Discomfort Revisited; To My Future Self (with a side of recipes)

Avocado health picture - April 1 2015 option

Dear Post Whole Life Challenge Self,

I see you my little sugar plum fairy.  Don’t even think about downing that bag of gingersnaps.  Come now, haven’t you learned your lesson?

Eight plus weeks ago, somewhere between plank holds and hollowed rocks you tuned into Coach BE’s voice pitching the latest gym event; a 56 day nutrition and lifestyle challenge.

Even though your New Year’s resolution had been to reign in copious amounts sugar consumption, the notion of trying, not muscle fatigue shook you at the core.

I chuckled and thought, here’s a woman who survived child abuse and child birth, Weight Watchers and CrossFit, and yet there she planks; paralyzed, petrified, and underestimating her grit again.

Competitive and conscientious, I knew you could steer clear of the Skittles.

A rule abiding perfectionist, I knew you could tweak nutritional habits accordingly, practice the weekly lifestyle challenge diligently, and input a daily score religiously.

At the very least, I knew visions of a chiseled six pack dancing in your head would keep the sugar, cheese, and gluten out of your mouth.

Still you remained frozen in the britches.

As the challenge approached and the chatter grew, the last thing you wanted was to be left out of CrossFitter conversation.  In the end, peer pressure prevailed.  You coughed up the fifty bucks and bought a one way ticket back to

The Discomfort Zone.

Lethargic, cranky, and craving ice cream scoops and pizza pie slivers; the first 12 days sucked.  By day 21, you felt less bloated and more energized, but the lack of physical change almost caused you to throw in the towel.

But you kept at it.  Today you’re done and writing a letter to your future self because the challenge creators encouraged participants to do so.

Yes, you expected to come out the other side a Photoshopped version of yourself.  And it’s hard not to fixate on the lack of dramatic weight loss.  Yes, the scale tips 160 and your thigh gap is more of a slit.  The funk pecking away at your ego stems from female stigmas, girlish insecurities, and societal expectations.

Ignore it.

In 56 days you gained stamina and muscle:  mental and physical strength, a revised relationship with food and cleaner insides.  Besides, a little bass never hurt anybody.

Try to embrace these true measures of health and remember that despite middle age, marriage and motherhood, you are far from humpty or dumpty.

Find future value in the required weekly lifestyle practices as well.  Thanks to the organizers, you got more rest, practiced gratitude, kindness and mindfulness, enjoyed activities you love, and trudged through meals technology free.

Remember waking up after seven hours of uninterrupted sleep wondering what the hell happened?  Hold on to that the next time you stay up futzing on Facebook to then be awoken by a five year old with a 2am water request.

Remember the morning you experienced a few minutes of peace in the car at preschool pick up?  Hold on to that the next time you think you can’t find space to just be.

Remember the conversation with Skootch about Superman’s powers and Robin’s lack thereof over a bowl of soup?  Hold on to that the next time you open a laptop during lunch.

Remember the appreciation you felt those hours after the nearby train accident just to be able to sit and watch television with your husband and children?  Hold on to that the next time you tantrum about life being unfair.

I’m sorry but this exercise does not mark the end of your journey.  Continue to be wary of the Achilles heel: portion control.

In the meantime, feel proud.  You proved you could switch up your diet and survive.  This was an obstacle you were not remotely willing to tackle until now.

Discomfort is in fact still good.  Moderation however is great.

So enjoy some emotional eating with your team to celebrate a job well done.  The party bus and hard cider you’ve been saving are waiting.  Next stop, Peter Lugers. Bring on the schlag

Sincerely,
Your Conscience

My Go To Recipes

Egg Muffins:
Courtesy of Coach BE

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Spray down either a muffin tray or cup cake tray with Pam/olive oil spray
  • Dice pepper, onion, and spinach (really any vegetables you like)
  • Chop up chicken sausage (some prefer cheese or both)
  • Make a 2 egg scrambled egg mix (salt, pepper, milk)
  • Add the raw vegetables and sausage to the mix
  • Pour into the cupcake/muffin tray. The mixture should fill up about 2 ½ cupcake spaces.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until you can stick a butter knife through and the blade comes out dry
  • Store in the refrigerator and reheat in microwave for 1 ½ minutes

Baked Oatmeal Bars
Courtesy of Karen the Baker

Oatmeal Bar Picture

Note: Feel free to add nuts, apples, dates, and/or coconut.  Double the recipe and use a 9×13 pan.

  • 3 cups oats
  • 2 t baking powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 2 eggs slightly beaten
  • 1 cup milk (use whatever type is acceptable)
  • 1/4 cup butter melted
  • 2-3 cups of frozen berries, a cut up apple, or whatever fruit you have on hand (Add a lot more fruit than it says here.)
  • Combine oats, baking powder, salt and cinnamon
  • Combine eggs, milk, butter and add to dry ingredients
  • Stir in fruit
  • Bake uncovered in 8×8” pan for 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees

Sweet Potato Chips

  • Preheat oven to 225 degrees
  • Peel and slice thin.
  • Toss sliced sweet potatoes in oil and sea salt
  • Bake for approximately 1hr 45 minutes

Since you asked…The Inspiring Bloggers Award

very-inspirational-blogger badge

Two of my writer friends, Leslie and Katey were kind enough to nominate Red said what? for an Inspiring Bloggers Award.  As such, I am taking a break from the personal essay circuit this month to happily accept their nomination.

Bloggers typically nominate each other for awards to show support and generate interest.  To accept this nomination I am required to:

  1. Display the award badge on my blog…check
  2. Link back to the people who nominated me…check
  3. List 15 blogs that inspire me…check
  4. Share 7 snippets about myself.  Thank you in advance for the indulgence.

In an effort to respect the “award free” policy of some of the below sites, I am sharing them with the hope that someone might also enjoy the content.  To the writers, by all means consider yourself nominated for an Inspiring Blogger Award if you would like to participate.

Blog Inspiration by category…

Health, Fitness, and “Strength”

Catalyst Athletics        Words with Lisbeth

Education, Relationships, & General Good Stuff

A.PROMPTreply        Diane Ravitch

Donna Gwinnell Lambo-Weidner’s Life is an Adventure

life in a flash              Safekeeping Stories        Stacey Wilk

Reading, Writing, & Illustrating

Amalia Hoffman

Gold From The Dust: Bringing Stories to Life

Raising Readers       The Jersey Farm Scribe

Writing for Kids (While Raising Them)         Writing & Illustrating

Z is for Zampetti, L is for Librarian & W is for Writer

7 Snippets…

1.  As a high school senior, I won a $50 prize sponsored by Shop Rite for “Most Personality and Common Sense.”

I think the hairdo gave me an edge...
I think the hairdo gave me an edge..

2.  During college, I worked in the library’s periodical department.

3.  With the exception of Rhythm Nation, I have seen Janet Jackson on tour every other time.

4.  Margarita.  Straight up.  No salt.

5.  Play the “right song,” and I will bust out the dance moves; anywhere, anytime.

6.  Favorite CrossFit movement?  The overhead squat.

Unfortunately, not me.

Unfortunately, not me.

7.  I know how to fire a musket.

Still not me, but it could be.

Still not me, but could be.

Please contribute to the pool of inspiration.  Take a minute to comment and share:

1 personal snippet (I figured 7 would be over kill)

and/or

1 blog, website, article or book that inspires you.

C’mon… indulge.

Thank you Lisa and Katey.  And thank you Red said what? readers for inspiring me to write what feels right.

From Sidelines to Service

photo credit: Sarah Fedorchick

photo credit: Sarah Fedorchick

Veterans Day 2014 started out no differently than any other; with good intention and marginal action.

Each November 11th, I’d think about my grandfather Joe, a World War II Navy Veteran.

The thought was typically followed by an appreciative email or indebted Facebook post.  Some years I’d even make the old fashioned phone call.  Soon distracted by child rearing logistics and household priorities, I’d call it a day and opt out of making the 45 minute drive to pay a visit.

This time however, I had left Skootch’s red accordion at Joe’s house a few days before and much to the child’s dismay, had only the purple one at home.  So in an effort to temper a peppering five year old, the boys and I piled into the Outback and joined my grandfather for lunch.

Joe greeted his great-grandsons at the door, offered respective kisses, and held them on the landing.

“Did you see my American flag?” he asked.

It was no surprise and nice to see that despite having recently lost his wife of 65 years, Joe remembered to dress the pole he had raised between a patch of hedges adjacent to the front stoop to commemorate the holiday and a defining time in his life.

“Do you know how to do a soldier’s salute?”

My grandfather faced the flag, modeled the salute, and instructed the boys to pay the toll.  “Now you do it.”

Bubbe smiled shyly and gave it a go.  The Skootch puffed his chest, cupped his palm and looked at it.  Joe helped the effort along.  The group crossed the threshold and stopped in the front hall.

“Do you fly one at home?” he asked.  Joe didn’t wait for an answer.  “Here take these.”  He snatched a pair of parade flags from a collection stored in a nearby bucket.

The Skootch marched up to the second floor apartment, waving his new toy.  The parade was short lived.  Toddler sized penguins and a Santa Claus were performing center stage in the living room.  He dropped the flag.

My grandfather rescued it.  “No.  Never let it touch the ground.  Out of respect and honor, the American flag should always point toward the sky,” he explained.  “Let’s put it in a safe place.”  He tucked the base into a puffy coat curled up on a Captain’s chair.

Bubbe followed suit; partially to secure the flag but mostly to search for his great-grandpa’s Kindle Fire and Oreos in a nearby hutch.

On route to the cookies, he noticed a glass display case perched near the front of the hutch shelf.  It was filled with mounted, decorated ribbons laid out like a Holland tulip field.

“What are these?”  Bubbe wiped away the dust.

“Those are my war medals,” Joe said and went on to explain them one by one.

“American Campaign…

European, African, Middle Eastern Campaign…2 bronze stars

Asiatic, Pacific Campaign…2 bronze stars”

There were six in total.  He circled back to the top row.  “These are my dog tags.  I wore them around my neck the entire time I was away.  Do you know why soldiers wear two tags?”

“No,” Bubbe said.

“If a solider dies, one stays on the body; the other gets sent home.”

“Oh.  I get it.”

Eavesdropping from the kitchen I thought,

Will he ever really get it? 

When my children are grown, what will service, sacrifice, and country mean to them?

It is wonderful that we have a proud, willing veteran in our family to share experiences but unfortunately, I can count on one hand the number of service men and women we know.  Outside of my grandfather, Bubbe and The Skootch have had only the opportunity to interact with veterans or those in active duty during elementary and religious school programs.  And as Op-Ed columnist, Maureen Dowd recently noted, with “one percent of the population voluntarily enlisting in the service,” it is likely that in the future, my boys will be exposed more regularly to comic book heroes than to everyday ones.

Thankfully sacrifice, service, character, and citizenship are still being communicated in schools, through extra-curricular activities, at houses of worship and in our homes.  Still, teaching young people the value of contributing to the greater good feels piecemealed, fit in, and a vehicle for resume padding.

The potential for further disconnect in these formal settings seems imminent now that such lessons are being muscled from the spotlight by college, career readiness, English Language Arts requirements and STEM.  In my state, there is even a motion to de-emphasize Social Studies.

Israeli citizens get it.  Out of necessity, conscription exists for most of the country’s Jewish Israeli population.  Upon turning 18, men and women are obligated to serve in the military for three and two years, respectively.  As a result, my 65 year old friend can relate directly to the experiences of an active soldier as well as identify with the five year old who knows he will one day fill those shoes.  There, generations of citizens connect through collective responsibility and common experience.

In 2010, my husband Mac’s Letter to the Editor was published in The New York Times in response to the article, “The Way We Treat Our Troops” which in part offered support for a mandatory draft.  The guy was onto something.  He wrote:

“If the good problem arises where we have an abundance of young people in the military during peacetime, they could be deployed toward other national services like helping the elderly, the indigent and the disabled or for cleanup after national disasters, mentoring children and so on.  America is a terrific place to live; if young people gave something back and worked alongside other Americans from all walks of life, it would tie us closer together as a country.”

In February 2013, New York State Congressman Charles Rangel introduced a most recent version of the Universal National Service Act to the House of Representative’s Armed Services Committee.

The bill requires all persons between the ages of 18 and 25 living in the United States, citizen or otherwise to perform two years of national uniformed or civilian service.  Those choosing uniformed service may also be inducted during wartime, a national emergency, or a contingency operation.  This CrossFit junkie would add that prior to selecting a service type; able-bodied participants attend basic training in cohorts.  There is something to be said for intense, group exercise.  It fosters camaraderie, physical and emotional growth, and team pride.

To date, the bill has not moved in Congress.

Yes.  I realize the devil is in the details and that bigger government doesn’t necessarily translate into better outcomes.  Yes.  We do have a responsibility to teach our children in our families and community about service, sacrifice, and selfless giving.  And yes, I too wonder about the mandatory component of such a program in a free society.

Regardless, I think it is time to take meaningful action.

Perhaps a national service requirement will shift expectations for and alleviate pressure on high school students, change the way the college admissions process is managed, reduce some of the direct financial burden on families trying to pay for higher education, and offer guidance for college graduates looking to take the next step.

More importantly, perhaps it will build awareness and understanding for soldiers and veterans suffering trauma, make care and reentry a priority for when they return home, and simply bring us closer as a nation.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women

in the service of our country can never be repaid.

They have earned our undying gratitude.

America will never forget their sacrifices.”

-President Harry S Truman

There is a way to repay veterans like Joe.

Poppie in the navy

Let us step away from the sideline to work in tandem with those on the front line in an effort to strengthen and preserve the solidarity of an already great nation.

Let us pay the toll.

Learning to be an Athlete

Yogi Berra or Jim Wohlford (depending upon the Google search)

Yogi Berra or Jim Wohlford (depending upon the Google search)

Summer morning CrossFit classes in my hood are notorious for crew shifts.  Vacationing teachers, students, and corporate types working summer hours show up as the morning unfolds to mix it up with us daytime regulars.

One recent hump day, I walked into our gym to find a swarm of angels.

Charlie's angels picture

Strong, confident, tenacious, fit; nothing stops these ladies.  Not age.  Not kids.  Not career.  Not cancer.  Nothing.  When the tough get going, they step on the gas and when the weights get heavy; these gals find a way to lift them.  They consistently lap my veteran CrossFit ass, leaving me to wallow in their well-sculpted sweat angels.

Sweat angel

They are women who, when asked what they did they did before CrossFit rattle off a lifetime of athletic achievements: college soccer, lacrosse, tennis, and volleyball, gymnast, kayaker, marathoner and trainer.

I adore the Angels.

A salt of the earth group, they play musical chairs in a rainstorm, foster and rescue neglected animals, offer unsolicited hugs for all sorts and no particular reason, and embrace known entities as well as new faces with respect, genuine interest and open arms.

But when a gaggle of them showed for class the same hour, my hour; I felt compelled to back squat with the dust bunnies.

A gritty, tough cookie born with athletic tendencies, perhaps; but an athlete I am not.  I stopped wearing any semblance of that hat just shy of thirteen when I traded it and organized sports in for a drama beret, a couple of mock trial caps, and my model student beanie.

It wasn’t until drinking the CrossFit Kool-Aid two years ago that the notion of being fit enough in my lifetime to be called athlete crossed my mind.  However, after consistent discomfort, fortunately and often surprisingly I am thrilled to share that I’m able to tackle most tests thrown my way.

Still, anytime Coach Herc or BE calls out, “Look at these great athletes getting it done!” I can’t help but half smirk, cock my head, and scan the room because I can’t imagine they are talking about me.

Why?

Because fitness level isn’t enough.  The Angels know this.  What they own is the ability to stay mentally tough when presented with a physical challenge; a nurtured skill from a young age.

This combination is new for me and I have some catching up to do.

But I’m learning.  Learning to…

Relax

Coach BE used to stare me down regularly and say, “Relax Red, relax.”  He was right.  Excess tension wastes energy and I need all the fuel I can get.  Now this two syllable mantra helps me scale hills, get under a clean, and go back for more burpees.

Stay in the moment

During a workout, the same coach stood next to me and said nothing.  His presence, a quiet push, encouraged the kettlebell to keep swinging and me to focus only on that task.  With life darting about, staying in the zone is no easy feat but doing it transforms the unbearable into manageable.

Make a plan, set a pace

My husband, a fellow CrossFitter laughs when I strategize the scheduled workout a day in advance and classmates love to comment on my marked up whiteboard.  Mock they may, but a plan offsets anxiety and marginalizes intimidation.  Pace preserves gas and rationalizes the agony.

Dig and push

When the dark side creeps in and the Angels are on the verge of breaking, they dig deep, shift gears, and turn up the performance. Experience tells them what their bodies can handle and they go for it.  It’s an admirable sight.

Keep it real

Beating myself up and inflicting unnecessary pressure to perform or eat a certain way drains the psyche and limits my ability to grow.  Witnessing Coach Herc’s tabletop foil wrapper glacier as evidence of a devoured bag of Hershey kisses and watching him take time to heal an injury are wonderful reminders that life is a balance and athletes are human.

As the summer winds down and the Angels rejoin their respective crews, I’ll once again be left alone with my WOD notebook, aspirations, and will to learn.  But thanks to these ladies and our coaches, the next time someone yells something about a group of athletes; I’ll be peeling my ears for that ringing bell and peeking over my shoulder,

because this angel is sprouting wings.

Crossfit barbell jump

Discomfort

Discomfort

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GRAND PRIZE WINNER: BUILD CREATIVE WRITING IDEAS’ 2014 1,000 PROMPTS, 1,000 DOLLARS WRITING CONTEST

Discomfort is good. At least that’s what I told myself before stepping into my first CrossFit onramp.

After a year of prodding by a neighbor, feeling the need to get fit before forty, and a whole lot of self talk, I mustered up my courage and scheduled an appointment with the owner of our local affiliate. The CrossFit sounded like my kind of workout; stripped down, personalized, guided and quick.

Then one chilly Thursday in March, I found myself in a yellow, industrial, concrete shell nestled behind an auto glass manufacturer and a door I wasn’t strong enough to open, with no heat, enjoying the odor from the neighboring sanitation department, surrounded by chalky poles, stacked weights, and clammy rubber desperately trying to hold a push up position.

An insightful, seemingly sensitive but stern coach who was guiding me through the session reached for AbMats to support the wide gap between the floor and my chest.

“She doesn’t need AbMats!” boomed the owner and head trainer.

“He seems to think I’m strong enough,” I thought. “Maybe this guy knows something I don’t.”

One push up. Not bad.

Two, eh.

Three. Not happening.

“Can I do them on my knees?” I asked the sensitive sergeant.

Before she could answer, the owner’s voice flew over my shoulder, reverberated off the concrete, and knocked me in the jaw. “This ain’t no New York Sports Club fairy princess class! No. You cannot do pushups on your knees.”

“Who does this guy glued to that swirly chair think he is; the burning bush?” Scared straight and getting the sense that he knew what he was doing, I kept my mouth shut and went back to work, AbMatless.

When my onramp was over, Sensitive Sergeant said, “You are a strong person. The only one getting in your way is you.”

The Burning Bush stood up, smiled earnestly, gave me a high five and said, “Excellent job for your first time.”

Their disciples, who cheered me on during the timed portion of my workout, came over and did the same. And when I hobbled out, my body feeling like a dented can of preserves, a golden goddess of a woman smiled and said, “No matter what, just keep coming.”

I heeded the advice, knowing discomfort was coming my way, but not realizing I was about to get more than I bargained for.

You see, as a teenager, I was the big boned girl who couldn’t climb the rope in gym, the non risk taking solid citizen who longed for validation, and the secretly shy, moderately social, but most certainly insecure person who soldiered through life alone, never getting too tight with anyone, especially a group of girlfriends. CrossFit resurfaced, challenged and then chipped away at each of those lingering childhood discomforts.

In CrossFit, egos are checked at door. Because the only way to get fit, fast, and strong in a place like this is to take risks, be vulnerable, put yourself out there, make mistakes, and trust your coaches and classmates. And for someone like me, that was slightly unsettling. But I did it anyway, and I started to get better.

Success is magical. Whether it’s running 400 meters without stopping, throwing a weight over your head, doing a pull up, getting a handstand, jumping rope like Rocky, or beating a personal best, it feels like you did as a kid learning to ride without training wheels or whistle for the first time. The emotion is pure, unbridled elation especially if you never imagined you’d be able to do it.

Gaining ground, being pushed to my physical and mental edge, and kindling that inner flame time and time again convinced me that I wasn’t as limited as I thought and encouraged me to draw on my strength consistently in and outside the gym. I got out of my own way; and eventually, climbed that rope.

However, the CrossFit picture isn’t always pretty. Things can and do get raw. But anytime I hit a wall, needed guidance, lost a skill, or had a bad day The Burning Bush, Sensitive Sergeant, and my fellow disciples had my back. For that designated hour, our job was to work together, help each other, cultivate community, and have good fun. In this place, you can’t help but feel validated and confident.

Sometimes, amid the blood and burpees, you also make a good friend. Mine was Sparta. She and I started CrossFit that same Spring. Because we had a similar schedule and were of similar ability level, we quickly became training partners. After a year of laughing, lunging, chatting and cleaning she asked me to join her team of lady friends for an upcoming mud run. She thought nothing of the gesture. It was a natural extension of our new friendship.

As the girl who always wished to be tight with a group of women, but usually found herself on the peripheral, Sparta’s thoughtfulness meant the world to me. A couple of mud runs with these ladies have come and gone since her invitation, and now it’s understood that whenever there’s an event; we’re a team.

And so I declare to you from the Plylo Box on which I jump; discomfort is in fact, good. Discomfort opens doors. It helps you grow. CrossFit just happened to be my cherry Kool-Aid.

Whatever your discomfort is

Tap into it, and find your flavor.

Then chalk up those hands,

Crank up the Katy Perry,

And get on it.

3, 2, 1…

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