Madison’s Top Tens

This has been a big week and it’s only Tuesday. Last weekend, I packed up as much of my house as possible, loaded it up in as few suitcases as possible, packed it into my sister’s car and headed to Minneapolis. I’m spending the week here before flying up to Anchorage on Friday. Then Sam will wrap up work and come with the car in about a month ūüė¶

I am truly excited about moving up there, but I have been pretty sad about leaving Madison, all our wonderful friends, and our new house.¬†My sister recently asked me to tell her things I’ll miss about Madison, so I thought I would take the time to make a nice little top 10 list. This is way more than she bargained for. But it’s handy… for posterity. And for whenever I come back. And for you.

(Of course, as I wrote this, I decided I needed a whole separate category for food.)

Activities

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Sunset at the terraace

1. Biking on a warm summer evening to the terrace to drink beer and eat popcorn

2. Having friends over to eat dinner on our deck

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Climbing one of the 10,000,000 hills of the Hilly

3. The Horribly Hilly and the Dairyland Dare: one day “challenge rides.” You’ll hate your life until you reach the finish line and can hardly wait to sign up for next year

4. “Working” meetings at the Echo Tap

5. “Kayaking” (also what some would call floating aimlessly) on Lake Monona with Abby

6. Mountain biking, skiing, road biking, or hiking at Blue Mounds State Park and stopping to eat at the Grumpy Troll on the way home

IMG_06237. Devil’s Lake State Park: huffing it up the bluff and then sitting on a rock and taking in the view

8. Paoli bike rides and stopping at the top of observatory hill to enjoy the view and catch your breath

9. Thrift shopping at ReThreads on State Street (tons of cuteness under $10)

10. Walking over to Kate’s house in my jammies on Saturday mornings for coffee

Food

1. Cheese curds and old fashionds at the Old Fashioned

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Willaby’s Cafe, Willy Street, Madison

2. The Fair Oaks Skillet at Willaby’s Cafe

3. Vanilla swirls at Batches Bakehouse

4. Anything and everything at Greenbush Bakery. Pick one and then ask the doughnut dealer for his or her favorite.

5. Playing flip cup with cheap pitchers of beer at State Street Brats

6. Panang curry, chicken eggrolls, and mango and sticky rice at Ha Long Bay

7. Walnut burger at The Harmony

8. Crusier-bike riding to Mickey’s Dairy Bar for scramblers and cinnamon rolls

9. Commuter bike riding to Mickey’s bar to get drinks on their back patio on warm summer nights

10. Buying an entire loaf of warm, spicy cheesy bread at the Farmer’s Market and eating most of it while walking around the square

Rest of Wisconsin/UP

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ABR Ski Cabin

1. Renting ski-in cabins at ABR Ski Trails (Ironwood, MI)

2. 4th of July fireworks on Boom Lake (Rhinelander)

3. Biking up to Lake of the Clouds in the Porcupine Mountains and then trying to hit 40 MPH on the way back down. I’ve never done it. Yet! (Ontonagon, MI)

4. Canoeing the Kickapoo. Just as good: driving through the driftless to explore its various parks and fishing the streams on the way there (Ontario)

5. Pewitt’s Nest -bring your swimsuit! (Baraboo)

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Levi’s Trow

6. This is for Sam: Wisconsin/UP’s own IMBA “epic” mountain bike trails: Levi’s Trow (Near Black River Falls) and Copper Harbor, MI

7. The Trails at Nine Mile and Rib Mountain  can hold an honorary spot too (Wausau)

8. A summer day on any lake in Northern Wisconsin, on a boat, with beer, and country music. Heavenly.

Pictured Rocks

Pictured Rocks

9. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore  Рeasily the best vacation of my life (Grand Marais, MI)

10. …I’m leaving this open to represent the large amounts of awesomeness yet to be explored in Wisconsin

What else would you add to the list??

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Dear Lucía

Every new adventure comes with the challenging phase of leaving what you know and embracing the many changes that come with it. In anticipation for our move, lately I have been saying a lot of goodbyes. Doing so in one case struck me as surprisingly difficult. This is an open letter I wrote to my ESL learner after saying goodbye a couple of days ago.  

Dear Lucía,

It has been an absolute pleasure to help you learn English over the past four months. Your determination and perseverance is simply inspiring as you manage your job, a house full of kiddos, plus some major medical setbacks. Your progress is slow, but significant. I hope you do not get discouraged and you keep at it!

But really, I need to thank you. You offered me the chance to step completely out of my comfort zone and you welcomed me into your home to try my hand at something totally new. You were patient with me when I failed at explaining. You laughed at my dumb jokes. Together, we were frustrated at our inability to communicate, yet somehow in those moments, you encouraged me through a nod or a smile and we pressed on.

Somewhere within the process of lesson planning,¬†pronunciation¬†drills, writing each other “stories,” and repeating vocabulary cards, you taught me important lessons about myself. That I am lucky to be able to converse with the friendly sales clerk in the grocery store and neighbors at the bus stop, and never to take that for granted. You reminded me that although we come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, we have so much in common – the need to be accepted, desire to fit in, and aptitude to pass on kindness and enjoy laughter with one another despite tough barriers. And most importantly, you reminded me about the great reward that comes from giving. Your warmth and friendship in exchange for my time preparing lessons for us was worth it a hundred times over. This is something I will hold with me forever.

Saying goodbye to you and your children caught me completely off guard. Somehow I expected to walk out coolly and not look back. But I left tearful and very saddened – that I will not have the opportunity to experience your positivity¬†and giggle with your cute kids again. That I am abandoning you so soon after we’d established trust, respect and patience with one another.

Please know that I will think of you often and I will celebrate your literary victories from afar. Though we entered one another’s lives for such a short period of time, I will be rooting for you and your kids for the rest of my life.

Buena suerte y muchas, muchas gracias, Lucía.

-Jenny

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Stalking Alaska

Moving to a place you’ve never been is a funny thing. I have been searching blogs, tourism websites and comment boards for a glimpse of what living in Anchorage is like.

Here are some gems I have found in my search. (And I apologize, but I have completely failed at citing any of this. My bad.)

The Bad:

“So, if you are planning on moving to Alaska, bring your rain gear and your anti-depression pills.”

“It’s freezing butt cold for 8 months out of the year”
“Isolated… you HAVE to fly if you want to go anywhere, unless you like paying a billion dollars in gas”
“People ask you if you really do live in igloos”
“Mosquitoes big enough to kill horses”
“At any rate, if you love shopping and trendy things, why don’t you try Seattle instead?”
The Good:
“if you like the wilderness and incredibly large open spaces, Alaska is the tops. I backpacked for a couple of weeks and thought it was the most beautiful place I had ever been- so many colors reflected in the mountain sides…and views to die for.”

“Gold and many places to find it need I say more.”

“there‚Äôs no sales tax and no income tax in Alaska. Yeah. Starting to sound like a good place to live, no?”

“Perhaps nowhere else combines the conveniences of the modern age with the freedom and adventure of living on the edge of a vast, unspoiled wilderness as do¬†Anchorage¬†and¬†Alaska.”
“we’re the friendliest people in America.”
(This one is from a tourist website, to be fair:)
“Anchorage is a place where adventure and modern life go hand-in-hand. You can go ice climbing before work and skiing on one of the hundreds of groomed trails during your lunch hour. Then sit down to a meal at a world-class restaurant and cap the evening off with a Broadway show. Alaska‚Äôs largest city offers all the conveniences of urban life without compromising on solitude, adventure, and open spaces. Now that‚Äôs life.”
“Winters aren‚Äôt as bad as myth would have it. Anchorage actually has a warmer climate than other cold-weather cities like Chicago and Minneapolis because it‚Äôs on the ocean.”
This helps only a little bit. But at least now I know I can find gold. Need I say more?

Weekend Warriors Go To Alaska

This blog got a facelift! I updated the former, environmentally¬†focused “Welcome to the Good Life” blog in order to open up the content options to share more about my life now. Check out more behind this change in the updated “About” page. I hope you like it.¬†Thanks for reading! –Jenny

***

I knew we’d end up going the moment Sam told me that he may apply for a job in Anchorage.

Nevermind the house we just bought, the puppy we were about to buy, and the already happy and fairly adventurous life we currently live. I thrive on newness, live in fear of regret, and recognize that our relationship is always at its best when we’re experiencing new things together.

So, as I have done many times with other big propositions in the past, I immediately jumped on it… and then soon started freaking out about it. ¬†(Why do I always do this backwards of the sensible way? e.g. 1. Think, 2. React.)

I am certain I will look back on this time and laugh because I’ve gotten it all wrong. Once I get through the next three weeks of packing, selling, storing, and planning maybe everything will be totally fine. But right now – after accepting a job, telling my Momma, giving notice at work ,and realizing how much needs to get done at home all in one day – I feel overwhelmed, nervous and pretty sad. I want to go to Alaska, but I don’t want to leave our good friends, beautiful new home, and the comfort of family close by.

Familiarity is nice. But perhaps (and cross your fingers with me here) adventure is better.

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Recap.

It has been almost a year since I’ve blogged. A YEAR. Luckily, I have good things to say about the end of 2011 and most of 2012. In fact, I have so many good things to say I hardly know where to start.

Actually I do. It‚Äôs with this guy —->¬†

I have always liked to do stuff. Just in general. But this guy takes ‚Äúdoing stuff‚ÄĚ to a whole ‚Äėnother level. He has that good initiative to bundle up and strap on some skis when it‚Äôs 10 degrees out. Or that motivation to start training for biking season‚Ķin March. I have never had that ‚Äúget up and go.‚ÄĚ But, he inevitably brings me with him and although I grumble and whine (a lot) getting out of the warm car to put on my bike shoes or ski boots on days the sun is NOT shining, I get going and always end up thanking him for forcing us up and out.

However.

His ‚Äúdoing stuff‚ÄĚ also occasionally results in me sitting in a diner in Copper Harbor, Michigan¬†surrounded completely by mountain bikers (read: really, really smelly dudes) after a night of sleeping in a tent in a storm¬†yelling, ‚ÄúIfeellikeicantkeepupwithyou!‚ÄĚ

But that’s getting ahead of myself. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the awesome stuff we (I) have been doing since I last posted:

Rock-tober 2011: This was the month I ran my first half marathon. I attempted to write a blog post about that milestone, but decided I was better off relishing in my personal victory all by myself. My journal from that day starts, ‚ÄúI do not want today to end. Today I finally proved that I am capable of setting a lofty goal, dedicating myself to work toward it, and reaching it ‚Äď all by myself.‚ÄĚ This taught me the value in goals ‚Äď especially when it comes to athletics.

Thinking of doing one for the first time? If you’re anything like me, you’ll need a schedule. Print it and put it somewhere you see everyday. I liked this one.

November: This is the month I discovered Pinterest. I know this sounds lame to list as a milestone, but this means that I found a lot of really good new tips, tricks and recipes that have now become staples. I could do a whole post on this, but here are three of my faves:

December:¬†I can’t remember a damn thing about last December except that it was really busy at work and then I got to spend Christmas in MN followed by a week on the beach in Florida. Not too shabby.

January: Someone wonderful sent me this quote that I have come to love:

Bessie Stanley, in the Lincoln Sentinel on Nov. 30, 1905 wrote:

(s)”he has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who has left the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who has never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had; whose life was an inspiration; whose memory a benediction.”

February:¬†Got to see so many of my favorite people all in one place. I am so proud of my friends from high school (many of whom live in Chicago where this picture was taken). They’ve all gone on to do such wonderful things!

March: Sam finished chemo this month. He‚Äôs been on the up and up for a long time now, but every time I watch him cross any finish line on his bike, I still have the urge to yell, ‚ÄúHE SURVIVED CANCER… RECENTLY!‚ÄĚ What an inspiration.

April:¬†Oh you know, just BOUGHT A HOUSE. We love it, but for most of the summer it has¬†merely¬†served as ‘homebase’ in between activities. Cook a meal, clean, sleep, store the bikes for the night, load them, go to work. Repeat. (Or some variation of that.)

May: 

June: Tackled Horribly Hilly Hundreds (“the toughest one day challenge ride in the midwest”) number two.

July: Did July even happen? It was a blur. Aside from attending some bike event, family occasion or work trip constantly, I also started indoor climbing as a result of purchasing a groupon to the local climbing gym and LOVED it. It’s a workout, a puzzle to be solved, not terribly time-consuming and just plain fun. I highly recommend it. And, I got to visit Hannah in my first trip to the Big Apple!

August: Biking, biking, biking. Then, started training for my second half marathon. And, for the first time in my life I feel like an athlete.

I am sure I forgot a lot. But, I have had a great year. I feel tired so often, but I also feel really, really happy.

…which is something to remind myself next time I am rushing to load the car up with a canoe, paddles, PFDs, two mountain bikes, gear, clothing, toilitries, a tent, sleeping bags, pads, (etc) to get on the road to make it up north before 2 am. Or something like that.

Thanks for reading this long blog post. Let’s do it again sometime- soon!

-Jenny

Determined to bake my own bread

This is my sixth attempt at homemade bread. Sixth! I know bread baking is something that is supposed to take a long time (lifetime?) to master, but… but… why?

Well. Let me back up because I believe have a good reason to be frustrated.

Sam’s mom, Debi, gave me a KitchenAid Mixer for my birthday back in March (…I know. So nice!). Of course, I immediately made a loaf of white sandwich bread. And of course, it turned out perfectly.

Bread baking is EASY, I thought.

The thing was, it was white sandwich bread: yummy, but nothing special. So then I got very snooty about the whole thing and tried making whole wheat sandwich bread.

Fail.

So then, I tried making Challah.

Major brick-like fail.

So then I tried to make Artisan Bread.

1 inch tall: fail.

Then I tried some sort of free-form loaf.

Too much wine + novice baking = Fail!

Although I did get increasingly discouraged each time, I was always eventually motivated to try again. First, because I bought a new cookbook. Then, because I started to read a delightful novel called, The Baker’s Apprentice. Then I was given another cookbook, and finally, because I read this interesting blog post entitled “October Unprocessed,” (as featured on Grist) about a group of people challenging themselves to go a whole month with no processed foods. If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, you’ll know that I love stuff like that. I just love the idea of being self sufficient and doing awesome things like regularly having homemade bread.

So, how’d attempt five go?

At first, not so good. I may or may not (leaning toward may)¬† have added a full cup of extra flour. I’m still not sure. Anyway, I wouldn’t call this (picture at left), “wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container,” as the recipe calls for. (Not at all.)

But, now that I am accustomed to the idea of failed baking, I continued with very little to lose.

By this afternoon, the dough was much easier to work with after being refrigerated all day. This dough (photo right) seemed much more promising. (And yes, “seem” is really all I have to go off of.)

So, after shaping it I let it rise for 40 minutes (while I went for a delightful rain-run), popped it in the oven and voila: MASTERPIECE!

I am just so happy.

I also read that you can store the same dough for up to 14 days (covered in the fridge), to have fresh bread whenever you want with just 5 minutes of preparation time. I love this!

Did I mention how happy I am?

I found the recipe I used online (at the bottom of the page – the first few pages in this article are the “5 minutes a day” theory.) To novice and frustrated bread bakers – I highly recommend this recipe.

Good luck!

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Inspiration Station

If you’re anything like me, sometimes you need a good dose of something inspirational.

Well here you go:

(Not that you asked, but I recommend reading this slowly – to give yourself enough time to let things set in before you move on.)

On that same vein, Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech is a lot like this Holstee Manifesto. It’s inspirational in a jab-you-in-the-side-might-be-exactly-what-you-didn’t-wanna-hear kinda way. If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, here are a few excerpts:

“…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something ‚ÄĒ your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

“Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. […] If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma ‚ÄĒ which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

“…On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.”

-Steve Jobs

Since college, I have had this theory that there is just not enough room for meaning in everyday life – we are uncomfortable with it for some reason, except with our very close friends or family. I think this is just the type of advice we can easily be uncomfortable with. It’s easy to say, “What does that even mean?”

Or, you can apply it to your life in a very specific way and run with it.

In sum:

Start doing things you love. Stay Hungry. Stay foolish.

PS: TM – thanks for the inspiration. Everyday.¬† ūüôā

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Wishes, Loves and To-Dos

Approximately two and a half months ago I promised to document my half marathon training. Sadly (and somewhat unsurprisingly), that didn’t happen. Luckily, the half marathon training has happened, and I’ll be running it in just a little over a week. (eek!)

Tonight’s run was the kind that would have made this blog awesome had I documented the whole process. It was colorful, warm, quick and reminded me of how far I have come.

The jury is definitely still out about how much I actually like running itself. But the time to think, and the opportunity to notice little things to add to the list of all I love about Madison make it well worth sore hip flexors and inability to gracefully ascend or descend the stairs.

Anyway, tonight I particularly appreciated the thinking about nothing and now I have separated my “nothing-thoughts” into three categories for your enjoyment. (Amusement?)

Wishes:

– I wish I had taken the following classes in college: forestry, horticulture, creative writing, photography, pastry making (is that real?) and lots more. Just more variety. I miss learning.

– I wish I hadn’t stopped writing for so long. Ira Glass is currently my main source of inspiration on this matter: (click the image to enlarge)

Loves:

So many things!

– The houses that are growing beautiful things like pumpkins, colorful flowers, mums, etc, and have done it in lovely ways that I am determined to someday master.

– The block of Spaight Street that had the most perfect fall colors. Bright yellow, electric green, deep red. Oh boy, oh boy it was amazing. I gasped outloud.

– All the smells while running. Tonight’s highlights: the autumnal smell of decaying leaves that smells dirty and sweet at the same time, lots of dinners (particularly one that reminded me of Grandma Lynes’ goolash), french fries, and Sam’s cooking when I walked in the door.

– How I felt like I had a relatively easy run and it was five miles! I will never get over how awesome I think that is.

To Dos:

– Write more. (Do it, do it, do it. DO IT.)

– Take some sort of class to chisel away at my “wishes” list.

– Get awesome at baking bread and do it regularly.

Ready? Go.

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Renaissance: Round 3

FORWARD: I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again:

I’m going to start blogging again!

Ever since college ended last spring, I have been very unsure of what to do with my blog. While in school, it was a perfect outlet for my new-found environmental endeavors: things I learned in class, reporting on environmental extra-curriculars, musings on current events, and then some other fun stuff added in here and there. Now that I’m working full-time though, I don’t learn quite the variety of new and interesting stuff that I did while in college, so I keep telling myself not to waste my time writing – and others’ time reading – boring mundane stuff.

Except tonight I realized something. Not only do I think about blogging all the time, I read blogs a lot and often want to know more of the boring mundane stuff. Who is this person who bakes/crafts/story-tells/reports so well? What is he/she like? What does this person do for fun?

So, here I go. The renaissance begins.

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Accountability. I hate it.

Here’s an example: when you announce that you’re going on a diet, and then the next day your friend sees you eating french fries and you feel like you have to justify it: “uhh, I was so hungry. I got these because didn’t eat lunch today.” (Or something like that.) That’s why I hate it.

But now you are all in charge of holding me accountable to the fact that on Saturday, October 15 2011, I am going to run a half marathon!
The training schedule has been created, first runs ran, and registration fee paid – so I’m not sure why I’m so nervous to start telling people that I’m training for a half marathon.

Anyway, tonight was actually my first run. It was really nice (minus the big bowl of spaghetti in my belly that I had just eaten). I’m looking forward to this challenge.

Other than that, this weekend I went dress shopping for some upcoming weddings, and Sam and I went riding on roughly 1/2 the course of the Horribly Hilly bike ride we did earlier this year. Holy crap, how did I ever do that? Overall, not too much in the way of adventure, but we’ve had so many traveling weekends lately that it was nice to stay in Madison and get stuff done around our apartment.

Alright, time to go to bed, but this has been nice. I think I’m going to have fun with this.

-Jenny

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This is How I Lost 40 Pounds.

I can’t believe I just wrote that.

This is the second week that I’ve been at my imaginary “goal weight” that I set oh so, SO long ago. (And I mean consistently at that weight, not those first-thing-in-the-morning-completely-naked-before-breakfast-but-after-you-poop kind of weigh-ins). Anyone dieting knows what I’m talking about. I think. Right?

Anyway, today I went for a run and I was thinking about what it took to get me here, and all the lessons I’ve learned about myself along the way… all four years of the way. Surprisingly, almost nothing about my life now is the way I imagined it would be when I thought about what life would be like “as a skinny person,” as I would say.

I don’t think this post will contain the answers for many people. I think that’s just it – weight loss is 100% individual.

But as a form of reflection, here’s how I did it anyway:

1. Got happy. I recently realized that I used to think of it all wrong. I used to think, “Once I’m skinny, I’ll be happier.”

Wrong. It wasn’t until after I addressed my bad habits, took on new challenges, tried new things, and made some big changes that my self confidence improved. Along the way, the weight came off. Once I became happier by actually doing things that make me happy, I spent a lot less time stressing about and wishing things were different, and more time just living a happy life than sitting around thinking about living one. (Usually with a snack.)

2. Got realistic. I still don’t look good in skinny jeans. I won’t go running only in a sports-bra, and I still have a lot of… well, jiggles. Being at my goal weight doesn’t look like what I thought it would, and I’m surprisingly OK with that. (And who has the time to do all those sit-ups?!?!)

3. Made goals. Lots and lots of goals. Many of them I never met. So then I made smaller ones. For example, last year I wanted to run a half marathon. So, I started by running for 25 minutes. Then I added a block at a time. Then I ran 3.5 miles quite regularly and came to really enjoy it. Once I made it 5 miles. I never ran a half marathon, but I did complete a 5k and loved it. It wasn’t my original goal, but it got me running across a finish line and that felt awesome.

3. Got going. I used to look at blogs, attend meetings, read books, and actually fantasize about weight-loss and healthy people. But it was so hard to translate reading about someone else’s success to my own success.

First, I got going the classic way: Weight Watchers. There, I learned exactly how much of what I usually ate was superfluous to what I needed to eat. I talked with others with the same habits and actually really, really enjoyed it (the chatting, not the non-eating). Weight Watchers’ Points system sucks and takes tons of time to adjust to, but it is a great way to learn what my body needed, how to find good healthy alternatives to favorite foods, how to create and maintain portion-control, and very importantly; it teaches you the lesson that if you screw up and over-eat, it’s OK.

All that said, I would never go back to Weight Watchers. My last 20 pounds were lost in a much more simple way than points equations and weekly weigh-ins and I think if I would have come up with it from the beginning, it would have worked just fine.

It finally took me equating “getting going,” with “getting happy” to eventually get healthy. Once I wanted to see some scenery on a hike, unwind by taking a jog, ride my new bike, or try cooking a new recipe, (and actually make time to do these things regularly) I simply found myself busier, and then healthier, and then happier, and then skinner. And it was fun. I don’t think I could have lost the last 20 pounds without a whole lot of fun because prior to that, I was in a big, fat rut.

And that’s what I did. ūüôā

-Jenny

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