Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Peace and Sustainability

When I started training for my first half marathon last year, I expected to lose weight very quickly and easily.  What I did not anticipate was the crazy amount of food that I would be eating to keep myself from being uncomfortably hungry within an hour or two of my previous meal.  When it seems that everyone around you is on a diet while you're increasing your daily calorie in-take, it is hard not to get a bit of a complex.  I felt like everyone was judging me for how much I was eating.  I was judging me on how much I was eating.  I lost 40 pounds after graduating from college and with the exception of the 10 pounds I put on after my ACL surgery, I have maintained the same size for many years now.  I really struggled last spring because I thought I wasn't doing what I was supposed to, that I wasn't a real runner, that I was getting fat.  I started weighing myself every week just to make sure I wasn't gaining weight because of how much I was eating.   I was running three days a week, lifting at the gym once or twice a week, swimming once most weeks and going for a long walk with my mom and dog every Sunday; I was happy doing those things and I had plenty of time to do all the other things I wanted.  When I was stretching or resting in between foam-rolling sets, I was on Instagram looking at running hashtags that featured "clean" dinners, ripped abs, hours at the gym, lost pounds and "cheat" meals.  I've never lived that way and don't want to live that way, but when I compared myself to those people, I started to get really down.  I started to question the three times in the past week that I'd enjoyed some Graeter's ice cream, the 1/2 bag of Hershey kisses I'd eaten in the last three days, the gravy I gleefully drenched my dinner in, the calzone I had for lunch, the tater-tots I had for dinner, the butter I make sure melts into every nook and cranny of my English Muffins, the cheese I consume like a baby drinks milk and the fact that I was using real peanut butter instead of PB2

I once took a gym-selfie, during a break in doing planks, in an attempt to understand the appeal of them.
I still don't get it.

After breaking down about feeling "fat," which was COMPLETELY crazy, I realized I needed to step back.  I needed to come to peace with my body and figure out how I really wanted to live my life.  I stopped looking at all those running hashtags on Instagram and I kept eating how I was eating.  I stopped listening when people commented how much I was eating and relished those moments when people pointed out just how much work my body was doing and that if I was hungry it was because I really did need those calories.  I had to remind myself that I was stronger, faster, and fitter than I'd ever been.  I had to decide that I don't want to spend the rest of my life eating chicken, broccoli and brown rice for lunch and dinner and egg whites or low-fat anything for breakfast.  I had to remind myself that I am healthy and whole and happy and that making and eating the kind of food that I do is part of what makes me happy.  I had to forget all the guilt that my health-nut ex-boyfriend made me feel about eating some of my favorite things (like every white condiment) on a regular basis. 

Don't be hatin' on my buffalo-bleu cheese mac just b/c you're jealous!
I don't want to be a slave to the gym or to my diet.  Would it be cool to have a 6-pack?  Yeah, but I don't want to put that kind of pressure on myself to maintain that. Sure, I could work really hard and eat "clean"and cut a lot of fat and sugar out of my life, but I don't want to.  I completely changed the way I look at food when I lost those 40 pounds years ago so that I could figure out how to eat the things I like and be a size that I'm happy with.  I'm happy being 150.  I'm happy eating butter, cheese, ice cream, cookies and full-fat plain yogurt.  I'm happy knowing that weeks I'm busy and I only have time to squeeze in two runs and some strength training at home that my body won't explode.  I'm happy knowing that I'm fit and healthy and that I get to slather my quesadilla in sour cream.  I'm happy snacking on fruit and popcorn instead of chips.  I'm happy with my training schedule.  I'm at peace with my body because it is capable of many grand things and even though I could run faster if I lost 5 or 10 pounds, I don't think I could stay there in the long haul and I would lose the peace that I have with my body.

Donuts make people happy.  Happy people are more active. Active people are more healthy.
(kinda, if you follow my logic)

I'm trying to make habits and decisions now about food and exercise that I can carry with me through the rest of my life, including if I'm blessed with a family one day.  I know that I will have a lot less time, but a big part of that peace is that I'm mentally okay with working out less and that I don't feel bad about myself when I gain a pound one week because I ate 4 dozen cookies (it's happened) or 5 pounds when I went on vacation (it was New Orleans).  I have to be at peace with the decisions that I make and they have to be sustainable when I have a family to feed or friends to go to dinner with.  I don't really believe in "cheat" meals because I think that every meal should not just nourish your body, but your soul as well.  If you're looking to talk to me about this, you'll find posted up next to the snack table at the next party, shoving my face full of buffalo chicken dip and the Doritos my host left unattended.  

Thursday, June 4, 2015

In with the new, out with the Community

When I was a kid, my Dad always loved to drive up Elm on the cobblestones in front of Music Hall.  I always looked at the small urban park on my right and always wanted to go in there.  It always looked shady, cool, dark and delightful. Little did I know that park would become the focal point of a crisis of conscience I would suffer from for years later on in my life.

Music Hall, in all its beauty and glory!
Taken standing in Washington Park.

In both high school and college, I did a lot of volunteer work at the Drop Inn Center (a homeless shelter that takes anyone, in any state of sobriety or intoxication), located catty-corner from the Park.  We were told to walk and park on the opposite side of the street from the Park for safety. 

Then I stayed down there, for about 1.5 mos total and visited friends who lived down there, multiple times.  We were housed in OTR, facing the Park both before and after our Service Learning trip to Ghana, W. Africa.  We still followed the rules: don't walk or park next to the Park after dark.

What was wrong with this park, you ask??
Washington Park was originally a cemetery for the good people of Cincinnati until Spring Grove Cemetery was built in the mid-1800s and all the remains were moved there.  At that point, it became a park and eventually an elementary school and pool to serve the neighborhood were built.  Overtime, as the neighborhood changed and the Germans moved out to the suburbs, Washington park became home to many homeless Cincinnatians and a refuge for drug dealers and drunks.  The Park was full of grand old trees, winding walkways and a fabulous, old, grand bandstand. 

Jo-Momma and me at the Grand Opening of the "new" Washington Park.
You can see the Bandstand behind us.

While I had been away in Ghana, Hamilton County Sheriff's office had been busy kicking all the bad guys out of OTR.  Drugs were much less of a problem and that reduced the amount of shootings.  However, as 3CDC began to buy up more buildings, many families were displaced from their homes.  The children who used to play on the playground and swim in the pool and go to the school were now living in different neighborhoods.  The apartment building next to ours, that had grill outs every weekend and would offer you a hot dog as you walked by, was vacated, it's inhabitants sprawled.  Soon enough, there was no need for the Washington Park School because there weren't enough kids to go there.  The school and pool were razed, a parking garage was built underground and those huge, luscious trees, planted by the neighborhood's first inhabitants, were thinned out.  The people who called Washington Park their home were thrown out to find underpasses and bridges to live under.

Washington Park was completely redone and is a gorgeous place to be.  The war memorials and cannons are still there, as is the bandstand.  You can just sit there and soak up the beauty of Memorial Hall and the grandeur of Music Hall while you listen to kids play in the splash park where colors change in mesmerizing patterns as the fountains spray highly-chlorinated water to the delight of young and old alike.  The park hosts musical, craft, food, alcoholic, family, workout and movie events nearly every night of the week and also features a cute, but too-small dog park full of city pups.  It is truly a glorious place to be and I can't keep myself away.  Whenever I go there, I just feel the love that I've always had for my city bubbling up.  Washington Park is just as magical as I always imagined it was as a child.

Washington Park from an awesome window in Memorial Hall on Opening Day.

However, every time I'm down there, people are conspicuously absent.  There are absolutely no homeless people at all, in-part because of the armrests that are strategically placed in the middle of every park bench, white kids tend to out-number black kids playing on the playground and in the fountains, and some days it is difficult to find a StreetVibes (Cincinnati's Homeless newspaper) vendor to support.  When I walk the streets around the park, the inhabitants that I used to serve and tried so hard to understand are gone, replaced by transplants from suburbia.  Do I feel safer and more comfortable? Yes.  Does it make me sad that all of those people have been pushed out of the old OTR, the one I originally fell in love with, the one with all the stigma attached to it?  Yes.  The community that used to exist here has been slowly chiseled away, one vacant apartment building and park bench at a time.  Every time I cross the threshold into Washington Park I have to take pause and think of all those people whose lives were disrupted so I could have a fun night with my friends, drinking a few local beers and enjoying some bluegrass music.