Friday, September 5, 2014

First look at GhostTunes

Much to my mom's lament, I spent most of my babysitting money buying music albums and books. She always wished I would spend money on clothes, and looking back at my junior high and high school pictures, she totally had a point. But there was something about browsing Sam Goody and buying a brand new cassette that was more gratifying than frosted jeans. One of my first cassette's was Garth Brooks' "Ropin' the Wind." I likely listened to the album in it's entirety about a million times and had spent many a night imagining myself singing backup or screaming from the front row of a concert. I would bellow songs like "Friends in Low Places" as if I actually had ever experienced whiskey drowning anything...I hadn't. But for a girl growing up in the middle of corn fields and the excitement of the year being the Plymouth County Fair, Garth Brooks' music was the soundtrack of my youth.

But when my disposable income was sufficient enough to actually include attending a concert, Garth announced his retirement to help raise his daughters. My hopes of every seeing him live were dashed. A dream deferred. That was until he announced his return tour would begin in Chicago. As luck or fate would have it, I was able to buy a few tickets when they went on sale in July. After 90 minutes of waiting and screaming at my computer, I was finally told I had secured two tickets but had only 3 minutes to complete the transaction. Should your life ever depend on me typing codes into a computer under such duress, I apologize ahead of time. I was instantly sweaty and shaky, worse than any first date jitters. But when that magic screen popped up to tell me I had in fact purchased two tickets to the Garth Brooks World Tour I let out a WHOOP that alerted the world...I WAS GOING TO SEE GARTH BROOKS.

Sadly, I lost much of his music in my move from cassette to CD to digital.Considering it was the music that was the soundtrack of my life, I had a limited supply of nostalgia. And you could not buy his music digitally anywhere (and heaven forbid I actually try to find an actual place that sold CD's.) Yesterday, that all changed. Garth and company launched GhostTunes, your one stop shop to buy all of Garth's music digitally. For the price of $29.95 I was able to get all eight studio albums plus a live concert (which confirmed my suspicion that I will in fact both cry and scream at the concert.). You can also buy music by other artists, but because Garth's music is literally not found anywhere else in electronic form, this was a big hairy deal.

Here are my thoughts on GhostTunes:

  • You can get all of Garth's And the concert (epic 90's clothes and hair included).
  • The visual layout of the site is appealing and somewhat easy to navigate.
  •  Did I mention you can finally buy all of Garth's music digitally? For the first time ever?

  • GhostTunes itself is not a media player. You buy the music and can then listen to it via the website or download it to the music player of your choice. For Garth's music it was a bit cumbersome, somewhat like the early days of physically downloading a CD onto your computer.  To download Garth's music I first had to open the album in the zip manager, then drag and drop the files into my music folder. From there I could download them into iTunes. Once I knew what I was doing, it didn't take long. 

There had been information that you should be able to download the music right into a media player like iTunes, so I had to buy just another song to try it out. That song did give me the option of opening it in iTunes.

  • The search function seems a bit wonky. For example. I was looking for Meghan Trainor's "All About That Base." When typing in the title of the song, her song didn't come up. But by typing in the artist's name, I was able to find the song. A few other songs/artists I tried didn't pop up at the top of the search like I thought they would. So if you're looking for anything beyond Garth, the search may not be as user friendly as you're used to with other music services.
  • I could not get the music to download from the browser on my iPhone. I had to download it into iTunes then sync it with my iPhone. I'm assuming the same will be the same for trying to download the video content to our TV or other media device.
  • The site doesn't seem to store your credit card/debit card data. The downside is I had to enter my information for each purchase. The upside is that I can't go on a music buying binge without a little thought. My finances thank GhostTunes. The part of my brain that is used to click and buy is a bit miffed.
I'll still use a variety of electronic media services to access music. I would definitely consider using GhostTunes for future music purchases. Artists are going to be able to create their own bundles and have more control over how their music is delivered. For example, some artists currently only have singles on GhostTunes, while others only allow you to buy entire albums. Remember listening to an album? Getting a wide range of an artist's work? You could appreciate the thought that had went into song selection along with the flow of the album.

So in this ONE WEEK leading up to my 25 year dream-come-true concert, it will be all Garth all the time thanks to GhostTunes. I will once again have visions of having a front row spot, although my actual seat is more nosebleed than "I can see nose hair." But you can bet your belt buckle I will enjoy Every. Single. Note.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Why do I lunge? Hatred or Love?

 How would your life be different if you could double your confidence level?

Wow. What a loaded question. A friend asked me that question a week ago, and the answers have been rattling around in my brain ever since. I stick with my original answer: “I would be better in relationships because I wouldn’t be looking for someone else to validate me.” (I admit my answer probably did not come out that smoothly). Even after I gave my answer, the question got me thinking a lot about the source of my own confidence and my motivation for exercising.

My thoughts took me to the novel “Eyes Wide Open” by Ted Dekker. I won’t go too much into the story, but the struggle of one of the main characters really gave me new insight into confidence and self-perception. The female character is being told she is ugly. She is told by someone in authority (paraphrased) “you think you are average or even pretty, but I’m going to show you just how ugly you are. Then you will be able to appreciate how we recreate you into something beautiful.” She is exposed to mirrors that distort and contort her image into a hideous creature. She is exposed to the distortion long enough that it becomes her reality. And she buys into the lie that she is a hideous being that needs to undergo extreme transformation.

I had to set the book down for a moment when her struggle really hit me. Isn’t that our own struggle? If there were no outside influences we would look in the mirror or some other facet of our life and think “I’m pretty average, even above average.”  But every single day we are exposed to false mirrors that show us how we should be displeased with ourselves. We are shown the images of chiseled physiques and airbrushed beauty. We are told over and over again that we are not even close. We are not average. We are below average. Hideous. And only by buying this product and that product and doing this exercise or not eating these foods will we become beautiful. Any effort made to improve our life is born out of a place of self-hatred. We are sold on the lie that we are in need of extreme transformation to even be tolerable.

I’ve told some people that I was less confident and more critical of myself when I lost 35ish pounds. How can that be? I was getting every compliment in the world and the reflection in the mirror was definitely smaller. But that transformation came out of a place of self-loathing. Because hatred was my motivation for restricting my eating (ahem, dieting), when I arrived at a lower weight that hatred was still there. It was telling me I still wasn’t small enough. Or that maybe I was small enough by my nose was too big or my hair too flat. I hadn’t been choosing to eat a Spartan diet because I loved myself and wanted to make food choices that would add to my health. I was living on salads and eggs because I believed that what I saw in the mirror was grotesque. And that thought stayed with me as the number on the scale went down. And it’s a curious thing. Now that the scale has gone back up I actually am more accepting of this body that I have.

After a hiatus from strength training I’ve been slowly adding weights back into my weekly activity. I love strength training in a gym setting but hate doing it at home. And with a serious lack of gyms within a 40 mile driving radius, I’m pretty much stuck with my dumbbells. And it’s like pulling teeth to even start a home workout. But today I reminded myself that I want to be able to carry my own groceries and get off the toilet by myself as long as possible, so it was time to pump some iron. As I started doing lunges I caught a glimpse of my legs in the mirror. Hideous. Ugly. Grotesque. These were the words that came to mind. I chided myself for poor discipline and told myself that I needed to start doing 100’s of squats and lunges to get rid of the lumpiness. But then the other thought passed through my head. Those thoughts come from a place of hate. Even if you arrive at less lumpiness your voice of hate will always tell you you’ve never arrived. You’re a slave to that voice. So I changed my focus. I want to be strong to continue being active with my kids. I want to be able to rock a strength training workout because of the empowering feeling it gives me.

I want my confidence to come from a place of love, not a place of hate. I want to choose to exercise not because I hate my body and want to change it, but because I love my body and I want it to stay active, vibrant, and powerful.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

On mental illness and the Church (Part 1)

Can I be brutally honest for a moment? The church can be a terrifying place when you are broken by mental illness. It can be hard place if you are struggling addiction. It can be a scary place to share your struggles in loving someone with a mental illness. The place that should be a place of comfort, respite, and healing is more often a place of condemnation and gossip.

Why? Because we really don’t understand mental illness. And because we don’t fully understand the neurobiological disorders, we often are quick to pass judgment or give really poor advice.

Monday I was finishing up a meal with my husband on a rare evening with no kids. I had overindulged on chips and salsa (my own form of self-medicating), and I was ready for a leisurely walk in the beautiful evening and then on to enjoy a truly quiet evening at home. But as we were leaving the restaurant I received news that Robin Williams had committed suicide.

My reaction was I don’t want to believe this tragedy is real. I wanted to have one more beautiful evening where Robin Williams was still alive and would erupt in hilarity on some talk show or give a moving dramatic performance in an upcoming flick. For everyone who enjoyed the depth and breadth of his characters, the loss seems surreal. His close friends and family are dealing with a grief that is beyond words.

Even though Mr. Williams had been open about his struggles with alcohol and even depression, the news that he committed suicide was shocking. But it has hopefully helped open up a discussion about the pain and reality of depression, and the truth about how little we really understand mental illness. If such a beloved actor that gave his time and talents to help others that were hurting could be tormented by this often misunderstood illness, anyone could experience the pain of depression or other mental illness. If the man who brought Patch Adams and the Genie to life couldn’t just “be happy and get over it”, then we need to realize that such ill-given sentiments help no one.

His death shows that mental illness is no reflection on how many people care for you. Mr. Williams had the adoration of millions, not to mention close friends and family that cared deeply for him. Yet somewhere in the neurobiology of his brain, none of that mattered. I don’t assume to know what he was going through, but I do know it wasn’t a lack of people that loved him that caused his depression. So many times people that commit suicide are loved deeply by their friends and family, but somewhere in the chemistry of their brain the reality becomes clouded and the message they receive is “you are unlovable.” I have cried over loved ones in the depths of their illness, begging them to try to grasp that their brain was lying to them about reality, that despite the internal messages they were receiving, that they were loved deeply by their family. For the person in the middle of the illness, the feelings of despair and loneliness are real to them. That is their reality.

The most loving thing we can do, especially within the church, is to try to understand mental illness better, and realize there is probably more that is unknown than known in the realm of neurobiological disorders. We need to remove the stigma of mental illness and make the church a safe place to be broken. Church needs to be a place where we can come with all of our baggage, sadness, illness, and altered reality and receive support, not condemnation. To have people understand that there is a physical problem manifesting in emotional and relational problems. We need to be a place where people can share their struggles with mental illness and addictions, and know that their struggles will be handled with grace and love and not become gossip fodder.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Beauty from ashes

I couldn't handle watching the video on my screen. I could only handle about five seconds of one of our town's beloved play areas going up in flames. Even with the barrage of carnage we see on a regular basis, I couldn't handle seeing the playground engulfed in flames. It felt like violence against children and against my own family. That park had become part of our history.

The park where I took my 21 month old each day after we first moved to Watseka. It was within walking distance for a very pregnant mama with plenty of appropriately sized equipment.

The park where both of my kids learned to climb and hang and slide.

The park where I was dubbed the grumpy old troll and had to guard the bridge while Dora and Boots tried to cross.

The park where I first started to meet with other moms and kids for play dates.

The park that was the first place Watseka first started to feel like home.

And now it stands broken and charred.

My kids' reactions were mainly saddness. With tears in his eyes my five year old asked, "Mom, why would someone burn that park? Maybe they didn't like the yellow park...but some kids really like the yellow park." My reaction was one of anger...and saddness...and a feeling that I was ready to run away. When things get tough and my "fight or flight" mechanism kicks in, I'm a flight kind of girl. I don't like dealing with conflict and messiness. I am 100% honest when I say my gut reaction to such circumstances is to do everything I can to preserve my own comfort. Even if it means packing up the truck and moving to Beverly. (Hills that is. Hollywood. Movie stars.)

But my second reaction was much more productive. "How can we help make this park a safe place for children and families?" And popping up in conversations and facebook posts in the area was much of the same sentiment. First anger and saddness, but from it is emerging a desire to rebuild and reclaim. Not to run away to greener pastures, but to join together and restore.

Today I saw blackened play equipment not safe for use. But I can imagine a day down the road when the equipment is replaced with the help of community members coming together to say this space is important. And those feelings of despair will replaced with hope.

Beauty from ashes.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Wouldn't trade it

If we're honest, we all grew up with some strange misconceptions about what it meant to be successful. One of my biggest misconceptions: my success would be determined by the distance I was able to live and/or travel from my hometown. Meaning, if I had to fly home for a wedding, I had reached the pinnacle of greatness.

In December 2001 I had graduated college and had started my life as an adult about 600 miles away from my hometown. My sister, the one who got the good looks, was getting married in May. I had a goal. I wanted to not only fly in for the wedding, thus showing my arrival into greatness, but I also wanted to transform from the overweight sister with a personality to someone slimmer and hotter to add to my plane ride distance success.

May 2002 arrived, and I was anything but thin. And anything but hot. And for some reason I had decided to get an unfortunately short haircut that did not flatter my face at all. Sigh. I was still going to be the sister with personality that did a good job of reading scripture at the wedding and apologizing for all of my sisterly meanness at the reception, but I was not hot. And I also realized that a plane ride in no way correlated to success. Thus I was still plain old me.

But if a genie happened to appear and offer me thinness in place of that weekend, I wouldn't trade it. Not because it was one of the biggest days in my sister's life, but because the whole weekend was filled with memories that didn't depend on me looking perfect. The above picture was taken the day after the wedding, when much of the groom's family was involved in various pranks including moving the new couple's bedroom into their living room. I would not have traded the laughs and memories for a smaller dress size.

I'm not saying people that are thin or beautiful don't have any fun. But I think we often equate looking perfect with more fulfillment and fun. We think if only I was a size (or two or three) smaller, then I would have a good time in social situations. In reality, our most meaningful moments seldom have anything to do with our appearance.

This is my challenge for you. Find a photograph of a memorable time when you look less than your best. Think Walmart-on-a-Saturday-night bad. Would you trade that moment for a perfect appearance? Appreciate the significance of the experience and the insignificance of your hairstyle or waistline. Maybe even throw it out there for #tbt.

My fellow bridesmaid in the picture above? She's getting hitched this weekend. I had set a goal to lose weight and "tone up" before her big day. And once again I find myself anything but thin. In the past, I've dreaded or even skipped events because I didn't feel that I looked good enough. But this weekend I'm going with full anticipation that I wouldn't trade this weekend for the 10 pounds I wanted to lose.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I want to look like THAT

Sometimes it catches me off guard. I catch a quick glimpse from a photo of a former, slimmer self. I look longingly at that smaller person, wishing I wasn’t that person hovering between “normal” and plus sized. And it leaves me sad. Wanting. Guilty.

And I’m sure we all do it. We look at pictures of ourselves: before crows feet and wrinkles. Maybe when we had perfect complexion or a smaller waist or youth was on our side. Maybe it’s a picture in a bikini with no stretch marks (that picture of me only exists as a 5 year old). And we want that person back. And we spend money on potions and creams and diet plans to try and get that back. We make ourselves feel all kinds of guilty and worthless for not meeting our own crazy expectations.

Or worse yet, the picture we envy is not even one of our self. It is of someone from a completely different gene pool with a lifestyle that bears no semblance of our own.

Case in point: right before we got our dog we were watching Marley and Me. At one point in the movie I literally thought “I’m getting a dog, why don’t I have legs like Jennifer Aniston?” Seriously.

We say to ourselves “I want to look like THAT…”

The other day I was looking through old photos to find one of a friend who was very ill. I remembered a picture of her and I that I loved and I wanted to find it to remind me to pray for her. As I searched for the photo I came across two from a few summers ago where I was goofing around with my niece and nephew. I looked anything put together and was at a larger size, but we were having so much fun. My size and lack of any primping didn’t matter. The joy of the moment did. There was another photo of my nephew ready for the plunge on the log ride, screaming our heads off. And I smiled.

I want to look like THAT.

I want to take pictures not because I happen to look good that day, but because it is a moment that I want to remember for the rest of my life. I want to capture the smiles on our faces, the silliness of the moment. I want to stop being obsessed about my size and focus on living a full life whether the tag in my jeans says 6 or 16. Because at the end of my life, my family and friends won’t stand by my coffin and reminisce about the times I was thin or when my makeup and outfit were perfect. I want them to remember a person who was confident enough in herself to be willing to look silly, get messy, and even get dressed up and fancy when the occasion is right.

I want to look like THAT.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Take a deep breath...and write

When I started sharing my writing and thoughts through this blog, I had no desire to make it a “fitspiration” blog. I simply wanted to share my own thoughts on this journey called life. One of my first posts was on not wanting to be defined by my body size.

And then I lost weight. A good amount of it. And those changes became how I defined myself and pretty much the sole focus of this blog. It actually became the sole focus of my life. And as much as I don’t like thigh overlap (if you don’t know what this is, trust me, you don’t have it), I disliked the chains being obsessed with thinness even more. So I was hoping I could lose the obsession but also keep the weight off.

And it worked, for a bit. But slowly as I allowed myself to step out of the jail of restrictive eating, I let the pendulum swing completely the other way, embracing all the food comforts our society embraces. And even though I was no longer weighing myself I knew what was happening…I was losing the identity I had created as a “weight loss success story.” 

I began to lose confidence. I started to doubt myself in ways that were always quite familiar. I thought people wouldn’t want to talk to me because of my size. I felt like a hypocrite after writing about learning to be happy with my size only to go full speed into weight loss and then writing about that and then gaining it back. I felt like I had created an identity as being someone who had finally lost the weight after being overweight my entire life. I was going to be inspirational. Motivational. I was going to be one of the 5% that actually kept weight off. And then I too failed. And I figured no one would want to read my words anymore. That I had nothing left to share. That my words would be empty. If I was no longer that person who had won the “battle of the bulge”, who was I and why in the world would anyone want to hear what I had to say?

This blog and other parts of my life became silent. I have written, but I kept  it to myself because of the same doubt I have carried with me my ENTIRE LIFE (since about first grade)…that because of my excess weight people wouldn’t want to listen to what I had to say.

But I’m going to punch that fear in the face (thanks, Jon Acuff). I’m going to write.

I want to write. I want to explore and ponder and express ideas even if people don’t agree with them. I want to reconnect with a part of me that feels free-when time flies by. I want to write words that will never be read along with a few that will reach someone else. I want to share the stories of the hurting and broken and scarred and victorious. I want to tell of truths stranger than fiction and then add in some fiction.

I don't know how that statement will guide me. Maybe continued blogging. Maybe journaled words written only for myself. But I'm not going to let fear make that decision.