Monday, September 12, 2011
I know you're all expecting an epic travelog - and I seriously don't want to disappoint, but one of the main reasons I have been so silent since coming back from vacation, is, well...I'm SPEECHLESS.
There is no beauty like Africa. Vast plains, gorgeous sunsets, wild animals, beautiful people. I loved every second of my trip and am starting to wonder already when I might go back again.
I am still working on editing approximately 2000 photos of my trip. So what I will do for those of you who want the entire travel-blog is post a link to my albums that I am painstakingly going through, editing and narrating as I go. There are videos there as well, so it's an all-encompassing look at my vacation from start to finish - "African Sickness" included.
From a Spark perspective, I don't feel like I would have been able to do this trip, nor would I have enjoyed it half as much 120 pounds heavier. In fact, I don't know that I would have even had the courage to book a vacation like this. For 12 days we camped through the Masai Mara in Kenya, the Serengeti in Tanzania, the Ngorogoro Crater, the Great Rift Valley, Lake Manyara, the foothills of Kilimanjaro in Moshi and all the red dirt roads and acacia laden plains in between. I successfully used a squat toilet for the first time in my life (and even managed not to pee on myself - which is a substantial feat in my books). I ate the local food and drank the local beer and enjoyed every ounce of it (except maybe the banana beer which is more like fermented banana juice mixed with plain oatmeal). I saw a herd of over 100 elephants on our first night in the Mara and cried at the shear beauty of it all. I saw lions mating (lots of lions mating, and elephants, and wildebeast, and zebra, and ostrich...it's all about the circle of life kids!), and leopards eating their prey. I heard exotic bird calls, and hyenas laughing (some right outside my tent at 2am, which is the one night I didn't sleep very well - can you blame me?) - the likes of which my ears have never heard before. I met local tribes people, and made new friends in the small village of Mtu Wa Mbu where we visited a kindergarten classroom and fed the kids trail mix for their morning treat. I noticed a small boy crying and as his sister ran to comfort him I noticed that he was wearing a torn sweater from my Alma-matter in Toronto - one of the most touching and striking images of my entire trip. I schlepped a 15kg pack all over East Africa and was amazed that my feet didn't hurt once. We helped load and unload the safari jeep at every stop - but honestly, we were spoiled by our guides so much that I didn't have to carry or heft as much as I expected. I learned a few words in Swahili and am now convinced that I want to learn the language and go back to speak it. Even though my brother and I got terribly sick for 2 days at the end of the trip - I'm forgiving. It was all part of the experience and it was the price we paid for probably being a little more adventurous than we should have been in the food/water department. Who knows. But even a trip to an African hospital was an adventure and something we will talk about for years to come.
I had some amazing bonding time with my brother and my cousins. And I no longer feel like an outsider in that group. For years I have felt "less than" when it comes to my family. Because of my lack of physical fitness, I couldn't keep up and therefore didn't feel like I was one of the gang. But this trip proved all of that wrong. Not only did I fit in, I matched the fitness level of the rest of my crew. I didn't hold anyone back. I didn't need help getting around. I was part of the team - and nothing can describe the relief and happiness I felt because of it. The only question now is "where to next?"
Overlooking the Masai Mara.
The Hippo Pool on the Mara River
A visit to the local Masai village - the kids were hungry for trail mix.
Clothing from home - this little one has on a sweatshirt from York University (my Alma-matter!)
My brother and I at the top of a Pride Rock overlooking the Serengeti.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
A couple of weeks ago, Nikhil invited me on a boat cruise of the Chicago harbour. His friend's wife was planning a party for his friend who just defended his PhD thesis and a bunch of his close friends were getting together to celebrate his graduation. Honoured just to be invited, of course I said yes - and immediately hit up Kohl's for a new dress.
It was a pretty big deal. I was going to be meeting all of his nearest and dearest friends in a single night and a) he felt comfortable enough to ask me to join him, and b) he doesn't take introductions of girls to those closest to him lightly. I was super excited, and only a little bit nervous about the whole affair.
The plan was that his best friend and his friend's roommate were going to drive up from Iowa and hang out with us at Nikhil's apartment for the day before having dinner and heading to the cruise. We started the day on Saturday like we normally do - me going to Zumba and him to soccer with the promise to meet up later in the afternoon. While he went home to shower and meet the guys, I baked a couple of batches of cookies to take with me (I'm no dummy - I know how to win over a male audience) and packed my bags for the weekend.
Saturday was HOT and lugging around a bunch of stuff on the CTA trains and buses in the middle of the afternoon had me sweating in no time - so much for looking awesome upon arrival - and I arrived fashionably late as usual. When I got there I met his friends and the jokes started flowing immediately, which to me meant that things were already going pretty well. They dove in to the cookies and praised my culinary prowess between mouthfuls - score! - while I had a bit of lunch that Nikhil had made for us. We waited for one more guy to show up and join our party before heading out to a local bar to have a couple of drinks and get the party started.
Nikhil told the guys to go on ahead and save us a table while we hung back for a bit. He had forgotten his wallet in his car and had to go get it, but really I think he just wanted some alone time with us since we ended up walking slowly together, hand in hand to the bar - giving the guys ahead ample space.
After some fun bar conversation and a couple of beers, we headed home again. The guys went to score some hookah at a hookah bar, but again, Nikhil stayed back with me and we napped on the couch to refresh ourselves for the evening. When the guys returned, we all decided that it was time to get ready, so I retired with my dress and make-up to his roommate's bathroom and left them to it. I had a shower, did my hair and make-up, and put on my new purple maxi-halter dress and a pair of borrowed earrings that matched perfectly. I felt like a million bucks. A couple of sprays of perfume and a deep breath and I emerged from the bedroom to all four guys sitting on the couch awaiting my arrival. And I couldn't have asked for a better response:
Nikhil was all smiles. And the rest of the guys were all nodding in approval. I quickly went to put my bag back in his room and then returned to the couch to snuggle up next to him. He leaned over and kissed my cheek and whispered "so pretty" in my ear. Now I'm grinning too for sure.
Time to go, and he escorted me out the door with the rest of the entourage as we headed for Navy Pier (with a stop at D4 first to meet the group).
Well - the night was fantastic. I met the rest of "the family" as they called themselves - his friends and their wives/girlfriends. They are all such wonderful people and I felt instantly comfortable and like one of the crew. We boarded the boat and enjoyed the most beautiful, breezy evening right up on the open bow overlooking the Chicago skyline with a lightning show in the distance. We kissed and held each other as the waves lapped the side of the boat, and we danced and celebrated with his buddies on the dance floor. The only bad thing about the night was the food at the buffet - ew gross - but everything else was pretty darned perfect.
Not wanting the night to end, we all headed to another bar to keep going until the wee hours once the boat docked at the Pier. More drinks, more dancing, more fun with my man and the people who matter most in his life.
I lost count of my drinks. I ate too much crappy food. I definitely didn't get enough sleep. But I was on Cloud Nine and that's all that mattered to me. After many good-byes and see-you-soons, we piled in a cab and headed home. The sun was coming up as we bid each other goodnight and passed out in/on the various rooms and surfaces of the apartment. I enjoyed another hot shower while listening to the drone of four drunk guys sawing logs. Hilarious.
Sunday we stayed in bed. I had planned on a 6.5 mile run which we started out the day with every intention of doing. But as the hours ticked by, it became pretty apparent that it wasn't going to happen. We did surface and go out into the world twice - once for brunch around 2pm and again to get ingredients for dinner around 10pm. The rest of the day was spent cuddling, napping, and enjoying each others' company in the best of all possible ways :). There is no doubt in my mind that I am falling hard for this guy. He makes it hard for me not to. We are so very compatible in so many ways - not to mention he spoils me rotten and treats me like an absolute princess. A girl can get used to these things! Sunday night ended with a shared bottle of wine, delicious chicken curry that we made together, and a romantic night on his balcony overlooking the city. Neither one of us wanted the night to end.
Monday morning came too early. I needed to make an early a.m. appointment to get the rest of my shots for Africa, so I rushed out of the house before he was out of the shower. Thankfully, I had business to attend to downtown for the morning, so I called him up for a lunch date. I sprung him from work around 1pm and we walked over to Greek town and shared some Spanikopita and Greek salad. We walked to a nearby park and shared a quick cuddle before returning to our respective places of employment for the afternoon. Sigh. I could do that every day and never get bored of it. I swear.
The fun definitely ended this morning when I stepped on the scale. My big loss from last week was swallowed up in a sea of alcohol and bad eating - but as it did after the long weekend binge of a few weeks back, this weight too shall leave, and soon I'd imagine. I skipped my morning run today in favour of getting caught up on more of my sleep, and then immediately regretted it when I stepped outside and realized that it was an insanely beautiful day weather-wise. My sleepy-time rational of 'I'll just ride my bike to work today' was also squandered by the remembrance of a post-work meeting tonight on the far north side. Too far to ride my bike to. Bummer.
Fast forward to the end of today though and my meeting is canceled. Hmmm. Maybe I can get that run in after all. I work a little late to get caught up on some stuff on my desk and head out into the late evening air. It's BEAUTIFUL and cool and breezy. Yes. I'm running tonight. I grab a latte for the bus ride home since dinner will have to wait. Get home, get my gear on quickly, and bust out the door - raring to go. And go I did. I ran, and ran, and ran. And smiled. And sang along to my music. My heart is happy and my legs know it. I could have kept going all night. I ran for 90 minutes straight. My goal was 6.5 miles to make up for Sunday. I finally called it quits at 7. Seven miles. Cloud Nine. I've never run that far. And I feel amazing.
So what if I gained a few water-weight pounds over the weekend? I just ran seven miles. I have the most wonderful boyfriend in the world. And my heart is so happy it could burst. I'm a lucky girl and I know it. I'm making things happen for myself right now and all of my hard work is paying off in spades. When times get tough, at least I have this blog to come back and read.
Cloud Nine. And loving every minute of it.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Found this blog in Runner's World today:
Preachin' to the choir, Brother. I hear ya! I love me some Diet Coke. But study or no study - I can tell you from personal experience that everything they are "thinking" is true about diet cola consumption for me is the absolute truth. When I drink Diet Coke (or any other non caloric, fizzy beverage) I DO NOT LOSE WEIGHT. Now, whether that is because the aspartame tricks me into eating more, or contributes somehow to misplaced water levels in my body, I have given it up and added it back in to my diet enough times over my time here on Spark to have conducted my own personal research study. And the findings are still unanimously in favour of leaving it the heck out of my life. Sad tale, I know.
My rules with DC have always been the same. I'm not allowed to consume it until after I have consumed all my water for the day. And it's only for special occasions. But "special occasions" have a way of finding themselves into every day life so quickly, that it's better if I don't even start to begin with.
I have often prided myself on not being a coffee drinker either - tea and water only. But lately, the siren song of Starbucks has been winning out more often than not and aspartame has a bad habit of sneaking in there along with it. I'm quite happy for the new brands of all natural sweeteners (Stevia, for example), but really - aren't they just providing the same function and thereby the same side effects? I'm not sure. I haven't done enough personal research to find out - but frankly, I'm not sure I want to since I know sticking to my tried and tested, albeit boring at times, tea & water routine yields the best results on the scale.
An occasional diet beverage is, in my opinion, a necessity and a part of life. They are wonderful at parties and places where you would rather indulge in that particular vice over say, a beer or wine vice. And just as much of a treat if you make them so. But I have finally wised up to the fact that daily consumption for me is just not an option. I really can get away with eating fewer calories a day when I don't drink Diet Coke. So strange, but so true. Though non-caloric in and of itself, it functions for me like any other gateway food and leads to almost dependent overeating and cravings for other sugary treats.
So, with this blog, I bid adieu to my long list of fizzy friends. Parting is such sweet sorrow:
Caffeine Free Diet Coke
Diet Coke Plus
Diet Cherry Coke
Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke
Diet Dr. Pepper
Diet Canada Dry Gingerale
Fresca (and your multitude of delicious new flavours)
Crystal Light (I will always love you)
I think I might invest in a water infuser. I hear it does nifty things with lemons...
Photo Credit - www.infobarrel.com
Friday, July 15, 2011
To all of my new Sparkfriends (and to those of you who have been with me since the start) - I am not perfect. I know sometimes I write things that might make you think I have this whole thing figured out, like there's no stopping me, and like I might have knowledge of that special something that you don't, but last night was a perfect example of me, struggling, right alongside everyone else here.
After I wrote my blog last night, I did go home and enjoy a lovely evening on my own. I did everything I said I was going to - read my book, watched tv, gave my toes a pedicure and went to bed early. Well - almost everything. That nice dinner that I was going to make? I settled for a big caesar salad instead because I could make it fast and I was hungry. But wait? Was I hungry yet? No, not really. But that didn't stop me from eating almost an entire container of corn nuts that were sitting on my counter while I was prepping the salad. Nor did it stop me from eating TWO ice cream cups after my salad. It also didn't stop me from going back to the fridge/cupboard all night long, consuming countless numbers of calories on fresh salsa and chips, chocolate cheerios, and marshmallows. Yep - I had a full on, bust out, BINGE last night. Something I haven't done in a while, but still that all-to-familiar feeling of being totally in, yet totally out of control.
I went in to last night with some really good intentions. But perhaps those intentions came just a little too late. I knew I needed some me time - but because I held off on getting that me time until I literally CRAVED it, my binge mentality came back to bite me on the very night that I was finally doing something for myself. Maybe I just haven't separated the "doing something for myself" actions from the binge actions - since technically they are fulfilling the same need. There are also some physiological reasons for it - TOM is due today, and he always brings with him a torrent of bad behaviour.
Anyway - it happened. Whoops.
I carried on with my night, had a really great sleep and woke up this morning with a plan. I just came back from an AMAZING 5.5 mile run (probably amazing because I was WELL fueled, but there you have it). I've had my Peanut Butter & Chocolate Shake for breakfast. Dinner is in the crockpot. Lunch is packed. Today is going to be a GOOD day.
But today is also another Sparkversary for me. I took my measurements this morning and stood on the scale. Though there has been a slight change this month, it's not what I had hoped for. In the 4 months since my One Year Sparkversary I have lost 15 pounds. But thinking back to a year ago, I was down over 30 by this point. Am I disappointed? Maybe a little. But I'm still down. I still weight less now than I did 4 months ago. And really - I honestly can't expect to lose the second hundred as fast as the first hundred came off. So I'm choosing to look at it this way:
115 pounds ago (at 313 pounds) I was not living. I needed to lose 100 pounds just to get my life back. Now at 198 pounds, I have found my life. But REALLY living my life is going to mean slower weight loss. There is just so much going on to live for right now and it doesn't all revolve around losing weight 24/7. The first hundred pounds was about getting to where I am now. The second hundred pounds is going to be about setting myself up for the long haul. And knowing that when I get to my goal it isn't just arriving at the edge of a cliff that I then need to jump off to get to the valley of maintenance. I'm taking the long way down. Even if it takes me another 3 years. I will reach that valley.
But I'm struggling right now. Living life fully AND losing weight is hard work. I just have to keep the faith that I am doing this right. And if I just keep doing what I am doing (less the crazy binging) I WILL LOSE THE WEIGHT. Last night was not so much a set-back as a realization of where I am right now, in the present, and what I need to do to keep pushing for my future. So I'm admitting that this is hard for me right now, but that I have what it takes within me to get through this and to find that balance again.
I am not perfect. But I am DAMNED determined. And maybe THAT'S the secret after all.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Back in May I wrote a Spark Guest Blog about being selfish - or rather - self centered. I talked about the importance of fulfilling yourself first before others and taking ample time for your own goals and aspirations.
If you want to read the blog, it's here: www.dailyspark.com/blog.asp?post=exe
But let me tell ya, A LOT has changed in my life since I wrote that article. Namely, I'm no longer the "Single Lady" that I state I am at the end of that blog, and thus, being selfish isn't so easy anymore. I'm figuring out exactly how it feels to have someone else to worry about and satisfy in addition to myself, and it's taken a bit of adjustment on my behalf to re-arrange (and not give up) my single ways.
Over the past couple of weeks work has been intense. We're supposed to be in our slow season right now, but for whatever reason, the world hasn't gotten that memo, so it's been as busy as ever. Not something I can really complain about because it's good to be busy, especially in this economy - but dang it, if I wasn't looking for a bit of a break! My secondary jobs have also picked up - my burlesque show is going really well, packing big houses in every week which is fantastic and I am so pleased about, and my work with my other theatre company in town has also increased with our annual benefit coming up this weekend and casting for the second show in our next season happening next week. Every other spare second has been spent with Nikhil, discovering our common ground and loving every second of it.
So life is great right? Well, it is - except that I feel oddly out of balance. I was able to drop all the holiday weight gain fairly quickly, but now the scale is stuck again, which I always take to mean that I'm overcoming some sort of mental hump - and here it is: I'm HANKERING for some ME time! ALONE!
I'm behind on my reading, my blogging, behind on my house work, on my trashy television and cooking new recipes, behind on my "personal maintenance" - my toes look like a piranha got at my last pedicure, and I'm pretty sure my cats think that the hairless ape who feeds them doesn't live in their house anymore. I miss my singledom!
So I called a day of radio silence. I messaged Nikhil early this morning and said I needed a day to myself and that I would talk to him tomorrow. And let me tell you - it took everything in my being to do that. See - I am quite a fan of our little love notes back and forth over gmail chat all day long. I'm also a big fan of talking to him at night before I go to bed. And given the choice, I would probably choose being attached to his hip 24/7 right about now. Yeah - I'm a big fan of his in general.
But guess what? I'm also a big fan of me. And me needs some attention right now. Cause what happens when I negate my needs? I eat. Plain and simple. And my calorie counter for the past couple of weeks is indicating that I am doing JUST that. Only by a couple hundred extra calories a day. But that counts. And the scale shows it.
So today I am taking time for myself. Without the constant messaging all day long, I have been able to knock EVERYTHING off my work "To Do" list that has been stressing me out all week. And now I'm writing a blog - something I haven't had time for since last week. Tonight I'm cuing up some trashy television, a good book, and my home pedicure kit - cause seriously, something has GOT to be done about these feet! I'm going to cook myself a lovely dinner with leftovers for tomorrow's lunch and cuddle with my cats - who will still look at me like the hairless alien ape that I am. But that's ok cause I still love them. And then I'm going to go to bed early, get a good, full night's sleep and wake up early tomorrow and go for a good, long run.
Am I thinking about Nikhil? - umm, yes. A lot. I've been so tempted to message him ALL DAY LONG, but I'm not doing it. Cause today is about me. And furthermore, I will resist the urge to recap every single thing that I did/do today to him the next time I do talk to him. Because I am a person that needs to have things that are just mine. And it's kind of fun to know that I have my own life, and he has his own life, and neither one of us really knows what the other person is doing right now. I can do whatever I want today and it's ALL MINE and no one else has to know. That's freedom. And such a great feeling. And with the weight of my work stress off my shoulders for another day, I know that I am really going to enjoy it that much more.
I know it sounds crazy, but it has taken me a long time to develop this mode of thinking that I can put down my relationship for a day and not be worried that he might leave me because of it. I am allowed to have my own life. In fact, I am expected to. I am a more interesting and better person in our relationship because of it. But I have never felt that before. I have always believed that I needed to give over 100% of myself to the other person to make it work, and that any problems in the relationship were caused by my need to assert myself. So I avoided self-assertion. Big mistake. By handing over my whole soul and being to another person I was doing nothing but making myself more upset and bigger since I would eat to solve my self-assertion issues, and that only served to cause bigger problems and rifts in the relationship. Not a very healthy way to live. Honestly - it's so much easier, not to mention more relaxing, to just go give yourself a pedicure once in a while! Besides which, I wouldn't ever want him to feel like he can't take his own time to himself too when he needs it. In fact - I hope he wants it often, cause then I get more time to catch up on that aforementioned tv!
I feel lighter already.
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