Sunday Coffee – Let the Christmas season begin!

I love Christmas. It’s probably my favorite time of year, edging out Halloween just slightly. Christmas begins for us the day after Thanksgiving, and continues full-steam through the end of the year. We have our gifts planned and mostly bought, and our Christmas decor and lights are up. (Sadly, the lights around our door got kinked on the second day and no longer work. Boo!) The boys cracked me up when we put up our tree. We have a series of nutcrackers and they put them all in one clump together at the back of the tree. And Laurence and Ambrose both decided that all the old homemade (or school-made) decorations that included their photos were going in a small section at the back so that they wouldn’t be seen. They kept trying to get us to get rid of them. Ha! As if we ever throw away any ornaments unless they break! I still have one ornament my mom made out of a raisin box and wrapping paper when I was a toddler.

We have so many Christmas traditions that will take place over the next few weeks: sugar cookie decoration, Pee-Wee’s Christmas Special and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, reading the boys’ “stories” they wrote in little books as toddlers, putting out shoes for St Nick’s day, advent calendars (already ongoing – we have eight), etc. And that’s all before our 5+ Christmas celebrations with different parts of the family.

We’ve also been working hard to keep the cats away from the tree. This is Atticus’ and Jojo’s first time with a Christmas tree, and while so far it’s not as bad as it could be, they do think the ornaments are fun things to pull down and bat around the living room. I’m sure they’ll get better with time.

How has your holiday season started?

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Wellness Wednesday – Nine Years

November 27, 2009 – Several things came together to start my original weight loss journey. I’d joined an exercise challenge in early October, but hadn’t done well because my body weight was the highest it had ever been and exercise with any impact was HARD. So on that day, I got rid of my treadmill and bought an elliptical instead. Later that day, I went out with three friends, one of whom had been learning about intuitive eating. Between the exercise challenge to push me, the elliptical to help me exercise, and the advice on eating intuitively, I began to lose weight. The first fifteen months were very slow, until I discovered new things about health and nutrition, and after that, it was all downhill (in a good way!).

In 2010, on my first weight loss anniversary, I was down 15 lbs. In 2011, I was down a total of 66 lbs. 2012: -95 lbs. 2013: -105 lbs. 2014: -99 lbs. That’s about when I started struggling with stress and binge-eating and regain. The numbers got worse. 2015: -50 lbs. 2016: -35 lbs. 2017: -29 lbs. Never fully up to that highest weight again, but far closer than I ever wanted to be! And now it’s 2018, year nine, nearly a decade after I began. I truly wanted to have some major improvement between last year and now, especially since I wouldn’t be moving across the country halfway through the year again. Alas, my 2018 total clocks in at -29 lbs, exactly the same as last year.

2009, 2014, 2018

There is no possibility that I’ll be back at goal weight by next year’s 10th anniversary, which is what I was hoping the last time I really posted about this anniversary a few years ago. It’s just not possible with my body. But once again, I’m going to try really hard to make SOME improvement. I want good news to report. I want to be closer to my eventual goals:

  • to be healthy, mentally and physically; to eat fruits and vegetables routinely, to make better food choices as a matter of habit, and to have my weight be in a healthy range
  • to be strong, both in my heart and in physical strength, to be able to do things like pull-ups and headstands and crow pose and running
  • to be athletic, whether that’s in running or dancing or yoga or a number of other possibilities, and to be seen as such when I enter gyms, sports stores, etc
  • to fit into my smaller-sized wardrobe again, including my wedding ring, favorite pair of jeans, favorite t-shirt, and Harry Potter jacket; and to be able to shop in regular stores and at thrift stores again
  • to match my outside to my inside so that I feel comfortable in my own skin again, and no longer feel the need to hide, and to no longer be self-conscious in public or around friends and family
  • to be uncomfortable going long periods of time just sitting/lying around again, because my body will be used to activity and movement even when I’m not exercising
  • to be unafraid to try new things, especially physical things or things that will put me under scrutiny
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Evil Has a Name, by Multiple Authors (audio)

Authors: Paul Holes, Jim Clemente, and Peter McDonnell
Narrators: Paul Holes, Jim Clemente, plus many others who gave interviews, statements, etc
Subtitle: The Untold Story of the Golden State Killer Investigation

TW: This book is about a serial burglar, rapist, and murderer, and therefore will include descriptions and emotional reactions to these crimes.

Evil Has a Name is an Audible original production. I’m not sure it really even counts as a book, more like an audio documentary. Before hearing about the book, I’d never actually heard of the Golden State Killer, despite his capture only being this year (several decades after his last known attacks). The book describes attacks over the years, including the escalation over time, but primarily focuses on the people who worked to solve the case and the techniques used that eventually captured the man who committed hundreds of crimes.

For the most part, the book was interesting. I learned a lot about forensic techniques and the history of how police departments worked, plus a lot about a serial killer that I’d never read about before. I didn’t find the descriptions too gruesome, and I thought it was interesting to hear from some of the people directly affected by attacks. The pacing was engaging and the order of events was well presented, flashing back and forth from recent investigatory techniques to the original series of crimes. There was information about law, profiling, genealogical research, evolution of DNA testing, and more.

On the downside, there were a few things I disliked. There were little things like sound effects and periodic difficulty understanding certain interviewees. That’s not too big a deal. The thing that most bothered me was that there was a certain amount of sensationalizing the story, both with music and with the way the production was written. It wasn’t sensationalized the way you might see on TV, but it wasn’t full-on documentary either, which I would have preferred. Given that these were horrific crimes and that some of the victims and victims’ families were interviewed, the mild sensationalism seemed inappropriate. I did appreciate that they kept it to a minimum, though.

Overall, I did like the book (production, series, documentary…whatever this is really called) and I learned a lot from it. It made me want to do my own research and reading afterwards, which for me is a mark of good nonfiction.

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Sunday Coffee – Thanksgivings

I have a very large extended family and we don’t do things by halves. Thanksgiving is one of our tamer holidays in that there’s only two to three celebrations each year. This year, it was two.

The first always takes place the Saturday before Thanksgiving. My maternal extended family gather at my mom’s cousin’s house out in the middle of nowhere. There’s about 40 of us altogether most years, and we have this big giant potluck. On cold years, we try to squish into the house, all mashed together in every room while we eat, ha! On warm years, like this one, we set up half indoors and half on the porch. The kids (all the second-cousins now) run around in the fields playing football or frisbee or tag or kick-the-can or soccer. They range in age this year from six to eighteen, and we had ten of them out there. It was a lovely afternoon for it, about 70 degrees and partly cloudy, and the only problem we had was all the wasps and bees flying around. (Sadly, a bee got the six-year-old. She screamed bloody murder, poor baby.) I didn’t get a lot of photos this time around, and what I got was mostly country scenery from around the house. That giant live oak is my favorite.

On Thanksgiving properly, we started at home with the Macy’s Day Parade of course, all the way until Henry Kissinger Santa showed up**. Then we got together with the extended family from my dad’s side. This took place at an aunt and uncle’s house in San Antonio, where we had another potluck, played lots of pool, and watched football. Sadly, I failed to get any photos from this gathering – I was having too good a time doing all the rest!

It was a good holiday, and now my family is preparing for Christmas, one of my very favorite times of year!

**Somewhere on the blog I’ve explained this, but I can’t find it. Back in the early 2000s, at a church Christmas party, someone announced that a special guest had arrived, and Jason popped out with, “Henry Kissinger?” in this faux excited voice right before Santa entered. The nickname stuck, and became even more hilarious when Morrigan was around six years old and got sobbing screaming upset at the end of the Macy’s parade because he “missed Henry Kissinger” at the end and only saw Santa.

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Sunday Coffee – Quick, Slow

This week I skim-read through a book called Girls of Paper and Fire. I’m not a speed-reader, so when I skim-read, it’s mostly skipping through bits and catching on to important stuff along the way. The book is 380 pages, and only took a couple hours with this method with lots of interruptions.

The thing is, I remember back to my early years of blogging, when I was reading about 200 books a year. I certainly didn’t have more time then than now, especially with my kids being young. And I haven’t gotten slower as a reader in general. I remember back to my first Readathon, when I read three whole books (Stardust, Peeps, and The Hunger Games) as well as one graphic novel (Fun Home) in a single 24-hour period. If I read any of those whole books today, I’d likely take a full day if not 2-3 days to read them.

Since I no longer have access to my original Zen Leaf blog, I don’t have a lot of the non-review bookish posts I created at the time. I do remember that back in the fall of 2010, I felt glutted on books. I listened to my first audiobook, which forced me to slow down, and found that 1) I remembered the books better if I slowed down, and 2) I enjoyed them more. It took some time to apply this method to visual reading, but eventually I got there. I do still read some books quickly, depending on how they’re written, but this isn’t my favorite method of taking in books. This probably explains why so much of what I read these days is on audio. I like the experience of the book more than the act of reading.

I’ve never counted skim-reads as part of my list of books read in a year. If I’m going to add it to the list and review it, I feel like I should have given it full attention. Otherwise I tend to see only the surface level of a novel, and to comment on the quality based only on a partial look at a book feels untrue to The Zen Leaf. I could tell you my shallow impressions of Girls of Paper and Fire (decent writing, predictable plot, misleading synopsis) but I missed so much of the meat of the book that those impressions might be way off what they would have been had I read it fully.** And reading this way made me remember just how much I came to dislike quick reads of most books. Slow and languorous works for me, so different from those early days of blogging.

**Why didn’t I read it fully, you ask? I only meant to be previewing the book to see if I wanted to move it from my to-investigate list to my TBR. When previewing books, I tend to skim-read the first 5-20 pages until something either definitely catches my attention or shows me that this is not the book for me. Some books fall into the middle, and often if I read them fully, I either abandon them halfway through (like Markswoman by Rati Mehrotra) or they end up as “just-okay” books that I wish I hadn’t continued (like Reign the Earth, which I read this spring). So I ended up skimming this one to the end, because something kept my attention, though not enough to fully read.

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Financial Nightmare

I don’t talk about finances and such too often here because I don’t really like airing all that online. But MAN this year has been rough on us, and I’m afraid that things are just going to keep getting worse. It’s unbelievable things have gotten this bad – the worst it has EVER been, even when we were forced to support two mortgage payments for six months last year! And to think – back in January, we were able to get free from credit card debt completely. We had a budget with some wiggle room in it, to give us a little freedom. Continue reading

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Wellness Wednesday – When Food Turns Against You

Back in early January, I got a bad cold and lost my sense of smell, as you tend to do when you get all stuffed up. The cold lingered and kept recurring for months, until it turned into full-blown bronchitis in April. I finally got a doctor at Urgent Care to give me antibiotics, and got healthy again. But my sense of smell didn’t return. The day I went to visit my uncle in the hospital in Houston, my mom handed me an essential oil diffuser she kept in her car and asked if it was too strong. I couldn’t smell even a hint of anything.

That changed on June 1st, when suddenly my sense of smell was back, but everything smelled like plaster dust. At first, I thought this was due to the construction in my house, but it persisted long past when there was plaster dust in the house. I didn’t realize immediately that my sense of taste would be changed as well. I threw out a jar of peanut butter because it was near the bottom and I thought it had gone rancid. That was the first thing I noticed. Normally, my sense of taste doesn’t change even when I’m sick and stuffed up. It doesn’t even get muted like for many people. But suddenly high-fat content foods like peanut butter tasted rancid, and milk products ranged from mildly fermented to extremely metallic. Everything else had a small, identical change in flavor that coated every food no matter what I ate.

Things didn’t get better. In July, the plaster smell very suddenly changed to a yeasty undercooked bread smell (which is nauseating to me). Then after my cruise, everything smelled of sewage. Then I got a cold in October that stuffed me up for awhile – couldn’t smell anything – and since my sense of smell returned, everything smells like rotten onions. Throughout all these changes, food has stayed exactly the same awful twisted tastes – except that one glorious stuffed up week in October, when suddenly I could eat peanut butter and cheese again because they tasted normal!

The trouble is that there are so few foods I can eat right now. Anything with a strong scent (like brussels sprouts, which I usually love) turns my stomach because it smells like rotten onions. Anything with a high fat content tastes rancid, making it practically inedible. This goes for anything cooked in olive oil, anything fried or sautéed, any food with higher fat like nuts. And now, meat protein sources are starting to turn my stomach as well, regardless of fat content. This leaves me with mostly high carb low fat/protein choices, which make me sick due to insulin-resistance. And that leaves me in a place where I have to either make my body sick or eat food that makes me gag. Or eat with my nose plugged so I can’t smell anything and my sense of taste returns to normal.

I don’t know what to do about any of this. My doctor’s office was supposed to put in a preauth request for a brain MRI about a month ago, but I’ve heard absolutely nothing. Since I had a substitute doctor that day, I’m starting to wonder if any request was put through at all. I’m making a follow up appointment with my actual doctor to check in and get things taken care of if possible. This whole thing has gotten way out of hand and I’d like to know if I have a brain tumor or a severe sinus infection or something else. I’d like to know what the hell is causing these bizarre, so-far-inexplicable symptoms. And I’d like to be able to eat again without feeling sick!!

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