Creating the life and livelihood I desire

Thinking about a lot of things the last week or so, and it’s been a good, healthy, creative sort of process. To be clear, I am not especially creative. Where other people may throw splashy colors of paint at the wall and it somehow looks amazing, I use a ruler, draw straight lines, create geographic figures, color neatly inside. Nothing wrong with perfectly aligned squares and triangles filled with blocks of the same color, but it’s not especially arty. Likely this explains why I am an accountant and not an artist.

C is here this week, and it’s been wonderful to see her. She’s experiencing personal issues right now, and as a family we do our best to be supportive and encouraging, to help her get through it whatever ways we can. I’m proud of her taking steps to address these things, in her own ways. I want her to be healthy and happy.

It is also an exciting time in our household. M and I have had many discussions about where we are right now, our plans for the balance of 2017 and into the coming year. Nothing big or fancy on the horizon – a business trip to Texas is probably the biggest blip on our radar, and I am not 100% sure M really wants to go with me. Houston is not a hyper-appealing attraction for him, but we can make it work and have a lot of fun. We will be there together, it will not be dreadfully humid, and the client I am working with there is engaging and thoughtful about good eats and things we may enjoy.

The more I think about marriage – and I have a lot recently for various reasons – the more I realize that there is a lot of work in intimate relationships. Give, take, compromise, play to your strengths are all things I have said recently to others about forging stronger ties with your partner. We’ve got close friends going through a rough patch in their 28 year marriage, far from the first in recent years. It makes me appreciate what M and I have built together. Neither of us are the same person we were 25+ years ago when we met, and working through our own rough patches has left us appreciative for the ways we have changed and adapted and grown together.

This does not mean I do not want to smother him with a pillow to get my way from time to time. That is just the way I roll.

More than that, though, business is booming. My client roster is stable and the work is steady, and I have been regularly getting one-off projects that spike my working hours every week. If I had any worries about making a living after my last full-time job ended, they have been eradicated in the last few months.

Speaking of my former firm, I have been doing some consulting with them on a couple of projects. Melissa had asked me about this in the comments, and yes, they did grudgingly agree to my quoted rates. However, I have been able to do the work they wanted/needed in about a third the time the staff person who had been assigned the work, and I have offered to show him the methods I utilize to get the deliverable prepared. Thus far, they have preferred to outsource the work to me, except when I had to push the schedule back twice due to scheduling conflicts with my other clients. I suppose the new management did not understand that my going off and pursuing my own clients and work meant that I would be busy enough almost immediately to not have time available for them.

I am fortunate to have landed so firmly on my feet, something I am grateful for and do not take for granted.

Am I changing? Most definitely. I am focused on work and building something bigger and better. My life. The life I want to live and including the livelihood I desire.

This has been my whole quest, my whole life. As it should be for everyone.

But what I’m thinking lately … people want what they want, when they want it, how they want it, and do not necessarily want to compromise or give up or give in to anyone or anything else or even work that hard for it.

Perhaps I am being hard on those around me right now. Within my own life and world, I understand my close and once closer friends and the bumps in the roads. Sometimes their spouses or significant others’ are unreasonable assholes. Sometimes they are as well. In a couple of cases I know how easy it is to lose ourselves in the parenting role, to the point that we experience almost a grief-like state when our kids grow up and move on and into independent lives. We are so wrapped up in our identity as super mothers that we lose our identities as wives or independent units.

Or maybe we just get tired and want to be lazy when we reach middle age. Only we have to keep working at jobs we hate and are unwilling or unable to find a way out.

Pride is a funny thing. Sometimes it’s related to status or doing something to pay the bills that bores us to tears. M and I have crafted a marriage that works for us. I don’t judge anyone else in their choices of life and lifestyle, but my hope is that we can each find peace and contentment in some facet of our lives.

The danger of pride is it can lead to a sense of entitlement. Or if things are crappy in one area of our lives and it impacts our pride, our sense of self-importance could be twisted and turn us into an entitled asshole. Being humble and kind has its own benefits.

I’m cautious about it. Paranoid even. M worked hard much of our life together and has made things simpler, smoother for me. In our present days, I can indulge my workaholic tendencies, building my business and reputation among clients and community where I toil. I cannot allow myself to become overconfident about anything in my life, and I find it akin to walking a tightrope. If finding balance is a challenge, maintaining balance is possibly even more than that.

Or maybe I’m just new at it. I have always been more secure in my professional pursuits than anything else, and it would be easy to become very big-headed about my own success and importance in the bigger picture.

In my pursuit of better health, I put forth a lot of effort. Maybe I am more accustomed to it now, but it seems like this is what it takes. What I do, how I exercise, how I eat, how I conduct myself in the rest of my life – it has become interwoven in the fabric of the rest of my life now. Still a very long way to go, because I have a whole long life ahead of me that requires that I eat healthier foods, that I exercise, that I work at the intellectual curiosity pursuits that capture my imagination, that I continue to give a shit about those worth caring for and about that cross my path and turning away from those who waste my time. It’s not that I think my time is so very valuable; it’s that I believe everyone’s time is valuable and should not be squandered.

I’m learning, every day I’m learning. Right now it’s how to cut off, let go, dismiss the disagreeable or anyone else who does not “spark joy” to make me think or grow as a human being.

We all have our hopes and dreams, even for those of us who have such small scale, modest hopes and dreams that they seem impossible to separate from regular life. Maybe I do not get to be a fitness model in this lifetime (not an ambition, just an example) or the smartest person in the room. However, I’m happy being this much healthier version of my former self and I will always be glad to be the dumbest person in a room full of highly intelligent people.

And I did that. Selfishly and for myself primarily. I work hard and do the heavy lifting to get this far in my better health quest. I read, I study, I listen to other voices and ideas to expand my own worldview. I have a thriving little business with clients who like and respect me and the imperfect guy who is just about perfect for me. Because I invest the time and the energy to make it happen for me. Not overnight. It’s taken years to get this far. But my effort is paying dividends both big and small.

And that’s mostly on me. I’ve had help. I’ve had coaches and friends to cheer me on when the going got tough or bitch-slap me back to reality when I wanted wallow. But mostly it’s all me.

It feels good to be me, something I am gradually growing accustomed to feeling.

Dinner bell

It has been a rough week, but into all sadness a little levity sneaks.

I put some chicken in the oven tonight for dinner through the weekend. Nothing fancy – just a simple, roasted chicken. Since it was cooking for 45 minutes, I stepped outside to chat with M about projects he is working on with pool and tree maintenance. My phone was in my pocket, because I thought I had set the timer to get the chicken out on time.

Working outside is not my strength, but we have been working on cleaning up old crap from my mom’s home and that we have had for years and years and apparently carted to and from various houses and storage units. Our efforts at downsizing continue, but it’s a long slog. In the back deck area, we’ve had boxes of stuff to be sorted out, some to donation, some to trash, a select few item to keep. I got started on the last few boxes – almost all ended up in the trash can – but since I was sure the timer would be going off for dinner, I completely lost track of time.

Next I know my phone is ringing. It’s our alarm company, which apparently we have some sort of sensor – either a smoke detector or a carbon monoxide monitor that had alerted them. When we did not answer them on the interior speaker, they rang my phone. Conversation was something like this:

Alarm Monitor: Hello, this is alarm monitor. Is everything okay?
Me: Of course. Did the alarm go off?
Alarm Monitor: The fire sensor thing went off and you did not respond to our call.
Me: Oh SHIT! (ripping open slider and smelling the burning dinner)

And that, dear friends, is how homemade charcoal from chicken is created. It is no wonder we tend to stick with the grocery deli rotisserie chicken when we want actual roasted chicken.

I ended up eating a sandwich and M had some canned chili for dinner. Could have been so much worse.

 

Better choices today

Immediately after bleeding my angry rage post yesterday, I was off for a visit with TM (my therapist, for newer readers unaware of my tribe of experts). Even in the midst of my own crazy, I understand when the walls have closed and boxed me in and how I need help getting out of a funk. It was a hard conversation, especially through the blur of angry, raging tears and having to continually blow my nose. As is typically the case of talking stuff over with TM, it was also productive.

The downside is there is still more work to be done in this area. No matter how “done” I feel with the whole series of chapters in my life, it seems there is always an unread page or 10 to go back and thoroughly read, review, digest, turn. Perhaps this is life for everyone. Happily there are huge swathes of the population who have more normal and mentally/emotionally healthy families of origin and cannot comprehend the legacy of my type of crazed and complicated coping mechanisms. I seem to have to tug and unravel something else every, another thread every few years these days.

I am choosing to believe that it says a lot about my evolving maturity that I can report  such things without feeling the old humiliation that my issues are somehow my fault, that I am not handling it more successfully without having to publicly admit my shortcomings and air my dirty laundry. If anything, I am more motivated to sort this shit out and put it away in a neat and orderly manner, kind of Kon Marie tidying of my horrific childhood events. And no matter how much I try to woman up and tell myself it was not as bad as many others endured and survived, it was pretty bad. There is no competition or comparison on who suffered the most when it comes to childhood sexual abuse and assault. To be healthy and the best me I can be means I have to dial direct and deal with it; no avoidance, no raging against the unfairness, no tantrums about not wanting to do it. My choices of action or inaction have their own types of consequences, both are painful and difficult in their own way. From long experience, though, action is more like the sting of ripping off the supersticky bandaid versus delaying the inevitable and peeling it slowly while the wounds fester underneath.

Ewww – so gross to think about.

Today is a better day already. I went to bed early and slept a deep, mostly dreamless sleep and woke up refreshed. The only “nightmare” I had was that it was actually Monday and I had overslept and was going to be late for meeting trainer J at the gym. Except it’s Saturday, not Monday. If that’s the biggest problem I have in my sleeping hours, I am going to be okay.

I was completely on fire and in-focus in my gym practice today. Had some time to chat with J and other members, and while others might have found the extended rest distracting, for me it just made my focus feel sharper and more on-point. TM had an interesting observation yesterday. When I phoned for the appointment on Thursday, my voice mail stated that I really hoped to get in this week because I was having an issue that was disrupting my focus and distracting me in the gym, making me feel like poser member, and thoughts of giving up were starting to creep in while I was already struggling to get through a List. All true. It was not just the recurring rage and anger and pain that dragged me back to his office; it was the fact that it was interfering with my exercise routine. I have worked too hard and come too far in my better health pursuits to be derailed now by old wounds, and I am determined to stay on track with the training no matter what. TM just found is ironic that all the years he encouraged me to get more exercise and I could would not do it, only now to be calling for an urgent care appointment because my head is trying to disrupt my gym time.

Progress has never been described more accurately.

TM and I agreed that a couple more “tune up” appointments are in order. Life is in a state of flux this month with the job changes and recruiting new clients, settling back in with former clients returning, plus accepting more work from existing clients. As far as life issues go, these are good problems to have and I feel very, very fortunate. However, I would be lying if I said there is not some struggle with adjusting to self-regulating my work schedule and mostly being on my own every day. M is around, of course, but with regard to coworkers and that interpersonal interaction, it’s an adjustment. I miss my crew. I miss my role within the firm and working together toward a common goal. While I still feel like a vital component in my clients’ business goals and objectives, it is very different from being a hands-on part of each day after day.

Again, I am very appreciative to have work that continues to support us and keep us moving forward on our financial goals. There is no shame in admitting it is takes some effort to get used to this new normal.

I’m also grateful for this space, where I can download and offload my ugly insides without fear or anxiety of harsh judgment. My intense craving and need to feel safe is a ruling impulse in my life, and if there were a hierarchy of vices and poor choices (thanks trainer J for putting that image in my head), blogging as an exercise in reclaiming power over my own thoughts and emotions is a lot better than self-harm in so many other ways.  Food remains a trigger for me in this state, and thankfully we have purged most of the junky choices I might select and it is far easier to resist the allure of the nearest convenience store. Dill pickles (my latest food obsession) are mild on that harmful scale, as is a peanut butter sandwich I had for dinner last night. At least there were roasted veggies on the plate as well.

Puddle jumping all over the place

It’s cold and raining and blustery here today. Not nearly as cold and miserable as other parts of the country, but for we wimpy Cali folk, it’s plenty cold and wet and windy enough.

Despite that, I love the rain … when I am mostly indoors and warm and dry and away from it. For the times I actually have to be out and in it, I love when I get to don my rain boots and run through puddles with absolute impunity. As it is with most things, when I have the boots on, there is not a puddle to be found anywhere I wander. If I am wearing street shoes of any sort, there is not a just wet pavement spot in sight.

Partly why I remain miffed about my gym bag theft. While I had removed my gym-related inner bag with my mini bands and fluffy cuffies and current Lists, my extra socks and sneakers were in there as were other must-haves like hair brush and extra pony holders. Nothing worse than having a pony holder break just before beginning a practice. But now I have to decide which other pair of sneakers becomes my back-up shoes for the gym. It’s early in the season; I have yet to step into a big puddle on the way into the club, but the longer they are absent from my gym bag the more probably it becomes that I will need the dry shoes and socks at some point. I feel as if I have been tempting fate running around without spares these last several days.

While I am actually not working at the office today, it has been quite a busy, hectic day for me. Gym this morning, then last-minute scheduled a coffee/breakfast meeting with a client, then had lunch with RD this afternoon. He looks great, despite gaining 12 lbs. with a broken ankle. Now without cast or boot, back in regular shoes and starting to hit the gym once more, he will bounce back and recover quickly. I was so happy to see him again and sorry he has to leave on Monday for the long drive back to Santa Barbara.

Tonight M and I went to a Christmas party with old friends of mine from high school. We hosted this gathering for several years, but this year an old friend’s parents really wanted us to gather at their home one last time. They are selling their home and moving into assisted living in January and while still vibrant and fairly active, they are in their 80s and frail. My friend, their only surviving child, lives a few states away and worries about their well being. Being in a senior community will ease his mind.

This was in its way a wonderful evening, but there was an edge to it I was both anticipating and hoping to avoid. At least I handled myself and the situation much better this year.

I am now about 18 months into training with J, and almost 15 months of near daily time in the gym. But you all know this; I talk about it constantly. However much I have reshaped my shape, the scale remains somewhere in the 10 to 15 lbs. down range. I think. It has been at least 2 months since I climbed on the scale. My point being, I am not notably skinnier even while being notably fitter. Sometimes that does not show in the way clothes hang.

Anyway, this gathering is of friends I have known since elementary school. Some of us still live nearby, but many moved away and return for the holidays to see family members or old friends. We try to get together one night around the holidays at someone’s home.

My friend whose parents were hosting has been married to his second wife for about 15 years. First wife and mother of his grown sons was beloved by all of us and died in a boating accident. Present wife is at best okay, but mostly tolerated because she’s a snarky bitch. I cannot fathom what my friend saw in her – not especially intelligent or pretty or known for her kind and gentle disposition. She tends to be very direct in a manipulative and cruel way.

I avoid her whenever possible. Truthfully, I cannot stand to be around her and she challenges and pushes the boundaries of my tendency toward good manners and politeness.

Anyway, back to the training and exercise timeline. Last year, I cut ties with a long-time friend over her bitchiness about my Incredible Hulkette apprenticeship, and it was a very tough transition and situation for me to endure. I was still in the embryonic stages of developing my confidence and finding my way with the exercise. The thoughts and opinions of my friends mattered a great deal to me and this former friend’s thoughtlessness caused me a great deal of anxiety and anguish. I tried hard to not let it bother me, I tried harder to brush it off, but in the end, the only way I could cope was to terminate a life-long friendship. Because my arms were too big and my weight loss inadequate. The former friend is a bit crazy with her own vanity, and I was still battling my own gym and other types of insecurity crazy. She and her husband were there tonight, and other than a very cool hello and holiday wishes directed toward the group I was chatting with, she barely looked at me much less spoke to me directly.

Fast forward 12 months and boy howdy things are different now. With all that backstory and dramatic scene setting, here’s what actually happened tonight.

I’m standing there with M and other friends talking, laughing, catching up on hilarious stories from the year. The people I’m chatting with I/we have known for years and year and usually only get to have face-to-face interactions during the holidays. We do stay in touch in other ways, but our holiday party time is something I look forward to every single year.

Into this comes our hostess to both greet us and chide us for not paying for more attention to her in-laws seated across the room. As we stood there, her in-laws were 3 and 4 couples deep saying hello and catching up, just as we all had before moving out of the way so they could spend time with their other guests. My friend S smiled brightly as her almost invisible fangs elongated at the thinly-veiled rebuke that we were having too good of a time without paying homage to her. S suggested the should have had stickers printed – “I greeted N and M” instead of “I voted” – so she could tell who has good manners in the group. The rest of the group laughed, but snarky bitch (SB) did not even crack a smile. If anything, her lips and faced closed inward into that disapproving pucker she gets.

She then turns her gaze toward me, and I could actually feel M tense beside me. With that really sickeningly sweet fake smile she tells me so brightly that I am looking well, and how is that diet and exercise working out for me? I smile back, very blandly, and say it’s going very well, thank you. Then she proceeds to tell me (1) she thought the pictures of G and K’s wedding were lovely and I was “very brave” to wear that dress, and (2) if I am still working with a gym trainer, did I think I was getting full benefit for my money?

I was very calm about this, and said yes, I was still working with trainer J and he was worth every single penny I pay and then some. If she were a smarter woman, she would know better than to push it further from my tone. But no, she believes herself so clever and nods knowingly and says J must be a one-trick pony training women to be big muscled body builders.

Okay, bitch, it is ON.

Why do you say that? Because I’m not rail thin? Well, she demurs, if she was in the gym as much as I am in the gym, she would have lost half her body weight, but of course, she’s a much smaller woman than I am.

I physically step in front of M to keep him from opening his mouth. I smile and say yes, because while you are smaller than I am, I will bet you dollars to donuts that I have less batwing fat under my arms and more muscle mass on my legs than you do. Plus, I’m off blood sugar medications and far more capable, more confident than I was. With those types of wins, who the fuck cares if my ass is bigger – yet more shapely – or if my arms are fucking huge? Yes, I have a  discernible bicep. Get over it.

She was wearing a sleeveless dress. I was wearing a sleeveless sweater with a cardigan over it. And yes, i whipped that cardigan off and flexed my pretty damn admirable bicep. And the people near us who overheard this exchange? They are looking at my flexed arm and its barely there (anymore) batwing, versus her arms at her sides and its smaller physical size but obviously higher percentage of batwing to muscle.

Needless to say she was suddenly needed elsewhere at the party. And I was neither embarrassed or upset at the throw down. For 15 years I have either been avoiding her completely or ignoring her snarky to be polite and keep the peace. Tonight I had simply had enough. She can say what she wants about me, but please, never insult my family or my tribe.

The rest of our evening was really pleasant and really fun. Most of these people have known me since grade school, and I have grown up significantly since I was the chameleon girl who was camouflaged completely by her surroundings. I am typically extremely pleasant and easy going; I still was tonight, only unspooled a bit when pushed. Cest la vie!

Thinking about the month past, particularly the last 10 days, I really need some me time to recharge my batteries. Poor M has been dragged hither and yon to various client dinners and events this month, but he has all day to be at home alone pursuing solo projects. I’m at the office, where I love the people but my time is not my own. Or I am at home working or attending client wing-dings, going to yoga too much, and not sleeping deeply enough to feel refreshed when I should. Late last week M’s bestie began working on our front yard remodel, so there have been rocks and materials to be chosen, designs to be discussed and approved, and while I love M’s bestie, it is one more person I am interacting with when I really just want to crawl into bed with my kindle and read in peace awhile. Essentially, I have not only been burning the candle at both ends I have been setting bonfires on the candle mass in between.

I think a break may be in order. Yes, Christmas is Sunday, we’ll likely be hanging out at home with few to no visitors. It will be amazing. But tomorrow we’ve been invited to M’s bestie’s holiday open house, which is a big thing for M because the volume of runner friends. I asked him on the way home tonight if he minded I bailed this year, for the simple reason that I am absolutely exhausted. While he really wants me to attend, he understands. He also understands that I have far less in common with the runner friends he enjoys so much and will likely enjoy himself far more if we either take 2 cars or he goes alone. Reality of our long marriage is that we have different hobbies and interests and the 2 do not always mesh seamlessly.

It has been a long week, long month. I need the “me” time. I need to write, to read, to relax without a lot of distraction or the pressure of the clock. Maybe tomorrow will be the start of a long weekend of that … after the gym, of course.

Which today did not go so well. I had a client text and then call last night to get an urgent appointment with me, which was the coffee/breakfast today. It was a pretty good problem to have – unexpected windfall – but it was also stressing him out to the point of not wanting to wait until after the first of the year to meet with me about it. I am tired already, battling something attacking my sinuses, and then feeling the pressure of an appointment when I anticipated a more leisurely morning. Result was a unfocused, distracted effort.

I follow Scott Abel on Facebook, because he is a very smart fitness coach who also seems very sensible in his approaches. Several of his posts the last few days have resonated with me, while at the same time make me feel a lot like a miserably bad client in that maybe I am not listening, trying hard enough, want it (whatever “it” is for me) badly enough, have an inadequate work ethic, am to dependent on outside validations.

None of that is true, and I know it. But I am just worn down enough to be vulnerable to shredding myself over my potential to be and do all those things.

Ugh.

At the end of it all, been a very long day with a lot of good and great things. Holiday celebrations are cresting this weekend, whether I like it or not, whether I feel ready for it or not.

Sleep is the great equalizer. No alarm for me tomorrow morning, and hopefully my internal body clock will let me get all the rest I genuinely need.

Training #97 – Walk this way

Thursday morning, training with J, and the doomsday vacation countdown clock continues. One more session before J leaves on his vacation, and then one more after he returns and before the end of the year. For someone who does not watch a lot numbers in  fitness-related things, I am acutely aware of how many sessions until off the training session leash for a week. Not that anything will be all that different, other than 2 extra practice days in lieu of training sessions. But I am a creature of habit, and I very much appreciate as much notice as J has always provided about his planned vacations, etc.

Thinking about it this morning, though, this year is a little different in that I have a huge library of Lists and exercises should I get tired of pursuing the most recent Lists from these last couple of weeks of deeply technical review. But also, the deeply technical review has been enormously rewarding for corrections and paving the way for other small breakthroughs with other Lists and exercises.

What We Did

Our List today as listed, but not precisely as performed:

A1  Dumbbell power squats
A2  Dumbbell Bulgarian split squats

B1  Dumbbell Romanian deadlifts
B2  Dumbbell curtsy lunges

C1  Dumbbell step-ups with hip hinge
C2  Dumbbell lateral lunges

D1  Dumbbell sumo squats
D2  Dumbbell anterior reaches

How It Felt

Started out with the dumbbell power squats using a set of 30 lb. dumbbells. Working, working away at this one, because I still feel as if my cadence is not quite there yet. Slow, slow, slow down, pause, pop up with the brakes on at the top and then start all over again. In my head it sounds easier. In reality, not so much. Improving, though. Today we went over the upper body positioning, the way I am holding the weights, how upright I am standing, where my shoulders are positioned. Before today I would not have said my lats are as engaged as they were apparently need to be in doing this series. Learning, always learning.

The dumbbell Bulgarian split squats are a staple in my exercise library. For months I did at handful (8-12) every single day as part of my warm-up. However, lately here, as I have been pursuing other warm-up activities, they have not been part of my typical rotation. It has been mildly curious to me that I never seem to progress in my rep range due to a building ache in my lower back. Today, we did these without weights, as J had the trainer eye on laser focus and brought forward some minute corrections and adjustments that had me leaning forward, tucking ribs under, shoulders back and arms tight against the body and lats engaged as I proceeded, and voila! No more low back engagement. Part relief, part booster shot of encouragement, I feel as if forward progress had been kick started. The shape, as I now think of most set-ups, is more the angle of me about to get test-fired from a cannon, sort of 70 degree angle and in line with the elevated back foot. No idea how I have drifted away from these, or why I have not mentioned it to J before now, but today it came together and I will remember the cueing going forward. Lean forward, rib tuck.

The dumbbell Romanian deadlifts now seem more mysterious and complicated than their 1-legged cable brethren. Again, there is this new focus on the upper body tightness and maintaining the arm position and engaging the lats. Funny, but I now know for sure what lat engagement actually feels like and that I should be actively seeking that. But on these RDLs, my new thought is keeping the weights pressed tightly down the front of my legs as I am hinging forward. Up until now, I know it’s been sort of a loosey-goosey thought in my head, but today, I have the cue stuck in my head and how different the feeling is from before. Still, a very long way from the earliest beginnings when I could not quite figure out how this was supposed to feel with the hinging forward.

Then there are the curtsey squats. I have this tendency to avoid these, because they are like ice picks being inserted directly into my ass glutes. I am also not sure where exactly I fell off the wagon, but I was not getting it right today. J was trying to suggest and cue me to get me in the right direction, but it really wasn’t working. Brain was just throwing up a big giant wall and not hearing. The demonstration portion – epiphany much? Seriously, he was trying to explain to me how to turn the spine away, in the opposite direction of the rear foot, and I was thinking twist the spine and brain was rebelling against the idea. Watching him more closely, I finally realized it was not turn or twist, merely get the body and spine in alignment with rear foot, which does equate to turning body sideways in the opposite direction in my head. In my head it was a lot more complicated than it actually is in reality. I had been standing too tall, trying to face forward as if doing a standard split squat, and it did not feel good or precisely right. Now I have it that the shape is similar to the Bulgarians and considering myself about to be shot from a cannon at a 70 degree angle. Once I saw the shape when J demonstrated the correct posture, the coin dropped and mind absorbed what he was cueing and saying. Still feels like ice picks, but at least no low back engagement or potential for wrenching. Other sets went well once we got that part figured out.

Okay, big giant early Christmas gift was the step-ups with hip hinge. Again, we did these without weights because J added a hip hinge (lean forward from hips on one foot, elevate other foot) at the end. Watching him demonstrate, I had doubts, but I am always willing to try. The first couple I stepped up and hinged, but after the second one J said to put the other foot down on the box, recenter, then hip hinge. I am quite sure I smiled at the way he said it – I’m going to have to insist you put the foot down and then do the hip hinge – because I never argue about anything. He says “do it this way” and I try valiantly to do it that way. So for him to use the “insist” word still makes me laugh. But anyway, back to the step-up/hip hinge – I was hugely, amaze-balls, OMG-I-am-actually-doing-this-without-faling-off-the-box successful. I mean, even thinking about it now, I cannot believe I was standing on that box and hip hinging without falling sideways every other one. Last we did these, I struggled with the step-up, balance being one of my ongoing challenges. Today, I stepped up like it was not an anxiety-inducing crisis exercise … once upon a time. Not today. Probably not anymore.  And I’m over the moon with excitement. For me, it really is the littlest things in life that make me happy.

One of my least favorite exercise has got to be the lateral lunges. Today we did them with a 15 lb. dumbbell held in the goblet squat position, and they were not as dreadful as I have found them in prior Lists. I attribute this to my recent pursuit of the dumbbell matrix and building some confidence as well as ability and strength. Strangely, the right side feels less fluid and than the left, as there was a pause on the way back to starting position. J suggested shortening the step on that side until the fluidity of the movement builds. While I still do not love these, I know continuing with the dumbbell matrix gets mind and body more comfortable with doing them.

Who knew there were so many variations of squats? Probably my favorite is the dumbbell sumo squat, today with a 30 lb. dumbbell. I kind of love these, if only because I have been doing them so long in some fashion I have actually gotten pretty good at them.

The dumbbell anterior reaches are also part of the dumbbell matrix, so I feel a lot more confident with them. The matrix I always use a 5 lb. set of dumbbells, and with the List version we use 15 lb. dumbbells. I kind of love the way these feel in my lower back, the stretch of bending forward and then standing back up, unless I forget to tighten abs to protect the lower back on the return to the starting gate. But pain is typically a pretty great reminder of where I am going wrong on these, so I pull myself together pretty quickly.

Key Takeaways

Today was a lot of technically relevant adjustments that have either been forgotten or my progress is such that they became significantly more relevant. I have no doubt there are some bad habits acquired in my own practices, and I also believe my performance on different exercises looks different in conjunction with the order on other Lists. But no matter; I had some very relevant lightbulb moments today and am ridiciulously excited (as per usual) about going forward on my own in pursuit of perfecting my practices.

Way back when, within the first 3 months of our training sessions, J had told me that if I have a weaker side with individual side exercises to always do that first to max the reps and keep it even. He also said the weaker side could vary from exercise to exercise, which I have also found is true. It came to mind today while we were doing step-ups, and I reminded him today of that conversation more than a year ago that I still think about every time I do individual side exercises. Some gym and exercise wisdoms are universal.

The dumbbell matrix that I have been striving to do 4 days per week has impacted my overall progress in ways I did not realize until today. I do not always do 2 sets of everything – depends on time and what List I have planned to pursue – but on non-training days I go through it as part of my warm-up routine. Until today, I had not really realized how much it has done to improve both my balance and my overall progress. I know it is also the rest of my library of Lists and the level of practice I put forth. Funny, it never occurs to me how important my consistency with practice makes a difference in getting better and stronger, yet it is at the forefront of my mind whenever I contemplate something occurring that will keep me out of the gym.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

Today was so much fun, and I wonder if it is fun because it’s productive and beneficial or if it’s fun because it’s fun. How far I am ventured from my early beginnings in the “I hate exercise” camp.

I had never considered what one of these technical reviews looked or felt like from J’s perspective, other than the potential for sighing inwardly about bad habits I may have developed or the fact that I still do not get it or cannot execute the movement in a higher quality fashion. There are things to correct, of course, but there is progress to be applauded and technicalities to be layered into the mix. The thing about learning new exercises all the time is that aspects of similar shapes get added to other exercises when it is not necessarily appropriate. I am not beating myself up over it or feeling like the village idiot, merely recognizing that I have learned so much and sometimes my very human self adds or subtracts in the wrong equations.

It makes what I think I mostly know so much more exciting, to know I can delve deeper, pursue more perfect shapes and angles and deeper muscle contractions. Refreshing it so something even newer and exciting for the definition and my own ability to understand the bigger picture.

This exercise habit has become so ingrained in my days that I very nearly take it for granted that I will get up and go to the gym or to the yoga studio (Sundays). Of late I have been relaxing ever so slightly on Tuesdays, because I work from home and typically have no where to be at before about 11 a.m. so I either sleep an hour later until 5 a.m or dilly-dally or occasionally even work and get to the gym between 6:15 and 6:45 rather than my usual 5:15 and 5:30. Because it is what I do every day and because I tend not to track results in pounds and inches lost or gained or weights used, progress after time has passed and I revisit a List and I am more successful or at ease with it truly surprises me. I expect on technical review days there will something little or occasionally something that shocks the Hell out of me big that I must adjust to be safer or more productive. But I love review days. I love the affirmation that I’m doing things mostly right, or J’s text would still be blowing up with questions or worse rather than the idle chit chat we exchange. I also love the updated cueing and seeing and feeling my progress.

J remarked this morning that I win the attendance awards, and that was an extraordinarily meaningful compliment to me. As I remarked in an earlier post, I have not missed or had to reschedule a training session this year, and with only 2 left in 2016, it seems that record will remain intact. Of all my accomplishments with exercise, I am probably most proud of that, because never before have I been so committed to prioritizing my own health and wellness. Granted I am hyper responsible about keeping appointments I make, but when I get into that mode of not wanting to do something for whatever reason, I find ways to make them not happen. Immediately my mind begins manufacturing good and valid points about how I have a supportive spouse, no children at home requiring my time and attention, flexible work schedule, good health, bottom line is that I made it a priority and stuck with it. I get to accept a little credit for my success in this endeavor.

The year is winding down and my plans to change and rearrange in 2017 continue, with a new exercise-centric blog debuting on 12/31. I will still be posting here regularly, but I want this to return to more personal ponderings, and my friends in real life and out there in blogville who are primarily interested in my exercise, fitness, and health aspects will have an exclusive home. If I want to talk about the gym daily for the entire year, the message and progress is not lost or mixed up with my family’s adventures and friend drama. I would like to grow that audience and feel okay about telling my friends in the gym about my blogging, so they do not have to be bored by my car issues or work stuff or anything else outside of exercise and fitness. I’m also hoping to entice some guest posts by family members (M, my son, trainer J, friend J, others I know with their own fitness interests that differ from m own). For whatever reason, I will feel far more comfortable inviting other voices on something as focused on our shared interests rather than this, my personal blog that discusses all aspects of my life.

While I will not know for sure until January about where I stand with regard to the diabetes, I feel stronger and healthier. I have maintained my drug-free status for a this last year, and honestly, other than an allergy storm and a couple of food-related stomach aches, I have not been sick this year. Outside the diabetes, I have been ridiculously healthy, especially for not getting the recommended flu and pneumonia shots. Now, I feel like I have actually earned my feeling this good and being this energetic.

Food and healthy eating is not something I am thinking about much right now. We have crap food arriving daily and getting shuffled into the office kitchen, and I probably eat more lunches and meals out in the last couple of months each year than I do the entire first half of the new year. It’s not the end of the world, I am not especially stressed about it, more aware and resigned to doing my best to not give in to every temptation.

After the first of the year, when diet and weight loss resolutions abound, I plan to just return to brining lunches or not eating the same volume of less desirable food.

I was realizing earlier today that my body mass is continuing to reshape itself with the exercise. Every week there is some new lumpy bumpy or crease that I will show M with shock and awe, because it is still hard for me to believe that my consistency with exercise is actually yielding such visible results.

After 97 training recaps this year, I am very pleased to have more than just thousands of words to show for my progress. But I admit – I’m generally very pleased with my thousands of words as well. It’s fun going through and reading random entries, to see where I was 6, 7, 8 months ago.

I have come a long way, baby, and have miles to go before I sleep.

 

Training #95 – Best day of my life

Thursday morning, training with J. And I confess – I have this doomsday clock countdown going on in my head realizing that his well-deserved holiday break is 2 weeks away and we are down to 4 sessions remaining in 2016. Okay, so maybe doomsday clock is a bit (okay, maybe way over-the-top) melodramatic, but I am cognizant of another year concluding. Thinking about it, there is no sadness, doom, or gloom about it; the calendar is winding down on 2016 and the new year will begin. This is also no hurry-rush-push to end the year and start fresh with a new calendar. If anything, 2016 has been a deeply satisfying year for me; I got a lot of shit done.

But here we are, at training session 95, and honestly, I am amazed that I have stuck with the weekly recaps this whole year. Granted, there are still 4 left to call this year a complete success, but I am engaged and in enough of a well-worn groove to be confident that I will not falter and fall off the recap wagon now.

What We Did

Lower body review day today, and anyone who has read even a couple of these entries knows I love review days. Okay, being fair, I love all training days, but review days do not bore me or feel like anything other than lots of opportunities to ask questions, discuss techniques less traveled, or just learn more about the why of it all. After almost 18 months of training with J, the method behind the master plan is still shrouded in misty cloud. And I’m okay with that. We talk about a lot of stuff, much of it even training and exercise related, and retaining everything is just not happening for me. Hence my love of review day. Here’s our List today, although we skipped the D block due to time constraints:

A1  1-legged Leg Press

B1  1-legged RDL (DB, KB, or Cable)
B2  1-legged Machine Hamstring Curl
B3  Stability Ball Glute Bridge
B4  SB Hamstring Curls

C1  Quad Extensions
C2  DB Power Squats
C3  Bodyweight Bulgarians

D1  Adductor Machine (skipped today)
D2  Abductor Machine (skipped today)

How It Felt

I was mostly engrossed in our conversation and trying hard to stay present with the exercise and hopefully within the ballpark of rep counts and was not paying much attention to the weights used. On top of which, I am learning in my travels to and from the cable machines that they all feel different. Setting one on 30 does not necessarily mean the one around the corner set at 30 is going to feel the same way. Then there the fancy smancy (and much loved) Freemotion machines upstairs – I don’t even know what their weight plates mean. My point here, there is no apples to apples comparison. And in truth, it barely registers to me. As long as I feel in the ballpark of some work in the muscles that should be working I call it good.

The leg press machine, I wonder why I do not do more 1-leg presses. Or even 2-leg presses; that machine quite literally kicks me in the ass, and I still feeling it hours later. On the list, set/rep range is 5 to 10 sets of 10 reps/side, which gets to be a lot. I lost count of sets after about 5 or 6, so I know it was well within the 5 to 10 sets range. And it felt amazing. Which could be indicative of the need to use weightier weights – I typically use 150 lbs., but today started at 130 (set myself so I do remember that one) because I haven’t been on this one in what seems like a very long time. It’s very hypnotic to sit there alternating between watching your foot press the plate and the keeping an eye on the weight stack to ensure it drops not quite to the bottom and complete rest.

Former arch nemesis, 1-legged Romanian deadlift with the cable, is improving. Every time we do these, I learn a little more about the “shape” of the exercise that helps with balance and feeling the muscles work harder and more productively. I know to keep my shoulders and spine straight, but knowing and doing while trying to stay balanced on one leg can be a tall order for me. But we went over it again today, and I must say the new cue about the stationary/grounded foot hip pressing forward while elevating the torso helps. While we have had this cue previously, I always think about the leg descending at that hip pressing forward. Yes, that makes some sense as well, but from a balance/working muscles perspective the new clue cue today focuses me more clearly on my objectives.

While I really like it, the 1-legged machine hamstring curl is hard. It just is not natural for me to try and lift a cable weighed down with 30 lbs. (I think) by bending my knee. Plus, this machine is tricky on the set-up, and when I am on my own, if it takes me 5 (or more) tries to get it right then that’s what it takes. Today was not bad – only had to adjust the kick pad. But I always have to adjust it, then climb in and get situated with the weight before starting. But anyway, it is more complicated to set-up, but once there it goes pretty well. Except it’s not natural behavior and I have to really focus, dig deep to make my rep count. I’m trying very hard not to rest mid-set, but sometimes there is no other way to get it done. I will get over it.

Oh me and the stability ball have this long and checkered history. From my days of referring to it as an “instability” ball to now when we are mostly friends, I still have my reservations about it. Into this comes the stability ball glute bridges, which are not terrible, not horrible, and should not be all that challenging. The glute bridge was on the very first PT Basics A or B Lists this time last year, yet it feels as if I have not made that much progress in a year. Key word here: feels. Truth is I am sure I have, but maybe I just do not like them all that much. I watch J demonstrate and think my hips are not as flexible or elevate that way. With my current obsession with exercise shapes, I understand where this feeling emanates. Still hard to shake, even if I understand its root cause. Only thing I can do is practice them more, do my best when they appear on Lists. I will get better; my shape in this exercise will improve.

Into this mixed feelings about the stability ball in general comes the stability ball hamstring curls, and again, my shapes need some work toward improvement, even if could be primarily in my own head. I do dislike these things – they are a huge challenge – while at the same time they are effective as well. More than anything, I will continue to pursue regular, consistent practice at these to improve my technique. Maybe then they will become less of a genuine pain in my ass. Okay, not really … but I associate them that way because they appear on lower body glute-focused Lists that usually do result in tight and aching sit muscles.

The quad extensions machine is another one of those complicated machines with little adjustments necessary besides just setting the weight. While intellectually I understand what is necessary and should be done, there is something in lizard brain that rebels and freaks out with the idea of it. Still, I will persevere and not let the lizard brain win this round. Once I get past the brain meltdown over the complications of this machine, I go along just fine. It’s not the easiest or most natural feeling exercise, but I know what needs to be done, how it should feel (quads – burn -check). I just have to overcome the initial intimidation and make it work for me.

The dumbbell power squats are a staple. I realized awhile back that I now know a few ways to do squats, but these power squats are still a bit unique with the weightier weights we utilize. Today’s big reminder was not slow-slow-slow on the descent, up like a poptart in the toaster, and keep those shoulders back and the spine tall. Seems so much easier and nicer to roll the shoulders forward. So I mostly got this – slow-Slow-SLOW on the descent, pause 2 seconds, pop up, shoulders back, spine straight. Yep, along with the “butt back” on the slow-Slow-SLOW descent portion, this is pretty much the sound track in my head. Unless my palms and hands get tired of holding 30 lbs. of dumbbell and want to just let them fall, at which time we mind starts projecting “grip tighter, grip tighter” alerts as part of the soundtrack.

Once upon a time, I did the bodyweight Bulgarian split squats daily as part of my warm-up. They they became less of a thing in favor of other warm-up activities. I think it may be time to bring them back a few days per week. Not that I am faltering failing, but just because I feel sort of stiffly awkward with these, especially when using the quad extension machine as the foot elevating holder. I know how these work, how they are supposed to feel, but I felt a little out of practice after months of doing at least 10 to 15 per side just about every day. For the last set J added the offset weight, just an 8 lb. dumbbell, and boy howdy does that make a difference in how much I felt them. All good, but I feel I could do better. I will do better. I did not work so hard on these for so many months to feel as if I have given up some hard-fought ground only to have to learn the balance and how painful these bad boys can be when sitting idle for too long.

Key Takeaways

Occurred to me this morning that review days are not that involved or exciting for J, but not every session can be amazing and exciting glitter-bombs of discovery and new beginnings. Still, it’s so much fun just running along through a List I am familiar with and always coaxing some new kernel of information from it. Whether it’s shoulders behind the ears on the power squats or what the grounded side hip should be doing on the Romanian deadlift, I learn something new or remember something I have somehow forgotten with each and every review day.

I have come a long way since this List first became a thing in October, yet I still feel there is a lot more practice to be done with it, a lot more to learn. Then again, and this has been a gradual process and realization for me, that perfection is an impossible bar that remains comfortably out of reach, just like the average unicorn. But sticking with practice and staying consistent with the gym and the Lists means I stay closer to the good enough standard I have set for myself. And while that may sound sort of pedant and mundane, it is important to me to stay the course with regard to practice.

Funny thing about regular practice: I rarely get frustrated with exercise anymore. Being bored, distracted, or tired is common enough and I have developed my own skills in overcoming each. But frustrated rarely happens. I find that my exercise knowledge has expanded and my abilities increased to a point where I am stronger and can substitute if something is just not working on a particular day or List.

Part of the reason I genuinely enjoy review day is that it helps me remember where I have had issues, why I may set aside a List in favor of another that I feel more confident about and competent with. Another part is its an opportunity for me to explore and appreciate my own progress, however great or small. Thing is, I do make progress. I am getting better and stronger, and equally important, I feel so superior than I did even a year ago. Depression? Funks? Reflective states? Of course they still happen. However, the regular exercise and my elevated level of fitness has done so much to improve my overall mental health. Granted I start from a baseline neutral, where I do not suffer from any sort of medical issues that cause depression or anxiety or other mental/emotional health conditions, but being overweight, being insulin-dependent diabetic, the ways that being less fit and healthy drag me to edge of sadness is not to be discounted. I now know enough people who have stepped away from their own emotional ailments by working at improving their overall health through diet and exercise to recognize that it is a real thing.

The holidays are hard for so many folks, and even M and I are not immune. My daughter and son-in-law are on the road for their new home and next chapter in their life clear across the country, and it has it’s own emotional challenges for me even as I am happy for them. Change is not always easy to accept. One of my very dearest friends has struggled with a serious health condition that continues to plague him and concern me, even though I believe he will overcome and be better. Home for Christmas? Maybe not, and it saddens me. However, sacrificing one holiday now for many, many into the future is well worth it. But I’m selfish enough to admit I wish he were for sure able to come home for even a brief visit, if only to reassure myself that he is improving and will soon be completely well again.

But my issues are small ball issues, and I think them through, work them out every morning in practice. Or in the evenings during yoga class. I write my pal a note every day, filled with boring and mundane details of our life. M sends regular texts and missives as well. It makes little sense to anyone else, but for me it’s hugely comforting to write down the minutia and share it. Every Monday, every Thursday I train with J I send a text from my car in the parking lot of the gym, giving a quick and happy response to whatever we happened to do that day. To anyone else it is weird and maybe even a little (or a lot) off-beat, but beside M, he is such a huge cheerleader for my fitness efforts. I like reminding him how much he matters to me and to others, to keep his sometimes flagging spirits from leaning toward permanent deflation.

My point here is – the regular exercise has changed my life in so many big and little ways. I am still not a morning person; if not having to get to the gym at my preferred time I would happily sleep until 7 a.m. every day and even later on weekends. As it was this morning, I felt less perky than usual in our session this morning for lack of my usual caffeine boost. Every morning I drink a protein shake boosted with amino energy powder, which is kind of fancy smancy caffeine infusion, only I allowed myself to run out. The horror! I know, I know – me and my first world problems. Thank goodness for Amazon prime and the very fast shipping.

Kitchen Sink Thoughts

I love success stories. I love when other tribe and gym members make big or small strides toward goals or just improvements in their technique and exercise mastery. Even on days like today, where I feel kind of tired in the nicest possible way and feel no new wowy-zowy breakthroughs, I am delighted others are doing well.

And in truth, I am equally delighted that I am doing this well as well. Once upon a time, I would be feeling depressed and anxious that I did not have some success to write about. Anymore, I can appreciate the simplicity of having a good week. I am making tiny step progress toward my focused List – of late it has been the dumbbell matrix that is more cardio intensive. Some of the movements seem to require more coordination that my brain can process gracefully, so what does not come naturally must be practiced until it feels like an accurate mimic of gracefulness. And again, every day i get up and get myself into the gym is a good day, one more thing crossed off my to-do.

When J demonstrates or I see others in the club doing exercise I struggle or have struggled with, I no longer wonder what is wrong with me that I struggling. Anymore, my admiration for their efforts has taken over any inward negativity, and I am relieved that I can be a big enough, grown-up enough to accept the different waypoints on individual journeys. My pathway is my own, and its got piles of glitter along the way from prior wins and steps up, steps forward.

More than the little lines and creases I celebrate and ask my husband repeatedly if he notices (he does … at this point how could he not? *laugh*), I genuinely appreciate my mental and emotional gains from the routine. While I think about the long game, what I will be like at 60 or 70, I do not imagine myself sitting around waiting to die. This was not the way I felt 2 years ago before I started, but I was sort of resigned to never being an athletic sort or someone with health-minded hobbies. Now it seems that’s a lot of what I discuss with friends and associates at work, partly because they are all young and active when not strapped in behind their desks, and partly because it is where life and its focus seems to find us right now. The ladies I work with and walk with regularly – we are always discussing the diet trends, the newest books, cookbooks, recipes, eating plans and programs. I learn a lot from them, even if I do not follow the same guidelines or like the same types of food. Same with the fitness reading and listening I do; it expands my horizons.

I am plowing my way through a list of business and marketing-related books clients and peers have or are reading, because it intrigues me on some level. I feel so far behind the times, working with young, hipper, scary smart folks, yet it is good to be excited and invigorated to follow along and see the world from their perspective. I like being able to relate … eventually … with what they are doing, thinking, talking about. I am not their peer nor would I ever want to be again. Just like with my kids, though, I like to have a general grasp on what their interests and things they follow in their own realm.

To have a good attitude – I never truly realized how poor my inward attitude was until it improved. I have all sorts of reasons, all kind of backstory that supports my flawed reasoning and skewed self-image, and healing those breaches will be an ongoing effort that will span my lifetime. Thing is, what I was accepting as adequate and enough was neither. A little (okay – a LOT) of hard work and I could have more, and I do have more. But strangely, the work does not seem so much effort anymore. New stuff, sure – lots of energy expended in the learning, adapting, mastering, perfecting. And then you set that aside for a little while and start a little farther up the learning curve when you return to it. This is where my improving outlook has gotten me – to understanding that the learning curve is not so steep the second, third, or twentieth go-round with something I learned a year ago.

I continue writing my own success story – one line, one paragraph, one post, one chapter at a time. And there will be no epilogue or final credits rolling anytime soon.