Saturday, June 16, 2012

Deployment Checkup - Barely Halfway There

Several months into this deployment and I'm wondering why I ever said things were a cake walk <shakes head>.  Every separation has its ups and downs and hopefully Mike and I are clearing out of separate rough spots.

I can't speak of Mike's difficulties, but mine have come in the form of stolen time.  At present, my life is a highly scheduled existence that bounces back and forth between work hours, trade shows, and summer teaching.  Throw in meal planning, errand running, exercising, financial watchfulness, and Merry Maid duties, and I've got enough time leftover to sleep.      

While part of my hectic schedule is mostly inevitable and partially self-inflicted, I came to this should-have-been-obvious conclusion recently:

I have a lot of time by myself, but not a lot of time for myself.

When there's so much to do, it's ridiculously easy to lose track of yourself.  You sacrifice your need for relaxation and fun ahead of required to-do lists.  But this only creates stress, resentment, and a permanent frown.

For me, it's predictably resulted in a rebellious body - aches, fatigue, no weight loss, allergies/stuffy noses, and migraines.  All that little physical stuff that slowly chips away at your sanity.

It all came to a head last weekend.  I was supposed to be attending a special wedding for dear friends.  Instead, I got my third migraine three weeks in a row.  I have never in my life missed a wedding due to illness.  I cannot convey how crappy it feels when you really want to go see someone's nuptials but have to acquiesce to your body's demands instead.   

I knew this first half of the deployment was going to be tough.  The front end was loaded with almost every weekend reserved for business travel or social visits.  Barely any downtime was built into the schedule. 

I'm an on-the-go person.  Busy suits me, it always has.  Busy is also helpful during deployments, acting as a distraction and a way to hopefully speed up the time.  But life is all about balance and I become resentful when every moment is scheduled and there's no time for spontaneity.  Busy people know that their Achilles heel is becoming too busy.

<raises a guilty hand and looks sheepish>  

I am superbly thankful that I have a weekend free of schedules.  Not free of to-do lists, but I actually have time to clean and organize.  Anything I can do to right the course of a messy apartment will easy my mind greatly.  And I have several good books I can tackled in between cleaning tasks, as well as Prometheus waiting for me at the theater as a reward. 

I am also going to burn a vacation day here shortly.  I've barely touched them this year and I can tell I definitely need a break from work.  I also know a day off will be crucial before I hit July-August, in which I'll be teaching two classes in addition to work. 

The middle of a deployment is nothing like cresting the top of a hill and speeding down the other side.  It's more like being in the middle of a field after hours of walking and thinking about how far you've come, only to realize how far there is to go.  

What do you to do force/schedule yourself to relax? 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gaining a Sense of Health Back

There's a lot of activity on my health front lately.  I've turned into a major health and exercise nut and am working on the biggest lifestyle change of my life.  I feel stronger, happy, and extremely motivated.  Here's how I've been doing it. 

Vitamin D
The last time I reported, I'd seen marked improvement from ditching birth control and taking Vitamin D supplements.  At that time, I'd only moved my Vitamin D deficiency from a dismal 15 nmol/L to a hopeful 25 nmol/L.  I am happy to report that taking 5,000 IU supplement daily has finally moved me into the normal range at 48 nmol/L.  I can now take 2,000 UI a day and we'll recheck my levels in 6 months to make sure they haven't dipped.

Because I implemented the birth control/Vitamin D changes at the same time, I'll never be able to distinguish which was the more effective move or which symptoms were alleviated by either pill.  It doesn't matter - I will never ever go back on birth control and I'll always be keeping my vitamin levels under a watchful eye. 

Addressing the nutrient deficiency has been a complete game changer.  I can ACTUALLY exercise!  It's amazing to not be supremely sore from a simple walk.  Now that my body can handle movement, I've been aggressive about exercising.  

The past two weeks, I've been working out for 4 hours a week - a combination of biking, walks, hiking, Pilates, and resistance bands.  I'd like to exercise for 6 hours / 1hr a day but that will come soon enough.  This spring, I only managed 1.5 hours a week, so I need to be careful about increasing my stamina steadily so I don't crash and burn. 
Pilates definitely kicks my butt - I have zero core strength.  I like it nonetheless
I'm positively addicted to working out as I'm already experiencing those contact highs!  I loved being active as a kid - I was a classic, sports-loving tomboy.  It's so incredible to tap into those feelings of joy and adrenaline again during a sweat session.  Biking is hands down my favorite form of exercise.

Calorie Management
I am consistently keeping track of calories with an online tool called  I don't use the exercise function, but logging my daily food intake has been really helpful.  I'm not super anal about this - I track about 4-5 days of the week.  

Now that I've been doing it a while, I have mental notes about what one of my regular meals "costs" in calories.  For example, I know one of my staple dinners - bbq chicken, corn, and baked beans - will clock in around 500 calories, is relatively low on fat, and high in fiber. 

I also use the tool to plan meals in advance since I stick to meal planning pretty tightly.  I can chart out breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one sitting, which helps me to be mindful about how many calories are leftover for snacks. 

Despite my efforts to really bulk up on protein and fiber, I cannot bring myself down the 1,600 daily calories that's usually suggested for weight loss.  Even with eating on a 5 small meals routine, I still get overly hungry at that level.  With careful planning and a bit of willpower, I can easily hit and stop at 1,900 calories a day though.

I'm also making a concerted effort to increase my veggie intake.  My sweet tooth allows me to eat fruits with ease, but if it's green, it takes some willpower to like it.  So far I've found that raw broccoli and cauliflower, spinach salads, and peas are manageable.  My mother will also fall out of her chair when she reads this - I discovered that after years of hating green beans, that the Green Giant frozen green beans with almonds are quite tolerable, maybe even enjoyable.  Baby steps, baby steps.   

Not a brand endorsement, but wow, me eating green beans might mean the zombie apocalypse is upon us

Next Steps
While all of these changes have been super awesome, my weight has not budged one bit.  Granted, it's not gone up either.  Frankly, being so close to 200 pounds has me frightened out of my mind.  I don't come from a healthy stock of genes and I know that carrying all my weight around my belly is killing off a future version of myself in the form of heart disease or diabetes.

I know that it takes time to lose weight, build up muscle, and recharge metabolism.  But it does concern me that I'm making all of these healthy, consistent changes and in six months it hasn't made a difference on the scale.  It makes me wonder if I may have other health issues that are still causing less obvious roadblocks.  Which is why my next step is to see an allergist.

I come from a long line of allergy sufferers and while the seasonal colds I get don't really bother me, I still get ear and sinus infections every couple of months.  Truthfully, it's the long-term impacts that have me concerned.  People tend to poo-poo allergies as a serious medical condition, but it sounds much scarier if you think of allergies as daily inflammation, something that's actively doing harm to your body.  

I know for sure that I have food intolerances - oats and peanuts do lovely things to my digestive system for days on end.  Soy milk produces a mood swing within 30 minutes - it mimics estrogen and given my intolerance to birth control, that's not surprising.  I'll never be a vegan though. 

My mom has really bad allergies to corn and I noticed that sometimes, though not always, I can get a headache after eating popcorn.  Or if I have corn tortillas one night and then whole corn the next day, I might have some stomach pain and a headache.  That could be coincidental or related some other food, but not enough to the point where I'm going to ignore it.

I simply want a concrete lists of items, if any, that I shouldn't be consuming.  It would be incredibly dumb to willingly consuming things I'm allergic to.          

There's also new research coming out that shows that instead of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes causing inflammation, it's distinctly possible it's the other way around - inflammation precedes and paves the way for those conditions.  Does make one think.

Halfway into 2012, I finally feel as if I'm gaining control over my health.  Much of getting back into shape is now in my hands and an allergist is really the only other test I can think of that will identify remaining roadblocks.

How's your health been lately? 

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Hiking at Palisades-Kepler State Park

One of my favorite parts about living in Cedar Rapids is the incredible wealth of parks, picnic areas, and hiking / biking trails the area offers.  It's a very easy city to be active and outdoors in.  My favorite spot is Palisades-Kepler State Park.  

A not-so-decent but still effective panoramic view of the river
Located off of Hwy 30 just before Mount Vernon, this is hidden Iowa treasure.  I'd never heard of this park before until we moved to the area.  It's a sizable hunk of wooded land along the Cedar River and there's camping, cabin rental, boating access, and picnic areas.  The trails, however, are what I've fallen in love with.

My childhood is filled with very fond memories of exploring the trails of state parks.  I've been all over the hills in Lime Creek (Mason City), Phelps Park (Decorah), Grandad Bluff (LaCrosse, WI), Effigy Mounds (McGregor/Marquette), and Backbone State Park (Strawberry Point).

Can you make out the house?  I can only imagine how amazing the view is!
I feel so luck to have Palisades only a 10-minute drive away.  Mike and I have often whipped up a barbeque picnic, ate alongside the river, and then walked off our dinner.  It's a fantastic way to kill an afternoon.  

This weekend, I finally hit the trails for the first time this year.  I spent an hour on the Cedar River trail, which follows the bluffs along the river.  It's so gorgeous and peaceful and has an air of the Mississippi about it.     

This is a hilly, rocky, tree branch-laden path with some reasonable inclines.  I see people of all ages and shapes out here though, a lot with dogs and little kids.

Starts out gentle - there are several cute bridges like this
Then you get to your first set of steps
This is a little lookout point once you climb to the top of the first bluff
Hard to see the depth, but this is the view from the lookout point
The trail continues atop the bluff
Dropping off a bit on a shoulder
This is the sharpest incline, though it's hard to tell from the picture how steep it really is
Almost to the top!
A beautiful view to reward your legs for the climb

On the way back - lots of exposed rock faces to marvel at

Spotted this little guy - like a muskrat but had a bushy tail though ... Help anyone?

If you need some variety for working out, this is a great way to do it

I have yet to hit the end of the river trail and there are several others I haven't tried that extend into the hills away from the bluffs.  I just read on the website there are Native American mounds, which has me super intrigued.

Places like Palisades make me supremely happy - I love being outdoors and hiking.  Throw in bluffs and a river and I'm in my element.  

What are your favorite parks?