On launching...

I find myself struggling under the weight of change.  My heart is simultaneously so full and yet shattered into a thousand pieces.  I am teary all the time.  There's a heaviness on my shoulders that I'm not sure will ever go away.

My baby is about to leave the nest.

Sure, I know what they say.  I know this is an exciting time.  I know he's better off launching into the world and growing into a responsible adult.  I know I will adapt to him being gone.  I know he's not dying.  I am extremely proud of what he's become and going to be doing.  I know he's healthy, competent, and strong.  I know that I don't want him living in my basement until he's forty.  I know how lucky I am.  I know this.

But I cannot seem make my heart understand what my mind knows.

All the many sleepless nights rocking a newborn in the moonlight of a tiny apartment, I dreamed of what he'd become.  Bleary eyed and exhausted, I soaked it up as best I could.  Then later as I wiped peanut butter off sticky fingers after his lunch every day, I fervently longed for when he'd learn to do it himself.  With each tantrum and missed nap, I'd ache for just a few minutes of alone time.  When I had a baby girl in the shopping cart and felt frazzled as I struggled to herd two wandering little boys, I groaned and fantasized about doing the shopping without them.  A lot of those days, I found myself wishing for time to move faster.  Life with young children was a never-ending glance at the clock on the wall, minutes sometimes ticking by so slowly they felt like hours.  If I could just make it until nap time.  Or bedtime.  Or Friday evening at last.

The dirty trick that no one tells you is that one day, you will spend every minute watching the clock and willing it to stop.  They never tell you that your heart will hurt and swell at the thought of time moving forward.  And move forward it will, at a pace so rapid your head will spin.  You will wish and pray for just a few more months or hours or minutes with these babies.  Nobody ever warns you that you'll look back and wonder if you appreciated it enough, loved them enough, taught them enough.  

I have worked for 18 long years for these exact results, and yet I feel unrealistically angry at my own success. I have achieved the perfectly predictable end to the story I have spent years writing.  I knew this was the outcome of the path I was on, but now that I'm here, I want a different one.  One where I get to have my cake and can eat it, too.  One where he flourishes and grows, yet never leaves my side.  

Is that too much to ask of the universe?

And if I can't have that, then I at least want a do-over.  I want to hold him one more time in the moonlight of that crappy apartment, smell his sweetness, and lose an entire day with him in my arms.  I want to see those sticky fingers grasp at cheerios on a tray and rejoice when he can finally pinch one between them and raise it triumphantly to his lips.  I want to see that toothless kindergarten grin look for me in the crowd of parents during the painful squeaks of the beginner violin concert, and watch his eyes light up when he finds me.  I want it so badly that every cell in my body just aches.

But that's the thing about this story.  We don't get a different ending.  We get this one.  We build our lives around these busy, toddling, energetic, lovable creatures and they walk right out of it.  We are left with a hole in our heart where their daily presence used to be.  An ache that will never be filled because the life we had built with them in it is forever changed.  Stevie Nicks brilliantly said it best when she said:

And can I sail through the changing ocean tides
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
Oh oh I don't know, oh I don't know
Well, I've been afraid of changing
'Cause I've built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I'm getting older too

I know that I'll be okay and find myself eventually on the other side of this long, lonely bridge.  I know it's not the end.  But it's the end of something; it's the end of something pretty spectacular. 

And I just can't help but wish it wasn't so.

How to lose 37 pounds in 13 months

Let me just start this post by saying that no part of this 13-month journey has been easy.  There is no magic formula or secret that makes you want to stay away from donuts, cookies, fries, and potato chips.

Because if there were?  We'd all already weigh 110 pounds and be walking around in bikinis in the dead of winter struttin' our hot stuff.

Every. Single. Day., I fight the cravings.  I wake up, and I want to run and get a big diet coke and a sugar cookie.  I want to eat In-N-Out burgers.  I salivate at the thought of a Reese's peanut butter cup.  I dream about the crunchy Hostess coconut donuts they sell at the gas station (that are 460 awful, delicious calories for all six of them).  It doesn't go away - at least for me, it hasn't.

There are moments that I'm stronger than others, and I've caved more times than I care to admit.

That being said, I have had success.  So I will share with you what has worked for me.

As I said yesterday, I'm working with a local company here who has a nutritionist monitoring my food diaries.  The accountability piece of that has been HUGE.  She looks at what I enter (or don't enter) every day, and weighs/measures me once a month.  She offers suggestions, encouragement, and course correction.  It's been fantastic.

The food piece is the hard part because I have to go that alone.  I have to monitor and police myself, make the choices that enable me to actually pull off a loss.  My 42-year-old body is different than the one I had 10 or 15 years ago.  I don't lose weight like I once did.  I have to fiercely fight for every pound that I lose.  I used to be able to give myself a cheat day(!) once a week and still easily lose 2 pounds or more in a week.  I can't do that now.  I can't cheat if I want to see a loss.  It's just the sad reality.  I allow myself something indulgent once or twice a month.

I know.  

Depressing, right?

I'm eating between 1250 and 1350 calories every day.  I strive to hit at least 100 grams of protein.  I also shoot to have a good source of carb, protein, and fat at every meal or snack.  I eat three meals a day and one or two snacks.  The only real exercise I get is walking my dogs 3-4 miles every day.

So what am I eating?  

I start my day out with Zipfizz. 

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 It's an energy drink developed for diabetics, so it's no sugar, low carb, high vitamin content stuff.  I mix one Zipfizz with 24-30 ounces of ice water and have two of them in the morning after my walk.  There is a small amount of caffeine, which I honestly think is actually a great appetite suppressant and has really helped me not feel hungry.  I like the flavors (except grape, gag!) and there is a huge vitamin B-12 boost that makes me feel great.

My favorite breakfast is a waffle made from this protein pancake mix.

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It tastes so good!  It's got 14 grams of protein and is only 190 calories for 1/2 cup of the dry mix (which you just add water to).  One-half cup makes two waffles on my small waffle iron, and I eat them both every morning.  I love it.  It feels like a treat.  I buy the mix at Costco.

I top the waffle with a little bit of Walden Farms calorie-free syrup. 

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The concept of something actually tasting delicious and being calorie-free actually frightens me a little bit.  I assume the reason it tastes good is because of chemicals that will probably cause cancer and/or kill me.  So I use it rather sparingly, even though there are no calories to feel guilty for.  It really does taste good.  I order this from Amazon, though you can probably buy from the  company directly online.  I've never seen it in stores.

Lunch is almost always a turkey sandwich on 21-grain bread topped with 1/4 of an avocado and drizzled with balsamic vinegar. 

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It's my go-to lunch and I'm still not tired of it.  The turkey I buy at a local BBQ place - it's simply smoked turkey breast.  It's real meat, not processed (I'm talking to you, Oscar Mayer!), and tastes delicious.  If you don't have a Rudy's (my local BBQ joint) find one of your own BBQ places nearby.  I am sure you could get smoked turkey breast pretty much anywhere.  I love that it's not processed lunch meat and it tastes unbelievably good.  

Super filling lunch.

Afternoon snacks vary.  My favorite is Greek yogurt with raspberries and 1/4 cup of my homemade granola (recipe here).  I also like the Special K protein meal bars if I'm pressed for time or running kids all around.  Great on-the-go-snack.  I chug water all day long, too.  But I find it most critical in the afternoon when I'm more likely to go on a search through the pantry for sugary temptation.

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Dinner varies - but is almost always some version of lean protein, green vegetables, and high fiber carb.  Usually chicken breast, turkey, or pork tenderloin.  I also will add in flat iron steak once in a while, too.  Lots of sweet potatoes and salads in all their varieties.

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I have found these wraps at Costco to be a super food.  I will use them at lunch or dinner, and they taste great.  I also have made flat-bread pizzas out of them, as well.  Really versatile.  And they freeze beautifully.

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The other thing that I use a lot is the yogurt-based salad dressings.  Bolthouse Farms is the only brand I've tried, and I really like them.  They are at my local grocery store, and Target.  They have a ton of different flavors, and are only 40 calories for 2 tablespoons.  They do not taste like the low-fat dressings of olden days.  They are really good.

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The last piece of advice I would give you is to get a good digital scale.  You need one with the "tare" feature, which allows you to put your plate on the scale and then zero it out.  That way, you can add your food on top of the plate, preventing you from having to clean and wipe down the scale every time you use it.  Get one that measures in ounces and grams.  I got ours online at Amazon for pretty cheap.  I think maybe $20 or $30 max.

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It gets tedious to religiously measure and weigh everything, but it really makes a difference.  You think you can eyeball it, but you're really only adding extra calories if you aren't precise.  And why work so effing hard only to not succeed, right?

That's about it, my friends.  That is what I'm doing and how I've been successful.  This fight is the hardest one there is.  Our brains are wired to love sugar, and I spent years allowing myself to feed that need.  I tried and failed several times, and for whatever reason, this time it worked.  It is possible to make healthy choices and still feel happy.  Getting over the first few weeks is the worst.  

Falling off the wagon happens, too.  I pretty much took off from Thanksgiving to New Years.  But I dusted myself off and got right back up come January.  Just do the best you can when you can.

Hang in there if you're struggling.  Don't give up.  Don't give in.

You can do it.

Finding me again

Six years ago, I was pretty happy with myself physically.  I worked out with a trainer three days a week, and ran on the treadmill every day.  I watched what I ate for the most part, but felt little guilt or effects when I treated myself to something sweet.  Which I did often.

I was strong and felt great in a pair of jeans. (Truth be told, no woman really feels great in a swimsuit, even when they look fantastic in one).

Then I got hit with a hurricane of crippling health issues.  I've shared that story before here.  To say it was brutal is a complete understatement.  I went from being an active, healthy mom to a bed-ridden depressant who medicated with food.

Getting diagnosed with Crohn's disease was only the beginning.

It was followed a few year or two later with a move to a new city.  One that was harder to adjust to than any of our previous moves.  I struggled to plug in and find my place.  I cried often and felt totally alone.  It was a devastating move for my kids, as well.  You can read about that here and here.

All this stress led to a complete and total physical breakdown.  Pounds piled on until it became too hard to exercise with any regularity.  I felt horrible in my own skin and ate like my plane was going down.  Over the course of four years, I gained nearly 40 pounds.

I hated how I felt physically.  I hated how I felt mentally.

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I looked at photos of myself and cringed.  This was not the girl I knew.  This was not who I was supposed to be.

Several times I tried.  I did challenges with friends.  I joined weight loss groups.  I started and failed multiple times.  In January of last year, I joined Weight Watchers (for the umpteenth time).  I found myself succeeding on the program and dropped 15 pounds.  For the first time in a long while, I had hope that I might actually be able to get control of my weight.

Spring break came, and with it a vacation out of town.  When I got home, the number on the scale was higher than it had been when I left, so I told myself I would skip Weight Watchers that week, and hit it hard the next week.

I didn't go in the next week.  Or the week after that.

A few months went by, and I put back on five pounds.

I was depressed and felt that I would never be able to really get the weight off.

In June of 2015, I decided to try again.  The local company I chose was NOT cheap.  They offered accountability with a nutritionist and personal training.  I decided to pre-pay for six months (though I told myself that if it didn't take, I would be done trying and make peace with my fat self).  It cost a small fortune;  I ponied up $3,000 for six months and felt sick to my stomach that I'd just thrown my money away.

The nutritionist was there to give me general guidelines and provide accountability.  I already knew what I needed to do:  Eat less and move more.  She was there to review my food logs every day and give feedback.  I felt I had three choices.  I could:  a) not do it and continue gaining weight, thus throwing away all the money I had paid for this; b) lie on the food logs and have the results show up in our monthly weigh-ins, to which I would pretend I had no idea why I wasn't losing weight, thus making me look like an idiot; or c) actually do what she was telling me and try to lose weight.

I chose the third option.

It's been eight months since then, and I am down a total of 37 pounds.

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I am three pounds away from where I was six years ago, and am planning to lose another 11-15 pounds total.

Words cannot describe how fantastic it feels.  It is a hard-fought battle, and has taken discipline, effort, creativity, and vigilance.  I have had plateaus (just came off a one-month plateau, UGH) but have found what consistently works for me.

I have gone from a size 14-16 to a size 6-8.  I feel so much better in my own skin and have eradicated nearly all my Crohn's disease symptoms.  I will continue to take the medication for that, but I feel SO GOOD.  I feel healthy.  I feel strong.

I feel like me again.  

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post:  What I'm actually eating.

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Life lately

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Life lately has been full of laughter, happiness, and contentment.  If you follow me on instagram, you know (and will likely be sick of) the amazing successes my boys are having in their respective sports.

The cross country team went to state last weekend, where they took first place.  Yes.  First place in the state of Texas, a state which is roughly the size of like eight countries in Europe or something.  And my boy was there!  He was an alternate, but he was there.  We've laughed as we've thought back to when he first started running and was so awkward, knees and elbows flailing everywhere.  Always somewhat unhappy with himself - never believing he'd really be able to do it, he would collapse in tears of frustration.  We have watched him get up faithfully before dawn, each and every day, and put miles behind him.  We've watched him at meets, improving his time, bit-by-little-bit.

I watched with tears in my eyes as he crossed the finish line at districts with a time so good that he qualified to make the alternate team.  This is more than just a high school sport for him.  This is an accomplishment of epic proportions.  This is what he's dreamed about every night for the last six years.  I just want to reach back to his little ten-year-old self and hug him fiercely with confident promises that it will all be okay.  I said those words to him then, but uttered fervent, silent prayers that I was right.  

Oh, I was so right.  It's been more than okay.  It's been life changing.

Then there's the big football player.  We are getting ready to cheer him on in the first round of playoffs this weekend.  A playoff game, which, just so happens to be played at Cowboy Stadium. A game he will actually get playing time in, as he has all season.  Even with a broken foot at the beginning of the year, he's been able to come back and play that field every single game that was left.  Never in a million years did we ever dream of such a thing.  He had never played football when he came to me, somewhat sheepishly, and told me he was going to try out for the team.  Football in Texas!  The one place on the planet where football is bigger (almost) than anything else.  We had been here in Texas all of a few weeks, and my heart just hurt with fear.  This move had taken a huge toll on all of us, and I didn't want to add disappointment on top of heartache.  

But then, in classic McKay form, he not only did well, but excelled.  He created a family with this team, and found a spot in the tricky, uncomfortable universe that is high school.  He found friends and allies.  He found himself.

Hannah has transformed herself into an amazing dancer.  She has set her sights on the high school drill team next year, and is taking dance five days per week to prepare.  She not only has found a sport to call her own, but she has surrounded herself with a group of incredibly wonderful girls - most of whom are outside of our church, which just makes me so happy.  She has seen firsthand the Christian hearts of these families and has been blessed by all their influences for good.  I have gone to bed many nights thanking God for these girls and their loving, kind hearts.

The Husband has thrived professionally, as well.  While the Marriott in [insert any given city here] is more his home than Texas, he has found it natural and easy to run an office on his own.  He has sold more work than he genuinely has time for, but manages to balance it all and still eagerly race home to spend time with us on the weekends.  He is stretched to capacity, but never lets a day pass without a check-in phone call to each of us.  He often begs me to instagram events and accomplishments that I might otherwise feel shyly embarrassed to do so.  But knowing he is far away in another city, desperate for news from home, I have posted the little updates of our life. 

Through it all, however, I have struggled.  On the outside, I have appeared to be happy and at home here.  I've had plenty of friends, but struggled to take them from friends to my people.  Loneliness was a companion I was not fond of, but was getting used to.  Sundays were particularly hard, and I fought back tears every week.  I went home from church with an empty ache in my soul, and prayed vainly for something to change.  I cried on the Husband's shoulder and did my best to hold it together.  I had resigned myself to a semi-state of unhappiness and found joy instead by focusing on my kids.  

I went back to school, and then realized a year into it that what was most important were these three little teenagers straggling in the door every late afternoon.  School, and the challenges of managing the household without a husband home every week, found me unable to juggle it all.  I had no hesitation in finding myself a college drop-out for the second time.  These hourglass sands are slipping through my fingers, and I knew I'd regret giving any of my time to things that were not my children.

I also started exercising again.  And not just sporadically, but really exercising.  I started running (and by running, I do mean panting and gasping for air while jogging for only a few minutes at a time).  I began to watch my diet and count calories.  The toll my sickness took on me emotionally, coupled with the stress of a move and my propensity to eat my feelings, led to a 40-pound weight gain over about a five year period.  I now find myself without 30 of those pounds, and a goal to drop another 15 in sight.

And lately, I've noticed these friendships seeming to hit a deeper level.  Casual lunches have turned more meaningful.  Friendships are extending beyond the surface.  Perhaps it was my confidence or perhaps just the natural progression of things, but I finally feel like I have my people.  It has taken me two-and-a-half years, but I finally feel at home here in Texas.  I feel strong and capable.  I feel needed and loved.

For the first time in a long time, I feel like myself again.

Spider Web Cookies, reborn

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Several years ago (eight to be exact), I posted about my spider web cookies.  I have spent the last 22 years or so making these, and have improved upon the original instruction in the last few years.  Figured now was as good a time as any to reblog them.

While they will never look as perfect as decorated cookies made with royal icing, they taste a whole lot better.  Royal icing to me just ruins a perfectly good sugar cookie.  It's easier to work with than this glaze, and you can absolutely produce gorgeous pieces of art.  But they taste like styrofoam.  So why bother?  If I wanted to eat styrofoam, I'd do that.  And I'd definitely be a lot thinner.  But my life would not be worth living.

So.  Let's begin, shall we?  The key to any cookie success is in using the right sugar cookie recipe.  I use Aunt Betty's, and have finally received her consent to share it with you.

Internet, here is the secret recipe:

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Before you judge too harshly, just know that they are pretty freaking delicious.  And this comes from a baking SNOB.  I am extremely particular about what cookies go in my mouth, but I'm telling you, these are delicious.  Feel free to spend all afternoon making your own.  But trust me when I tell you, these make the perfect combination with the glaze that I use.  And take no time at all.

So why mess with perfection?

Mix up a bag or two (or six) using the directions for drop cookies on the back of the bag.  Roll them into a ball, and bake as directed.  They definitely look pretty raw when they come out of the oven, but they firm up nicely.  Do not overbake.  Let the cookies cool.

Next, make up the glaze.  I got this recipe from my mother, who got it from a dear neighbor (Hi, Gayle!).  I've been eating these since childhood and have made them a staple in my own home.  It's not Halloween in our house without them.

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For these cookies, the glaze should be the consistency of Elmer's glue.  Add more water or powdered sugar to achieve this.  Then using the back of a spoon, spread it onto a cookie.  I like using a spoon because the curve helps spread around the edges better than a knife.

Be sure to not apply too much glaze.  Just a thin coat is all you need.

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Next, put some of the black glaze into a bag with a small writing tip, and pipe a bullseye, starting in the center of the cookie.

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Using a toothpick, gently draw lines from the center of your bullseye to the edge, going all the way around the cookie.  Make sure to always go from the center out in order to keep your web lines going all the same direction.

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Let the cookies set until the glaze hardens, usually about 30 minutes or so.  Top with a plastic spider ring and enjoy!

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These are actually the best on the second day, so I try to make them a day ahead of whatever party I am taking them to.  Once they are set, they travel and freeze really well.

They also make an excellent lunch.  Just sayin'.

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Dear Chase,

Today you turned 16 years old.  

Seriously.  Let me process that one for a minute.

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Sigh.  When I look at pictures like this of you, I can still remember what your warm, sweet skin smelled like after a summer afternoon at the park.  I can hear your laughter and excitement as you climbed everything in sight, calling out for your brother to join you.  I can feel your tight hugs, almost suffocating, as you threw your arms around my neck and squeezed, afraid to be without me; afraid to let go.

Now I'm the one squeezing so desperately, afraid to let go.  Fighting the fact that I need to let you go.

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Chase, you are growing up into such a fine man.  You are nearly six-foot-three-inches tall, and every bit of your giant frame is filled with kindness and sincerity.  You still come running most nights when you hear me cleaning up the kitchen, offering to help.  Not because you have to, but because you want to.  I love your company late at night in the kitchen.  You and I laughing, recapping the day.  It's the favorite part of my night.  Your thoughtfulness is beyond your years.  I really can't take any credit for it, either.  I'm not sure what makes you so eager to help.  Your wife will be a very lucky woman.

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Right now, your biggest focus is running.  You get up, every single day, at the unholy crack of dawn.  Never grumbling, never complaining.  You drag your brother out of bed and head to early morning seminary.  Sometimes, you can only go for five or ten minutes due to your cross country practice.  But still you go.  That is dedication, my friend, that even your mother couldn't muster.  You love God.  You are striving to do what is right.  You have set a standard for yourself, and are determined to meet it.  No matter what.

You have gotten quite good at running this year.  Well, you've been quite good for a few years now.  You've pushed yourself beyond your limits and adopted a discipline that I could only dream of.  This Saturday, you will run for the first time on the varsity team, a goal you set for yourself and accomplished.  As a sophomore.


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Chase, I love you so much.  You are such a good kid.  You treat everyone you meet with kindness.  Someone told me the other day that they saw you talking to a girl from your school.  Not an ordinary feat in and of itself -- you are quite handsome and plenty of girls would kill to hang with you.  But you were talking animatedly and with a smile on your face to a girl with special needs, someone who others struggle to know how to interact with.  This does not surprise me one bit.  You have always had a heart open for everyone.  You've always treated people with courtesy and respect.  You've always been a friend to everyone.

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You have my heart, kid.  As you stretch your freedom wings in the next few years, I am confident you are ready for the world has to offer.  You are more mature than most boys I know.  You have a quick mind, and a keen knack for figuring out how things work.  I've often tried to parent you by just getting out of your way.  You are going to do great things.  I can't wait to watch.

Just remember to throw me a hug once in a while, won't you?

Love you forever,