The Numbers Game

We humans seem to love numbers.  They are a tangible way to measure progress or failure or fortune, just about everything.   Individually, we value ourselves by our weight, the size of our clothing, our height, our waist measurement and things like our net worth, etc.   These increments help us determine if we are being successful or failing.  But really do any of these numbers really, in the big scheme of life, matter?

The past eight months, I have struggled with an unknown and painful medical issue that just recently resolved itself, at least for the time being.  I saw every type of doctor I could think of and was getting ready to move onto voodoo and witch doctors.  I was getting desperate.  Pain kept me up half the night, lying in the fetal position on the living room carpet with pain so sharp I wanted to just do surgery on myself. Give me that steak knife, I can’t take it anymore! (Seriously, I had a moment where that sounded feasible).  On top of chronic pain and sleep deprivation, I was finding certain foods made my pain worse and slowly became dairy and gluten-free because it seemed to kind of help.  Not a lot, but again, I was trying everything.

Being dairy and gluten-free is a big challenge.  Basically it’s meat, potatoes, veggies (but I had to be careful with anything fibrous) and fruit.  Gluten-free food substitutes are passable usually but half the time is gritty and taste of dirt.  I had moments, where I just gave up eating because I was so dismayed.  Other days, I would watch the number on the scale go down and think oh well there is one positive.  At least I’m lighter, I can ride my bike further and faster.   I was trying to look on the bright side.

Then my issue resolved itself, suddenly.  As the pain disappeared immediately, a week later I tried a piece of dry toast.  Food wasn’t seeming to trigger anything now.  Nothing.  I got more brave.  A whole sandwich with not just one but two pieces of bread.  No side effects.  Hmmmm.  My daughter made rice krispy treats.  I devoured several of them.  Mmmmm.  Eventually I got brave and tried a small bit of vanilla soft serve.  Waiting, waiting, waiting.  Nothing.  No pain.  I wasn’t doubled over almost crying.  So I didn’t really have food intolerances.  These foods just make me a bit gassy and that was irritating my medical issue, just that simple.

Holy smokes!  I wasn’t intolerant or I might be a little but it wasn’t causing me pain.  It was if I was let out of food prison.  My middle daughter and I ordered a small pizza and cheesy breadsticks to eat on the beach at the lake we like to visit.  We spread out the blanket and put the two small boxes between us.  I hadn’t eaten “real” pizza in months.  My fingers were almost shaking when I opened the box.  Angel song surrounded us as did the greedy seagulls who realized we had food.  My first bite of cheesy goodness was like heaven.  I closed my eyes, listening to the waves gently break on the shoreline and the gulls squawking angrily at us for not sharing our bounty.  When did pizza ever taste so good as today?  I couldn’t remember when.

Last night, my husband and I were working on our house trying to get it ready to sell, I offered to order pizza and he had become so used to my narrow diet that he looked at me funny.  I assured him I could actually eat pizza from anywhere now.  Not just gluten-free crust from Dominos the next town over.  I ordered from a local place and added a half-order of nachos because I saw them on the menu and they sounded wonderful.  Anxiously I waited for our dog to go batshit crazy signaling the food had arrived.  I completely ignored the pizza and dug into the nachos.  They were the best nachos in the world.  Well, probably not but to me, at that moment, after not being able to eat them for months, they tasted amazing.  I’m not even a big nacho fan.  I rarely ordered them anyway but not being able to have them had made them a delicacy.

As I sat in my recliner after showering off the dust and dirt from our project (and probably some nacho cheese I missed from dinner), I thought why have I spent so many years worrying about my weight, what I put in my mouth or how much I work out?  Why have I joined gyms that I don’t go to, tried to follow the latest diet or exercise fad just to be ‘thin’.  Why not enjoy the food I truly want?  Granted I don’t want to eat nothing but junk because it makes me feel horrible.  I want to be healthy but not enjoying nachos once in awhile isn’t worth it to me.  I want to enjoy what I eat like I have been these past few weeks after a long hiatus from dairy and gluten.

I have found some different ways to eat that I actually like. I won’t reintroduce dairy like I used to eat it because I found my seasonal allergies have disappeared for the most part.  Candy like Twizzlers that I couldn’t have because of gluten, when I tried them again, I realized I don’t really like them that much.  If nothing else, this whole experience has made me realize that life is too short to deprive yourself for the sake of a number whether it be the scale or clothing.  That I like to eat better, more fruits and veggies and way less processed foods.  This showed me how much processed foods I really ate even though I would tell you that I avoided them.  That I had grown extremely lazy about cooking and how bad fast food really tastes.

Today I pulled the scale out from under my bathroom vanity and put it in a bag to be donated.  I’m on it most days, the number fluctuating up and down but never really making me happy and usually making me feel bad.  I won’t suddenly blow up into a parade float if I give this away.  I have to just trust the way the clothes fit.  Because as I showed last year, my weight barely budged with all the cycling I did but my body size shrunk greatly.  I’m also retiring my measurements spreadsheet.  I’m going to save it off onto my external hard drive and make it less accessible.  I’m not keeping clothing too small or too big.  If it doesn’t fit, I will donate or toss it.

Life is too short for the numbers game, I’m gonna eat nachos and enjoy every last greasy, cheesy, crunchy bite.

A Girl and Her Bike…

Cycling has become a religion to me.  Not in the way of the stereotypical cyclist who races, does tours, watches every ounce or gram on the bike, who lives and dies by the mileage and weighs precisely 95.6 lbs.  Okay I don’t know if anyone actually weighs that but weight is a huge issue in the cycling world, gear and rider.  No for me my bike has become somewhat of a ‘bible’ of sorts (apologies for anyone finding that blasphemous).  In the sense that it is my avenue to find peace and a spirituality that doesn’t come from Sunday services, verses, or commandments.  It is simply my bike and me on the pavement, sometimes the trail but out in God’s great creation we call ‘nature’.

I gain strength from cycling, the sheer at of revolution after revolution as my legs and feet turn the crank which turns the chain which drives the wheel.  It propels me to nowhere and everywhere at the same time.  Physical strength, mental strength, emotional strength.  Two wheels and a carbon fiber frame, some gears, brakes and words in neon green scrawled across my top tube “Go Get Em Killer” that started as a joke but has become my mantra, a reminder to keep going when I want to quit.  Not only quit riding but quit in life.

After over eight months of suffering sometimes excruciating pain, multiple doctors, food intolerances, GI upsets, two ER visits, many tests that came back normal, they finally have found what is most likely causing this issue.  A uterine ablation done mid-2012 that has gone awry and very possibly I will need a hysterectomy.  I’m 45.  I feel like I am too young to think hysterectomy.  I leave the doctor’s office crying, I drive home crying, my daughters want to comfort me but I tell them give me some space, I’m going out to ride.  I’m pissed because I feel like this procedure was doomed from the start and I may have avoided both surgeries, the ablation and the hysterectomy if I need it.  I feel as if my body has betrayed me.  I’m angry that this comes in the middle of buying a new house and moving.  I’m angry my mom isn’t here to talk to about this.

Quickly I pump up my tires, slap a water bottle in one of my mismatched cages, my phone in its holder and clip into the pedals and pick the hilliest route around our small town.  The route that will go right by the house we will be moving to in a few months.  The music in my headphones is loud, I’m challenging cars to hit me (I get a bit stupid reckless when I’m mad – blame it on my Irish side) as I crank through town until I finally climb the overpass over the highway and coast down into a more rural setting.  The wind is blowing against me forcing me to fight harder to keep up any kind of speed.  I’m not really paying attention to the scenery though it is a sunny afternoon, not too hot and at least, not raining.  The road is a straight line that just gently flows up and down hills that are harder than they look.

My mind starts to empty, my mood starts to level as my entire focus becomes nothing more than to crank the pedals and shift the gears to propel me over each crest, coast, climb, coast, climb.  Watch out for the rabbit peeking out of the tall ditch grass, the road kill, the groundhog who can’t decide if he’s going to run in front of me or go back into the ditch.  Slowly my mind picks back up, now the anger has been channeled into climbing hills and I can think logically again.  I can hear messages or emails coming in on my phone and I reach forward to flip the switch to silence the interruption.  At the first stop sign, I change my playlist from the driving beat of my more motivation mix of music to an artist that puts me into a more reverant mood.  I need to think.   Take a long drag off the water bottle, cringe because I can’t stand sports drinks but hate water more and then cross the busy two lane highway before a semi truck hits me.

Back into the quiet, coming closer to our future home that is about eight miles or so from our house.  The hardest hill is right before the descent that passes this place.  The hill and trees to its west obscures the house from view but I pedal by only glancing at the house, I am more focused on the views around the place and see an old school house about a mile up or so east of it.  I decide to ride to that crossroad and turn around.  I am more of an out and back riding for the sheer purpose of seeing what my average speed is because for some reason that seems like it would be more true than a loop ride.  I have no idea if this is true but it makes sense to me.  I’m retracing my steps, the wind is behind me, the terrain is now opposite, there has to be some science there right?

I’m thinking about the pain and the doctors and the tests and the frustration and all the lost sleep I have had since early November.  I am thinking about what other women have told me about the surgery.  I realize that if this is what is to be, it is not the end of the world.  I can be angry about all the tests, but I have a lot of proof that there isn’t any cancer or something else going on with my body.  Just simply this was missed because maybe the first time I visited my OB/GYN in May, I took pain medicine that prevented the physical exam from showing anything amiss. Good news, my next colonoscopy is five years out and I’ve had two with no polyps.  Bravo!

Climbing again, up toward the new house I smile to myself and think yes, I will be happy here.  I will have less gardens to tend, though our lot is much bigger it’s mainly just mowing.  We can sit out on our patio and not be stared at by 20 neighbors.  Or sit on our front porch and not be approached by salesmen.  I click off my music with my headphones switch and listen to the quiet.  A gentle wind making the corn stalks swoosh and dance.  Or the tall grass gently hush, hush.  Simply said, it is peaceful.

My husband and I had a hard time narrowing down what we wanted in a home.  Logically as we always are, we came up with a checklist of attributes the new property needed to have such as a two-car garage attached, enough room for our daughters, maybe a workshop for him, newer rather than older home that is maintenance free as possible.  The one element we really wanted though and took us a long time to figure out was we needed peace, quiet and solitude more than anything else.  The last few years had been brutal emotionally for us.  Our focus had shifted.  Things we once thought we wanted or were important were no longer so.  As is everything else, sometimes the direction of your journey isn’t evident and you take a few wrong turns until you get back on the road you need.  Sometimes you don’t know you need something and it takes awhile to realize it.

I cranked by the house and up the hill.  At the top of the hill is a cross roads and my hometown is way in the distance.  The elevation of this hill is high enough I can see the rolling countryside all the way to town.  I brake at the side of the road for a minute and smile.  I’m no longer angry or sad or frustrated or feeling depressed and old.  I’m bracing my bike with my legs and feeling strong because I just rode all that way out to here and I’m not even tired. Sweaty, but not tired.  I am 45, overweight and according to my tests and with the exception of my uterus, I’m in great health.   I lean down and put my hands back over the brake hoods and clip in my right foot into the pedal.  My bike is an extension of myself, the way I deal with all sorts of life issues.  It is my Zen.  It is the friend who never judges.  It is a vehicle to sort out my life, my emotions, my thoughts.  What I want out of life is much more simple than I ever thought.  Losing my mom put that all into focus.  I push off and both wheels hit the pavement again.  Clipping in my left foot, the fun begins as my ride out was hard.  The ride back is mostly downhill with the wind pushing me.  My cyclocomputer soon reads 25 mph as I lean down into the drops making myself more aerodynamic.  The world flies by and I feel a familiar rush of adrenaline and am finally having fun.

I’m simply a girl and her bike out for a ride.

Big Dreams, Small Town

Back in my late teens, I had it all planned out.  College.  Degree.  Own Business.  Super Successful.  Build House.  Maybe Family.  Travel the World.  Nice Cars.  Nice Clothes.  But as things go, life doesn’t always work out like planned.  Or sometimes, it’s just delayed.  When I was a senior in high school, I couldn’t wait to graduate and get out of my hometown.  It seemed small and boring.  There was so much more out there in bigger cities and urban areas.  Why would I stay in such a lame, rural area?  Phhttt…

At 28, I ended up moving back to my hometown because I was broke, getting a divorce and had three kids.  I had to move in with my mom for awhile until I got on my feet.  That was 1998.  Fast forward to 2015.  I’m still in the town I once thought to be the epitome of cultural devoid.  Except I finished raising my daughters here, they graduated from the same high school I did.  For years, I had planned my escape.  When the girls get through school, I’ll do X and move to Y.   Recently, I’ve had my chance to escape this town, except I didn’t feel that way anymore.

The school system had been good to my kids.  The people of our community, not just parents and grandparents, are ferverent supporters of not only sports, but academics and the arts.  The school I once detested, became a source of pride as even as something as remote as Quiz Bowl had a grand showing of support.  We knew to get into the classroom first for the next match because our school’s supporters would fill up the entire room.  Where the other schools ours was competing against, usually only had a few parents show up.   Once at a playoff football game against a very urban team at a large stadium, our team’s side was crammed full and the opposing team’s side was practically empty.  Whispers of “Should we go sit on the other side?” waved through the crowd as you could tell our side felt bad that these kids didn’t have much support.

My husband and I decided it was time for us to find a new home.  Since the girls are out of high school, we had been looking at other towns that would allow either of us to commute to work.  Larger towns with more shopping and restaurants.  Places I thought I would rather live.  We explored different communities, even ones that would require me to look for a new job.  We had to really think about where we wanted to live.  The more populated an area was, the less we seemed to want to move there.  We found a few homes in upscale neighborhoods that were somewhat secluded but I could not bring myself to put in an offer on them.  My husband was getting frustrated with me.  Why couldn’t I decide on a place?  What is wrong with this house?  It has everything we say we wanted.  Except they never felt right to me.

Then last week, we were out driving in the country to take a look at another house that was in the country but needed some work.  My husband spotted our realtor taking pictures outside of this red brick two-story colonial house I had ridden my bike past numerous times.  Obviously it was coming onto the market.  We were the first people to be shown the house and the first to make an offer on it.  They immediately accepted our offer because they were transferring north for the husband’s job.  Everything is still in the initial stages, we have a month until we close on the house and things fall through but I’m hopeful that in a few months this will be my new home.

Years before, I would ride my bike by this house and think about how pretty it was sitting up on a hill looking over the rolling country side.  I also knew, it was out of my reach at the time.  A wistful dream.  This morning I was lying in bed thinking about my dreams from years ago and I immediately knew why this house appealed to me over all the others we looked at.  When I was daydreaming about the type of house I would build, it was very similar to this one.  One a hill, on some land and out away from everyone in the country.  Maybe we never really forget the dreams we thought were lost.  Somewhere in our psyche, they live and even though we might think they are gone forever, we are always moving toward them.  Just as I told my husband, when I walk into the ‘right’ house, I will know it.  And this time I knew it was the right one rather than trying to make something else work.

The funny thing is that my “dream” house wasn’t outside of a big city, but just right outside the small town I wanted to leave so badly in my youth.  The town that now, I found I really didn’t want to leave.  Maybe I have to drive an hour to go to this or that but it is well worth it to have peace and solitude.   It may be over a quarter of a century since I dreamt about the house I would one day own, but here it is, right in my reach.  I suppose the moral of the story is don’t give up on your dreams.  But I think the biggest lesson to me is sometimes you are right where you are supposed to be.