Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Here's my secret.

I think it's high time to tell you what I've been up to for the past 30 days, if the paparazzi swarming my house are any indication of the public's need to know. "Angela, your butt doesn't look as obscene in yoga pants!" they yell, and, "Your waist is 2 inches smaller! Tell us your secret!!"

You guys, they're camped out on my lawn. There are flashbulbs everywhere. I just saw a headline about my new and improved hotness on the CNN ticker!

Obviously none of that is true. But, I'm feeling pretty good about my health on this fine St. Patrick's Day, because I've lost 5 pounds and 5 total inches in 30 days.

Don't stop reading just because 5 pounds is not sensational like say, 20 lbs might be. Consider this statement by the CDC: "Evidence shows that people who lose weight gradually and steadily (about 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping weight off." Plus, it's gratifying to know I achieved this by only changing one itty bitty thing...

Booze. I've been completely booze free for 30 days. That, my friends, is how I've fairly effortlessly lost 5 pounds.

Does that mean I'd been drinking too much? You're damn right it does! Pre-Valentine's Day, I bought 3 bottles of wine which "vanished" from our house within 3 days. In general, I'd been drinking beer like a goddamn Irishman. (Which of course is a compliment to the Irish, particularly today. "Erin go bragh!" Whiskey Forever!)

I'd been sampling craft beers like I was getting paid by Beer Advocate. I'd been knocking back Dark and Stormies like I was on a perpetual Bermuda vacation.

But, I hadn't been drinking that way during the week -- I got shit to do, son! Only on weekends. Thus these tasty trips to Tipsy Town fell into that ugly collegiate category we call "Binge Drinking."

As reported in my very scholarly 2009 Examiner article entitled, "The truth about your beer belly", studies show that binge drinking is not good for you at all. More specifically, binge drinking is linked to excess abdominal fat. And that's linked to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke, according to the American Heart Association, who I happen to believe.

It's not like I was blotto every weekend -- binge drinking is a lot easier than you might think! (Or perhaps you already know that all too well.) Cue the 1980s heatwave blur and time-warp music: here's what binge drinking looks like to me...

You and your BAE walk to the neighborhood liquor store after work on Friday. It's a nice chance to stretch your legs and chat about the week. (The plot's not sinister yet.) You enter the liquor store and the clerk gives you that knowing nod that says, "Are we friends? I see you more often than I see some of my actual friends. I take all your money." (The plot becomes slightly uncomfortable, but it's still not sinister.) You and your BAE split up to maximize your perusal of the store. You have a routine. He heads for the refrigerated craft beers; you browse both the red wine and the 22oz craft beer singles. (Having a liquor store routine is kind of dark, but whatever man. Still not fully sinister.) You each pay; same knowing nod from clerk. You venture back home. You open the most tempting bottle and re-to-the-mutha-fuckin-lax! 3 beers later you are full on fun-timing! You are playing good-time jams and dancing around in your socks. One of you offers to make Dark and Stormies, not once but twice. Now you are drunk; maybe you watch a movie; blah blah blah...

(I know what you're thinking. No harm, no foul, that sounds kinda fun, right? I agree. It sure is fun.)

On Saturday, you wake up with a headache, which is easily remedied by the world's largest glass of water and 2 Advil. You are lazy this morning and you may or may not give in to your craving for diner breakfast. That night, you may meet up with friends, which if you do, certainly entails more drinks. Otherwise, you may dine at a restaurant or wear sweatpants and get takeout (drinks are on the menu either way.) Sunday is much like Saturday was, only this winter has been very hospitable to afternoon mugs of hot cocoa spiked with Baileys, because that's friggin delicious. Dave sometimes starts his Bailey's in the morning with coffee. I scold him, then I join him.

What does all of this add up to? Calories. Even after an exceptionally nutritious day of not overeating, that hypothetical 5 evening drinks could run you up to 1,000 calories!!! (I did the math figuring three Racer 5 IPAs which pack 225 calories each, and four shots of Gosling's Black Seal Rum -- two per drink with zero-cal Gosling's Diet Stormy Ginger Beer.)

1,000 extra calories. Oh My Stars! It's no wonder the button on my jeans was starting to cry out for help. Would I have randomly eaten a Double Whopper with Cheese (1,070 cals) after dinner on Friday? Oh Hell no. (Aside from the fact that fast food is evil/disgusting.) 1,000 extra calories is a staggering over-eat, especially if you're doing it multiple days each week. My realization of this meant something had to give.

30 days ago, I decided I wouldn't drink until St. Patrick's Day and I told all my friends for accountability. (I'm just a fan of exerting willpower over myself with challenges like this. I like to prove to myself that I'm capable.) That first Friday wasn't too bad: my game-plan was fresh, new, and I intended to stick with it. But I couldn't help but think, how many would I have had by now? That first weekend definitely made me much more aware of my regular habits, which I'd been indulging in somewhat unconsciously.

By the next weekend (day 10 specifically) I was fiending for all my favorite drinks, as evidenced by this poem, on Day 10 (a Facebook status):

Day 10 boozelessness.
A frosty beer sounds like bliss.
Or tequila and lime, 
Or a red red wine.
Dark and stormies on my mind.

I distinctly remember thinking that it seemed unfair to leave whiskey out, because I love whiskey. That's right, I felt bad for excluding whiskey in my poem. I started to miss the liquor store clerk. Clearly I needed to keep drying out.

Seeing progress made this progressively easier. After two weeks, I re-weighed myself with my Tanita body fat/water scale. I recorded my week two stats and took all of my physical measurements: I'd lost four pounds and two total inches. I only lost one additional pound in the two weeks that followed, yet an additional two and a half inches from the places I'd wanted to lose it, because fat is lighter and takes up more space than muscle.

Once I started to observe less overall inflammation throughout my body (face seeming less pudgy, less bloated belly) I got motivated to do more of the simplest things. When brushing my teeth each night (Sonicare has a 2 minute timer) I'd do 2 minutes of squats. I replaced my desk chair with an exercise ball. I replaced my typical Morningstar vegetarian breakfast sandwich with a smoothie just to benefit from more hydration and liquid fullness.

None of these changes present a significant increase in exercise or a major change in diet for me. All they signify is an increase in mindfulness: awareness of, and attention to, the present moment. Seeing my ass start to bounce back into shape gave me a surge of motivation to continue making healthy choices as often as possible. 

So, whether it's cutting out soda, coffee full of cream and sugar, or a regular habit of weekend booze-binging, I encourage you to make a healthy change in your life, even for a relatively short duration of time like 30 days. Doing so can tip the first domino and start that wave of healthiness. With increased awareness, you may look upon your regular habits with more clarity. 

For me, I like to drink, and I'm good at it. But I know that I can't pretend that drinks don't contain a hefty number of sugar calories. This makes me more motivated to drink in moderation. I also tested my Sober Sister skills by not drinking at a party. I thought it would be tough not to share in the wine, so I brought a six-pack of San Pellegrino sparkling water to have something to sip on. It was totally fine. 

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, we are breaking our booze fast tonight with Bailey's and Guinness, but I'm too psyched about my healthy progress to abandon my fast entirely. I will try to remain mindful of booze-calories, and see where this wave of healthy progress leads me, because life is a fun experiment. :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Do you like smoothies?

Do you love pink Starburst?

Stop everything.

Get these things:
Get those things in a blender:
  1. 1 handful strawberries (approx 4 - 5)
  2. 1 cup almondmilk
  3. 3/4 cup orange juice
  4. 1 scoop chocolate whey
OMG it tastes like Pink Starburst!!!
Tastes just like a Pink Starburst!!! You're welcome. Today's gonna be a good day. :)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Red Light Radio and the Peaceful Imperfection

Every Tuesday for 2 years, a group of guys and I got together in a practice space to play our songs at loud volumes. I sang, Brian played his keyboard, Keith played his guitar, and Kees played his drums. For a while, James played his bass, but when we parted ways with James, we struggled to replace him. We auditioned a few players, none who fit, and we ultimately decided to take a break from the bass-player search, and from practicing our songs altogether. I knew I needed to focus on my house sale, my move, my continuing education, and my career. Singing, although a compulsive habit and beloved hobby, didn't seem to fit into my larger life plan, and I knew I needed to put more energy into things that did. Nonetheless, I had wholeheartedly appreciated the creativity, and the friendly, lighthearted atmosphere of our practices. I got friends out of former strangers and complete songs out of song concepts, and that was enough for me.

Red Light Radio, left to right: James, Keith, Angela, Kees, and Brian
In the time we were together, we had four fun shows: the first at PA's Lounge in Somerville, a benefit for the One Fund to help victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, for which we were able to raise $600. Next, we played at All Asia in Cambridge for a delightful, dancing crowd who seemed to enjoy us. Our third show was a private concert at America's oldest community theater, in Elliot Hall of The Footlight Club, JP, where I had once performed a cabaret show. There we played for another crowd of enthusiastic dancers, our music echoing out of the old doors and windows into the August night. Our fourth show was in October of 2014, on an outdoor stage in Salem, MA. Red Light Radio was eight feet above the crowd of All Hallows' Day celebrators, freezing our butts off but having fun. It was the last time we played for an audience, and our final endeavor before we started the project of recording our songs.

Red Light Radio, Salem, MA, October '14
My good friend, Scott, who has recorded several of his own metal bands, agreed to record us for free as part of his learning process. The "recording studio" was just our practice space, with all of Scott's microphones around the room, and his laptop on his lap. When all of the instrument recording was complete, we changed venues to my living room, where we spent a couple Saturdays trying to get all the tracks sung and recorded with the best spatial configuration and recording effects. In the end, we have a demo that is hardly perfect, but fun anyway. I know that the imperfections that I hear will become less glaring to me over time, when my memory of the details fade, and yet I still have something to listen to and look back on, to remind me of all the cumulative energy and effort that went into creating this music together.

Imperfection and creativity is the subject of this post, because now that the songs are out there, I've had some unexpected emotions. Since the band isn't looking to make future gigs or progress from the recordings, I didn't suspect that I would care too much about what anyone else would think. Of course today, now that they're live, I do find myself wondering how they will be received by others. When you create any type of art, it captures a raw piece of you. There's something personal about these recordings of my voice, especially in places where the emotion I felt (or just plain mistakes) led to "imperfect" singing. Imperfection can be the most beautiful and authentic thing in music sometimes -- the way Ray Charles calls out for Georgia in Georgia On My Mind. But I'm not Ray Charles, and my living room was certainly not his professional studio. There are certainly also times when imperfection simply degrades what could have been.

Those are the times when it's best not to over-analyze -- instead, to put out what you have into the universe and just move forward. The alternative to accepting imperfection is refusing to be creative and take chances. Sometimes I would rather free myself from ever striving for any kind of progress or greatness, because striving for anything at all feels like having my heart in the wrong place -- focusing on the end result instead of the present experience. What matters most is the authenticity of the moment, even if a photo, or a recording, or someone else's memory of the output isn't as pure or as favorable as your own. I know I had the best possible intention when I created vocal parts for these songs; I know each of the band members brought a piece of themselves to the songs through their instruments; I know I loved the energy that we brought to our little handful of live performances; I know we attempted to capture all of that within the confines of a homemade recording -- and I know that's an impossible feat. So, I won't analyze the output and be wary of sharing, but rather, I'll fully accept all the good things that this recording represents -- accept it alongside its flaws, and smile, be content, move on.

I document these thoughts here because the same rules apply to the goals and perceptions we have for our minds, bodies, and lives. When we "begin with the end in mind" as Steven Covey famously suggests, we enable ourselves to create a path that does not deviate from our ultimate goal. But, we must be careful not to put too much of our attention into the future when doing so. We must keep our ultimate goal "in mind" rather than focus on specific expectations, which can sully our satisfaction with the present. We must be intentional when choosing the words we use when we define our ultimate goals. We can't confuse specific, particular outcomes with our overall goal to be happy. While perfection (an unattainable thing) rarely generates happiness due to it's impossible and illusive nature, acceptance of imperfection, on the other hand, can be bliss.

Where is the line between craving and complacency? Where would we end up if we resigned ourselves to being mediocre, or accepting the likelihood that we may never be exceptional by other people's standards -- or more painfully, our own? It helps me to consistently remind myself of how I feel, how I want to feel, and what my thoughts and behavior in each moment bring into my life. That is mindfulness. We create goals and expectations because we want to be happy: (n.) a sense of positivity, a peaceful energy within our being, the capacity to share that positive energy with those around us. We deserve to be our authentic selves; it is our birth right, whether or not who we are, and what we produce, is praised, accepted, or even acknowledged by others. 

Acceptance of self and attention to the present is the true spirit from which beautiful things are created. Perhaps not over-produced, over-polished things, which may seem flawless. But real things, beautiful things, things made with heart, words said with truth... these things are inevitably flawed, but we must love them anyway, because this is real life, and for all we know, you only get one. Imperfection is inherent to the spirit of creation within which our lives unfold. It creates variation and a world full of different defiant details. Daring to risk creating something imperfect is the only way to create anything at all, and creating anything at all, with love in your heart, is beautiful no matter how "flawed." You are you, and that is perfect. Comparison to perfection on the other hand... 

"Comparison is the thief of joy." -- Theodore Roosevelt.
Thank you bridgesandballoons.com for the image.
Do you believe there is beauty in imperfection? Have you ever hesitated to take a risk for fear of not being ready, or good enough? Have you ever second-guessed your own creativity or authenticity for fear of judgement? I know these things are human traits that anyone who has ever taken a chance can relate to. I'd love to hear your story; please share in a comment!

'Til next time: be you, boldly! And here's a link to Red Light Radio's demo release. <3

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

At your worst and at your best, you are light and limitless.

Happy New Year, friends! I'm feeling energized for 2015 after a nice end to last year. We finished our classes with As, enjoyed some relaxing vacation days, and hosted Christmas at our new place! Seeing old friends over the holidays provided a special reminder of the importance of nurturing the healthiest relationships in our lives -- those that bring out the best in us. I can happily say that a balance of rest and time with friends helped me to completely avoid those holiday nostalgia traps that used to greet me every year as soon as the first Christmas songs came on the radio!

I was happier in 2014 than I have been in any previous year. I credit an increased understanding that our perception equates our reality. I have chosen to be happy more often than I have demanded to be right; I have spent more time considering and pursuing my goals and much less time reflecting on my regrets. At the outset of this project, I thought the best way to achieve my goal of holistic happiness in body and mind was to attain what I now see as just another definition of perfection. I thought if I could live as well as possible in every area of my life: exercise religiously, eat only the healthiest foods, always get great sleep, and excel in my meditation practice, then I would finally find an illusive state of serenity: the center of the seesaw.

In the process, I've found that there is both truth and danger in the "optimal performance in all areas" approach. Yes, exercise greatly improves so many areas of life: energy, focus, strength, vitality, mood, and self-esteem. Yes, our bodies function much better if we feed ourselves lots of nutrients without eating to excess: high quality proteins, leafy greens, good fats, and an array of colors and flavors. True, restorative sleep is essential. True, a regular meditation practice can help us to remain centered in our selves and aware of the superficial. I still strive to find balance with all of these positive habits and behaviors.

But, I've realized that it's not perfection in each of these areas that yields my best quality of life. In fact, striving for perfection has, at various times, caused me discomfort, stress, self-loathing, neuroses, and has distanced me from others and from experiences that I would have otherwise embraced. Perfection is the opposite of the answer. Total Body Happiness is actually our ability to cope with imperfection, to live amidst this swirling, tumultuous, uncertain reality with its highs and lows and joys and sorrows.

Keep calm and listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn!
When you screw things up and you feel screwed up, honesty is the answer. When you find yourself in a sea of blame and disappointment, forgiveness is the answer. When you feel lost, ignored, forgotten, or excluded, love is the answer. When you feel so far away from where you want to be, faithful determination is the answer. Make the most of your human moments, because you won't be free of them within your lifetime. Allow yourself to feel as you feel, and just see what there is to learn from it -- don't put yourself down or write yourself off just because things aren't ideal. The present moment is always an opportunity to offer goodness to yourself and those around you. You are not your worst moments, quite the opposite: you are always alive within a brand new opportunity that is just as light and as limitless as you believe yourself to be.

What aspects of yourself do you want to nourish in 2015?