Monday, June 23, 2014

Jersey Girl

I finally had a chance to visit Little Helen in her new place over the weekend.  Mr. Helen was supposed to come along as well but somehow the vacation schedule at his job got messed up and he had to work instead.  I went anyway as I really wanted to see her new place.

If you want a hair raising experience, make the drive from my house to hers.  It's basically I-95 all the way but this particular part of 95 is white knuckle driving.  It really is relentless traffic going too fast and at times there are 5-6 lanes across of that.  Additionally, there always seems to be some sort of construction going on and even if they are not working, there are lane changes, bumps and dips in the road and barriers everywhere.  In other words, really not relaxing at all.

I was glad to go see where she lived though - she has quite a nice/cute apartment:  large open living area, large kitchen, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms.  It's in a safe complex and there's even a swimming pool there if she's ever there long enough to enjoy it (she travels a lot).

As soon as I arrived she suggested that we walk to downtown Princeton and look around at all the cute shops.  I was glad to do that after 3 hours of driving.  The walk was 3 1/2 miles each way plus I bet we walked at least a mile or more while downtown so I figured we got in 8 miles of walking.

There are very nice sidewalks all all around, plus we crossed a bridge and over a towpath that is part of the Delaware and Raritan State Park.  When I saw that path I thought of all my running and walking and biking blogging friends who would so enjoy that!  Next time we go visit her, weather permitting, I think we will probably rent kayaks or canoes and paddle part of the canal.

Princeton University is sort of scattered all around Princeton itself with a bit of a central campus right in the downtown area.  Downtown Princeton reminded me of a lot of New England downtowns with quaint shops and sidewalk cafes.  Very fun to walk around both the high end shops (like Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren) and the less expensive places.  We had lunch at a Mediterranean Grill and I realized afterward I'd picked a vegetarian menu:  Shepherd's salad, falafel, baba ganoush, and feta with tomatoes.  No photos, all delicious.

Here's a bit of our walk:

Anyone know what these gorgeous purple flowers are?

This is a side street in "downtown."  Love the way they've preserved so many trees.

A bookstore had cutouts of famous people.  I chose to be Sonya Sotamayor.

Effe's Grill where we ate lunch.  Delicious!

We walked back through the Princton Campus

I asked Little Helen if this is why the school is called Ivy League?

These buildings reminded me a lot of Duke University.  Little Helen told me Duke was actually modeled after Princeton when it was built.

After we got back to the apartment we hung out for a while, resting from that long walk lol!  She has a cute deck/patio off the living area and kitchen of her place so we sat out there and enjoyed a glass a wine before we went to dinner.

She and her friend wanted to take me to dinner at a particular restaurant they'd found.  This meal was meat based which was fine after my vegetarian lunch lol! This time I took pictures because I knew Mr. Helen would want to see.

This place was hilarious, both in name, where it was located and what they serve.

It's both BBQ and Mexican!  And yes they had a combo plate where you could get ribs, brisket, and some tacos which cracked me up.

House made chips brought to every table

We ordered a bunch of stuff for all of us to share: wings, ribs, brisket, hot links.  Little Helen said next time they have to try some Mexican. It was all delicious.

We were, obviously, too full for dessert so we went back and hung out at the apartment until bed. The next morning we hung out and drank coffee on the deck - until we went to brunch at a diner.  Holy food portions Batman!  Little Helen and E. tried to warn me but it didn't compute.  This was my breakfast, half of which came back to Connecticut with me (and I'd already eaten a piece of English Muffin).

Little Helen's friend E. ordered a "side" of bacon to go with his one scrambled egg and toast.  He'd already eaten a couple of pieces when I took this photo but we figured it was somewhere between 8 and 12 oz. of cooked bacon.  

We all decided when Mr. Helen and I come back we should take him here for a meal as he would appreciate the ridiculous portions.

Then it was time for me go. As E. walked me and my bag to the car he apologized that we'd not been able to find any food to eat - hahahahaha!

I'd literally been there 24 hours but I knew if I didn't get on the road I'd regret it because Sunday traffic on the highway is notoriously bad - and I was going north vs. south which is even worse.  Sure enough, even though I routed myself a different way to avoid the George Washington Bridge and going through New York City, it still took me a full hour longer to get home.  175 miles and it took me 4 hours... that's just how ridiculous the traffic is. But it was worth it to have time with my Jersey Girl!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Eye Opening Freedom

That’s the best way to describe what I’ve been going through with the challenge I’m involved in.

To have freedom from constantly thinking about food has been so stress relieving I can’t even describe it.  Oddly, even though each time I ate, I had to think about my hunger level, that didn’t bother me.  In fact, it made me feel freer and less anxious about the foods that I chose to eat.

For example, in the past, maybe what I really wanted was a sandwich but I would eat a salad instead because I was worried about calories and if I’d already had a lot of starches that day or not – constantly in my head trying to “balance” my diet and my calories.  By waiting until I was really hungry to eat and then just eating what I really wanted, I feel like I’ve been eating less.  I’m also finding that I’m beginning to naturally balance my diet… and I’m wanting to eat things that I didn’t eat much of before, like fruit!  I ate 2 cups of watermelon a day for 4 days straight.  I actually was craving it over ice cream or sweets - or the biggie for me, vegetables. On the other hand I watched a banana (my usual go-to fruit) sit on my desk and go from pale yellow to yellow and black - didn't want it.

Interesting enough, as I was discovering this, this was the email our coordinator sent:
Your body works in a million miraculous ways. Somewhere along the way you have forgotten what all babies know - how to eat when you are hungry and stop when your hunger is satisfied. Even young children when confronted with tables full of food including all the sweets and snacks they could want end up eating a balanced healthy diet. All it takes is for you to re-learn your own special inbuilt mechanisms. This really could be as simple as listening to your body's true hunger signals and need for movement. This is something everyone can do.
The irony in all this, is though I have struggled with this, I raised Little Helen to eat this way. As someone who was often forced to clean my plate as a child, I was determined that I would not do that to her.  It started at birth with her nursing.  Since I was living overseas and didn’t have a mom to help me, a missionary friend gave me her copy of “The Womanly Art of Breasfeeding.” (Yes, it’s an odd title but it’s a comprehensive book.)  In the book the author points out that babies only eat until they’re full and then they stop.  As long as they are gaining weight and growing they are getting enough.

I continued that pattern throughout her childhood.  When she said, “I’m all done,” she was allowed to stop eating.  Mind you had she said she was full then immediately asked for junk food that would have been a no go.  She never did that though and to this day, you can’t really make her eat when she’s full.

As for me, old habits die HARD.  After I'd been following my hunger cues for a couple of days and was starting to actually feel better and less stressed, I suddenly woke up one day wanting to track my food.  It was almost as if I needed the reassurance of the numbers to convince me that I wasn't overeating.  But then I got a grip and thought about how much I want to be free of that and again, I managed to lose weight on vacation without tracking a thing.  So, I took all the tracking apps off my iPhone because I really want to be free of this stuff forever!

This type of thinking is also why I'm not weighing myself during the challenge.  I weighed in and I will weigh out but honestly at this point it's not about that for me.  What is really interesting to me is that when I talked to the Challenge Coach at last week's workshop, her words to me were, "Helen, I do not want you to focus on, even or think about weight loss.  I want you to think about the freedom you want and how it makes you feel as you've experienced it a bit this last week."  Even she realizes I want freedom and peace with it all.

Speaking of peace, the yoga classes seem to be a good compliment to my running.  They are a mixture of hot yoga and warm yoga (because in a hot yoga studio even if the room isn't super heated it's always a little warm).  I wasn't sure how I would feel about them because though I've done yoga of all sorts I'd never done warm/hot.  So far, I'm liking them and I'm trying to get to two a week.  At the end of one of my classes last week the instructor asked us to just take a minute to think about what we'd just done and thank our body for its gift of movement.  There was no judgement on whether or not the movement was good enough or the right form or how your body looked doing it. Simply being thankful for what your body did that day.

It felt good to sit in that moment and realize as with food, I don't have to think of my body as good or bad.  I can just be grateful that I can move. May I have another week of eating and moving like a baby.

And freedom.  Most of all freedom.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday Ten

1. These are flowers growing along my neighbor's retaining wall that also line my driveway.  It's like having my own garden!

2. I've been having fun working on my vision board:

3. This daily motivational email we got from our challenge coordinator happened to hammer home what I've been wanting for a while now. Harder to do than you'd think but worth it in the end.
"Love yourself the way you are right now." It doesn't matter where you are right now. If you only love yourself when you are perfect you will never love yourself... so start now. When you love yourself you make choices that will honor and preserve your health. So start now and watch how your health improves! Improved health and weight loss go hand in hand.

4.  My own gorgeous Knockout Rose.  This little thing is only in it's second season and it's blooming like crazy.

5.  Each week our work Challenge Coach is giving a small prize to the person she feels has embraced the previous week's homework and is embracing the changes in a positive way.  Guess who won the first week's prize?  Why yes, that would be me.  It's just a water bottle - a nice one sort of like the Camelback style. The folks at my job were cracking up that I got it because I was the one they dragged kicking and screaming into the workshop.

6. Saw this house while out on a morning run.  A lot of us urban folks have tiny yards.  Love that these people are making the best of what they have!

7.  I've pretty much stopped thinking about food all the time.  When can I eat?  What should I eat? Is it healthy?  Etc.,etc., etc.  I'm just... eating - whatever.  I thought that would be scary but it's not.  It's relieving.

8. Mr. Helen's face when he realized I had made him fried chicken for his early Father's Day meal last Saturday.  I probably fry only about once a year, if that, so it was a huge treat for him.  Along with my lower fat red potato salad, southern fried yellow squash and his very favorite blueberry pie, made with fresh blueberries, all homemade, including the crust.  And that was a sacrifice because I do not like working with pie crust!

9.  Since we got home from vacation, Mr. Helen and I have not seen each other for more than 5 minutes two days in a row.  I'm not kidding.  Sunday night he was talking about the charity golf tournament he was playing in on Monday and then he'd have to go to karate on Tuesday and I replied, "See you Wednesday!"

10.  Got home from work to find a package addressed to me.  It was a "just because" package from Little Helen.  She wished for us to have a great summer on the patio, so sent along some fun beverage napkins, hors d'oeuvre knives, and added a Sephora gift card (which didn't make it into the photo, I was so excited).  I don't know if there's anything better than spontaneous love from your child!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Change Your Story

In my last post explaining my decision to join the challenge at my office, I talked about how we were asked to create a new vision and work towards that, versus counting calories or points or whatever, and forcing exercise a certain number of times per week.  Also known as "calories in/calories out."

Susan asked me to explain a bit more about creating the vision.  And to answer your question Susan, the reason (according to our facilitator) that it's not JUST about calories in/out is because if it were, every single person who has dieted and done that perfectly would be where they wanted to be and they'd be done.  But the fact is, most people struggle to even lose weight and most people (not all) gain not only their initial weight back (or some of it) but many gain even more than they lost in the first place.  So in her opinion, it's not strictly calories in/out that get us to where we want to be.

Here's my attempt at explaining creation of a vision.  The first thing you should understand is that the vision is unique to each individual.

Our first step in creating our vision was to explore what we don't want and make a list of those things - or maybe that one thing.  These are examples of things that could be what someone doesn't want (not necessarily my exact list):
  • I don't want my waist to be so thick
  • I don't want to exercise 7 days a week
  • I don't want to give up desserts
  • I don't want to have a pot belly
Then on the opposite side of the paper, you write what you do want -   in a positive way
  • I want my waist to be thinner so I can easily button my slacks
  • I want to exercise a few times a week to be healthy and strong
  • I want to occasionally have the foods I like, including dessert
  • I want to have a flatter stomach, not necessarily a six-pack, just a flatter stomach
The next step was to pick just one of those items we had written down and expand on it.  The item we chose had to be THE ONE that made us feel excited and motivated to follow it through. You ask yourself questions like, "How does what I want look and feel like?" or "How does my vision look as an end result?"  Then you begin to lay out the steps that gets you to your end vision.  Suggestions were to write ideas down in a journal or create a vision board.  

For example, I'll use the exercise bullet.  (This is only an example not an actual vision of anyone in the class as far as I know!) Your expansion might look like this:  
I don't want to exercise 7 days a week because it is making me feel exhausted.  I constantly have injuries and pain from all that exercise.  I will stop using exercise as an excuse to eat more.  I will stop exercising just because it seems like the "in" thing to do. I DO want to exercise to be healthy and move my body so I will figure out a plan that allows me to exercise for one hour 4 days per week.  Some days I will do cardio and some days I will do some strength training.  
Then if you want, you can begin to create an actual vision board - either by getting a piece of poster board and glueing things to it, or she also suggested a private board on Pinterest where you can virtually glue things.  Each day you meditate for a few minutes on what your end result will be from this vision that you have for yourself.  Finally, you add in the "body" element of doing things and eating  foods that nurture that vision - with no food being good and no food being bad. As I said in Monday's post, we were asked to only eat when physically hungry (#1-4) rather than habitually or emotionally hungry (#6-10) on the scale.  Yes, #5 is missing but #5 is just neutral feeling - neither hungry nor emotional.

The reason for doing this is that we all have our reality:  we're sick, exhausted, overworked, on medications, overweight, etc., etc.  It IS your truth.  However, when you focus constantly on that reality, you are unable to really ever change anything. You live the reality you focus on. So the idea is to create a new reality by creating a new vision for yourself.  In other words, change your story.

It's harder than you think to do, especially when you've had the same tape playing over and over in your head about your current state.  But I've been finding out, it is possible to begin to build that new idea of what life could be like - and the one I'm envisioning looks pretty darn good.

The first thing I put on my vision board

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Decision

As I mentioned several days ago, my workplace is offering a Weight Loss/Fitness Challenge for 12 weeks over the summer, ending August 28th.  The cost to employees was $35 which includes a weekly lecture, which would be videotaped if you couldn’t be there, daily email support, unlimited yoga and a one-on-one consultation – which was really the thing that appealed to me.

I was feeling very conflicted about joining this as I made up my mind a few months ago that I just wanted to stop dieting and learn how to love and accept myself and enjoy my life without having to constantly obsess over food and exercise.

The week leading up to the challenge was very stressful because they kept changing what they had originally told us:  NO one-on-one, half hour sessions due to one stupid manager who was refusing to let the two people in his department take more than a half hour for lunch, and no video taping of the sessions.

I got so frustrated, I just said “NO.”  Then fellow employees started bothering me on a daily basis and I had a manager say it looked bad that the CEO’s assistant wouldn’t participate.  I got so aggravated I looked that person straight in the face and asked, “Are you telling me I’m FAT and need to go?  Am I being forced to enroll?”  They backed off fairly quickly.

Finally, I agreed that I would go to the second ½ hour session and listen but I wasn’t signing up or paying and there was no guarantee that I would.  I also said if the person said anything about food tracking/calorie counting/calories in-out I was going to get up and walk out.

Last Thursday was the first session… and I ended up joining.  This is why.

The facilitator is not giving out diet and exercise advice.  She has been working with clients for over 20 years as a nutritionist and several years ago came to the conclusion that it wasn’t just about diet and exercise – that there was a bigger mind-body connection.  So, she started working with clients to create what she calls The Happiness Effect.

The base premise is that if you free your mind, your body will follow, naturally, right where it’s supposed to be. She also told us one of the first things we have to stop doing is thinking of food as “good” or “bad.”  I’m just going to admit straight out that perhaps two sentences in to her presentation, I was hooked.  It seems that she’s going to facilitate the very thing I have been trying to do on my own.  I also LOVED the fact that she wouldn’t promise weight loss!

Each week we are being given mind-body homework.  I am sure there will be those who will most definitely keep dieting/tracking, etc. because they want to win the challenge.  But that is not the case for me.  I want to win my life back.

As an example, this week’s mind homework was to make a list that could contain one thing or many things.  On one side we had to write “What I Don’t Want” then on the other side write “What I Do Want.”  Then we had to pick one that excited and motivated us and create a positive statement for that.  Third we had to visualize the end result of our want.

The Body homework was becoming aware of hunger cues so we could learn the difference between true physical hunger and emotional hunger.  She asked that we try to eat only when truly hungry and gave us a scale with definitions to help.  Then we are supposed to write down in a journal each time we eat, where we were on the scale at the time.  No judgment, just be matter of fact about it.  Finally, she asked that we eat only foods that would get us closer to our vision we had created earlier.  No judgment there either, just eat what you want when you’re physically hungry.

I spoke with her one-on-one for an additional half hour after the presentation and told her of my hypothyroidism and my knowledge of nutrition due to that and then about what happened on my vacation this year.  Her response was that while I was on vacation, I had somehow managed to tap into the very thing she will be teaching over the twelve weeks. Then she said, "Helen, if it was all about food and exercise, you'd be there."  Then she asked me why I refer to myself as a big ball of mess.  I said, because I am.  She responded don’t let your mind create a vision of a big ball of mess.  Make a new vision for yourself and work on that.

She then asked me if I wanted to be weighed/measured (you had to do that to be considered for the weight loss prizes at the end).  I told her I was willing but I didn’t want to see any of the numbers because I’m not after challenge prizes, I’m after my own prize of being free from dieting forever.

So I joined and yes, I will enjoy the yoga (went to a lunchtime class last Friday) although I’m not going to pressure myself to get to any certain number of classes.

I have to admit, I'm looking forward to seeing how much closer I am to my vision in twelve weeks.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vacation, St. Martin: His, Mine and Ours... Beautiful Beaches

There are 37 beaches on the island of Sint Maarten/St. Martin and the choices are endless. St. Martin is blessed to have the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other!  It is literally possible to go to a beach and be the only person there - or be one of the few - maybe because the whole island is only 37 square miles.  That's a beach per square mile!  Of course, we have come to have our favorites, but we've made it a goal to try to get to one new beach on each trip to see if we should add it into our rotation.

I'm just going to tell you up front that the new beach this trip was such a disaster that I didn't take one picture, nor did we stay there any longer than to look at it and leave (#14 on the map if you click on that link up there).  I had heard raves about it but I guess those folks don't like the things I like in a good Caribbean beach.  Still, we managed to get to 5 beaches this trip, so not bad!

The very first beach we visited was Grand Case Beach (#12 on the map).  The friend we were staying with showed us a little alley that led to a place where you could get on the beach without going into the village or near a restaurant. We stayed for a couple hours and it was just a magnificent day.

Looking toward Grand Case Beach Club, which is where we stay if we stay in a hotel As you can see, there is no one on the beach!

Looking towards the Village of Grand Case.  The beach goes all the way around that curve past the end of this photo.

Look how clear the water is!

The next beach we visited was Petite Plage, which is on the other side of the Beach Club (#13 on the map).  Honestly, this is "our" favorite beach.  Though the Beach Club water sports people rent chairs there, all beaches in St. Martin are free entry and open to the public.  While we rented chairs our first visit - because we stayed for most of the day - we went back several times for a couple hours at a time and used some bag chairs that our friends had.  We LOVE this beach!

We had lunch at Sunset Cafe (where the sunset shots I previously showed you were taken) - followed by rum of course lol!  Over Mr. Helen's shoulder you can see Creole Rock which is a well known landmark on the island.  Boats and Rhino Riders (which are like jet skis with floatation devices around them) take snorkeling trips out there, and for us, it's also where our friend's father and son's ashes were spread.

It was a really, really hard day on me... can you see the four Rhino Riders heading for the rock?

One of the days towards the end of the trip when it rained a bit, the sun suddenly came out so we dashed over to Petite Plage.  As we sat there we watched a storm move across Anguilla into the open ocean.  Pretty amazing as it stayed sunny where we were.

The next beach we visited was Mullet Bay (#36 on the map).  To get to it you have to drive through the golf course and those who know go - it's usually busy. There is good snorkeling here, along with a good rib shack.  It's a fun beach because it's on the Dutch side near the airport and you can spend the day watching airplanes come in.  Very often large sailing excursions pull in here and let the people off to swim for a bit. This is the only photo I took for some reason.  The building in the background is one of the timeshare places on Sint Maarten.

On our anniversary we went to Le Galion (#23 on the map).  This is known as the "Kid's Beach" because it has super calm water.  It's also very shallow you can walk out forever and not get over your head.  There is one beach bar and chair rental but we took our friends chairs and used a palm tree for shade. We carried lunch in a cooler because we were going out for a fancy French dinner later on. 

When we got there this guy was moving seaweed

We also saw this and suddenly realized it was a Caribbean swimming pool! It's basically big square floats in the ocean but they do have lane markers! Later, a school bus came full of kids - I guess swimming is part of the curriculum.  Of course, Mr. Helen had to go check it out - he loves kids.

At one time there was a beautiful resort here, but now there are only ruins.  When Hurricane Luis came through in 1995 it destroyed the resort and it has never been rebuilt.  There are other places like this on the island - so sad.

 When you look out from the shore, you can see where the ocean gets rough yet by the time it pulls into Le Gallion it calms down.

 I went for a walk to take the ruins photos and Mr. Helen was very busy!

 We saw our first ever ice cream truck!  This truck was serving up actual scoops of ice cream.  Next time hopefully I won't be going out to dinner and I'm getting one.

Next up was Orient Bay (#21 on the map).  Orient is the largest beach on the island, located on the French side. It is so big, it is broken up into smaller named areas.  We always go to Kakao, but if you like you could go to Bikini, Coco, Kontiki, Waikiki, or should you choose, at the very end is the "Naturist" beach called Club Orient. While topless is accepted on any beach on the French side, you can let it all hang out at Club Orient. Each of these beaches has their own restaurant, gift shop and rents chairs and umbrellas. This is also the beach where the cruise ship excursions come, so over the years we've learned to look up the cruise ship schedule and go on days when no ships are on island as it's a much nicer experience. Also, this is where you will see the most vendors walking up and down. Orient Bay is Mr. Helen's favorite beach!  So much so that we came back for his birthday, even though it was cloudy all day and we got chased off the beach by a shower. (I like this beach too because this is where I got my beautiful ankle bracelet lol!)

Now you can see how the dark cloudy days even change the color of the water.  Also the storm the night before washed up seaweed.  Guess who was clearing it later?  The same guy at Le Galion!  Maybe he has the only small tractor on the French side?

Last but not least, MY favorite beach, Baie Rouge ( #3 on the map).  So called because the sand here looks red compared to other beaches on the island.  We had tried to find this beach and kept missing the entrance.  Then Little Helen went to St. Martin to visit a friend and raved about the beach and also explained sort of how to find it.  When we went in 2012 for our 20th I was determined to find it and did!  In one visit, it literally became my favorite beach on the island.

There are two beach bars on this beach - Gus' and Raymond's.  They vie quite hard for your business, but we prefer Chez Raymond.

  I had the Raymond Special which is 6 liquors 7 fruits whirled into frozen deliciousness! Behold the whirl master...

This beach is also known for snorkeling, but honestly the water over by this private residence is so clear you can literally look down in the water and see the fish!

See?  I told you my beautiful bathing suit would match the water!

I hope you have enjoyed seeing our wonderful, tropical, Caribbean vacation to St. Martin.  Maybe now you know why it's my happy place!  Next week, back to blogging about nothing (remember that episode of Seinfeld)?