Monday, February 28, 2011

She Did It!

I have had so much positive feedback from Amber's "Journey of a Thousand Miles" featured last week. She's so easy to love! I know she is an inspiration. Over the weekend, she and her husband, Kevin, ran their first half-marathon! I am so proud of her! To think that just two years ago she couldn't hike with her daughter's 5th grade class, and now she is running in races! It is a testament to me of the resiliency of our incredible human bodies, for one thing, the miracle that they are, but also of the power of a dedicated mind. One thing about Amber is that whenever she sets her mind to do something, there is no stopping her. She is one powerful woman!

For those of you who read the installments of Amber's story and have questions of your own, I asked Amber if she'd be willing to answer personal questions here on my blog, and she agreed happily. If there is something specific you'd like to know, or advice, or anything, you can either leave the question in a comment on the blog, or you can email it to me. If you'd prefer to remain anonymous, that would be fine too, just let me know.

The thing that I remember the most about Amber's decision to change her life was when she realized that a year was going to go by anyway. She could let the year go by and remain the same, overweight and unhappy with herself, or she could use the year to do something about it! That was the same advice someone gave to me when I considered going back to school even though I would be 40 when I finished. I was going to be 40 anyway. Might as well be 40 and a nurse! If a year is a long time to focus on, turn it to a week. A week is going to go by anyway--wanna be 1 or 2 pounds lighter and a little healthier when that happens?

Thank you, Amber and Kevin!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Guest Post: A Journey of a Thousand Miles, Part 4

Step 6 – Rewards. I love rewards. I truly believe that as we set out to accomplish something, small rewards along the way give us the stimulus to keep going, as opposed to one big reward at the end. While the end result was its own reward, losing 100 pounds, I chose to do things for myself along the way. It made the journey that much more palatable!

As I began to exercise, I found my body was sore, and the more I pushed it, the longer it took to recover. I decided after the first few months that I would treat myself to a monthly massage. I signed up for a monthly membership at Massage Envy. And, to pay for it, I traded getting my nails done each month. The massages were more important!

As I mentioned, one of the fun things I did was to buy new clothes as I lost weight. I didn’t go crazy, but it is a wonderful feeling to buy a new shirt, or a new pair of pants, and was even exciting when I went into my closet, and tried on clothes I had recently bought and were already too big!

I also rewarded myself each Friday by eating out at a restaurant with Kevin. This was our date night, and our reward for our hard work along the way. After my first 75 lbs, Kevin decided to join me in losing weight. Each Friday was our reward Рwe gave ourselves permission to eat whatever we wanted. However, we had one caveat. We split our entr̩e. If we were still hungry, we could always order more. Interestingly enough, we never have.

Finally, I have to be completely honest. After losing 100 pounds, my body was not the same. Even though I lost the weight slowly to give my body time to adjust, my skin didn’t. After four kids and 100 lbs gone, I had hanging skin. Some I could tone and tighten with working out, and some would tighten with time, but I hadn’t mentally prepared as well for this as I should have. I was glad the weight was gone, but hated the hanging skin around my stomach. Kevin and I had talked about this possibility, and he had assured me that were I to get to that point, we would take care of any residual problems. When I reached my goal weight, I scheduled a tummy tuck. I know not everyone can do this, and even if I couldn’t, I wouldn’t change anything, but I am so grateful for the transformation and self confidence that has come with being able to look at myself in the mirror and be pleased with the end results of a journey that ended up taking over one year. Some may think this is vain, or unnecessary. Each is entitled to their own opinion. For me, it has given me a boost in confidence that I lacked for many years. And let me be clear, this came AFTER the hard work, not instead of it!

Step 7 – Selfishness vs. Self Help. This really wasn’t a step, but more of an actualization after the fact. During the last two years, I have spent an awful lot of time working on myself. I decided early on that I could feel guilty about this, and use that guilt as an excuse, and stay the way I was, miserable, depressed, void of self-confidence, or I could focus some of my time and energy on me, and feel better about myself. I knew the latter would have a residual affect on my friends and more importantly my family, who have been incredibly supportive throughout this whole process. In fact, some of those life skills I have learned along the way have rubbed of on my family, including inspiring my husband to lose weight himself. As a family, we have become more health conscious, and understand the role that healthy eating and exercise play in our lives.

I spent a couple hours a day, early on, working on myself. I walked, ran, worked out, read articles on fitness, researched skin elasticity, and focused on getting me well. You may think you don’t have the time, or you may even think that spending that much time on yourself is selfish. I beg to differ. Guilt is an excuse. Ask my children if they like being around me better now or when I was heavy. There has truly been a change in my outlook and disposition that only this concentrated time spent on myself could have brought about. Doctrine according to Amber: Self improvement brings about self esteem, and when we have self-esteem and self-confidence, we tend to be happier. When we are happier, we treat those around us better. That occurred in my case, anyway.

Step 8 - Maintenance. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first lost weight a couple years ago was that when I got to my goal weight, I didn’t have a plan. What I have realized since is that there really is no finish line like there is in a race. Before I treated it more like a race, with a finish line, but now I have mentally prepared for a journey that is going to last the rest of my life. As I mentioned before, I am not on a diet. I have changed my lifestyle. Portion control and exercise are a part of my life now. I have also set goals past weight loss. My husband and I recently watched a few friends cross the finish line of the St. George Marathon. Kevin and I walked away from that event committed to running a marathon. To be honest with you, I hated running. Now I like it. Will I continue running after the marathon? I don’t know. Remember the best exercise is the one you’ll do.


Every accomplishment in life starts with a decision to try. Nearly two years ago, I made the decision to lose 100 lbs. It hasn’t been an easy journey. Thomas Carlyle wrote: “Endurance is patience concentrated.” I knew that I would need a great deal of concentrated patience to endure the path that this journey has taken me on. I am also a realist. Like Churchill uttered years ago: “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” I’ve lost the 100+ lbs and have accomplished the goal that I set out to do. I consider that a success, but not a permanent one. I failed multiple times along the way. I have also realized in writing this story that I have accomplished something else that two years ago I never thought I would have accomplished.

By my estimation, since I began this journey, I literally have walked and run over a thousand miles. Confucius was right. Two years ago I never thought I could do it – a journey of a thousand miles. But here I am. I am so grateful to my family and friends for their support, love, and encouragement along the way.

And I am grateful to Jenna for encouraging me to share this story. I hope that the thoughts that I have shared here may help or inspire someone else to begin their journey, or at least encourage you to lend support and love to someone you know is.

A Note From Kevin

I’d like to add my own perspective to Amber’s story. It truly has been a remarkable journey. I am proud to be the husband of a woman who has accomplished such an incredible feat. Amber knows that I love her and have always loved her regardless of anything. I am truly grateful for the inspiration that Amber has been to me and to countless others through her example. She has inspired me to start on my own journey, and has given support, advice, and encouragement to me along the way. She is my running partner, my inspiration, and the love of my life. We are partners in everything, and her journey has indeed been long, but I could ask for no better company.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Guest Post: A Journey of a Thousand Miles, Part 3

Step No. 4 – Physical Movement. Now, I want to be clear that what I am about to share with you is my own personal belief, and is based on my own experience. But I learned throughout the past year that exercise is not the key to losing weight, caloric consumption is. Ever see anyone who regularly exercises and doesn’t lose weight? I see people who consistently run around my neighborhood, rain or shine, and don’t look any different!

Now, I am not advocating a couch potato attitude, in fact, anyone who knows me knows that I exercise. I am currently training for my first half marathon this month! But I strongly believe that exercise is not the panacea for weight loss. It is a key component, but without watching what you put into your mouth, exercise alone will not do the trick!

I decided that I needed to do some form of exercise everyday, consistently. You know what the best exercise in the world for you is? THE ONE YOU WILL DO. For me, I decided one exercise that I could do at 250 lbs was WALK. Now, I knew I couldn’t walk very far, but I had to start somewhere. I was also realistic. I wasn’t going to walk all this weight off in one exercise session. I’ve known so many people who get an incredible resolve to exercise or work out, go give their first workout 150%, and never go back. Failure.

I started out by walking around the block. Not great, but it was a start. Each day I tried to go just a little bit further than I did before. Before long I was walking a mile. I bought some decent walking shoes (Rewards – I’ll talk about that later) and before long was walking four miles. I felt great and looked forward to my walk everyday. I dedicated myself to making this walk a priority in my routine.

One day Kevin mentioned that I should try running. I thought to myself, I can’t run! Then it dawned on me that as far as I knew, I never really saw a fat runner! And I didn’t want to be fat! So I began to run. Well, jog or trot. I can distinctly remember my first run. It was to the end of the block. Wow! Not far, but 500 yards further than I had run before. I was 500 yards further into my journey of a thousand miles.

I gradually increased my run/walk regiment. Slowly, I began running longer stretches and walking shorter ones. I kept to the four miles, because I didn’t want to be exercising all day! I occasionally got frustrated because I didn’t feel like I was progressing. I would get discouraged. But if I did, I would change my route or change my music (a must to keep motivated) or change the time I got out the door.

I can remember one discussion where Kevin mentioned that if I slowed my pace, he thought I would be able to run the full four miles. I thought that this was impossible! I had only been able to run a mile or so without walking. So I tried it. I slowed my pace way down – and voila – I did it. I ran four miles.

Right now I am currently training for my first half marathon. Two Saturdays ago, Kevin and I went out for our long run of the week. We have been intensely training for the eight weeks leading up to the event. We got up and started our training about 10am. Approximately two hours later, we wobbled up to our car where we had left it. I was deeply disappointed that the run had not gone as well as I had hoped. My knees ached, my toes had blisters, and nothing seemed to have gone as planned. I was discouraged when I realized that we had not gone as far as I had hoped or that we had planned. I was down on myself and at that point Kevin got a little pointed with me, and in a sarcastic tone, said, “Ya, I can see how you would be disappointed in running 10 ½ miles without stopping. How pitiful.” As I write this, I realize, that is a long way from that initial walk around the block.

I learned that exercising was conditioning my body, and helping my metabolism. To do this in such a way that it would have the greatest impact, I knew that I needed to push myself. I had to exert myself, but not to the point where I didn’t want to exercise the next day. When I got bored, I changed my routine.

I joined a local gym. I purchased good shoes ($100+) to work out in. Maybe you are thinking in your head that it’s easy for someone to lose weight when they have money to do all these things. I’m telling you, I didn’t always have the money to do these things. But I found it. I traded things I used to do for things that would help me in my journey. Even when I was my poorest, there always seemed to be money for fast food. Having given that up, I used some of that money to join a gym – one without more than a month-to-month commitment. Couldn’t afford it? At this point, for my own well being and the good of my family, I couldn’t afford not to!

Amber with her mom and sister, Tiffany

As I continued to lose weight, I decided that I wanted to tone along the way. As I mentioned before, I joined a local gym. But before I did that, I visited my sister Tiffany for a week.

My sister Tiffany, besides my husband Kevin, has been one of my biggest cheerleaders along this journey. She has been there every step of the way, only a phone call away, willing to listen to both elation and tribulation!

My sister is also very fit herself, and developed a workout regimen at the gym that worked for her. I spent a week with her and she taught me some techniques and exercises that would help me work on the areas that I wanted to improve on. That week I spent at her house was a turning point for me; I look back on it with fondest and the greatest appreciation for Tiffany. My cup was refilled, and I was ready to continue the journey.

When I joined the gym, I developed a regimen that combined workouts with cardio, for those days I wanted to do something different. I also hired a personal trainer for several sessions. He helped me with my technique, and taught me other things that would help me tone along the way, as I continued to lose weight.

I know this seems like a lot, and may be overwhelming, but remember, this all happened gradually over time. I didn’t start off running 10 miles and working out at the gym five days a week. I grew into it, and as I felt better about myself, I added things that would push me and get me results. These are steps along the way. And some steps are just that – steps. They are left behind. But they are steps along the way, nonetheless.

Step 5 – Recognize Accomplishments and Minimize Impact of Setbacks. I knew through this long process that the only way I was going to make it through this journey was to recognize accomplishments along the way. I knew there were going to be setbacks, and they would discourage me. So knowing that, I knew I had to celebrate the victories, no matter how small they were. I also had to get past the setbacks with minimal impact to my long-term goal. Short-term rain clouds and thunderstorms can often obscure the long term forecast. I didn’t want to lose sight of my goal.

Some of my accomplishments that marked my path along the way:

  1. Total Weight Loss to date: 122 lbs – and every pound in between
  2. Dropped 9 sizes from a size 24 to a size 6 – and every size in between
  3. Walking 4 miles – and every mile in between
  4. Running 11 miles – and every mile in between
  5. Shopping at Dillard’s and being told I was in the wrong section
  6. Shopping at Dress Barn and not having to go to the left side for the plus ladies sizes.
  7. Buying my first pair of Buckle Jeans. – and crying in the dressing room.
  8. Returning to hike Zion’s National Park with my daughter Kenedie.
  9. Hiking Shinob Kibe – a tall plateau in Washington City.
  10. Riding a bike 10 miles along the beach in Santa Monica and Venice.

These were some of the major accomplishments along the way. The little accomplishments were what kept me going, and were numerous! I know it sounds like many of my accomplishments were clothing-related, but clothes were a great indicator of my weight loss. It was visual evidence that all of the hard work I was doing was paying off. Plus, I love nice clothes!

Some of the setbacks that I had to put into perspective:

  1. Because I was big, no one really noticed even when I had lost 50 pounds!
  2. I hit a plateau more than once – almost ritualistically every three months – and one plateau lasted for three months!
  3. It seemed like I got discouraged in the moments. But I knew in the long run that, regardless of the day-to-day fluctuations, I would accomplish what I set out to do. If I stuck to what I was doing, it was physically impossible for things to remain the same.
  4. Hunger at first. I can’t lie - I was hungry at first. I had to convince myself that I was getting enough, and fill my time with other activities.
  5. I was discouraged along the way because I knew I had over 100 lbs to lose. But I had to remind myself I needed to lose it a pound at a time. If I lost two pounds a week, on average, over one year, I could lose the weight. That was a lot better to visualize than 100 pounds!
  6. Breakdowns – Yes, I had them. More than I care to mention! But I didn’t let them last. I vented, fumed, and recommitted!
  7. Lapses – Along the way I fell off the wagon. But the great thing was that I never allowed myself to fall too far. Because of the flexibility of my program, little setbacks were easily adjusted.
  8. Saboteurs – Along the way I met my share of well-intentioned saboteurs. There were those who loved to give unsolicited advice, others who lovingly told me that I didn’t need to change, and those who would what I call “Ick on my Wow” - basically rain on my parade. They honestly couldn’t be happy for me.
Amber and her daughter, Kamryn

(To be concluded tomorrow!)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Guest Post: A Journey of a Thousand Miles, Part 2

Mental Preparation

As mentioned, I had lost weight previously. I had actually lost about 60 pounds ten years ago. This time however, was different. I wanted to not only lose weight, but also get healthy and set some long-term goals. Before, when I lost weight, when I hit my goal, I didn’t have a plan. I was so focused on the weight loss that I had no plan with what I would do AFTER I lost my weight. Previously, my goal was to get skinny – now I had to mentally prepare to get healthy.

This time I knew that I had to mentally prepare for the long haul – the rest of my life. I knew the weight would come off, and since it took me a few years to put it on, I was going to give my body the time it needed to get rid of it healthily. I will tell you from personal experience, there is no quick fix in weight loss, especially when you have to lose over 100 pounds. I went to the doctor when I was at my biggest, and experiencing severe shoulder problems – and she classified me as MORBIDLY OBESE! What???? Not just obese, but morbidly obese. There is only one step above that … GROSSLY OBESE! I had to mentally prepare for and be okay with the fact that it would take time to lose weight correctly. I needed to be committed to be in it for the long haul. But I knew that I had to do it in a way that I could sustain. I knew that the time was going to pass anyway, and I could whine and complain and feel sorry for myself, and the time would pass anyway, or, I could do something about it, and be in a better place a year from then.

I also had to be brutally honest with myself. This was going to require a lifestyle change. I had to prepare myself mentally, physically, and emotionally to lose 100 pounds. This wasn’t me trying to recover from a bad meal, or a binge week – I had to recover from years of self-neglect, and there is no magic pill for that.

Its funny because people today constantly ask me what I did to lose my weight, as if it happened overnight! They are seeing the end result of a nearly two-year process! I know it frustrates them when I answer with – learn to eat right and exercise!

Part of my mental preparation was to recognize that I had to stop making excuses for the way I was. I can still to this day hear the justifications that went through my mind as my weight crept up! I had been diagnosed earlier in life with an underactive thyroid. Thank heaven this weight gain is not my fault – I have an underactive thyroid! I have a slow metabolism – another great justification for why I was gaining weight. Yah, slow because it was clogged with my bad food choices and lack of willingness to exercise! Remember, I hadn’t been heavy all my life, so it’s difficult to blame it on my genes or justify that medical ailments were causing my weight gain. I had to shift my paradigm and realize that my medical ailments were a result of my weight gain – I IDID control that!

I had to come to a realization that my relationship with food was the root of my problem! I had to have a proverbial “come to Jesus” with myself about why I eat food, and more particularly, why I ate too much and especially why I ate the wrong kinds.

Recently I was watching a TV program about people who had large amounts of weight to lose. In an interview with one of the participants, they made this observation that put my issue with food into perspective – he said that a drug addict gives up drugs completely to recover. An alcoholic gives up booze completely to recover. But when you are addicted to food, you CAN’T quit food cold turkey! When you are addicted to food, you have to re-learn how to eat, and what to eat, and most importantly, WHY eat!

My problem was food: too much of it, the wrong kinds, and eating at the wrong time. I was simply eating more calories that I was burning off. That needed to change. But I also had to be realistic. I was not going to be able to change every aspect of my relationship with food overnight! To do so would set myself up for failure, and I didn’t want to fail. You know that trite cliché – “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels?” Well I was ready for that change. For too long my mantra was “Everything tastes better than skinny feels!” I had a shift of paradigm. I knew in my heart and in my head that I didn’t like the way I looked, and would feel prettier, more confident, happier, and less depressed if I lost weight. I came to the realization that I was addicted to food, and I ate because I was depressed, bored, worried, scared, even happy – it was the remedy to every emotion that I experienced. Did you ever lose a good friend who has been there for you through thick and thin, through good times and bad times, through it all? Well, stupid as it sounds, I felt like I was letting go of a good friend.

But something that I learned as time went on was that sometimes you can have too good of a friend, a friend who is too up in all your business! I learned that food was a dysfunctional though necessary friend whose relationship I needed to redefine!

I can literally remember one of my first meals as I began this journey. It was at Subway with Kevin, my husband. I sat there and cried at the table because I missed the old way I used to eat! But I had mentally prepared myself for a yearlong journey – 100 pounds was not coming off overnight, no matter how much I wanted it too! A year was going to go by anyway, I might as well be 100 lbs lighter.

Amber, Kevin, and their girls at the beach, 2008

A Journey of A Thousand Miles…

I apologize for spending so much time getting to this point. Hopefully Jenna has edited it for me so this doesn’t read as a Joyce novel! (Jenna did not, because she loves every word from Amber!) But I can truly track my success in weight loss to my willingness to prepare mentally for the journey. It was as important to be emotionally and mentally ready, as it was to be physically ready to start.

It was said by an old wise Chinese philosopher that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This is true. But I wonder if that wise old man ever went on a journey of a thousand miles!?! My changes were going to come a step at a time.

I made one significant initial step on my road to losing weight. I recognized that I had to wean myself. I was convinced through the basic laws of nature and reason that if I consume fewer calories than I burn, I would begin to lose weight. This was going to be a heck of a journey, and I needed to set a pace early on that I could maintain. Otherwise I would set myself up for failure. My steps would require me to wean into or out of everything! Gradual, not drastic, was the key! And setting some goals and rewards along the way would

Step No. 1 – Eliminate Fast Food. Part of my addiction to food and my weight gain was based on the kinds of food I was eating. I told myself that whatever I ate, I had to buy at the store or prepare myself. You see, I realized that everything I put in my mouth had a caloric price. I had to eliminate the foods that had the highest price – calories combined with the convenience. Drive thru for a supersized value meal? It was too a high a price. This was the greatest sacrifice of my journey, to be quite honest. I loved fast food.

Step No. 2 – Healthy Breakfast and Lunch. The thought of going on a diet repulsed me! To be honest, diets set you up for failure. The moment you deviate from a diet, you fail. There is no flexibility. Diets just end up one failure after another. I refused to feel guilty about eating. I knew I was after a LIFESTYLE change. I had to eat to live. Moderation was the key. When people come up to me and ask me what diet I am on, I tell them the truth. No diet. I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I knew that my weight loss would have to do more with changing my eating habits that I could live with for a lifetime. Give up chocolate for a lifetime, I think not! I wasn’t going to give up anything permanently, but again, learn moderation.

I decided that I would begin by watching what I ate for breakfast and lunch, and would eat a normal dinner with my family and whatever I fixed for them. That way, as I began to experiment with filling, healthy foods for breakfast and lunch, I had a fall back. I knew that I allowed myself to eat what I wanted for dinner.

My breakfasts usually consisted of a protein shake, or a piece of fruit, or even a yogurt. I tried healthy alternatives, and enjoyed Kashi cereal also. You have to find multiple choices and things that work for you. When I didn’t plan, that’s when breakfast and lunch became unhealthy!

My lunches also were planned. Lean appropriate foods, again in moderation. If I had a sandwich, I eliminated the cheese and the mayo, but loaded up the veggies. My favorite fallback was Subway (I didn’t consider this fast food thanks to Jared!) I would eat there several times a week with Kevin, ordering a 6” Subway Club with no cheese and no mayo. A treat without the overindulgence.

Step No. 3 – Learn Appropriate Portion Size. Did you know that a pint of Ben and Jerry’s IS NOT a single portion? Neither is a sleeve of Oreos! I realized that I had to teach myself what an appropriate portion size was no matter what I ate.

As I began to lose weight, I began to get excited. I decided as my body got used to the changes, I pushed forward. I began to learn to eat to be satisfied, not full.

One way I did that was to start eating Lean Cuisines. There are a multitude of prepared dinners out there, and I used my previous knowledge from Weight Watchers to understand what I could eat calorie wise for a dinner type of meal. I won’t lie to you and tell you that they are the greatest tasting meals, but I learned a valuable lesson by eating them. I also waited until I had my breakfast and lunch under control, before I made the dinner change. Small steps…nothing drastic.

(continued with Step 4 tomorrow, when Amber gets moving!)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Guest Post: A Journey of a Thousand Miles, Part 1

Amber and me, Wicked (Broadway), 2004ish (maybe 2005?)

What an amazing honor it is to be able to share my story with those of you who follow Cranberry Corner! To be honest with you, this is a daunting task. Not because I wouldn’t do anything for my dear friend Jenna, but because of my personal worry that somehow I won’t be able to express myself with the insight and keen observation that Jenna so aptly gleans from her life experiences, and so succinctly and insightfully shares with her blog followers. I’ve put this off again and again, but promised Jenna that I would do this.

So, here is the story of the journey that began nearly two years ago – a journey that has brought on a both a physical and emotional transformation for me that began with a simple decision – I needed to lose weight.

Amber and me, Wicked (Los Angeles), 2007ish

Before I get into all that, let me introduce myself. My name is Amber, I am 39 years old, happily married to the love of my life, Kevin; mother of four wonderful children, Alex, Kamryn, Allie, and Kenedie; and currently enjoy the pleasure of being a full time stay at home mom. I haven’t always had that luxury; I worked for five years as a very successful Mary Kay director – yes, pink Cadillac and all. I have no regrets walking away from a $100,00+ a year job while I was on top. In fact, in hindsight I recognize it as having been one of the more critical factors in freeing me to re-take control of my life.

I also want to make it clear that I am not a doctor, nor am I certified in anyway in the field of weight loss. I am also not a professional comedian. My purpose here is only to share with you the steps of my journey - the successes, the failures, the achievements, the setbacks, the physical and emotional roller coaster I encountered on the road to losing 122 lbs, and keeping it off, with my own self-deprecating brand of humor. So I don’t mean to offend or give advice that is in anyway to be construed as a panacea for weight loss. And just so you’re aware, and to also remind myself, the journey isn’t over. Many of the things that I share with you worked for me, and may not be for everyone. Caveat lector – let the reader beware!

The Decision to Lose Weight

I hadn’t always been fat. In fact, all through high school I had a great figure, was a cheerleader, and kept in great shape. I was about 125 lbs when I got married, and like most of us, saw, what I thought, were normal weight fluctuations over the course of my married and childbearing years. It’s amazing how those pounds slowly creep on – not all of a sudden like.

After almost twenty years of marriage, raising four small children and a husband (I’m not done!), cooking, cleaning, working, running around crazy like we all do (well, maybe not RUNNING), one day I stood looking at myself in the mirror and was shocked: What in the world had happened to my body? I felt like I was living the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, and something had gone terribly awry in the switch! I got the wrong pod! That a 250+ lb body that had no semblance of the person had somehow replaced 125 lb body I had started out with!

Okay, to be honest, I wasn’t completely shocked: I had seen it coming, but like many of us, when I caught glimpses of unwanted cellulite, I resolved to shed the extra weight. I was successful, multiple times. I lost plenty of weight over the years. The problem was, it seemed to be the same 10 – 20 lbs over and over, and they always seemed to bring a few friends with them! At one point, I lost sixty pounds, and kept it off for a while, but several years later I found myself again – larger than life!

Amber and me at a Mary Kay convention, October 2003ish

The Last Straw

Being fat bothered me. I don’t say that to offend anyone, but for me, I hated being fat. I didn’t like the way I looked. I didn’t like the way clothes fit me. I hated having only a few places that I could shop – let’s be honest, True Religion jeans do not come in size 24!

I was also acutely aware that carrying that much weight was beginning to cause me serious health problems. I didn’t like the heartburn. My shoulder ached so badly I truly believed that I was going to have to have rotator cuff surgery. Diabetes runs in my family, and I suffered from thyroid problems. I began to get scared that as I grew older, the medication that I would have to take to control the health issues I was beginning to face would become overwhelming.

And to be honest, I was tired of not looking good for my husband. I think it’s important that you know that while my husband never ever made me feel bad about my weight gain, and loved me for who I was, I was not happy nor confident with my body, and hated that I had morphed into something I thought that he would not nor should be attracted to – and psychologically, that can be brutal. I felt he deserved better.

But you know, all of us can have experience after experience, advice and advice thrown in our face and still do nothing about it. There has to come a point in our lives that pushes us over the edge of inaction into action: The proverbial last straw.

As I contemplated the things that I would write here, I bounced ideas off of my husband, Kevin. He attends Weight Watchers, a program that I went through ten years ago (it taught me the secret of losing weight – portion size combined with exercise). While I no longer participate or attend, it taught me the fundamental principles behind losing weight and keeping it off. Kevin turned to me as we were mulling over ideas, and said, “What was the last straw?” When he went to his first meeting, they handed him a straw. It represented the last straw – what event or moment pushed him off the couch and out the door to his first meeting.

We all have a last straw. I don’t believe that it is only one straw that motivates us to get out and change our lives, but rather the cumulative effect of many experiences that builds until we hit that moment – that last straw.

Mine came on a hike. It was 2008 and my daughter Allie begged me to go on a 5th grade class outing to Zion’s National Park as a parental chaperone. I was hesitant, but knew several of the teachers and parents going, and several were in at least as bad a shape as I was, or so I thought, and so I agreed to go. How bad could it be? Let’s just say…BAD!

I was fatigued from the outset. The hike was several miles long, and I immediately decided that I didn’t like hiking for a reason – the walking and sweating! I quickly fell behind, and Allie, being the sweet daughter that she is, stayed with me while her classmates went on ahead. It got to a point where I couldn’t go any further, and I had to stop. I told Allie that she should go on with her friends. She refused and wanted to stay with me. We turned around, and went back down the trail to where we thought the group would meet. I thought that we could subtly rejoin the group without much fanfare, and none would be the wiser that I couldn’t finish. But NO! Apparently they became aware that we were no longer with the group, and were frantically searching for us, and it became quite a big deal – not the subtle approach that I had hoped for. Needless to say, the personal embarrassment of not being able to complete the hike and the public shame of being looked for and having to fess up that we had to turn around was…my last straw!

Just to be clear… I don’t take defeat like that well. A year later I went back on that hike with my family and completed it with no difficulty. And to turn defeat and humiliation into victory, I returned a year later with my daughter Kenedie’s 5th grade class and quietly turned that personal humiliation into a quiet personal victory and achievement.

July 2010, Amber completes the hike with her girls

(to be continued!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Amber Alert!

Hope you're ready! What a treat! Remember last month when we begged my best friend Amber to write out the story of her amazing weight loss? Well, I've got it in my hands, hot off the press! She's done a terrific job too. I will break the story up into installments over the next several days, and I hope it will be encouraging and meaningful to you.

Now, not everyone reading may have weight to lose, but each of us could probably do a better job and caring for and nurturing ourselves, and that's really what Amber's story is about. Deciding that we are valuable enough to love, and that the love should first come from within ourselves. When we care for ourselves, we have more to give when we care for others.

I'm so excited to share my Amber with you! You will love her, as I do, I'm sure. She has been such a strength to me when I've needed it, and a powerful example of belief in oneself. Because of her I had success during my Mary Kay years, which enabled me to have a career and still be available to my children when I was a single mother. She has loved me unconditionally, and always been a loyal fan, cheering me on. I owe her big time for all her cheering.

So, check back tomorrow for the first part of Amber's story!

(and thank you, my love! I can't wait for you to be famous on my blog!)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Book Review: Bumpy Landings

Bumpy Landings is Don Carey's debut novel. He started writing as a creative outlet, and soon realized how much he enjoyed it. The encouragement he met along the way, along with great writing support, helped him turn his "ramblings" into a dream accomplished. I was really excited to read this book. Don is a faithful reader here at Cranberry Corner, and I knew he'd been working on this novel. Still, it blew me away. This is a great story!

Jordan Macdonald is a young man, returned from his mission, and working through the "what next" phase of his life. Set in beautiful Hawaii, Jordan is a student at BYU--Hawaii, and works part time at a flower shop. His heart is in learning to fly, a promise he made to his father who also loved flying, and who recently passed away, but his mother has forbidden it.

I loved reading the story through a male character's point of view, a peek inside the mind of a young man. Don did a fantastic job at bringing to life each of the characters, Jordan, his circle of friends, and his romantic interests too. Oh yes, plenty of romance. And that newly budding kind, the kind that seems so far in the past, and yet, Don writes of it like he lived it yesterday. A guy trying to read a girl's mind. It's classic coming of age stuff. I just kept thinking, "Poor Jordan!" I also loved the story being set in beautiful Hawaii. Though I've never been there, I dream of going, and I have a sister who lives there. Some of the locations described were familiar from her, and in a small way I felt like I was there with her, seeing everything with my own eyes.

The plot moves, which was great fun. Carey has packed so much into this story, twists that surprised me, and added elements that kept the storyline fresh. I never felt, as I read, that the story was forced or formulaic. Up until the very last few pages I had no idea what Jordan's fate would be. I loved that.

I hated Jordan's mother. I think I was supposed to, though. Her overprotectiveness and control was out of bounds for a son who was a grown man. Jordan was fenced in, and trying to be true to himself. His goodness finds a way to temper his mother, even when he isn't completely following her orders.

There's not much of the story that I can share without giving away surprises. But there's humor, romance, suspense, tragedy, sympathy, drama, and action. It's all there! The novel was written for young adults. Once I was finished, Lyndsay grabbed it from me and has started working her way through it. She's going to love it.

So will you.

Donald J. Carey, you did a fantastic job! I am so excited for you! I don't see bumpy landings in your future, but rather, smooth sailing!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Who, Me? Seriously?

You know how people will say, "It's just an honor to be nominated?"

I know exactly what that means now.

I got the coolest email last night letting me know that I'd been nominated for Best LDS Female Blogger of 2010. Can you believe that? I know, right!

And you should see the company I'm in! My silly name is right under C. Jane Kendrick's name! And Stephanie Nielsen is further down! In fact, several of the other nominated blogs are blogs that I dutifully read and admire, and the others, well, they just got added to my bookmarks.

Now, seriously, I am not worried about winning. Some of the nominated blogs have tens of thousands (or more) of daily readers. I'm just puttering along over here with my 80---no, 81! followers, but I am really, really honored to have been nominated.

(And SM, I just read your nomination, and I have to say, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It's Always Fun When Siah Comes

This is my brother, Josiah. I'm number one and he's number three, but only by birth order, because really, he's much cooler than I am. He brought his family out to California for a Disneyland excursion, as he did last year, and luckily, he worked us into the itinerary. I was so looking forward to seeing him and his adorable wife, Sarah, and their four beautiful kids. I don't have any family around, so it's such a treat when we get to spend time together, and I love when my children get to know my side of the family. They have oodles of cousins, but we all live so far apart.

When they arrived and I welcomed them in and hugged Josiah, I almost started to cry. Teared up, choked a bit, and then thought, "You are so dumb, get it together!" But it just felt good to see my family. I am so proud of my brother and his family. We had one afternoon and evening together and I wanted to soak it all in.

This is the lovely Sarah. She is so fabulous. She offered to make her fettucini alfredo with chicken for dinner, so we went to the store together to get what we needed and then I watched while she worked her magic in my kitchen. I helped where I could (salad), and tried to stay out of her way. The girl can work some magic with a whole lot of butter and heavy cream, let me tell you. Delish. With cheesy garlic bread and steamed broccoli to boot.

After dinner, Sarah and I went with Lyndsay to the track and did our walk/run. Sarah looked much more the runner than I did, and she way out-ran me, but we walked several laps together and got to talk. I love talking with her. I don't think she ever judges me. She is a fantastic listener.

When we got home, we had brownies a la mode, with brownies I'd made earlier in the day from a recipe in the new Bon Appetite issue. (They turned out great, I thought.)

The kids had a great time together. Aiden and Dylan took the boys outside and taught them how to ripstick. In fact, all the kids ended up outside playing together, which was cool. They weren't even loud enough to upset the neighbors (which sometimes mine can be by themselves) and nobody came in crying.

Josiah was thoroughly entertained by Conor, who loves an audience, especially an adult audience.

The younger kids loved the play kitchen. What is it about play kitchens? They always draw a crowd! Love that.

Aiden played some piano for everyone, and then he and Camden tried their hands at a duet.

We forced Lyndsay and Dylan (who had either already showered or removed make up and gotten PJs on) to sit in on a Cousin Photo.

And then Conor snagged the camera and snapped a whole series of photos of his cousins. This one came out not blurry. He kept saying, "Mom, I love my cousins!"

Lyndsay and Dylan had homework obligations, but the other kids gathered around the Lego bucket and had a great time building robots and machine guns and hovercrafts and the like.

And when it got quiet, I caught them all perched on the stairs around the laptop watching an episode of Wipe Out and laughing periodically. They just enjoyed one another so much.

As always, I hated to see them leave. I could spend every day with Sarah and never tire of her, and her children are a delight. Having Josiah around is comforting to me, reminding me of our family memories and the bond that we share. I don't get much time with my family, but when I do have them around, it absolutely fills me to overflowing.

Love you guys!

Monday, February 14, 2011

In Search of True Love

These days I look at my husband a little differently.

As I've made it my goal to learn more about love, my heart has been opened to see and understand things maybe a little more clearly. I have spent a serious amount of time missing the mark, regretting the foolishness of my choice. I have cast spotlights on his faults, and pitied myself for falling victim to them. Then, I read in M. Catherine Thomas' Spiritual Lightening,

"...the hope of making a better match is an illusion because, unless the other spouse is guilty of serious sin, the real problem is in the unsatisfied partner. [Her] search for something better reveals a mistaken approach to marriage. [She] is focusing on what [she] wants out of the marriage, rather than what [she] has failed to put into it. . .True love is not governed by feeling. The person who truly loves does so because he or she chooses to love. True love is a decision."

God knows the desires of our hearts, even before we have become fully aware of them. He prepares ways to answer prayers long before they've been uttered. Because He knew that I would come to desire a loving heart, He guided me to be in the perfect relationship to teach me, and then He patiently waited while I figured out that I am the one who determines how much love I feel, by how much love I give. It's almost immaterial who's on the receiving end.

My growth comes from accepting my husband's journey, as equally as I accept my own, and holding them both as sacred and fragile. My growth comes when I trust that because I am a covenant keeping daughter of God, He would not let me make a choice that would not be a blessing for me. I can relax into the tutorial I find myself in, and rejoice in the fact that I now see, rather than begrudge all the years that I was blinded. Adam is perfectly designed to help me grow spiritually, and that is the purpose of this life.

Love is a choice, and an action at that. I realize that I am much happier when I am love-ing, than when I am being loved. The level that I feel love has to do with my connection to the Source of love, and my willingness to radiate it through me. Some people may be blessed to have easier marriages than others. Some couples may have that 'soulmate' quality of compatibility. I do not. But the purpose of marriage is to develop character, even to Godliness, and the schoolroom must be perfectly designed for each student to accomplish that goal.

Thomas also writes, "Oneness, by the way, doesn't mean thinking and feeling the same way about everything; rather, it has to do with being dedicated to encouraging one another's spiritual growth, having reverence for one another's individuality, and coming together into oneness of heart with the Lord's purposes. True marriage is spiritually based. We may have hoped by finding a "soulmate" to gain confirmation of what we already are when we marry. But what we need when we marry is to develop along lines we may not yet foresee. Thus, instead of marrying a soulmate we marry a unique person and embark on learning to become a soulmate."

I have spent too much time feeling cheated, and in the process have cheated myself.

Adam and I were led to each other. Though our relationship has been fraught with trial and adversity, hostility, loneliness, and blame, I now accept that he was not brought to me to satisfy me or my needs, but for me to love tenderly through our life experiences. We have overcome so very much, and still have miles to go. I cannot see down the road, but I am content that for however long we share it, whether that be years or eternity, I am at my best when I am loving him.

I believe that not just individuals, but that marriages, can be healed. I believe in blessings made available to those who do not quit, even when every qualified person tells them they should. I believe that one can change the past by changing the present. I believe that the love I feel is in direct proportion to the love I give, and neither one has anything to do with the person I am loving. I believe that real love isn't the stuff of romance, and that hearts have everything to do with love, but just maybe not the way that Valentine cards would have you believe.

It is my privilege to love Adam. It is part of my life's work, because the way that I love him has everything to do with how I shape my soul. He is a gift to me, and though we are a work in progress, far from perfection, I am grateful.

On Valentine's Day, and always, the journey is the blessing.