Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Lessons from a snow day

“The water hears and understands. The ice does not forgive.”
― Leigh Bardugo, Six of Crows

As you may have heard, last week Portland (and surrounding areas, like where I live) just got the MOST SNOW EVER. Well, the most snow Portland has ever gotten in a really, really long time. (Other parts of the country probably wouldn't bat an eyelash.)

At first it was fun - a FOOT of snow to stomp around in, and no way to get to school or work? There were sounds of play and joy coming from all over the neighborhood. Even my dogs had fun hopping around the backyard before scrambling back inside to escape the cold. (And we had fun watching them!) It truly was a winter wonderland, and we all marveled at the giant flakes falling from the sky, forming a smooth, pure blanket of white on the ground. We finally had enough snow to build a proper snowman, not a snow-covered dirt snowman like the one in To Kill a Mockingbird. It was breathtakingly beautiful and awe-inspiring, seeing our normal everyday world transformed.

And then, of course, reality sets in. You know, the reality where you realize that you're running out of food because you didn't think there would be THAT much snow leaving you stuck in your house, and you live at the end of a tiny private street where you can pretty much bet that there will be no plowing or shoveling, and you notice that the only neighbors who've left their houses (judging by their tire tracks) are the ones who have 4WD vehicles, which your Prius is NOT...

This wasn't the first time I've had to drive on ice/snow (that happened just a few short weeks ago, though!) but the conditions this time were more severe. I'm not sure what's worse - the anxiety of driving on really icy roads, or the anxiety of possibly getting stuck on a thick patch of snow at a really bad time (say, at the front of an intersection when your light turns green - true story). Suffice it to say that, at this current moment, I do not remember what it is like to drive relaxed. I've been limiting my goings-out to nearby places (so at least if I get stranded, I'm not far from home), but every second I'm in my car, literally from the moment I pull out of my garage (because our driveway has been covered with packed snow and ice), I'm a bundle of stress.

I'm California born-and-raised, so what do I know about driving in winter weather? We freak out when it rains too hard! (Because our infrastructure just can't handle too much rain, just like Portland can't handle too much snow.) I drove as slowly and as carefully as I could manage, gearing myself up for nasty looks and other angry behavior from cranky drivers. (It's a good thing I gave up my California plates a while ago - I feel like less of a target now.)

But you know what? I didn't get any anger. This is probably stupid, but it really surprised me. I wasn't the only person leaving a TON of space between myself and the car in front of me. I wasn't the only one who started braking really early going into a red light. I wasn't the only one who accelerated really slowly when the light turned green. (I know this is basic Driver's Ed Safety 101 type stuff, but come on - there are a lot of drivers out there who risk their safety in order to get somewhere faster. Including me.) No one inched up on pedestrians trying not to slip walking across the parking lot. Every time a car or two ran a red light (because it was easier to keep going than to try to brake hard with all the icy patches), no one honked or behaved aggressively. We just... understood. And we let it go.

As the days went on and the ice and snow lingered, I realized that the whole world (or at least, my small part of it) was doing their utmost, first of all to be safe, but also to give each other time and space out there on the roads. Even though this has been some of the most stressful driving I've ever done, this was also the most patience and kindness I've ever seen exhibited out on the road.

It was like, we're all in this. It sucks for everyone right now, whether you drive a tiny hatchback or a giant truck that could climb over tiny hatchbacks. But instead of losing our cool and making things worse (and even more dangerous) for everyone else, we worked through it. I'm not saying that there weren't accidents or injuries or people who were jerks, because I'm sure there were. I'm not saying there weren't moments of frustration. But in the end, it was like, we handled it, not by bullying others out on the road, but by remembering that we're all in the same lousy situation, and if you can't do anything to make things better, then the very least you could do is to not make things worse for everyone else.

Today, it's a sunny 50 degrees, and the rain that started yesterday has washed away most of the snow. It's not fully back to normal, but we're getting there. I don't know how long this feeling of peace and good will will last out there, but I'm thankful that I got to experience it.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2017 plans (and planners)!

So, one thing that has really come out of 2016 for me (aside from powerlifting) is my newfound obsession with planners and planner decorating. I used to just keep all my future events on my calendar app, but I found I had a burning desire to reconnect with writing things longhand (I used to keep datebooks and journals as a kid/teen), so after going through many unsatisfactory planners (that I ended up recycling), I bought myself a classic/medium-sized Happy Planner last spring on a whim (I had a coupon) and then fell headfirst into the world of stickers, washi tape, and memory planning. Suddenly, keeping a planner wasn't just about writing dates and grocery lists - it was also beautiful, fun, and crafty.

And then this summer I discovered bullet journalling, and that was another game changer. I discovered an artistic side of myself that I didn't think existed, as I learned brush lettering and got more into doodling. I also got back into journalling longhand - I've tried on and off throughout my adult years to keep a journal, but it never stuck. I think maybe I always felt like I didn't have anything important to write in a journal. I know, I know - this obviously hasn't stopped me from blogging, but it's very easy (and cheap) to post throwaway musings on the internet, whereas taking the time to put pen to paper (especially in an expensive notebook like a Moleskine or a Leuchtturm) feels a lot more significant somehow. BUT... bullet journalling, in which I filled my notebook equally with deeply personal thoughts and daily "To Do" lists, with beautiful lettering as well as messy scribbles, taught me that no details are too small, because it's my life, and the day-to-day minutiae is what forms a person's life, just as much as the big events.

Scenes from my current bullet journal, in my dot-grid Leuchtturm 
For 2017, I couldn't decide which planning style I wanted to stick with, so I kind of decided to DO ALL THE THINGS, and this is how I found myself with five planners in my system:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Recap: Deadlifts for Doernbecher 2016

What a day!

It's been a strange couple of weeks, as we've been hit by snow and ice, and it's the first time I've ever really had to deal with that. (Because, you know, I'm Californian.) This morning, I headed out in 28-degree weather (very slowly!) and made my way over to my gym for Deadlifts for Doernbecher. I was already pretty nervous about competing, and then with the added stress of driving conditions that I'm not used to, I was feeling a little shaky when I finally pulled up.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

GAINZ and losses

Left: Before - 209lbs, 44" bust, 43" waist
Right: After - 198lbs, 41" bust, 40" waist
At the end of October, I posted that I was going to make a concerted effort to lose weight for very specific reasons. It's been a full thirty days, so I thought I'd update you on that.

What I didn't say specifically last time was that I was going to do a Whole30 for the month of November. If you're a longtime follower of my blog, you probably know that I personally feel at my best when I'm following the Paleo diet, and despite what everyone else in real life or on the Internet says, it works for me and I like it, and that's that. (I don't care how you eat. Don't concern yourself with what I eat.)

I am bringing it up, however, because sometimes people just want to know what it is I'm doing. I'm not going to sit here and extoll its virtues or whatever - for one thing, I've done that on my blog before, as have many other bloggers. I'm not here to sell you on it. Like I said, it works for me, and I like it. It might not work for other people, and they might not like it, so you do you. I'm not here to debate Paleo's efficacy for anyone other myself.

I'm also bringing it up because making lasting changes in the name of health/fitness/happiness is a common struggle that many people face, regardless of whatever way of eating you follow, and so, I feel like you could probably relate to that even if you have a completely different eating philosophy from me. I had a good 30 days - I felt like a strict "reset" was in order, not to clear out toxins or whatever, but to retrain my brain and how I think about food. I feel like the most important thing I got out of this month was how to diligently meal plan (especially since I'm responsible for feeding my family as well) and how to handle the temptation to eat everything around me just because it's there, and other hurdles. (I traveled this month, and we also had Thanksgiving.)

I also spent a lot of time reflecting on just what I want out of my general everyday diet. I've learned that my body is happiest when I'm following the strict Whole30 guidelines, but my soul is happiest when I get to have a little pho, cheese, and dark chocolate. I've learned that as much as I LIKE Skittles, cheddar bay biscuits, and Coke, I can definitely live without them (and indeed, thrive).

I know a lot of people would balk at doing the Whole30 after looking at its guidelines, but having now done it three separate times, I have to say that those 30 days are actually the easiest part. Does it feel torturous at times? Sure. But it's easy because it's very cut-and-dried. NO these things, and YES these things. The decisions are already made for you, and you just have to follow through.

It's this part, the part that comes after, that is harder. How much do I loosen up my rules? How do I know I won't totally go off the rails and eat that entire 20-piece holiday caramel sampler I saw at Trader Joe's? HOW MUCH CHEESE IS TOO MUCH CHEESE????

On the plus side, having been through this before, I at least have some sense of what I can reintroduce to my diet without throwing myself completely off. (Cheese on my eggs? Cool. A tall glass of straight-up milk? Not so much - it makes me feel icky even when I have been consistently consuming other dairy products.) This sounds obvious, of course, but it all comes down to figuring out where "moderation" and "reasonable indulgence" lies for me. It's my birthday next week, and if I really want some cake, I should have some cake. And in return, I should enjoy the experience and NOT feel the slightest bit bad about it. But... I should also NOT eat half the entire cake in two days. I should NOT eat cake every day - not because eating cake every day is a morally bad decision, but because if I want my body to perform optimally, then I just can't do that. One of the hardest concepts for me (and probably anyone) to internalize is that there are no "good" foods and "bad" foods, from a moral standpoint. There are foods that work for you, and foods that don't agree with you so well, and it's up to you how you strike that balance, because every body is different. Having seen how my body functions without certain food groups compared to how it functions with them, I can say that I don't have any food allergies, but some food groups in larger amounts (or even in certain forms) do not agree with my body as well as other food groups. It doesn't mean I can't eat cake ever; it means that I should be more judicious about my consumption of it.

(So, to reiterate - I'm not judging anyone who eats cake every day. I'm saying that my body wouldn't be able to handle that, and since I have specific athletic goals I'm trying to meet, I should be mostly sticking to foods that work for me.)

So, as you can see from my photo above, I had some success this month. I'm down about 10-11 pounds (I wasn't very scientific about weighing myself in terms of clothes/shoes/time of day), and I've lost a few inches all over. I am happy about this, because again, I have specific reasons for wanting to lose weight, neither of which have to do with my appearance or self-worth. I don't care if I look "better" or not; in fact, I don't think I look all that different. (I do have a bit more muscle definition in my upper body and thighs, which is cool, but that wasn't the point of losing weight.)

I can feel a difference, though: I haven't really tried to run yet, but my knee is feeling better when I squat. If you'll recall, I was in a lot of pain leading up to my competition last March, and while I did manage to hit all my attempts, in the weeks afterward, I could barely front-squat 80lbs without pain. However, this past week, I managed to get up to 335lbs for my third set of backsquats with no pain, so that's a huge victory for me! The combination of more consistent work plus a little less weight on my frame, plus the improvement of the inflammation (or whatever) in my knee, really made a difference. This is the most important result of all for me, far more important than looking "hotter."

And of course, there were other things that improved, that weren't weight-related at all:
  • I have been far less sore after my workouts, despite the increasing intensity.
  • I've been tracking various illnesses/symptoms in my bullet journal, and November had far fewer headaches and stomachaches than previous months.
  • I sleep more soundly (and it's easier for me to fall asleep/wake up).
  • Despite the major drop in temperature all of a sudden this month, I have not gotten sick. (I've been hovering on the edge of feeling sick a little bit, but I haven't actually gotten sick. *knock on wood*)
So I'm feeling good about myself lately, and I am motivated to keep working on maintaining order in my food choices and habits (and of course, showing up to the gym as consistently as possible). I'm not going to do a check-in like this every month, but I did want to give some sort of follow-up to my previous post and let you know that all is well on that front. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016


This year, for the first time, we are celebrating Thanksgiving on our own, with just the three of us. I've grown up surrounded by my huuuuuuge family on either side (and, eventually, Jimmy's large extended family as well), so this is quite a change for us, but I'm grateful that we are here and that we have each other.

I don't have to cite examples to prove that times are difficult right now, for so many people, in so many different ways. It seems indulgent, maybe, to try to find the joy in our daily existence. But it's what I find myself being drawn back to, again and again. To quote author John Green, "The world may be broken, but hope is not crazy." If you're lucky enough to have joy in your life, especially daily, then it would be foolish not to hang onto that. Be grateful that you have it, you know?

I've been doing a little Daily Gratitude journal for the month of November, and it consists of a different question each day about something we're grateful for. And I love how it's very specific - "What scent are you grateful for?" "What ability are you grateful for?" "What season are you grateful for?" - because it forces me to thinking about little things that I truly am grateful for, things that I would've overlooked otherwise. (It asks about big things too.)

I think it's easy to get lost in the bleakness of the world and to forget to find the beauty. I'm not saying that we should ignore the ugly stuff. (On the contrary, I think there are a lot of battles to be fought, and they definitely need to be fought.) I just think that, if we lose sight of what it is we love so much about the world, big and small, it makes the fight that much more difficult.

So, this Thanksgiving, here's to the little things:

Here's to the random rainbows I see in the sky (because it rains a lot here).

To the smell of spices cooking in my kitchen.

To the sound of Jimmy's heartbeat when I lay my head against his chest.

To the smell of Jolie's skin when I kiss her awake in the morning.

To the punny riddles that my coach writes on the workout board every week.

Here's to the feel of alpaca yarn sliding through my fingers. Here's to family game night. Here's to having multiple fandoms and hobbies, and people to share them with. Here's to living within 20 minutes of at least three different bookstores. Here's to the sound of breathing in the middle of the night that reminds me I'm not alone in the dark. Here's to PUMPKIN EVERYTHING during the fall, and peppermint hot chocolate during the winter.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, and I hope you're able to find more than a little joy in your day.