Recently in health Category

celebrating myself

While cleaning off the cluttered dining room table last night, I came across a copy of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, which had been part of Alex's homeschooling work on poetry last year.

"I celebrate myself, and sing myself."

Such powerful words. Most of us don't do nearly enough of this. We're told not to, by people and and culture and custom. We encourage humility, discourage boasting (particularly in women, but that's another post).

But one can have both humility and self-love, and the latter is too often missing--or at least it has been for me.

Today marks the end of a year of self-transformation for me, and this week I'm trying hard to celebrate myself, to sing myself, to remind myself of my intrinsic value.

On August 4th of 2010, a few days after returning from a wonderful road trip with Alex, I stepped on my relatively new Withings scale, and was shocked to see the number: 144 pounds. I hadn't weighed that much since I was pregnant with Alex. It had happened gradually, but had finally reached a point where I realized I was really unhappy with my body. Not just the way it looked, but the way it felt. I made a decision that day to make some real changes in the way I cared for myself physically. I started getting to the gym on a regular basis, and changed the kinds of foods I kept in the house. I knew that for these changes to matter, they had to be sustainable. I couldn't cut out all carbs, for instance, because it would make me miserable and I'd eventually give up.

So, how'd that work out? Here's a graph showing what happened:


The objective I set for myself was 110 pounds (that's the white line near the bottom). I hit that in May of this year, and have stayed there since then, with minor (and normal) fluctuations. Lately, as I've added more weight training into my workout routine, my weight has crept up by a pound or two, but my lean mass has gone up right along with it. (The place in the middle where the color changes is the point where I crossed over from an unhealthy weight for my height and age to a healthy one.)

I've been off my antidepressants for a year now, as well, and wanting to stay off them keeps me going back to the gym 4-5x/week. I know my mental health history means that the exercise may not always be enough on its own, but for now it's doing the trick, and I'm happy not to have to deal with the expense or the side effects of the medication.

Other benefits? My food budget has dropped quite a bit, since I prepare more foods myself rather than grabbing fast food on the way home. My kids are getting healthier meals and developing better eating habits. I've discovered the joy of shopping at the Rochester Public Market. My physical and mental energy levels are the highest they've been in a very long time. My cholesterol, which was dangerously high, has dropped into a very healthy range.

I honestly don't know what changed for me a year ago, and made it possible for me to successfully change my lifetime of bad eating and exercise habits, but I'm grateful that I did, and that everything I've done to reach this point seems easily sustainable moving forward.

When I went to see my doctor for an annual checkup last month, he congratulated me on "taking charge of my body," and that resonated for me. This week I'm splurging a bit on little luxuries to celebrate my physical self--a pedicure, some new clothes, things like that. But the real reward is being able to look at myself in the mirror and be proud of what I see.

No matter how many hours I spend at the gym, it won't make me 20-something or long-legged. But I'm okay with that. Being twenty-something wasn't all that great, as I recall. Been there, done that, glad I don't have to do it again. This 49-year-old body is the one I've got, and my goal now is to care for it well. My success in doing that this year is indeed worth celebrating.

food, food, glorious food

Yesterday, I shared a little about the changes our family has made in our eating and exercises habits--and I said I'd share some of our favorite new foods.

When we stopped buying fast food and eating out, we made a conscious choice not to replace that food with highly processed packaged foods (something we've done too often in the past). Instead, we started buying more basic ingredients, and figuring out what foods we could make ourselves that would be healthy, filling, and...most importantly...tasty.

Starting this process over the summer was ideal, because even long-time-veggie-hating-me couldn't help but be tempted by the bountiful produce at the public market and even the local supermarket. Some things were no-brainers, like fresh berries and tomatoes. Others I grew into, like zucchini and eggplant (both of which I found were quite delicious when roasted). The public market was also ideal from a financial fact, I've started a series of photos on what $20 can buy you at the market (besides the attitude boost that comes from being in such a happy, high energy place).

So, here are some of the key things I keep in the house now so that when I'm hungry, there's something healthy I can snack on:

  1. Wegmans Cocopop Rice Cakes
    These are not the rice cakes that you're familiar with. They're made fresh every day (in a machine that makes me laugh, because it fires the batter against a plexiglass wall to flatten the cake), and they're thin, light and surprisingly tasty. But I don't eat them plain--they've become my favorite delivery mechanism for a variety of treats, discussed below.
  2. Hummus
    Simple to make, and relatively inexpensive to buy when I'm short on time, hummus is both healthy and delicious, and makes a great filling snack when scooped up with some of those Cocopops.
  3. Homemade Pita Chips
    You can buy pita chips in the organic section of the grocery store, but they're expensive. A cheaper and still delicious option is to buy the cheapest pita pockets you can find, slice them into wedges, spray them with olive oil, shake on a little salt, and bake them until crispy. Then use them to scoop up that hummus--or just snack on them instead of potato chips.
  4. Caprese Salad Makings
    I don't actually make caprese salad, but I almost always have tomatoes (preferably cherry tomatoes), mozzarella, and either basil or pesto on hand. A particularly great and healthy treat is a Cocopop with thin-sliced mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves or a touch of pesto. It's like a delicious cold mini-pizza, at a fraction of the calories.
  5. Baked Zucchini Chips
    Yes, a green vegetable...which will amaze anyone who's known me for very long. I love these chips, and they're ridiculously healthy and easy to make. Who knew? (Don't answer that...)
  6. Reddi-Wip Fat Free Whipped Cream
    I was prepared for this to taste like a chemical disaster, but I was extremely surprised and delighted by just how good it is. Rich, creamy, decadent...and only five calories in two tablespoons! When I have a sweets craving and nobody's looking, I've been known to squirt this right into my mouth. But an even better option is to put a layer of it on one of those Cocopops, and then top it with fresh berries. Feels like an incredibly fattening dessert, but has next to no calories.
  7. Extra-Churned (or "slow churned") Strawberry Ice Cream
    I buy the Wegmans brand, but there are plenty of comparable national brands (Edy's, Breyer's, etc). At 100 calories for a half-cup serving, I can indulge my sweet tooth with very little guilt.
  8. Quaker Instant Lower-Sugar Oatmeal
    I know it would be healthier to make old-fashioned oatmeal, but in the morning I'm always in a hurry, and I love that I can make this in just one minute with minimal effort. I buy the box that has four different flavors, and I make it with 1/2 cup of 1% milk rather than water so that I get some calcium and protein. The whole bowl comes in at under 200 calories, and it's filling enough that I'm not craving a snack an hour after I get to work.
  9. Boneless Chicken
    We're regularly buying the big club packs of boneless chicken (yes, we should be buying free range/organic, but it's out of our price range for regular use right now). I like to cube it and cook up big batches--which can then be eaten as snacks, or tossed into a variety of dishes.
  10. Lean Ground Beef
    We gave up fast food, but we didn't give up hamburgers. :) Now we make our own pretty regularly, which means better portion control, lean beef (often organic, from Seven Bridges), and healthy toppings.
  11. Potatoes
    I'm a potato junkie, and now that I'm not indulging in french fries and potato chips, I've found better ways to get my fix. One of my favorites is to cut new potatoes into quarters, toss them in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and/or spices, and roast them in the oven. Yesterday I bought ten pounds of Yukon Golds at the public market, so I'm going to try roasting them using a recipe from Cook's Illustrated.
  12. Fresh Fruit
    Gerald and the boys all love to snack on fruit, so we keep whatever's currently fresh on hand--right now it's apples, plums, and pears. (We also buy bananas year round, even though they're not local.)

I'm also finding that I'm not an awful cook--much to the surprise of both me and my children. (Gerald is less surprised, but no less appreciative.) God bless the internets for providing me with an endless source of not just recipes, but also tips and tricks and techniques. I'm slowly getting better at peeling, seeding, and chopping tomatoes. And I can finally chop an onion without blubbering through the whole process. I'm doing this often enough now that the boys no longer stare in surprise when they find me taking fresh-baked muffins out of the oven in the morning, or simmering a from-scratch tomato sauce for dinner.

So...apparently you can teach an old mom new tricks. I'm living proof of it! :)

cleaning up our collective act chez lawley

Today on Facebook I posted this image, a screen shot from my iPhone showing my weight loss since August 4 (as tracked by my fantabulous Withings wifi scale):

Weight Loss, August 4-September 25

A friend commented and asked if I'd share my "secrets", and I decided that was a good lead-in to one of the blog posts I'd promised to start writing.

This didn't exactly start out as a weight loss program. Instead, it started out with me and Gerald looking at our finances at the beginning of August, and realizing that we've been living just slightly above our means for too long...which means that we've been very gradually accumulating debt. Not something we were happy about--particularly since we're on the verge of having two kids in college! So, we spent some time thinking about how to reduce our expenses and get our debt paid down.

One obvious place to cut costs was to reduce the amount of fast food and soda we were consuming as a family. Over the summer, with me not teaching and Gerald not chauffeuring kids to and from school and activities, we've actually got enough time to shop and cook. So we started doing exactly that. And when you're cooking your own food, rather than buying it in bags from the closest drive-thru, you have more control over what's going into your body.

I started going back to the Rochester Public Market on Saturday mornings, which cut our costs and improved the quality of our food. Amazingly, it didn't take long before even the thought of fast food lost all of its appeal, and I found myself craving bizarre things like hummus and roasted zucchini (and if you know me, you know just how bizarre that last part really is).

Eating healthier saved us money, but it also made us feel better. So we decided we might as well get a clean start all around, and we started exercising--Gerald by walking, and me by either walking or using the elliptical at the RIT gym. The exercise and the healthier food made us feel more energetic, and we both saw initial weight loss that helped a lot in keeping us motivated. And the fact that my 30th high school reunion is the weekend of October 8-10 gave me a short term goal point--I decided that if I possibly could, I wanted to drop 15 pounds by then. I started at a record-high 144 pounds, which meant my goal was to drop below 130 by the reunion (as you can see, I'm almost there!).

Over the past several months, Gerald has gone from a 3mph pace on a 2-mile loop in the neighborhood to a 3.5mph pace walking 5-6 miles a day (on the treadmill, in the neighborhood, at the mall, or recently on the RIT campus). And inspired by him, I've gone from barely being able to do 30 minutes on the elliptical at a low resistance level to doing 30-40 minutes at a high intensity, usually followed by the stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. I also discovered Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred DVD, which allowed me to squeeze in a high-intensity 25 minute workout before I leave in the morning--helpful on days where I know I'm probably not going to be able to make it to the RIT gym. Again--easy, cheap, and sustainable.

The key for us was that these were sustainable changes. Once we'd identified foods that we all liked but that were still healthy, it became easy to just keep those regularly stocked in the house. I may actually do a separate posts on the foods that have become critical staples for us to keep around. And even on a busy day, it's hard to argue that there's not time for 30 minute walk (or jog, or DVD workout).

Because I'm a techno-junkie, I found a lot of tools that have been helping me along the way. Gerald had bought me the Withings scale in April, so I started doing a daily weigh-in. The visualizations the app and website provide are really helpful, because they show a trendline--that means even when my weight would vary up and down from day to day, I didn't get discouraged because I could see the steady downward trend.

I joined the website--mostly out of professional curiosity, since they're a remarkable example of how game mechanics can be applied to real-world activities in an effective way. But my professional curiosity turned into personal satisfaction, since their tools for nutrition and activity tracking (both on the web and on my iPhone) are really excellent. I find that my biggest problem with food is that I eat without thinking...polishing off leftovers from other people's plates, grabbing a high-calorie snack out of the vending machine, having one more martini. Once I found a tool that made it easy for me to record both input and output, and that clearly indicated where I stood on each in terms of my goals, staying on track became easier.

And I continue to adore RunKeeper, which tracks the distances that Gerald and I walk when we're outside, but also records my indoor gym activities--and lets me brag about them online, another good motivator for me.

Oh...and one other iPhone tool that's been very helpful, in a tangential way, is Grocery IQ. It allows us to all access a shared grocery list, making it easier to keep healthy foods that we like "in stock".

So the (very long) answer is...I didn't do anything particularly novel or creative. I would say probably the single biggest factor is that Gerald and I both committed to making these changes at the same time...that means nobody's sabotaging the process, intentionally or not. Getting the junk food out of the house was the first and most important step for us...and the rest has followed.

sparkpeople: social game mechanics applied to daily life

Over the past several years, I've been thinking a lot about the ways that game mechanics can be applied to day-to-day life-- giving the kinds of rewards that successful game environments offer, but for the "grind" of real life rather than virtual activity.

This week, I started listening to the book The Spark, by the guy who created the website, and I'm really impressed with how he designed his site to do exactly that. I'm also delighted to see how successful that implementation has been. (Generally I'm not a big fan of "change your life!" self-help books, but I found this one pretty engaging.)

If you haven't seen the site, it's worth taking a look at. It's based around a goal-setting and activity tracking model, but adds in the kind of point accumulation and leveling that can make games so addictive. It's also very focused on the social and community aspects of this process, another hallmark of good game environments.

In playing with it a bit today, I thought I'd try to accumulate points by clicking on emails I'd been sent since i first signed up a few weeks ago, and by reading some articles (which also generates points)--in Bartle's player categories, I'm a pretty typical "achiever." In the process, however, I actually ended up reading some excellent articles on "ideal" body weights (and body types), as well as watching an excellent video on how to peel, seed, and chop a tomato.

All in all, I'm very impressed--the site is useful to me both professionally (as an example of successful application of game mechanics to real-world activities), and personally (since I'm in the process of trying to lose weight and be healthier).

lexapro withdrawal symptoms

I wrote recently about the fact that I've been tapering off of my anti-depressant (Lexapro) this summer, and this week I stopped taking it entirely.

One of the symptoms that I've had every time I've tapered down my dosage or tried to stop taking Lexapro is a dizziness/tinnitus spike when I move my eyes quickly in any direction. It's hard to describe exactly what it feels like--it's a combination of buzzing/ringing/disorientation that lasts only momentarily but is very disconcerting.

It's hard to find any information online about this symptom. None of the standard medical or pharmaceutical sites talk about it. If you dig for a while, though, you'll find a number of blogs out there talking about "brain zaps" during withdrawal, which appears to be very much like what I'm experiencing. I particularly liked this description from Christine at "Watch me! No, watch me!", who experienced them when stopping Zoloft:

They are tough to describe. Essentially, for me, a Brain Zap feels like an electrical current briefly runs through my head, starting at the back of my skull. Not unlike a friction shock, but totally NOT like a friction shock in that it doesn't hurt at all. Just the fun part of the jolt. And yes, if you've had a Brain Zap you'd know there IS a fun part.

Brain Zaps were always my cue that I was behind on my Zoloft. If I missed a day, and went too long the next day, sure enough...zzzzzzzzzzztttttt. Oh, right, gotta take my Zoly.

The strangest thing about this (and yes, the strangest part is yet to come), is the physical action that would proceed the BZ. It seems BZ's require, again, at least for me, a quick eye movement. Not a simple annoyed eye roll (if that were the case, I'd pretty much have them constantly when running low on Zoly).

No, it requires a faster motion than that.

A quick over the shoulder glance.

Eyes darting to the other side of the room because I think one of my kids is trying to sneak some cookies.

A sudden look upwards after opening our hall closet because something is about to fall on my head from our overstuffed hall closet that I keep nagging my husband to sort through because I am not tall enough to reach the upper shelf otherwise I'd do it myself.

Thank goodness for the anecdotal descriptions out there--they let me know that it's not just me, which is hugely helpful when you're experiencing weird symptoms!

i've looked at clouds from both sides now

Long time readers of this blog (as well as many who have found it through searches) know that I've had my battles with depression, and that the cyclical nature of my depression means that I often need antidepressants to restabilize my brain when it gets seriously out of whack.

Since it's been a pretty good summer, I've been working on slowly weaning myself from my current medication. Why? Because while the benefits the meds provide by lifting my depression are incredibly valuable, they doesn't come without a cost--primarily in the form of side effects. Manageable side effects, and worth the tradeoff, but not something I want to deal with if I don't need to.

The problem with going off anti-depressants, however, is that one side effect of withdrawal is--you guessed it--depression! And it's hard to know if the resulting dark moods are short-term withdrawal symptoms or an indication that I shouldn't be going off the meds at all.

Now, my depression doesn't manifest in immediately recognizable ways. I don't sleep a lot, or even eat a lot. I do, however, snap at other people a lot--especially my family. And, oddly, I become compelled to clean house! As a result, I've spent the past few days tackling the clutter and dirt in the house, with significant results. The resulting improvements in my surroundings actually help to lift my mood, creating the opposite of a vicious circle. It's all good.

Add to that the fact that we're eating much healthier food these days, and that I'm exercising regularly, and I'm optimistic that I'll be able to push through the next week or two of moodiness and come out the other side happy and healthy.

In the meantime, however, if I don't respond to your emails, or if I seem unusually snappish--it's not you. Really.

knowledge is power

I'm nearing the end of a week where I've been tracking my caloric intake and expenditure using Lose It!, and RunKeeper. What I'm finding is that the most important thing is being aware of what I'm doing. What I'm eating, how much I'm exercising. It's a powerful thing.

As long as I'm entering everything I eat, and all of my exercise, I become more aware of my daily activities, and that alone is a powerful thing.

I wasn't perfect this week...I snacked more than I should have, and I've indulged in a nightly martini on a regular basis. But overall, my behavior has been a lot healthier this week, and I'm hoping I can keep that up.

If you're an iPhone user, and want to friend me on, or become part of my "street team" on, I'd love to have you join me!

visualizations for motivation

It's January in Rochester, which means that my seasonal affective disorder is in full swing. I go into full hibernation mode at this time of year, wanting to just burrow under the covers and wait for spring. The result is that I eat too many carbs, gain too much weight, and feel awful.

At last week's social computing symposium, I saw a lot of really wonderful projects that used visualization of "hidden" data to shape behavior. Most of it was urban and/or architectural, but it got me thinking about how I could better track and visualize data that's important to me personally.

Today, I started using one of my favorite free iPhone apps again--LoseIt. I liked it before, when it was only on my phone--it's a relatively friction-free way to track daily exercise and caloric intake. But they've improved it now by adding great visualizations on their website. I can see daily and weekly summaries of my activity, progress towards my goals, charts showing my favorite foods (and the ones that I'm getting the most calories from), and more. They've also incorporated a social component, so that I can track my progress against that of one or more friends (Weez, you need to sign up :).

Because I'm going to be getting most of my exercise by trying to take the dog for more walks and runs around the neighborhood, I also wanted to find a way to track that activity. I thought about the Nike+ system, but it won't work with my iPhone 3G, which is annoying. Then I considered a Fitbit, which I'd seen Caterina tweet about, but they're not shipping for another month. Finally, I took a look at Runkeeper, an iPhone app that tracks your location via GPS, and calculates your speed and distance. I'm starting with the free version of the app tomorrow to see how it works for me, but I've seen people in my Facebook feed reporting their runs using it, and the reviews seem good.

Now I find myself coveting the Withings WiFi Body Scale, which does the same thing for weight and BMI--transmitting the data wirelessly from the scale to the server, and from there back to your iPhone/iPod. I think that if I stick with the other tools between now and April, I'll ask for that for my birthday :)

shangri-la update

I haven't been updating my separate "shangri-la chronicles" mini-blog, but I have been sticking with the basic plan. And much to my amazement, I've been steadily dropping a pound a week. I'm still eating all the foods I enjoy, from french fries at lunch to ice cream in the evening, but there's no question that my appetite has been reduced. I feel full much faster, I get hungry less frequently, I'm not craving carbs as often as I used to.

The weight loss is not at all related to increased exercise, either, because my plans to get back into the gym regularly have been sidelined by knee pain. My doctor says the pain is from patellar tendonitis, something I had back in high school as well. It will get better with stretching exercises and rest, but for now it has curtailed even my dog walking.

I'm pretty delighted by the results of this very simple daily habit (one tbsp of extra-light olive oil every afternoon), and plan on keeping it up for the foreseeable future. (I'm considering switching to Smart Balance oil when my current bottle runs out, since it has more of the beneficial omega acids in it.)

shangri-la chronicles

Inspired by a re-reading of this post by Kathy Sierra, I've decided to give the Shangri-La Diet a try.

It may be total hocus-pocus, but I don't really see a down side to giving it a try; taking a few tablespoons a day of extra-light olive oil or flaxseed oil isn't going to hurt me (in fact, both offer health benefits), and the potential for positive improvements in my eating habits is pretty significant.

Rather than clutter my blog or Twitter feed with updates, I'm starting a separate blog to track how this works for me, both in terms of how I feel and what I weigh. It's called Shangri-La Chronicles.

morgan update, week 2

Benefits of dog ownership thus far:

  • I'm playing a lot less WoW
  • I'm getting a lot more exercise
  • I'm spending more time outside

Morgan has been here for nearly three weeks now, and we're all learning a lot more about each other. We've had two sessions with the dog trainer (and a third scheduled today), which has helped enormously. She's very smart, and quick to learn. At this point she understands sit, down, stay, release, come, leave it, take it, and drop it. (Understanding does not mean 100% compliance, but it gets a little better every day.)

We've also figure out what kinds of toys she really likes, including soft-but-sturdy stuffed toys (the kids' old stuffed animals were too flimsy, so we've stuck with things made for dogs), sturdy tennis balls (also from the pet store), anything with a rope for tugging (which is a little risky because she likes to grab close to where our hands are). She's not a big fan of things too hard for her to sink her teeth into (like sterilized bones).

We've taken to putting her meals in toys that are intended to slowly dispense food, like Kongs. This allows us to feed her while we eat, since it takes her 15-20 minutes to get the food instead of the 30 seconds it takes to inhale the food from a bowl.

She's got an enormous amount of energy, and an insatiable desire for interactive play. The trainer thinks she's probably younger than the 2 years the shelter estimated, and says she's exhibiting very adolescent behavior. Lots of inappropriate acting out to get attention--jumping, barking, chewing on everything in the house. She has to be supervised all the time, because when she's not she'll grab papers, eyeglasses, books, or anything else on the tables and destroy them. I'm really, really hoping that she'll outgrow this, and that emphasizing the obedience training will help. Also, I find that all that negative behavior is greatly reduced if we take her for several walks a day and play with her in the backyard. I now understand why so many trainers use the mantra "A tired dog is a good dog."

On the plus side, she has no problem with sleeping in her crate, or in hanging out there during the day when we're around. (As I type this, I'm sitting in bed and she's sprawled on her back in the crate, fast asleep.) Happily, she is 100% housetrained. She's also learned very quickly how to walk with a loose leash--that only took a day or two of training to master. So, given that we're not even a full three weeks into dog ownership, I think we're doing pretty well.

I'm going out of town next week for GDC (Game Developer's Conference), but the boys are on spring break and will be responsible for her while I'm gone. Then I'm back for a week, after which the whole family will head out on a Bahamas cruise (to replace the Alaska cruise we had to cancel last summer). My mother has very generously offered to keep Morgan while we're away, so she won't have to be kenneled.

I apologize for the lack of "professional" content here since Morgan arrived. Between the dog and the strep throat, I haven't had much time for anything else. But I suspect that a week in San Francisco will change all that...

two theories

  1. The bacteria that causes strep throat is nastier than it was when I was a kid, and results in significantly more painful symptoms.
  2. As I get older, my pain threshold is lower.

still here...barely

No, I haven't abandoned my blog. But I have been miserably, terribly ill with either the flu or a particularly nasty cold. Sore throat, fever, chills, nasal and chest congestion, the works. Alex and Gerald had it first, Lane and I are now trying to rid ourselves of it. Our kitchen counter looks like a pharmacy, and we've filled all our garbage cans with kleenex.

I spent my birthday in bed, instead of on an airplane to DC where I was supposed to give a conference keynote. That means that not only did I have a spectacularly miserable birthday, I also lost the income associated with the talk--making this the most expensive virus I've ever had.

Now that I'm starting to almost feel healthy, I'm in panicked catch-up mode on grading, because my students need midterm grades today.

With luck, regular blogging may resume next week.


why i chose an iud

Five years ago, I decided I was tired of being on the pill, and that I didn't feel comfortable asking my husband to have a vasectomy. After doing a good bit of research, I decided I wanted to try a new IUD just out on the market--Mirena. It had only recently been approved in the US, although it was already popular in Europe. Like many women I know, most of what I'd heard about IUDs before that was negative, and I was surprised by how positive the overall reviews were for the Mirena--which is different from the older generation of copper IUDs. I liked what I read--that Mirena had a 99.9% reliability rate, for instance, and that for many women it significantly reduced the cramps and heavy flow associated with their periods. I was the first person to ever ask my doctor about it, so he did some research too--and then agreed to insert it in March 2002.

This is the part, of course, where you probably expect to talk about how wrong I was.'s been great! No side effects, no problems. I basically forgot about it--except when gloating about my extremely light and non-disruptive periods (which used to be marked by heavy bleeding and lots of cramps). In fact, it came as a shock to me last week when my husband, after seeing a Mirena ad on TV, asked me if I wasn't about due to have mine replaced. Had it really been five years? (My doctor asked the same thing when I went in today, and then arched his eyebrows in surprise when he leafed through my chart and saw that in fact it had been.)

So I had a new one inserted today, which means no more worrying about birth control for five more years. Yay!

The only downside of Mirena, which I suppose I ought to warn others about, is that the insertion procedure is on the painful side of uncomfortable. It's done in the doctor's office, and only takes a few minutes--but for me, at least, it's a pretty unpleasant few minutes. Both times I've had the procedure done I've had some pretty major cramping, which took about an hour (and a handful of ibuprofen) to finally subside. Still, that's a pretty minor price to pay for reliable, unobtrusive birth control that lasts for five years.

sick sick sick of being sick -- again!

I don't think I've had a single full week of good health since Christmas. This week it's been the miserable cold-from-hell. Everyone else in the family already had it, and I though perhaps I'd escape...but no. Last week I had three days of that awful "I feel like I'm getting sick even though I don't have any symptoms" feelings, and then it hit me like a truck, and I've been stuffed up and coughing since Wednesday night. I don't want to grade, I don't want to teach, I don't want to write, and I have to do all of those things.

Given how susceptible to illness I seem to have become, I think it's time for me to do a serious overhaul of my diet and exercise. I've become a slug, a slug that eats too much junk food, and I really need to make some changes. Right now I'm pretty much subsisting off of tea and matzo ball soup, but once I'm healthy again I'm really going to try to cut way back on all the sugar and refined carbs, and really really try to start exercising regularly again.

sick sick sick of being sick

This is getting ridiculous. On December 27 I came down with the full-blown, wish-I-was-dead version of the dreaded norovirus that's terrorizing Rochester--it knocked me out completely for a day, but took five days to recover completely from.

Last Monday I came down with a lower-GI-only-version that took me out for all of Tuesday. Two GI bugs in two weeks--I figured I was particularly unlucky.

This morning I woke up at 3:30am with what turned out to be round two of the norovirus (or something very like it). It was worse, not better, the second time around. I wasn't able to keep liquids down until late afternoon, and while the symptoms have abated now I still feel like I've been hit by a bus.

A little research on the CDC site (once I was able to sit up again) yielded two relevant pieces of information. First, that it is possible to be reinfected, though typically people get a few months of resistance rather than a few weeks. And second, that people with type O blood (that's me) are genetically predisposed to be more vulnerable to the virus.

I really hope that this bad luck traveled in threes, and that I won't be seeing symptoms like these again in the near future.

not the best way to lose the christmas cookie weight

It's been a long, long time since I've been this sick. It started early yesterday morning, and right now is the first time since Tuesday night then that I've left my bedroom, sat upright, or looked at a book or a screen of any kind. I'm still not ready to tackle solid food...I've been subsisting on Gatorade since yesterday afternoon.

It could have been worse, though. I could have gotten the stomach bug from hell on Christmas Day, or even the day after (which is reserved for my annual shopping trip with Alex). More of us could have been sick at once. And on the bright side, the popsicle that I had at 3pm yesterday was without a doubt the sweetest and most delicious thing I've ever tasted. Like mana from heaven.

Time to invest in a large stash of hand santizer, I think, because I really really don't want to see anyone else in my family go through this.

beating back the beast

One of the most-read posts on mamamusings is control freak, my discussion of my slide into--and recovery from--depression.

After I wrote it, the outpouring of support--both publicly and privately--were nothing short of astounding to me. It helped me to realize how important blogs are in helping us to see the world through the eyes of others. First-person accounting, particularly from a voice you've come to trust and love, is a powerful tool for education.

Even though I don't need to read someone else's words to understand what depression is, and how it can make someone feel, I'm still always grateful when I find an eloquent description of the disease. Partly because it spreads the message a little further, partly because it reminds me of where I've been, and of how important it is for me not to go back there.

Dervala's writing always pulls me in. She's a consummate storyteller, always painting extraordinary pictures with her posts. Today's post was no exception. The difference was that instead of detailing one of her trips to Southeast Asia, or South America, or Brooklyn, or the Haight, she talked about her own depression.

Like rheumatoid arthritis, depression turns your own body against itself. It chews not on your cartilage, but on your brain cells and your sense of reality. It’s as seductive as a wife-beater, shutting out other voices to turn itself into your only friend. The only one who tells the truth about the bleakness of the world. All your energy goes towards getting through whatever stands in your way—struggling, slogging, pushing, through work and small talk and getting food—whatever it is you have to get through until you can be alone again with the voice who can be trusted.

Beautifully and bravely written.

With luck (and an occasional round of medication), I'll never need to take more than a vicarious journey through that dark countryside again.

aging eyes

I went for an eye exam yesterday, because I could literally feel the strain on my eyes and the headaches it was causing. It appears I can no longer avoid the dreaded bifocal lens. :( And omg...glasses seem much more expensive these days than they used to, and adding bifocal lenses to my blind-as-a-bat nearsightedness makes for a mighty pricey pair of specs. (My rx is so strong that I have to buy the super-light/thin lenses in order to wear most frames, and my vanity is so strong that I opted for the progressive lenses so that it's not quite so obvious that they're bifocals.)

I'm also going back to contact lenses, at least part time, so today I started pairing those with reading glasses. And while these glasses make me feel old beyond my years, they're awfully helpful with little things like being able to read text on a screen (as well as on paper).


I can't blame it on the gray skies, because we had a string of beautifully clear (but very cold) days last week. And I can't blame it on work, which has been full of wonderful new challenges and opportunities of late. (No, I can't blog about that. At least not yet. But soon, I hope.) I'm not sure what to blame it on, really, but I've been in an awfully crabby mood for the past few days.

Actually, I probably do know what to blame it on--I've just been loathe to admit it. Last week, right after I posted about "staying the course," I veered off the track. I think all those carbs in my Valentine's night meal set off a series of cravings, and the really cold weather caused me to avoid our garage-based weight bench for a couple of mornings in a row. So I ended up with three days of no exercise and an unbalanced diet. That, combined with normal hormonal swings, was a very bad thing.

Like Weez, I took a 4-weeks-later photo this week. Unlike her, I didn't see a significant difference in the images. But, to quote one of my favorite movies from childhood, it's often the case that "you see what you want to see." And given where my head was at the time, it's not surprising that I didn't see positive change. Today I weighed myself at the gym, and discovered that I've lost 8 pounds since she left town in January. That's just over a pound a week, which is pretty respectable. And I know I'm stronger, as well.

So yes, it appears undeniably true that not only is this approach to eating and activity having an effect on my physical appearance, it's having an equally significant effect on my state of mind. That's a good thing to remember when the ice cream looks tempting--is it really worth feeling this out of sorts for several days for that fleeting sensory treat?

So I'm climbing back out of the (carb-induced?) funk, and back into a positive mindset. I have so much to be happy about, and I'm working hard at shifting my focus back to that.

staying the course

A couple of people have asked "offline" whether things are still on track with the dietary and activity changes. The answer is definitely yes. Still doing cardio 3x/week and weights 3x/week, and the changes in food intake continue. Gerald and I pushed our "cheat day" from last Sunday to Tuesday, so we could have a decadent valentine's dinner. It was wonderful, but I found I didn't really want to eat all of the carbs that came with it, so I ended up eating much less than I might have. (I even stopped halfway through the creme brulee, which is quite unusual for me.) Despite that, I felt unpleasantly full for the rest of the evening--a sign that my body has definitely adapted to the new eating habits.

Some discoveries of good replacement snack foods along the way...

  • Luna bars, which I think are hands-down the best tasting of the various high-protein snack bars out there (so far I've tried, and liked, the S'Mores, Lemon Zest, Chai Tea, and Cookies 'n' Cream flavors).
  • Soy Crisps, which satisfy my chip cravings
  • Terra Chips, also good for chip cravings

Weight loss is slow but steady. Well-being increases are faster and also steady. It's all good.

fitness update: the tale of the tape

Two weeks ago, I decided to shift from the more flexible approach to getting fit outlined in Pam Peeke's Body for Life for Women book to the more prescriptive approach in Bill Phillips' original Body for Life book. I did this after seeing how well the latter program was already starting to work for my husband.

At this two-week mark, I'm pretty amazed by the results. The scale shows a drop of only 3 pounds--from 136.5 to 133.5. But the tale of the tape (as they say in boxing) is more striking. I've lost nearly 2" from my waist, and 1" each from my bust, hips, and thighs. My arms have stayed the same, but I suspect that's because of the muscle being added. I can totally feel the difference in how my clothes fit. Beyond that, I also feel more energetic, more balanced. (Gerald's results have been even more impressive, but that's his story to tell, not mine.)

So, how does it work? It's pretty straightforward. Six days a week you exercise, alternating a high-intensity 20 minute cardio workout on one day with a 40-45 minute weight training routine the next. For the weights, you alternate between upper body one day and lower the next, using a formula for increasing intensity--12 reps at a relatively easy weight, followed by 10 at a higher weight, 8 at the next higher, 6 at the next higher, then 12 at a lower weight followed immediately (no 1-minute break like the others) by 12 of a different exercise for the same muscle group. The goal is to hit a point by the last rep where you absolutely, positively, couldn't do another rep if your life depended on it. (He provides downloadable PDF worksheets on his web site, which makes it easy to keep track of your progress and plan your workout for the next day.)

The recommendation is to do this on an empty stomach, and then to wait an hour afterwards before eating--to ensure maximum fat-burning. So getting the workout done first thing in the morning makes the most sense, and also lets you get it out of the way for the rest of the day.

On the food side, Phillips recommends that you eat 5-6 small meals a day--eating every 3 hours or so. Each meal is supposed to have both a healthy carb and some protein, with the emphasis being on reasonable portion sizes rather than calorie counting. Veggies can be eaten with any meal, in whatever quantity you like. He particularly encourages the use of protein/health bars for the in-between meals, and that's worked well for me. I've become quite the expert on the different brands and flavors, and have finally found a few that I genuinely enjoy rather than tolerating.

The plan allows for one "cheat day" a week, during which you can eat whatever foods you want, and yesterday I indulged in french fries at lunch, and potato chips and a white roll with my burger at dinner. Turns out my body really doesn't like those refined carbs much anymore, and I felt like crap by bedtime. Interestingly, I've had almost no cravings for sweets since starting the program, and wasn't the least bit tempted by my kids' milkshakes and ice cream after lunch.

This is a 12-week plan, at the end of which you can assess where you are and decide if you want to reduce the intensity of the weight training. But I suspect that the dietary changes that Gerald and I are making aren't going to end after 12 weeks. It's clearly improving our quality of life, and that's not just a short term goal. More importantly, this feels sustainable. We're eating foods we enjoy, and we don't feel hungry at all during the day. This is nothing like "diets" I've been on in the past--it feels like a low-level shift in our way of thinking about food and eating.

More updates to come.

fitness update

I've been sticking to my plan to change my activity level and food intake--better than I would have expected, actually. We've stocked the house with healthy foods, which helps a lot. And I'm getting used to getting up earlier in order to get to the gym.

So far, I've seen little in the way of actual weight or size reduction, which is a little disheartening--especially since my best friend and husband are shedding pounds like crazy. But I'm going to be patient. These are good changes, regardless of whether they satisfy my desire for instant gratification.

This weekend I got a free consultations with a personal trainer at our health club, which included height/weight/measurements, body composition analysis, and strength and flexibility tests.

The good news is, my blood pressure continues to be low, and my resting heart rate is lower than I thought. The really good news is that my strength tested at "excellent" (I hit a level that would have counted as excellent even if I was 18, which was gratifying). The bad news...well, let's just say I won't be sharing body comp or measurement numbers anytime soon. Maybe in April, if I've made significant progress, I'll share the "before" info for comparison purposes. Then again, maybe I won't!

Gerald decided to use the more prescriptive plan from Bill Phillips's book Body for Life, and after looking it over (and seeing how well it's working for Gerald), I'm going to give it a shot as well. The difference is really a focus on intensity, with a clear plan for 3x/week high-intensity interval-style cardio work, and 3x/week strength training. I did my first weights session last night with Gerald coaching, and it was definitely intense.

My blogging about my commitment to getting fit again had an unexpected bonus--I got email this week from another person who'll be attending this week's "search champs" event here at Microsoft, and we've made a pact to monitor each other's food intake at the various social events (at which large quantities of food are regularly served). It helps a lot to know that someone else is "in it" with me...and that someone will notice if I happen to reach for a brownie in the middle of the afternoon!

accepting the challenge

This week I attended several presentations at the Microsoft Women's Conference, a 3-day event held on the corporate campus in Redmond. There were hundreds of other women there--all Microsoft employees. So many, in fact, that several of the mens' rooms had been temporarily converted to women's rooms, prompting MSN VP Debra Chrapaty to exhort us to take advantage of our unique opportunity to make deals in the men's room. (Chrapaty was part of a wonderful panel of female VPs at Microsoft, and I loved her description of her own personal style--"outwardly casual, inwardly rigorous.")

When I registered for the conference, I made sure to select a session on "Body for Life for Women," based on the book by that name and presented by its author, Pam Peeke. Pam's a friend-of-a-friend--while in Seattle, she was staying with my good friend Linda Stone, who had strongly encouraged me to attend the talk.

Before the presentation was over, I'd ordered the book. Not only that, I'd ordered a second copy to be shipped directly to my best friend and workout buddy. (She may be 2500 miles away, but we can still be virtual workout buddies...)

Pam's approach centers around a 12-week "body challenge," which includes aspects of changing your mindset, your eating habits, and your exercise routine ("mind/mouth/muscle"). The book itself arrived wrapped in a thin strip of paper covered with before-and-after photos of women who'd done the 12-week challenge. The photos are inspirational, and I've put them up on my fridge as a daily reminder that I can do this. The stories that accompany the photos are in the book, and they're equally inspirational. These are real women, with real lives and real stresses. The message is clear--if they can do it, so can I. (She's also got a fabulous quote in the book from Eleanor Roosevelt: "Women are like tea bags. You never know how strong they are until they're in hot water.")

I'm also going to use her "clothes-o-meter" trick, which is to pick out a pair of pants that you think you ought to be able to wear when you're in good shape. They have to be pants that you can pull up over your rear, but not even come close to zippering. (Hmmm...I wonder if I could even get my infamous black leather pants over my hips any more. They're in Rochester, so I can't check.) You hang those pants in the front of your closet, so you have to see them every day when you're getting dressed. She then describes the message you'll get from them each morning: "Mornin'! Are you going to have a good day today? Great! 'Cause I'll be right here waiting for you when you get home!"

What I really wish I had was a local workout buddy who wanted to hit the gym with me on a regular basis. I know from past experience that it's the best motivator for me--I'm a lot less likely to hit the snooze button and burrow back under the covers if I know someone's expecting to meet me. But I've let that be my excuse for too long now, and I'm not happy with the results. When I turned 40, almost four years ago, I was in the best shape of my life. Since then I've put on nearly 30 pounds--all of it fat. Blech. I'm back where I started before I got fit, and I don't like it one bit.

So yes, I'm taking Dr. Peeke's body challenge. Starting this week, I'm embarking on 12 weeks of commitment to taking care of myself. Healthier food, regular exercise, and a commitment to not wearing my stress on my body. That puts my ending date for the challenge in mid-April, just in time for my birthday. I want to feel as good (and as good about myself) this year as I did in 2002.

When Weez was here she jumpstarted my gym attendance, and this week I've gotten up early three times to go do cardio and weights before getting to the office. Next week I'm going to start going daily--I know myself well enough to know that I'm more likely to stick with something that's part of a daily routine than something that I can put off 'til tomorrow. This morning I'm en route to California to spend a weekend in Monterey with some of the most amazing women I know. I brought workout clothes, and have every intention of getting some exercise every day. Here in the San Jose airport, I opted for a protein-enriched smoothie instead of a burger. Small steps, but steps nonetheless.

(Note to Weez: My ongoing reluctance to do leg workouts was backed up by Dr. Peeke! In her talk, she said that particularly if you're overweight, there's no real need to do weight training for your legs, that cardio will take care of them for you. "The heavier you are" she said, "the stronger your legs are. You're your own gym!" Instead, she said to focus on pelvis on up. She alternates days--chest/shoulders/triceps one day, back and biceps the next.)

I'm not going to chronicle the process here on the blog, but Weez and I are going to set up a private space (in Basecamp, probably)

new obsession

I have a long-standing tradition of acquiring and becoming obsessive about a new video game during vacations and holidays. This summer is no different--except for the fact that this obsession is actually healthy!

We bought DDR (Dance Dance Revolution) for Lane for his birthday, and it's turned out that I'm the one who's playing it nonstop. Calories burned today: 550 650 900! More fun than a treadmill, that's for sure.

As usual, obsessive game playing will take precedence over blogging, so don't expect to see too much of my here. (Plus there's that pesky packing problem to deal with, too, seeing as how we're leaving in a mere 3 weeks...)

spring suffering

Well, the not-so-bad cold I wrote about on Saturday has turned into a seriously nasty chest cough. So while the weather is breathtakingly beautiful today, I'm sacked out on the couch, surrounded by tissues and teacups. Blech.

Wednesday night I'm flying to LA, so I'm hoping for a quick recovery. And kicking myself for not starting a course of Zicam on Thursday when the earliest symptoms appeared.

life used to be so hard... everything is easy 'cause of you

Lane is at the neighborhood pond with his friends, building a fort and eating a picnic lunch.

Alex is at a friend's house 'til dinner.

Gerald's running errands.

So here I am, sitting on my couch, enjoying the fresh air coming through the windows and the sounds of birds, kids, and lawnmowers in the neighborhood around me. I have a spring cold--unpleasant, but not debilitating--which gives me license to lounge, rather than cleaning up and packing boxes. And this rare oasis of stillness and solitude gives me time to reflect and be grateful.

We're happy. Our life here is good. There is nothing that we need that we want for--from food and shelter to friends and family.

I'm blessed.

sick and tired



Lost my voice, and colleagues who had it happen to them warn that a nasty head/chest cold is likely to follow.

I have no energy.

I have too much work, and haven't yet implemented a real GTD system to keep it under control. (I'm working on it. Really. But it's slow going.)

There are over 3000 unread items in my aggregator.

I'm going to bed.

happy new year!

The boys and I put Gerald on a plane to Alabama early Friday morning, so that he could spend a week with his daughters in Birmingham. Despite my solo status, however, I managed to clean the house and host a potluck brunch for friends and family yesterday. (It wasn't going to be potluck until Gerald made his travel plans--I depend on him for much of our hospitality infrastructure, so switching to potluck was the only realistic way to pull it off.)

We had a lovely time, marred only by the fact that I'm developing a delayed allergic reaction to a sulfa drug that I was talking earlier in the week--so about an hour before my guests left, my ankles and chest developed maddeningly itchy hives. I tried taking Benadryl, which makes me incredibly sleepy, so the rest of the day was pretty much lost. The Benadryl was nearly useless, however, and by lunchtime today I was covered with the itchy red blotches (lovely image, no?). I ended up calling the doctor for a prednisone Rx, which I started today. (Will have to hit the gym tomorrow morning and take advantage of my short-term steroid boost!)

My mom took the boys this afternoon, so I did the back-to-school lunch shopping, and more household cleaning--trying to get organized enough to make it through a week of single-parenthood. I even signed up (again) for FlyLady, in hopes that I can defeat the C.H.A.O.S. around here ("can't have anyone over syndrome"). It's not a new year's resolution, exactly--it's more a realization that I'm happier in a house that's not a mess. We'll see if it's possible to change my years of bad habits--and to get the boys to adopt some new ones, as well.

exorcise yourself

One of the nice things about being on the quarter system is that right now, when all my friends at semester schools are tearing their hair out with end-of-term stresses, I'm cruising through the first two weeks of a new quarter. That means I've got time to do catch up on some reading--and some blog wandering, which is always fun. Dori Smith pointed me to 43 Folders, a blog on time management and productivity that I'd heard good things about. They, in turn, sent me to Bloodletters - Hack Yourself, which is an excellent motivational essay. Here's an excerpt:

Find the demon.

Do you know what I'm talking about? It's the little voice in the back of your head that's always whispering, "You can't." You know the demon. You may think you hate the demon, but you don't. You love it. You let it own you. You do everything it says. Everytime there's something you want, you consult the demon first, to see if it will say, "You can't have that."

What you don't realize is that your demon doesn't know anything. It's an idiot. It's nothing but a parrot, repeating back to you anything negative that it's ever heard, anything that makes you hurt, makes you squirm. If a teacher once told you "You'll never accomplish anything," it was listening; it hoards words like that and repeats them back to you to watch you jump. It doesn't know what it's saying. It doesn't care.

Exorcise yourself.

The whole essay is great--and it's right on target for those of us in recovery for co-dependence. ("Stop assigning blame. This is the first step. Stop assigning blame and leave the past behind you.")

So, today? Today I'm working on exorcising myself. Seems like a good way to spend the day.

new resolve

For months now I've been avoiding scales, since I could tell by the growing pile of clothes that no longer fit me that I'd been putting on weight. Yesterday at the gym I braved the scale at last, and the news was every bit as bad as I feared. I've done a good job of taking care of my emotional and intellectual needs over the past year, but I've not been so good about the physical side.

So, I've got a pre-New Year's resolution--cardio every day, weights every other day, healthier food, and smaller portions. I really want to take the extra pounds off, if only to protect my wallet from the need for a new set of clothes.

I don't like diets, and I don't stick with them, so please don't tell me how South Beach or Atkins or some other diet plan is all I really need. What I really need is to be as in-shape and healthy as I was when I was working out regularly. It boosts my mood and my energy--diets don't do that. And I love food much too much to deprive myself of carbs, or butter, or any of the other things that make the world go round. (I can, and will, start being better about portion sizes, though.)

By my birthday in 2005 I would like to be at the same weight that I was at on my 40th birthday in 2002. The proof of that will be that I will once again be able to fit into the leather body suit from Northbound Leather that so entertained the denizens of #joiito. (Oh, calm down...they only saw the Northbound photo! I do have some modesty, y'know!)

the beast

It's stalking dooce.

I've seen it outside my window of late, as well.

The good news is, we both know what we need to do to banish it.

brain eaters

Whenever I'm overwhelmed with work tasks, I become far more susceptible to the siren call of brain-eating games. I lost more hours than I care to admit to WEBoggle this week. Now I find myself confronted with the ingenious InfocomBots--AIM bots that allow you to play the best of InfoComs classic text adventure games using nothing more than an AIM client. Ack!

My susceptibility to the appeal of these games was probably fueled by my recent sleeplessness and drug-induced fogginess, which in turn resulted from the annoyingly persistent cough I've not been able to shake for the past 2+ weeks. I finally went to my doctor Tuesday, and she diagnosed a bronchial inflammation. She put me on prednisone for a few days to reduce the inflammation,and I'm already sleeping better. So perhaps I'll be able to resist the siren song of online games, and get some actual work done.

count your blessings. really.

It's been a rough month for my family, but lately I've been focused on counting my blessings rather than my trials. I have a lot to be grateful for--family, friends, health, and job security (in a job I love), to name just a few.

I've always felt that actively listing and talking about the good things in my life has had a positive effect. Turns out that researchers at UC Davis have results that support my thoughts on the matter. Here's an excerpt from the AP wire story (as published in the SJ Mercury News):

In one set of observations, college students kept a diary, with some instructed to write about how they felt grateful and others told to concentrate on daily hassles or routine events.

There were fewer illnesses among the "gratitude" group, which also reported exercising more and offering more emotional support to others, Emmons and co-author Michael E. McCullough wrote in the February issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, at which Emmons is a consulting editor.

In another experiment with people with neuromuscular diseases, the researchers found that emphasizing gratefulness improved satisfaction with their lives, as well as their amount and quality of sleep. That study involved observations from the participants and family members.

So, all you bloggers out we welcome in a new year this week, why not write a post about what you're most grateful for? And if your software supports it, trackback to this post so that I can hear about it, too. :)

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