Pants Retirement Ceremony

Today, we bid adieu to the sisters Pants: gray striped, black, and navy.

The pants sisters, retiring to a nice home elsewhere.

The pants sisters, retiring to a nice home elsewhere.

I bought them last year as part of my professional post-weight-loss wardrobe. They served me well for months, enduring a little weight fluctuation, lots of trips to and from the printer, and being cursed at for having no belt loops. Alas, I don’t have the sewing skill to add belt loops that would look like they naturally belong to these pants, even though I now have a sewing machine. And so, the circle of life begins anew, and these pants go on to a new home.

I decided to retire them tonight as I put away laundry because I have purchased 3 new pairs of pants at a thrift store over the last month: gray plaid with a light pink stripe, gray striped, and very dark gray. (Gray may be my favorite color when it comes to clothing. It’s just so damn classy.)

I may have also decided to get rid of them so I could free up space in my closet for new clothes and wouldn’t have to put away those 3 pairs of pants. Yes, I would rather give away clothing than follow through with the laundry. We’ve all been there.

The pants I’m retiring are U.S. size 12s. The new pants I purchased are two in size 10 and one in size 8. Every brand fits a little differently, and I spent a lot of time in the clothing racks plucking out every viable-seeming candidate from a range of sizes before heading to the dressing room and depositing the losers on the return rack.

Unflattering fit aside, what is up with the embroidery?

Unflattering fit aside, what is up with the embroidery?

The retiring pants were all of the same fit and brand, all 3 bought all at the same time, and I am moving them along as a unit. Are they some kind of sisterhood of trousers that journey together? I wouldn’t go that far. But they were, to me, a symbol of the smaller person I was becoming, the first full-price clothing purchase I made of nice clothes for my changing body. I started wearing them less and less as I got better-fitting replacements, and I knew their time was short when I started finding high-quality, gently used trousers at the thrift store that didn’t have to be held up with safety pins.

My new pants, newly washed and hung to dry, will start their new life upholstering my rear end starting tomorrow. Hopefully, it will be a while before I have to hold them up with pins. They do have a major advantage over my old pants: they all have belt loops.

Tape Measure Results

For two years now, I’ve been a participant in Reddit’s 90daysgoal community, where we challenge ourselves in three-month increments to better our fitness, health, food, and anything else. We’re nearing the final check-in for the latest round. On Monday morning, I got out the tape measure and tracked my latest progress. I weigh myself most Mondays, and I measure my neck, waist, and hips about once a month or so. It’s rewarding because I am still making measurable progress in my measurements, despite the scale being kind of stuck for the last two months.

While I was doing physical therapy and just joining the 90daysgoal community, I took a lot of “before” photos and collected tape measure data points from all over my body. Yesterday, I measured again. The changes my body has undergone between November 2011 and October 2013 are amazing, and I’m proud to share the results now.

Measurements, two years on.

Measurements, two years on.

It has its down sides: I gave a bunch of clothes to my sister, who is in the process of losing baby weight, and she looks so much cuter in my shirts and sweaters than I ever did. This is the story of my life. And when I bake delicious desserts, I usually don’t have any, avoiding sugars and starches like my doctor asked me.

Soon, I’ll slip beneath the 150-pound mark, and I’ll be ever closer to my goal weight of 140. I’ve got more work ahead of me before I’ll get into maintenance mode. The marathon of staying healthy once I’ve reached my own arbitrary destination is going to be a somewhat difficult course to stay. Maybe I’ll never be completely satisfied with my results. But I do know that I loved my body when I was working on fixing it, I love it now that I’ve lost fat and am putting on muscle from running, and I’ll love it no matter what changes are wrought by age, time, circumstance, and deliberate action. I’ll never be satisfied, but I’ll never stop trying to be better, and I know I’ll never stop enjoying the fight.

Running On Glass

I’ve been running lately, and so far, it hasn’t killed me or completely destroyed my joints (maybe). Fancy!

With nice end-of-summer weather, I’ve been walking along a quiet, hilly country road that takes me past pastureland and farmland, farm houses, small streams, and churches. I have a sheaf of small stories about the bucolic delights of my exercise, from shutting off my music to better hear Mennonite churchgoers sing hymns in German to collecting red clover for some inquisitive horses to photographing butterflies.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

One day, while walking down a long hill, I tried to pick up the pace a little to get my heart rate up more and to tax my leg muscles more than walking does. That turned into a very light jog. I was surprised, delighted – words you don’t usually use when you talk about working out. “This should stop soon. When is something going to start to hurt?”

I ran for maybe a full minute. As someone who hasn’t tried running since a failed C25K attempt in 2006, a minute felt like a long time to run. I had so much fun that when I caught my breath, I ran again. I didn’t attempt to go up any hills and did a lot of walking, but every time there was a downward slope, I ran a little more. I shaved 15 minutes off my usual 5K walk lap time and soaked in the tub when I got home.

With two jobs, my time is stretched a little thin, so I don’t run more than once or twice a week – which is great for me, as it is probably wise to let my body rest and heal for several days between those workouts.

The ankle brace and knee brace are necessities, of course. I tried running without my ankle brace a little over a week ago, which turned out to be a mistake. I went out on Sunday afternoon, and I had shooting pains in my ankle while I was walking up a hill – to the point where I seriously considered calling my boyfriend to come pick me up. I stopped for a moment and rolled my ankle in circles, tugging on the elastic at the top of my ankle. The pain quickly subsided, and it felt all right enough that I actually ran on it again before the end of my walk. When I got home, I soaked in the warm tub for a while, then propped my ankle up and wrapped it in a cold pack while I watched TV.

Will I keep running if I’ve hurt my ankle? Probably not. I don’t want to do lasting damage. I’ll give it some time to rest, and then, the weather will get really cold, and I won’t want to run or go outside, and I’ll get halfway through winter before I’m bitten by the exercise bug again, and I’ll put on all my braces and my neck gaiter and 14 layers of flannel and go out and run two miles and feel awesome, and then I’ll slip on black ice into some horse poop in the road and break my leg. And my phone.

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an "accident."

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an “accident.”

The constant thought I have as I’m running, besides “Just get to that tree shadow/driveway and then we can stop and walk… JUST KIDDING, go to the end of that driveway! I should REALLY eat breakfast before I run! I don’t know how I’m going to make it home!” is that I’m on borrowed time with this body. I feel like my brain is tricking it into doing things that could break it. It’s easy to be a hypochondriac and easy to be reckless. I’ve got to find the balance between having the gumption to test my limits and having the common sense to know when to stop and how to take care of myself properly when things do go wrong.

Dirt Brownies: Healthy Cooking Disasters

Have you ever looked at a post on a recipe or foodie blog (or even a Pinterest recipe posted by your aunt on Facebook) and thought, “That looks both simple and delicious! I should totally try that! That won’t turn out a hot mess AT ALL!” I have a history of doing that. And much like the woman behind the Pintester blog, I have a history of working with whatever items I have around the house or what I can source in a small town in southern Kentucky, trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, as it were, when I shouldn’t even be in the market for a faux silk purse in the first place. It always backfires.

I grew up in a household of working women who weren’t your traditional American homemakers. My maternal grandmother and my mom, accomplished as they are and love them as I do, weren’t big on home cooking as art form. I grew up on a lot of Campbell’s soup and Chef Boyardee and Meat Variety Helper products. My stepmom and paternal grandmother were each better cooks, but I didn’t learn a lot from either of them until I was older. Until last year, I was still making Amish Friendship Bread from a starter my stepmom gave me in 2009, and I loved it. Baking is easy. You put in ingredients from a pre-set formula, knowing how it’s supposed to turn out and not straying from the formula too much, and blam, science turns it into a pie or something marvelous. Baking is fun and always appreciated. Everyone loves pie. I love baking.

Cooking? Cooking is a chore. It’s thankless. In the U.S., we begrudgingly pay people minimum wage to cook for us. We hardly ever thank the people who feed us every day unless provoked by a special occasion. I don’t even care if my cooking turns out badly; I will usually eat whatever horrible thing I cook rather than go to the trouble of cooking again. I would rather eat Bachelor Chow than cook. Filboid Studge‘s marketing would have worked on me.

But boy howdy, I didn’t know that my passion for baking and my anti-knack for cooking would intersect so thoroughly when I tried to have a make-it-work moment with my pantry and a good recipe for an unhealthy food. The other day, I was taking a look at Paleo recipes and found a recipe for muffins over at PaleOMG. “Protein. Nut-free. Paleo. Chocolate. Baking.” These words made my heart beat faster. “Yes, I will be trying THAT,” I told my computer. My computer, having heard this before, tried to shut down. I admire its attempt to save me from myself. But despite the best efforts of the author to provide clear instructions and advice about substitutions in the comments, I still managed to eff up everything and made what I can only term as Dirt Brownies.

I didn’t learn my lesson from last year’s protein pumpkin pie disaster. I was feeding my dogs lots of pumpkin to help their tummies adjust to the stress of moving and new bacteria their bodies were not used to dealing with. I had a lot of canned plain pumpkin on my hands, and one day, I found a recipe that incorporated egg whites, canned pumpkin, some spices, protein powder, and magic to make perfect little pumpkin pie breakfast cakes.

That little voice in your head that tells you, “You should listen to the instructions. You need to pick up some genuine yak butter to make this recipe. You cannot substitute llama butter again”? Listen to that voice. That is the voice that I did not heed. That’s why I used chocolate powder in my slightly chocolate-pumpkin cake. That’s why I used a whole egg, yolk and all, to make an eggy, slightly chocolate-pumpkin cake. That’s why I used an old bottle of apple pie spices and too much Splenda to make a Splenda-coated, inconsistently spiced like apple pie, eggy, slightly chocolate-pumpkin pie that tasted like failure and had a texture like a cheap kitchen sponge.

I didn’t learn my lesson from 8 years of sometimes-strange vegetarian dinners. Ok, often-strange vegetarian dinners. I wasn’t one of those vegetarians who made a lot of stir fry vegetables in a wok and ate raw vegetables on the regular; I was more a fan of Boca and Morningstar and Quorn products wrapped in carbohydrates. A lot of dinners were wet marinara and whole wheat pasta and soggy microwaved vegetable mix. There were also a few from-scratch disasters that involved: over- or under-cooked quinoa; eggplant that I didn’t quite know what to do with; butternut squash ravioli that would not actually stay in the ravioli (delicious but way labor intensive); an apple and pear pie that didn’t cook all the way through; blocks of tofu incorrectly cooked, poorly spiced, or some combination thereof.

I didn’t even learn from my high school years, when I was sometimes a latchkey kid cooking my own dinner. I once made an entire boxed dinner in a pot that had been pre-soaked in dish soap, but not rinsed out, by my mother. The less said about those meals, the better.

A lot of my bad food experiments have started with nothing but the best intentions. But I think they have another thing in common: trying to replicate something worse for me by using an imperfect mix of ingredients that are nominally good for me.

So let’s take a walk down memory lane, back to two or three days ago, when I made my Dirt Brownies.

The recipe calls for sunflower butter. I don’t have any on hand. Neither did the two local groceries – surprise! I did find off-brand Nutella, which I almost bought for science, except the sugar content is really high. I thought, “Hell, I’ll make my own sunflower butter!” Without bothering to consult a recipe, I bought a container of roasted sunflower seeds. I also picked up a few other ingredients, like coconut flakes (um… well, none of this is unsweetened. Oh well, that’s not a lot)… baker’s chocolate (it says dark chocolate, but this baker’s chocolate has hardly any sugar at all, and I’m not looking for sugar, right?)… protein powder or coconut flour or whatever (nope, didn’t use any of these, just more coconut flakes).

When I got home, I busted out my little food processor. I tried like mad to make it work, gave up, and handed it to my boyfriend, who promptly fixed it within 5 seconds of laying hands on it. He is a jerk.

Sunflower Butter: The Journey

Sunflower Butter: The Journey

A recipe I found for sunflower butter said, “Don’t use the dry roasted sunflower seeds with salt! Use unroasted and unsalted only, as they’ll have more oils inside to make your sunflower butter creamy!” I slowly edged the empty canister of dry roasted, salted sunflower seeds into the trash as I turned on the food processor. Bzzt! What a lovely powder this makes! The recipe said I could add some oil. I’ve got canola oil and olive oil. The olive oil bottle had been used to clean my boyfriend’s work boots, the tip repeatedly touched to the polishing rag. Olive oil it was. I tossed in a good glorping of the oil (measurements are for the prepared!) and gave it a whirl for a few more minutes, poking the sludge with a little plastic blade. It seemed to work out ok, so I went with it.

I included the eggs in the recipe, the sunflower butter and a pinch of the coconut flakes. I didn’t add salt, since that seemed to be covered by the salty, salty sunflower seeds. I didn’t add protein powder or coconut flour, because I didn’t have either. I microwaved the baker’s chocolate to soften it enough for me to cut into tiny pieces. “The better to distribute through the muffins! Wait, I don’t have a muffin pan. …The better to distribute through the BROWNIES! I’m such a genius!”

I drizzled on some honey, fearing how granola-y the batter looked once in a little 9×9 pan, how little sugar I had used, and what it might taste like. It came out of the oven about 15 minutes later still bubbling around the edges. I left it on the stove for a few minutes to cool, then cut out my first piece and took a bite.

It was a bite I will remember for the rest of my life. It is filed under the mental note: “Tastes like hot dirt.”

Unknown to me at the time this photo was taken, the trivet probably tastes better than anything else in the photo.

Unknown to me at the time this photo was taken, the trivet probably tastes better than anything else in the photo.

I told my boyfriend what happened. “You’re welcome to try one if you want,” I told him, warning him of the healthy ingredients. He took a bite, un-took the bite, and threw the rest into the trash. Then he set his tongue on fire. From space.

He heard me putting them into plastic ware later. “You’re SAVING THOSE??”

“I made them, I should eat them. They are brownies of atonement.”

I had the last two small brownies after dinner tonight. I wanted to eat more, even after two burger patties with cheese, a sweet potato, and a tomato-okra stew, so I finished off the container. If I am going to idly eat, I’m going to idly eat something that has some protein and makes me think twice before the next time I make a healthy version of an unhealthy food.

The best food I’ve ever eaten has been fresh produce. There is nothing so wonderful as big, ripe raspberries or blueberries or blackberries or strawberries. I love different apple varieties. Carrots and I get along famously. Baked sweet potatoes go great with anything. And did I mention apples? I love apples.

A woman named Eve loves apples. FILM AT 11.

A woman named Eve loves apples. FILM AT 11.

I need to remember that the less processed my food is, the more I’m probably going to enjoy it. The further I stray from a tested recipe, the better the chances are that I will hate my results. I have many talents; culinary intuition is not one of them.

At least my spirit of adventure has not left me, despite the array of poor sensory experiences I have visited upon myself. I’ll try almost anything once. Cricket flour as ingredient in energy bars has me slightly repulsed and slightly intrigued. I may be trusted to buy a bar if they ever make their way to my regional health food stores, but please, send people to my house to prevent me from baking using cricket flour. What I create from it would likely result in a plague of locusts.

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

Weight Loss Problems

What a problem to have. I’m still trending downward with weight, and there is less fat to pad my muscles and joints. I spent quite a while lying down on the living room floor last night, hanging out with my sick dog in her kennel with a pillow propped up under my torso. This morning, my legs and rear end are achy and sore where I rested them on the floor for so long.

The new work pants I bought last fall are too loose and look as though they are falling off. I finally safety-pinned the waistband of one pair this morning, tired of showing the world my underwear.

I am beginning to run into variable sizes the next size down. Some pants fit, some don’t. Don’t vanity size it, and label it correctly, please.

I could not finish a restaurant omelet last weekend. Used to be I could eat the whole thing and the side dish, and still want more. I took the remainder home and ate it for dinner.

Even though I am smaller, my life is still not perfect. No one told me that losing weight would solve all my problems, but I inferred that anyway. Turns out I’m still the same person with mostly the same life issues, just with less snoring and more carrots.

My main goal in life is to get to a weight where I will allow myself to start eating pasta regularly again. I miss it! But I know it’s best eaten in moderation instead of for every meal.

The Good Hurt After The Bad

Last summer, when I was having abdominal issues that are now thought to be related to a hernia from torn surgical scar tissue, I figured rigorous abdominal exercise was off the table for a long time. I was right. Activities such as pilates, carrying heavy items, running, and even walking too far were painful and exhausting.

In the fall and winter, I started taking my dogs for long walks out of necessity when we’d moved and had no enclosed yard. I had a little weariness in my joints and muscles toward the end, but I was also taking them for hour-long walks in 23F/-5C temperatures several times a week and not eating enough.

At the beginning of this year, I bought a house that had an enclosed pen, and ever since then, I’ve taken the dogs on zero planned walks (does chasing down a dog in the rain at 11 on a Sunday night really count as a walk? I can’t find that activity anywhere on MapMyRun) and took myself on one long walk before the weather started going all wonky. Seriously, snow during the first week of April? As a Kentuckian, I have only seen such things before while playing Oregon Trail.

A cartoon parody of an Oregon Trail screenshot.

Congratulations, weather. I have died of ridiculousness.

I took several months off from physical activity of any kind at the beginning of this calendar year when I was working 65-plus hour weeks. My ┬ájob has slowed down quite a bit, but I haven’t ramped up my activity. One-and-a-half pilates workouts in a week’s time do not a ramping make. But if I can make it several sessions a week, I’ll count that as a re-engagement in physical activity.

A chirpy host was leading a pilates workout I stumbled across on one of my long mornings last week, and I figured I might as well make the most of this easily accessible workout, since I’m paying out the wazoo for satellite service anyway and had nowhere to be for an hour and a half. I’m old hat at this stuff, so it should have been easy. But I sometimes forget that when you haven’t worked out in a while, your body’s not as flexible or as strong as it once was.

Roll-ups were once so easy; surprise crunches, now saturated with disappointment and with an odor of failure, were all I could manage. I regretted the side kick series toward the end of the first leg’s workout.

And let’s not bring up the modifications I had to do. With wrists that require braces and special keyboards, a knee that has worn a brace during most workouts over the last 8 years, ankles I bought hiking boots to support, and a shoulder that sent me to physical therapy, there were some exercises I just could not do. Thread the Needle was off the table. Anything related to planks and push-ups had to be done with bent knees and a small towel supporting my weak left knee. Sometimes, it feels useless to even pretend to try those exercises, for the net good they would do my body. In fact, several years ago, I made .mp3 files out of my favorite pilates routine so I could listen to them on my phone and exercise anywhere, and while making the files, I specifically edited out any exercises that were beyond my physical limitations.

Everything that I could physically do, I did, or at least tried. I remembered to bring in my weightlifting gloves for my next session to make working out a little easier on my wrists. And I have the little towel on standby, ready to cushion my long-suffering knee when I have to put any weight on it.

As I was driving home from work the day of my second workout, I felt a little abdominal pain. But it was a good pain. It was the sting of aching muscles complaining that they haven’t been used in a while. It felt very different from the sharp stab and lingering nausea that indicate something is physically wrong, and that you should probably skip eating for the next month. I was happy to be able to hurt that way again.