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Grace, grit, and the Whole30

Monday, June 12th, 2017

In my most cliché move yet, I’m now on the Whole30.

If you aren’t familiar, the Whole30 is a 30-day elimination diet that cuts out everything that makes me who I am: sugar, dairy, grains, and alcohol (also legumes and soy, although those mean less to me). It’s popular with girls on Instagram and your boss’s wife.

The Whole30 is reserved for the wealthy, since my first week’s grocery run ran me nearly five times my normal food budget. Granted, I have been known to subsist on Wheat Thins, popcorn, and cheese, which means that I typically budget $30/week for food (don’t judge, I hate myself enough for this already), but still. Look at me — I’m so rich, I can cut out entire food groups!

See you never, ice cream.

Here is what one can eat while on the Whole30: vegetables, meat, seafood, fruit, eggs, and healthy fats. The only processed food allowed is, say, a sweet potato that’s been shredded through the food processor. If it’s convenient or comes in a package, chances are very good that it’s very bad. Thou shalt make thine own condiments. And don’t even glance at that perfectly chilled glass of summer rosé — eyes up here, buddy.

Does it sound awful? It sort of does to me, which is why it’s taken me so long to try it. But I finally decided it was time. Here’s why.

ANNIE GOES TO THE HOSPITAL
Twelve days before I ran the Fargo Marathon, I landed myself in the ER.

During my training, I had basically become a human garbage dumpster, eating anything and everything in sight. It wasn’t really a problem from a caloric standpoint since I was burning it off, but it led to me feeling free to do things like order the pizza AND the tacos AND the potstickers — a United-Junk-Food-Nations. Nutrition mattered not; I was a human Hoover.

Until one night in May when I was hit with the worst crippling abdominal pain of my entire life. The pain was so severe that the adrenaline was causing my limbs to convulse; I honestly thought I was having a seizure. My next-door neighbor rushed me to the hospital, where I was given fluids for dehydration and a lecture for being bottomed out on nutrients.

Dumb? Avoidable? Probably. I would start a GoFundMe for the yet-to-be-received bill, except knowing me I would just ask for payment in wine. Which brings me to my next point.

ANNIE THE WINE-O
Here are the occasions in which I have been known to justify a glass of wine:

  • When I’m happy (hooray!)
  • When I’m sad (wallow wallow)
  • When I’m with friends (celebrate fun times!)
  • When I’m alone (I call this “vice-olation”)
  • When I have a great meal (wouldn’t be complete without it)
  • When I have a lame meal (you know what would make this sad popcorn taste better…?)
  • When I cook at all (Cabernet while I chop)
  • When I’m bored (a nice way to pass an evening)
  • When I’m stressed (gotta relax and unwiiiind)
  • When I go on a trip (special occasion)
  • When I get back from a trip (good to be home!)
  • When life just feels like a little too much (take that edge off, then sleep like crap and wake up thirsty)

Now, don’t fret — this has not been happening on a daily basis. But I was just starting to find that it was happening more often than it should. I have allowed alcohol to play a stronger role than it needs to in my life, and the collective effect has been me waking up with low-level shame. Gross.

Alcohol has often been the path of least resistance for me, but it doesn’t need to be. I don’t need to numb out, because life has already shown me that I can do hard things. Which leads me to…

GRACE AND GRIT
In my 20s, I was a real hard-ass, especially when it came to myself. I set huge goals and accomplished them. I got the jobs I applied for, and even ones that I didn’t. I restricted calories to be skinny. I boldly moved across the country multiple times. I manipulated to make myself look good on the Internet. I did impressive things so I could impress people and therefore be an impressive person.

But in my 30s, there was a shift. I got tired and my heart broke in two and I couldn’t keep up so I just decided to give myself grace.

I slowed down. I stopped striving. I bought clothes a size bigger. I sought contentment with the way things are instead of struggling toward the way I wished they would be. I stopped caring so much about what other people think, and decided instead to just be happy.

This all sounds great — and a lot of it is — but there’s been a shadow side.

All of those big goals I used to have? I started letting them slide. I would commit to something and then, in the name of grace, drop out. I would dream up something major, then abandon it before even starting because “You should go easy on yourself, Annie.” I let myself off the hook, over and over again — and before I knew it, it had been years since I’d accomplished much of anything.

And for a girl who at a very core level loves to knock it out of the park, that started to feel like a bummer.

So I ran a marathon. And now I’m doing the Whole30. Because grace and grit are not mutually exclusive, and I’m due for some good old-fashioned Annie-in-her-20s EMOTIONAL VICTORY.

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Don’t worry, I will not ceaselessly post my meals to Instagram. But if I see you and you’re eating Cheetos, you’re dead to me.

Consolation and New Year’s resolutions

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

Over the past month or so, I’ve woken up several times in the middle of the night with a sudden panic that I’ve left Foxy outside in the cold. I sit up straight and call her name, scared to death that she is [morbid alert] frozen to death out in the yard. And each time, I’m relieved to find that she’s right there by the bed. Of course she is.

My lifelong propensity towards anxiety paired with a winter that’s already more extreme than the entirety of the 2015-2016 season is doing dismal things to my brain. It’s not so much the temperature as it is the wind chill, and it isn’t so much the wind chill as it is the darkness.

Winter in Minnesota, man. Only the strong survive.

But regardless of how I feel about the weather, I find myself living in Minneapolis for my second January. Take four degrees and subtract them from zero, and that’s the temperature at this very minute – and it doesn’t even seem all that unreasonable, given the stiff and hypothermic potential. My survival strategy is to just keep living – and in January, I’ve decided that life will be made up of only two things: working, and running on the treadmill.

It happens to all of us at the start of every new year, doesn’t it? Making resolutions, resolving to re-solve what we’ve deemed wrong about our lives. As usual, I’ve decided that the root of all that’s wrong with my life is not, in fact, my fallen nature, but the circumference of my thighs. My re-solution? To run.

To run a freaking marathon.

Ha. That was actually my New Year’s resolution – to run 26.2 miles, twice as far as I’ve ever run, twice as far as I’ve ever wanted to run. Annieeeeeee. Why must your goals always be so extreme??

But since then, some thoughts.

First, last week I listened as a wonderful dinner companion shared about the Ignatian method of discernment called Examen, a prayer-fueled mindfulness that involves the idea of consolation and desolation. Each night, one is to review the events of the day and pinpoint the moments that were consoling (life-giving, inspiring, connecting) and the ones that were desolating (draining, despairing, isolating); in other words, consolation is movement toward God, and desolation is movement away.

As patterns begin to emerge, the idea is to orient one’s life toward consolation as a way forward. It’s not about making the “right” concrete decisions or checking items off a list, it’s about moving toward the things that stir us up and send us out, strong, tender, and present.

A few days later, I listened to an episode of Steve Wiens’s podcast in which he makes the case for “change that actually changes you.” So much of what he said parallels the idea of Examen. You should listen to the full episode, but for now, I’ll share the simple daily prayer offered by Steve at the end: “God, I want to experience life in all of its fullness today. Please lead me there.”

Do you feel how different this way of life is from our crazy New Year’s resolutions, those hard-hitting, full throttle plans that we think are going to turn our sorry ass luck around?

At the Christmas dinner table, I told my sister-in-law Ashley that I am thinking about training for a marathon, but that I’m nervous that if I commit to it and say it out loud that I won’t actually be able to do it and then I’ll be a total garbage person failure. She said, “I guess that you’d need to know that the process of reaching the goal would be just as worthwhile as achieving the goal itself.”

This morning at the gym, I ran for 45 minutes while staring at a poster in front of the treadmill that said, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?” That’s a preposterous notion, really, since we can and do fail all the time. So I changed it in my mind to, “What would you do if you knew you might fail, but you’d kind of like to give it a shot anyway?”

Here’s the truth about today: I’m glad I ran for those 45 minutes. I feel awesome. That run felt like consolation. I want more of that feeling.

Here’s another thing that’s true: I was not well in 2016. The quiet stress I experienced during the first half of the year wreaked havoc on the second, health-wise. I had an eye infection that lasted for two months. I got shingles. My body harbored infection, I was sick over and over again, and I couldn’t sleep. But in November, when I started getting back into running after years of not running, I started to feel better. The beginning of 2017 finds me quite well, physically. I credit much of this to running, which is reason enough to keep doing it.

I don’t know if I’ll run a marathon this year. But at the risk of feeling stupid later, I’ll say it anyway: I’m going to try. I’m going to follow this training plan day by day, as far as I can take it, and give it everything I’ve got.

Maybe it will result in the torturous achievement of running 26.2 miles all at once, or maybe I’ll find that running 26.2 miles via multiple runs spread out over a week is a pretty cool accomplishment, too. Last week, my new friend Barnabas said something like, “What if running 15 miles 10 times is just as big an achievement as running 26.2 once?” I like that. When we drop our rigid expectations, the world opens up to us (the most Oprah thing I’ve ever said); success can take so many different forms.

(But I really am going to try for a marathon.)

I hope 2017 finds you experiencing life in all its fullness and moving toward consolation, New Year’s resolutions or none. And if you’re dying for a getaway, please come visit me in Minneapolis. I have a brand new furnace.

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All the shingle ladies

Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

I’m sure you’ve been on the edge of your seat, just dying to know WHAT ON EARTH has transpired since my last blog. Here’s the answer:

1) I had to replace my entire HVAC system.
2) My abdominal pain turned out to be shingles. Because I am 72-years old.

The first thing makes me want a drink. The second thing means I can’t have one. A big old SIGH to all of it.

But despite it all, I recently told a friend, “I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.” And in that moment – not spectacular or special or particularly noteworthy in any way, just a regular moment – I really meant it. This fall has been so good to me. I’m well-rested, working only part-time (and loving it), taking the dog on so many walks, and peppering my schedule with life-giving people and events. It’s quiet a lot of the time, but it’s okay. My life is lacking nothing (except skinnier thighs, but what a stupid thing to let ruin my contentment).

On my birthday back in August, I realized that I only get a good year every three years (22, 25, 28, 31). This year, 34, I’m due. I’m happy to report that the pattern continues.

I don’t know what happens next or how long this particular day-to-day will look like it does right now, because I don’t know that my current circumstances feel all that permanent. But I’m grateful, and I want to remember it, shingles and all (except not the shingles).

Why I love “The Biggest Loser”

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

I mean, you guys.  Have you been watching?

I caught up last night, and had tears rolling down my face.

This is the greatest show.

I love that the contestant’s weight loss is something that they cannot fake – you watch their physical transformation over the period of 4 months, and no amount of special effects or movie magic could make someone who was once 400 lbs into someone who is 246 lbs.  They work so hard, day after day, doing exercises that would be tough enough for someone who is already in shape – it’s inspiring and heroic and challenging to me.

But even more than the weight loss, you get a glimpse of the heart change happening in these people.  You get the sense that their obesity is merely a symptom of what’s going on inside – and that the physical transformation begins to lead to heart transformation.  Where there once was self-hatred, there is healthy self-belief.  Where there once was victim mentality, there is empowerment.  Where there once was despair, there is now fervent, passionate hope.

The season finale is next Tuesday, and I will be watching.  Team Purple all the way, although if I had to choose, my vote is for Nashville girl Hannah Curlee.  What a sweet spirit – an underdog who has undergone such a complete emotional metamorphosis, not to mention the fact that she looks AMAZING.

Can – Clinic in a, peeing in a

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Mission of Hope recently acquired 55 acres of land from the government in Bercy, which is about 30 minutes north of their main campus.  On this land, they are planning to build a school, a medical clinic, a church, an orphanage, and a conference center – a planned community.  Just like Florida!

In the meantime, Mission of Hope is occasionally sending teams to the property to run mobile medical clinics.  People in the community hear that there will be a chance to see a doctor for free, and they flock to what is currently the only building on the property – a cinder block hut – to line up and wait.

Once their paperwork is completed and their vital signs have been taken, they’re sent across the rock lot to have their private appointment in this:

This is a Clinic in a Can – an air-conditioned, single-wide trailer with two consultation rooms and a pharmacy.  After they have been seen by the doctor, they head to the pharmacy to pick up any meds they may have been prescribed, as well as a goody bag filled with soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and – if you’re between the ages of 15 and 60 – 6 condoms.  Along with very explicit “how-to” instructions.

I mean, doesn’t it ever cross your mind?  Sometimes don’t you wonder who the lucky illustrator of contraceptive clip-art is?

As for me, I snuggled with this chunker for awhile.

I tested for Bieber Fever by singing “Baby” – and ALL THE KIDS SANG ALONG.

And finally, I peed in a bucket.

I did it just so I could say “I peed in a bucket” on my blog.  Feel free to congratulate me on my moxie.

Work it out

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Last week, I met with Gunnar, the Viking trainer man.  I had one free training session that was included with my gym membership – but wound up not signing up for the real deal, because I refuse to pay $50/hour to be tortured.

At one point, I said, “Gunnar, you are KILLING me.”

He replied, “No, Annie – I’m IMPROVING you.”  Then he had me do squats so rapid and forceful, it looked like I was driving a stake into the ground with my ass.

He put me on one of those slanted sit-up racks – the ones where your head is lower than your hips, as if to prevent pre-term labor.  Under those conditions, a single crunch would be difficult enough – but then he put a 25 pound weight on my chest and told me to sit up.

I held lunges and planks.  I jumped onto a metal box over and over.  I scissor-kicked.  I swung dumb-bells into the air, knowing that one sweaty-palmed slip would result in the death of an innocent by-standing body-builder.  In short, I did things that no self-respecting person would do in public.

When it was all said and done, my entire body was quivering.  I was like a terrified stray dog, completely incapable of self-calming – barely able to stand up, let alone walk back to the desk to talk nutrition.

Gunnar told me that to reach my fitness goals, I could eat no more than 1400 calories a day.

“But… how many do YOU get to have?” I asked.

“4500,” he answered.

Then the Lord and I had a chat about the injustice of it all.

Better self

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

After my half-marathon back in April, I quit running cold turkey.  I don’t like to run when it’s hot outside, and I focused more on hiking and mountain climbing this summer.  Because I’ve been insanely active, I didn’t think that it would be that hard to get back into running this fall.

Oh, my friends.

A few weeks ago, I decided to give the treadmill a go.  I ran one ugly mile.  When I stopped running, my butt kept moving.

Bad.

Then, someone who will not be named told me that she didn’t think I could fit into the bridesmaid dress I ordered for Mel’s wedding.

Bad bad bad.

But AP’s reverse psychology has kicked in, and as of last night, I’m back up to 3 miles.  You’d have thought I’d won the Olympics.  Come Halloween, I’ll be up to 5.  And after tomorrow night when I meet with a Viking of a trainer man named Gunnar, I will be back on my way to that ever elusive runner’s booty – the one that I never get, no matter how far I run, but always think MIGHT happen at some point.

For me, running helps ward off depression, insomnia, and existential crises.  It’s a good and healthy thing for me to do.  I haven’t weighed myself since March of 2009 – which, I might add, is more liberating than terrifying, even though I still have my terrified moments – and while I have a hunch that running actually makes me weigh more, if I don’t ever see that number, it doesn’t even matter.  I feel better.  I look better.  I think better.  I sleep better.

In short, I’m back on the path to my better self – the one with happier thoughts and a smaller booty.  I know: you’ll hardly recognize me.

Horrid, rotten teeth

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

You have no idea what a numb-face I am right now.

Three miserable cavities down.  Many, many more to go.

Oh yes.  The initial number was seven, but they are spreading – spreading like tweets about “Inception.”  This is some kind of mysterious, contagious decay that moves from tooth to tooth, and if I don’t get these fillings, like, yesterday, then my whole mouth is going to fall off.

I had to apply for a CareCredit credit card to cover the cost of this dental work.

I hate it when things feel out of my control – when I’m doing all the right things, being responsible with my health and hygiene and finances, but it doesn’t make a difference.  The shaft cometh regardless.

Damn you, shaft.

(And yes, I know – things could be so much worse.  I am counting my blessings – and I have more blessings than I have (horrid, rotten) teeth.  But I just want to wallow for a second, okay?  A GIRL NEEDS THE OCCASIONAL WALLOW.)

Trying for triceps

Monday, March 29th, 2010

I have negative triceps. There’s, like, nothing there. If my arms were outerspace, there would be a black hole where my triceps are supposed to be.

Haha, PHYSICS JOKE!!! Science is sooooo funny.

I am 3 1/2 years older than my sister Becca, so when I was 15 and basically the same size I am now (massive), she was 11 and scrawny. She is still incredibly skinny – she turns sideways and disappears, just like Olive Oyl – and can wear clothes that the cool kids wear (skinny jeans, tiny dresses with leggings underneath, various Forever 21 garb), while I and my thighs are banished to more frumpy sensible attire.

I am not bitter. Then again, here is a picture of me as a child:

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I have always had those thighs and a scowl.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that when I was a full-grown 15-year old and Becca was her scraggly 11-year old self, she could beat me in arm wresting.

I have never had any upper-body strength. But I want that to change, because what if one day, I find myself dangling off a canyon edge? A single pull-up could save my life. And if that’s the case, it’s time to take action.

Take action to get action. That’s always been my motto.

Several times each week, I see the King of the Weight Room at the gym. You know exactly who I’m talking about: Stallone in “Cliffhanger.” The man who is bursting out of his muscle shirt. The guy whose neck is just a direct path from his ear to his collarbone.

This man is to triceps as Hunter Lane is to quads.

In other words, I have found my new trainer.

He just doesn’t know it.

YET.

Saving grace

Friday, March 5th, 2010

In the midst of this move (because a move doesn’t just happen, you know… it is a process that takes place over a period of time – however long it takes, really), I have had hours upon hours to myself.  I think that I am predisposed to handling solitude a lot better than most – I don’t mind being alone, and in a lot of ways, I thrive on it.

But what I’m finding is that while quiet is good, silence can be hard.  A girl can drive herself crazy with the thoughts that she thinks in silence.  The vacuum of nothingness attracts all manner of mental material – because, as a wise man recently told me, “nature abhors a vacuum.”

Granted, he was trying to encourage me that my singleness will not be forever (dear sweet Jesus, please and amen), but still.  Same idea.

To fill up the hours and keep the silence at bay, thankfully, I have running.

In a small way, I think that running may be saving me during this move.  I am running 5-6 days a week, and at least one of those days is 10+ miles.  I’ve mentioned it before on this blog: what has come over me?  I didn’t become a runner until last year, when I trained for my first major race – and that was with my beloved East Nasties, who I do not have here in Denver.  I am stunned at my own commitment in their absence.

While running with the Nasties last year was just as much a social opportunity as it was a training regime, running alone is proving to be a discipline.  I have to corral my thoughts – because while my body is incredibly strong these days, it’s my mind that needs a crack of the whip.

In 2009, running was theirs – something that I participated in, but I didn’t own.  It didn’t belong to me.  But this year, running is mine.

Then again, perhaps I’m just avoiding the silence.