Guest Post: Army Pants and Flip Flops

Boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Have I got a treat for you today. Some of you might recognize the name and face behind today’s guest poster, and that’s because today we welcome my good friend Aileen to the blog! Aileen, for those of you who don’t know, has a witty and laugh-out-loud hilarious blog called Army Pants and Flip Flops, where she details her life, opinions, and various neuroses–with all of those things being at least somewhat related to the fact that she is an Army wife-in-training. Oh, and she’s totally the one who edited my book.  NBD.

Aileen has managed to masterfully weave together a post about health, happiness, and new year resolutions for your enjoyment. Also, she utilizes the word “cheese” no less than 36 times, which I think is already very telling as to how awesome and delightful this post is. I strongly, strongly recommend you guys become a regular follower of her blog, but since I’m sure her own words will  be far more convincing than my own… take it away, Aileen!

How I tackled 2012 like a well-balanced cheese plate

In January, 2012, I made a list of resolutions. When I do choose to make New Year’s resolutions (re: rather infrequently), I like to set the bar as low as possible. One year I resolved to eat more cheese. The next year I resolved to eat less cheese, because my primary care physician recommended I have my cholesterol routinely checked, which I took to mean that my cheese consumption was rapidly killing me, and every slice of brie brought me one slice closer to death.

The year after that I went back to eating cheese again, because I decided that life is too short to ignore a sweet-cream gouda. Although my life might be a little longer if I decide to ignore the gouda every once in a while.

So by January 2012, I’d learned an important lesson: resolutions, like a good cheese plate, require a purposeful element of balance.

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Study this CheeseClock; it will become important later. And now you know how to balance a cheese plate. You’re welcome.

At the end of 2011, I came down with bronchitis. Which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t simultaneously come down with tonsillitis and sinusitis, and a completely unrelated tendonitis in my right hip and left foot, none of which I’d ever experienced before, and all of which left me looking and feeling extremely attractive. Which is I’m assuming why, at the end of 2011, the time was also right for my then-boyfriend to ask me to marry him.

Anybody who doesn’t regret proposing to you after watching medicated nasal spray drip slimily from your snot-filled nostrils for the week proceeding the engagement is definitely a keeper.

The proposal and my sudden onslaught of ailments jolted me into 2012 feeling giddy and breathless. (The breathlessness was mostly from the bronchitis. It took me a while to get used to using the inhaler.) And while the general area of my face, chest, and throat only took a month or two to clear out, the other symptoms of my end-of-2011, it seemed, were a bit more permanent.

The first permanent symptom was Jonathan, my now-fiancé. I realize that calling him a “symptom” makes me sound like an asshole, but before you JUDGE ME, consider that I call Jonathan a symptom of my new life in the same way that the blooming bud of an orange day lily is a symptom of pollination, which is a symptom of photosynthesis, because the working world is full of beautiful symptoms that happen because we need them to, but also because we want them to.

I also call Jonathan a symptom because, as much as I believe every new marriage should strive for happiness and permanence, marrying Jonathan also means marrying his job as a noncommissioned officer in the United States Army. If you want to know how inadequately my upbringing and temperament has prepared me to be an army wife, feel free to take a look at my history with semi-violent situations and my fear of Republicans.

When 2012 began, I knew it would end with my fiancé’s second deployment to Afghanistan, and the promise of a new beginning when he returned.

What I didn’t know when 2012 began, however, was just how permanent my second symptom would be.

While the tendonitis in my foot disappeared easily with systematic rest and a nauseating dose of NSAIDs, the tendonitis in my hip decided it was really enjoying hanging around. It was having such a good time, in fact, that it decided to invite increasing joint and muscular-skeletal problems to the party. You know those really charming Mucinex commercials where they turn a big blob of mucus into a middle-aged New Yorker with a tiny bowler hat and suspenders? I imagine it’s something like that mucus guy that settled into my hip; except, instead of mucus, he is made of A THOUSAND TINY RETRACTING SWITCHBLADES, and he has no charming bowler hat.

While my doctors and I had legitimate reasons to be concerned about this, the symptom (and this time I’m saying “symptom” in the traditional, non-fiancé sense) that manifested earliest was that I absolutely had to stop running, under penalty of tiny switchblade death. And also under penalty of a very nice MRI technician who let me listen to a local country radio station in giant headphones while he scanned my hips for fluid, so he seems like a trustworthy guy.

I guess my saving grace in this new army-wife-suddenly-crippled life was that I’ve never actually enjoyed running. I ran several times a week for many years of my life because I’m lazy, and running was the easiest way for me to exercise my whole body and keep my weight down, but still leave the gym in time to be home for Jeopardy. Running was the entire foundation on which my fitness routine was based, and suddenly, in the midst of these other life changes, that foundation crumbled like a chunk of pungent feta cheese when you take your first bite into a Greek salad.

I can make almost anything a cheese analogy if you give me time.

As 2012 began, so did many changes. I needed to find a way, with my doctors’ help, to stay healthy in a body that felt completely new to me (and was apparently a complete asshole to me, too). And I needed to do so in a way that would fit my life as it somersaulted into a new world of unknowns and anxiety.

With an eye for balance, I went about setting my 2012 New Year’s resolutions in the same way one would go about balancing a cheese plate according to the CheeseClock: from mild, to medium, to bold, to strong.

  • Mild cheese plate selection: Start your cheese plate at the 6 o’clock position with young mild goats, double or triple cremes, or bloomy rind cheeses.
  • Mild resolution for 2012: Get better at using the touch screen on my iPhone.

In my habit of setting the bar low, I chose to make sure my first resolution had nothing to do with anything. This resolution was mild (like a creamy chèvre) because it was literally impossible for me to be worse at using my touch screen. As a bonus, I resolved to train my autocorrect to recognize the word “chèvre” without suggesting I change it to “Chevrolet.”

  • Medium cheese plate selection: Proceed clockwise, with the next type of cheese being a soft to semi-firm, such as a mild cow, aged goat or sheep milk cheese.
  • Medium resolution for 2012: Incorporate poultry into my diet.

When I walk through the cheese aisle at Trader Joe’s, I will inevitably purchase at least one block of artery-clogging, semi-firm Manchego. Finalizing my departure from 10 years of vegetarianism was something I’ve known for a long time was equally inevitable.

While my doctors couldn’t prove that my lack of meat-derived amino acids was necessarily causing any of my health problems, they urged that being committed to appeasing my health problems meant cutting out any external factors that could be contributing to my body’s unhappiness. While I was already health-conscious and balanced my diet fairly carefully, I knew that my life would be much easier without the constant worry that I wasn’t getting enough protein. Which sometimes led to unhealthy binges on Greek yogurt and pad thai with tofu, which in turn left me unsatisfied and bloat-y.

  • Bold cheese plate selection: Your next cheese can become stronger, bolder and nuttier like a hard mountain, long-aged cheddar and mild washed rind (“stinky”) cheese.
  • Bold resolution for 2012: Plan (most of) my wedding.

One time I went to a wine and cheese bar, and was served a cheese that was purposely covered in fuzzy, pungent mold. Stomaching that cheese was more pleasant than planning a wedding has been so far.

Side note: I also learned that when a cheese is “washed,” it can sometimes be “washed” with penicillin. So make sure to warn your waiter about allergies you have to any medications. But only at wine and cheese bars; other waiters apparently don’t care that you’re allergic to penicillin, even though you were just trying to prevent a stinky cheese lawsuit for them, so they should really stop being such an asshole to you.

  • Strong cheese plate selection: To finish, choose a cheese with a bigger presence, such as more assertive washed rind cheese, or a classic blue cheese like Roquefort.
  • Strong resolution for 2012: Lift twice my body weight on the leg press.

In the winter of 2011, I ventured for the first time into the weight-machine section of my gym. While I’ve always felt safe and comfortable among the treadmills and suspended flat-screen TVs playing Hardball with Chris Matthews in closed captions, the weight-machine area was like some weird factory on Mars to me. It was filled with levers, and clanking, and angry, grunting men. Who smell your virgin weight-lifting fear. And then stare at you like you’re a toddler sporting a stinky, poo-filled diaper when you remove the pin completely from the bicep curl machine, because you realize you can’t lift more than 25 pounds, and that’s just the bar.

In my first two months of lifting, I hated it so much that, once a week or so, I decided maybe my body was better now and I could start running again. On one such occasion, I ran for an entire 11 minutes before my friend the DELIGHTFUL BALL OF SWITCHBLADES remembered he was on duty in my hip. F that guy.

I stopped running. Indefinitely. And, thanks to the backsliding, I had to stop all cardio for a few months, because just the strain of my apartment-to-work commute was prompting my doctor to recommend my taking short-term disability from my job. OKAY. I GET IT. I’LL STOP RUNNING.

I learned how to properly use all the machines. I discovered a particular affinity for the leg press, which is probably because I learned to channel my rage through my legs during six years of soccer as a kid. I even learned to use the machines I hated, i.e. THE STUPID BICEP CURL, which, even when I finally got the machine adjusted to the right height and position, I still couldn’t set it to more than 25 pounds. A guy at my gym who wears short shorts and those webbed-toe shoes that make you look like a frog continued to eye me patronizingly for weeks. I decided not to care, because maybe my lack of strength was ridiculous, but his shoes were also ridiculous so in my book we’re even.

When I began lifting weights at the end of 2011, I weighed 115 pounds. Which sounds like maybe I should quit my bitching and just skip a few weeks at the gym, until I mention that I’m 5’2” and I consistently have to go up a size in bikini bottoms because the size that accommodates the rest of my body absolutely cannot accommodate my butt. Which also probably explains why I’m overzealous about the leg press.

So I set my goal. Starting at a measly 100 pounds on the leg press, by the end of 2012 I resolved to lift twice my body weight: 230 pounds.

Then halfway through the year I gained five pounds and angrily realized I’d have to get to 240 instead. Jonathan says this was just a result of building muscle. I say it probably also has something to do with the manchego.

December 27, 2012 marked my one-year engagement-versary with Jonathan. He celebrated by attempting to find a free computer at the MWR in his post in Afghanistan so he could email me. I celebrated with this:

Leg press

Seated leg press

Leg press, and seated leg press for good measure. 10 reps; 3 sets. 240 pounds.

For 2013, I have resolved to make no resolutions. Except for dropping back down to 220 on the leg press for a little while, because apparently completing my New Year’s resolutions was at some point more important to me than being able to walk up and down stairs for the next week.

And as for the others…

Touch screen

Turkey leg

wedding-binder-details

Aileen blogs regularly about cheese, life, and her gun-wielding hubby-to-be at http://armypantsandflipflops.com. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram!

Eating Out, In

You guys know that one of my biggest struggles in terms of my weight loss is how much I love to eat out. I do love to cook, but I also love restaurants. Trying new ones, revisiting my favorites, being social with my friends and family… I just really like to go out to eat. Of course, as I’ve mentioned (and as we all know anyway), going out to eat with such frequency is not good for my wallet OR my waistline.

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There are just too many variables when someone else is preparing your food for you. Even nowadays, when more and more restaurants are offering nutritional information up front, you can never be 100% sure of what you’re getting. Plus, even if you KNOW what the calories are, it doesn’t mean you’re getting the most bang for your figurative buck (we KNOW you’re not getting the biggest bang for your literal buck, since eating out is expensive, hahahaha).

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So part of my Act II weight loss game plan is to cook at home as much as possible. Of course, given all the restaurant-eating that went on this past weekend, I’m kind of already failing, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Sometimes curbing the urge to splurge (can I get that on a t-shirt) is as simple as upping the ante in your own kitchen. Last night I fixed myself a gourmet meal that I feel any fine dining establishment would have been proud of! And for half the cost AND half the calories. Win-win-win.

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I picked up the most gorgeous tomato at the farmer’s market on Saturday (probably one of my last farmer’s market tomatoes of the season! Cry!) and a GIANT thing of basil to accompany it. Then I zipped over to the regular supermarket to pick up a ball of fresh mozzarella and decided to make myself a super schmancy caprese salad.

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I mean, seriously. Do you SEE how huge these basil leaves are!?

I chiffonaded (can “chiffonade” be used as a verb? Ahaha) the basil to make it look nice. For those of you who don’t have a tried-and-true method of doing so (chiffonade = slicing herbs into long, thin strips), this is just how I get ‘r done:

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After you’ve stacked the leaves on top of one another like in the first pic, roll them up lengthwise into a little bundle. Don’t wrap it TOO tightly or you’ll bruise the herbs, but hold it tight enough so that they won’t slip out from under you.

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Then using a SHARP knife, just slice through the bundle using quick, thin slices. You don’t want to “saw” through or press down with the knife, because again, you can bruise the herbs and that’s what makes them look wilted and unappealing.

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Ta-da! Easy peasy.

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While I was doing that, I was also letting some balsamic vinegar reduce on the stove (with the flippin’ sweet guitar spatula that I got my brother Ben for Christmas).

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And heating up some corn. As always, I like to make a lot more food than just for me because I like to be able to have the leftovers for lunch. Leftovers > sandwiches! I had already broiled up some rosemary-marinated pork chops the night before, so I just reheated one of those and added it to the plate. I drizzled some balsamic reduction on top of the caprese with just a splish of extra virgin olive oil and some salt & peppah, and there you have it!

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Ooh, pretty.

And that’s how you get one beautiful plate of deliciousness. And the total nutritional damage of my dinner was (drumroll, please!) approximately 550 – 600 calories. Not bad considering how decadent it tasted! And a whole lot less than it would have been at a restaurant. Granted, fresh mozzarella is not necessarily the best weight loss food, but hey, when the craving strikes… better to nom on a few slices of delicious cheese now than an entire box of Cheez-Its later, amirite?

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Oh, and just of note: I stored the extra tomato, mozzarella, and basil together in little individual piles so they’re easy to grab and eat. Cute, non?