In Pursuit of Happiness, #6: Appointment Television, Healthy Living, and Writing Letters

Appointment Television: At a certain point in my early adolescence, my parents cut the cable to our family room TV. Given that the overall cable viewing schedule of the household was limited to news, educational programs, and family-friendly TV shows, I didn’t really miss it. My classmates would fill me in on what was currently happening on TV anyway when we should have been conjugating irregular French verbs or solving for X, so I never really felt like I was missing out to the point of being culturally irrelevant.

I really got into British programming during university thanks to my parents finally re-entering the current century by installing a dish as well as online streaming services like Netflix, but as a working full-time double major undergrad I didn’t have much time to really expand my TV schedule beyond the few tried and tested classics of my youth and the new shows I really got into in between semesters.

And even now, as a two-job working stiff of a gymrat, I don’t have a whole lot more free time for TV – which is more problematic now than it used to be because missing out on all the new shows and not having a regular time slot for friends to catch me up means I actually do run the risk of being culturally irrelevant insofar as television is concerned.

Praise the Lord, then, for Appointment Television. It’s a podcast all about the TV you should be making time for, and because it’s produced by a trio of hardcore television watchers (my lovely friend Margaret H. Willison and her co-hosts, Katherine van Arendonk and Andrew Cunningham) it means that it’s a trustworthy source of a variety of recommendations, information about TV I really should know more about, and explanations as to why some shows really are as important for society as their fandoms say they are.

Take the segment “TV vs TV” for example, in which two shows of similar premise, style, and production are put head-to-head on trial to determine which is the better production. In fact, the first episode of Appointment Television included this segment and put Star Trek: The Next Generation against Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Now, I would have kept listening simply because Margaret is on this podcast but the fact that Andrew and Katherine were able to succinctly explain the differences between two separate series of a complex universe with a hot-blooded fandom in a way that I, a staunch non-Trekkie, was able to kind of get why any iteration of Star Trek has cultural relevance is what really got me hooked from the get-go.

The other segment I really love is “TV Book Club,” which has broadened my viewing scope because I just don’t want to be left out of anything these guys think is cool to watch. After experiencing Terriers and Black Mirror because of Appointment TV (in retro-listen, as I jumped on the bandwagon after the podcast was already well on its way) I’m now current with the podcast itself as well as with the current TV Book Club series, Bunheads.

Go check out Appointment Television now. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.

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Healthy Living: After the holidays it’s always tough to get back into the routines of everyday life, but I’m so glad that I’m finally resettled into my usual rhythm of working out, eating clean, and giving it all 100% to continue my transformation.

I’ve written at length about why this new lifestyle is so important to me and if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m one of “those” people who post workout selfies, food photos, and hashtag the holy crap out of words and phrases like transformation, girlsworkouttoo, legday, cardio, workout, girlswholift, gettingfit, eatclean, homemade…and so on and so forth.

After years of constantly making unhealthy choices (physically and nutritionally as well as emotionally and spiritually), I stand here in 2016 as somebody who is done with toxic living on all those levels. I’m so much happier, stronger, and wiser now than I ever have been before – and especially than I was this time last year.

My daily hour at the gym is one of the few I have on any given day that’s entirely all to myself that doesn’t involve sleeping, so I tend to try and make the most out of it.  I’m actually getting to a point in my journey where I can legitimately start pointing out all my “gains” – namely those “booty gains” (I’m telling you now, women who look good in yoga pants do more lifting than yoga) – and where people I’ve known for a while  are pointing them out to me.

2016 is already shaping up to be full of new fitness challenges and goals, and new milestones to work towards every day.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity and the means to take control of my health and wellness when I did because now I can’t imagine having ever made it through the last year with the self-empowerment I’ve gained and all the support my gym family gave me.

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Writing Letters: Those of you who drop by on a regular basis will know that another part of my 2016 Resolutions involved writing letters to anyone and everyone who would ask me for one. The first person to officially take me up on this offer was one of my friends from Job2, Frederique. She and I were hired at Job2 in the same group back in 2011, and she’s never been anything but an awesome friend. I’m so glad that the first piece of mail in my letter campaign was for her; she was my first real friend at the store when we got hired and she is such a joy to know.

I’ve got a few more letters on the way to other people who have given me their addresses and I hope each envelope contains in it as much joy for those recipients as the one I sent to Frederique. Handwritten letters are one of the greatest little pleasures of my life. Whether it’s writing them or receiving them, I love how letters are tangible evidence of the connections between two people and two places. I write these letters in the hope that something I have to say could touch a life, and therefore make two lives all the more better for the sharing of one talent.

My offers to send you handwritten letters still stands and will continue to stand into the foreseeable future, so please don’t be shy to let me know if you’d like one!

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That’s all for this week’s instalment of “In Pursuit of Happiness.”  Keep on finding the happiness in the little things around you, and I’ll be back soon with a proper post – I promise!

In Pursuit of Happiness, #1: Fitness, Aunties, and Podcasts

One of my current favourite podcasts, NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, finishes with a segment called “What’s making us happy this week.” The presenters go around the table to share the little things in today’s culture and society that, as the segment title suggests, make them happy.

Inspired yet again by NPR and in another attempt to keep my writing somewhat on track, I’m getting a bit of a jumpstart on my blog resolutions (‘tis the season!) by adding a new ongoing series: In Pursuit of Happiness. I’m aiming to have it be a Monday post, just to add a little bit of love and cheer to the day of the week that inarguably has the worst rep ever.

So, here’s what’s making me happy this week:

Early-morning workouts:  Every Monday morning since September, I’ve been getting up at 5:00AM to make it to the gym in time for a one-hour circuit training course that starts at 6:15. It’s a combination of strength and cardio training, usually done in two half-hour segments of a Tabata-style warmup followed by a CrossFit-style workout. I actually do this twice a week, the second round being on Wednesdays, but there are a few reasons why I’ve learned to love my (brutal and ridiculously) early morning workout.

Those of you who know me are well-aware that I’m so not a morning person, but my crazy work schedule means that 6:15AM at the very beginning of the work week is the only time I’m going to get in an hour of gym time on Mondays. However, nobody else seems to be driven by this particular circumstance, so I’m the only one who shows up. I essentially get an extra hour per week with my personal trainer, which means the Monday session is usually tailored to complement my regular training program (and she even works out with me sometimes to help keep my motivation up).  This blast of intense physical activity right at the beginning of my work week energizes me and gets me into the right mindset to keep up my fitness journey through the rest of the week.

And, oh my goodness, all the “body gains” that I’m starting to see from this are all so freakin’ worth it. I’ll be making a separate post about this entirely, but for now all I’ll say is that until last week I had never in my entire life experienced the utter joy of trying on a fitted dress and having it zip all the way up the back.

My “aunties” in Montreal:  It’s easier to refer to my brother-in-law’s mother, my brother-in-law’s aunt, and the neighbor lady in my mom’s building as my “aunties.” They’re all women of respectable age who have lived fascinating lives, and I’ve found that one of the simplest but most fulfilling little pleasures of my life is spending some time with them. Two Sundays ago, Auntie S (my mother’s neighbor) and I spent an afternoon looking around the arts centre where I do pottery, followed by exploring a new gourmet grocery in Griffintown called Le Richmond and then a quick coffee-and-croissant at Mamie Clafoutis on Notre-Dame. This weekend, my oldest sister and I had lunch with Auntie N and Auntie K at our family’s favourite Greek restaurant, Nostos (where they serve best fried calamari ever).

Most Millennials I know find it weird that I would willingly spend some of my few precious free hours with “old people,” but if you spent even just an hour with any one of these three women I think you’d see why I do it. Their lives are rich and full to bursting with stories – stories of another time and another world, and of women born between the World Wars who defied convention to establish successful careers, live independently, and see the world.  Having lived and grown in the midst of social upheavals and cultural revolutions, and in spite of gender-based barriers, these women are living examples of the advice found in one of my favourite TED quotes:

“Forge meaning, build identity, and then invite the world to share your joy.”
– Andrew Solomon

Welcome to Night ValeIt’s a known fact by now that I don’t listen to music at my desk job – audiobooks and podcasts are my aural entertainment of choice when I’m working for The Man. I thoroughly enjoy soaking up knowledge and culture through NPR’s many projects (TED Radio Hour, TED Talks, Pop Culture Happy Hour, Ask Me Another) and I always discover something new when I listen to any given episode of any given podcast. In fact, Ask Me Another led me to Welcome to Night Vale a couple of weeks ago, and I simply cannot get enough of it.

It’s difficult to explain Welcome to Night Vale in so many words. The premise of the show is that it’s the community news bulletin for a desert-bound town – but it’s a town where the outrageous, paranormal, and unconventional are, in fact, completely normal. When something out of Night Vale’s version of ordinary happens, however, listeners will discover that the weird, odd, and quirky people of Night Vale are strangely just like us in many ways. They live, laugh, love, and learn; they come together as a community in the face of threats and adversity; they adopt cats and go on dates and deal with family dramas and live in barely-masked fear and wariness of all levels of governmental authority.

You kind of have to experience it for yourself to understand the extent of its awesomeness.

As a plus, the “Weather” segment of each podcast episode is a song from an indie or underground musician, and I’ve discovered some pretty cool tunes as a result. And, as an even bigger plus, there’s also a Welcome to Night Vale novel out now.

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So, there you have it – the things making me happy this week! I hope you all have a lovely one ahead, and I’ll see you back here next Monday to share more small steps taken in the pursuit of happiness.

The cups runneth o’er — alas, both do!

Those of you who keep up with this blog know that I (like many other women of the current day and age) have more than one hang-up about my body – and that I recently started going to the gym at long last to try and take positive control over it.  I’m learning how to do that through a program at my gym that involves working with both a trainer and a nutritionist to learn how to combine exercise and eating to transform my lifestyle into one of healthy balance.

Having been “the fat one” for the majority of my life, I won’t deny on any terms the fact that up until now, my life has not been a healthy balance of exercise and eating.  I was never really very good at most of the team sports we were forced to play in PE class all throughout school and I also used food as an emotional crutch of sorts to make up for a lot of things that were going on in my life.

My nutritionist is big on the psychology of food – in other words, what makes us so reliant on food for more than just its nutritional value – and talking with her has illuminated a lot of interesting points in my codependent history with food.  One of the first things I realised was that my negative body image and lack of physical self-confidence is, in fact, directly related to the way I use food.

Funnily enough, it’s all down to my boobs.

Nowadays, I speak of my hefty cup size with flippant and blunt humor, but it has taken a long time for me to learn how to love my boobs.  I know it’s hard to imagine somebody not loving the fact that they have an awesome rack, but try these personal facts on for size:

  • My current cup size is not sold in regular lingerie shops
  • I didn’t reach my final cup size until a few years ago
  • I skipped the whole “training bra” stage, simply because I went from flat chest to a C-cup within a year
  • And, oh yeah, I got that first C-cup bra when I was ten

From the beginning of my school days, I was always aware that I was different.  For the first couple of years at my public elementary school, my brothers and I were among the very few dark-haired non-Caucasians in the student body.  I myself was, at the time, tall for my age (I’m five-none, which is pretty short, but when you’re that height at age nine you’re bound to stick out more than just a little), and while I wasn’t always grossly fat I was pretty sturdily-built.

When mine became literally the only pair of boobs in the third grade, the horrendous trial-by-fire known as gym class became even more of a nightmare.  From hearing the whispers from my “normal” female classmates in the girls’ changing room to the heavy dismay that settled whenever ball sports were announced (because on those days, the boys used to throw all manner of spherical athletic equipment at my chest before the teacher got mad), my boobs stuck out so much that I stuck out even more than I already did with my height and non-Caucasian face.

I had always been a big eater, but not having many friends anymore at school meant that an early childhood of energetic playing with the neighbor-kids was quickly replaced by the more solitary life brought by books, music, and art.  I was also eating more and more out of boredom and comfort than out of hunger and necessity.  Not surprisingly, it was around this time that I started gaining weight quickly.

At first, I was pretty upset about it because suddenly I was actually fat and the meaner ones in my class were pointing that out, too, in addition to everything else.  But all of a sudden I was just “the fat girl,” simply because the sudden growth underneath my C-cups had rendered my breasts entirely irrelevant.  And any woman out there with a big chest will agree with me when I say that having anything render a large cup size irrelevant has to be pretty staggeringly huge indeed.

It seemed easier to me to deal with being larger than everyone else all over than simply just in one specific area, and hiding behind food and my weight became normal for me.  It wasn’t until my long—term health became an actual issue that I actually started facing up to my responsibilities towards myself concerning food and exercise, but even with all of this new and amazing help and all of this strong motivation I have to be perfectly honest.  I have to say that those childhood experiences at school made my psychological reliance on food a lot worse than it would’ve been had I grown up with an age-appropriate body, and that it’s going to be the hardest part of this journey.

Last week, though, I think I was able to get over the first hurdle on that particular stretch.  I was attempting to use the battle ropes in the way my trainer had demonstrated to me and five other women during a group training circuit, and found doing it a hell of a lot more difficult than it looked.  Noticing my struggle, my trainer came up to me and, with a firm but gentle hand, guided my upper body into the correct position.

“Your back has to be straight,” she said.  “Straight, like the way you stand when you’re proud!  And you should be proud – proud of yourself and proud of your body.”

Later on my way out, I found that walking with anything slightly less than a ramrod-straight back made everything hurt even more than it did already, and as I stiffly walked by reception she stopped me and made me look at my faint reflection in the glass doors.

“Stay proud,” she said, “because it looks even better when you’re in normal clothes.”

The Pachyderm on my Bathroom Floor

I’ve been going to the gym for a few months, and as of now I’m one month in to an intensive training-and-nutrition program that has me there every day, Monday to Friday.  Every time I set foot inside the gym, I ask myself the same question:  When did I become a gym rat?

I have always struggled with my weight and my body image.  I’ve never been slender (just varying degrees of overweight) and I’ve never been willowy (because at five-foot-none that’s literally a tall order).  Although my university years were full of grabbing meals of convenience as I went from one class to another or between work and campus, as well as eating my feelings everywhere in between, I was surprisingly at a plateau with my weight during that time.

But when my life slowed down after I took my office job, though, the numbers on the scale began to fluctuate.  They’d go up for a couple of days, then they’d come back down.  I continued to walk everywhere, regardless of the weather, and ran whenever I could, and even though my weight didn’t fully stabilize again at least it never yo-yo’d more than a couple of pounds up and down.

In 2014 I took a two-week holiday at the tail end of an Alberta winter, during which my only walking was pretty much from the front door to my boyfriend’s Jeep.  I came back from it feeling rather proud of myself for having not fallen into bad eating habits that used to plague my holidays, but the moment I stepped on my scale I realised – pretty much for the first time – the connection between eating and exercising…because I ballooned.

I’ve ballooned before.  After my first break-up as a teenager, a few midnight snacks of Ben & Jerry’s over a couple of months very nearly ruined my prom plans.  (To this day, I refuse to have any Ben & Jerry’s anywhere in the house.)  Two years of working in a pizza shop while studying full-time had undone pretty much all of what I’d accomplished during one summer of basic training in the Canadian Forces (and that’s a story for another day).  But I hadn’t had a major ballooning for a few years, and when I saw the scale after that particular holiday I have to say that I cried.

The simple change to my routine – driving everywhere and hardly walking – had been enough to make me put on ten pounds.  Ten pounds that I’ve been struggling to shed ever since April 2014.  Ten pounds that discourage me beyond belief whenever I’ve gone clothes shopping in the last year.  Ten pounds that have made me extremely self-conscious in my best dress at more than one wedding between then and now.

I’ve always known my relationship with food resembles one of co-dependency, and my relationship with exercise has always been fair-weather.  I’ve tried a whole range of things to lose weight but nothing has ever really lasted.

Everyone who’s had a weight issue will tell you that it took a huge kick to spur them into action.  I was no different.  I was sitting in the examination room at the clinic, listening to my doctor tell me the results of the blood test she’d ordered two weeks before.  The original problem had been a long, worrying bout of amenorrhea, which had started two months after packing on those ten pounds.   Now, there were other problems – problems like the phrases “borderline pre-diabetic” and “at risk of high cholesterol.”  She wasn’t throwing these out as warnings.  She was telling me what my blood had just told her.  Then she pulled out a chart and showed me where I fell in terms of BMI.  I had never considered it before – had never classified myself as such before – but I was just over the “obesity” marker.

I’d heard those terms before, applied to various older relatives including my parents.  There were other things in the family history that she said could come about if I wasn’t careful:  hypertension, joint weakness and failure, blood clots, weak cardiovascular system.  “You’re too sedentary,” she told me as she wrote on her Rx pad.  “You have to change that right away.”

I walked out of there with two prescriptions:  one for a medication that would end the amenorrhea, and another for supervised exercise.   And that’s when I became a gym rat.

I’m not at the gym to train for mud marathons or colour runs.  I’m not at the gym to look good naked.  I’m not at the gym to fit into a single-digit size.

I’m at the gym because I have no desire to continue being a statistic for obesity and weight-related health issues.  I’m at the gym because paying for membership, a trainer, and a nutritionist is way cheaper than paying for medications and equipment for the rest of my life. I’m at the gym because I want to be healthy enough not only to have children, but to raise them and see them grow up to have families of their own.

I’m at the gym because I know the kind of life I deserve.  I owe it to myself to make sure I’m around to make it happen, and I won’t let my current weight weigh me down.