Learn to receive

I went on a podcast subscribing spree over the weekend. Lately my podcast habits have heavily skewed toward political content, but the closer we get to the elections, the less I want to listen to media interpretations of the absolute shitstorm that is the country right now. (For the record, I’m With Her.) (If you needed me to tell you that, you haven’t been paying attention.)

I poked around a bit trying to find some podcasts on health and wellness, skewing more toward mental health and wellbeing. I haven’t had much time to settle in with the stack of books sitting on my nightstand, so in the meantime, podcasts on my commute will have to be enough to help me along.

I stumbled across one this morning that felt like it was targeted right at me. The podcast is titled Women Wanting More, and I admittedly haven’t listened to enough to judge whether it will be a permanent addition to my list, but today’s felt perfect. Episode #183 is titled “I Receive This (and Why YOU Should, Too)” and it’s all about how many women struggle to accept, to receive.

When others pay us compliments, we brush them off or respond with a self-deprecating comment. When colleagues ask us if we need help at work, we decline – we’ve got this, even in reality we’re drowning. Friends tell us to reach out if we need anything and we nod, knowing that things would have to be dire indeed before we take them up on the offer, because we will have things under control even if it kills us.

In the podcast, the host, Karen Osburn, encourages us to learn to receive. Have you ever tried to just receive when others want to give? Whether it’s a compliment, an offer of help, a kind word, a gift – what if you just received it and allowed yourself time to enjoy how it feels not to be the one giving?

I’m working on it, and this podcast was a good reminder to be more intentional in how I react when I’m given the opportunity to receive. Give it a listen.

The Halloween Dilemma

People are usually surprised when I say I’m not a huge fan of Halloween. I’m a theater kid, we’re supposed to love any opportunity to embrace a costume, particularly if a theme is involved. Setting aside the fact that I haven’t been onstage since 2003 – almost half a lifetime ago! – the truth of the matter is that Halloween becomes a lot more work and a lot less fun when you’re a larger lady.

I’m 5’9″ so those flirtatiously short costumes that you see on other girls put me in danger of an indecent exposure arrest. It’s also just too damn hard to try to buy a costume off-the-rack; most costumes run small and the cheap fabrics do absolutely nothing for my body. So if I want to do a costume, I have to make it myself – and since I can’t sew, that usually means trying to think of something I can build around existing wardrobe pieces.

My all-time laziest costume was “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” – I dressed in all black, wore a pair of dark sunglasses and lots of pearl jewelry, and I carried a Tiffany’s bag filled with donut holes. I loved this costume, but very few people understood it, so I spent most of the night explaining myself to increasingly drunk party-goers. On the plus side, drunk people love snacks, so the donuts were a win. I don’t have any pictures of this costume, because in every picture from that Halloween, I just look like the lame friend who showed up in normal clothes – although my hair does look fantastic.

miss-piggyI knew I had to step it up the following year, so I went as Miss Piggy. I wore a strapless black dress I already had in my wardrobe, and I made a purple and silver sequined belt to wear with it. I bought purple velvet gloves and a purple feather boa (which molted all over my friend Steph’s apartment – sorry, Steph!) and recycled the mountains of fake pearls left over from the previous year’s Tiffany’s get up. I made pink pig’s ears from craft foam and glued them to a headband, and I put a Kermit the frog picture on a stick and carried it around to make it completely clear who I was meant to be. (In other news, check out that REALLY AWESOME photo quality – this dates back to 2009, and I grabbed it off of Facebook. Those pictures were 100% taken with someone’s crappy Canon point-and-shoot digital camera. Thank you internet for making these things so easily accessible. Also, can we show a little love for my commitment to the Snookie poof?)

I really outdid myself with Miss Piggy, and I have absolutely no recollection of my costumes for the next few years. The internet is also no help here – 2010 through 2013 were apparently dark years. I’m going to go ahead and blame that on the fact that it is just so damn hard to figure out a costume when you aren’t a size 6.

2014 minion.jpg2014 marked my return to costume life, and I scaled back a bit from Miss Piggy. I went as a minion, based purely on the fact that I had a denim dress that would work as a substitute for the minion’s overalls. Yellow tights, a yellow long sleeved tee, and black boots completed the look. I kept the crafting to a minimum, making a belt with the Gru logo on it and crafting together a pair of goggles. The goggles fell apart at the first party I wore this costume to, but luckily it was hosted by a world-class DIY-er who had spray glue on hand to help me fix things. We got a little overzealous (I blame the tequila and not her skills with spray glue, for the record) and my beer bottle was stuck to my hand the rest of the night, but otherwise it was a success. This was also the comfiest costume I’ve worn in ages.

cruella.jpgI went from that – pretty simple, minimal effort – to the most involved costume I’ve ever made. In 2015, I decided I could not live another day without channeling Cruella DeVille. I wore a simple black dress, and made a red sequined belt to go over it. I bought the wig and teased it within an inch of its life, and I carried around a stuffed dalmatian with a noose tied around its neck (sidebar: there are two types of people in the world – the type who finds that hilarious, and the type who thinks it’s horrifying and that I’m a bad person for finding it hilarious. Excellent way to help me weed out the people who lacked a sense of humor at the party.) I also decided to sew my own cape, with a dalmatian-print exterior and a red sequined lining. Only one problem: I can’t sew. At all. And the printed fabric was super thick, so getting a needle through it was a challenge. I worked on that damn cape every night for hours in the week leading up to Halloween, but in the end it was totally worth it. This costume was SO expensive to make, and while it wasn’t uncomfortable, it wasn’t exactly easy to wear – the cape was super warm, and the wig didn’t really fit properly on my gigantic head. I held onto the whole thing and will definitely reuse it at some point in the future, but it’s retired for the time being.

I’m in the process of making this year’s costume – the Queen of Hearts. I originally considered Alice to take advantage of my straight blonde hair, but 1) I don’t own a blue dress to serve as the foundation of the costume and 2) Alice is boring. as. fuck. I love a villain and I love a diva, and the Queen of Hearts is both of those things. I’m recycling the red sequin belt from last year, and I’m making most of the other costume elements – a headpiece (I LOVE a headpiece), a royal scepter, and a tutu. I’m crafting some flowers from playing cards using this tutorial, and I got rose beads to serve as the center. The head piece will be made from silk flowers and glitter craft foam for the crown, and the scepter will be made from playing cards and more craft foam. The tutu is a work in progress – it’s incredibly easy and involves NO SEWING (I learned my lesson last year), but when I tried it on halfway through the process today, I realized it extended a full two feet in front of my body. Not. Good. So I’m restarting and hoping it’s a little less full if I use a single layer of tulle instead of double up.

I want to look cute on Halloween just like any girl, but for that to happen, I have to put in a hell of a lot more work (and time, and money) than most people. It’s just not possible for me to walk into a party store and leave with a flattering costume. Luckily, I consider myself to be pretty crafty and creative, and I don’t really mind the time it takes to make these costumes happen — but I just felt like I needed to acknowledge that it is a process, and sometimes it is kind of a pain in the ass. And if I woke up tomorrow and had magically shrunk to a size 6, you bet your ass I wouldn’t be spending my time in line at Joann’s waiting for the fabric cutting counter. I’d be at Party City picking up something premade and enjoying my newfound free time leading up to October 31.

Another mimosa, please.

I spent the long weekend in my favorite place on earth with my favorite people, and I. Am. Exhausted.

Things I learned this weekend:

  1. When you’re out with a friend you don’t get to see very often and you’re ordering wine by the glass, it’s really easy to lose track of how much you’ve had, especially when the bartender has a heavy pour. Then you get the bill and you realize you’ve had a bottle and a half of wine. Each. Whoops.
  2. It has been four and a half years since my last marathon bottomless brunch (an especially memorable visit to Lasagna’s the day of our 5-year college reunion, when they finally kicked us out because the restaurant was flipping over to dinner and apparently that’s when the mimosas stop being bottomless). Turns out 31 is officially too old for bottomless brunch, especially when you approach it as a challenge. “Oh? You’re cutting us off after two hours? I ACCEPT THIS QUEST.” Again. Whoops.
  3. I know a lot of people get into trouble because when they’re drunk they start craving junk food and end up overeating. I am the exact opposite. I completely forgot to feed myself during Saturday’s marathon outing. There were the token breakfast foods consumed alongside the bottomless mimosas, but let’s be honest, those are only there to add an air of legitimacy to the quite frankly inhuman quantities of champagne you’re consuming. And then I forgot to eat anything else. For twelve hours. When we made it to Crif Dogs at 1am I greeted that hot dog like I had never seen food before. Honestly, I’m astounded I didn’t black out in a corner around 4pm. And once again. Whoops.
  4. I decided to stick around the city and drive home on Monday, officially giving “We’re going to watch the debate!” and “Who wants to drive in a hurricane?” as my rationale. The unofficial but very real reason: I fell asleep sitting up at a bar during the Patriots game at 2pm (luckily I remained upright and spared myself the indignity of face-planting into a plate of buffalo wings) and subsequently napped straight through the 4pm games. Driving four hours back to Massachusetts was a non-starter. The drive wasn’t much better on Monday, culminating with me getting pulled over at a toll booth on the Mass Pike (….and getting off with a warning because my last speeding violation was five years ago, almost exactly to the day, also received while on the Mass Pike on a Monday morning driving home from a weekend of NYC ridiculousness – noticing a trend here?) It turns out things that came easily at 24 are just painful at 31. Who knew?

I am in full on recovery mode. I fell asleep at 7pm Monday night after working from home for the afternoon, and I have slept like the dead the past few nights. I’m still dragging myself through my workouts, but I’m definitely not at 100%. And you know what? I don’t regret a single thing. I needed this weekend more than I even realized.

These past few days have really driven home how much your mental state impacts your physical well-being. I’ve been in a pretty dark place for the past month or so; the world has been throwing a lot my way, both at work and at home, and I wasn’t doing a great job of coping and finding balance. It showed up in my attitude, in my energy levels, in my mental health and in my physical well-being. I had no motivation to drag myself to the gym, I wasn’t eating right, I wasn’t treating my body well. I was going through the motions, but I wasn’t happy.

img_3237This weekend, I got to spend time with the types of friends who make you remember who you are and where you belong. Living in another city makes me appreciate these friends so much more when I do get to see them, and every time we get together I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have these people in my life. They’re my human reset buttons. And it’s not like we all sat down to have deep, soul-searching conversations about our lives – quite the opposite. We did multiple rounds of pickle back shots, we sang early 2000s pop-punk karaoke, and we sent ridiculous snap chat stories to the friends who couldn’t be there. But that’s what I need. I need to be reminded that I don’t have to be the responsible one all the time.

My life is so much more than my job and my parents and the myriad things that make me feel stressed and pressured and pushed to go, go, go, 24/7. My life is my stories and my experiences. My life should be filled with ridiculousness and irresponsible decisions and silliness and laughter and hugs and joy. It’s about finding balance and this weekend, with these friends, they helped me to tip the scales back in my favor.

Cardio survival strategies

Over the past year I’ve made some major shifts in my approach to working out. Incorporating a weight lifting routine into my workouts has been eye opening – turns out I love barbells. Who knew?! I’m also seeing major changes in my body composition, which is super exciting.

But here’s what I’ve figured out: no matter how great the weights are treating me, I still need to keep cardio in my routine if I want to see the scale move in the right direction. And I hate cardio. So much. I love SoulCycle classes, but I’m already investing a hefty chunk of cash in my gym and Crossfit memberships, so it’s really hard to also swing SC on the regular. I try to save it for a treat class when I really feel like I need that particular brand of cardio catharsis.

So instead, I end up spending a LOT of time on stationary bikes and treadmills at my gym. Which is kind of the worst, to be honest. I have a very no-frills gym these days and there aren’t TVs at every machine, but I’m not really much of a TV person in the first place, so I wouldn’t use them even if they were there. I also can’t manage to flip pages on a magazine, no matter how many tempting copies of People and Us stare at me from the communal magazine rack. Instead, I’ve been trying to find some alternate ways to pass the time, and I figured I’d share the wealth with all three of you who regularly read this ole blog (thanks, guys. sorry I’m so boring.)

I wasn’t kidding about the magazine thing… flipping pages while on the treadmill inevitably ends up with me tripping over my own feet because I am just not coordinated enough to walk and move my arms at the same time. Texture solves that problem for me. This subscription service comes with a TON of magazines that you can download to your tablet to read, and flipping the page is as easy as tapping the screen (aka about all I can handle most days). The magazine selection is amazing and includes a lot of great content that I’m way too cheap to actually subscribe to (looking at you, New Yorker). I also love that it’s super easy to screen shot pages — I do this a lot when I’m reading food or cooking magazines, so that I have a quick reference to recipes for future kitchen experimentation. That link above will take you to a 14 day free trial, and from there it’s either $10 or $15 per month, depending on which level you choose (the more expensive level includes more magazine options). Honestly, this is my second most treasured monthly subscription service, after Spotify – I get a ton of use out of it and definitely feel like I’m getting a great value.

I also like to use my cardio time to indulge my love of trashy romance novels. Secret shame time – I will DEVOUR these horribly embarrassing books like it ain’t no thang. Thank you, Kindle, for making it possible to do this without any judgment from the people around me – for all they know I’m reading about Dickens instead of, well, dicks. (I’m not even sorry about that last one, I couldn’t help myself.) I never pay for these books – I rely on Bookbub to help me find free Kindle downloads so I can comfort myself in the knowledge that at least I didn’t spend any money on the trashy novels. Through Bookbub, you choose your favorite genre(s) for reading material and your preferred e-reader platform, and they send you a daily digest of free or deeply discounted books (think $3 or less). I mostly use it to stock up on free romance or detective novels, but I’ve also scored some bestsellers or less popular works by popular novelists for awesome prices.

There are definitely still days where reading on a treadmill is just more than I can handle, and on those days I turn to either audiobooks or podcasts. For Audiobooks, I use Audible; my favorites are memoirs that are read by the author, because it really just feels like they’re telling you a story. Rob Lowe’s first memoir is shockingly good, and it’s great to hear him tell stories about making The Outsiders or his time in the Brat Pack. I also downloaded Holly Madison’s autobiography and marathoned it during one recent drive to New York, though, so take my suggestions with a grain of salt – I will devour any and all pop culture.

Lately, though, I’ve been listening to podcasts nonstop, both during my cardio sessions and when I’m driving. I’m getting all of my election updates through podcasts because I can carefully filter out the crazy. Keepin’ it 1600, the political podcast produced by the Ringer network, is hosted by former Obama staffers and is my current favorite option, but I also highly recommend the FiveThirtyEight Elections Podcast for information on polling and generally intelligent, higher-level info on the current state of politics. Intelligent commentary shouldn’t be that hard to find, but, well, it’s 2016 and Donald Trump is running for president, so that’s our new reality.

My two other favorite podcasts fly directly in the face of what kicked off this post in the first place – namely, that I can’t just zone out to TV while I’m cranking out the cardio. I’m completely obsessed with The West Wing Weekly and Buffering the Vampire Slayer, two podcasts that delve deep into two of my favorite TV shows, episode by episode. I’m terrible at keeping current with what’s on TV now, but if you want to have an in depth discussion about an episode of TV that first aired in 2002 and is now on Netflix for your binging pleasure, WELL, I am your girl. I am LOVING revisiting two of my favorite shows through the podcast lens, and these totally distract me from how much the stationary bike makes me want to die.

So that’s what’s getting me through the cardio grind lately – what are your survival strategies? Any podcasts I should be listening to? Hidden gem trashy romance novels that I should add to my reading list? I love suggestions 🙂