06 March 2014

Letting go

"Sometimes the best way to hold onto something is to let it go" Unknown. (Yesterday's quote on my page-a-day calendar.)

The season of Lent began yesterday, and I stumbled through the day, breaking almost all of my own rules by the end of the day. This year, I am endeavouring to be disciplined in my approach, yet still listening to the Spirit.

To back up a hair, I've been on a self-improvement project since November of 2012. Like most projects, it's a long and complicated process with plenty of bumps and disasters along the way, and I am not even close to being done. I'm not putting an end-date to the project because I don't know what that end looks like. It's not just the weight I need to lose, it's also the need to be fat, the reliance on food for reward or comfort, and the building of an active life where there has been minimal activity in the past.

It took me six months to not talk myself out of the gym at least once a week, calling in with excuses and lateness and sometimes even genuine sickness and sadness. The next six months, when I began to see changes in my body, slow but steady, I began to see the benefit of the activity and even, occasionally, that endorphin high from working out. The past four and a half months have seen me actually looking forward to going to the gym and trying to add more days of activity into my life (that's been super hard, but I keep trying). I feel like I am being lead to making more changes, this time in my way of eating -- not a diet. Diets don't work. It's a lateral change to healthier eating habits.

I am not generally an impulsive person (there are some exceptions), and it takes me a long time to think about things and make decisions, so I felt like the Spirit was moving in my life to help me make beneficial changes -- not without fear, but with faith that I can accomplish my goals.

One of the factors drawing me toward these changes is the growing conviction that eating organic, locally sourced products, and fewer chemicals/artificial whatnots would be better for both me and the environment. Lots of reading and movie-watching have convinced me of this. Again, it's a slow change, like turning around a freighter with a tugboat, but it's slowly becoming a habit. I've eliminated almost all fast food -- still have a Chick-Fil-A or Arby's occasionally, but that's it. I've eliminated soda almost completely and really don't miss it at all.

I felt like it was time to make the next step. I started looking at juice fasts at the beginning of the year. I want to do a three-day one, and I am going to begin on Monday. I'm going to try to use a local source, but I may also end up using some products obtained at the grocery store. I am not buying a juicer. Too much for me right now. My trainer and I talked about the Daniel Fast, and when I looked at the information, I was intrigued, but once I dug a little deeper, I knew that it was too radical a shift for me -- hard-core vegan -- and I needed to do something do-able. (Otherwise, I will not stick with it.) So here's what I am fasting from during Lent:

  • caffeine (I will miss my occasional coffee and my frequent unsweetened iced tea)
  • bread (sigh. I will miss ALL bread permutations.)
  • deep fried food (I've been eating less and less of this, but I will miss my fries, fried seafood, etc.)
  • beef and pork (cheeseburgers and bacon...need I say more)
  • sugar (literally, my favorite thing in the whole world....this will be tough.)

Part of this discipline to to write about my day and to meditate as well. I've been slowly working my way through a book Forty Days to a Closer Walk With God, and I am going to pick that back up tonight and start over again (for the third time, I think.)

So, to account for yesterday -- I did have bacon and toast (two pieces of each) for breakfast -- to be fair, my hubby made the meal and he didn't know my guidelines, so I ate what he made (and savored my last bacon and toast). Dinner was at another church before the Lenten service, and I had a delicious vegetarian taco soup and a large salad, oh, and a corn muffin and a homemade brownie. Ah well.

Today was generally good, although I realized I'd made a mistake after I began drinking the Bolthouse protein drink -- Mocha Cappuccino -- and discovered that they use actual coffee...I'd already opened the container and begun drinking, so I finished it. Then there was the dilemma of the granola bar I'd packed for lunch (along with my Green drink, banana chips, hummus and pita chips). I did not eat the pita chips...will substitute carrots next Thursday...but I did eat the TLC dark chocolate mocha bar. I think, technically, a violation of the sugar prohibition....but dinner will be good (in a few minutes) -- marinated baked snapper, canned peas, garlic quinoa and brown rice. Popcorn later if I am still hungry, and meditation before bed as well.

Today's calendar says "Like a new bud, each day unfolds in splendid beauty." It might not have been beautiful outside today , but bit by bit, I am working on my inner splendid beauty.

19 January 2014

Planes, trains and....buses?

Yikes. Has it really been more than two weeks since we returned to Savannah on January 2, both of us sleep-deprived and hatching nasty respiratory junk (which we are both still fighting...ugh). Yes, it has. Well. Between sickness and getting ready for the new semester, which started this past week, and leaving this post on my tablet...things just got lost in the shuffle. Here's the final post I wrote on the trip, and I will write a new blog tomorrow (yes, I really will.) 

Written 30 December 2013

The year grinds to a close and we are once again boarding a train, leaving behind the Twin Cities, the Mall of America, and the midwestern branch of the family. Last night, in the frenzy of stuffing all our things back into the bags (why is it that there's MORE each time I pack? Perhaps the Mall of America and the Sportsman's Guide have something to do with this phenomenon...must investigate further)....anyway, we get an email from the helpful people of Amtrak letting us know that there are issues with our trip the next day and it might involve "alternate transportation." Hmmm. This does not bode well. Hubby gets on the phone and discovers that due to probable lateness (hah! Probable....) we might be riding a bus to Chicago. Although it has been and still is colder than hell here, I think we might have just crossed over into a circle. So we (meaning I) continue to pack.

I am a firm believer in not worrying about things I cannot impact, although for sure, my sub-conscious does not always go along. So I set the alarm for 6:15 and try to sleep. Both iphone users in the house have downloaded the Amtrak app (which lies like a rug) and it says that the train will be on time. It is -8 outside. -11 on a bank on the way. Ugh. So glad to be heading back to "winter" in Savannah. After a drive-thru breakfast, we arrive at the station, no train or buses in evidence, and find that the train is scheduled to arrive at 8:15, just a half-hour or so late. We make our way to the sleeper car lounge, which I have to say, as an aside, makes me feel like we're celebrities, whisked into a private enclave with comfy couches, coffee (free) and a tv, while the huddled masses crammed into the oh-so-comfortable bucket chair conglomerations look at us with a little bit of hate. My dad hangs for a little bit. Train now arriving at 8:45. Now 9:15. Now 9:40. Dad heads home and we hunker down to wait.

Great! No bus trip to Chicago. The connection will be tight, but we will make it. We finally board around 9:45, find our roomette, hubby pulls down the top bunk and I steal the blanket, unable to get warm today, and settle into the seat.

The tracks are cold, which is problematic. There is freight traffic too. We make s l o w progress across Minnesota, into Wisconsin (yay cheese) finally stopping for good twice. The first time we sat for maybe a half-hour while some repair was made. The second time, just minutes from the Wisconsin Dells, it's a two plus hour wait, complete with bags of snacks and lots of apologies over the PA.

We are finally on the move, but it is clear we will not make our connection (which is scheduled to leave in about 10 minutes) and this will screw up our lunch date with my brother and sister-in-law in DC,  but we will see what comes next....stay tuned.

Brrrrr. Cold, snowy day on the train.

Dateline: Chicago 31 December 2013

Each delay we've experienced, teaching us lessons in patience and equanimity, has worked out in our favor. This one is perhaps the best. We arrive into Chicago's Union Station three and a half hours after our train to DC has left and as the other option is boarding. With no guarantee of a roomette, we take our carryons over to the long line of people at passenger services, where we are provided with a voucher for $44 and a room at the Swissotel on East Wacker. After a slushy cab ride, we arrive at one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed at, upgraded to a king sized bed, a huge bathroom, plugs galore and a view of the iconic skyline for the night. From the window by the elevators, there is a view of the Navy Pier and Lake Michigan. For a little more money, we arrange a late checkout, walk to a local restaurant, Eggy's, where we have a stellar breakfast and are able to relax before heading back out into the snow and cold.

See the pictures for our constantly changing weather....

Night time from our hotel room 30 Dec 2013
Day view, morning 31 Dec 2013
Day view, early afternoon 31 Dec 2013

26 December 2013

Eye candy

Mid-day on December 23. Berry Ranch.

Sunrise from the Empire Builder, heading east somewhere in MN (8:46 EST)
Sunrise from the Empire Builder, heading east...35 minutes later (9:20 EST)

Sunrise from the Empire Builder, heading east....10 minutes later (9:33 EST)
Looking out the back of the train

Crossing the Mississippi River somewhere west of Minneapolis

Steam from a factory west of Minneapolis

Reflections on a few days on the Montana/North Dakota border

After our arrival on the 19th, it was dark by the time we reached our hotel in Syndey, MT, a small town graced by a few new stoplights since my last visit in 2007 (and a new grocery store or two as well). One of the best things about Sydney is Sunny's Restaurant, a charming and excellent breakfast/lunch place on one of the main corners in town. We ate there four times during our stay -- one day when my hubby was feeling crappy, they graciously served him oatmeal for lunch, while I chowed down on the absolute best hot roast beef sandwich I've ever had...with a side of real mashed potatoes. They are only open until 2 or 3, so you gotta get there early. Every waitress we had was pleasant and friendly, and the food was delicious. They were always hopping too.

Steam rising from the sugar beet processing factory in Sydney, MT

One of the side-effects of the Bakken boom is that many local businesses keep more limited hours and find it difficult to keep help. If you can go out and find a job on an oil rig operation, you'll make way more money. (Much more dangerous and cold too.) In our adventures in eating, on Saturday night, we made our way back to Sydney about 6:30 to get some dinner and hole up in the hotel room for the night. Hubby tells me about the great KFC location, so we head there. All is dark. They are closed for the night. Ok, plan two....McDonald's. Also dark. They closed at 5 p.m. (I mean, really? 5 p.m.) The Pizza Hut was doing a booming business, but we'd just had pizza the previous night at a local place -- Panini's Pizzeria -- pretty good....so we didn't really want pizza again. Plan three. Taco John's, a regional chain with good Mexican fast food. It's snowing pretty hard and we pull into the parking area at 6:59....just as they close and lock the door. Sorry, drive through only. Well, shit. So we trundle next door to the Pizza House -- a local institution that puts out great pizza -- and eat cheese burgers for dinner. But I did get to play a game of Ms. Pac Man, so the night was not a total loss.

What movie is playing, you ask? Why, _Frozen_ of course.

Photographic proof...and this was not the coldest it was during our stay.

We pay a visit to the Berry Ranch, visit with hubby's cousins, conduct the exciting business that we came all this way for, drive around a bit and see the changes that time and oil shale development has wrought, and then we are once again boarding the train, this time only to Minneapolis to spend Christmas with my dad and the mid-west branch of my little family.

Hills outside Sydney, MT

Fence and sky, MT

The Berry Ranch outhouse. Brrrrrrrr.

Ft. Union Trading Post, a reconstruction of the 1830s era trading post...not too far from the Berry Ranch.


Written mid-day Thursday, December 19

Remember when I said it was cold a day or so ago. I was so wrong. Now, it's cold. When hubby talked to his cousin, who was out on the tractor feeding the cows, it was -3. Yup. Negative numbers. When math started to get complicated...

Where does ice cream come from? All those cold cows huddled in the blowing snow out in the middle of the field.


We passed through Rugby, ND, the geographical center of North America. Cool, huh?

Trees against the hillside
There is a really stark and terrible beauty to these landscapes. The gently rolling hills, dotted with trees, stubble from crops and dried long grasses poking through the snow. Spare wire fences mark boundary lines for property whose residences may be miles, or at least acres away. Can you imagine the terror and anticipation of those first settlers coming across the prairies in their wagons, oxen trundling along, not knowing what to expect?
So, if you look closely at the center of the picture, there's a large hoofed animal, perhaps an elk, on the hillside.

Minot, ND shows the boom of the Bakken development, with oil and gas holding tanks and tanker cars everywhere. As you further west into North Dakota, you will see more and more drilling pads, wells and drilling activity. The train travel suffers because the tracks are owned by the BNSF (Burlington Northern Santa Fe) and their freight trains take precedence, so the Amtrak trains pull over and wait. And wait. And wait.

A line of tanker cars passes by...

We finally arrive at our final destination, Williston, ND only three hours late. The snow crunches underfoot as we make our way to the tiny station, collecting our big bags (which are dusted with snow...not sure why...perhaps Amtrak has an open baggage car?) The girls from the car rental place come to collect us and we are soon on our way to Sidney, MT and our motel. Haul bags in, unpack, collapse and sleep deeply.

A Montana hillside