Monday, December 24, 2012

Fun In Music City USA

Bryant Grove Trail - Long Hunter State Park, Mt. Juliet, TN
December 22, 2012

Greetings from Nashville, Tennessee or technically, Mt. Juliet, TN, a few miles east of Nashville.  We made our way west on Friday morning very nearly getting blown off the Cumberland Plateau as our part of the blizzard which hit the midwest and northeast came through.  We received rain and some of the strongest winds I've ever experienced.  Driving was not easy - being outside was downright painful.  But what a difference a day can make.  By Saturday, brilliant sunshine and moderate temperatures had returned making for a perfect day for a middle Tennessee hike.  But I'm getting way ahead of myself...............

We make an effort to spend a few days in the Nashville area each Christmas holiday because there are a few things we love to see and do.  But our primary reason this year is that my sister, who lives in a small town 30 miles east of Nashville, is hosting my family Christmas.  Normally, everyone comes to our house on Christmas Day, but her family is growing and she expressed a desire to have her own family together on Christmas Day rather than having to travel as they'd always done.  I certainly understand, respect and fully support this, so after making sure our parents were comfortable getting to middle Tennessee, we proceeded with the new plan.  We will gather at her home later this morning, exchange gifts, eat a delicious meal, then Bill and I will head back in time to participate in the Christmas Eve service at our church.  

We traditionally visit Opryland Hotel during the holidays as the Christmas displays throughout this gigantic facility are simply amazing.  It takes at least an hour simply to walk through the three sections of the hotel.  We look forward to it every year.  

This year, a Google Search of "Christmas lights in Nashville" brought some ideas for things we'd never done before and the first thing on the agenda turned out to be a real winner.  I have always loved Nativity Scenes and during our early years of travel abroad, I began collecting handcrafted nativity sets from the countries we visited.  For reasons to complicated for this post, I abandoned that idea a long time ago, but truly cherish the 20 or so scenes that I have from around the world.  And I've certainly never lost the appreciation for viewing Nativity settings from various cultures.  It simply fascinates me.  So to stumble upon the Night of The Child exhibit featuring more than 100 Nativity sets from 30 different cultures had me practically shivering in anticipation. And it most certainly did NOT disappoint.  Housed in the Upper Room Chapel and Museum in downtown Nashville, the exhibit runs through the end of January.  Although a $4.00 donation is requested, the box is discreetly placed (in fact, I had to go back to the desk and ask where to place my donation) and you are in no way coerced to donate.  

Here are a few pictures although as you well know, I am not a photographer and most of these pictures were taken through glass.  They are not of high quality, but I wanted you to have some idea how special this was.  If you have any interest in viewing handcrafted Nativity Sets from many different cultures and are anywhere in the vicinity of Nashville, TN, put this on your to-do list.  


We settled in at our very favorite cabin, Uncle Pete's at Rockhaven Farms,  We've stayed here so many times, it seems like home, yet we never grow tired of being in this lovely place.  Plus, it is close to Long Hunter State Park where we planned to hike on Saturday and Sunday.  

Saturday dawned as clear and calm as Friday had been brutally cold and blustery.  We headed out to hike the Bryant Grove Trail in Long Hunter State Park.  Tennessee has a terrific state park system most of which have miles of well-marked and perfectly maintained trails.  I had hiked this particular trail on my very first hike with now good friends, Gene and Judi and wanted Bill to enjoy it with me.  I'll let a few pictures take the place of words...................

After experiencing the pure luxury of the cabin's whirlpool tub (which I do not have at home), steaks grilled by chef Bill, and our traditional holiday viewing of The Polar Express, we called it a night anticipating another great hike on Sunday.

Sunday's weather called for mostly cloudy skies with rain moving in by early afternoon, so we got an earlier start.  Our trail today was the Volunteer Day Loop, a trail that was new to both of us.  This trail turned out to be our favorite of the two that we did.  Trails in middle Tennessee are so different from those in the Smokies primarily because they are flat and much smoother.  They are truly a pleasure to walk and even a clumsy soul like me can look up from time to time without stopping simply because the trail is so smooth it isn't likely you'll trip over a rock or a root.  Benches were placed at strategic points all along this trail and the solitude was wonderful.  We talked about some important things going on in our lives, some upcoming decisions that need to be made and our much anticipated trip to Florida coming up, but mostly we hiked in silence left to our own individual thoughts.  It was wonderful.  Enjoy these pictures from the Volunteer Day Loop.

 This rock garden along the trail was absolutely beautiful. 

This one just kind of summed it all up.  How peaceful does this look?  Who knows what I was thinking about?  I could have sat there for hours!

Trailheads in the Smokies where I most often hike, are usually far from any towns, so it felt quite odd to be sitting in Red Lobster less than ten minutes after finishing this trail.  I enjoyed one of their seasonal specials, Tilapia with Roasted Vegetables, that was delicious!  We made it back to the cabin just as the rain arrived and spent a quiet afternoon together gearing up for today's very hectic schedule.

I want to wish each of you the very best Christmas Day.  Your friendship is important to me and I treasure each one of your kind comments.  You've stuck with me through good times, bad times, quiet times and times when I did little but whine about any and everything!  I count all of you as friends!  Let's walk together into 2013 anticipating another year of cultivating healthy habits and deepening friendships!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 20, 2012


Laurel Falls Trail - GSMNP
December 17, 2011

Except for a lingering cough and a very frustrating lack of energy, I seem to be back to normal after losing a full two weeks of productivity at a time I least wanted to do so.  As if anyone EVER wants to be sick enough to lose two weeks!  It was, however, a good lesson for me to experience.  A reminder that giving in and letting others "do" for you plus simply accepting that things which you thought HAD to be done really aren't all that important.  Thanks again for all your concern and well wishes.   Illness is ugly and it seems I've had more than my share over the past six months, but I'm thankful to be feeling good again and excited about the holidays and the new year. 

Bill finished a very successful school term this past Friday and completed his responsibilties as Assistant Choral Conductor for the Knoxville Choral Society on Sunday afternoon.   Did you hear the shout??  December is an extremely trying month for any musician and as much as he loves the performance aspect, he is always glad when that last concert ends.  We've had some low-key fun this week with a combination of activity, rest, spending time with friends/family, evening movie watching, etc. as we gear up for the frenzy that will start on Friday. 

So here are the three things on my mind this morning that I wanted to share with you........

1)  Hiking - I have hiked only once since my last post and it was a short one.  I have missed it terribly and likely will not be hiking again in MY mountains until the first of February. (Read on for the reason why that is).  Thanks to the two weeks lost due to illness, I will not reach my secondary goal of 400 miles hiked in 2012, but that's o.k.  I did reach the original goal of 350 miles and that, in itself, was an increase over mileage hiked in 2011.   One hiking friendship ended in 2012, one enjoyed extended hiking time due to the unexpected availability of this person (translate: became unemployed), and new relationships were established and solidified.  I am thankful for this blog as through it, I first found Gene and Judi (who no longer blog) and then Becca.  Now that I am at goal weight, I am a stronger and more confident hiker and my plans in 2013 include becoming an active part of some area hiking clubs which will always provide opportunities to hike most any time.  The friend who became unemployed is actively working on completing all 900+ trails in the Smokies and we've had such a good time helping each other out planning routes and getting new trail mileage accomplished.  After a well deserved break, his job prospects look good and I expect, he'll be employed once again by the time I return from Florida.  I hike for the peace and solitude, so my preference will always be to hike solo or with a friend, but those aren't always options and becoming a part of the groups will increase those options considerably plus give me opportunities to hike in new places. 

2) Weight -  I don't mind confessing that I am just a tad above my scream weight.  I unexpectedly gained a few pounds (I still find this unbelievable) while I was sick.  Your thoughts about that helped me relax.  The weight, however, did NOT fall off once I was able to return to normal eating.  I am not worried.   In fact, I am very relaxed about it.  With Bill home, we traditionally enjoy some of our favorite restaurants* and he COOKS, so I'm placing my focus on sticking with the habits I've learned over the past year, maintaining portion control and avoiding white sugar/flour.  The pounds are actually coming back off - it's just slower than it would be if I would revert to Cycle 1 of the 17DD.  That's what will happen in January!! (*When Bill is out of school, we love having breakfast or lunch at some of our favorite NICE restaurants in town which we avoid during dinner hours for two reasons, expense and portions)

3) Our Plans - Here's the holiday schedule.  I am so excited because it includes some things that are very different from years past and that always energizes the radical part of my personality.  Although I love tradition, I'm not one who stays enthusiastic about doing things exactly the same way they've been done for the past thirty years.  I love change and I love being creative in the way traditions are done.  We will be traveling to my sister's home for our family Christmas this year.  That will happen on Christmas Eve morning, but Bill and I are headed to Nashville on Friday morning for a few days in our favorite cabin and the chance to check out some of the places we love in Nashville.  We'll be back home in time for our church's Christmas Eve service and then dinner with Bill's mom that includes family friends.  We will enjoy a very quiet Christmas Day (this is new and I am SO excited about it) just the two of us.  We remain flexible about what we will actually do on that day.  As best we can remember, there has NEVER been a Christmas Day when we didn't have at least one place we HAD to be at a specific time.  Wednesday and Thursday following Christmas will be frantic as we prepare to leave for Florida.  Heading to Florida is a tradition that was put on hold three years ago when Bill's dad became ill.  It is a tradition which I am thrilled to be reviving as I thought we'd likely forever lost the chance to return to our favorite place when I gave it up in January of 2010.  I also realized that this part of our life was pre-Blog which means YOU know nothing about it.  Funny how this blog seems to have ALWAYS been a part of my life.  So next post (whenever I can get it written) will tell you more about where you might find me for New Year's and most of January.  Prepare to be envious - I am a lucky girl!  And like I said, so happy to be given the chance to return to a place that feels like home which I thought I'd lost forever!! 

Curiosity about you always gets the best of me.......
What are your plans for Christmas and New Year's???

Monday, December 10, 2012


Rabbit Creek Trail - GSMNP
December 4, 2012

A resounding thank-you is my top priority to start!  As I expected, you came through with kind words, thoughtful suggestions and much appreciated wisdom after my last post.  This has been a tough couple of weeks and unfortunately, it isn't over yet, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.  It occurred to me that I've only been sick for two weeks, but it feels like a lifetime!  Here's the latest on that and then believe me, I am more than ready to let the subject go!  On Thursday, I had my regularly scheduled visit with my rheumatologist who was THRILLED with my progress since restarting the Enbrel as my primary medication for Rheumatoid Arthritis.  She and I are both still astounded at the immediate relief once that specific med was reintroduced.  The whole episode which lasted from mid-August until mid-October was quite the wake-up call to me.  It reminded me that no matter how good I might feel, the fact remains that for 30 years, I have had a debilitating, chronic illness for which there is no cure.  Yes, tremendous advances have been made and continue to be made in the treatments available, but I must never become complacent enough to believe that this will not be a primary challenge for the remainder of my life.  Each "flare" takes its toll in one way or the other.

Unfortunately, my rheumatologist (who is also a board-certified internist) was NOT happy with the way I looked or sounded.  Since she noted that right away, I must've still looked pretty washed out although I'd completed my first round of antibiotics and thought I was on the mend.  She promptly sent in a prescription for seven MORE days of antibiotics and I am on day five of that.  I can tell that it is working, but this particular med doesn't agree with my system very well, so I've had to endure some rather unpleasant side effects, most notably a headache.  But as I said, the respiratory part seems much better and I'm hoping for good things this week.  Another lesson reminder has been that sometimes, you just give in and let some things go.  Basically, I've lost two weeks and many of my Christmas traditions simply will not happen this year.  And that's o.k.

For now, I think I've found a way to work around the picture quota limit issue.  Upon further research and based on what some of you indicated, I've learned that this is one of Google/Blogger/Picasa's "known" issues and it seems some accounts are being shown as having reached their quota when technically, they haven't.  Since many of you who have blogged far longer and post lots more pictures than I do report you've NEVER been told you'd reached a limit, nor do you pay for extra storage, I'm going to sit tight for a few weeks and see if the issue might fix itself.  In the meantime, I have reset my camera to take pictures using less pixels and found that I can now upload with no problem.  Quite frankly, I can't see any huge difference in the quality of today's pictures compared to those I'd been posting.  So we'll see.

I was able to hike one day this week, but quickly realized my stamina level had got up and gone so they say.  Knowing I'd spent the better part of the previous week on the sofa, we picked a shorter hike (7.4 miles) that would also net me one mile of new trail.  Thanks to a very patient hiking partner, it was a wonderfully enjoyable day, but jeepers, was I ever slow.   A slow hiker by choice at any time, believe me, when I concede that I'm trudging along, the pace must be brutal to whomever is walking with me!!  But then, surprisingly, when we reached the end and calculated time hiked, the pace wasn't any slower than normal, so guess it was all in my head.

Yeah, yeah, I can hear you all thinking loudly.....she needs to end this rambling, drug induced post immediately.  And I'm going to do just that.   Enjoy a few other pictures from my hike!

This trail was closed for several months following the April, 2011 tornado that ripped through the south wreaking havoc along a swath through Alabama, Tennessee and points further north.  The park service did an amazing job getting trails reopened, but even now, there are still two trails in this section of the park that remain closed  I've hiked many of the trails that sustained damage, but none as evident as this one.  Having hiked Rabbit Creek Trail many times, I had a basis for comparison and can only tell you that it doesn't even resemble the same trail.  What was once shaded forest is now completely open and would appear to a newcomer as if the trail had just recently been constructed.  I understand that this is the circle of life and the forest will come back, but to those of us who love it so much, it is heartbreaking.  These two pictures don't even begin to depict what we saw, but maybe you can get the idea.

 Rabbit Creek Trail - GSMNP
December 4, 2012

This river is crossed via log bridge at the beginning and then the end of this out and back hike.  It is always so peaceful.  This is one of the most remote entrances to the park and one of my favorites.  I always enjoy hiking in this area.

Please continue to remember my friend Jo (A Well Kept Life) as she cares for her terminally ill husband and my friend Tami (Nutmeg Notebook) as she recovers from foot surgery.  This is when blog friendships are tough.  I want to DO something - I want to hug Jo and I want to take Tami a casserole.  I hope they both know that I care.  And I know you do as well!  Update:  Jo posted a short notice late Sunday evening that her husband passed away on Saturday.  Please keep her in your closest thoughts this week.  I simply cannot imagine what that must feel like.  They had been married 29 years.

Are you ready for Christmas?


Monday, December 3, 2012

Sharon's Sad Post-Thanksgiving Saga

Traditional After-Thanksgiving Hike - West Prong Trail - GSMNP
November 24, 2012

To say that I am in the midst of a full blown tussle with life is putting it mildly, so let's just say from the outset that this will likely become a whine-fest of epic proportions.  My hope is that you will ignore it and move on.  Not the post - please don't ignore it.   Ignore the whining and know that at some point, I'll return to the version of myself which I actually like!!   

I need some help quickly, so will start with this plea.........

1)  If your blog is set up through Blogger, read on.   If not, move on to whiney post subject #2!  When trying to upload today's picture, I received that unexpected message that I had reached the end of my 1 GB picture storage limit and could no longer post pictures to my blog without upgrading to a paid subscription.  This happened once before and somehow (unfortunately, I can't remember how), I was able to get around it.  This time, however, no dice.  The only way I was able to get today's picture uploaded was to compress it which makes the quality horrible.  Many of you who post through Blogger have been blogging longer than I have and post LOTS more pictures than I do.  Do you mind sharing your secret?  Are you paying for the extra storage or is there a way around this?  And let me EASY way around this.  Technology is not my strong suit and I have absolutely ZERO additional time to fool with it.  As important as this blog is to me, maintaining it HAS to be simple.  If it can't be, the pictures will have to go.  Suggestions please......................

Moving on..............

2)  We had a wonderful Thanksgiving.   Bill and I enjoyed a perfect post-Thanksgiving Day hike (of which I'd love to post some pictures if I could) and celebrated the one year anniversary of my beginning the 17 Day Diet.  My weight on Friday morning was exactly 25 pounds less than my weight on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving one year ago.  Unfortunately, the post-Thanksgiving euphoria hit a resounding thud by Saturday evening as the dull headache, scratchy throat and hoarse voice indicated an upcoming problem which I chose to ignore and lived to regret.  I took some over the counter meds, gargled salt water and moved on.  We were having dinner guests Sunday evening whom I always look forward to spending time with, plus I really didn't feel bad and at that point, truly hadn't come to the realization that I was getting sick.  By Monday afternoon, my thought process included calling my doctor and requesting an antibiotic with the idea that we'd nip this in the bud from the beginning.  Tuesday morning, I met Becca for coffee.  Although it seemed the chest congestion was getting worse and the dry, hacking cough more troublesome, I still was not giving in to the fact that I truly was sick.  By Tuesday afternoon, I was on the sofa where I stayed until Saturday.  Can't recall ever having anything quite like this.  Thankfully, never any fever, nor the chills and pain associated with flu.  Just a deep, unrelenting chest cough that has left every muscle in my chest and back prone to spasms from the incessant coughing episodes.  This is something I try every which way to prevent because with a compromised (translate: non-existant) immune system, it is likely this cough will persist throughout December.  Needless to say, it has been a depressing, discouraging week in which I've felt myself getting further and further behind.  I've been unable to attend a couple of events which are important to Bill forcing him to attend alone and I've missed some important choir rehearsals for our Christmas Music performance which is now less than a week away.

The saga continues..................

3)  Since Monday evening, I've have existed on three things as it has been ONLY these three things that have sounded or tasted good to me.  I have eaten oatmeal, cereal and cream of chicken soup.  I've tried throwing some yogurt in, but that just didn't work.  This may sound impossible, but I've managed to eat enough of those three things that I've gained some weight and am above my scream weight.  That's got to turn around although I suppose there's some humor to be found in what crazy person gains holiday weight eating oatmeal and cream of chicken soup.  Unfortunately, food still doesn't sound or taste good, so the oatmeal/soup/cereal diet continues.  

But the tone of this post is about to change.....................

Yes, I am still sick.   Yes, I am discouraged as I've yet to buy the first Christmas gift for my family and I have LOST an entire week.   Yes, our weather all week last week was gorgeous and I was unable to hike a single time.   Granted, I've felt so bad, I didn't care, yet nothing makes me feel better than time out in nature.  Yes, I have settled into a gloomy outlook for the upcoming weeks and that is so not my normal way of looking at things.   I've got to find some fight and turn it around.   

And I will..................

It started Saturday morning with a trial early morning run to Walmart just to see how I did and if there was any stamina at all.   Two traditions of giving that Bill and I celebrate together are buying items needed for the Mission of Hope (gifts for the children of rural Appalachia) community drive and the annual Christmas Brunch (a special "nice" brunch for the homeless and low income families of our community) sponsored by our church.  Believe me, no matter how rotten I've felt this week, it took only about 30 seconds of choosing hats, gloves, scarves, underwear, socks, etc. for folks WHO HAVE NONE OF THOSE THINGS.   For all these days, I have laid on a comfortable sofa in a beautifully decorated den (which I would post pictures of, if I could!!) knowing that at some point each day, Bill would call and say, "do you need anything?"  And that we were able to easily afford the prescription I needed plus anything I wanted that would help me feel better.  Go armed with a list of items for folks who likely have NONE of those things and it'll put things in perspective very quickly.  Yeah, I lost a week and my Christmas shopping may include more gift cards than usual this year because of it, but that's o.k.  I can afford those too!!

And last of all, but certainly not least..................

Please, PLEASE remember my blog friend, Jo, who blogs at A Well-Kept Life.  Jo and I began blogging at approximately the same time and we live in the same state, so there has been a connection from the beginning.   Just a few short weeks ago, her husband was suddenly, almost without warning it seemed, diagnosed with esophageal cancer.   His condition has deteriorated rapidly and their heartbreak is palpable through the written page.  My heart breaks for them.  Hospice has been secured and he has chosen to forego any further treatments.  Please remember them in your prayers.  I cannot begin to imagine what this precious friend of mine must be feeling.

So once again, from me you receive a long and rambling post.  With or without pictures, it's "me" and is pretty much a reflection of why I named this blog, "Gains and Losses:  LIFE Through Sharon's Eyes."  Please do two things for me...................

a)  If you have any insight regarding the picture saga, help me out.   Posting the pictures is important to me and you've always seemed to really like that.  I hate to have to eliminate that aspect of the blog.

b)  I'd rather have some upbeat comments on what your week has been like than sympathy because I've been sick.  For starters, tell me what you and your family do each Christmas to "give back" to your community or those less fortunate.  I know you all - I don't think anyone reading this will say they do nothing.

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Priority Check

Brushy Mountain Trail - GSMNP
November 10, 2012

I could write about successfully navigating the next six weeks while remaining true to your healthy eating plans, but it seems everyone else is writing those posts and there is absolutely nothing I could write any to offer anything different and certainly not better.  For me right now, the issues seem to revolve around another set of priorities causing me to take stock and carefully consider the ways in which I am spending my time.  What are the things about which I am most passionate and are those the BEST things?  What, if anything, has become a time gobbler (pun intended!!) that needs to be refined or changed?  

In the 2 1/2 years that I've been writing this blog, I've only been through a "blog" crises once, but knew even at that time (as I know now) that stopping wasn't an alternative.  I love writing the blog and have no desire to leave BlogLand anytime soon.  If anything, the ideas keep coming and I look for ways to expand.  But I've got to do a better job with time management because, as we all know, writing and reading blogs can become quite addicting at the expense of other real life things calling for our attention.  

For me, the thing that suffers when my BlogLife gets out of whack is my morning quiet time.  For decades, this ritual has been the most important hour of my day.  As my morning devotional time goes, so goes the rest of the day.  Until the blog came along, it was a non-negotiable.  And it is STILL a non-negotiable.  But over time, I've developed the habit of "checking the google reader" before settling in with my Bible and/or whatever devotional material I'm working with at that particular time.  And funny, how there's so much good stuff in the reader that I glance at the clock and an hour has past.  It's time to get Bill up, make the smoothie and head out for our walk.  

So there's priority check #1 - Nothing else happens until the morning quiet time is done.  On busy days, this may mean I NEVER get back to the google reader or to a post I'd planned to write.  I reinstated this priority a week ago and was immediately able to tell a difference in my attitude, actions and behavior. 

Tomorrow, I will reach my 350 mile 2012 hiking goal and that's another explanation for my very sporadic blog posting.  I am hiking the heck out of these two feet and loving every minute of it.  We've had a phenomenal autumn with ideal hiking weather and it's not over yet.  Remember that there was a time back in September and October when I was questioning whether I'd be hiking at all because I was in so much pain from an unexpected Rheumatoid Disease flare-up.  I am so full of gratitude for the turnaround that I make no apologies for the fact that being outside right now is a top, TOP priority.  Those who truly know me, understand that I feel most alive and in touch with both myself and my creator when out on a trail.  I am thankful for a spouse who doesn't fully "get it" about the hiking, but knows he experiences the same "high" when he steps out onto a stage and raises that conductor's baton to lead a group of musician's in a masterful performance.  He goes with me when he can (as long as it's not over five miles - LOL!), but has NEVER minded my going with others or resented the time I spend on the trail or the amount of gas I use getting there.

Priority check #2 - I will maximize every opportunity I have to spend time outside.  Everything else can wait.  I'm a good organizer, planner and disciplinarian.  The laundry will get done, the bills will be paid, we won't starve and no responsibilities to anyone will be neglected.  I'm not selfish - I just know that I'm better when this passion is fulfilled.  You either understand this or you don't!!

Priority check #3 is going to be a bit harder to explain, but I'll try.  In the past year, I have lost the extra weight I had regained since my 65-pound loss in 2006-2007,  I have now maintained at or very near goal weight for several months.  I am thrilled with those new healthy eating habits.  I became ecstatic in July when Bill joined me in changing some habits and starting a regular walking routine.  Not only did he feel better almost immediately, but it gave us a built-in 40 minutes every morning to communicate with each other.

But the one thing that doesn't seem to have changed is that my life and thought patterns still revolve almost 100% around food.   Yes, the thoughts are much different, but I'm still TIRED OF IT!  I can't get away from it whether it be my surroundings or my own mind.  Over the past year as I've reassessed and reevaluated, I've come to learn that I am actually a very simple eater.  I don't need or demand a three-course dinner every evening.  I'm not, nor will I ever be, passionate about cooking even though I've come to realize that it's something I can do well when I choose to.  I'm just as happy with a bowl of cereal for dinner as I am when Bill (an excellent cook who LOVES doing it) prepares one of those three-course dinners.  Problem is, I can't get away from it.  Everywhere you turn, it just seems as if life revolves around food.  

Disclaimer:  Please don't anyone take offense.  This does NOT in any way, shape or form apply to any of you, my precious friends who write about food.  That is the focus of your BLOG.  For the most part, I only know that aspect of you.  There is much more to you than your blog and I strongly suspect, there is more to your life than what I see you write.  

So my last Priority Check for today is a concentrated effort to reframe my mind and my conversations towards subjects other than food.

I want to wish each of you a joyful and happy Thanksgiving.  I hope that it is a day you anticipate with a smile and warm memories.  We certainly do.   For us, this Thanksgiving has taken on a more somber note as twice in the past two months, we've personally dealt with a tragedy in life of someone we care about.   On September 16th, this accident changed forever the lives of two people we've known since they were teenagers.  Jeff's wife, Kim, who was driving in front of the van and witnessed the accident which killed her husband, was a member of the youth group at a church Bill worked at during the 80's and early 90's.  Jeff came along a bit later and as you can see, they had grown into adults working as Youth Directors in a church of their own. On Monday, one of Bill's students was killed in a horrible house fire leaving her three children without either parent.  Music majors, because of the time required spent together, become a tight-knit group and this was no exception.  Bill is totally exhausted after two days of dealing with his own grief while helping bewildered college students (many of whom this is their first experience with death) begin to cope with theirs.  Kristina was with them one day, gone the next.

I don't write any of that to be morbid.  Thanksgiving is a day of joy and these things serve to make us even more grateful for the gift of being able to approach it in that way.   My family is healthy and happy.  My heart almost explodes to think about it.   I have friends here and all over the US who love and care about me.  What more could I possibly want?  Absolutely nothing!

But that isn't the case for everyone.  Somewhere close to you is someone who looks toward the holidays with dread, sadness or a myriad of other emotions.  I'm asking you to think through your life and find at least one person who might NOT be looking forward to Thanksgiving and even less, to Christmas.  Make a call, give a hug, write a note, do SOMETHING!  Just don't close your eyes to the suffering around you while luxuriating in your own pleasure!  

Share with me one non-food related priority you'd like to reevaluate!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Safety Net

Meigs Creek Trail - GSMNP
This is creek crossing number one of 17 on this 3.5 mile trail
October 31, 2012

Sometimes, just getting a post started is the hardest part for me.   In this month of Thanksgiving, I am so totally overwhelmed with gratitude for consecutive days in which I feel normal and are relatively pain-free that words simply fail me.  Once more, let me thank so many of you for your kind words of support both in the blog and through email.  I simply remain in disbelief that restarting a medication after a four month break made that much difference in such a short amount of time, but it did and I refuse to question it.  I am just thankful for it and in introspect, will take no moments for granted plus pray that I can be the friend and support system to others that so many have been to me.  Pain comes in many forms, it shows no mercy and is absolutely no respecter of persons.  Never, ever take one moment of your health for granted.  

Barbara Berkely, who blogs at Refuse to Regain, posted one of the best articles I recall on the fine art of weight maintenance.  You can find it here.  Barbara has some pretty harsh stances on eating not all of which I agree with, however, she writes with great wisdom about the challenges involved once one moves from weight loss mode into weight maintenance.  I love her acronyms, D.U.M and S.M.A.R.T.  You'll have to read the article to learn about them.  I'd already been doing some thinking as to how I planned to navigate my first holiday season as a maintainer.  

It didn't take long to realize and become comfortable with the fact that I will approach it by doing exactly what I've been doing for the last year.  I have established a final goal weight, plan to stay within a two pound range of that goal weight and have determined that my "scream" weight will be five pounds above the goal weight.  

I view "holiday" eating in the same way that I view travel/vacation eating.  For me, nothing changes.  If I start trying to fit in extras or compromises, I'll be at that scream weight and beyond before you know it.  I'm not willing to let that happen.  It is not worth it.  

Each of us has to develop the plan that works for us individually.  The important thing is to establish your plan for holiday eating NOW.  One of my favorite one liners applicable to most any life situation, but TOTALLY applicable to this is, "failing to plan is planning to fail."  No matter where you are in your journey, much damage can be done in the next two months leading to major discouragement and remorse come January 1.  Please don't let that happen to you.  

 Creek Crossing #4

During the weeks of difficulty in getting my RA under control, hiking never lost its joy, but it certainly lost some of its pleasure.  I was also made to confront the idea of having to strictly curtail my hiking or getting to the point of not being able to hike at all.  These thoughts were not pretty and were the days when I reached my lowest point.  So to be back on the trail week before last with Becca and then twice last week with another hiking friend from my church at times brought out emotions so deep I could hardly contain them.  I felt strong and energetic.  It felt good!   And to be blessed with so many friends who are willing to adjust their pace to mine and lend a hand when I need it.

 Creek Crossing #7

Meigs Creek Trail is one of my favorites because in all of its 3.5 miles, you are rarely away from the sound of rushing water.  Those 17 creek crossings are challenging, but fun and with low water in the park, we felt they would be easily rock hopped or might require changing into water shoes for wading.
Creek Crossing #14

Sandy did quite a number at the higher elevations dumping record breaking snowfall amounts unheard of for October.   It was difficult for me to be out having such a good time when so many were (and are) still suffering.  But the beauty of being out in the woods on a clear, sunny day listening to the gentle crunch of my boots in the snow and reflecting on the many reasons I have for celebration right now brought the pleasure I'd been missing and an indescribable joy!  

Grapeyard Ridge Trail - GSMNP
November 1, 2012

You really can't see it so much in this picture, but the grin from ear to ear says it all.  We call it the hiker smile and my friend (who took the picture) told me I smiled for the entire 7.6 miles of this trail!  I don't doubt it for a minute!

What Are YOU Smiling About Today?
Tell Someone You Love Them, Be Active, Pay It Forward!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

In Memory Of......Several Things!

 Little Cataloochee Baptist Church - Little Cataloochee Trail
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - October 24, 2012

After two incredible hiking days in the Cataloochee area of the Smokies, I am now relaxing in my "home" for the rest of the week in beautiful Maggie Valley, North Carolina.  I got lucky as there was a cancellation for this prime week in October and knowing how much I loved coming here, the cabin manager called to see if I'd like to come for the week offering me a deal I simply couldn't resist.  My friend, Becca, who blogs at An Unlikely Adventurer was able to join me for a couple of days of hiking and Bill will be here for the weekend.  Perfect spur of the moment adventure!!

With Becca gone back home, it's just me and the cabin is quiet.  I love that feeling of exhaustion that comes after hard physical activity when you can relax on the sofa and simply rest.  My mind begins to wander and I am filled with every emotion from sadness to gratitude to overwhelming contentment as my memory reflects..........................

Two and a half years ago, I began this blog for no reason other than to journal my thoughts.  One day, I got a comment and that began a friendship.  Those of you who have been with me from the start will remember Margie and her blog.  You will also remember that Margie and her husband, Bruce, were killed in October of 2010, by a suicidal driver while taking their morning walk.  Margie was my first follower and although I never met her in person, she was my friend.  There will never be an October go by that I don't think of her and remember what a support she was to me when I began Gains and Losses.  I still mourn and miss the loss of one of the great encouragers the weight loss blogging community had. 

I am now officially celebrating the loss of old eating habits.  One year ago, I weighed 30 pounds more than I do today and could find no motivation for change.  Today, I am not perfect (nor will I ever be), but my eating habits are as close to "normal" as I think they've ever been.  Over the past couple of months, there have been many temptations to revert back to old habits, but I've remained committed and am gaining more confidence that those days of out of control eating are nothing but a memory.  I did confess to Becca that there was a little "episode" with the peanut butter jar over the weekend!  Although more was consumed than was needed, even that was stopped before it got totally out of hand.

Once week ago, I was in more pain from a very active Rheumatoid Arthritis flare than I'd experienced in over a decade.  At the very least, the pain was acute enough that I was unable to continue normal daily activities and was actually feeling pretty useless since my days were spent on the sofa with heating pads attached to various parts of my body.  In a plea of desparation, I begged my rheumatologist to let me restart the medication, Enbrel, for one more trial period before switching to something else.  As I've mentioned, Enbrel was a miracle drug for me that kept my RA in remission for over a decade.  I had stopped it in July because of increasing headache pain that we were afraid was going to become full fledged migraines.  I was given permission to restart the Enbrel last Thursday and I cannot begin to tell you how grateful I am to report that the change was almost immediate.  Within hours of the first injection, I could feel a difference and within 24 hours, I felt as normal as a person with acute rheumatoid disease will ever feel.  By Thursday afternoon, I could lift my coffee mug again with one hand and Thursday evening, I cooked dinner and loaded the dishwasher.  Things continued to improve culminating with yesterday's hike of 9.3 miles followed by today's hike of 6 miles.  As I said earlier, I am tired, but it's the good kind of tired.  So far, there have been no headaches.  My second injection will be this morning.  Let's hope for an even better week and no headaches.  

Thanks so much for all your concern these past months.  It has been so tough, so challenging and emotionally draining.  For the rest of my life, I will battle the ups and downs of RA.  A decade of remission had somewhat put me in a state of believing the worst would never happen again.  But it did and it will again.  I am so grateful for every day with minimal pain and freedom of movement. 

On a lighter note, I'm thinking of letting rest in peace.  For the past couple of years, it's been my go-to for tracking and analyzing, but I'm bored with it.  So I'm asking for your input.  What tracking system do you use and why?  I'm particularly interested in hearing from those who've used Calorie Count and switched.  Why did you switch and to what did you switch? 

I'll leave you with a few pictures from this week's hiking adventures...............

 Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail - GSMNP

 Mt. Sterling Ridge Trail - GSMNP

 Little Cataloochee Trail - GSMNP

 Little Cataloochee Trail - GSMNP

Little Cataloochee Trail - GSMNP

Enjoy Today!
Tell someone you love them, be active, pay it forward!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Totally Random Thoughts

Blue Ridge Parkway near its beginning at Cherokee, NC
October 15, 2012

Following the introspection found in my last two posts, decided today needed to be simple and direct.  And BTW, thanks so much for all the comments, support and encouragement given to those last couple of posts.  Most importantly, I hope they've encouraged you.   Without further ado, here's the latest Gains and Losses reported through Sharon's eyes!!

You may have noticed not much has been said about hiking lately.  Truthfully, there have been days I just plain haven't felt like it and other days when the thoughts of how I feel the day FOLLOWING a hike have kept me off the trail as well.   The passion to hike never subsides, so I've tried to use wisdom and prudence by hiking shorter trails and have made much effort to continue lightening the load in the pack I carry.  I am extremely safety conscious and probably carry way too much in my pack, but knew that to protect my neck, back and shoulders, some things were going to have go.  Fortunately, the people with whom I hike are as safety conscious as I am and are carrying those "essentials."  No need for duplication.  Plus with the cooler temps, less water is needed.  Unfortunately with the cooler temps, MORE coffee is needed.  What to do....what to do???

The merry-go-round saga of revolving Rheumatoid Arthritis meds continues, however there is hope.  Happy to say I'm finally totally tapered off the prednisone and with that, many nasty problems disappeared within a few days.  I've also been given permission to restart Enbrel  at my discretion.   Enbrel was the medication that put my RA into remission in 2001 and kept me there until early 2011.  It appeared to have lost its efficacy and had begun giving me some nasty headaches so we stopped it for good this past July.  And that is when the REAL problems began.  My rheumatologist and I are hoping the break will have "shocked" my body into remembering how well the Enbrel worked for so many years.  We'd hoped to keep me off of it for four months and I almost made it.  With so much success before, I am so hoping it will work again.  

Yesterday, I was a responsible patient and gladly was threatened into having my five-year colonoscopy.  I'm one of those who had a few benign polyps when I had my screening colonoscopy so was placed on the five-year repeat plan rather than ten which is the norm.  No, the prep isn't pleasant, but today I am happy to report that he found no polyps at all this time.  Really good news as it's my understanding if you have them once, you are more likely to have them again.  I also asked him to do an upper scope since I'd been having so much severe heartburn from the anti-infammatory meds.  Thankfully, he said everything looked great there as well.  

Bill and I had a lovely, but very quiet fall break in beautiful Asheville, North Carolina.  How can one go wrong when staying for three days where this is the view from the sofa.................

Rocky River Cabin - Asheville, NC

and this is the view you wake up to each morning......................

It wasn't one of those fall breaks where I can report all kinds of exciting things we did.   To be honest, we spent a lot of time sitting on the porch gazing at the river.   And when it started raining, we went in, switched on the wonderful fireplace and gazed at the river.   One night, Bill grilled some amazing steaks and I fixed Tami's Baked Acorn Squash.  We ate outside on the deck and gazed at the river.  When we got home Monday afternoon, we were exhausted from all that gazing at the river.

We are heading into what appears to be an incredible stretch of perfect weather condition and enjoying autumn foliage as it works its way down into the lower elevations.  I'm off next week for another few days in western North Carolina for more fall hiking, so next post will probably be from there.   In the meantime, enjoy some fall pictures from my Great Smoky Mountains in all their splendor.  

What's the fall foliage update from your neck of the woods?

Friday, October 12, 2012

One Year Ago - October 1, 2011

Autumn is working its way down the valley in East Tennessee, but this picture was taken along the Appalachian Trail last week at an elevation of more than 5500 feet.

This is a continuation of Part 1 which you can find here.

The road is long, with many a winding curve that leads us to who knows where........

When I left you last, it was October 1, 2011 and I was 36 pounds above goal.  I knew something had to change and held out hope that it would, but I also knew if the change was going to be permanent, it couldn't be forced.   It is certainly no secret to any reader of this blog that I practice Christianity and that my faith is the guiding force behind my life and decisions.  I believe in divine guidance and am 100% confident that God uses circumstances, other people, our own minds, and any other weapon available to guide us daily.   I believe we miss so many answers that are right in front of us simply because we are looking for something bigger or more dramatic.  You may or may not believe the same way I do, but I've met very few people who totally discount the idea of there being something bigger than me and you at work in this world.  

You can read about my "moment" sometime near the middle of November, 2011 here.  Just know that as I sit here looking back one year at how unlikely the circumstances were that I'd be in that place and that time, I am once more overwhelmed at how strongly I feel that divine guidance was in place.  I don't do "diets," I don't read diet books, I rarely go into Barnes and Noble, I'd never bothered with low-carb plans before and still only consider it feasible in certain circumstances as I don't consider eliminating entire food groups healthy.  

But this plan, The 17-Day Diet worked for me.   It is still working 11 months later.   I follow it every day and see no reason why I can't follow it for the rest of my life.  It is second nature much like wearing the pedometer and recording my steps each morning is second nature.  

Following the 17 Day Diet, I lost all of my weight reaching goal (a slightly adjusted goal) while we were in New England this past summer.  It took approximately eight months.  Since that time, I have remained fairly effortlessly within a two pound range.   The permanent goal weight I have established for myself is seven pounds higher than the weight I achieved in 2007 and 10 pounds LOWER than the original goal weight I had set in 2006.  My body likes this weight.  I am happy and content.  

Here are a few of the things I have learned.   If you are struggling with your own journey, please know these things.....ponder them....take them to heart!   In the whole scheme of things, I am a new maintainer, but I believe my long time maintaining friends (who are my current lifeline) will concur.

1)  Patience, patience, patience!  Only through patience will you find the plan that works for you and the courage to follow through with it over the long haul.   The key to finding the right one is by looking it over, getting that sense that this is IT, and knowing from the outset that it is something your body will enjoy and can do FOREVER.  This is why fad diets do not work and never will.  There are very specific reasons why The 17 Day Diet worked for me and I believe that's why I was drawn to it that day in Barnes and Noble.  But I had to be willing and open to looking at something I normally wouldn't have given a second glance.  I was delighted after talking about it in a post to learn that four of you had decided to consider the plan as well.  One year later, I will tell you that one friend followed the plan to the letter, reached her goal weight and like me, is currently maintaining it.  One is following it loosely adapting it to fit her body and still successfully moving toward goal.  One realized quickly it was not for her and stopped.  One is no longer blogging, but during the short time she followed the plan, did not find it to work for her.  See what I mean?   Keep your eyes open, your mind vigilent, but never jump from one bandwagon to the next just because it seems to be working for someone else.  If an eating plan is healthy and working for all your best friends, but it requires you to eat two yogurt servings a day and you HATE yogurt, THAT IS NOT THE PLAN FOR YOU.

2)  I am not a doctor and can tell you that I do not appreciate the "do it my way or you're wrong" approach often found in the weight loss blog arena.   You may or may not believe that our bodies can be carb-sensitive.  It makes no difference to me and I will NEVER argue the point.  You must find for yourself how your body reacts.  Our bodies are like snowflakes - no two are alike!   All I can do is tell you that adhering to this plan severely limited most carbs for me during the first 17 days.  And to my total amazement, once the first 17 days were behind me, I realized that the intense desires for sweets, breads, pastas, etc. no longer existed.  And this is something I still cannot believe.  You'd simply have to experience it yourself.  I am white sugar free and almost totally white flour free.  The sugar I do not miss.  For the most part, I do not miss the white flour either.  I am extremely judicious with eating 100% whole wheat flour as I can detect cravings for more when I've eaten a wrap or something similar.  So for me, carb-sensitivity is very real.  For my husband, it is not a factor and we've proven that to be true.   You have to do the same, you have to give it time and you have to go cold turkey.   For me, it has given me a freedom I never thought possible.

3)  Use every possible and available resource to help you.  Remember that divine guidance I mentioned or if you don't believe in divine guidance, whatever you call on as a source of inner strength?  Some simply call it intuition.  Don't discount anyone, anything or any method that might be placed in front of you as encouragement, method or motivation.  Reminds me of this story which I've heard all my life............

 The Drowning Man
A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, "Jump in, I can save you."
The stranded fellow shouted back, "No, it's OK, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me."
So the rowboat went on.
Then a motorboat came by. "The fellow in the motorboat shouted, "Jump in, I can save you."
To this the stranded man said, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."
So the motorboat went on.
Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, "Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety."
To this the stranded man again replied, "No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith."
So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, "I had faith in you but you didn't save me, you let me drown. I don't understand why!"
To this God replied, "I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?"

So yes, be patient.   But patience requires vigilence.  Patience requires action - it is not static.  You are either moving forward or backward.  It is not likely your journey is sitting still.  Open your eyes, watch for rowboats, motorboats and helicopters.  

This journey is hard.  In these last two posts, I've covered six YEARS!   And I read posts every day from people wanting to lose 40 pounds in two WEEKS!   Patience, people!  You are only setting yourself up for an internal sense that you have failed when your expectations were totally unreasonable to begin with.  

This journey is best done in community and with a strong support system, yet it also intensely personal.  If I can do it - you can too. 

I care about every single one of you who happens to read this.   If I can help, please let me know in what way.   In the meantime, if you have made it to the end of both posts, please leave me a comment (even just one word is o.k) letting me know where you are in your journey! 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Six Years Ago - October 1, 2006

Appalachian Trail near Newfound Gap - October 4, 2012
Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comments in response to my last post.  That one was hard to write simply because it reflected some thought processes still in their infancy and naming some emotions that although not new, are still unfamiliar.  Many of you identified with me and presented some helpful feedback.  Although today's post doesn't continue that, there is more to be said and it will come.

Six years ago, I reached my all time high weight for the SECOND time.  I vowed to lose the 65 pounds necessary to get to a goal weight I'd seen before and one I knew my body liked.  With a determination I didn't know I possessed, on October 1, 2006, I began a weight loss journey using an eating plan I self-designed. Exactly one year later (give or take a few weeks), I'd lost that 65 pounds.  Starting around the same time (10/1/06), I participated in a walking study at the University of Tennessee which got me into the habit of wearing a pedometer daily and walking no less than 10,000 steps each day.  To this day, the pedometer comes off at night after I'm already in bed and goes back on before I get out of bed the following morning.  It is as much a part of me as my left hand!

Through 2007 and 2008, I maintained that weight +/- 5 pounds.  I weighed every morning and recorded that weight on a simple Excel spreadsheet that also averaged the week's daily weights into an average weight for the week.   The walking study had only been for 12 weeks in late 2006, but I was given the pedometer as a "thank-you" for my participation, so I continued walking 10,000+ steps each day and recording those steps into another Excel spreadsheet which also averaged the daily steps total into a weekly average.  These are two habits which I continue to maintain through thick and thin!  Just now as I've looked back over those spreadsheets to verify info for this post, I am reminded how thankful I am (not to mention how helpful it is) to have these records.  

I remember nothing significant about 2009 that would've caused the weight to start creeping back up.  It was a very good year for us and my level of physical activity had picked up considerably.  My RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) was still in remission and in addition to hiking, we were doing lots of biking.   I simply let go of those good habits I'd cultivated and began eating amounts not portion controlled along with out of control snacking.   On October 1, 2009, I was 20 pounds above goal.

2010 was NOT a good year.  Bill's dad had already been diagnosed with cancer in addition to the dementia which was getting worse.  I was beginning to suspect that my RA was slowly coming out of remission - something I'd known would happen eventually and terrified me to think about.  There had been a period of two years in the late 80's when I was first diagnosed that I was unable to dress myself or complete many everyday functions without help and believe me, I did NOT want to go back there.  But in spite of all that, I began this blog is May of 2010 and vowed that I'd be back at goal weight by year end.  I was 30 pounds above goal.

Thanks in part to all of you, I was well on my way to doing just that having already lost 16 of those pounds when on August 19, our world changed with the death of Bill's dad.  This was our first experience with losing a parent (my parents and Bill's mom are currently very healthy) and even knowing his quality of life here on earth was over, it was tough!  And silly me!  All my life, I've taken food to people when death occurred in their families, but when the tables were turned and it was ME receiving the love.....well, as you know, love is expressed through food when someone dies.  I fought it as long as I could, but eventually gave in to the pressure of being constantly watched along with the total absence of healthy heating choices.  Once all that was over and life returned to normal, it seemed I simply no longer cared.   On October 1, 2010, I was 32 pounds above goal. 

Throughout the remainder of 2010 and most of 2011, I stayed within a narrow range of 28-35 pounds above goal.  My RA continued to worsen and the tedious process of changing meds began in earnest.  Somewhere along the way, I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidsim and completed the dreaded "change of life" process.   Thankfully, the thyroid issue was quickly brought under control and hasn't waivered since.   I am fortunate that the "change" didn't bring on the horror stories one hears about from others.  But both were constant reminders to me that losing weight would become harder and harder as I got older.  As 2011 wore on, I became determined to lose the 30 pounds once and for all.  Bill and I have BIG plans for retirement and I actually experienced periods of fear that I wouldn't be physically able to participate in those plans if I didn't do all I could to take care of myself.  I just couldn't quite get a handle on how I was going to do that.   On October 1, 2011 I was 36 pounds above goal.

But what a difference a year can make.  The guidance I was seeking found me.  Most of you will know my story over the past year and most of you know that on October 1, 2012, I am at goal weight.  But what is most important to me is sharing what I've learned over the past year that may be of help to you in your own journey.   That post is coming up in a day or two.  So let's just say to be continued........................ 

If it has been awhile since you posted your weight loss story, consider doing it again.  So many people are struggling and we are heading into the holiday season where much, much damage can be done.  If you chose to write about your own story, let me know and I'll link to your post.  For some reason, I just have this sense that personal stories may offer more encouragement than any "advice" we could possibly share.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mountain Memories

On the grounds of the Appalachian Science Learning Center at Purchase Knob
Great Smoky Mountains National Park - September 19, 2012

Just over a week ago, I returned home from my wonderful getaway to Maggie Valley, but it seems like the trip happened in another lifetime.  I knew that I was returning home to a hotbed of stress in my own life, but didn't anticipate the role that my health would play in my ability to deal appropriately with that stress.  Some of it, I can write about - some, too personal to share.  I'm making every effort to use this period in my life to evaluate, learn and grow.  I find it interesting when roaming around in BlogWorld, to find that it isn't just me.  Seems a time when so many are struggling in ways that seem (to them) simply beyond their ability to cope or care.  Blogging becomes far less frequent and when posts do appear, the stories are gut-wrenching.  It parallels our real lives in so many ways because you want to help, but realize that this is where blogging has its limitations.  It isn't real life and our ability to truly help each other when the going gets REALLY ROUGH is very limited.  Some may disagree and that's o.k., but I'll repeat something I've said many times......please make sure that you have friends in real life to whom you can turn when "life" threatens to drown you.  

As for me, the life lessons are coming so fast, I can't possibly write about them all, but thought I'd briefly flesh out the "claustrophobia" thing I mentioned previously in the hopes it might bolster me as well as encourage someone else.   

In the fall of 1985, I traveled to an away football game.  My Tennessee Volunteers were playing the Florida Gators, a rivalry already in place that has done nothing but grow in subsequent years.  Florida's stadium (which looks NOTHING today like it did then) was small, dark and consisted of narrow ramps leading up and into the stadium.  Following the game, while exiting the ramps, my friends and I got caught in an escalating rampage of celebrating fans that can only be described as terrifying.  We could not get out and I was very nearly knocked to the ground.  It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life and since that day, I have been extremely claustrophobic.  I have no memory of being concerned about tight spaces before that time, but since then, cannot handle being in any type of place where there is no escape or where I am surrounded by walls, people, doors, etc.  I could go on and on, but you get the picture.  Point is, the feeling of suffocation is VERY real.

But over the past few years, I have noticed that it's getting WORSE.  And as much as I've fought to understand, control or even overcome the panic, I can't.  I despise it because it effects my quality of life. In a moment of amazing clarity, thanks to my blogging friend, Karen Anderson, and an incredible post she wrote while I was in Maggie Valley, I think I might have had a breakthrough.  Karen, whose blog I've been reading for a long time, writes one of the most honest blogs you'll find about her struggles with weight and self-acceptance.  She writes HARD stuff and I am so grateful that she isn't afraid to put her own weaknesses out there in order to help others.   This isn't the first time something she's written has been an "ah-ha" moment for me.  In this post , she says this very candidly about a phobia of her own, "I have long suspected that this fear is not literal, but rather that it’s the container in which I put generalized anxiety because if I didn’t have something in which to contain it, it would spill out or explode all over the rest of my life."

It was as if the heavens opened up and music began to play.   I don't think I've ever had a moment of realization so clear.   My claustrophobia, although very, very real with an identified source behind it, is also not literal - it's the container in which I put stress/anxiety in the hopes of keeping it boxed up.  Like Karen, I am well aware that I live (if you try to convince me otherwise, you are a contributor to the very thing about which I'm talking) in a state of low level anxiety.   I don't like it, but it's just the way I'm wired.  It has taken a lot of years and a lot of tears to understand that the basis of the stress is the understanding that I am a true radical and that I march to the beat of a different drummer.  I think differently, I have odd personality traits, I am an introvert, my ideas of friendship/relationship are different than most females and the ways in which I choose to spend my time are just unusual.  But that's not where the stress/anxiety lies.   I'm o.k. with who I am and pretty much always have been. I'm happy and I'm content.  I wouldn't want to be any other way.  The stress comes in the fact that I don't expect anyone to change for me, so why must you expect me to change for you?  And why, when I'm NOT like you, when I say "no, thank you", or perhaps, choose not to participate in something YOU organize, or simply not answer the phone when you call for the 85th time to discuss the weather, must you decide that a) I don't like you, b) something is wrong, c) I'm arrogant, d) sick, e) I should change, f) I don't want to be friends with you, g) I'm not a team player, h) yada, yada, yada? 

Karen goes on to talk about how long she resisted seeing the anxiety/stress in her life in this way, "But as it turns out, what I see now is that I could not – WOULD NOT – acknowledge stress in my life. I resisted it. I mean how could I be stressed out? I have a wonderful husband, no money worries, no children. I’m a successful writer and author, and I am launching my Acceptance Whispering practice. I have fabulous friends and a full, wonderful life. 
Acknowledging that I’ve been a big ball of stress for pretty much my entire life would seem to contradict all of that, right? Or maybe acknowledging it would come across as being ungrateful? Or whining? Or weak? Or as if I am blaming someone? Or all of the above?"

Reading Karen's words during a deluge in Maggie Valley on a day when I was supposed to be hiking, but instead felt the walls closing in on me, brought a clarity which I pray sticks with me for a long, long time.  With the exception of the words about being an author, her words fit my life to a "T." At that very moment, I began a private journal. Every time something occurs which causes me to feel "claustrophobic," it is recorded in that journal.  As of this morning, there are 21 things in the journal. Sadly, I cannot share them here as they are simply too personal.   What I CAN share is the fact that I still have a long, long way to go, but feel as if I've made great strides in identifying what the real "issues" are, determining when compromise is needed, letting go when not, and perhaps as Karen says, "relaxing into acceptance.I'm not sure the walls will ever stop closing in on me completely, but I'd like to think that this is a start.

If you don't read Karen Anderson's blog and feel as if your weight issues are tied to much deeper things than food, I highly recommend that you begin reading her words.   Don't just start with her most recent post, but go back and systemically work through the whole blog.  You will not be sorry.  I have made her aware that I have have quoted liberally from her September 17 post and YOU need to know that all words in red are copied from that post.  Please give her credit for that writing.  No way could I have said it better.  

Do you have a "claustrophobia" that is not a literal fear?   Think about it - share if you can.