Eli, Noah, Noah's girlfriend Ashely, Jerry, and me.

Get in touch with a few old friends and make plans to get together and catch up

I think the only people I've gotten in touch with and saw were Lance (my childhood friend) and his brother Spencer. I got together with Lance for lunch one day, and I went to visit Spencer after he went home from the hospital in hospice care. His cancer has made his health decline since then, but he's still hanging on. Just today, I bought the ingredients to make dinner to bring to him and his parents this weekend. I did get to see my younger cousins recently, and that was really fun getting to catch up with them!

Work on being more affectionate with Jerry (hugs, kisses, cuddles, etc). His "love language" is Physical Touch, which was last on my own list of The 5 Love Languages, so it's hard for me. It's not that I'm repulsed by affection, it's just that it never occurs to me to give him random hugs and kisses. We each took the Love Languages test and read the book, and you can read about our results here.

I do try with this, but it's so hard to keep it in mind. Like I said, I'm not repulsed at the thought; it's just not something that I think about.

Write a letter to each of the kids and share how proud I am of them

I haven't done this yet. I don't know what I'm waiting for! I want it to be meaningful, so maybe I'm just putting too much pressure on myself to make sure it's perfect.

Use the phone more and texting a little less Talking on the phone is hard for me for some reason, so I'd like to call up my friend Sarah in Arizona to chat, or some other friends that live around the country.

I've talked to one or two people, but that's it. I always feel like I don't have anything to talk about. Still, it's something I'd like to do.

Make it a point to spend more time with my parents, siblings, in-laws, and especially my niece and nephew

Where did the time go?! I've seen everyone here and there, but not nearly as often as I'd planned. I did have Luke and Riley come stay the night, which was super fun and I'm glad I got to spend time with them. I just need to do it more regularly!

Take Eli fishing in a new place, and take Noah somewhere pretty where he can take photos.

I took Eli fishing a couple of times--I even drove him all the way up to Lake St. Claire and I sat on a boat for eight or so hours while he fished for muskie with Shawn's friend, Andy. I hate fishing and I hate boating, but I wanted to be there if he caught one.

A muskie is considered "the fish of 10,000 casts" because that's about how many it takes to catch one.  Interestingly, Lake St. Claire in Michigan is one of the best places in the U.S. to find them. It was Eli's dream to catch one, and Andy (who didn't even know us--he was just doing it because Shawn told him about Eli) invited us out on his boat to help Eli catch one. Andy ended up hooking two, and Eli reeled them in. He was thrilled to have gotten one, but he won't consider it "catching a muskie" until he hooks it himself and reels it in.

As far as Noah and photography, I haven't done that yet. He's going through a phase (I hope it's just a phase, anyway) where he wants pretty much nothing to do with me unless he needs money or a ride somewhere. 

Financial Health

Continue to live on our budget that got us out of debt

I've done well with this. It's getting REALLY tough now that we have extra expenses, though. Having to cut back again is a challenge. However, we are still debt-free.

Build our savings account (I'm aiming to add another $1,500 to it during the summer)

I haven't built it up--after making a $1,000 down payment for Eli's braces, our savings is down to just $300.

Plan our meals and grocery shop accordingly to stay under our grocery budget

I did so-so with this. I didn't cook as much as I should have, but on the nights I have cross country, it's really challenging to cook dinner. However, I did stay conscious of our budget and we didn't go over it TOO horribly.

Dine out very rarely (maybe once a month)

We didn't do much dining out (ordering pizza is another story). We went out a couple of times as a family, and I felt that was legit. We weren't doing it out of convenience.

Cut out unnecessary costs again (I did this when we first started our budget, but I'd like to take another look)

I haven't cut back on anything yet. I feel guilty! Jerry and Noah love Apple Music, Eli gets a mystery fishing box once a month, we all enjoy Netflix, and I love doing projects around the house. There are definitely places to cut back (like what I mentioned above) and I am going to have to do it soon.

Save up for a new front porch
Like I mentioned above, we didn't even get to save any money this summer after paying for Eli's braces. I also had to pay for some other expensive things--car registration renewal ($250), Noah's driver's ed classes ($300), fixing Noah's Macbook ($250). Ugh. I'll never get a new porch at this rate!

Job Health

Create a regular "chore chart" rather than just winging it. I'd like to make a weekly list of things that need to be done regularly and assign the tasks for particular days.

I created the chart, and follow it here and there, but definitely not like I'd planned. Maybe when cross country is over!

Write more frequently on my blog, and try to start a schedule to post on particular days

I did terrible for most of the summer, but this month, I've gotten in a LOT of posts. More than I have in over a year, probably. I've found that I really enjoy posting frequently again.

Reply to emails more frequently. Right now, my inbox dates back to April (!) and I feel bad about it. Seeing emails that I haven't replied to yet causes me anxiety, and that can be solved very easily by taking time to reply to a few each day. For now, my plan is to reply to 2+ per day.

Well, I did not do the 2+ emails per day schedule. In fact, I ignored my inbox for the most part until last week, when I spent nearly a whole day catching up and replying to old emails. I always feel terrible that it takes so long to reply. Now that the inbox is caught up, though, I can work on keeping it that way. Reply within a day or two.

Write out a schedule for ALL of these plans I've written about above so that I don't get overwhelmed. Take it one day at a time.

I wrote out the schedule. A lot of good it did ;)  (Actually, the schedule was part of the problem. I wanted to make a cutesy little bullet journal just for these summer goals, but it was taking so long just to set it up that I became overwhelmed and quit. Having a simple planner is much easier.)

If I have some free time, I'd like to go back and optimize photos on past posts

I've done this, but only to a few posts that I was linking to and happened upon the photos. This is something I'll need to take several hours at a time to work on.

Find a new place to host photos for my blog where I can edit them without deleting them and re-uploading them

Nope. Haven't even started looking.

Create a plan for the cross country kids this year. Renee is not going to be coaching with me (she took a job as the middle school cross country coach) so I want to be as organized and prepared as possible to do it on my own.

I have done awesome at this! I really do way more than is necessary. It's a volunteer position, so I don't get paid, but I spend probably 10 hours a week (including practices) working on cross country. It's fun, though! And I am still eternally grateful to those of you that sent the items from the Amazon Wish List to my team! It has made coaching this year even more fun.

So, clearly I wasn't the greatest at hitting my goals this summer. But after typing all this out, it certainly wasn't a total fail! The biggest thing I need to work on is diet and exercise. I think if I can just get that on a good routine, the other things will be easier to focus on.

The summer was rather uneventful, which is actually a good thing. No depression, no hypomania. Stayed very busy! And enjoyed it, for the most part :)

But I am SO looking forward to fall. My favorite time of year!

September 18, 2019

The First XC Race of the Season (a Nail Biter!)

I wanted to get this posted last night, but I was physically and mentally exhausted when I got home from the race and I just wanted to not move a muscle. I know I wasn't racing it myself, but I totally felt like I was--I'm sure I take it way too seriously, haha!

(Before I write about this, I'm just going to explain the way I write about the kids on the team. I have always used first initials and I blur faces for privacy. It never occurred to me to ask parents if I could post names/pictures, but from now on, if I do post a child's first name and/or photo, it means that I've gotten permission from his or her parent(s). In the future, I'll just ask the parents at the beginning of the season on the waiver they sign.)

Since this is my first year coaching solo, I felt a little pressure to make sure that the kids did well (in comparison to their own times, I mean). If they were to run and not improve at all from our first practice, I would feel like I was definitely doing something wrong in their training.

I think I've written about this before, but there is a boy on my team named Aaron. This is his fourth (and, sadly, final) year on my team because he'll be moving up to the middle school team next year. When he was in first grade, too young for the team, he would still come to practice with his older brother and do a little running. I could tell he was going to be fast, just like his brother.

When Aaron started running on our team, I began to notice at the races that there was a boy from another school who always seemed to finish very shortly before Aaron. Each race, the two of them got closer and closer to the top finishers. For the last couple of years, Aaron was regularly making the top 10, with this other kid (we'll call him Ferris) just seconds ahead of him.

At the beginning of the season, I like to give each kid a goal to work on for the season--it may be a certain mile time, or running a particular distance without stopping, or running their longest distance to date, etc.

For the last two years, I've given Aaron the goal to "Beat Ferris" in a race. At practices, during speed work, I yell at him that Ferris is right in front of him or right on his heels to get him to go faster. Aaron is competitive, and at races, he really gives it everything he has. Once, he even lost a shoe during a race and still finished in the top 10!

Last year, when he was in fourth grade, I was thrilled to see him run his first sub-7:00 mile (6:58). And then a PR of 6:50. It's interesting to see the difference between the first day of the season and the kids' best races. Aaron's time trial at the first day of the season this year was 7:52 (pretty slow for him, but all the kids are relatively slow after taking time off).

I usually give Aaron more or tougher work than the other kids because I know he can handle it (and he is competitive enough that he wants to put in the work to win). With this being his last season with me, I told him that this is the year he HAS to beat Ferris, or I'm retiring (kidding).

I was nervous for yesterday's race, considering it was the first of the season, and I wanted all the kids to do well. The kids who have never raced before are always a bundle of nerves, too, because they aren't sure what to expect.

I put tags on all the kids (like bibs used to keep track of timing) and we did a warm-up. Then we sat in a circle so I could quickly go over the details of the course and explain race strategy. (I also told Aaron and Harper, our fastest runners, to try to get toward the front of the pack immediately because this is such a large race).

After the kids lined up, the announcer fired the starter pistol, and the kids were off. There were 140 kids in the race, so the beginning is a little chaotic when you're trying to see what is happening.

About a quarter mile in, I saw that Aaron was in about fourth place. With a 1.5 mile race, I was curious to see how he'd do--he tends to do great for a mile, and then starts to slowly break down on longer distances (he really pushes himself to the limit). This year, as his coach, it was my goal to get his endurance built up--more long, easy runs. I hoped it would pay off.

I was standing about half a mile into the race to cheer the kids on as they went by, and as they made the turn toward me, I saw that Aaron was in the lead! There was a kid (Ferris) RIGHT on his heels. I was used to it being the opposite--Ferris in the lead with Aaron just a second or two behind him. I hoped Aaron could hold the lead, but I honestly expected Ferris to pass him before the mile mark.

Since I was cheering on the rest of the team at the half-mile point, I couldn't see anything that was happening. Finally, I ran to the finish line before the kids started to come through. There is a building about 0.15 miles from the finish line, and it blocked my vision of the lead. Seconds later, I saw a white shirt come around the building--it was Aaron! And I was shocked to see that he had a fairly large lead. I thought maybe I missed Ferris going by, but a few seconds later, Ferris rounded the corner.

I was STILL worried that Ferris was going to fly past Aaron at the end (a lot of action happens in that final push to the finish line). I was just praying that Aaron wasn't going to try to turn around to see how close he was or anything like that--I just wanted him to focus on the finish line and run faster than he ever had.

And HE DID IT!! He crossed the finish line in 9:12, and Ferris came across at 9:18. Aaron's finish time of 9:12 meant a mile pace of 6:08--faster than he's ever run. I will be so psyched to see if he can hit sub-6:00 soon. Since this was 1.5 miles, a 5:59 finish for a mile is certainly possible.

This is Aaron with his place card (as they finish, they are given a finish number).

One contribution to his great time was because he mistakenly thought that he was finishing the race about half a mile before the actual finish line. The kids have to run past the finish line once and do a loop and THEN they get to finish. When he saw the finish line, he ran like hell only to realize he wasn't done. He just held on to the lead for dear life, and managed to keep his pace.

I felt SO excited when I saw him win the race--this is my fifth year coaching, and I think we've only come in first at one race before.

Aside from that, all of the kids did really well! I was super impressed with a lot of their times and improvements. Harper (the girl who demonstrated the running parachute in a video a few posts back) placed 4th of 64 girls and 9th overall. She ran 10:08, which is a 6:45/mile pace. Her (self-proclaimed) goal is to beat Aaron this season ;) She is super determined, so she just might do it, too!

One of the boys, who I think has the potential to end up being one the best cross country runners all through school, ran a pace that was FIVE MINUTES faster than his time trial just two months ago. As a whole, I think our team is faster than any previous year. The average pace of the whole team yesterday (there are 11 kids now--one of the girls dropped out several weeks ago) was 8:08/mile. And that was for a mile and a half race! I'm hoping they can keep that up for our next race... this Saturday :)

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