Hiking Mt. Pilchuck

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost halfway through August! Summer is winding down, although it’s been so warm out lately that it’s hard to believe that fall will be here soon.

Although I absolutely love the city of Seattle and all it has to offer, sometimes I crave fresh air and mountains and wilderness. Luckily for me, one of the best things about living in the Pacific Northwest is that both the city and the mountains are an easy drive from my home in Edmonds.

Last weekend, Bill and I got our mountain fix by hiking up Mt. Pilchuck. The trail up to the summit is fairly short, 2.7 miles, but it is STEEP. I admit that I found it extremely challenging, although well worth it – the views are breathtaking!

I thought that we were incredibly prepared for the hike. We brought along our day packs, filled with bottles of ice cold water and Cliff bars to snack on along the way. I remembered the sunscreen, but quickly wished I had brought bug spray – the bugs ate me alive along the way!

We had a blast and are already scouting out locations for our next hike!

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Bill and I at the summit

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Fire lookout at the summit

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Life with My Terminally Ill Cat

When I was 19, I went to the local animal shelter “just to look” (any other pet owners out there know how that goes?). I played with the cats that were up for adoption. They were cute but I was able to resist. But as I was leaving, the volunteer who had showed me the cats told me that she had one more, in the back. The cat had been there too long and was scheduled for euthanasia, but was healthy. The volunteer asked if I’d like to see her, and of course I said yes. She brought out a beautiful Siamese, who proceeded to meow at me and perch on my shoulder like a parrot.

I was in love.

I adopted that Siamese that day, without hesitation, without even checking with my then-husband about whether he was agreeable to my bringing home a pet. Two days later, after she had been spayed, I brought her home. I loved her instantly. My ex named her Angel. When he and I divorced, Angel and I stuck together and she made me smile in spite of my sadness, patting my face and meowing at me if I cried, snuggling up with me at night. She was always one of the bests parts of my life. I got older, added additional cats to our little family, and moved to Washington with those cats in tow.

 

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Angel in 2004

Three years ago, Angel in for a routine vet checkup and found that she would need to have her teeth cleaned. There is nothing abnormal about this, but because of her age (11 at the time), the vet asked if I would like to do pre-op labs just to make sure there was no reason that Angel couldn’t handle the anesthetic for her cleaning. I readily agreed, knowing myself well enough to know that if I declined the blood test and something went wrong, I’d never forgive myself.

I really thought it was just a silly precaution. I really thought I was being a paranoid cat owner and that I was wasting my sixty dollars to satisfy some kind of irrational fear. I never dreamed that the blood test would show anything wrong with my sweet girl.

But it did.

Angel’s kidney levels were elevated, and she was diagnosed as being in early stages of chronic renal failure, or kidney disease. I changed her diet, switching her to a senior diet with kidney support. I took her back monthly for blood tests to make sure she was stable. After several months of this, her kidney levels remained the same, and ultimately I decided that as long as she was doing well, we could resume normal semi-annual checkups.

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In 2013, after her surgery

Angel is now 14 years old. Her kidney function remained stable until her most recent blood test, which revealed that her kidney disease had worsened greatly since her last checkup the previous fall. The news was rather grim: she would need to be given IV fluids under the skin every other day (eventually, it will be every day), and be given potassium supplements twice a day.

When the vet’s office called and told me, I tried to pay close attention to what they were telling me and to stay calm and objective about the whole thing. But as soon as I hung up the phone, I started crying. Even though I had known for three years that this would eventually happen, it always seemed like something far down the road, something I didn’t need to worry about.

When we first started her treatments, Angel perked up considerably and was more like her old self again. Three months later, we are again noticing that she is having some quiet days, where she prefers to curl up in a patch of sun on the special blanket I put by the back door for her. Her next blood test is tomorrow and I honestly don’t know what to expect. On the one hand, I feel like I should stay positive, but on the other, I know that the news will not ultimately be good, and I’m trying to be realistic and prepare myself.

Over the last three months, I have learned to accept the fact that my beloved girl, the sweet kitty that came into my life when I was only 19 and has been my best little friend ever since, is not going to get better. I am focusing on giving her the happiest life possible in the last months of her life. I pay attention to her good days and her bad days, because I know I have to be careful not to let her get to a point where she is in pain and suffering.

Having a terminally ill pet in the house is an adjustment. Twice a day, I administer medication that Angel does not like, all while telling her that it will make her feel stronger. Every other night, Bill and I sit on the bathroom floor, and he holds Angel in his arms while I start her IV and give her fluids under her skin. I do my best to comfort her, and he does his best to comfort both her and me, for the few minutes it takes for her to receive the required amount. There are frequent vet visits that must be scheduled. I dread those seemingly endless minutes, the time dragging on and on, while I sit first with her in the exam room and then by myself when a vet tech takes her back to have her blood drawn. In the days after her appointments, I anxiously await the test results, both wanting the vet’s office to call right away and wanting them not to, because they call me back faster when the results are bad.

Bill and I recently took a much-needed vacation, which I was only comfortable with because my amazing friend takes care of my cats for me and was unfazed by Angel’s newfound treatment routine. She texted me and let me know when Angel was having bad days, but knows my girl well enough to be there for her and to take care of her when she’s not at her best. If I didn’t have someone who could do all of it, Angel would have had to be boarded at the vet’s office in order for me to go anywhere.

We’re doing the best we can. For now, Angel is happy and that’s all that really matters. Now more than ever, she brings a smile to my face when she shouts at Bill to let her go outside, or sits with him in his armchair and kneads his stomach with her front paws (he says she likes to squish him). I watch her as she chases bugs on our back patio, and I laugh when she sits on the back of the couch and licks at my hair the way she always did when she was younger.

There is no real timeline, the vet cannot tell us how much longer she will be with us. Every cat is different, and there’s just no way to know. And so we keep her happy, and spoil her, and if nothing else I know that her life with me is good.

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Summer Blackberries

It is now officially summer, my very favorite season (although fall is a close second). Summers in the Northwest are SO very different from summers in the California desert that I grew up in. Whereas in sunny SoCal, the temperatures rise into the hundreds, here in Washington the climate stays mild and I feel that the state is truly at its best on warm sunny summer afternoons.

Something I was not used to at all when I moved to the Seattle area is that things grow wild and free here, delicious things you can eat, like berries. This was quite unheard of to me, that one could simply step off the road and into a blackberry bramble, and have a snack of freshly picked berries.

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All along the North Creek Trail near my office, blackberries grow wild and are ready for picking unseasonably early this year. After weeks of watching them slowly ripen, I could tell that the blackberries were ready to be eaten. A few of my work buddies and I have taken great pleasure in gathering them up on our walking breaks. Today we filled two big bowls with the delicious blackberries, with plans to turn them into blackberry crisp, or slump, or jam, or all of the above.

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Tomorrow’s forecast predicts rain, but Wednesday is supposed to be sunny, which means we’ll have more blackberries to pick!

Bike Love

After deciding that I wanted to be healthier, I treated myself to a bike. I had been mulling over the idea of buying one for quite awhile, but I’ve never been an avid cyclist. I didn’t own my first bike until well into my childhood, because the neighborhood I grew up in was not bike-friendly. We didn’t have sidewalks and there was no good place for kids to safely ride. Even after I did get a bike, I couldn’t really venture off and have adventures riding it. After I learned to drive, that was really it for bike riding.

Here in Washington, there are a lot of different bike-friendly trails and places to ride, and I grew more intrigued. I have several friends that really enjoy a good long bike ride, and I finally couldn’t stop myself. I took the plunge and bought my very own bike. I chose a Trek 7.3 fx, and I absolutely love it.

Once I had purchased the bike, it was time to get out on a trail and ride the thing. To say I was nervous was an understatement. I had no idea how I’d feel after a ride, how far I could go, or what kind of rider I would be. Bill also bought himself a bike, so we took them out to the Burke-Gilman Trail and rode a few miles just to get comfortable and see what adjustments we needed to make. While I was reassured that I could still ride a bike, I was definitely nervous to take it out for “real” rides.

Last Saturday, we met up with friends and rode a total of 23 miles on the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River Trails. About halfway through the ride, it started raining, so we were pretty soaked by the time we got back to our car. But it was FUN!

I didn’t die.

I didn’t pass out.

I didn’t even get cranky.

And I LOVED riding my bike.

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Being on a bike makes me happy. I may not be the most skilled or fastest cyclist on the planet (far from it, actually), but I felt really great by the time we finished that 23 miles. I am so proud of what we accomplished. I’m looking forward to spending my summer outside, enjoying my new bike and exploring trails.

A Heavy Sort of Blog

Weight and weight loss and healthy living and diets have been on my mind lately. This is probably largely (heh) because I stepped on the scale this week and I had to really face the fact that I have gained just about twenty pounds in the last three years.

It’s not that I simply was blissfully unaware that the number on the scale was climbing. I’ve noticed the evidence, when workouts are harder than they used to be, when I’m saying yes to foods I used to easily say no to, when a once-cute outfit now won’t zip in the back. I’ve previously acknowledged that I was struggling with re-gaining the weight I had previously lost. I tried diets like Medifast and Dukan to get myself back on track, had mixed results, and ultimately ended up weighing more than I did before I started the diets.

What I learned years ago, what I know even though my actions say otherwise, is that diets don’t work. There is no shortcut, there is no quick fix, not when it comes to weight loss or really to anything else in life. Yesterday I read this article about the contestants from Season 8 of the Biggest Loser, which talks about how the majority of them have gained back some or all of the weight they lost on the show six years ago. What’s worse, their metabolisms are now burning far fewer calories than the average adult their age.

While this information could be defeating (if my body is going to actively work to gain my weight back, why bother trying to lose it in the first place?), it’s also a very extreme example. These were very overweight people, who took extreme measures to lose drastic amounts of weight in a very short time. The study’s results would have been more well-rounded if it had also followed other groups, like a control group of overweight people who didn’t diet and a group of people who incorporated exercise and changed their eating habits very gradually.

I look at the BL contestants and I see this six-year study as more proof that diets do not work. They couldn’t maintain their eating or exercise rituals long-term, so slowly old habits crept back in. That is normal, but also devastating because their metabolisms were now even less effective. This is also seen in eating disorder patients: when someone eats so few calories and exercises so much that they push their body into starvation mode, their metabolism slows to a crawl to preserve every ounce of fat available so that the person doesn’t die. This renders their bodies less efficient at burning fat and calories when they do begin to eat more, making fat storage unavoidable.

There are still a lot of gaps in the science. I know that in order to lose weight, I have to run a calorie deficit (burn more calories than I consume). But where’s the sweet spot where I’m not harming my metabolism by doing so? Does that sweet spot even exist? Was my weight three years ago just not sustainable, no matter what choices I made?

All is not lost, though: there are also several BL contestants from various seasons who HAVE maintained healthy weights. Maybe they aren’t as thin as they were at their season finales, but they are active and they have a healthy relationship with food. To me, that is the goal to strive for. And while it may be completely possible that I couldn’t have kept myself at 125lbs over the last three years, it’s also possible that the majority of my weight gain is attributed to poor diet and not being active enough. Those are conditions I have control over and can change.

To get back on track, I reached out to a close friend of mine who is a personal trainer and something of a health and fitness guru. Awesome chick that she is, she jumped at the chance to help me out, and constructed a four-week meal plan for me. Because she knows me so well, she was able to include a lot of the foods she knows I enjoy, since I’m a lot more likely to stick with a new plan if I like what I’m eating. What she set me up with is NOT a diet. She didn’t cut out fat or carbs, I get to eat balanced healthy meals that will fill me up and give me energy. Realistically, what she designed for me is a way of eating that I should be following the majority of the time anyways, and is remarkably similar to the way I ate before I gained weight.

I know it won’t be easy, but I have a lot of support and am determined to be healthier.

 

April Birchbox Review

This month’s Birchbox theme is Spring Awakening, and the box was filled with samples that were definitely refreshing after the cold of wintertime!

My box came in the mail the day before I left for Hawaii, which worked out perfectly because I got to take all my little samples with me and enjoy them during my vacation.

Vasanti Brighten Up! Enzymatic Face Rejuvenator
This exfoliating face wash was perfect after a day of enjoying sun and sand on the beach! It kept my skin looking clean and refreshed, even after being exposed to sun, salt water, and sand all day. Plus, it smells light and clean, perfect for freshening up for a casual outdoor dinner or luau.

Supergoop! Daily Correct CC Cream SPF
This was another product that I was so happy to have for the beach. It’s lightweight, unscented, and works as a primer with a built-in SPF 35 sunscreen (regular sunscreen makes my skin break out!). I was able to put this on before heading to the beach, or wear it in lieu of my primer when I wore makeup around town. My only wish was that the sample had been bigger!

Davines OI/All in One Milk
Of all my April samples, I think this one is probably my favorite. I am incredibly fussy about my hair right now because I’m trying to grow it out. Having this leave-in cream to spray into my hair after I showered was a lifesaver after a day at the beach! It supports hair growth (which I desperately need right now), protects from the UV rays I was getting an abundance of in Hawaii, and leaves my hair soft and smooth.

Davines OI/Shampoo and Conditioner
For as in love as I am with the All in One Milk, I wasn’t as in love with the brand’s shampoo and conditioner. They smell really nice, which I do like, but the sample was a one-use portion (even on my short hair), so I couldn’t really tell much of a difference between these products and my regular shampoo and conditioner. I did like them, but I probably wouldn’t seek them out to buy them just based on these little samples.

Acure Organics Lip Lush in Birthday Suit
I’m something of a lip gloss/chapstick addict, and have been since I discovered my beloved Lipsmackers back in the ’90s. I was happily hooked on the Pina Colada Liplicious from Bath & Body Works until those jerks discontinued it. This Acure Organics Lip Lush was a nice new gloss and I did like it a lot. It isn’t sticky and doesn’t make my lips overly oily-looking (as Jen Lancaster points out in her book Bitter is the new Black, no one wants to look like they’ve just licked an oily dinner plate. Since the gloss was nude-colored, it went on over my lipstick without distorting the color, which I also liked.

Juliette Has a Gun Anyway Perfume
I am extremely picky about perfumes and fragrances, and this little sample made me very happy. It’s a light, citrusy scent that I felt was perfect for a night out in Maui. The scent lingers without being overwhelming. At $100 a bottle, it’s a little pricey, but I would definitely consider splurging on it for summer!

Life’s Better at the Beach

I haven’t had much time for writing my blog lately – I’ve been too busy traveling!

April has been a fun month for me. My fiancee spent three weeks in California for work, which definitely bummed me out, but I spent my evenings hanging out with friends and with my brother, which made me very happy. And the nice thing about Bill’s employer (my former one) is that they let him fly a visitor down to LA to see him for one of the weekends he was gone!

I admit, in the past I’ve kinda turned up my nose at the LA area. I never cared much for the city, finding it overwhelming and crowded. I got to see another side of the area when I went to visit Bill, though. He was staying in Redondo Beach, and we spent quite a bit of time by the pier in Hermosa Beach. It was a very low-key, down to earth beach town, and to me it felt quite similar to Edmonds. We really enjoyed people-watching and checking out some of the local restaurants. My parents even drove down while I was there to have lunch with us!

Bill and I like being able to get out and take a drive, and the Southern California coastline is perfect for that. We explored Palos Verdes and stumbled upon the house where Victor Strand lives in Fear the Walking Dead, and drove up the coast past Malibu and into Oxnard.

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Me on the beach in Malibu

I really enjoyed my LA weekend, and flew home just in time to get ready to leave a few days later with Bill for the trip I’d planned to Maui for his birthday. It was an absolutely perfect vacation. We had a ton of adventures – we attended a luau, hiked to Nakalele Blowhole, enjoyed a couple’s massage at our hotel – and still had plenty of time for relaxing on the beach.

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Enjoying a sunset walk on the beach in Maui

We returned home refreshed and ready to get back to a normal routine. Seattle was kind to us, and for our first few days back we were treated to unseasonably warm, sunny weather. Even though we’re back to rainy skies now, I’m happy that summer is just around the corner and that I’ll be able to enjoy sunshine on the beach right in my own town of Edmonds.

Mexican Couscous Salad

While I’ve always loved baking, I hadn’t really spent much time cooking. But in the last year, I have begun to really enjoy trying new healthy recipes, and have been happily surprised to discover that I do have a knack for cooking and that I am capable of putting together dishes that I absolutely love!

I am obsessed with this recipe for a Mexican Couscous Salad. I adapted it from a similar recipe that I found here, substituting couscous for the cauliflower and adding in chicken for some additional protein. I love this meal so much, last month I made it twice in one week!

Mexican Couscous Salad

For the salad:
1 package of Near East couscous
1 cup black beans
1 cup corn
1 cup pico de gallo
1 avocado
6 oz. finely chopped chicken breast

For the dressing:
1 tsp honey
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 1/2 tbsp cumin

Preparation
1. Follow instructions on package to prepare couscous (I make mine in the microwave!)
2. In a small saucepan, heat the black beans and corn
3. Place the prepared couscous in a large mixing bowl and top with the black beans, corn, tomatoes, pico de gallo, chicken, and avocado
4. In a separate bowl, prepare the dressing by whisking together the honey, olive oil, lime juice, paprika, and cumin
5. Toss the salad with the dressing and add a pinch of salt to taste

This recipe makes a rather large batch of the salad, which keeps nicely in the fridge for 2-3 days for yummy leftovers!

 

A Fabulous February

I’ve been seeing a meme on Facebook recently (that of course I can’t find when I want to share it!), that says something about how January was just practice and didn’t count, and February is the true start of the new year. And I have to say, for some reason I was in a major funk in January. Maybe it was post-holiday blahs, or fighting crowds at the gym that had been empty a week before, or just being tired of the cold, dreary weather, but I wasn’t having any of it. Then this morning I woke up, the sun was shining, and I felt completely renewed.

In the last week I’ve noticed that the days are getting a little longer, and it’s dusk when I leave the office instead of the dark I’d grown accustomed to. I am excited for spring and some slightly warmer temperatures. With the first day of February I am feeling ready to shake off the winter blues, and jump into my 2016 goals of feeling confident, strong, and present.

Last month I made some strides to overhaul my eating and to get back into a normal workout routine. In some ways I feel like a broken record here, since for the last year I’ve been trying and failing to recapture the discipline I’d found a few years ago. I started small, promising myself I’d work out at least three days a week – not a difficult goal to reach, even with a busy schedule. I was able to do it with no problem, and even woke up at 5am to work out in my living room on days when I couldn’t make it to the gym after work! As far as diet goes, I planned my meals during the week and did MUCH better, but I still need to focus on finding some balance on the weekends. I’ve been experimenting with healthy dinner recipes and have come up with some yummy ones. I also made some small changes to what I like to eat, like swapping out my breakfast of a reduced fat Eggo with Skippy peanut butter for whole grain Ezekiel bread, toasted and smeared with PB2 powdered peanut butter. Right now I’m not restricting anything and I’m not on a diet, I’m just making little tweaks to my eating habits to slowly transition to healthier choices.

Right now what I’m doing feels right. In February I am pushing myself to work out four days a week instead of three, and to pick one day out of the weekend to focus on eating healthier. I splurged on some pretty new workout clothes to inspire me to go to the gym on the days when I’m really just feeling lazy, and I’m writing this post to keep myself accountable to what I’d like to accomplish. I also signed up for a six-week online group coaching class called Change Your Habits, Change Your Life that is offered through my employer, free of charge. I’m excited to see what tips and tricks I can learn through the program and very lucky to have it available to me.

I’m excited to see what I can accomplish in February!

Meet Me at the Barre

I’ve been hearing a LOT about barre classes lately. A few friends have declared their love for this workout and I’ve been seeing studios popping up everywhere. I was definitely curious to try a barre class myself, and so I was really excited when a studio called The Dailey Method opened up in Bothell, very close to my office. Even though I was a little nervous to try out a brand new workout all by myself, I figured that since the studio was new, all the students would be too, so I went for it.

So What IS Barre?
I admit, going in I really had no idea what barre was or what to expect from the class. I took a basic barre class, which incorporates a ballet barre to perform exercises with elements of yoga, ballet, and Pilates. In my class, we did some work on the barre with a resistance band, and other times we used the resistance band looped over the barre for strength training either standing or lying on the floor. The benefit to a workout like this is getting lean, sculpted muscles like dancers have.

The program I tried didn’t involve cardio like some barre classes do, so I wouldn’t say that it was really a dance class. The classes are for people of all fitness levels, so you don’t have to have any ballet or other experience to enjoy the class and get a lot out of it. I admit, I was SORE the day after my barre class!

Want more information? This article is a great way to read up on barre before you try it!

What Should I Wear?
I wore my usual workout outfit of yoga pants, a sports bra, and a racerback tank top. There are no shoes allowed in the barre studio, so students should either go barefoot or wear socks. I recommend buying grip socks so your feet don’t slip while you’re holding different poses.

How Much Does it Cost?
Costs per class will vary from studio to studio. At the Dailey Method, a single barre class is $20, or you can buy a ten-class package for $180 or a 30-class package for $480. Right now, because the location is new you can buy a package of unlimited classes for six weeks for $125 (it doesn’t say online how long this special pricing will last, so if you’re interested, grab it now!).