Challenges make us great

Our lives are really just one big challenge right?  Sure there are days where we are on auto pilot.  We go through the motions and get done what we need to.  There are days that are exciting where we are on the highest of highs but they are often then balanced out by those where we struggle to remember why we started the journeys that we did.

I’ve talked often about getting back on the right path with my weight loss.  I spent some time today looking back on photos from when I was at my highest weight in 2011-2012 and when I was at my lowest recent weight in spring of 2013.  And then the ups and downs since then.  I wondered why, when I looked so happy when I was losing the weight why I couldn’t keep it up, why I stumbled and fell.  I didn’t have an answer.  I don’t remember what happened to make me slip up.

What I do know is that sometimes your tool box is really only half full of all the tools you need to complete the job at hand.  Sometimes you just don’t have all the knowlege you need or you didn’t get all of the parts you needed to build your final project.  Way back in 2008 when I got down to my lowest adult weight I had cut a ton of sodium out of my diet.  I was also working 3 jobs, under extreme stress, probably not eating much period at all and when all of that let up I put all of the weight back on and then some.

But I still know how to look for and avoid high sodium foods if I make the effort, and it impacts my migraines.  Then in 2012 I started working out, focusing on portion control… I was determined to be a runner.  I kept trying to be a running up until last summer when I realized I don’t want to run, it’s not for me, my body isn’t built for it and you know what that’s fine.  And I was hungry… all. of. the. time.  I saw progress but the moment I stop counting I was back up again.  The moment I stopped working out progress slacked.

But I know the basics at the gym, I know how to use equipment and free weights, just not in the most efficient manner.  I have some of the tools for the kitchen just not what was best for my body.

So recently I started using instagram as inspiration and began following Macey Phillips who has lost tremendous weight in less than a year through weight training and HIT and HIIT as well as IIFYM (If it fits your macros) meal plan.  And wouldn’t you know she opened up a fitness challenge that started monday.  I signed up immediately.  She’s put a ton of work into the 8 week program, customizing Macros plans which let me tell you I eat alllllll day. IMG_5760

IMG_5780There are also work out routines that at first glance you’re like I got this, that is until you feel like you’re going to die during circut two of the HIT segment.IMG_5810

3 days in and I’m down 3 lbs… maybe some is water weight but remember I was back on this fitness thing for the last few weeks…. so I’m thinking well maybe this is real progress…

Other things that I’ve been able to find joy in now that I feel like I have control over my life again – because when you feel like you can control yourself you feel like you can control everything…

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More time outside with Minnie – including visitng her friend Carlos down the road

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You can’t tell me that her selfie game isn’t on point!

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Realizing I don’t hate how I look – I can make this work, it can only get better from here if I work for it.

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Getting back to this place in a few weeks… my summer home…

And I just may have applied to host Matthew Mayfield for a house show – though with Minnie, I was lucky to have a good friend offer space at his local establishment for the event… I’m just sitting here freaking out now like a fangirl waiting to hear if I win the bid…

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This is one of those moments when life is good… it’s a snapshot in time but I’ll take it… and I wanted to make sure that I documented it because the next time one of those huge obstacles hits or when I feel like I can’t do it and just am over everything I can reflect on this and realize that nope, the strength is there.  Just have to tap into it and remember when we can flex our muscles and when we control what we can we get to enjoy that which we can’t.

When enough is enough

Since coming home from Tortola over a month ago I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching… like a lot a lot…

I panicked when my knee swelled on vacation and when it flaired up again after getting home I sunk into a pretty massive depression.  Not sure if I was even aware how bad it was.  Between the nasty winter we had in Pittsburgh (can we say sub zero for pretty much ever) and stress at work and the professional organization I am heavily involved in I just think I was cracking and in total denial.

I lost my appetite and that’s new uncharted territory for me.  I am a stress eater – give me all the food, and yet I was forcing myself to eat every day.  I just wanted to sleep.  I feared the worst was going to result from every situation I walked into.

And then little by little change started to creep into my life assisted by a break in the weather and that beautiful thing called daylight savings time.  I met up with some friends for drinks and just vented and oh to not feel so alone felt fabulous.  I saw the doctor and was told that my knee actually looked great from the arthritis standpoint and that time should help the swelling – just be careful and get some more weight off.  And when a friend lost his mom to cancer I remembered that all the crap I was dealing with was really not that bad compared to what 1. others were going through and 2. what I’d already made it through in my past.

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So when those clocked bounced forward this weekend and when we got up to 55 degrees on Monday it was like the angels sang and the lights came on again and all was right again.

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I started following some amazing inspiring people on different social media platforms – I’m joining a spring fitness challenge.  And I’m changing the way I’m looking at this challenge I face.  I’m not going to look at that end goal of how many pounds I have to lose or what size I want to be or any of that stuff that discourages me when I don’t get there quick enough.

I created tracking sheets and every week I’ll be logging weight and 13 measurements.  And I’ll log the change in each for the week and then total from the start.  And as long as there is SOME change – then that is how I will gauge my success.  And eventually that will lead me somewhere.

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I’ve been blessed to have some amazing success professionally and I achieved that because I worked so hard for it.  I didn’t just hope that a paper would write itself or that a project would fall into my lap.  I didn’t assume networking would come to me or that communication was easy.  I worked for it and it paid off.  It was something that daily I motivated myself to improve at.  My health needs to be no different.  Why it’s taken me 30 years to make that correlation I’m not sure.  Sometimes book smarts does not always equate the most common sense!

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One of the biggest things that always held me back from full force going into this journey was what other people would think of me at the gym.  I’m not in shape anymore.  I don’t know what I’m really doing with free weight.  The muscle boys scare me on the squat bars and in the dumbbell area.

And then I realized – well at some point they had to do this for the first time too.  If I walk over with some confidence, if I pick up a weight I know I can handle, if I do an exercise I’ve had experience with – that seems like a good place to start.  So day one I was lucky enough to have my friend Val tag along and do arms with me and then day two I ventured into a leg day on my own.

And when I wanted to fall over during weight pendulum lunges because I left them until last and it took me 5 minutes to complete 10 on my left leg and I thought my god someones got to be looking at me going what is this girl doing – I opened my eyes and looked around and I saw a 50+ year old man grunting so loud as he lifted I could hear him over my head phones, I saw two younger guys lifting weights lighter than mine, I saw a lot of people looking at no one and I thought “ok, there are people in here who are probably just as worried about what people think of them and they are being beasts and doing this anyways and focusing on them and you can do this too” and I finished my set.

I hit the treadmill afterwards and did intervals through the leg cramps and every time I wanted to stop I asked myself why and was it because I was going to be injured if I continued or was it because my brain wasn’t cooperating and the answer was always – your BRAIN.

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I’m average at best but you know what I’m willing to take average right now because consistency got me somewhere once before and it’s going to do it again.

These last few months have been worth it because I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a great head space before.  I’m ready.

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How to Breathe

This is such a theme in my life isn’t it?

I’ve been really down lately.  My anxiety has been back.  My knee started swelling up again a week or so again, so I immediately made a doctor’s appointment – I go in on Thursday to see my orthopedic surgeon to see if I’ve done something to it or if my arthritis has just gotten out of hand.  I’ve cut all cardio and exercise from my routine hoping the rest would help and I fear that I’ll start to undo everything I’ve been working for.

I crashed a little bit after the anniversary of my dad’s death- I grieved really silently this year other than the blog post.  It was like I poured it all out of my system and then didn’t know what to do with all of those feelings.

I felt just so incredibly lost and overwhelmed.  I found just a moment of solace in my prayers at night.  I would beg for my heart rate to slow down, for calmness to creep into my soul.

Today I got a little bit of help.

A few months ago the singer/songwriter who you all know I have so much respect for and who has made the music that I have found so healing as of late began releasing snippets of songs that would be on his new album.

Today – Matthew Mayfield released Wild Eyes.

On Wild Eyes is a song entitled How to Breathe.

And as I listened to it the whole way through the first time I rushed up to close my office door because my emotions just exploded.

“The back and forth the push and pull / It’s carved a curse inside my soul / Yet I believe that this tug of war has taught me how to breathe”

I said back when I first talked about Matthew Mayfield’s music in November that everyone should find a song that makes them feel again.  For me its understanding that being broken is ok.  It’s my brokenness that makes me who I am.  No one has the same cracks that I do – No one has been put back together the same way that I have.

I am blessed for the dents, dings, rust stains and scars that I carry.  Each one has taught me how to breathe.  In the end every single one of them ended with some type of hope.  How easy it is to forget that.

Thank you MM – thank you the timing of this album could not have been better.

The album is available on iTunes now.

12 years – Grief Becomes

Today marks 12 years since Dad passed away… is it odd that I wonder how best to describe it… – lost his battle with cancer, died, left us, succumbed to the disease, was called to heaven… I hate them all… passed away seems like the most benign of them all I suppose… so we’ll go with it….

12 years…

Hard to imagine…

I say that every year… every time I add another digit to that total and every year it still feels like yesterday… this year it crept up on me like a sneaky little bugger… Being on vacation, then coming home to a crazy schedule and this weekend I was down with a flu-like virus so all of the sudden I was like crap – seriously Feb 11th where did you come from… I was not ready…

Maybe it’s a good thing… I’m emotional but I didn’t get the chance to dwell.. Maybe it’s because I’m so proud of where my life is at that I’m doing better this year… there’s a whole host of reason’s, then again – I could just be one hot mess by tonight so who knows…

Before I get too deep into this post can we take a second to just admire my dad’s hair… and stache… 2 5

Things of magic they were… and that photo – total James Bond look…

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I went searching for quotes that put into words what I was feeling this year – it’s quite the eclectic mix… this first one – so true… When I think back to when I found out that Dad’s first diagnosis was only for a few months and yet he held on for over two years I can’t even imagine – I was clueless… I just assumed things would keep struggling on… It was like I wasn’t really there while it was all happening… If I ignored it all it couldn’t really be true… there would still be tomorrow… until there wasn’t…

In the photo above the quote I couldn’t even tell you what year that was… I can tell you that Dad was sick… I can tell you that I probably didn’t realize how sick he really was… I can tell you that I thought we still had a lot of tomorrows…

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I found some great photos of my dad from before I was even born and I have to admit I love this stuff – the things that let me glimpse the man he was…

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In the middle after graduation from West Point Military Academy

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On the right – from legend the very last day his face was clean shaven…  I wonder about his friends too and how they have battled their grief because I know how much his death rocked everyone he touched… I think of them today too… because I bet today they might just realize in a gut check moment that 12 years has snuck up on them too…

And there are the photos from when I was too young to remember him and my mom in happier times…

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It’s not much but now I so desperately cling to these as the bits and pieces of him… Like this scrap of paper that was tucked in a folder that brought me to tears last night… He was teaching me how to do a family tree… and when he got to writing himself in – he listed himself as Mr. Wonderful… How amazing that a little piece of his handwriting was the most precious thing I laid my hands on last night… Like for a moment I was touching his hand again…

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After he died I spent half of my time trying to drink away his memory and the other half of the time clinging to anything I could put my hands on which wasn’t much… I have to admit as I sorted through photographs last night I was amazed at how few there were of me and my dad because odds were he was behind the camera taking the pictures… Then I was shocked at the photos I found of the months after he died… where you never would have known the turmoil that was going on… I looked totally fine… which leads me to this next quote…

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This is perhaps one of my favorite quotes on grief because it gives it a picture… When everything was caving in, when everyone was scrambling to put the pieces back together there I was in some sort of insulated bubble… Never did I feel so alone… But I didn’t know how to explain it to anyone… Sometimes I still don’t… this is what anxiety attacks feel like… like everything is completely out of control but you are just there and how do you even get out of it… It won’t last forever though – that’s what you have to remember…

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I often forget that CS Lewis wrote and entire book on grief – A Grief Observed… and if this doesn’t sum it up I don’t know what can… grief can be terrifying because there is no answer and it is never the same, no two people feel it the same way and there is no fix, no cure… and then there are times when grief actually isn’t scary at all which kind of makes it scary… when I was on vacation and I sat on our porch and the sun set and I talked to my dad and I was somber and I was joyous and I said how I wished that I could share this with him… and I grieved…

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Most importantly I remember every day that I feel this deep grief for the loss of my father because of how much he loved me and how much I loved him… was he perfect? Not by a long shot, did we do everything right – nope, was I the best daughter I could have been – no way, I contributed many a grey hair… but he loved me more than I could have ever asked for… and because he loved me and I him, losing him left that much more of a void in my life…

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I miss him every moment of every day… I still, 12 years later, catch myself wanting to pick up the phone to call him and tell him something about my day…. When I have a completely breakdown I still scream out “why aren’t you here I need you”… I still wonder what life would have been life had things gone differently…

It’s the moments when people that knew him tell me how much I remind them of him, or when they say how they wish he could see what a wonderful person I’ve turned out to be, or when they say I hope you know how much he adored you… It’s in those moments that my heart breaks and bursts and I know I’ve done ok… and that I’m managing this grief thing as best as I can…

Take every emotion you can think of… roll it up and live it in a 5 minute span… and there you have grief… fear, love, joy, loss, anger, sadness, hope…

I love you Dad… 12 years….

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Getting Back to Life

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For 7 amazing days this was my view every morning…  Looking out from our house on Sabbath Hill Road in Belle Vue, Tortola… It was everything I could have asked for and more… I had absolutely no idea how burnt out I had become until I got down to that island – where responsibilities were minimal, where my biggest worry was about wearing enough sunscreen and navigating some narrow roads with my best friend (and amazing driver)…

I had reached a level of manic back home that I was completely unaware of… It took a good 2-3 days before the island lifestyle started to sink into my bones but once it did I accepted it with open arms…

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The people were great – we met some amazing locals and other people vacationing from all over the world – many who vacationed at the islands every year…

When it was time to go home we told the people we rented from that we intended to come back as soon as finances allowed us to… (we rented our house through Air B&B and it was fantastic – Olivia and Stany were great hosts and lived next door and were available any time we needed something)

In the airport in Miami when I was able to finally call home everyone started to comment how I sounded different, that I talked slower, seemed more relaxed, calmer, less anxious… It was true I really did… I just felt totally refreshed… Even when I jumped into some work things while working from home my first two days back I didn’t get stressed out – just took things as they came and rolled with the punches…

The day I got back my amazing grandmother turned 99.. Yes 99… we took her to dinner at our favorite restaurant/bar.  The bartender had a reserved sign on the bar for us and party hat for her.  He was so excited to have us.

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She said she didn’t want any cake… but when I ordered some she ended up eating almost all of it anyways…

I had a fantastic 30th birthday party the Saturday after I got back with my good friend Judge who just happened to also be turning 40 and made the most of the last few days I had off.

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Elsa cupcakes – sorry the photo is so dark… I’ll update with a better one from the baker and my good friend Mel’s account! (shoutout to MommaMels)IMG_5274

What goes better with cupcakes than a few shots…

Then it was back to real life.  I was determined to hold onto this relaxation I had found… determined…

It lasted 2 days…

Tuesday night as I sat at home I raged into an anxiety attack out of no where and all I could think was how could this happen so quickly.  So I decided I would just go down the list of things I could think of that would help to ease me out of it.  Since I couldn’t identify what caused it I focused on getting comfortable, warmed up, secure… I allowed myself to “stim” which is often associated with autism but we actually all do it to some level – when we jiggle our leg, all of those unconscious movements to calm our minds… mine – when I hit extreme anxiety is slight rocking… might make me look like a crazy lady but oh does it help…

I finally was able to calm my nerves enough to get into bed – got under my weighted blanket which – BEST INVESTMENT EVER – well really best gift since my mom got it for me… as soon as I was under it I started saying a few prayers, my favorite psalm and before I knew it I woke up a few hours later needing to roll over in bed…

I woke up this morning not feeling well at all so I’m wondering if the anxiety attack was actually my body freaking out over a quick onset virus or bug…

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Minnie held me up after today’s work out… I needed some comforting at 6am that’s for sure…

Despite everything I knew the key to getting back into a schedule would be maintaining the work out and eating habits I began before I left for vacation…  So back to prepped food and early morning work outs… AND the bf got me the new fitbit Charge which is pretty beastly at tracking – does a lot better than the flex at tracking steps and sleep… So time to keep moving forward… and I’m going to try and remember than life will not end if I don’t get something done this instant… Need to put my health first…

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Turning 30… Away from home

So I’m away on vacation – I apologize for the lack of posts but thought I’d share a few photos today since Melissa and I are taking a mid vacation rest this afternoon to cool of burnt skin before visiting two more islands tomorrow and Monday…

We’re currently in Tortola, British Virgin Islands and it’s absolutely amazing… We came to celebrate our 30th birthdays (mine was thursday and Melissa’s will be in a few weeks)… So here are a few photos of the paradise we’re living in!

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30 for 30

About a week ago my good friend Judge texted me – said he had this great idea for me… something I’d love… Judge is turning 40 a week after I turn 30 and we’re having a little mutual get together after I get back from vacation and we’re both honestly kind of embracing these big numbers – excited to see what happens…

Judge tells me – we should do our top songs of our lives… top 40 for me top 30 for you…. My brain about exploded… nope – can’t do it… you could not expect me to rank these songs right… I’m the girl with over 1500 songs on her itunes – not counting the 400 in my cloud because I don’t have room for them – or the CDs in my car or the music sitting on the computer in the spare room upstairs that doesn’t even turn on anymore – and its from back when DC++ and Napster were still a thing… yeah… yeah…. that much music…

But it was a challenge – I needed a distraction… so in about an hour I sat down determined to do this thing…

Let me warn you – this list… eclectic MESS… and the reason behind some of these songs will make you go… uh… Natalie… what….

So me though….

30. Sunset Boulevard – Emblem3…. Don’t judge don’t judge I know not the best way to start my list but when I started running again this was the only song that got me moving when I was stuck… It just pumped me up and reminds me of my trip to LA and I love it… it makes me feel young again…

29. Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran… Clearly made a quick impact as a new song and already onto my list… it’s just so beautiful and the lyrics make you just love the idea of love again…

28. Deliverance – Bubba Sparxxx…  The rift of this song reminds me of a time when I didn’t let life get the best of me… that’s really all there is to it…

27. With You – Jessica Simpson… you can call it tuna or chicken or whatever you want but this song makes me happy to be me and appreciate that it’s completely fine and that someone will love me just the way I am… 

26. Stay with Me – Sam Smith… Do I really have to explain… seriously…

25. Not Over You – Gavin DeGraw… When I saw Gavin perform live this song really just took on a new life… and it always was one of my favorites of his but how true it really is

24. Freshman – The Verve Pipe… there is no song that better defines the 90s for me… oh my this was the song on repeat… 

23. Alone with You – Jake Owen… So there are a few songs on this list that represent times in my life that aren’t ones I’m 100% proud of but the songs mean something so powerful to me that I can’t ignore them and drop them off… this one from the moment I heard it… yeah it was one of those… and always will be… thankfully now I can hear it in a different way…

22. Say Something – Great Big World… I bawled like a baby when I heard this song… this is when my connect with my dad starts to come into place… and it will be crazy strong for the rest of the list… one of the ways I stay connected to him is through music… it’ll be obvious…

21. I Drive Your Truck – Lee Brice… I was supposed to be left my dad’s old 1970’s Duster that we drove grocery shopping every weekend for years when I was growing up… I never did get it… If I had… I’d be doing just what they talk about in this song…

20. Far from Home – Five Finger Death Punch… One of those songs you hear in a show and go omg find me that song… give it to me I can’t get enough of it!

19. Love the way you lie – Eminem and Rihanna… I mean when there is musical chemistry you can’t deny it – this is an example of it…

18. Otherside – Macklemore… Macklemore get’s ripped on a lot for some of his songs but there are some songs that are so raw and so real and they will find a way to dig at you and things that you identify with… Otherside is one of those… 

17. My Best Friend – Tim McGraw… Another one of the songs that you would love to leave off of the list because of what it means but when the song spans 10 years of your life and you’ll never be able to hear and not think of certain things of people well just admit it… and know that you’ve moved on and grown and learned and that you’re better for it…

16. Iris – Goo Goo Dolls… Tell me a girl that grew up in the 90s and 2000s who’s list this wouldn’t be on…

15. No Sunshine – DMX… I think when I’m really in a craptastic mood this song lets me vent it out and get over it and get on with things… Ain’t no sunshine….

14. You Gotta Be – Des’ree… Talk about a song that sets you back on track… this is it… You gotta be bad, you gotta be bold, you gotta be wiser, You gotta be hard, you gotta be tough, you gotta be stronger…

13. Stay (I Miss You) – Lisa Loeb… I sang karaoke once… I sang this song… the karaoke machine froze halfway through the song… lol… figures right…

12.  Mourning – Tantric… So this song has such a visual with it for me… I remember a time and place that I associate with this… such a down time in my life… when my dad was first diagnosed… this is always the song I remember from that time… and yet I find it therapeutic to listen to… 

11. Waterfalls – TLC… I will get Left Eye’s verse down one day… I will…

10. I Can Love You Like That – John Michael Montgomery… Perhaps ones of the best country love songs ever… don’t bother arguing you won’t win…

9. The Thunder Rolls – Garth Brooks… I loved this song as a kid… my mom used to get so mad saying I didn’t know what it was about… I learned how to play it on the piano and everything… still one of my favorite songs of his… just boom – sing it Garth…

8. It’s Been A While – Staind… This is my alternative rock song… I can’t ever get enough of it or Aaron Lewis’s voice… we all have been there – we all know what it feels like…

7. Kiss the Rain – Billie Meyers… I used to have this song on a tape cassette and I would play it at night as I went to bed… on repeat… something about it just always spoke to me… I don’t know why… 

6. Round Here – Counting Crows… LOVE this song… love love love it… Snap shot of real life if you ask me… the real life we don’t like to admit we all see

5. Don’t Take the Girl – Tim McGraw… The only repeat artist on my list… probably because I thought I was going to marry him when I was 10… this was a song that my dad and I both loved… Song that told a story… one day this man will play this at one of his shows one day…

4. Unforgettable – Nat King Cole… pure as pure gets… he knew how to sing a love song… I wanted this to be my wedding song if I ever got married… I think maybe it’ll just be my song for me though now…

3. Queen of My Double Wide Trailer – Sammy Kershaw… ok so here’s the WTF song on my list… when I was little I was obsessed with this song and my dad thought it was hysterical… The summer it was out he would call me from work if he heard it on the radio and tell me to turn the station on… if we were in the car he’d turn the volume up and we’d sing it at the top of our lungs… strangest song ever for a dad and daughter to love but my god it was our song… I smile every time I hear it… and tell him to turn the radio on in heaven… 

2. MMMBop – Hanson… Song that brought me back to pop music… I lived in oldies and country growing up and then Hanson happened… I still buy all their albums… they don’t sound a think like MMMBop anymore they are indie and soulful and just fantastic song writers but this song… this started it…

1. Follow you down – Matthew Mayfield… see now I reach number one and now I’m about to cry… 6-7 months ago I guess MMMBop would have been number 1 lol quite a switch to then go to Follow You Down… but nothing can touch this song for me… hello I wrote a whole blog post on it… This song is my heart my soul my life my 30 years in one song… if you asked me to sum up 30 years in 3 minutes it would be this song… 

There were a lot of artists that didn’t make this list – artists that I love but they didn’t have that one song that made me go omg that’s the song or they didn’t have a song that made me think of a very specific time or place or evoke a strong emotion out of me… so maybe my list is weird or awkward and random… but it’s mine… and I love it…

I’m so ready for this next chapter… I’m so ready for my next 30 years… I’m ready for the next 30 songs that will represent who I’ve been and where I’ve come from… Thursday I start Part II of my story… and I couldn’t be more excited…