Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our New Normal

Andrews Bald - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
October 6, 2010

Unfortunately, this picture above was not taken when I visited Andrews Bald earlier this month.   But this one was:

Andrews Bald - August 13, 2012

As you can see, the two wayward "spots" which first appeared on our camera lens while traveling in New England this summer, have reappeared much to my chagrin.  We thought the problem had been corrected, but apparently not.  Guess I'll be in the hunt for a new camera!  

The two pictures were taken from almost exactly the same spot on Andrews Bald, one of only a couple that are still maintained as "balds" by the National Park Service.  It is a short hike with an incredible panoramic payoff, so on an uncharacteristically clear August day that also promised cooler temps and low humidity, it was an easy choice.  And it did not disappoint!   But even as good as it was, finding the picture from October, 2010 and comparing the two made me remember just what is in store for me over the next several months.  Currently blessed with a plethora of hiking friends, I can't remember when I've been more excited about the approach of fall.  

Now if my body would just cooperate............seems if it's not one thing, it's another, but we'll go there another time!

With Bill back in school, I thought you might enjoy following along with us/me on our newly established 2012 New Normal.  Remember this post?   The one where Bill decided he would challenge himself to go 30 days without white flour or white sugar?  And the one where I mentioned that we were walking every morning BEFORE his summer school class.   The one where HE mentioned trying to find a way to continue that routine once the regular semester began and he had to "dress up" again.  

Well I am happy ( make that THRILLED) to report success on all fronts.  Not only did he complete the 30 days successfully, but with no coercion from me, announced that he couldn't believe the difference in the way he felt and had no intentions of going back.  And so far, he hasn't.  If anything, he's more passionate about it right now than I am.  Not only that, but on the day before faculty was to report back to school, he said, "o.k., this is what we are going to do."  And thus our "new normal" morning routine was born.

It starts at 6 a.m. when I head back upstairs to make sure he's awake.  I get dressed for walking.  Remember I've already been up since 5 or so!  (No pictures of these moments - that would be a bit much!)

While he's getting ready, I pack his lunch and make our morning smoothie which I serve in my two favorite coffee mugs.   Lori, this is for you!

The goal is to leave home by 6:45 for the nine mile drive to our local mall which very graciously opens it's doors at 6:30 a.m. just to allow walkers inside.  Would we rather walk outside?   Of course, and there are options to do that closer than nine miles.   But remember that Bill has already showered, is dressed professionally for his day at school and once we finish walking, goes directly there.  So if it takes walking in the mall to keep us doing it without his becoming hot and sweaty, I have no objections.

Always kind of odd to see the mall parking lot this empty.  We're even ahead of most of the other walkers.

Just so you know, he was NOT amused at my picture taking as evidenced by his refusal to turn around and smile for this picture.  


I did, however, get him to "play" briefly while we were at the children's play area.  Would someone please mention how svelte he appears?  But DON'T mention that I look like I just crawled out from under a rock!  Glasses and all!

 I was so disappointed when this store opened a few years ago.   It just wasn't what I thought it was going to be!  I had visions of vats of buttercream icing for me to sink my face in!   Yes, some people are cake people and some are icing people.  I'm an ICING person!   Scratch that!   I am a FORMER icing person!

Bill does two full laps (registers just over 5,000 steps on my pedometer) in 40 minutes.   I do a third lap after he heads on to school for 60 minutes of walking and approximately 7700 of my 10,000 steps.  And just think.   All accomplished by 8 a.m.  

I'm not sure which part of this new routine I love more.   The fact that we are getting such great physical activity or the fact that we have 40 minutes of undistracted time to communicate every morning.  We are both enjoying that added benefit.  And BTW, a smoothie is not enough to tide him over until lunch time every day, so on top of his lunch box is always one of  Debby/Sharon's 3M Chia Magical Medicinal Muffins and either an apple or a peach.  He eats that breakfast "snack" as soon as he arrives at school.

Once my third lap is complete, I take care of any errands (grocery, Walmart, etc.) at the wonderful time of day when shelves are stocked, stores are clean and clerks are NICE!   On this day, I made my first visit to our newly opened Trader Joe's which is conveniently located just around the corner from the mall.  It did not disappoint!

Feeling quite accomplished, I usually head back home full of energy and ready to tackle whatever the rest of the day holds! 

I'll leave you with two thoughts that caught my eye as I've roamed the mall.   

I've made it my aim to let this serve as a reminder that if a single spark can burn an entire forest, why can't one tiny thing I do or say each day be the spark that "ignites greatness" in someone else?

And heaven only knows how badly we need people who are willing to EARN respect by SHOWING respect!  


How about letting me see a glimpse of YOUR 2012 morning routine!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Conflict Resolution

Grotto Falls - Great Smoky Mountains National Park
August 15, 2012

There aren't many places where you have the opportunity to walk BEHIND a waterfall, but just over a mile up the  Trillium Gap Trail  in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park you'll find one.  Walking behind that waterfall yesterday with hiking friends, Gene and Judi, reminded me to never become so familiar with something that I risk taking it for granted.  And to always try to see something unique in each experience no matter how many times I've experienced it.   I have walked behind this waterfall so many times and have so many pictures of it, I was tempted to treat it as just one more time, but instead, out came the camera. The new perspectives came ONLY later this afternoon when I downloaded pictures and began thinking about this post.  

Trail behind Grotto Falls

It was while looking at these pictures from the comfort of my sofa that I realized how rare it was to have not just one, but several pictures in and around Grotto Falls with no other people in them.  This is likely the most popular destination in the Smokies and if only I'd thought to snap one on our return trip (we were hiking several miles beyond the falls), you would have seen people spread out all over these rocks.  They were EVERYWHERE - not an easy task to navigate through!   How lucky we were to have been there early enough to catch the beauty without the crowds and how easily I could have missed that perspective.

I cannot thank you enough for your feedback, encouragement and even some kind advice following Mondays post. I am not certain depressed was the word I'd use, perhaps just discouraged and overwhelmed, but you supported me and I thank you.  You gave me new perspective on several things.  And just like walking behind Grotto Falls for the umpteenth time, I hope that no matter how long I continue to write, I never take this support for granted.  

There was something else I noticed on today's hike.  How quickly the winds of change can blow.   We were enjoying lunch on the summit of Brushy Mountain when I noticed a bank of clouds coming in from behind us.   The following three pictures were taken from the same spot within five minutes of each other.

And almost as quickly, Monday's conflicts of interest are becoming conflicts resolved.

1)  The birthday dinners are over!!  I took a bold step after your feedback and asked that the location of Tuesday's dinner be changed to a place with which I was more comfortable with the menu selections.  I was able to do this in a way that allowed the person to think it was THEIR idea!  I enjoyed a wonderful meal and relaxed time with no angst or guilt!  It seems just taking one bold step gave me that jolt I needed to get my mojo back.  Hiking both Monday and Wednesday was also great incentive.  As I've mentioned before, I have NO problems with eating on hiking days.

2)  I've lost the pounds brought on by too many birthday celebrations and so far, the Prednisone is working out o.k.  I asked for a lower dose over a longer period of time and that may have been the trick.  It has done the job is was meant to do physically and I have an appointment this afternoon with my rhematologist to discuss our next steps. 

3)  Judi and Gene's invitation to hike Wednesday certainly resolved the conflict of missing Bill on his first day back at school.   I sent him off at 6:45 and by 7:15, I was on my way to meet them.  
4)  Extended family medical issues are resolved for now and all seems to be well.   That was more a conflict of just wishing I were closer to my sister geographically than actual worry.  

5)  And last, I love the Facebook page although I'm still very new at it.   Something fun, yet not time consuming.   

So yes, how quickly those invisible winds can change the landscape.  All I had to do was keep my eyes wide open seeking new perspectives and knowing full well that when things became cloudy and dark, patience would soon be rewarded with new clarity!

There are ALWAYS life lessons for me found on the hiking trail.
Where do you find new perspectives and clarity?  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Conflicts of Interest

Balcony view from our bedroom at River's Whisper Cabin, Franklin North Carolina
August 8, 2012

As a Human Resources Professional in a former life, the phrase "Conflict of Interest" was one with which I had to be ever vigilant in my awareness of what it did or not not mean.  It seemed that those who regulated whichever industry I happened to be employed by were forever changing the meaning of what constituted a "conflict of interest."  My life these days seems to be one gigantic conflict of interest and it's no wonder I've developed a strange twitch.....just kidding about the twitch!

But one thing that was most definitely NOT a conflict of interest, were the three glorious days we spent with dear friends of more than 35 years at a cabin in Franklin, North Carolina.  As you know, I am researcher and a planner whose favorite thing to do is "plan" our next adventure, but this time, our friends did ALL the planning.   All we had to do was follow the directions emailed to us and show up.  I can't verbalize how nice that was, how badly I needed to just "rest" while someone else handled the details and most important of all, some time to just "be!"  The cabin was huge, people were in and out constantly, new friends were made, laughter flowed constantly and joy was simply all around.  More pictures of our time at the cabin are included throughout this post.

This little guy met us at the door of the cabin!

Back to the conflicts of interest.........................

1) It has been two weeks since my birthday and would you believe, there is still one more celebration to "endure."   And yes, as grateful as I am, it now feels like a test of endurance.   As much as I enjoyed meeting my goal at my birthday and as much as I've appreciated all those wanting to show their love to me by feeding me, I now realize the timing was horrible.  Starting maintenance has been rocky at best.  I'm not going into detail as there's no new material here.  You've all been here.  A point in time came when I got tired of fighting.  Don't worry, very little harm done except to my emotional state of being.   At a very, VERY low point, I actually found myself thinking, "if it's going to be this hard to push back against circumstances, is it really worth it?"  The answer, of course, is yes and rest assured, that thought was fleeting.  I haven't hiked in two weeks, but when you read this, I will be on the way high up in "my" mountains where clarity will return.

Our room was on the top right with it's very own private balcony!
They all know me well and knew I'd be up by 5 a.m.
I think they hoped I'd stay out on my balcony and be quiet - I did and I was!

2) I don't talk much on the blog about the fact that I have lived with Acute Rheumatoid Disease since being diagnosed at age 28, but sometimes I have to because it becomes a focus in my life and when it does, it usually isn't in a good way.  A particular med which has been a miracle drug for over eleven years began causing some serious side effects.  I tried denying that it was the med, but finally had to acknowledge the truth.  Visiting my rheumatologist, I was obviously taken off the med immediately.  Given several alternatives, I chose to allow my body to "rest" for a few days before making a decision about a next step.  That did NOT work!   And I knew because I've been here before, that the one thing that WOULD work in the interim was the dreaded PREDNISONE!   What conflict of interest, you say????   High doses of prednisone while excellent at relieving pain and swelling, comes with the added byproduct of immediate and unavoidable weight gain.  Words of terror to me at any stage of the game, but right now...........................   How could the timing be more horrible?   Good news is, the pain relief is almost immediate!  I'll keep you posted.

View from the main balcony!  Early in the morning, deer roamed the hillside!

3)  Bill starts back toschool on Wednesday.  We've had a marvelous summer filled with new adventure, loads of fun, time to reconnect which is always special and anticipation of another great academic year.   But the day always comes with mixed emotions for me.   He is so excited and so filled with enthusiasm, but there is a normal period of adjustment I have to work through.  My routine changes, the house seems so quiet and the bottom line is, I just miss him.   
The group kayaked from a put-in five miles upriver back to the cabin and had a great time.
Much to my dismay, I did not feel it was wise for me to go.

4)  My extended family is experiencing some change.  My sister is going through some health issues.  Nothing serious (or at least we don't think it is) and very similar to what I went through five years ago at age 52 (if you get my drift!!), but she's having a hard time and telephone conversations over such sensitive topics aren't really satisfying.  It's during these times I wish we weren't three hours apart.  My niece who lives in my town, begins her first year of Vet School in a couple of weeks.  She'll be incredibly busy and not have nearly as much time to spend with Aunt Sharon.   I will miss her - I already do!!
I took a long, long walk while the crew was kayaking and came across this little guy!

5)  And lastly, I'm experiencing somewhat of a conflict of interest regarding Gains and Losses.  I like staying in touch frequently with all of you.  You are such an encouragement to me and I hope that feeling is mutual.  But I also have a very active and busy life in my real world that can't ever be neglected and occasionally, I experience "conflict" over do I write a post or do I make a phone call?  To address that conflict, I am experimenting with a Facebook page for Gains and Losses.  In a way, it almost seems counter-productive, as if that's just one more thing to take up time, but a Facebook update can be quick, while writing a post (at least the way I choose to do it) takes thought and time.  So my plan is to update the Facebook page at least daily, maybe more while continuing to write a regular post at least weekly, hopefully more!   We'll see where it goes.   For the time being, if you have a Facebook page, please "like" mine, so we can interact together in that way.  You'll find a Facebook Badge on the left side of the blog - click on it to be taken directly to the page.  So far, Bill is the only one who "likes" me.   He thinks that's funny - I keep reminding him I have many ways to "like" him and Facebook ISN'T going to be one of them!!   (I don't even know if I have this page set up correctly, so if anything looks odd from your perspective, PLEASE tell me.)

The highlight of my walk was coming across this gorgeous field of sunflowers!
Sums it all up nicely, don't you think?

Sounds like a lot of whining and moaning, doesn't it?   Not meant to - it's just what was on my mind and came out through my fingers.  There is a lot going on in many of your lives as well.  I know that and think of you often!  That's why we have each other.

Any "Conflicts of Interest" you are willing to share?
Would love to encourage you this week!

Monday, August 6, 2012

On The Road Again

Saturday Morning Summer Scene in My Hometown
August 4, 2012

One week has passed since my birthday and I suppose it's time to remove the cards covering the table in our breakfast nook and move on.  Bill says I've milked it for all it's worth and I can no longer begin any sentence with, "but it's my birthday........!"  So even though there are still two more birthday celebration dinners on the calendar, I'll concede that one week is enough.  No problem, I'll just find something else to celebrate.

This week, it's going to be the gift of lifelong friendships.   Bright and early Monday morning, we are heading across the mountains into western North Carolina to meet some dear friends for a few days in a cabin along the river near Franklin.   These are friends we met in college, reunited when our spouses ended up in grad school together and have stayed close since.  These are the kinds of friends that you can go two hours without seeing or two years with seeing, but the moment you are together, it's as if you'd never been apart.  We've gone to the shelter of each other when life became unbearable.  We've cried together, laughed uncontrollably together, loved their two children into mature adulthood, buried parents together and plan for this friendship to grow old together.  We've talked non-stop and we've sat holding hands when no words were adequate only silence was appropriate. 

We have three days with no agenda except to sit on the wraparound porch, gaze at the river and enjoy the company of each other.   I can't wait.   I hope with all of my heart that every one of you has at least one or more friends about whom you could write similar words.  I pray you never take the value of that for granted.

I've navigated successfully through the week of birthday celebrations and even had an extra surprise thrown in yesterday when friends invited us to lunch after church.  These are friend whose company we truly enjoy and with two teens and busy work schedules, their time is limited.  But the teens were on a youth outing and the invitation came unexpectedly.   We spent longer than we probably should have sitting at Cafe 4 laughing and enjoying the time together.  

I say that I've navigated successfully and I have, but not without cost.   My weight is up a tiny bit.   I'm viewing it as a early maintenance learning experience.   I've made good choices in every instance, but I don't believe (you may correct me if your experience is different) one can eat in a restaurant setting as many times as I have over the last seven days and it have no consequences.  If nothing else, the sodium intake is going to be higher.   I suspect that's where this pound has come from.  I also fully expect it to be gone in a day or so.  

The most valuable victory I'm celebrating is the one which reminds me that this past week has not been about the food.   The food has been secondary.   With the exception of Sunday's surprise invitation, my food decisions were made by checking out menus prior and sticking with my plan once seated in the restaurant.   Being so unconcerned about the food has brought a whole new level of appreciation for other people sitting with me at the table and the joy found when friendship and love is the primary focus and what I am eating is relegated to its proper place.  

These feelings are so new for me.   But I will fight with every fiber of my being to stay in this place.   I worked hard to get here, but I will work even harder to stay here.  Should you think for one moment this has been simple or without pain, please read this post and the two written prior to it (they are linked in that post).  As I was writing today's words, I remembered writing those posts a LONG time ago, but wondered if I'd be able to find them.  Ironic, isn't it, that they were written EXACTLY two years ago and are probably the most open, honest, yet difficult posts I've written.  Note that at that point, I was only 16.5 pounds from goal.  As you now know, I gained 16 more before turning it around.

If you are struggling or feel as if your personal journey is hopeless, please don't give up.  The mental work is sometimes harder than the physical act of eating less and moving more.  It may LOOK like I've accomplished a significant weight loss AND a mental turnaround in eight short months, but I believe with all my heart it began two years ago. 

You will most likely not hear from me for several days as I plan to spend very little, if any, time online while we are with our friends.   Once back at home, I promise a full report of our trip and the cool things we do and see.   

Tell me a little about a friendship that is very special to you.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

A Different Kind of Challenge

Thomas Divide Trail - GSMNP
July 30, 2012

Last Monday, on my birthday, my friend and I hiked a long 11.4 miles across the Thomas Divide trail to its intersection with Newton Bald Trail, past backcountry campsite #52 to the intersection with Mingus Creek Trail.  It was the second time I'd done this hike and when we reached the right turn seen in the picture above, I KNEW what lay around the bend.   Although it was only the second time I'd been this far, I'd hiked earlier portions of Thomas Divide trail several times and knew it to be a fairly gentle journey of ups and downs.  But the memory of this extreme turn to the right was crystal clear and I'd been watching for it.  I knew when we walked around this bend in the trail, we were headed STEEPLY downward for almost one full mile.  This also meant we would be headed STEEPLY upward on the return trip for almost one full mile.  By the time we reached this point coming back, fatigue would surely be coming into play, a factor that can be blamed for many hiker accidents.

Those who hike know, that in some ways, downhill stretches can be as challenging as uphill and those who don't hike, need to understand that to be true.  I had enjoyed every moment of the hike thus far, but in the back of my mind, I was watching and waiting for the CURVE I knew was coming.
Gentle stretch of sun-drenched trail not long before "THE CURVE"

 This trail, not known for "views" afforded this one cool glimpse framed between the trees!

We rounded that curve and the downhill stretched out in front of us just as I remembered.  And I have no hero story to tell about it being easier this time than last.  It was tough on the knees going down and seemed to never end.   It was tough on the lungs and every other part of my body coming back up because I was tired, hot, knew it was coming and more than ready to have it behind me.  

You may have already realized where this analogy is going.   And you'd be exactly right.   I feel as if I'm standing at the point of the trail in the first picture FROZEN and TERRIFIED to take another step, much less walk around that curve because I know what's around the bend.  And that word is MAINTENANCE!

I've been down this "trail" before.   I've reached the "bend" in the trail before.   I've even made it successfully through the initial downhill stretch before.  I've spent time resting and relaxing with the euphoria of being at goal weight before.

 Great Smoky Mountains National Park Backcountry Campsite #52.   
Where we ate lunch and "rested" before the long trek back to the car.

I rounded that "bend" in the journey toward goal weight, officially entered the "maintenance" phase and boy, did the trail ever head downhill quickly.   But I saw it coming and just as I knew that the trail challenge was coming last Monday, I knew the first week of maintenance was going to drop steeply downward for a long, long mile.  

In my life (and probably in most of yours), feeding someone or "treating" someone with food, represents love and celebration.  I've known all along that reaching my goal near my birthday would come with some hefty challenges to overcome immediately.  This week alone, between family and friends, I am being "treated" to six birthday lunches/dinners.  I already know of two that will happen NEXT week!  Yep, it's going to be a long trek down that steep, slippery, slope!  In about half of the instances, I've been given a choice - the other half started with "I want to take you to __________ for your birthday."  

Only after next Friday evening (that's the 10th) will I be able to "rest" and hopefully resume what I hope will become my new normal.  That's when I have to climb back UP that hill while I adjust and then maybe, someday fairly soon, I'll be able to look up and see that BEND in the trail back to the LEFT signifying the top of that climb where I can relax a teeny, tiny bit and enjoy the gentle ups and downs of familiar territory!

A beautiful fungus growing on a fallen tree trunk and our "surprise" 
of the day, Fire Pink, which should've been long gone by the end of July!

I am so very, very grateful for every last one of you.   I probably don't reiterate that often enough.   But right now, I am holding on with sheer dependence on those of you who are currently maintaining and are available to "walk" with me for the next few months.  I need you!  I promise to do the same for those of you coming behind me!

FYI - Here's a sampling of my upcoming "birthday" dining schedule!   Some of these places are local, but if you've ever eaten anything at any of them that you really enjoyed and felt good about eating, I'd love some suggestions.  Or just for fun, check out the menu's and let me know what you'd order if YOU were being treated to these places.

Tonight - Abuelo's
Friday night - Calhoun's On the River
Saturday night - Bonefish Grill

This has probably been one of the most delightful birthdays I've ever had.  Don't perceive any of what I've written today as complaining.  Between your birthday wishes, messages from friends and family representing every aspect of my life from elementary school to the present, a wonderful day of hiking ON my birthday, a great day in the mountains with Bill yesterday and all these upcoming celebrations, all I can say is how can one girl be so lucky and so blessed?

Birthday Girl - July 30, 2012