Monday, February 28, 2011

Gone Hiking!!

Please forgive my silence!   I'm making up for lost time in my beloved mountains!   I've hiked over 60 miles this month.

Mr. B and I have just returned from a Fabulous February weekend in Maggie Valley, North Carolina.   On Saturday, we did a beautiful hike in the Cataloochee Valley area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  He leaves on Friday for a week in France with one of his choral groups. 

My eye doctor appointment last Tuesday brought a good news, bad news scenario.   The good news is that he was very pleased that my corneal eye infection continues to heal "nicely."  The bad news was two more weeks before being given the green light to wear my contacts again.  He said the infection had been quite severe and attempting to put them in too soon could do more damage and was just not worth the risk.  I didn't like it one little bit, but simply decided to make the best of it. 

I have done well with healthy eating all month and expect some good things on March 1.  I will do quite well while Mr. B is gone and look forward to a significant weight loss in March!

In the meantime, I'm taking full advantage of warmer days and cooler nights.  It is perfect conditions for hiking and I'm choosing to spend every free moment in some area of the National Park.  I am so very lucky to live within an hour of most entrances and have promised to NEVER take that for granted!  So, forgive my lack of posting.   I promise to be back soon!

What are your plans for March?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Finally....Some Fabulous February Days

Ramsey Cascades - GSMNP
February 17, 2011

Things are looking up and even though February became an extension of January with more health issues, I believe that with 11 days left in February, it can still end on a FABULOUS note.  My follow-up visit to the eye doctor on Tuesday brought good news and news I didn't want to hear.  The good news is that my eye infection is healing "nicely."  The not so good news was that I could not wear my contact lenses for another whole week!  And I am still on an every two hour schedule for antibiotic and anti-inflammatory eyedrops.  That is a royal pain!  But the best news of all is that I am feeling much more like myself and truly believe I am on the mend from the whole January and February head infection nightmare.  Just pray there isn't any other residual bizarre infection lurking about in my head that's going to rear it's ugly head.  Frankly, I don't think there's anything left that hasn't already been infected. 

On to more interesting topics................YESTERDAY I TOOK A REAL HIKE!!  The 8-mile hike to Ramsey Cascades is considered one of the more difficult treks in the Smokies.  It is also considered one of the most beautiful.   Ramsey Cascades is the highest waterfall accessible by trail in the entire Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Unfortunately, that notoriety causes many people to attempt the trail that are neither physically able nor properly prepared to make the hike.  The trail is steep, rocky and just plain tough.  But as you can see from today's picture, the payoff is truly amazing.  My hiking buddy and I had been once before and knew that in order to experience any quiet time at the cascades, we'd have to leave early and get there before anyone else.  At the base of the cascade, there is a house-sized boulder just made for laying back and enjoying the cascade.  She and I have been hiking together for over a decade and our favorite thing to do upon arrival at a destination is to separate and just spend some quiet alone time with our individual thoughts.  We had about 30 minutes yesterday before other hikers began to arrive.  Believe me, 30 minutes alone at Ramsey Cascades is a gift indeed!

Now for the nitty-gritty.............For the life of me, I don't know why we chose Ramsey Cascades for yesterday's hike.  I knew an 8-miler was the next step in getting my former stamina back, but why in the world did I chose one of the most difficult in the park?  I suspect it was my hell-bent determination to prove that I was going to be o.k. and get myself back in shape NOW!  The first three months of the year are prime hiking season for me because there are no fears of snakes and/or bears.  I did NO hiking in January and there are only 11 days left in February.  I needed the mental boost of having a challenge behind me.  

And a challenge it certainly was.   In addition to the length, steep trail, rocks, climbs, long and narrow log bridges which played havoc with my depth perception since I was wearing my glasses instead of contacts, I totally failed to factor in the fact that, at 4400' feet, there would be snow and ice!  Twice, we almost turned back, but the sun and temps were climbing so rapidly, we felt certain enough melting would take place that coming back down wouldn't be as treacherous.  How easily we can deceive ourselves!  The second time, we were so close we could SEE the cascades - there was no way I was going back.  Yes, it involved crawling, but we did it.  My guess is that few people have seen Ramsey Cascades with over half of it frozen.  I would not trade the experience for any other.   Coming back was hard, very hard.   It was slow and normally, I would be embarrassed to report that it took us over 8 hours to do a 8 mile hike.  But this was not a normal day and I cannot begin to describe the sense of accomplishment when we spotted my car at the trailhead.

Everything becomes an analogy for my weight loss effort and so did yesterday's adventure.  I've done this trail before and if I'm blatantly honest with you, will tell you that I wondered what the big whoop was all about.  I just didn't see that the trail was all that difficult.  Sadly, I know that when I've reached my goal weight in times past, I tended to look back and think it wasn't all that hard.  But pride, indeed, goes before a fall and after a regain, I've humbly realized that yes, it was hard and maintaining the loss is even harder.  Yesterday as I was walking, crossing bridges over rushing water that made me dizzy, stumbling over rock staircases, climbing, slipping and sliding on my BUTT, it occurred to me that fighting is well worth it when you've been there before and know the joy of what is waiting for you.  

I knew what Ramsey Cascades would look like and I know what being at goal weight looks like.  It is worth every ounce of effort it takes to get there and I am happy to say I'm on my way.

Here's another picture just for good measure.   And BTW, we are headed out again tomorrow for another of our favorite trails.  Today, I'm happily stretched out on the couch reading the 3,000 (only a slight exaggeration) posts I missed by spending the day in the woods instead of in BlogLand!! 

And here's one of the log bridges I mentioned.  Normally, I love these, but there is some subtle difference between my glasses and contact lenses that make these very difficult for me to cross.

Just out of curiosity, is hiking something that interests you at all?   Where and what is the longest hike you've ever been on?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Frightening Friday

Finley Cane Trail - GSMNP
February 1, 2011

Let's get the Frightening Friday out of the way first because I'm weary with having to write about my latest "infection," but in the interest of reporting Life Through Sharon's Eyes as it happens, here it is!  And you have no idea, the irony in the word "eyes."  Look at today's picture from a hike earlier this month.  The path was straight as an arrow just like I thought my road to total recovery was headed.  And all of a sudden, it all took a very sharp turn...........................

Feeling much encouraged by how much better I've been feeling, this past Thursday afternoon, I went out with a lengthy list of errands including finding and purchasing all my Valentine Gifts.  At some point, I stood up from getting something off a lower rack and had a searing pain go through my right eye.  I had never in my entire life experienced anything like that and it scared the you know what out of me.  The intense shooting pain subsided as quickly as it had come on, but I noticed that my eye just hurt and I had become very sensitive to light.  I'm not going to drag this tale out, but after a sleepless night, I had to admit that this wasn't a simple case of eyestrain and was able to get into my eye doctor's office early Friday morning.  Let me just insert here that I cannot remember  experiencing such PAIN in a long time.  It was intense and it was constant.  The doctor had to numb my eye in order for me to open it wide enough for him to examine.  He immediately diagnosed Keratitis with Infiltrates which basically means an infected cornea.  With the drops taking effect, I was able to concentrate enough to answer his questions and he quickly determined that it was another residual effect of the head infection I've been trying to recover from.  Treatment is antibiotic and anti-inflammatory (both in the form of drops), keeping still and quiet in a darkened room, and no reading, computer or TV for 24 hours.  This wasn't as hard as it might seem, because I had no desire to do any of those things.  

As he told me it would, the medication began helping immediately and it was determined through his follow-up call Saturday morning, that I did not need to come back for an examination.  I am so thankful he (my own doctor) was the doc on call for the weekend.  It just made things simpler!  There is still some pain, but NOTHING compared to what I experienced on Friday.   I am still on a ridiculous schedule for administering the drops and I return for a follow-up appointment on Tuesday, but I think the worst behind me.  I hope I never experience anything like that again.  He seems to think there was nothing I did wrong - it just happened.  I did learn from Google searching that once this happens, it is likely to happen again.  Eek!!  

My lesson:  I continue to be totally humbled at the gift of good health.  I find myself wondering if I'll ever feel strong and energetic again, yet being so grateful for caring physicians and medications that can make an immediate difference when something goes haywire.  You've heard it from me a lot lately, but it bears repeating.  DO NOT TAKE YOUR HEALTH FOR GRANTED AND DO ALL YOU CAN TO PRESERVE THE HEALTH YOU HAVE!

I have made a few less than stellar food choices since my last post, but according to Mr. Scale, no damage has been done.  And the poor choices have all been portion control issues, not wrong eating decisions.  This is an ongoing problem for me and I am so tired of it.  There can be no fault found with my overall eating habits - they are healthy and they incorporate a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, healthy carbs, fats and proteins.  

Here's an example.  Most of you know that Mr. B is the Master Chef in our family.  He loves to cook, gets better at it all the time and I am more than happy to hand him that exclusive privilege. I plan the menus and he follows the plan!  Friday evening, I was feeling much better and was hungry.  The menu was Grilled Ribeyes, baked potatoes and brussell sprouts (however he wanted to make them).  When he handed me my plate, it contained at least a double portion of everything.   I should've immediately gone back to the kitchen and halved every item.  The other half would've been PERFECT for Mr. B's lunch on Monday.  But no, it looked divine, I rationalized that everything on the plate was "healthy" and I ate every doggone bite.  It was good - it was just too much and until I learn to practice portion control in EVERY circumstance, I do not believe I will reach or maintain my goal weight.   And to do that, I recognize that a decision must be made at the point of impulse just like I said in my last post and is becoming a repeated mantra to me.  

Please do not berate me for continuing to whine about the same thing over and over because if you know me from reading my story from it's beginning, you know how far I've come.  This is so much better and I am so proud of the progress I've made.  Referring again to Friday's dinner, at least I thought about it and realized there was too much on my plate.  I contemplated going back to the kitchen and even had a use for the half I didn't eat.  That is progress, believe me!  I now have confidence that this is the last hurdle to overcome and I am ever so surely, getting there.   I absolutely CANNOT wait!!   Come, go with me!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Fabulous Finds

Piedmont Park - Atlanta, GA
February 6, 2011

We had a fabulous time in Atlanta this past weekend.  It was one of those times when everything just fell into place perfectly and we enjoyed every moment.  I stumbled upon a fantastic new accommodation in the Virginia-Highlands area that was just what we needed both in location and amenities.  I'm always hesitant to give away a good secret, but if you are ever visiting the Atlanta area and like us, are not interested in traditional (and very expensive) hotel facilities, check out Greenwood Bed and Breakfast.  If you enjoy walking as much as we do, you are within walking distance of Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Publix, Kroger, numerous restaurants and the amazing Piedmont Park.  Since our main purpose was to stock up on many grocery items not available to us at home, the proximity to Whole Foods and Trader Joe's along with having a full-sized referigerator in the apartment was a perfect combination!

Speaking of stocking up, can't wait to share one of the most amazing places I've ever been!   One of our planned stops was the Georgia Farmer's Market, however when we mentioned that to David, our host at Greenwood, he suggested checking out the Dekalb Farmer's Market.  It was only six miles from our place where the other market was thirteen, so we went to DeKalb first.   Needless, to say, we never made it to the other one.  Now granted, to some of you, I may sound like country come to town, but this place was incredible.  If you couldn't find it there, IMHO, you don't need it!!  We came home well stocked with healthy fruit, veggies, whole wheat grains of several varieties, coffee, cheese, treats for Mr. B and several new things to try. Everything is labeled as to where it came from and many are constantly resupplying bins.  The only negative I could find is that they do not take credit cards.  Now that I'm aware of that, it's not a problem, but could catch a new customer off guard.  I suspect this trip to Atlanta will become a regular event even if I have to go on my own.  It's just worth it to get such great stuff at really good prices.

We got all that out of the way on Saturday because Sunday was forecast to be a gorgeous day and it did not disappoint.  We took a very long walk through the neighborhoods around our place and on into Piedmont Park.  By the time we returned in late afternoon, I was exhausted (still don't have my stamina back) and Mr. B was ready for a nice long nap.  We made the decision to get comfy, stay in for dinner (delicious whole wheat veggie pizza we'd bought at the market), and watch some TV.  I hate to admit it, but neither of us had any interest in the Super Bowl.  Since I am a self-admitted female sports addict, that may be surprising, but Pro Football is my least favorite and unless there is someone with the last name of Manning playing, I find it hard to follow along.  We did watch my much loved Tennessee Vols lose in overtime to a not-so-great Alabama team.  Monday morning, we were up and away by 7:30 and Mr. B was happily in his office by 11.  

I made good food choices this weekend and am continuing to lose weight very slowly.  I made one poor decision at the farmer's market by buying a very small bag of Chocolate Covered Dried Cherries thinking I was doing so well, I'd be able to enjoy two or three at a time.  Wrong!!  The tragedy of a decision like that is that sort of "treat" just isn't that important to me.  Walking away and not buying them wouldn't have been difficult - I'd have immediately forgotten them.  I am getting so much better, but must continue to develop strategies for making the right decision at the point of impulse.  

My friend, Karen at Waisting Time had a terrific post this morning on "words."  Ironically, in my morning devotions just before reading her post, I came upon the following verse in Psalm 116, "God takes the side of the helpless; when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me.  I said to myself, relax and rest.  God has showered you with blessings."  I've found myself using the word "calm" a lot recently in trying to describe how I'm feeling with respect to eating and food.  Even in the face of illness and a round of Prednisone, I kept my cool and had success.  But I'm here to tell you, in the past six months, I have truly been at the end of my rope with these 30 pounds and the intense desire to have them GONE.  And today, those words "relax" and "rest" really hit home when I first read them, but then when I read Karen's post, it was like "o.k. you might not have fully heard it the first time, so hear it again."  And here is what I heard:  I AM helpless on my own.  I WAS at the end of my rope.  I WILL relax into this new calm and enjoy the journey.  Rest has many meanings.  It is not something I'll ever be able to do in the sense of letting down my guard and returning to previous unhealthy eating habits.  But it is something that goes hand in hand with the satisfaction of goals achieved and lessons learned. 

During those long days when I felt so rotten, I had ample opportunity to reflect on blessed I really am.  I spend way too much time fretting over food and weight, and not nearly enough time taking advantage of the blessings (people) all around me.   Yes, RELAX and REST!  I plan on doing just that!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Fabulous February

Lunch Spot along Old Sugarlands Trail - GSMNP
January 28, 2011

Not everyone will agree, but IMHO, there is no fancy restaurant anywhere in the world that can rival the atmosphere, sound effects or beauty of the one I enjoyed last Friday and is pictured above.   Yes, I sat on a rock-outcropping with a indentation designed specifically for my butt and yes, I was THIS CLOSE to the water.  I can't think of anything I'd rather have had than the hummus (homemade by ME), Triscuits (only 10), mini-carrots, Cherry Pie Larabar and steaming hot coffee devoured by me after having hiked four miles!  This was a new spot I found and it's just out of earshot of the main road leading from Gatlinburg into the GSMNP, so I suspect, I'll be dining at this "restaurant" frequently!!

Got good news yesterday at the doctor's office.  CT Scan showed no sign of further infection, but plenty of  damage left behind by years of chronic sinus/allergy problems and recurrent infection.  This is the point where the ENT I've been seeing previously always said, "that's all we can do, stay away from those things which "trigger" your sinus infections."  The new ENT said, "now that you're feeling better, here's what we need to do to fix this!"  Way too complicated to go into here because that's not what this blog is about, but he did recommend I begin taking Singulair as a replacement for Zyrtec and I'd love to know if any of you have had experience with that medication.  Lots of bad reviews on the internet (which I pay little attention to), but two things that stand out are "I gained weight" and "I couldn't sleep."  You know these are HUGE red flags for me and if I can get any feedback from REAL people I know that confirms this, I'll ask the ENT is there is anything else.  I've also learned that Singulair is very expensive and there is no generic.   Thankfully, I have excellent insurance, BUT it's still expensive.  All in all, I am feeling so encouraged because 1) maybe I've found the major reason I've felt so rotten since before Christmas, and 2) I've found a new ENT in whom I'm much more confident.  

On to more fun things...............

My good friend, Karen, at Waisting Time  recently gave me the Honest Scrap Award and I am flattered that she chose me out of all the blogs I know she reads.  But if there is a word which I hope always describes my writing, it is "honest."  I promised myself before hitting "publish" the first time, that if I was ever tempted to be LESS than honest, I'd stop.  It has been difficult and painful at times, but so far, I've held true to that promise.....and that's the TRUTH!!

So to officially accept this award, I have to tell you ten things about me.   I've already told you more than you want to know in this post  and this post, so I think today's revelations will be quick and easy!   Just whatever floats out of my brain (which could be scary since there's no longer any infection up there to muddle things up! LOL!!).........................

1)  I am 5'7 1/2" tall and have brown eyes and brown hair.  I am 55 years old and my hair is still it's natural brown.  I've NEVER put ANYTHING on it and I challenge you to find one gray hair on my head!  Most of my friends say this is because we didn't have children!! 

2)  Speaking of children, Mr. B and I did not have children totally by choice.  It was something we completely agreed on from the beginning and we never wavered from that decision.  That isn't as radical now as it used to be, but believe me, in 1977, it was! 

3)  At some point when I was in high school, I decided I wanted to buy an RV and travel around the perimeter of the United States.  I had a map of the US on my wall with the route completely determined.  This is still a goal.

4)  Speaking of the walls in my room, in addition to the map of the US, I had posters of (this is going to be embarrassing) Bobby Sherman, David Cassidy (my face is really red right now!!), Pistol "Pete" Maravich, Joe Montana and Johnny Bench.

5)  "The Carpenters" were the first real concert I got to attend.  I believe it was in 1971.  That was the first of many, many, MANY concerts I've gone to.

6)  I was always the last one picked in gym class.  It was painful then and still hurts today. 

7)  Two friends and I were left at the Memphis Zoo on a Youth Choir Trip.  We were late getting back to the bus and our Youth Minister had told the group he wouldn't hesitate to leave us if we were late.  Can't remember if we were late deliberately or not, but it's not a mistake I ever repeated!  The punishment after I got home still burns today!!

Let's come back to the present..................

8)  I love fresh flowers.  One of my New Year's resolutions this January was to buy fresh flowers weekly.   Amazing how such a simple thing can bring so much pleasure.

9)  I've been undecided on whether to increase my hiking miles goal this year or leave it the same (300 miles) as 2010.  After our horrid weather in January and my being sick for 10 days, I've finally decided to keep it the same.  That was a pretty aggressive goal to start with and I was the very end of December getting it met. 

10)  And last, but not least, I will not be spending six weeks in Europe this summer as I had thought.  Lots of reasons, but it is the best decision.   Mr. B will be there for three weeks, but I'll remain at home.  So I'm in the process of planning our normal summer trip.  Last summer, there was no trip because we knew Mr. B's dad was in a fast decline, so I am really excited to get started planning.  We'll only have the month of June because Mr. B will not return from Prague until May 28th.  I'm thinking New Hampshire/Vermont, Minnesota or southern Colorado. 

That's all, folks!  Please forgive any bad mistakes.  Have to pick Mr. B up for our trek to Atlanta in four hours and I haven't done the first thing towards getting ready to go.   Eek!!  

Any input on Singulair or Summer Trip 2011 suggestions?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Feeling Stronger Every Day

Old Sugarlands Trail - GSMNP
January 28, 2011

I have been quiet in BlogLand for the past several days and there's a perfectly good explanation!  We have experienced four days of incredible weather for which I am so thankful.  Between the uncharacteristically difficult winter we've had and my 10 days of illness, the tranquil weather could not have been more perfectly timed.  I feel as though it's been a gift especially for me although I know that's not the case.  Knowing how sick I've been and how weak I really was, I was determined to work at rebuilding my stamina gradually.  My beloved mountains were calling and when they do, that call overrides everything else, including blogging!  On Friday, I drove to the Sugarlands Visitor Center  and began my day's ramble with the lovely, 1.25 mile Fighting Creek Nature Trail.  Encouraged by the fact that after completing this walk, I was energized rather than tired, I crossed the street from the visitor's center and meandered down the Old Sugarlands Trail.  I was headed toward the rock outcropping you see in today's picture because I knew that would be a perfect lunch spot and it was!  It looks like I'm in the middle of the river doesn't it?  I stopped here on my way back toward the car and enjoyed a 45-minute respite that included lunch, hot coffee from my thermos and quite possibly, a short nap!  I cannot imagine any thing that could have done more for restoring my health and state of mind than this outing did.  

On Saturday, I was off to the Townsend side of the park, often called the "peaceful side of the Smokies," for a hike on another of my favorite trails, the West Prong Trail.  Saturday's weather was even more perfect than the day before and by lunch time, I had taken off layers down to a t-shirt!  This little jaunt was slightly over 4 miles and although tired, I felt energized and terrific.  

On Sunday, I "rested" and endured a great deal of taunting from choir members who suggested I needed to beg for reinstatement in the choir since I'd been absent for so long.  Between our Christmas trip to Florida and my illness, I've been to church ONE Sunday and ONE choir rehearsal since before Christmas.  Totally out of character for Mr. B and I.  Sunday afternoon, I walked in one of our local parks with some beautiful trails and other than enduring quite a bit of mud, that was a nice "bridge" between hiking days.

Yesterday, I was off to the GSMNP park again and today, had one of my favorite hiking "buds" along with me.  We chose the Finley Cane Trail which begins about half way up the road towards the Cades Cove area of the park.  This trail is often hiked as one leg of an 8 mile loop, but we chose to just hike in and out as my goal for today was approximately 6 miles.  It was cloudy and we actually encountered a bit of rain which cut our lunch break short, but fortunately, temps are still unbelievably mild for January so with rain gear on, we stayed warm and dry.  I was quite tired last night, but was it ever a "good" tired.  From a mental standpoint, I think I was laid flat on the couch for so many days and knew how weak I was, that I'd convinced myself I'd not be able to walk 100 feet without crashing.  I know that's laughable given the fact that my hiking legs were in pretty good shape BEFORE I got sick, but you know that hiking is my "passion" and anything that gets in the way scares me!  So to be able to get out and spend some days rebuilding strength in a calculated way was truly perfect.   And it bears repeating that the weather reprieve was a gift I sorely needed.

Our "reprieve" is over, with clouds, rain and wind predicted over the next couple of days, but given what many of you are about to experience, there will be NO whining here.  I have much to do and MIL is starting to complain that I've not spent the appropriate amount of time with her recently.  I'll do that tomorrow and then hopefully, be able to hike again on Thursday afternoon following my morning doctor appointment for CT Scan and follow-up.  

Mr. B and I are headed to Atlanta this weekend and I am so excited!  Since MIL was with us on the Florida trip, it seems like forever since he and I have had one of our much loved "weekends" away.  I've found us an "apartment" in the Virginia Highlands area and weather looks promising for a combination of outdoor activities and shopping.  Piedmont Park, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Publix are ALL within walking distance of the place we'll be staying.   I also plan to visit IKEA and REI while in Atlanta.  We always try to throw something historic in the mix on these weekend jaunts, so this time, it will probably be the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum.  A few years ago, Mr. B arranged his schedule (you can do that when you're the head of the department!  LOL!) so that he does not have a class until 1:00 on MWF.  Our weekend jaunts can begin on Friday at 2:00 and not end until Monday at 1:00, so that gives us three nights and really gives us time to cover a lot of territory!  I'll tell you all about it during or after, but bet you can see how excited I am!

February has quietly sneaked in and it's going to be FABULOUS!  Between our horrid January weather and my being sick for almost two weeks, I had a hard time continuing to be JOYFUL for all of January, but I gave it my best shot and am ready to move on.   I am happy to report that I lost four pounds during January.  This is not nearly the amount I'd hoped for, but the 12 days of Prednisone were a battle I didn't anticipate and in all reality, I am thankful for any loss.  February will present some major challenges, not the least of which is our upcoming weekend in the restaurant mecca of Atlanta and then a Valentine's Party the following Saturday night.  I will have lots of opportunities to put into practice the things I've been learning over the past few months.

My friend, Karen at Waisting Time graciously bestowed the Honest Scrap Award on me a few days ago and I so appreciate the kinds words she had for me and this blog.  I did promise myself honesty in the blog before I began writing and even though it's sometimes embarrassing or difficult, I do try to stay honest!  I had thought ushering in Fabulous February would be a great day to tell you ten more things about me that you didn't already know, but I was so excited about my hiking adventures and upcoming weekend, I wanted to share that first.  So the Honest Scrap revelations will be in the next post.  Bet you just can't wait.....................

What's your word for February and why?