Category Archives: Healthy Lifestyle

Ahhhhh, bliss

This week of happiness brought to you by the generosity of my best and only sister.  She bought a treadmill a couple of years ago, used it for a while and decided she hated to run and even if she liked it couldn’t do it on a boring treadmill.  It’s been in her basement doing nothing.  Now it is in mine getting run on daily since its arrival.

It is my new best friend.

Of course like all friends it has it’s flaws.  It doesn’t go downhill like the ones at the gym that I’m only able to frequent one day a week – if I’m lucky.  But let’s be honest that will make me a better runner in the long run.  (ha ha, pun intended!)  I’m still building up my endurance from my injury and I can’t lie – it is frustrating as hell not to be able to just run for hours like I could last year.  But, I can see improvement each time thanks to my heart rate monitor and I know it will come eventually.

This weekend was heaven. I ran while Baby Sister was napping and Hubby had taken Big Sister swimming.  Couldn’t have done that before.  I ran while Hubby had gone to the gym after the kids went to bed.  Couldn’t have done that before.  And I have the option to get up early and run before work now.  To do that before, I’d have had to leave the kids alone in the house, sleeping in their beds, since Hubby is at work at that time of morning.  AWESOME!

I slept better than I have in weeks.  I am less stressed because I can run all my stress away daily.  I’m almost back to myself.  And best of all, I am no longer worried about how I’ll survive Ragnar in sixteen weeks because I wasn’t able to train.  Now, I’ll be a training machine like a good little honey-badger should be.

This one little tweak made all the difference in restoring balance to my life.  No longer do I have to stress at work about how I’ll find time to work out.  If I can, I’ll lift weights.  If I can’t, I just won’t.  And either way my training won’t suffer.  My healthy and committed mojo is back.  Turns out it was life that had stolen it in the first place and I just wrestled it back.  Go, me!  Now maybe I’ll quit feeling sorry for myself and watching TV at night instead of writing and get my first draft finished in the near future…  Imagine writing every night fueled by the endorphins of an amazing run.  I sure can!

By the way, thanks for sticking with me through the whining and bitching times… I can be such a pain when I can’t run!


Let’s talk food

It’s been twelve weeks – and then some – since I started working with my nutritionist and it is still the best money I’ve ever spent on my path to wellness… well, if you don’t count my running shoes!  I learned so much that I thought I’d share some of the journey.

It started off with a test to see what my resting metabolic rate was so I would know exactly what kinds of calorie requirements I personally need.  Sitting in a chair, doing absolutely nothing, my body burns fifteen hundred calories a day.  Wow, so that means the twelve hundred calories I’d been thinking was a target – IF I counted calories – was way too low.  Plus, the frightening dose of reality was that according to the metabolic test I was super close to being pre-diabetic.  My body burned more sugar than fat even when I was at rest.  This was not good, and the main reason I decided the money would be worth it to educate myself.  I’d been a hard core runner for over a year and to see these numbers proved I was missing a very important piece of the puzzle.  (I guess my trainer I wanted to blame was right after all…)

The twelve week program started with my nutritionist extraordinaire interviewing me about how I eat and giving me a plan of how healthy people eat which, turns out, were completely opposite.  I wasn’t eating enough of anything and I wasn’t eating them in the proper ratios.  Remember my fifteen hundred calorie metabolism at rest?  I was only eating about eight hundred a day when we broke down what I ate into calories.  No wonder I wasn’t losing weight!  I wasn’t even meeting my minimum caloric requirements for being sedentary and then was running five days a week and lifting weights three times a week.  All these factors combined to my poor body being in starvation mode and holding on dearly to every last fat cell I had left thinking we’d never have enough ever again.  I needed tons more protein – which luckily I can get from things OTHER than meat since I’m not a huge fan.  I needed less dairy, okay, no dairy; and no sugar.  I needed to eat different fruits that weren’t so high in natural sugars – bye bye bananas and pineapple.  And I needed way more vegetables, which I already knew going into it.  Three weeks later I had dropped five pounds and felt better than I ever have in memory.  I had so much more energy and my running was better and I was sleeping better and my skin looked better.  Everything was better.

After the first visit where we laid out the eating plan, the meetings with him were more like therapy.  Not that I’ve ever had therapy before but it was like how it looks in the movies.  We talked about how I was feeling, about what I was eating, if I was missing anything that I couldn’t eat and all the emotions around food that most people have.  About halfway through the whole program the aha moment came where I realized this wasn’t some diet I was on with an ending date – like HCG – but how I would eat the rest of my life.  If I stuck to “the plan” ninety percent of the time, I could lose weight.  If I stuck to it eighty percent of the time I could maintain.  It didn’t mean I could never have a glass of milk or a sugary treat, just that I needed to make conscious choices about when I ate them and know going into it rather than just eating and giving no thought to what I would feel like afterward. 

The most memorable conversation was when he told me I was pretty much over all the emotional ties I had with food and that I could now add in two “free” meals a week instead of sticking rigidly to the plan, but within reason.  He asked me what my favorite meal was – where I would go and what I would eat if I didn’t care about nutrition.  That’s easy: I’d go to Olive Garden and have a pasta dish with cream sauce, bread sticks dipped in Alfredo sauce, wine, and of course dessert. And then he told me it would take ten HOURS – TEN – running on a treadmill to burn off the calories in that one meal.  Ouch!

It is amazing the transformation my relationship with food has taken since that conversation.  Yes, I still go out but I make sure I have a dish that has mostly protein and I usually skip the bread basket before dinner and the dessert after unless someone will share so I only eat a few bites.  I eat a lot of balanced meal replacement shakes and tons of fresh veggies.  We eat mostly whole foods rather than processed; and veggies, not starch, are the main components.  I don’t miss milk or cheese – which was a total surprise since I LOVED milk.  I eat a ton of eggs because they are my preferred choice of protein.  And, when my daughter asked me the other day what my favorite food was, I couldn’t answer her.  Food isn’t that important to me anymore to even have a favorite.  It is a means to an end.  A way to fuel my body for the activities I want to do.  Nothing more.  This from an Italian girl who was obsessed with food a mere year ago.

It amazes me the amount of money that is spent in marketing and creating foods that have been processed so much that it isn’t really food anymore.  By leaving all of that behind I’ve gone back to food the way nature intended and evolved to nourish the human body.  The difference is amazing in both how I feel and how I will look when I’m finally rid of the last stubborn fat cells my body no longer needs to hold onto instinctively because I am properly fueling it for everything I am doing. 

After three months of eating well and not dieting – which means not sticking to the eating plan formula more than about 75% of the time, I have maintained my weight and still lost a few inches from toning and building muscle mass.  I was so thrilled and am now committed to my own personal twelve week challenge to stick with the plan 90% of the time.  I know I already look amazingly better than I did when I started this whole fitness fad back in 2008 but until I am completely happy with how I look in a swimsuit the journey cannot be considered finished.  Of course, do you actually know a single woman who can’t find something to scrutinize about her body in a swimsuit?  Could be a long time before I’m completely satisfied but at least I’ll be happy and healthy getting there!


Spring has sprung… and I’m all over the place

It’s the first official day of spring today!  Which is not such a happy time for me since now I get to suffer with seasonal allergies… you’ll forgive me if I’m not overjoyed with the rest of the world to be leaving winter behind.  I added the allergy pill this weekend to the morning handful of supplements I’m taking now thanks to my nutritionist.  I don’t really have anything to bitch about today so instead I’ll regale you with what’s been happening in my crazy day to day life.

First, the nutritionist…  What a lovely and totally-worth-the-price addition to my life!  Turns out when I started actually tracking what I’m eating I was only giving my body about 800 calories a day.  That on top of working out all the time is NOT a good way to lose weight.  After a week of properly fueling my body for basic living as well as all the exercise, I not only feel better but I’ve started to see the number on the scale inching down.  No, lovely doesn’t begin to describe it – it’s fucking amazing!  Knowledge is power, people.  Remember that!

Next, running…  It’s no secret I’m in full swing of my intense training routine for my upcoming relay race.  The organizers put together two training programs and I figured they should know better than I what kinds of things I need to prepare for so I’m following them.  The first is for a beginner who “hasn’t been doing any running”.  Well, that doesn’t apply to me and good thing since it has running in MINUTE increments.  I’m used to MILE increments.  The other one, “for the runner who is already running an average of 10-20 miles a week”, was more my speed so I picked that one.  Well apparently if you slack for a week and then try to pick up where you are supposed to be, it results in strained knees.  After my disastrous attempted run last week I rested up and bitched a lot about why I was semi-injured this week.  Because I’m a data and gadget geek, I could go back to my logged data and see that I had actually doubled my mileage the week before with the warmer weather allowing me to run outdoors in the evenings instead of at work in my measly hour I’m allowed to squeeze out of my workday.  Oopsie!  Happily, I only needed to rest a bit and I felt amazing on my outdoor run yesterday.  Back on track and paying attention now.  Must stay healthy!

And finally, writing…  I haven’t been doing much writing lately unless you count my humble blog here.  Let’s face it, my life just doesn’t have enough hours in it to do much more at the moment.  My writer’s group has changed things up a bit this year and to keep up writing we are now doing writing prompts which will allow us to focus on specific tools (like dialog, description, etc.) and improve without having to commit to completing a manuscript.  I have one I have to work on this week and the thought of it makes me happy.  The one of us in said writing group who actually has been writing the past year just got signed with a publisher.  I’m ecstatic for her – and truth be told just a little bit jealous.  Knowing that the dream can be, in fact, reality if you work hard at it (and write a damn good book) makes me want to write more than I have been.  I need to find a way to multi-task my writing into my life like I did with reading.  Which, by the way, have you noticed that there are more than book club books in my list of books I’ve read so far this year?  I LOVE being a reader again – thank you audible.com!  If only I wouldn’t look (and sound) like a freak dictating a book while I’m running.  And if only voice recognition software would work with a heavy breathing runner.  A girl’s got to dream, right?


Emotional setbacks and rediscovery

It has been a roller coaster of emotions for me the last few weeks in the physical fitness department.  Topped off with a seriously depressing climax last week.  And as I’ve said before I wouldn’t be an honest blogger if I didn’t share the bad times as well as the good.  So here goes….

Remember Hubby and I both started HCG together and quit early because neither could give up the gym and are training for the same upcoming relay race.  I’m so glad we’re both committed to living more healthily since it would be much harder to make healthy choices alone – which I’ve had to do in the past.  Plus, it is amazing to see a smile on his face now that he can play basketball again – something he thought would never happen with a bad back and recent ACL replacement.  He was always very active before his injuries and it’s no surprise that he bounced back quickly.  He’s lost thirty pounds and is back to looking like the Greek god I married sixteen years ago. 

All well and good except when I find myself comparing my slower results (which makes them feel like non-results) to his lickety-split total body transformation.  And feeling very jealous.  And resentful.  Such a girl response, I know.

Seriously, I’m happy for him.  Except I also hate him for it because it was so quick and easy while I work my ass of for less noticeable results.

Last month I worked with a trainer who laid out all my workouts for me and kept me accountable with weekly communication on how I’d stuck with it.  And I made it a very conscious choice to cut out all the bad stuff that I know I shouldn’t eat – like desserts at lunch and sweets at night.  I felt like it made a huge difference.  Lifting weights has my upper body noticeably if not visibly leaner – I had to tighten my chest strap on my heart rate monitor, I can fit my upper arms in a shirt I’ve been hoarding and hoping to wear eventually and I can fit more comfortably in my bras. (Yah, less back fat!) So when it came time last week to see my trainer and do my assessment to see my progress in numbers and data I was less than happy to see that nothing had changed.  Nothing.  And according to her I’d actually gained body fat in my body composition.  How the hell does that happen?  I lifted weights three times a week, ran 15-20 miles a week on average and your numbers say that I gained fat?  What the fuck?

I won’t lie.  There were tears… There was more than one f-bomb…  There were several outbursts with the words “bull shit”.  All born from frustration since I expected it to be much better news after such efforts.  And after working this hard I want results like Hubby has, damn it!

I partially feel bad for my poor trainer who, two months in a row now, has had me in tears at our monthly assessment appointments.  Last month she talked me into signing up with her for a month of coaching.  Which didn’t work.  And this month got me scheduled for my RMR testing – Resting Metabolic Rate – which I did Saturday and led to me signed up for a 9-week program with a nutritionist. (It makes sense… I’m exercising six times a week, both cardio and weights, and I should be dropping the weight like Hubby.  Since I’m not, I have to look at the nutritional aspect of it.  Preliminary discussions with both the trainer and the nutritionist have them thinking that I’m under eating.  Lovely… then where’s the cookies?)  But I also am a bit unhappy with my trainer for not first focusing on the good things that I had to find out for myself by looking at my data AFTER I got home.  My upper body strength rating has gone from 50 to 63 in just one month.  My sit and reach rating has gone from 10 to 12 in a month.  My VO2 lung capacity has gone from 27 to 29 – in a month!  But what did we focus on?  Just the bad… I was disappointed looking back since that’s not the kind of motivation I want or need.

At the same time, something a good friend said had me wondering.  She made the comment that she thought her trainer fudged her numbers to get her to sign up for more training.  Fudged as in made them sound better than she thought they were.  I’m sure she said it in jest but the logical animal that I am started analyzing my data collecting.  The body composition number is calculated by a three-site skin fold reading with calipers.  They have a fancy shmancy one attached to a computer plus cheesy manual ones.  I’ve done these readings three times now.  The first time, sites one and two were computer read, the third manual (since I had my slippery pants on and it kept sliding off).  The second time, all three sites were computer read (no slippery pants).  This last time, all three were manual readings.  I’m thinking that the inconsistency of the data collection not ever being the exact same method has to be a factor.  Right?  Plus, why is this the only thing measured?  Oh, and two of the sites are skin to caliper but the other is over my pants?  Seems less than scientific in my mind.

It’s human to want to have some external factor to blame and I’m not discounting that this train of thought might just be rationalization.  If it is, I’m fine with that. This is just my ranting and raving and trying to deal with the shit my way anyway, right?

Thank god I’m an analytical, data-hungry girl and for years now have done basically quarterly and sometimes monthly measurements.  These measurements – in my handy dandy spreadsheet – give me valuable insight into how my efforts are actually paying off.  While I wanted to just throw in the towel, say to hell with it all and grab a pint of ice cream with a side of girl scout cookies (because either way I’m not losing weight!) instead I did my monthly measurements.  Because despite it all I was curious.

I’m so glad I did!  Guess what – I’ve lost inches everywhere except my thighs which have stayed the same.  AND, I’m thinner according to the measurements than I was at my lowest scale weight a year ago.  Which means I’ve added twenty pounds of pure muscle thanks to my efforts over the past year.  Go me!  Definitely not the dismal picture painted by the earlier skewed or at least questionable numbers.

Another aspect of my roller coaster ride came to light last week when I realized that I no longer look forward with joyous anticipation to my runs.  Really?  I love to run!  I used to wake up in the morning and immediately start thinking about when I was going to get to run that day.  Now I’ve skipped a couple due to lack of motivation.  So I started taking stock and trying to determine what is different.  The only thing that has changed is that instead of just running and concentrating on how many miles I need to run, I’ve been doing what the trainer has told me to do for heart rate zone training.  I am a short girl at five foot two inches with squatty legs, which means I can’t run very fast anyway.  And now I’m having to run slower to keep my heart rate in the “right” zone.  My legs hurt more from running slower and I’m just not having any fun when I have to worry about how high my heart rate is going.  I thought it was worth it because keeping my heart rate in the proper zone to burn more fat was the goal.  But it clearly hasn’t given me the trade off I was expecting.

Yesterday it all changed.  I headed out on an eight mile run.  Before I left I mapped out my route using the MapMyRun website.  I strapped on my heart rate monitor so I could make sure I stayed in zone two and three so I was at least aerobic in my efforts.  I charged up my iPod for an hour so it would have a full battery for the two hours it was required to play for.  And I fired up my cool new app on my Droid phone to see exactly how far I went according to GPS so I could calibrate my Nike+ foot sensor when I got back – because I don’t think it is calculating my mileage accurately lately.  Yes, I’m a gadget geek.  Are you really surprised?

Halfway through my chilly, mildly rainy run, right after it turned mostly uphill with a headwind… yeah, it was not really fun at that point… my heart rate monitor stopped registering on my watch.  I tried to fiddle with the strap through my clothes and finally gave up.  About ten minutes later my GPS lost the signal from the satellite so no data to calibrate with my foot sensor.  SHIT!  Twenty minutes later after forty minutes of sustained uphill – have I mentioned how much I hate uphill running? – with the wind strongly blowing into my face I stopped, screamed FUCK YOU into the wind at the top of my lungs, and turned around to go back the way I came instead of finishing out my loop.  About five minutes later my iPod battery died.

Seriously?  Are you kidding me?!?!  EVERY. SINGLE. GADGET.  With the exception of my Nike+ which I was questioning before I even left.

Turns out, it was the Universe talking to me… 

With no gadgets to obsess about, no hill to be running up and the wind at my back I rediscovered how much I love to run.  Just run.  Not caring about how fast my damn heart is beating.  Because guess what, if it is beating too high and I’m up in the anaerobic regions I get out of breath and I naturally slow down.  And who cares how far I go when I go except for bragging rights on Facebook and Twitter and as a way to gauge how soon I’ll need a new pair of running shoes.  Without the iPod distraction I even noticed the wheat fields and horse corrals I was running past which I have only vaguely registered before.  That horse running around the corral?  It was super pretty with it’s mane and tail swishing spiritedly.  Thank you, Universe… I’m listening.

I’m going back to basics and, other than the nutritionist, I’m not dropping any more money in personal training and gimmicks at the gym.  I’m a smart girl… I can google workouts for weight training and I can read articles on how to improve speed and endurance for my running.  Hell, there’s probably an app for that, too, I just have to look!  And without all the pressure to perform perfectly I might just relax and have some fun while I’m at it.

So while this particular roller coaster ride of emotions had me feeling more down than up, I have turned it around and am re-focused on me and the things that I want to do.  Do I still secretly hate hearing that number read off joyously every morning when Hubby steps on the scale?  Of course… I’m a chick!  But it doesn’t have to stab me in the heart anymore because I know how exciting it is to see results and I want that for him as much as I want it for me.  Maybe the stress released by this decision will free up some of my stubborn fat cells… they say stress will inhibit weight loss after all.  Either way, here’s to a much more enjoyable month ahead with more measurable results for my efforts!


Love Your Body… Challenge

I’ve been thinking about this post all week, prompted by a random friend of a friend who posted on Facebook about her and her sister discussing how all women hate their bodies and wondering how to turn it around with their own daughters who, when asked, couldn’t come up with a single thing they loved about their bodies.  So, this week became the Love Your Body Challenge Week – you know, like when something makes you think and then you can’t stop thinking about it?  And then it takes on the all capitals version in your head?  Yeah, like that.

First, the good news – I asked Big Sister the question and am very happy to report she had a long list of things she liked about her body which included legs and stomach and all the things that most women wouldn’t love.  I was worried she would, at the tender age of nine, already have a complex about all sorts of things.  Especially since just last week she said “I’m fat, Mommy” while patting her lean little – extremely flat – dancer tummy.  Yeah, right… NOT!  Which prompted a twenty minute discussion about how just because other girls at dance have different bodies and shapes she is definitely NOT fat.  I didn’t even have to resort to Google to find images of obesity to illustrate my point.  Thank god! *shudder*  We do watch Biggest Loser after all, maybe that is helping?

But then I started thinking about my own body.  And how I don’t really love it.  And how obsessed I am about changing practically everything about it.  And how I’ve basically been on a diet for the last twenty years.  It WAS a challenge to find more than one thing that I like about my body.  The first thing was easy:  I. LOVE. MY. RACK.  Yes, that rack.  I have an awesome rack and even after two babies it still kicks ass.  But beyond that, what is there really to love?  I don’t have a flat stomach – yet.  I don’t have lean and amazing legs – yet.  I don’t even have great shoulders or upper arms – yet.  But all these things I hate are getting better slowly and I have no doubt that at some point (hopefully in the near future) my efforts at the gym will transform everything about my body that I still don’t completely love.  See, that list was effortless – which is kind of the point.

So, here are all the things that I DO love about my body – which will take you moments to read and which took me an entire week to come up with, which is kind of pathetic but hey, a step in the right direction, right?

1.  I have amazingly strong legs.  Legs that can run for 10 miles on any given Sunday and (at least once) 13.1 miles of a half-marathon.
2.  I have beautiful green eyes.
3.  I have awesome and thick naturally curly hair.  The fact that my unruly curls are in the love vs. hate column is a miracle in itself.  I spent 36 years straightening every day and loathing everything about my hair.  Now, I have embraced my curls.  I even appreciate how my long dark locks curl on their own with no effort on my part.  It literally takes me 5 minutes  in the morning now that I have found the right combination of NOT combing after the shower and the proper hair products.  It’s also a perk that my hair is thick and “big” enough with the curls that I can run 5 miles, look like a sweaty pig, take the pony tail out, shake, and go.  Voile! All the bigness covers up the inch of sweat at the scalp.  Beautiful!
4.  I have cute ears that don’t stick out.
5.  I have great lungs – hey, that’s part of my body, right?  And without them, I couldn’t run so they count.
6.  I have a nice nose – which knowing that I’m Italian and could have gotten Dad’s shnoz is much more of a perk than you might think.
7.  I already mentioned the rack, right?  My all natural D’s should be at the very top of the list but I don’t want to seem like an obsessed porn queen.
8.  I have great eye lashes – long and thick and dark.
9.  I have great lips – not too full, not too thin, and great for kissing.
10.  I have great proportions to my body.  When I tone it all up, it will be amazing.  My torso is the perfect length, my shoulders are narrow, I’m not too tall and not too short.

I challenged myself to come up with ten things.  Some are smaller things than others and I wish I could go on and on about all the great parts of my body but most of them are still covered in a thin layer of fat which has me still not loving them.  But, underneath that last twenty or so pounds my muscles are getting stronger and more defined and hopefully by summer swimsuit weather I will have a much longer list of things I love.  It is getting easier to look appreciatively in the mirror and notice the results of my efforts.  And, it’s already time for new jeans since all the ones I own are getting saggy in the butt.  And I had to tighten the chest strap on my heart rate monitor last week because it wasn’t working anymore.  Some days the proof is in the pants, some days it’s in the chest strap.  I’ll take whatever proof I can get.  The scale is still just a number that doesn’t define me – I want to be fit and muscled, not thin and waif-y after all.

So, what do you love about your body?  And if you have an easier time listing the things you hate, I challenge you to find ten things you love.  Yes, your eyes and toes can count!  Here’s to focusing on the good in all of us and leaving the super model ideal to the professionals – there are only like nine of them in the world after all so why would that be considered the norm anyway?


Hard work proof and a roller-coaster ride

Day six of HCG included a trip to the gym for a cardiovascular metabolic test and a mild trip into the realm of insanity.  I strapped a freaky looking mask on my face connected to a computer to measure the amount of air I took in and analyze the gases I exhaled and ran on the treadmill for a few minutes.  Coupled with my heart rate monitor it tested exactly how MY body burns fat as well as my recovery heart rate and lung’s oxygen capacity.  I was excited and – let’s be honest – a little amazed at the results.  My body burns fat longer than the average person, I have a phenomenal recovery heart rate and an awesome lung capacity.  The tester said “I can tell you’re a runner and you’ve been working hard” which totally vindicated me and made me almost tear up.  There it was, scientific and personal proof that I am in the best shape of my entire life.

So what the fuck am I doing HCG for?

I had already been struggling with the thoughts of putting my gym time on hold for three weeks while I took shots and ate like I was a starving Ethiopian.  And now I find out exactly how to work out more efficiently for MY BODY to burn more fat yet can’t do it?  I had a serious melt-down.

You see, based on the few runs I had done with my new handy dandy heart-rate monitor I know exactly what heart-rate range I typically run in.  And it turns out it isn’t in the fat burning zone.  Which on the one had was an exciting discovery because it explained why I was averaging 20 miles a week and yet not really losing any weight.  On the other hand, it means I have to change the way I run if I want to see the results in my body that I started running for.  Either way, though, there’s that damn HCG which means no running at all for me for weeks.

Hubby came home that night and I came clean with him that I was thinking about stopping the shots early.  This was my third round of HCG and I was only losing about a pound a day in the first week which was less than half what I was used to doing with the other two rounds.  I remembered the frustration of the diet without weight loss from the 40-day round in 2010 and I didn’t want to relive that pain.  Hubby talked me off the ledge reminding me how long it would take at the gym to lose even 5 pounds a week and I went to bed feeling like an alcoholic must feel – I’d gotten through the day and I could go on if I just took it one day at a time.

Until the very next night when Hubby came home on the weak side of the roller coaster and instead of me taking the opposing role and telling him “we could do it” and “look at how much it is going to be worth it”, I said “you’re right let’s quit!”  We discussed and schemed and went back and forth trying to figure out the best thing to do and in the end we both caved.  Hubby had already lost the15 pounds he wanted to (yes, I hated him just a little for that number in a week but he’s a man so whatever!) and I knew I didn’t have it in me to give up running for that long.  We didn’t want to waste the money we’d spent on the HCG so we found a new home for what was left – a fellow HCG’er I knew who was in a frame of mind to start the shots right away before they lost their potency – and we handed what was left over to her.  And promptly started dreaming of all the things we could eat three days later when we entered the maintenance phase and got back everything except starch and sugar.  Those were the hardest three days ever but just because we stopped early doesn’t mean we aren’t going to follow the protocol.

I never thought it would feel so good to be a quitter!

I ran four and a half miles today in my new-found fat-burning zone, not caring that it was like 4-minutes per mile slower than I’m used to running, did yoga yesterday and am never looking back.  Seriously, I am at the gym six days a week between our new gym and the fitness center at work which is a habit I am not anticipating breaking anytime in the near future.  Hubby and I both chalked up our one week trip into insanity as proof that we have certainly changed our lifestyle and are choosing the slow and steady wins the race approach to losing the last little bit of fat we want to rid ourselves of – and boy did we relish those eggs this morning!

So while I still sing the praises of HCG and recommend it to anyone interested in it, I no longer personally need it as a jump start to a healthy lifestyle – it served it’s purpose and I’m happy to never look back.  In the course of two and a half years I have completely changed my life and I couldn’t have done it without HCG.


A glutton for punishment kicks off 2011

Bet you never thought you’d hear this from me again…. I just started another round of HCG.  This time with Hubby in tow.  I kicked it off with a goodbye run of eight miles on the treadmills at our amazing gym – did I mention they go DOWNHILL?!? – since I can’t run for three weeks (remind me to tell you about that later!).  I’ve been working out with weight training added to my running program but the holidays are always a struggle with my sweet tooth.  Once I give in and sample the delectable baked goods from my sister’s kitchen, it’s all over and I can’t get enough – like a ravenous monkey desperately foraging for mites on every surface I can find.  You get the picture.

I want to say that putting on a few pounds over the holidays was my motivating factor for embarking again on this journey but I’ve been planning on it for several months now.  I solely blame my need for instant gratification.  Seeing the pounds and inches melt off of me in the three-weeks of hell doing this protocol makes it SO worth it.  And having to wait the months it would take to see the same results at the gym would just suck.  So, I’m squeezing in a three-week bout in hell between New Years and Jan 28th when the official start of Ragnar training begins for the insanity I have scheduled in June.

Except that might not have been the case and now it is totally a bittersweet journey!

You see, the first thing you do is take measurements for “before” and “after” kinds of comparisons.  I really like measurements as a guideline of how well you’re doing on weight loss or maintenance because the scale is unreliable once you start building muscle and so I do measurements about once a quarter.  (Does this make me obsessive?  It sure sounds like it when I put it down in writing!)  So on “Day One” I faithfully pulled out the measuring tape and dutifully recorded my measurements.  And then, as is my nature, I promptly plugged them into my nifty spreadsheet which compares the current data to the previous measurement and overall from the first set of recorded measurements.  I know, I’m a total geek but I’ve accepted it by now and so should you!

And that’s when things got interesting.  You see, my last set of measurements were from the first of December – at the end of a 90-day challenge I’d participated in with a group of friends intended to keep each other motivated to work out and make good food choices.  I kind of slacked off a bit  toward the end and it was only the ending measurements compared to the beginning ones that made it worth doing since even though I had been a bit of a slacker I had still lost overall inches – but the scale read higher at the end.  (Another piece of evidence supporting the claim that people should just throw the scale away and never step on it!)  Anyway…  the number on the scale had continued to slowly creep up – like 4 pounds – over the course of December compliments of all the sweets I just ate and ate for like two weeks.  This was exactly why I was looking forward to the fresh, whole foods of the HCG diet being forced on myself.  I knew I’d gotten off track so I just recorded the numbers, not letting them mean anything, and forgot about it.  But when I was plugging them into the spreadsheet, guess what?!?  I might have gained “weight” according to the scale but according to the measurements I had actually lost – in all the right places like my hips and thighs and bust (which for me includes a bit of “back fat” I haven’t rid myself of yet).  WTF?!  You mean I ate and ate sweets and because I was going to the gym regularly I was still thinner?  But I didn’t know and now I’ve started HCG and I can’t run and can only do light weights?!?  For THREE WEEKS?!

*SIGH*

So the rationalizing queen inside of me started thinking of all the ways I could still work out even while on this crazy protocol.  I can’t run, but I CAN walk.  I can’t do strenuous weight lifting, but I COULD do a little circuit of weights slowly, three times a week.  Right?  We’ll see how much energy I have for the weights but I’m for sure walking every chance I get!  Maybe combining the two things that work will get me even more amazing results?!?  We’ll see!

The other crazy part of embarking on this journey again is that my carnivorous hubby is doing it with me.  He’s a hottie – I won’t lie – with the body of a Greek god and most people who know him will be shocked.  But, he injured his back ten years ago and blew out is ACL a couple of years ago and it all adds up to slowing down for him which means he’s getting a little thick around the waist.  I’m not one to judge – you say you want to slim down and you know it works because you’ve watched me do it, then great! It will be way easier to do it together than cooking two meals for dinner, that’s for sure!  But then there’s the part you don’t know – he eats a lot.  And he’s a meat and potatoes kind of a guy.  But potatoes are forbidden for the next six weeks in any form.  And red meat is a no-no for the next three.  Yes, he can have chicken but only a single serving – which is 3.5 ounces, not pounds.  And the rest of his diet will consist of things that as he puts it “food eats”.  As in, “that’s not food, that’s what food eats” while looking down his nose disdainfully at my pseudo-vegetarian fare.  It should be fun to watch.  Although he has iron-strong will power and will stick to the program like glue, it might be even more miserable for him than for most.

Last time I did this back in April of 2010, I did a 40-day protocol which I swore I would never ever ever do again.  I’m back to the 23-day with the mentality that I can do anything for three weeks.  I’m getting to be an old hat at it, not stressing about the food choices or what I can and can’t eat and even waited until the last day to stock up on the required food items in the refrigerator.  I remember the first time when everything was new and I didn’t know how to eat right and I stressed and obsessed the first couple of days about what I could and couldn’t have.  Not this time, now I’m just impatient for it to be the end so I can hit the road for another run.  Or even the gym! I guess that’s what they mean when they say a lifestyle change:  when you eat pretty much the way you’re supposed to in order to maintain your health even when you’re not on a diet!

Speaking of the gym… running 8 miles on a treadmill is only enjoyable with a good running playlist on the iPod and interesting people to watch.  Yes, I’m a people watcher in addition to my sarcasm who rarely filters what I think from coming out my mouth.  It makes for some interesting times usually.  The gym is no exception and when you’re on a treadmill for almost two hours there are lots of people who come and go.  I thought it was fun to watch the obsessive couple with their print-outs from what I assume was some kind of training program fiddling with the intervals – uphill, downhill, fast, slow and do it all over again.  Then there was the entertainment factor of those tiny women with their perfect hair and spiffy workout clothes who walked but not fast enough to actually need to pull their hair up or produce any sweat to mar their perfect outfit;  the guy who ran a long time dripping sweat; the hard body chick who didn’t bother with a shirt over her sports bra so she could prove without a doubt how little body fat there was jiggling around and all the people in between.  It even made the irritation of the treadmill automatically going into cool down after an hour easier to bear.  I thought passing two hours on a treadmill would suck but it didn’t – and I’m sure my facial expressions as I watched the people around me provided some entertainment for other people watchers if they were looking.

So, here’s to the craziest beginning of a new year I have recollection of.  And here’s to it going fast so I can get back to “normal” again with at least another twenty pounds gone forever!  Happy New Year!


Merry Christmas to ME – selfishness of the season

‘Tis the season!  I am a very giving person (although I don’t share well with others, just ask my sister) and typically am completely focused on others during the holiday season.  But this year the hubby and I did something big for ourselves for Christmas.  We joined a gym. Not just any gym either, the “Caesar’s Palace of Gyms” as Hubby calls it.  Yes, I shopped for everyone on the list and then some and I know that this is the wrong time of year to be purchasing things for yourself – or so my Mom always told me – but they have treadmills that go downhill!  And to add on a child under 12 it only costs $6 a month for which you get two hours – TWO HOURS A DAY – every day of free daycare while you’re working out.  Plus it is open 24 hours a day 7 days a week – something that “24 Hour Fitness” cannot even boast – which is important to Hubby who occasionally works the night shift and needs something to do while we are all sleeping but he’s not working.  Then there’s the amazing pools that are open for family swim time almost every day that Big Sister will love, a rock climbing wall she’s already hooked on, and a monthly “parent’s night out” where you drop your kids off for some fabulous activity and then YOU. GO. OUT!

Hubby has been begging and pleading and dropping hints and finagling and scheming for ways to convince me to join this club since it opened several years ago.  I always heard the amenities and assumed it was way out of our price league and dismissed it.  Now, however, I’m a full-blown runner who wants to run 3-5 days a week regardless of the weather who has been hampered by snow at least twice already and it isn’t even officially winter yet.  So, I relented in going for a tour.  And of course it was amazing – the yoga classes are included – even the heated ones – and they have Pilate machines and did I mention the treadmills that go downhill too?!?  Of course they sweeten the deal in December by waiving fees and cutting others in half and we were suckers for the hard sell after the tour.  But, there has not been any buyer’s remorse and we spent seven hours there last Saturday. 

Seven hours. 

Now before you call for a running intervention, let me break down those seven hours…  First we had the event “Breakfast with Santa” where you could bring non-member friends (Big Sister opted to bring the BFF of course!) After breakfast, the girls got to enjoy the bounce houses, see Santa, make ornaments for the tree, decorate cookies and even meet “Santa Paws” the dog.  We also took our neighbors in a shameless effort to convince them how crazy cool the club is so they would join too – not sure if that worked or not but we are hopeful…  After the event was over, we dropped the girls off at the Kid’s Club (aka, daycare) for two hours while we met with our trainers for our first evaluation and orientation and then Hubby played basketball and I worked out.  Then we grabbed the girls, had some healthy lunch in the cafe and hit the pool for Family Swim.  Before we knew it three hours had passed in the pool with the two of them having fun while Hubby and I took turns tag-teaming between the kiddie pool and the lap pool/hot tub.  By the time we hit the showers and headed for home it had been seven hours of fabulousness and we were all exhausted.

What a lifestyle kind of place rather than just a place to go to work out and I know we will be super happy there.  Big Sister is counting the years (she has three left) until she can do spin class and yoga with Mom and asking if we can go to the gym to swim or climb the rock wall every day.  I’m apprehensive about my first experience at spin class coming up tonight and REALLY looking forward to a treadmill run that can actually mimic outdoor terrain and not just go UP hill!

Looking back on my life “before running” I can see that I’m a different person – one who thinks a big chunk of cash every month to belong to a health club is a valid use of financial resources; one who schedules time in the calendar to work out 5 days a week and sticks to it.  And most important, one who is healthier and fitter and a good example to my girls as they grow up.  So while, yes, the membership itself was a selfish gift bought at an inappropriate time, it is a gift that will keep on giving and I refuse to feel bad about it for a single minute.  Happy Holidays – we’re celebrating Yule today – of whichever flavor you prefer!


Goals… okay, fine!

Normally, I scoff at goal-setters.  (Sorry if you are one of them, don’t take it personally!)  I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of a girl – always have been and always will be.  It is way more fun that way and I tend to avoid all guilt by not thinking too hard about life and the choices I make day to day.  I never look back or over-analyze what I’ve done for the same reasons.  Except now I am conceding that sometimes goals and all that come with them might be necessary – at least in some aspects of life.

Why the change?  I wrote again last night… only 30 new words but they are 30 more than if I hadn’t told myself that – no matter what – I have to write something every day.  A daily writing goal, if you will.  I figured I would start out small – no word count I had to make, no looming milestone to intimidate.  Just write every day.  Every. Single. Day.

It felt so good writing again and, although I have come to terms that I must go back to the beginning of my manuscript and totally revise it before I can go on, at least I know what my plans are so I can get busy getting it done.  I WILL have the first draft of my first novel complete before November 1st.  (What’s this?  Another goal?)  In hindsight I am such a better writer than when I started last year so I would have to revise anyway – I’m merely saving myself some of the work for draft two by doing it now.  Kind of like ripping the bandaid off…  The best part is that my characters are whispering to me again – or rather I’m listening for them again – which I worried wouldn’t happen since I’d been ignoring them for so long.

In many ways, it is my running that taught me this lesson I can now apply to other areas of life…  I am following a training program designed for people who have never run a half marathon.  It tells me exactly what to do every day.  And even though I look at it on paper and think “What the Fuck have I gotten myself into?”, when the day comes and it says run 3.5 miles (like today) and I’m still sore from my 5-mile run on Sunday – like I can barely walk down the stairs to get to the gym at work – I still did it and felt great doing it.

If I didn’t have a goal to run a specific distance by a specific date, I wouldn’t push myself.  Having the steps laid out for me on how to get there allows it to happen gradually one step at a time.  Without it, I might still be struggling to run for more than 10 minutes at a time instead of being able to run for more than an hour.  That last sentence was purely for me – since I have to focus on how far I’ve come rather than how far I have to go.  Easier and more productive to think “wow, I ran 5 miles in an hour and 11 minutes which is an hour longer than I could run at all 3 months ago” than “OMG, it just took me over an hour to run 5 miles, how am I going to run 13.1 in 2 months?!?” which is how I really feel inside when I think about my half marathon.

What will get me to the finish is doing the small steps every day.

So, lesson learned is that sometimes goals are important – not in the Franklin-Covey-plan-every-single-minute-of-your-day-based-around-a-goal-in-every-aspect-of-your-life way but maybe just for the really important things.  And that, when measuring progress, sometimes it is better to look back and acknowledge how far you’ve come rather than fixating on how far you have left to go.


The new bod

I’ve said it before: the proof is in the pants – and it is still true.

I just finished the maintenance phase of my last round of HCG protocol.  In a nutshell, HCG has three phases.  Phase 1, you do daily shots and eat a very restricted diet and then phase 2 (or maintenance) is three weeks of “no starch and no sugar”.  This gives your hypothalamus time to rest from the intensity of phase 1 as well as establish a new set point for your ‘normal’ weight.  This set point is the place you now yo yo back and forth from but always return to.  (For more details about how the whole HCG thing works, you can read the research from the doctor who developed it here.)  Phase 3 is “normal” eating with your new habits.

We all know from my previous lamenting posts I did not lose the 40 pounds I wanted to lose in the 40 days of phase 1 I endured and pushed myself through to the bitter end.  But I can’t very well complain about the almost 30 that I lost in just over a month.  There isn’t really supposed to be much fluctuation in phase 2 – no more than 2 pounds either way – so my expectations were low and I did well with my “maintenance” activities.  (I’ve gotten REALLY good at finding “no sugar added” ice cream in the city!)

One night, at the end of phase 1 or the beginning of phase 2, my sister and I went through all the pants in my closet … as deep as they go and as many sizes as I’ve been hoarding… I either donated to charity those that were dismally out of date (the 80’s called and they want their pants back!), handed off to my sister if they didn’t fit anymore since she’s wearing the size I just came out of, or kept in the closet in two categories: the ones that fit now and the ones that are “almost” perfect.  This later category were those pants that I could get my ass into and could do up but that were not quite comfortable once I got to that point.

And then I started running again.  But this time using a set training program with a coach and a 5K goal in August!

This morning I pulled out some pants and put them on and realized they were hanging on me.  Like there was enough room for me to put my baby inside with me for sure and possibly even my eight year old.  How the hell did that happen?  I tried on every pair of slacks I own in one sitting so I wouldn’t have to do this every morning anymore searching for pants that fit!  I chalked it up to a late night with my sister and pulled out another pair.  They fit the same way!  Eventually, several pairs later… (Yes, it took a while!  Don’t judge, I hadn’t had any coffee yet!) I ended up pulling out some of the Capri’s I’ve been dying to wear from that “not quite there” category and guess what!  THEY. FIT. PERFECTLY.

I loved how I felt all day and I had another great run this afternoon completely inspired by how I look and feel in my “new” pants.  That damn scale says I weigh exactly the same as the last day I took a shot three weeks ago but I know I couldn’t wear these pants that day because I tried.  And I can’t lie… I am now one of those women who turns to the side with her butt sticking out in the restroom so I can check how my ass looks in the mirror.  What an amazing feeling – it’s almost as great as knowing I can walk 4 miles pushing my 5 month old in the stroller without batting an eye or straining a body part.

I am still in love with running – happily the affair did not die off on my long hiatus of pregnancy and recovery – and I’m training strong.  I’m preparing for a 5K in August – the first one I’ll run/jog the majority of instead of the other way around.  Hell, at the rate I’m progressing, I’ll be running the entire 5k!  And, more importantly, I’m enjoying my new body as I continue to mold it with running and proper diet.  Bring on the swim suit weather! I’m ready!  Well… at least the shorts and tanks!  Is a woman ever really ready for swimsuit season?


An unlikely source

Yesterday I finally broke through some immense barriers. I had three days of zero weight loss and was feeling very intense emotions. This was worse than only losing every other day – this was three solid days of sticking to it like glue with nothing to show for my efforts! I was talking with my Sister, who is also on the protocol and experiencing her own setbacks with slow results, and she said “why aren’t you using FitDay.com to track what you’re eating?” We were theorizing that our issue might be that we are eating either too few or too many calories. I have never been a calorie counter – just eat real food, not alot of it – so if there’s a tool to make it easier, bring it on. I went to the site and guess what… I already had a free account. Who remembered setting that up but I must have done it after the first time she had mentioned it to me. Incidentally, it really is a cool site – lets you track your food, your activity and daily journal entries and see them all in one daily snapshot. I had exactly one entry – from 2008 – that consisted of a starting weight, a goal weight and a journal entry stating how committed I was to changing my life. It was interesting to read the entry – I’m sure I have a touch or narcisism – but the best part was seeing that I have attained my goal weight already! At the time, it was that ultimate goal that seemed unattainable because I had so far to go. It’s like the weight you put on your driver’s license and hope that someday it can really be true. I’m 50 lbs lighter now than I was in 2008 and pretty damn proud of the fact. Considering that I am a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl who can’t be bothered with setting goals because I’m too busy living for the now, it was amazing to see that I have achieved something I thought back then was next to impossible. It was enough to lift my spirits from the toilet where they had been residing for three days.

Then something else amazing happened. I was taking a new self-portrait so I could put a good hair day out there on Facebook (more narcisism you say?) and I realized that I no longer MUST take the angle from above in order to hide my subtle double chin that always taunted me from photos of myself. That double chin is history, baby! And I realized that I actually have a narrow chin and a long and narrow face once the pudgy cheeks are gone. Who knew?!? The best part about the departure of my ‘fat face’ is that it happened while I was bitching about how slowly I’m losing weight this time around on HCG and lamenting that I want it all to happen NOW NOW NOW. Guess what, it is happening that fast and I just need to be more patient with the whole process. I have 13 days left and I’m looking forward to what they have to bring in transforming me further.

Tonight my new lifestyle was cemented in stone as reality when I look around and realized I was chatting with hubby and friends about running triathalons and 10K’s and 5K’s and half marathons and which ones we want to do culminating with deciding where we’re going to meet on Saturday for the Race for the Cure we are doing together. I love feeling good enough to run out to the car for something I forgot instead of thinking about how much effort it would take me to get up and go all the way out there. I am a healthy woman to my core and I have nothing in the future but more goals met and more milestones reached. Who knew I could get this inspired coming off of a three-day weight loss stall but it happened and I love it!


What the hell was I thinking?

It is day 23 of my current 40-day round of HCG protocol with 17 more to go.  Last time, by day 20 I’d dropped 21 pounds and was pissed I had been talked out of a 40-day cycle because I could have kept going and lost another 20 pounds.  Everyone said it was “too hard” to stick with it for that long and yet it had been a breeze for me with seriously amazing results.  Where am I this time around, you ask?  Well, I’m not down 21 pounds, I’ll tell ya that! 

I’ve lost a total of 16.4 lbs and am on this insane new trend of only losing weight every other day for the last eight days.  Last time it was so easy to stay motivated because I was seeing .8 lbs or more melt away every day.  EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  The meal protocol is so strict and specific and rigid and unforgiving but so very worth it when you see impossible results day after day.  What happens to your mental stamina when you don’t see those results every day is bad.  Very bad.  In the last three days I’ve contemplated quiting at 23 days, been tempted to cheat – something I was never even tempted with last time around, cursed myself for thinking 40-days would be easy, wanted to throw my scale out the plate glass window, and everything in between.  The last week has been rough… no, more like brutal.  I even choked down an apple on Friday to give myself some variety in my fruit since there are only four to choose from and I won’t eat grapefruit.  Ugh, I hate apples!

Today, I decided to really evaluate what I’ve been doing to see if there are perhaps subtle things that could be contributing to the trend. . . and thereby reverse it.  I am a problem-solver by nature, after all.  So, starting today, I am vowing to walk every single day, I’m not eating beef anymore since I ate none of it last round (Hubby will be happy because he just inherited a shit-ton of beef I stocked up on at the local Sam’s Club) and I’m not chewing gum anymore since I didn’t last time.  Hopefully the remaining 17 days will go much smoother and yield me at least 17 mores pounds of weight gone forever before I go on maintenance.  And if they don’t… well, that nuclear meltdown you hear about on the news next week is probably me!

On a positive note… I’m down 16.4 lbs – IN THREE WEEKS – my clothes keep getting looser,  and I look better than I have since before I had my first baby.  Yes, I just bitched for three paragraphs about the slowness of the process this time around but I must not lost sight of how phenomenal the results are regardless of how much I wish they were even better.  HCG is a miracle – one I’m so glad I stumbled upon!  When they say it is a weight loss cure, they aren’t lying…


New Beginnings

First, I am a third of the way done with my current round of HCG injections…  It hasn’t been as easy this time in many ways but I’m still seeing fabulous results and sticking to the protocol like glue.  Day 16 and as of this morning I’ve lost 14 lbs.  I had a couple of days where I didn’t drink enough water and ate the exact same thing for both meals which, I found out the hard way, will both stall the process.  So, two days of zero weight loss that I cannot get back but still pretty amazing.  I’ve never felt better and the smallest size pants in the closet are beginning to hang on me.  By this time next week I’ll need a belt to keep them from falling off and by the end of the 40 days I’ll need a new closet full of clothes.  (Didn’t really think THAT through as I don’t have the cash for an entirely new wardrobe but it’s a problem I won’t mind having!)
Second, I just took my writing to the next level by attending my first ever writer’s conference.  It was a two-day event but I was only able to spend the entire day there on Friday.  One of the add-on options was a program called ‘Boot Camp’ where you take a sample of your writing and you’re paired up with either a published author, an agent or an editor who specializes in your genre plus four other writers.  You read aloud to the group and they all give you feedback.  A very frightening prospect on it’s own to have someone else read your work before you’ve edited the shit out of it and think it is the absolute very best.  But to have to read it – aloud! – to strangers?  Bordering on the terrifying.  A fellow member of my writing group (which I found out should be referred to as a Critique Group in industry-speak but hey, we didn’t know!) both signed up and were there at 7:00 AM on Friday morning.  It was amazing the insight I got out of what Dan Wells (my assigned author) focused on and picked up on to comment about in my writing sample.  The morning itself was worth the price of admission for the entire day and I came away with fresh ideas for a chapter I hadn’t thought about since writing it at the beginning of NaNoWriMo back in November.  After boot camp, we had a full day of conference sessions where we learned how to pitch our work to an agent, address pacing of a story and add emotion to our writing.  They were all very informative but I have to be honest… I walked away Friday night thinking I didn’t really get much out of it and was glad I had done boot camp since THAT was where the real learning had happened.  
At least I thought that until I went back for the second session of boot camp on Saturday morning.  Boy was I wrong…
Just reading the next section of my own – in my mind very polished – manuscript, I found tons of holes and examples of amateur writing I had smugly thought didn’t exist in MY work the day before.  There they were… had been there the entire time and I hadn’t even seen them.  All in the course of 24 hours I became a better writer.  Maybe it was rubbing shoulders with real live published authors (I sound like such a geek, I know it but this is my life and maybe I am a geek.  After all, who else besides a geek dreams of writing a book that one day gets published and spends her days interacting more with a computer than people?  I’m bound to come off sounding geek-ish!)  Or maybe it was the energy of the space and me making the declaration that I am taking myself seriously about this writing business enough to shell out a hundred or so clams of my own money and a weekend of my time.  Whatever it was, I am so excited about the possibilities!
I entered a short-story contest NPR was hosting a couple of weeks ago, I have pretty much figured out how all the story threads tie together so I can finish my first novel, and I have committed to another short story contest with a submission due by May 15th.  Look out, world, I’m a writer!  And one giant leap closer to being a published one at that!