Water, waves, and sunshine – relaxing, right? Right??

4 01 2016

I work 6 days a week, 51 weeks a year.  I work online, from home.  I try very hard to not turn on the computer, or even go into my office, on Sundays.  From Christmas to New Year’s I observe a “computer blackout”.  This year, during my break, I found myself increasingly frustrated.  I’ve been immersed in a beautiful, relaxing, location with good food and sunshine… but my brain keeps spinning “must work, must work” on repeat loop.  Before I powered down for break, I made sure I was up to date and that nothing time-sensitive lingered in my inbox.  There is no legitimate reason for my brain to keep up the “must work” mantra… especially not on the ONE week I took off from the computer in the entire year of 2015.  Nothing needed attention, but my brain could not let it go.  Is it habit? Maybe.  Screen addiction? Could be.  Whatever it is, it’s primarily just frustrating.

Back at work today, I’m trying to figure out this mindset.  Although my work is challenging and enjoyable, I don’t want to give it free reign to dominate my thoughts.  But, what to do about it?

Some would say that accessing email on my phone is a bad idea – that it makes it worse.  Others would say that I shouldn’t encourage students to send me text messages.  But, I disagree.  I am less stressed now that I know I have access to email and texts – that I’m not missing anything – that someone isn’t waiting for me to get back to them.  Checking my phone and seeing zero notifications relieves the stress – allows me to not worry that someone is waiting for my input.  I’m more relaxed than I was before I had that level of access.  So, why won’t my brain stop the “must work” loop?

Others would suggest exercise.  I already do that – I walk for at least an hour a day.  I nearly always walk in nature. When possible, I walk near water, listen to the waves, and watch the wildlife.  That should do the trick, right?  Nope.  Still the “must work” loop.  If I try to stop and sit for a while, I get anxious, hearing “what next, what next?” over and over.  I find myself going over my to-do list in my head… even though there is nothing crucial on it for today.  I find myself planning to do tasks early, just to have something to mark off the list.  Even though my rational mind is saying “slow down and smell the sea breeze!!!”.

A couple of years ago I started mindful meditation. It worked – it helped my focus (not to mention lowered my blood pressure significantly).  Is the mental loop because I got out of that habit over this past year?  That could be.  I should try it again, I suppose.

I find myself searching Amazon for books on relaxation while sitting near the water.  The irony does not escape me.

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And, I finally realize… the slogan I’ve lived by for so many years…  “Just Do It”… can also apply to relaxing.  It’s okay to tell my brain “you’re caught up, take a rest”.  It’s healthy.  In letting my brain relax, I can be more mentally present when I’m physically present.  It’s not slacking to rest – it’s balance.

Balance.  That’s the key.  Now, to convince my brain of that…

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The second 25 pounds

21 12 2015

In April of 2009 I started seeing spots. I bought an electronic home blood pressure cuff and came in at 190/110.  I called the doctor.  They got me in right away.  My weight was the highest I had ever seen on the scale.  My blood sugar was high.  I was a mess.  Over the next year, the doctors ramped up the meds and got me a sleep test and CPAP for apnea.

A year later, my medical stats were improving – but still not great.  I was teaching 2/3 time (each) at three different schools.  My feet were so swollen that I could only wear wide width plastic Crocs. I was miserable, but too tired and stressed to do much about it.

In 2012 I finally made serious efforts to increase my fitness level. I was diagnosed with anemia which helped – knowing there was a medical reason for my exhaustion.  I went down to one full-time job, working online, and quit the classroom jobs.  I had surgery on a fibroid to correct the anemia. I spent a month in Florida walking the beach and reflecting. I started meditating. By the fall of 2014 I was down 25 pounds from my highest weight, I could fit in normal width shoes, and my stress levels had vastly improved.

Until the fall of 2015.  When all of the numbers started to go up again.  And, my doctor gave me the sad face again.  And I realized, it’s time.

I had historically been opposed to calorie counting for two reasons (1) I have an advanced degree in physiology and I know that a calorie is more than a calorie – it’s beyond simple thermodynamics and (2) I am extremely competitive with myself and I’d landed myself in the hospital twice in my 20’s with eating disorder crazy-diet related problems.

But, I didn’t know what else to try – so, I downloaded a calorie counting app (Lose It), and bought a Fitbit Charge HR and Aria scale.  I read a couple of excellent books – Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss and Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink. I read up on BMR and the dangers and limitations of very low-calorie diets, and set my calories consumed to 100 above my BMR, which – given my weight – gave me an extensive calorie cushion between my burned and consumed calories.  Still, the first few weeks were discouraging.  I hovered within five pounds – up and down.  But, I was in it for the long haul so I kept going.  A month in, I researched sugar and salt recommendations.  My graduate work was in renal salt regulation so I knew that with functional kidneys, salt wasn’t a major player.  I was wrong – or, maybe my kidneys weren’t as functional as I thought.  Once I set and started adhering to salt and sugar goals, my body finally started kicking off pounds.  And, my salt and sugar goals weren’t even aggressive – they were 1.5 times the RDA.

In time, my taste buds started to change.  Concentrated sugar started to give me a headache and a crash. Food started tasting all around more flavorful.  This wasn’t always good.  I stopped eating much salad because I couldn’t stand the bitterness of the spinach and broccoli – things that had never bothered me in the past. Turkey sandwiches on wheat bread with mustard became my new standard.  Pears, which had always been a favorite, became almost too sweet. Cinnamon-Raisin English muffins became more appealing than brownies.  It didn’t happen overnight, I noticed the change gradually, over a few weeks. A cup of no-sugar-added cocoa became more than enough to calm the chocolate cravings. Food tasted good, but I pretty much stopped craving anything particular.  I was getting enough real, natural, food and plenty of variety, and my body stopped obsessing over whatever it had been obsessing over at the cellular and neurotransmitter level for so many years.  My cells were okay with what I was doing so they started to play along.

When it comes to counting calories, there are a wide range of pro and con opinions – even experts don’t always agree.  But, the general consensus is that food packaging counts, and whole natural packages (apples) are always better than processed packages (apple juice). What counting calories does best is increase awareness.  Day 1 of counting calories I realized the tortilla wrap I used to make my lunch was 210 calories whereas two slices of wheat bread totaled 120.  No more tortillas. A pumpkin donut was 220 calories – fine – but nearly my whole RDA of sugar – not fine. I realized that some things I love – homemade chicken tacos – were both filling and low calorie and I could eat the2015-12-21 08.07.37m as often as I wanted without breaking the calorie bank.  I learned that the more I walked and moved, the more I could eat.  It was mostly common sense – but I had never really thought of it before.

The second 25 pounds took 11 weeks.  I’m now 50 pounds down from my highest weight, and I still have a long road ahead.  There will be plateaus.  There will be setbacks.  But, this is the long haul.  I’m hoping to be back to my college/military weight before I turn 50.  That’s two years out, so it’s a reasonable goal.  Still, even if I don’t make it all the way there – anything I do is better than doing nothing.





Lukken Waffles (Belgian Cookies)

12 12 2015

Last year, I made pizzelles – but, they were more like bread and less like cookies.  This year I found a lukken recipe – they turned out more like my grandma’s “Belgian cookies”. However, this is definitely a “cookie level: expert” job.  Making these takes a steady hand, patience, and an openness to a lack of perfection.  These cookies come off the press floppy and tear very easily.  However, they quickly dry stiff and are full of buttery sugary goodness.

The original recipe called for whiskey, but I substituted vanilla.  Also, the cookies shown in the picture contain a mistake – I was in a rush when making the dough and forgot to double the flour (I only used 3.67 cups).  So, they ended up extremely fragile (but still very crisp and yummy).  Next year, I’ll fix the flour issue and see how that alters the outcome.  I may end up using only 5 cups of flour to up the crispness.  Definitely a recipe to experiment with!

I used the PizzellePro brand of iron from QVC.

Ingredients:

2c butter

6 eggs

2tbsp vanilla

2 1/3c brown sugar

2 1/4c white sugar

6c flour

1/2 tsp salt

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  1. Beat sugar and butter together until creamed
  2. Add eggs and vanilla, beat
  3. Add dry ingredients and mix well
  4. Roll out logs of dough about 1″ in diameter and wrap in plastic wrap
  5. Refrigerate overnight
  6. Warm the iron
  7. Slice small section of dough and cook in iron (the exact amount will require experimentation for the particular iron you have)
  8. Remove cooked waffles with a small spatula and cool – they will firm up as they cool




Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

12 12 2015

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Ingredients:

1 1/4c brown sugar (firmly packed)

1c butter

1tsp vanilla

2 large eggs

2c flour

6tbsp unsweetened dark cocoa powder

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp baking soda

2/3c dark chocolate chips

For dipping:

Bowl of granulated sugar

Bowl of powdered sugar

1. Beat together brown sugar, butter, and vanilla until creamed

2. Beat in eggs

3. Add dry ingredients and then chocolate chips and mix well

4. Roll dough into logs, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, wrap each log in plastic wrap

5. Refrigerate dough logs overnight

6. Preheat oven to 350F

7. Slice dough into 1/4 inch slices

8. Coat each slice completely in granulated sugar and then powdered sugar (do not skip the granulated sugar step or the cookies will not “crackle”)

9. Bake 10-12 minutes

Recipe adapted from a Crisco brand recipe





Calm

16 01 2015

Remember how your breath feels deep down in your belly.

Remember how your muscles feel pushing off the sand.

Remember the sparkle of sunlight on the water.

Remember the rhythm of waves on the shore.

Remember calm.





What’s for dinner?

13 12 2012

One of the biggest joys of working from home has turned out to be the fun I’m having making home-cooked meals!  Since I normally work right up until dinner time, I prefer to do my “cooking” in the morning.  And, since I actually don’t have much patience for watching pots bubble, I’m all about the Crock Pot!  I’ll post my favorites here as they develop, but I normally do things that are really basic – like, two ingredients basic!!  Our standards on any given week are: (1) thick cut pork chops in the crock pot with Lawry’s Tuscan Sun Dried Tomato marinade, spooned over rice; (2) thick cut steak filets in the crock pot with Lawry’s Steak and Chop marinade, with baked potatoes; (3) thick cut pork chops in the crock pot with Lawry’s Mesquite marinade, shredded and topped with KC Masterpiece BBQ sauce on sandwiches; (4) chicken breast in the crock pot with 1 pkg taco mix and a jar of Pace picante sauce, cooked and shredded for chicken tacos; and (5) Papa Murphy’s pizza – I don’t like delivery pizza because I like to actually see the ingredients go on.  We normally don’t eat out (allergies and MSG sensitivity) and I enjoy the challenge of replicating favorite meals at home 🙂








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