Thursday, July 30, 2015

Here's to Aging, Gratefully

"Look at those wrinkles!" I have said more than once when I look at the pictures Chuck has taken of me. 

"I love your eyes, and your wrinkles, just the way they are. They are part of what drew me to you in the first place."

My eye, in all its glory

As I try to let that sink in, I decide I'd better close my mouth; I'm pretty sure a closed mouth is more attractive than a gaping one. 

I do not know what I have done to deserve the love of this man, but I don't want to lose him now that I have him. I am wrinkled. I'm soft. Gravity and time have not been kind to me. And he loves me anyway. Go figure.

The title of my entry today was an idea I kicked around earlier for the name of my blog. I think it's already taken, but it's a concept that is growing on me, the older I get. I don't think I'll age gracefully, but gratefully I can do.

Photographs are always being processed around our house. The sheer volume of pictures the two of us take sees to it that most get the axe, some good ones get ignored, and the best ones get spruced up. There are a few effects we almost always use to make our pictures pop. 

Cropping an image to showcase the story we want our photograph to tell is the first step. Then we make sure the exposure is where we want it, and adjust contrast and clarity. The final touch is just a hint of vignette to soften the edges of the picture.

Chuck has a program for portraits that is used to smooth imperfections and beautify faces much the same way as the fashion industry edits their models' shoots. He was showing me how it works. 

The creator of the software has figured out a way to smooth out wrinkles, even skin tone, and improve on a model's looks, according to whoever is in charge of deciding what improvements are needed. He had told me early on that he has to be very careful not to overwork a picture, or it starts to not look like the person. 

As one who has been bemoaning her laugh lines and age spots for more than a decade now, I was quite curious to see what the program could do for me. Here are the results. Laugh lines gone. Teeth whitened. Age spots erased. Cheekbones even look a little higher. See for yourself.

This is me.

This is over-processed me. 

Guess what I decided? It's okay to look my age. I'm making peace with my wrinkles and my age spots. I'm embracing this older, gentler, and hopefully, kinder me. I've learned to be nicer to others; it's time to be nice to myself.

I don't want to be younger; I want to be just what I am: a middle-aged (if I live to be 110!) wife and mom who is looking forward to growing even older with my husband, living life to its fullest, and rocking lots of grandbabies. (Hint. Hint. You know who you are.) 

I love my life, and with time, I think I'll be deepening those laugh lines even more. Here's to aging, gratefully. It's a lot more appealing than the alternative, if you ask me. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Do You Not Write Any More?

"Do you not write any more?" 

This innocent question set me back for a moment this morning. A friend and I were texting back and forth while I was editing a pile of pictures from a photo shoot the night before. I had to check my blog stats to see that I haven't posted since July 9. Twenty days ago. Hm. When did my life get so busy?

Last night was my first solo photography session without my husband. The room was full of eight four-year-olds cavorting all over the place. (My sympathies go out to the preschool teachers and cat herders of the world.)  I had just taken a darling little blonde girl by the hand and led her to stand in front of the mottled grey and black backdrop. I positioned her beside a chair, crossing one foot in front of the other, just like I'd seen Chuck do, I took a few steps back and started to shoot. My phone began to ring. I was expecting a call from my husband's doctor earlier in the day, not in the middle of this photography session. I put my hand up to the little girl to tell her to wait, and I took the call.

The doctor asked how I was. "Oh, I'm fine," I perhaps said a little breathlessly. "I'm actually in the middle of a photo shoot with a bunch of preschoolers. Could you give me ten minutes, and call me back?" (Hey, I take my photography seriously, and figured it was worth a shot.) Apparently the doctor takes his time seriously, too. My request was shot down, and he told me it would only take him a minute. Fine. I put the phone between the crook of my neck and my shoulder, and continued to shoot pictures, miming to my little model that I wanted her to smile. (Big grin from me, pointing to my teeth. Eyes wide, pleading for cooperation.) You can imagine how successful that was. She finally gave me a sweet, timid smile, and we called it good. The doctor gave me his good news for a bill of clean health, and we said our goodbyes. 

It is now 1:30 the next afternoon, and my freshly washed hair is air drying. I just swallowed the last of my cold cup of coffee. My bed is finally made. When did I get so busy? 

Taken last night after shooting the littles at
the youth theatre. 
When I first met Chuck, he often asked me about my passions. Writing was always number one during our brief courtship. Now that we're married, and summer is in full swing, I can honestly say that photography is pushing my writing aside more often than not. We have shot thousands of pictures, and it is a labor of love to delete and then edit the better ones. 

Am I disappointed in this shift of priorities? Absolutely not. I love writing, and I love photography.  I still write, but it's mostly in our shared journal and in  emails to family. 

Summer offers us so many adventures, and we try to take advantage of every daylight moment we have together, sharing the sunrise, taking in parades, a rodeo, Renaissance Faires, the zoo, national parks, and visiting our children and relatives from Florida to Illinois to Utah. Our lives are busy and full, and while I may not have time to document everything in my blog that's going on, I almost always have my camera with me. 
Bristol Renaissance Faire: Jenni welcomes one and all.

Winter is coming. I'm sure I will be writing more then. For now, during this season of sun and fun, we will be outdoors as much as possible. During the day while Chuck is at work, I am busy editing pictures to share on Facebook and Flickr. 
Marysvale, Utah Rodeo (Picture from my Flickr collection)

I do write. I just don't always publish. There is a difference. I will keep writing and taking pictures. And I will start publishing more soon. I enjoy blogging too much to walk away from Randomocity. Thanks for your patience. (And Laura, thanks for asking.) I'm always trying to find ways to live a life of balance, and I also realize there is so much truth in the scripture: "To everything there is a season." Summer is my season for gathering memories to write about when the weather challenges the best-laid plans. 
Fireworks from Monroe City's Pioneer Day celebration in Utah

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Taking Healthy Eating on the Road (Vacation Eating Tips) (Whole30: Wrapping Up the First Week)

A continuation of MY EXPERIENCE with the Whole30 challenge, eliminating dairy, grains, legumes, white sugar and flour, sweeteners in an effort to curb my cravings and improve my health.

The FIRST TWO DAYS were so different from each other; one very easy, and the other very hard. 

Day 3

I woke up, and my tummy felt flatter. Hm. I felt amorous. Double hm. Those two things are pretty cool, in and of themselves. No headache. Yet. Didn't have mad crazy cravings for coffee today. If you brewed some, I'd have to deeply inhale it, but I could say no without batting an eye.

What have I gained so far? No out of control eating for two whole days. Not a record, but it's a start. When I'm eating clean, I'm not too tempted to binge on veggies. Starting the day without sweetened things like coffee, scones, smoothies, and yogurt makes it easier to say no to other yummies later in the day. Being in control is huge for me. Huge.

Waking up without my wrists hurting today was a welcome bonus. No naps today; too busy. I watched Connie's four-year-old, made two library visits, and bought groceries for our trip.

Our trip. Yep, I'm a little nervous. I've packed almond butter packets, apples, bananas, peppers, celery, carrot packets. I boiled eggs and made an egg salad of eggs and avocados. Chuck knows a great Italian deli where he wants to stop for a sandwich on our way to St. Louis. He assures me that we will find plenty of fast food places to pick up a salad for me, if I can't find anything there. He knows I'm nervous. He supports me with his kind words and big hugs when I'm feeling uncertain.

Day 4 

Chuck's working from home, so without the hour and a quarter commute, we were able to sleep in a little and go for a walk. We're leaving for Saint Louis as soon as he is done working, so today I'm packing for our trip. 

Our cooler will hold carrots, butter leaf lettuce, apples, mini peppers, avocados, and water for me. The only thing in the snack box for me are some individual packets of Justin's Almond Butter. The Wheat Thins, Honey Wheat Pretzel Twists, Fritos, and Nilla Vanilla wafers are for my sweet man. He worries he will have to hide his snacking from me. I think I'll be okay. I'm quite serious about this challenge. 

I waver, though, at times, wondering if I should restart my 30 days AFTER vacation, but then we have a vacation to Florida coming up in less than two weeks. What then? Restart again? Or just get it over with? When I think about those awful days of lethargy and headaches as my body adjusted to not having sugar and caffeine pumping through its veins, I decide to move forward, full steam ahead.

Long road trips provide such good opportunities for deep discussions. As we listened to classical music, Chuck and I worked through some of my emotional struggles I'm dealing with right now...low body confidence and not feeling like myself. Talking helps. It's just so hard to dig through my darkest thoughts, and drag them into the light and expose them to the person I love the most.

We stopped at Avanti's Deli for dinner. I ate a simple iceberg lettuce salad with two slices of tomato, and a side order of yummy meatballs. I used the meat sauce for dressing. I was grateful for eating out tips from a friend who is nearly done with her first Whole 30 experience: fajitas (minus the tortilla) on a bed of greens at Mexican restaurants, and meatballs and salad at Italian ones. (Thanks, Ange!)

Day 5. I cannot believe I'm on the fifth day of whole food eating. Breakfast was a breeze. Chuck said I should take pictures of my food; my plate was so colorful. The Hampton Inn provided the eggs and bacon, and I accessorized with avocado, mini peppers, and butterleaf lettuce. Yes, I'm on vacation, so as a splurge, I tried the decaf coffee. It was horrible. I guess I really have to admit, I'm into coffee because I'm into cream and sweetener. I will not be having coffee of any kind tomorrow.

Chuck and I brought a cooler to the botanical gardens in St. Louis. While he had ham and cheese wraps, I ate an apple and banana with almond butter. I ended lunch with a hard-boiled egg and some tomato juice. We walked over 6 miles touring the botanical gardens and going to the park.

Chipotle made dinner easy: carnitas on extra salad and guacamole. But later, that guac settled in my stomach like a stone. My body is not used to all of these fats yet. 

Woodland Faerie at the St. Louis Renaissance Faire
Day 6 

Our activity levels were up again on this day, with nearly 7 miles of walking at MY FIRST RENAISSANCE FAIRE, and then we went back to the botanical gardens for the Chinese Lantern Festival. Having our hotel provide a nice variety of foods helped us have a good, nutritious start for our day. I had a boiled egg, and had my lettuce and peppers from the cooler. I took an apple to go, and ate it with some almond butter later. We ate the foods we had packed in the cooler during lunch (boiled egg, veggies, fruit and almond butter for me). 
Saint Louis Chinese Lantern Festival at the Botanical Gardens

Day 7 Sunday. During breakfast, I looked longingly at the coffee bar, and then filled up my stainless steel water bottle with iced lemon water. At the hotel's continental breakfast, I helped myself to some scrambled eggs, sausage, and I took a banana for later. I ate some more peppers and lettuce with breakfast. 
Missouri Zoo

For our last day of vacation, Chuck and I went to the Missouri Zoo. We only walked about 3 miles that day, taking lots of time for pictures and watching the animals. We had lunch in the car. I ate a boiled egg, some fruit, and almond butter. For dinner, we went back to Avanti's, and I ordered meatballs and cooked Italian veggies this time. I just couldn't face another salad. 

Advanced planning helped me be successful this first week. Chuck's support was critical. He was willing to hit more than one restaurant to meet our different nutritional goals, but I was usually able to make things work by ordering salad, and adding chicken, beef, or pork to it. My fears of falling off plan on vacation were unfounded. It was totally do-able. 

What the Heck Is the Carb Flu? (Whole30: The Beginning)

Beginning the Whole30 Challenge (link to the Whole30 website) took some guts, but drastic times call for drastic measures. My eating was out of control, and absolutely mindless.

If you are getting ready to tackle any clean eating challenge or to "detox" your body, you are probably aware that there are certain symptoms that are certain to plague you. I was expecting cravings and headaches, but there was one thing I was not counting on. I had never heard of the carb flu, but I'm here to tell you, it is a very real thing.

Day 1
I survived Day One of my whole foods challenge. Prior to starting, and at the beginning, I read everything I could get my hands on about weaning my body off of caffeine, white sugar and flour, dairy, and processed foods. I knew it would be tricky, given my lifelong love affair with all things baked, but I really want to find out if the promises are true. My biggest hope is that I will be able to cure my constant cravings, and my other hopes are that my joint pain will be alleviated, and I will get my energy back. If my jeans fit better, I will be deliriously happy.

Day One is typically a day when participants are wondering what all the hoopla is about. Day One is easy; a breeze, even. 

I faced my BIGGEST TEMPTATION of the whole challenge on my first day, and I passed it with flying colors. 

Some people take the approach of enjoying all of the forbidden foods before starting a clean eating plan, and then quitting everything cold turkey. The Hartwigs, the designers of the Whole30 program warn against pigging out before starting. 

"Remember the pre Whole30 bender you went on? Pizza, cookies, Jim Beam, jelly beans (oh, the jelly beans)? Yeah. This is when it comes back to bite you in the butt. (And the head.) And it is definitely true that the amount of suck you experience in this phase is directly proportional to the amount of crap you consumed before you began the program. Especially if you consumed it consistently. This phase is especially hard for the habitual Diet Coke (and Diet Dr. Pepper here in my part of the world) drinkers. You know who you are." -Melissa Hartwig
Consuming all of the forbidden faves the day before may work for some folks, but I was leery of compounding the symptoms, so two weeks leading up to my making this commitment, I weaned myself off of caffeine, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and white flour, in preparation for the Whole 30 plan. 

The headaches and cravings were expected, but that did not prepare me for how hard they hit me later. My energy flagged, and my cravings increased. What a lousy combination. I can't imagine how much worse the "hangover" period would have been if I'd indulged up until the moment I made my official start.

Day 2 
I awoke with my hands, wrists, and ankles aching. I iced my back as I always do, and applied a hot compress to my extremities. Then the headache set in. It's called the hangover, or carb flu, by some. It's not a true flu, of course, just the body's response to a lack of sugar to use as fuel.

Nearly all day, I read and read and read. I wanted to arm myself with good information to keep myself motivated. By the time Chuck got home from work, my headache had not let up, and I agreed to stay home from youth theater where we volunteer as cast photographers. Chuck edited photos in his office, and I downloaded the Whole 30 book while lounging like a sloth on the couch.

It's so confusing to read so many different approaches to eating healthier. Dr. Hyman and J. J. Virgin insist on starting the day with a whole foods protein shake. Whole 30 says no shakes or smoothies; EAT FOOD; don't drink your calories.  Coffee is not allowed on one program. Coffee IS allowed on others, just without cream and sugar. No fruits on some plans. Some fruits on others. Cocoa is allowed, according to one expert, if it's EXTREMELY dark. Cocoa is NOT allowed by another, unless it's 100% cocoa. (Baker's cocoa. Have you ever eaten that? Ugh.) 

And the length of time commitment varies. 10 Day Detox (Dr. Mark Hyman). 2 Week Sugar Impact Diet (J. J. Virgin). Whole 30 (Dallas & Melissa Hartwig). How long do I want to endure this? 10, 14, or 30 days; the choice was mine.

I made it through lunch with Chuck's mom at a darling Mexican restaurant. Nothing a la carte was available. So I ate the side salad that came with Mom's enchiladas. And drank a lot of water. Iceberg lettuce and two slices of tomato were not going to meet my dietary needs. My pain in my head went up another notch. By the time I got home after two, I crawled into bed to try to sleep it off.

At 3:30, I texted Chuck: "I am so tempted to drink one cup of coffee to help this headache, without sweetener or cream. Or...I could just take Excedrin Migraine, without any of the potential yumminess."

Chuck's response: "Hmmm. Temptation. Is black coffee an entry drug to fully loaded coffee?"

He had a point. So, I took the Excedrin, if a little grumpily. You've heard people say they are in so much pain, even their teeth hurt? Well, my left front tooth hurt. I was chilled to the bone. I kept turning up the heat, and putting on layers of clothes. The carb flu continued into the night.

Day 3 things got better. To read more, click HERE.

Monday, July 6, 2015

My Whole30 Experience Only Lasted 23 Days

It's true confessions time. It's time for me to 'fess up about my Whole 30 diet

In an attempt to maintain a semblance of transparency on my blog, and to own my actions in my life, here is an update on my experiment in "eating clean," which involved not eating processed foods or sugar or dairy. That means I had lots of eggs, veggies, fruits, and healthy fats.

My Whole 30 kind of spiraled downward into a Partial 23. What-What? I know. How could I let that happen? Didn't I commit to the plan? Am I so weak I couldn't withstand temptation for just a few days more to make it for the full 30 days?

Cut me some slack, folks. I did a pretty darn good job those first three weeks. I even ate clean during our vacation in Florida. And then, it happened. I got sick. Not terminal sick, or anything, I just felt sick to my stomach, which made it really hard to follow the eating plan.

Here's the first part of my confession. I ate off plan the night before I got sick at Harry T's restaurant in Destin, Florida. I wondered how it would affect me even as I plunged my fork into the crab salad, which I thought would be a green salad with crab. It wasn't. It was a creamy concoction of crab on a small bed of greens, and the mandarin oranges tasted a little funny. When I mentioned it to the waiter, he explained they get kind of fizzy tasting when they're old. He alerted the cook, and I'm sad to say, did not deduct anything off our bill for being served less than quality food.

When we woke up before dawn the next morning, I felt queasy. Chuck offered me some pretzels to settle my stomach. I figured I was getting pay back for not eating clean. During our 19 hour drive home that Tuesday, my stomach was not doing well, but here's the weird thing. Neither was Chuck's. We ate totally different things, and obviously, his body was not reacting to having had whole foods for three weeks because you and I both know that ain't ever gonna happen. Whatever it was that was troubling me, troubled both of us. So, it wasn't karma biting me back for not following my diet to a T. 

We had some digestive upsets to deal with for the next several days. I just could not face eating green, leafy things and hardcore protein while dealing with nausea. All my tummy wanted was bland foods, like bananas and dry toast. My Whole 30 ended on day 23, so I ended up with a Partial 23.

This morning on my walk, Chuck and I talked on the phone like we always do. He brought up my Whole 30 experience. He said, "So, before you started your diet, you pretty much ate whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted, and then for the time that you focused on the Whole 30, you were extremely careful, and followed the plan so well. Now it seems that you are eating the way you did before, but maybe I am not aware of changes you have made. Did it change you in any way?  Did you learn anything? Are you glad you did it?"

I took in a deep breath. There are good things, and not so good things, about being married to an analytical person. When Chuck analyzes my behavior, I get uncomfortable. I'm not the most consistent person on the planet, and he kind of is. His analysis leads to my self-analysis, and I am coming up short in the healthy eating department. Again.

"Yes. Yes. And yes," I said, in response to his three questions.

Eating for three weeks a diet that was high in nutrition (fats, fiber, protein, veggies and fruits), and going without sugar changed the way I looked. Here is the proof that fat doesn't make a person fat:

These pics show before and "during" results. I would say "after," but let's be honest, I didn't complete the program. I only made it 23 days.

What I learned was that I was stronger than I thought. By not starting the day with a taste of sweet, I set myself up for success. I honestly did not crave treats during that time. It was easy to say "no, thanks" to all of Chuck's snacks. I didn't mind at all. I was amazed, absolutely amazed that it wasn't harder than it was. The other awesome thing to me, which was a big leap of faith on my part, was that adding fat to every meal did not make me balloon up another size or two. I actually got SMALLER by not eating sugar, and incorporating healthy fats in my diet. And one of the other very good lessons I learned is that I do not have to consult a scale to determine my self-worth. The pictures spoke volumes. I did not need to see a number on the scale to know that I was getting positive results (otherwise known as non-scale victories) from improving my eating habits.

And yes, I'm glad I tried it because in only three weeks, I saw results. 

Here's the second part of my confession. Even though I know it works, and I saw results, I'm not sure I have it in me to return to the plan any time soon. I am trying to muster up some enthusiasm for at least eliminating the sugar from my diet because I know, I KNOW, it is a healthier way to live. I found that I love fruit even more than I knew because that became my go-to snack when I couldn't have cookies and ice cream. 

Now, if I could only find the resolve to do it again because I'm pretty sure in the three weeks since I was following the Whole 30 plan, I am back to where I started. <sigh> It's a vicious circle. It always has been; it always will be.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Eyes to the Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival

One of our favorite questions to ask each other is, "What would make this day perfect for you?" Our answers almost always involve photography, walks, and if you're asking ME, ice cream.

Friday, Chuck had the day off before the Fourth of July weekend, and he had asked what would make our day together perfect. It was a gorgeous summer day, and I wanted to take advantage of it. I told him I'd like to take a long walk with our cameras into Saint Charles, and go get some ice cream at Kimmer's. Sometimes I just don't dream big enough.

While we were running errands, Chuck mentioned he didn't have a lot of energy, but if he got feeling better, he might be up for going to Lisle for the hot air balloon festival.

"Are you serious? There's a hot air balloon festival today? That is so AWESOME! I've always wanted to go to one of those!"

Poor Chuck. He didn't stand a chance. Bless his heart. He mustered up some energy later that afternoon, and drove me to my first balloon festival. Things escalated quickly from there. I'm going to let Chuck tell the next part of this story. This is what he posted on Facebook the next morning:

"So, here I am holding a rope that is tied to a Humpty Dumpty hot air balloon. Well, let me start at the beginning.

"I told my wife Friday morning, 'Honey, I am not sure that I have the energy for this, but there is a hot air balloon festival in Lisle tonight.' 

"Thinking she would say, 'Let's see how the day goes, and how we are feeling,' instead, getting, 'Really?Wonderful! I am so excited!'

"We found a place in the grass to sit near the fence. Some guy came by and asked 'Is anyone interested in volunteering to be on a balloon crew?' 

"One of us says, 'Oh, Honey, let's do it!' 

"So that is how my beautiful bride Denise and I ended up on the
balloon crew and how I ended up at the end of the rope helping keep Humpty Dumpty where he belongs. I can confidently say that his tumble from the wall did not happen on my watch."

When I was asked what would make the day perfect for me, I didn't even know that being part of a hot air balloon festival was in the realm of possibility. We didn't quite make it for our long walk into town, but we did park a long way from the Lisle festival site, so we managed to get our 10,000 steps in for the day. And we didn't go out for ice cream on THAT day, but in the big scheme of things, that element wasn't even missed on this particular day. 

The next time I am asked what I would like to do, I think I will first find out what some of the options are before I answer with my traditional responses. Being part of the balloon festival will be one of those life experiences that will bring me happiness every time I think of it. Never underestimate the value of taking advantage of an opportunity on any given day. Who knows where we'll end up by being open to trying new things? If you've never been to a hot air balloon festival, you might want to consider it. Who knows? You might even get to help one of the crews!

During the glow, each pilot lights up his or her own balloon with the propane fuel.

I couldn't have taken this smile off my face if I'd tried!