#GoTheDist 2013

Some people have asked me "Why #GoTheDist"?

Well I love competition -- but how do you level the playing field when each participant is at a different performance level, or even has a different form of exercise that they love?

That was the guiding question that led me to think about #GoTheDist.  The answer was that we can "compete" against each other only when we're measuring ourselves against our own self.  If each and every person can set a goal that represents not only what they think they can do, but more than they think they can do (maybe 10% above what they think they can do), then it becomes a competition about how well we can achieve the goals we set for ourselves.  For example, if someone says they're going to bike 1000 miles, they can compare themselves to someone who commits to running 500 miles.  The effort required might not be the same, but the consistency and drive is the same.  #GoTheDist is about measuring PERCENTAGE OF GOAL ACHIEVED, not just miles or pounds. 

With that in mind, I once again renew my commitment to #GoTheDist in 2013

How to Join #GoTheDist 2013:

1. Click on the SUMMARY PAGE (bookmarking it would be a good idea as you will be using it often).

2. Fill out the next available line on the "Summary" spreadsheet.  You are responsible for filling out your biographical information (columns A–D), your tracking modality and goal (columns E and F), your quarterly goals (columns G, J, M, and P), and your half-year and full-year rewards (columns T and V).  

3. **CREATE YOUR INDIVIDUAL PAGE** (The information you have entered in step 2 should auto-complete to an individual page.  Check your line number and then look at the bottom of the page.  Match up your line number and double check that your information is correct).

4. Rename the tab "@[twitter name]" or if you don't have Twitter "[nickname]" 

5. Fill out the sheet as you wish.  See step #8.

6. Update your own individual page as needed (if tracking is too hard, consider printing out your page and filling it out by hand and updating it online once a week). The total mileage will automatically be updated on the Summary tab as you report on your individual page.

7. Follow #GoTheDist on Twitter for support if you need it or to support others when they do, to announce achievements, and find new/old friends!

8. PLEASE DO NOT DELETE LINES OR TABS! Do not SORT.  If you want to add columns, please add them to the RIGHT of the page.  Please do NOT move your page around! You CAN bookmark your individual page using your browser to find it easily.

At the end of each month (or year) consider answering these questions:
  • How do you think you did over the course of the month?  
  • Did you overestimate or underestimate your capabilities?  Why is this?  Is this representative of a larger trend in your life?
  • Did you learn anything about yourself while doing this? 
  • Can you apply what you've learned in #GoTheDist somewhere else in your life? 
  • Did you make any new friends through #GoTheDist -- were you able to support each other?
  • What was the hardest part of the challenge?  (physical? mental/psychological?)
  • What do you think you did really well this month? (doesn't have to be about #GoTheDist)
  • What do you think you could improve on? (again, doesn't have to be about #GoTheDist)
  • No matter the numbers you already entered, are you going to finish strong, or taper off? 
  • Did you go the distance? And no, I don't mean did you hit 100% of your goal... did you put yourself out there and really try for it?  Is 80% still something you can be proud of?

Thankful, thankful, truly thankful am I.

At my follow-up appointment yesterday, I told Dr. O'Brien, that he has given me my life back.  I think I hugged him three times.  Told him that I'd bake cookies for him.  I think I even told him I wanted to give him a puppy.  I really didn't have adequate words to thank him -- I didn't have the words to tell him what he's given me once again.

I'm asking my friends and family to leave a comment to this post adding your two cents to that which Dr. O'Brien has done to help restore me to my life, to my friends, to my family.  You have all seen me on the sidelines.  You've made sacrifices and changed plans as much as I have. 

Fitbloggin -- remember all the activities I had to sit out from? 
Everyone -- remember when you'd go to hug me and I'd wince?
Weight Loss / Health Gain people -- remember how much pain I felt over each lb that crept back on?

(PS:  this is my 500th post... I find it fitting to dedicate it to the man that helped me return to me....)

6 day post operation

My surgeon said that my operation "couldn't have gone any better."

He said that I can try a few minutes on the elliptical next week once my soft collar comes off. (I still have to wear it most of the day and while sleeping, but not while eating or showering.)
We start talking physical rehabilitation in 6 weeks. Not bad, eh?

He also said that I can remove the surgical glue over my incision.  My first reaction was "ewww" but as I said to two friends on Twitter, " I have a seam in me now. Where there was once perfection.... a second chance."


Looking stylish with dad.

Per instructions, I took the bandage off of my incision. I don't think I was ready to see what was underneath.  My initial reaction was the same one that I had the night before surgery: "my poor perfect neck!" But the truth is that it wasn't perfect. Thee were problems with the foundation that needed to be addressed. So I was just left with "ewwwww gross!!!"

I have received cards and well wishes from many of you. They are are greatly appreciated. I am still on pain meds. Night time/morning is hard. I need to keep my head moving in order to keep my neck muscles from cramping.

My surgical follow-up is on Tuesday. I hope that the doctor has good news for me regarding the incision and the operation as a whole.

So please keep me in your thoughts and prayers as I recover. They got me through the toughest part!
The furry nurses taking care of me
From my boss

Victory is mine!

Survived surgery!

T-minus 7 Days

Seven more days until my surgery.

Everyone has been asking me if I am nervous. The answer is both yes and no.

I'm not nervous about the actual procedure or even the outcome. I'm not nervous about all the rehabilitation that I will have to do. Nor am I nervous about being in the hospital in general. I have the greatest faith in both my doctor and even in my own body to get through this.

However, this is the first time that I will be staying overnight in a hospital since I was born. Yes, I have been to the hospital for various issues (migraines, the time I sprained my foot in two places, for my hemorraghic ovarian cysts) but I have never had to stay over night. I have also had anesthesia before: when I had my wisdom teeth taken out. So I'm not nervous about that.

I am a little bit anxious about all the needles. I have my pre-op screening tomorrow and they will be drawing blood. Yay! *eyeroll*

I am also feeling a little bit anxious about the words "advanced directive."   I mean, they are good to have for everyone. They leave no ambiguity as to your wishes in the instance that you are incapacitated. However, they just bring to mind my past. I have seen many of my family members become diminished or incapacitated to the point where other people need to step in and make some very hard decisions. I would like to save my family members from that by having my wishes commemorated in a legal document. And yet, when that form is in front of me, I feel so utterly unable to fill it out. It is so much easier for me to say what I do not want: I do not want to languish for a period of time with no expectation that my condition will improve (catastropic brain damage/brain death); I do not want to be trapped in my own body with full mental capacity and no physical ability (locked-in syndrome); and I do not want to be kept on life support for anything longer than 30 days.

Do I think that any of this will happen next week? No. But ever since witnessing my grandmother die (I was 8), I have had an acute sense of my own mortality. I think it is why I'm not afraid of having surgery or any of the serious complications that can happen.

And so, I'm not focusing so much on the day of the surgery though I'm counting it down, but I am trying to focus on what my life will look like the day after surgery:  will the pain be gone?

I can handle being sore for a few days and even having to limit my range of motion until my vertebra begins to grow into the metal plates and is stable.  What I cannot handle is if by the end of January I am NOT sleeping well, or I can't exercise. Then I will feel like the surgery was a wasted effort.

But for now, I am choosing to focus on the positives and especially that we are doing the surgery in a proactive manner, not a reactive one.

I am trying to think about all the things in my life that I have had to give up because my neck injury dictated it be so. I'm trying to think about being able to sleep through the night and feel well rested in the morning. I am trying to think about dating and not worrying about a man reaching behind my neck when he goes to kiss me. I am trying to think about being able to read a book and not getting a headache from the way my head is positioned to read it, etc.

So am I nervous? No. I am excited to get on with my life. It is waiting for me not in 7 days, but in 8 days.

Decisions Decided

Last week on Facebook and Twitter (on 11/20), I announced that I had met with a new spinal specialist, and that he had told me that I was an excellent candidate for artificial disc replacement ("ADR").  Immediately, I was overcome with emotion and said "I'm going to hug you now and again after the surgery." In other words, I told him then and there that I wanted to go ahead with the artificial disc replacement.

Two years ago, Dr. Yu--a colleague of Dr. O'Brien (the man doing my ADR Surgery)--told me "If there was a significant, operable change you'd know it." And now I know what he means.  So, you (and many people in my life) may think that this was a rash decision.  But if you've been following me for a while, or if you know me in person, you know that this isn't a rash decision at all.  In fact, I've been talking/thinking about it for a very long time.

Back in March 2007 when I was going through all the wonderful pain of the bulging L3-4, L4-L5, L5-S1, I researched artificial disc replacement in Europe. At that time, artificial disc replacement devices had recently been approved in the U.S. for use in the lumbar spine (October 2004 for the Charite Artificial Disc, and August 2006 for Synthes ProDisc-L) and not yet for cervical discs (that occured in July 2007 for the Medtronic Prestige Cervical, and December 2007 for the Synthes ProDisc-C ) (there are other devices I'm not listing that were approved around the same time).  Artificial disc replacement in Europe had about a decade more practical experience and application.

The standard of care for bulging discs is to start with conservative treatment (physical therapy, steroids, pain management) and to see if the discs would realign themselves or the inflammation that was causing nerve pain would decrease.  I was told many times that they couldn't/wouldn't do much of anything until their hand was forced -- until a disc herniated.  Until then, I wasn't a good candidate for either disc fusion or ADR.  For bulging discs, the more common surgical option would be a partial discectomy/laminectomy (I'm glad that I ignored the advice of one surgeon who wanted to operate, because the conservative treatment seems to be working for the most part (I have good days and bad, but the good days far outnumber the bad)).  I just wanted to know what all the options before my hand was forced into making a decision that wasn't good for me.

There are risks to this and any surgery.  There are also benefits. 
  • Dr. O'Brien has a great track record with this surgery, and has performed more cervical ADR surgeries than any other surgeon in Washington, DC.  I think I'm in good hands.
  • The benefits to ADR vs. Fusion is that an artificial disc replacement acts and functions like a vertebral disc.  I will still have flexibility and functionality (unlike a fusion that would limit it). 
  • Many studies (now that there have been 5-year U.S. studies and 15+ year European studies) show that ADR surgery in the cervical spine are stable and require fewer revision surgeries (think Peyton Manning) when compared to lumbar ADR or cervical/lumbar fusions. 
  • If I were to do nothing, I might not qualify for a single-level disc replacement because the disc below C5-6 is also bulging and could herniate.  This buys me some time and some stability.  It also gives doctors an inside look at what is going on with my discs.
But you all can testify to the one thing that my doctor is concerned about:  you know just how dedicated I am and will be to my rehabilitation.  You know I'll do ever exercise and heed every precaution.  You've seen me over the past few years and how I've applied myself and honored my body. 

I'm going to need you all.  While I'm not a religious person, I will say pray for my doctor (his eyes, his hands, his brain, his expertise) and for me.  Think happy thoughts.  Burn some incense.  Once we figure out if we can proceed (insurance, testing to make sure I'm not allergic to the metals in the device), I'll let you all know the date of my surgery [tentatively December 12th?], the terms of my release (I said to him, "If you can give me running, I'll give you/give up sparring"), and any other details I can give. 

But please, above all else, be happy for me.
I want this to work. 
I want this feeling of being hopeless to be replaced by an overwhelming feeling of being hopeful.
I hope that when all is said and done that the FatGirlvsWorld you all know and love will be returned to you.

All I Want for Fitmas

As a service to my brother and father, I try to keep my Amazon wish list well-populated year round (as well as some other wish lists) so we don't have another well-meaning-but-ultimately-tragic orthopedic bowling shoe incident or another "she doesn't wear gold" awkward moment.

As I get older, it gets harder to find things that I want.  For the most part, if I want something I either buy it, or plan for it (invariably the plans are fruitless because a cat gets sick, my apartment floods, or there is some emergency travel). And sometimes the things I want look more like needs because they are not glamorous at all, such as a Dyson vacuum.

Hurricane Sandy (as well as other natural disasters), the wars and revolutions in the Middle East, the daily reminders that life is ephemeral, have all reminded us to be thankful for what we have.  It seems silly to want something frivolous when we know people that have lost nearly everything.  It seems silly to want something frivolous when we know there are people in the world with nothing.

This year, all I really want for Fitmas is to be able to do 10 pushups--10 uninterrupted pushups without my neck or lower back hurting.
I want to be able to run 5 miles (on the elliptical) two days in a row without feeling like I've been steam rolled.
I want to throw punches again, instead of just beating myself up.
I want to feel 31, not 61 -- not to turn back the clock, but to restore my good health.

There are times when I think this is too much to ask from the universe.  There are times when I think this is not enough to ask of the universe.  Then I realize, I'm not asking the universe for anything extraordinary--just the strength to be patient, the courage to keep fighting for myself, and the wisdom to know when to act and to know when to listen to someone elses' expertise. 

“A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.”

― Elbert Hubbard

I'm very thankful for the friends that I have.  It seems that for every little broken place in my heart there's a friend that perfectly patches that hole.  There's a friend for each facet of my personality, or for each hobby or activity.  Then there are people that fill empty spaces I never even know existed. There are people I've been missing long before I ever knew them. And then there are the people that weave their way through time and space and return to me over and over again.  

These are the people you trust to carry the burdens that have been weighing you down ("I'm shocked you still go out and smile in that much pain" aahhhh *relief* she gets it...), or to hear out the ridiculous things you think of ("Sneezing while pooping is amazing" "Just rockets it right out."), or to just be there when you need them ("You are not alone.  I am in your corner."), and will back you no matter what you decide to do ("if you are ready to go for it, by all means, I've got your back").   I am not always the easiest person to be friends with.  I ten
d to isolate myself and not make plans.  When I'm in pain, I tend not to reach out; I shut down.  My friends are amazing and awesome people that figured this out long before I ever did, and they've never asked me to be anything but authentically myself.

 I'm a very lucky girl.  


(yes, the whole point of this post was to relay the poop quote)

The Saga Continues...

1.  As of last week, I finally have a floor!! It isn't what I would choose, but it's what my building's insurance paid for.  And well...it's a floor (more floor!) (and new floor in the kitchen, as well as some new mirrored closet doors). It's a huge relief to, after 50 or so days, restore my sanctuary.  However...
Jack getting IV fluids and
modeling the cone of shame

2.   There was a bit of a crisis while the crew was installing the new floor:  they didn't call me to tell me they were beginning the work of installing the parquet so I could get the cats out of there (they previously said that they could work around the cats).  I come home at lunch the first day of the project to meet with the lead contractor (to discuss the scope and schedule) and find that (1) they had begun laying down the adhesive and parquet and (2) that my cat, Spike, had walked right through the adhesive (and tracked it all over my apartment.  Did they call me to tell me this? No.  So by the time I get home, the adhesive had already dried.  I was LIVID.  I bundle up both of the cats and take them to the vet where they had to sedate Spike to remove all the adhesive from between each of his four paws.  Poor little woozle and $190 later...but....

3.   While we were at the vet, I noticed that someone had urinated blood in the carrier.  My money was on Jack and unfortunately it was right.  Back in May, I was concerned about some of his behaviors (frequent trips to the litter box) and we had taken him to the vet and done some urinalysis that came back negative for a UTI.  However, as we now know, it was a fairly large struvite bladder stone!  I took him in this past Wednesday night to had surgery the following day to remove the stone.  I visited him on Thursday night and was able to take him home on Friday (approximately $1650 later), but I'm still monitoring his recovery.  I had to take him in the night before because....
Notice how pretty my brain is?

4.  That same Thursday morning, I was scheduled to get some fancy 3T MRIs on my lower back and my neck.  Turns out, I'm quite photogenic.  Based on (1) my friend Evan's expertise with MRIs, (2) the MRI technician's opinion (3) the radiology report and (5) my experience with my own scans, we could tell a few things:   (a)  here's no new damage after 5 years for my lower back (b) no new damage after 1 year for my cervical spine (c) I have a brain! and (d) neither the best case scenario (the discs put themselves back into place) or the worst case scenario (more discs were bulging/herniated) came into play. 

5.  Today I met with the spinal specialist that Evan (my wonderful medical sherpa) recommended.  Not only did he have fantastic hair, but he was a real laid back dude with the time to talk to me about my history, where I'm at now, and where I want to be.  He digs that I'm an active person and this is limiting me.  He expressed hesitation regarding doing either a fusion or an artificial disc replacement ("ADR") on "someone so young" (why thank you doctor...).  And so he wants me to do an intermediate step before we get there.  My previous epidurals were steroids injected into the epidural space and were meant to help relieve inflammation around the herniated/bulging disc.  He wants to try a more targeted approach and see if a a "root sleeve injection" where the steroids are injected closer to where the affected nerve lives (little bugger we know where you're hiding!!). If that doesn't work, he favors an ADR procedure as compared to a fusion, because an ADR would (1) help maintain the integrity of my cervical spine (i.e., it wouldn't increase the responsibility of the surrounding discs as a fusion does) and (2) would preserve the range of motion (a 1-level fusion wouldn't mean much of a change in the range of motion, but the ADR gives my other discs a better chance of not needing to be addressed). Did I mention that he has fantastic hair?

From the time he was my date to a friend's wedding in NY.
6.  I'm going to take a moment to just publicly thank my medical sherpa, Evan, for all the help he's given me.  I can't sing his praises loud enough.  He has enough experience in the medical field to (a) help me navigate insurance (**shudders**) (b) help me find the right doctors (based on feedback he's received personally, and the professional opinions of the doctors he works with) and (c) keep me focused on the task at hand -- which is about finding a long-lasting remedy, not just a BandAid.  While I love my family dearly, we're just not equipped to handle medical issues.  Evan anticipates each step and makes to easier for me to focus on healing, not the administrative stuff that ramps up my anxiety levels.  So... Evan, I love you.  I hope the universe bestows a heap load of karma on you (apple pie is not karma, it is apple pie). 

7.  I've known Evan since college. And I know his very dry sense of humor.  Sometimes he just loves to pull my leg.  As we were leaving the MRI (yes, he's such a wonderful sherpa that he met me at my 7:30 am appointment), he tells me that he and the MRI tech doing the scans noticed an anomaly on my kidney.  I think he's just trying to pull my leg or to get me to relax after being in an MRI for so long.  But he assures me that he's not joking.  Chances are that it's nothing other than a fluid-filled cyst hanging out on my kidney.  They're pretty common and usually benign.  Most people don't know they have one until, like me, they go for a diagnostic test for some other reason.  Still, not going to tempt fate, and will be following up with my internist. 

So, now that I have a house, have two healthy cats, and am addressing my own medical issues, I feel a lot less stressed (still residual stress from not sleeping well, having gained weight, and the amount of money leaving my bank account).  I've gone from a 7.5 to a 3 or 4.  The feeling of always being in an adrenaline fight-or-flight panic mode has dissipated.  

Again, I want to thank everyone for bearing with me this past year where all I seem to talk about is being injured, chronic pain, and wanting to eat my feelings.  I also want to thank you for being there for me even if/when I have nothing to say.  I feel the love,  I really do.  Notably, I just received a card via snail mail from the amazing @coracast (who I affectionately cal "Lil" as in "lil sister" and she calls me Big Sis) with the sweetest words of support and love (as well as a prezzie!).  

I know how everyone makes vision boards to help them focus on their goals.  I think I want to make the most selfish board ever -- a love board -- a place to put all the reminders that I'm valued, that I'm heard, that I make a difference, that I'm loved.  You all have helped turn this stoic/stubborn/I-can-do-it-myself hardass into someone willing to reach out and accept help. 

You humble me with all the love and support.  Especially cause you know that I can be a massively arrogant megalomaniac sometimes. 


I've written before about what it means to be "on track" or "off track" -- and that if you feel like you're failing in one aspect, to put some energy and intention behind another part. 

Truth is that I haven't been taking my own advice.

We all know my body hasn't been playing nice.
I'm going to get a new set of MRIs tomorrow (in a fancy schmancy 3Tesla machine!) -- and hopefully come up with a battle plan.  It's not enough that doctors want to just deal with the symptoms.  I need them to attack the cause and get me exercising again. 

I don't think I realized just how important exercise is to me.  Part of the mourning process is (1) I feel like that since I neglected giving my body exercise for so long, there's this latent feeling like I need to "make up" for lost time; (2) I'm an emotional eater.  I'm not trying to say exercise gives me permission to overeat/emotional eat (damn you mac & cheese), but exercise helps balance my anxiety.  It gives me a release.  Without the release, stress/anxiety have taken a toll on my body in terms of stress eating and skin picking.

The other part of the mourning process is, well, the healing.
And the types of healing directly coincide with the "tracks" that we're either on or off:
  • Mental healing -- forgive myself, allow myself to cry, get catharsis
  • Food -- get back into food logging and asking myself "does this food get me closer or further from my goals"?
  • Exercise -- do the physical therapy I already know to do, commit myself to what's coming
  • Rest -- sleep well, wake up happy and hopeful
I know that when I can exercise, I feel better about life.  It's not about the results, it's about the behaviors.  I feel like I'm worthy of all the good things because I'm actively dedicating myself to myself.

Make sense?

Speaking of my back -- thank you, everyone, for having my back.  I know I'm not the easiest person to be around when I'm in pain, or even when I'm trying to process things mentally.  I shut people out and stop asking for help. But please know it means so much to me to have people saying they can't wait to see me back at the gym, or posting happier/more triumphant posts, or even willing to help me pull up my underwear when bending over hurts.  It's hard to feel this needy and broken.

Strong & Wrong

My childhood vocal teacher (surprise! I studied classical voice/opera most of my life) said that if you're going to sing something wrong, "sing it strong & wrong."  That way, if someone thinks "hmmm that doesn't sound right" they'll think "oh, I guess it was written that way."  It doesn't always work, but in a pinch it will do.

I was thinking about "Strong & Wrong" quite a lot during yesterday's 5 mile elliptical run that I'm not supposed to do.   Doctors want me to rest.  Okay, I've been (mostly) doing that for three months.  No running, no biking.  No lifting, nothing with torque/twisting.  And because my spine is so fubar, things like yoga (balance) and swimming (neck angle) are also verboten.  Walking on hard surfaces is even hard -- I start feeling compression after 30 minutes (my back begins to ache, I hear a clicking in my neck, or my left arm begins to ache/go numb cause the nerve is being pinched).

It's not good enough for me.  I want to be an active person, to keep the weight off, to be strong and fast.  And they tell me that I can't. It's not about how the world sees me.  It's about how I see me.  (a little nugget if you want to talk to me about my injury)

They're not trying hard enough to come up with a solution.  So I'm going to run strong and wrong for a while.  Let the inflammation and damage show on the MRI.  They want me to "manage" my injury.  I want to thrive.  I'm not trying to injure myself, but I'm trying to show them "When I live my life the way I want and need to live it, this is how my spine looks.  NOW FIX IT."  My "doing what I can" is not just about what I can do physically, but it's about not letting the doctors brush me off.

My injury can no longer dictate my life in a way that it restricts my happiness or how well I live.

Taco de Camote y Pozole (Sweet Potato Hominy Taco)

I was at the Dupont Circle Fresh Farms Market (I love my local farmer's market) and was so pleasantly surprised to see that one of DC's best restaurants was doing a demo of one of their many locally-inspired dishes. 

Oyamel is one of the many restaurants brought to the DC Metropolitan area by Chef extraordinaire, José Andrés.  Oyamel's Head Chef, Omar Rodriguez, is a bit of a badass: he has a Bachelor's degree in Biology, and was accepted into medical school, but decided to follow his passion for food.  He is a 2006 CIA graduate and has been with José Andrés almost his whole career.

The members of Oyamel that were present gave me permission to reprint the recipe they were sampling at the farmer's market.

Taco de Camote y Pozole (Sweet Potato Hominy Taco)

Camote and hominy taco filling:
1lb sweet potato
5 oz hominy
1/4 tsp Achiote paste (what is Achiote past? see here -- you can also purchase it)
2 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter

Large dice the sweet potato.  Drain the canned hominy and wash with cold water to remove excess salt.  Heat a pan on medium heat and melt the butter.  Once the butter is melted, add and sauté the sweet potato.  Make sure to get a nice caramel brown color on the sweet potato on all sides.  Once the sweet potato is almost cooked through, add the hominy and Achiote.  Allow all the ingredients to cook together for one minute and then season with salt.

Mole verde de Cacahuates
1/2 cup peanuts
1/4 lb tomatillos
1/2 bunch cilantro
3 black peppercorns
1 serrano chile
1 garlic clove

Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Toast the peanuts for 5 minutes.  Then remove from oven to cool.  Once the peanuts are cool, place in a blender with all the other ingredients and puree until smooth.  If necessary, add some water to get the blender's blades moving.

Warm a tortilla (corn in this instance) and layer a large spoonful of the sweet potato mixture and then a generous portion of the mole sauce. And cause I can't leave well enough alone, I think there's room in that taco for some leafy greans, no?  ¡Salud y buen provecho!

Oh, and did I mention that they also were giving out some Mexican Hot Chocolate (Oaxacan (ancho chile, I believe) hot chocolate with sugar, cinnamon, vanilla bean, cloves and steamed mil)?  **happy sigh**  perfect on a cool fall morning!

If you're in DC, make sure to check out Oyamel or any other of José Andrés' other restaurants.  Not only is he a fantastic chef, but he's a big part of the community.  He has strong ties with local producers and believes in giving back to them.  Every year he and his team from Jaleo come to the Dupont Circle farmer's market and to make an 8' paella to share with the market community. 

Gaining, Losing, and Winning

No easy way to say this....

On November 6, 2010, I was on top of the world -- my best friend was getting married and I weighed in at my lowest adult weight of 188lbs.

But all of the work I did to get there (100+ miles a month on the elliptical) took a toll on my body and I knew I had to give my back a rest.  I regained a few pounds through the first few months of 2011, but I let it go knowing that I was listening to my body and not risking re-injuring my lower back.

So in 2011, I switched gears and started boxing.  Not only was I kicking butt, but I was feeling great.  Not even someone trying to make me feel bad could affect my stride.  My running complemented my boxing, and I could feel my body changing and getting stronger.  But  that success was short lived when I started feeling weak in my left arm in July.  My doctor and I approached the injury conservatively.  I stopped boxing for a while, did physical therapy, and for a while the pain went away.  I resumed my boxing and running and the pain came back.  By December, we knew what we were dealing with:  a herniated disc at C5-6 and a bulging disc at C6-7.

2012 began with treating the new injury -- more drugs, more rest, more rehabilitation. I experienced some moderate improvement, but my recovery has been nothing like my lower back's recovery.  My lower back's injury wasn't as severe, and I think has been a bit of a non-issue as of late.  I'm aware of what hurts it (walking on hard surfaces, sitting for too long, using recumbent bikes, etc.) and take care to avoid those things.  I've tried to give my neck rest, but just about anything can aggravate it -- such as lying down, walking for 10 minutes, going down stairs, etc.).

With my friend Evan's guidance, I'm starting to investigate surgeons who will make my neck a bit more stable so I can get back to the gym.... because I've gained 17.5lbs since November 6, 2010.  And I do not like this.  I do not like this at all.  I'm disappointed in me, because I know there's so much I can be doing (i.e., being more focused about my diet, not drinking) and I'm just not.  I've been avoiding getting on the scale, but to tell you the truth, this number is lower than what I was expecting.  Part of the fat mentality is believing/fearing that any time you stray from the path, that you immediately go back to your worst.  I know how to get back on track.

I think reading Janet Oberholtzer's book is helping me realize one big part of the picture:  I need to mourn the loss of my spinal health.  It really does suck to be stuck in a body that is aging faster than my heart and mind. It sucks that I have to face making these decisions without any guarantees as to the result.  It sucks that I fear other people touching me because I feel so fragile.   The sooner I feel and deal with these feelings of loss, the sooner I can focus on what I can do, what I can do about my situation.

But you've come here because you want to know the winner of the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, right?
I want to thank each and every person that entered the contest.  I received a whopping 780 entries!! Can you believe that?

Without further ado -- I present the winner of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer:

Jess, congrats!! Send me an email with your address and I'll get that beautiful stand mixer to your new home!

Because She Could, I Can

Source here
If you were at Fitbloggin, chances are that you had a chance to meet the wonderful and amazing Janet Ober.  I've been following her on Twitter for a while as a casual acquaintance, I knew her name and her face, but I didn't know her story.  Imagine my surprise when I met her and noticed something a little different about this spunky blond with a huge smile:  (my dear Janet, I'm going to be blunt here -- anyone who knows me knows that sometimes my inquisitive nature doesn't have a filter and subsequently I can come off as insensitive, though it's not my intention) she looked like a shark had taken a big chunk out of her leg. 

I felt really bad for not realizing this about her before we had met, so I jumped on my smartphone and immediately looked up her Web site and then her story began to unfold before me.  Without having to say a word, I knew she understood and felt all the feelings I had about being injured and broken, I knew she understood the rollercoaster ride when one recovers from an injury. She knew what it's like to live with pain and restriction.

Our two messages seemed to belong to each other -- #GoTheDist Why? Because I Can.

On the last day of Fitbloggin, we ran into each other in the lobby and said our goodbyes.  She asked me if I'd hold on so she could give me a copy of her book, "Because I Can:  doing what I can, with what I have, where I am."  I'm so glad she did.

Though we might have entirely different backgrounds and entirely different injuries, the process of recovery is remarkably similar.  I found myself (especially in chapters 10-11 ("A Hurricane and An Obituary" and "Mentors and Counselors," respectively) nodding in agreement and recognition with what she was saying and what was being said to her (pg. 179 "Allowing myself to write this sentence: I am disappointed about the losses I have. with a period at the end was a big step for me.  Before that when I'd mention my losses, I would quickly add something about being thankful for how well I was recovering.   I had not allowed myself to honestly admit my feelings of loss, because I thought doing so would mean I was an ungrateful person...")

It's hard to explain injuries and chronic pain to people -- some people think that just because you're not bleeding out, confined to a bed, or buttressed with metal that you're okay .  That couldn't be farther from the truth (pg. 156 "Yes, I might have survived the trauma, but daily life was kicking my butt.  It was not looking like I  thought it should.  The constant pain and low energy levels were wearing me out.").  Once the acute issues are handled, there are so many other issues that come up--about learning how to live with your injury versus letting your injury run your life, how to grieve for the loss of the life and body you wanted and the things you might not ever do again, and how to forgive the causes for the injury as much as the injury itself. 

While hugging her, I told Janet that she was the light at the end of my tunnel, telling me that I can get through this.  I meant every word and I am so thankful to have read her memoir.  I wasn't left with pity or sadness for her (or for myself), but a very strong sense that somewhere in Pennsylvania was this amazing woman who knew my pain and didn't need me to tell her every detail to be able to tell me I'd survive it.

So go and read her book and be inspired to "Bloom where [you are] planted."

NB:  One thing her doctor said to her really stuck with me:  "Our bodies protect themselves by giving us pain signals when something is not working properly. ... Your body has been beaten up, but you've done what you needed to help it recover well.  Trust yourself—you know your body better than anyone else.  Don't allow what others have said to hold you back."  (pg. 266, Dr. Tuckman)

Olfaction Reaction

As part of the launch for their Generation Fresh/Spices4Health campaign, McCormick Spices generously invited some Fitbloggin participants to their campus in Hunt Valley, Maryland (recap here).

In our goodie bags (OMG, thank you thank you thank you, I love my goodie bag!) there was an invitation to "Join Generation Fresh":
1. Take everything you learned here today as well as your McCormick herbs and spices and freshen up your own favorite recipes.

2. Share these freshened-up recipes on your blog and with us.
I wanted to do this. I wanted to be a good little blogger and follow the instructions, but I kept remembering one comment during the tasting experiments -- about how olfaction (smell) and taste are located right next to the part of our brain (the amygdala) that holds our memories and touches our emotions.  After all, my blog isn't about recipes or exercises, but it's about emotions.

For as much as I wanted to write about how I could freshen up favorite recipes, I wanted to write more about recipes that were a part of my memories and how that little red cap had always been a part of my life.

Color & Nutmeg
Every year, my mom would pull down from the cupboard my grandmother's old/repaired tilt-head stand mixer with ceramic bowl and we'd begin the process of making her Aunt Elva's "Refrigerator Cookies" -- we know these now as sugar cookies.  We can find them now packaged in tubes and buckets in any grocery store, but back then these were special.  Making these cookies with my mom were some of the best memories in my life.  I learned why we cream butter and sugar, and that after beating in the eggs was the best time to add the vanilla extract or food coloring (she'd let me use food coloring and make the cookies in any color I wanted using McCormick's little gnome-like bottles).  I feel close to her as I repeat the steps the same way as I have for over 20 years. 

What set these cookies apart from the standard sugar cookie, is that before baking them, we'd roll them in a mixture of sugar (sometimes colored sugar) and nutmeg.  That little half-bottle of nutmeg was a special occasion spice -- the very signal of the holidays.  When the cookies came out of the oven, we'd give the cookies another dusting of the sugar/nutmeg mixture and shake off the excess.

After my mom died, a friend's mother did the most wonderful and meaningful thing ever -- she invited me over to make cookies with her and her two very handsome sons.  We followed Aunt Elva's recipe, down to the nutmeg.  I'm not sure how my mom would have felt about the camouflage-colored cookies (okay, they were vomit colored, but I was trying to be kind to Pete) but I know she would have approved of the number of cookies we made to give away to the local food kitchen that year. 

I know my dad reads my blog, so I will not give away any of his cooking secrets (the few that he may have).  HOWEVER, I will say the times he's tried to put nutmeg into his apple pie were valiant efforts towards innovation, but I'm a purist when it comes to my dad's apple pie:  apples, lemon juice, corn starch, cinnamon in hand-made crusts.

At the McCormick taste testing, we blind tasted two different types of cinnamon -- their red cap cinnamon and their gourmet cinnamon -- and I knew instantly which was which.  My family consumed more cinnamon (in their 2.37oz bottles) more than any other spice (okay, outside of black pepper).  Cinnamon toast, cinnamon on eggs (it's french toast without the bread), cinnamon on everything.    One taste of the first applesauce and my mouth/brain connection transported me to Thanksgiving and Christmas (the two yearly appearances of Dad's apple pie), and more importantly, the mornings after when I was allowed to eat pie for breakfast.

This red-capped bottle witnessed my father and I trying to build our relationship from scratch:  we learned to work together, listen to each other, and compromise over that apple pie.  If you want to warm the cockles of my heart, you slice an apple, toss it in the microwave until it starts to get mushy and then top it with some cinnamon and all will be well with my world.  Better yet -- you'll call my dad and tell him to bring me a pie.

I used to hate spinach.  I think I hate it before I even tried eating it.
But never-the-less, you would never see me eating it.  We were an iceberg lettuce family!

That is until my dad's stepmother ("Ma") introduced me to Spinach Balls.  The basic recipe (per the internet) is usually the same, but they often have "Italian Seasoning" or "finely diced onion" as part of their recipe.  Ma's recipe is much more explicit about the additions -- the Parmesan cheese was to be freshly grated, and instead of generic "Italian Seasoning," one spice was called out for its extraordinary relationship with spinach:  thyme.  The recipe always called for ground thyme, but my mom used the dried thyme leaves.

Thanks to the addition of thyme, I love spinach.  I don't need to make the spinach balls to bring these two together, as I'm often just microwaving some frozen spinach, adding a bit of Parmesan (or other salty hard cheese like Pecorino Romano, or Asiago), some black pepper, and the requisite thyme.

I love watching people who have never liked spinach try Ma's take on the spinach ball.  I have never once had a party with any spinach ball leftovers.  Always the one to make us grandkids eat our fruits and vegetables, Ma would be proud that I think of this recipe every time someone asks me to bring an appetizer, or even when I'm in the kitchen with some spinach.

Lemon & Herb
After my mom died, I ate to comfort myself.  I've told this story many times without ever really talking about what I ate.  Sure there were the quick and easy meals that my dad brought home (McDonalds, pizza, and Chinese), as well as the sugary pastries, but there were also the cheap and easy go-to meals that Dad could trust me to make at any given time (such as spaghetti with meat sauce).   But when I longed for something that reminded me of my mom, or there was a special occasion that merited this dish, I'd make my mother's breaded chicken. 

For a second, we'll ignore the fact that she basically deep fried chicken breasts in vegetable oil to make the breading nice and crispy (and yes, I can make the dish just as tasty baking it) because the important point was that this was her secret ingredient in an otherwise familiar dish.

McCormick pulled this seasoning because they had issues with the amount of water/condensation it could absorb. It would eventually cake up and become unusable.  They even have a "Perfect Pinch" Lemon Herb seasoning, but I hear it's just not the same as Lemon & Herb.  Just as well, no one could make it as good as my mom.

I could go through each red-capped bottle on my Lazy Susan and tell you a memory or a person that belongs to that spice--such as the peppermint extract that belongs to my Nana and her choco-mint snaps, or eating fries smothered in Old Bay (now owned by McCormick) with my friends in Rehoboth beach, or making Alejandra Ramos' Italian Rainbow Cookie Cake with neon colors for my friend Emily

I can only hope that one day someone will remember me by my Hot Madras Curry Sweet Potato Soup, or that how much black pepper I attempted to put on one piece of steak, or in one pot of chicken soup.

So, I encourage you to play with your spices.  Take a sniff of each one and try to associate them with a memory, a person, or a recipe and share those memories either with me or your family!  Build new memories with each new flavor. 

Happiness is...

It's been a while since I've done a poll...

Same Dress, Different Time

May 11, 2011

September 22, 2012 with Ms. Bitchcakes!
You know that sinking feeling when you know (1) you've just taken a horrible picture and (2) when you know you've gained back the weight you fought so hard to lose?  Yeah.... that.

Then to make matters worse...the external self-judgment:

You know, I can be all "RAH RAH SIS BOOM BAH" about self-acceptance 'til I'm blue in the face -- but the thing is this -- I see "self" as a multi-layered construct.

I love myself beyond compare.  All the neurons that make me the loveable, wonderful person that I am, I love her without any hesitation.

It's this body I have issues with -- it's failing me.  When I look at the photo of me and the gorgeous Sheryl, all I see is my injury.  I see a person that is desperate to exercise, desperate to dance, and live.  This is how I can be hurt and frustrated with my injury while having an abundance of self-love. 

Make any sense?  I'm not being self-depricating or deletory to my own body.  I just think that you can love yourself while not accepting something that makes you less than healthy. 

KitchenAid Stand Mixer GIVEAWAY!

In 2010, I blogged about how my dad thought getting a KitchenAid Stand Mixer basically equated to cookies, cakes and all other sorts of calorie bombs.  But you can use a KitchenAid Stand Mixer for good, especially once you start using some of their fabulous attachments (such as the roto slicer that can shred a carrot in seconds)!

This Hippocrates quote "Let food be thy medicine; thy medicine be food" condensed the wisdom of the ages, that, if anything, working hard to make food from scratch would be the anecdote to years of eating processed, pre-packaged food.  If I wanted a cookie, I had to work for the cookie.  With the stand mixer, you are able to work smart!

So I bought my own KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  While I have made a few calorie bombs, I have also made some very healthy recipes using my KitchenAid Stand Mixer.  Standing in my kitchen listening to the whirrrrrr of the motor also reminds me of my grandmother and my mother, who both used their KitchenAid Stand Mixers to teach me the joy of cooking (sadly theirs died after 40+ years of use).

If you were at FitBloggin12, you know that I won a KitchenAid Architect 5 Quart Stand Mixer! But as I already had one I asked the kind folks that ran the #Good2Know reception if they would send the stand mixer to a raffle winner, and they said YES (in the USA or CANADA)!  (thanks to Alejandra Ramos for the inspiration of paying it forward!)

I also want to thank Unilever for providing all of the wonderful snacks at the Fitbloggin12 Reception (mmmmmhmmm mashed potatoes!) and The Zocalo Group for coordinating the mailing of the prize!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

(Product info from Macys.com)
Build a better kitchen with the KitchenAid Architect tilt-head stand mixer. This kitchen classic is updated with a new, sleek cocoa-silver finish and features 10 speeds of professional mixing power to help you tackle every task with epicurean enthusiasm -- from kneading to whipping to mixing and beyond. One-year warranty. 

•Includes flat beater, wire whip, dough hook, pouring shield and polished bowl with handles
•Easily accommodates up to 9 cups of flour
•Tilt-head design facilitates bowl and content removal
•67-point planetary mixing action covers entire perimeter of bowl
•5-Qt. stainless steel bowl with ergonomic handle
•Power hub lets you use any optional KitchenAid attachment
•Round power cord

Why let your shoulders bend?

This is dedicated to all of my beautiful friends at Fitbloggin that had the courage to speak up to the truth of what is going on in their lives (both good & bad).  I mean, I just wrote about what it means when bloggers go silent -- it means there's a storm brewing.

Never think that because I'm going through some physical/emotional stuff that I'm not going to be here for any or all of you.  While I'm not your psychologist/therapist, I'm part of your support system.
And if you feel like you can't talk to me, please find someone you can talk to.  You do not need to suffer in silence.

So many of us feel like we need to be the person with their shit together, or the person in our circles that helps other people because we're so strong and "with it" -- completely neglecting the fact that our friends want to return the favor, that sometimes we need to be gracious and allow other people to be a part of our lives (both good & bad). And if you can't talk to them, you can still lean on them in silence.  Let them hold you, let them comfort you even if the words aren't there.

And before I get to the lyrics for the song above, I just want to share that I've been in therapy off & on and as needed for the past 18 years (bereavement counseling, behavioral psychologist for anxiety/depression).  Sometimes it's just good to have 1 hour (or 2 hours) every week to talk to someone outside your immediate life that can be objective and not interject their own needs and issues into your story and pain.  Just like getting a massage or a pedicure, or getting our yearly physicals, it's just one of the things we do to take care of ourselves. 

It takes strength and courage to ask for help.

The Sound of Silence

(imho) There are a few reasons fitness bloggers stop blogging:
1.  they are fair weather bloggers that write when things are good, and clam up when things aren't going well;
2.  they feel they are being repetitive and/or have nothing new to say;
3.  they feel like they've lost their audience and/or don't just write for themselves; 
4.  they've decided their journey is at an end, or it's time to shut down the blog; and/or
5.  they're just on vacation, or they need to take a break.

Either way, silence in a blog speaks volumes. 

I've been feeling a few of these things.  I felt that when things were going well that I had much more to say, much more to share.  I am also aware that people look to these kinds of blogs for inspiration, not necessarily the nitty gritty.  But that's my niche, the nitty gritty. 

With Fitbloggin12 coming up this week, I must admit that I feel like a bit of a fraud:  (a) I haven't been exercising thanks to my lovely spinal injuries, my diet is all over the place, and my brain is unfocused and (b) I haven't been blogging because I'm 50% shutting down and 50% don't want to be repetitive. 

(a)  Spinal injuries are tricky to exercise around -- even exercises that are considered "low impact" (yoga, swimming, elliptical, bike, etc.) all have a positive and negative impact on my spine, especially because I have injuries in my cervical and lumbar spine (I can't isolate parts of my body to exercise without affecting one or both of the injuries).

I've always been of the mind "do what you can" and love my family motto of "if broken, still strong" -- meaning, focus on what you can do -- but even there I've dropped the ball.  I'm not focusing on my diet (notably, I'm drinking alcohol more often than I would if I were training) and I'm keeping the emotions of the injury at arms' length. 

The truth is that aside from the physical discomfort, I'm scared shitless about these injuries.  I'm frustrated.  Nothing the doctors can do will ever restore my spine to 100% functionality -- so I'm trying to determine which option gives me the best prognosis with the most functionality.  This is hard to do with all of my doctors in different practices and of different mindsets.  I wish I could host a "Save Robby's Spine" panel with all of them in one room.  What I want is simple (hah!) -- I will do whatever it takes to maintain the functionality of my spine (i.e., range of motion) while maintaining the best integrity of my spine.  Many people tell me what they've done for themselves, but every body, every injury is different.  I don't know what is right for me.

(b) I'm shutting down because I don't want you, the world, my dear readers, to know that I'm scared shitless, in pain, and having trouble seeing the light in all this darkness.  For a while I didn't even want to go to Fitbloggin because more than just feeling like a fraud, I didn't want to see people that thought I was strong seeing me in a weak and vulnerable state. 

I don't like my friends seeing me in pain either.  I was at a happy hour at a crowded bar on Friday and some random girl knocked into me.  I excused myself to go to the bathroom so my friends didn't see my eyes well up in tears.  I hid it with the smile and the drinking, but from then on out, I tried to keep my back to a wall.  The next day I was supposed to go to a bachelorette party, but fell asleep at 7 and woke up at 10.  Part of me was relieved to not go to a dance club. 

The other part is the repetition.  I know how much I dislike blogs that go on and on about one thing and lack diversity.  I would hate for my blog to be known as the blog where she just whines about her injury.  That's hardly motivational, eh?  I'd rather be known as the person that blogs while fighting like hell to get back to where she wants to be. 

And where do I want to be?  I want to wake up one day and not have to think twice about whether I can run 5 miles or not.  That day would be pretty bitchin.

I put it on Twitter that I felt like a fraud going to Fitbloggin12, as someone unable to exercise (but I'm going to try to repeat my hilarious Zumba dance moves from last year) and who feels like her blog is stagnant -- and the response was amazing.  My friends are amazing. You all reminded me that despite having being at a low point, that I was still part of this community.  You reminded me of one of my "Focus Correction" areas for this year -- which is to allow people to help me.  You also reminded me that while all of our injuries may be different, what separates us from the people that we used to be is that we're fighting for ourselves and our health now...we're not longer accepting defeat.

So if anyone at Fitbloggin12 (or even here) wants to vent about their injuries as a part of forgiving their injuries -- I'll be free for lunch on Friday (1pm) (or feel free to put a comment here).

Love y'all,