An Open Letter to My Little Sister

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Dear Sister:

 

I bet I’m the millionth person to tell you this, but I’m going to say it anyway.  You are gorgeous. Like, ridiculously gorgeous. Beyond that, you are creative, thoughtful, and always ready to try something that interests you. Your capacity to deeply feel anything and everything is admirable, and something that I have never been able to do.  

 

Soon you will be 20 years old.   This is a big deal. It is also insane to me, because I remember the day you were born.  I wanted to wear my favorite dress the day I met you.  It was a real gem. 

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I know that I’ve always been a little overbearing and demanding.  When we were younger, I would have really specific scripts that we had to follow when we played Barbies or American Girl dolls, or even when we were pretending we could ski in the swimming pool in the back yard.  Thanks for dealing with my neuroticism from a young age.  Thanks also for dealing with constant need to show affection.  I promise it all comes from a place of love. 

 

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Anyway, if you are online at all EVER, or have seen any movies about 20somethings, you may think that your 20s are all about living it up, having a blast, and trying new things. I would agree with that. Your 20s are a gift—and a fun one at that.  However, your 20s are also when you begin to have all sorts of responsibilities and consequences, and are learning to really be a “grown-up.” There’s that side too, or at least there was for me. 

 

So here I sit, thinking about what I wish I would have known when I was in your shoes—just a few (ok slightly more than just a few) years ago.  They are things that I still stand by and strive to remember, and I’d love to share them with you.

 

1. Remember you aren’t bulletproof.  Consider your health. Create a habit that you can keep up with forever… or at least until something comes along you love even more and makes you feel good. Find a healthy stress reliever and do it every day. Sleep a reasonable amount of time. Move every day. Occasionally sit around and have FRIENDS or Gilmore Girls marathons, because laughter is good for the soul.

 

2. Don’t stop learning.  You might not have a final at the end of the semester, but keep your brain active.  Read a book that makes you think.  Read the newspaper so you know what is going on around you.  If you’re curious about how something works, or how something came into being, research it.  If there is something at your job you do not understand, find a way to learn about it. When you stop learning, you stop improving yourself.

 

3. Do something that terrifies you.  I mean, seriously puts you into an almost panic attack. Move to a new city.  Take the plunge and take a job that is going to be a challenge.  This world is a huge and amazing place, and don’t let fear stop you from seeing what you want or achieving anything because you are more than capable of doing whatever you set your mind too.  Don’t be paralyzed by what may or may not happen. Get excited about the possibilities.  Hiding behind excuses of why something just won’t work will prevent you from success.  You are so much better than that, sis. Want to know a secret? I was scared to move to DC for that internship.  I was nervous that taking the job with AmeriCorps would leave me broke on the street. I thought that M was nuts that he wanted to seriously date a girl who is incapable of a serious relationship.  Sometimes things turn out better than you could ever imagine but if you don’t put on a brave face and go for it, you’ll never know.

 

4. When you absolutely hate something, finish it anyway.  I’m about to burst all of your bubbles, and I’m sorry, but as your big sister it’s my responsibility to let you know something.  Sometimes work SUCKS.  Sometimes life is HARD. Sometimes, you are going to be AWFUL at something and hate every minute of it.  However, after taking on something you truly hate and conquering it, you’ll realize that you can do anything. Also, in life, you can’t do only what you love and only what you’re good at.  Toughing it out through the tough stuff, bad times, and seriously terrible tasks makes you appreciate the good things that much more.  It also shows everyone that you can’t be stopped and won’t settle.  So, if nothing else convinces you to carry on, remember that everything has a finish line and will eventually end. You can do it, you just have to stick it out. This is a particularly hard lesson, but accepting it at the beginning saves time and heartache—I promise.

 

5. When someone shares an opinion about something that’s vastly different than yours, listen anyway. Really listen. Don’t interrupt, even if it is stupid or ridiculous, or if you just don’t like them.  Do this because someday someone will think that about your opinion, and you should be given the chance to share your thoughts then as well.  Who knows, maybe you’ll even learn something. At least you’ll have done something that is worthy of respect and falls in line with that wonderful character that you have.  It isn’t your job to change everyone’s opinion to match yours, no matter how sure you are that yours is the best out there. 

 

6. When you find something you love to do, stick with it. There will always be something that pays more or looks more glamorous. Remembering why you are somewhere helps when things get tough. A delight in life is making a difference and knowing that you are doing something that is fulfilling to you. That being said, remember you are never stuck anywhere.  If you’ve given something a lot of thought and prayer, I believe that you just know when it’s time to move on.  Don’t be afraid to do that, but make sure it’s what you really want before you give up something that you know you love to do.

 

7. There is nothing on your resume that trumps hard work. Create a reputation of being the person that gets things done. Beat deadlines.  When you’re at work, focus all of your mind and heart into what you are doing.  Ask if there is more you can do. Be honest when you are stuck or make a mistake—no one expects perfection. Fix errors that you can, accept and move on from errors you cannot control or correct.  Accept criticism with grace and openness, knowing you are not perfect.  Don’t let pride stand between you and a better, more knowledgeable self.  If you’re having a bad day, no one at work should be able to tell. Sidenote: A coffee pot in your office is a godsend and worth every penny.

 

8. Don’t burn bridges.  I credit Mrs. Callan from AP English with this. She also added that you never know who your boss will be.  She was right. Make an effort to be kind to all and show great respect to everyone you meet.  At the very least you aren’t screwing yourself out of future employment, but more than that, respecting others is a reflection of your character.  Likewise, not respecting others—no matter their actions toward you—is a reflection of your own poor character.

 

9. When you don’t know the answer, ask someone who does.  No one expects you to know everything.  This piece of advice is something that I learned from experience, when I wish I would have learned it in theory first. So much time and effort and dignity is saved when you can just admit you don’t know. The result is two-fold: 1. You learn something and won’t have to keep asking.  2.  You probably would screw it up if you just guessed, so save yourself having to do something over again. There is no shame in needing help.

 

10. You are not “too good” for any task. Remember your roots.  Even as you get promoted to the highest heights, as I’m sure you will, remember that you are a person, the same as everyone else on this planet.  There is nothing that you’re “too good” to do.  That pride is dangerous and that attitude is obvious to everyone.  You are not entitled to anything in life, and the sooner you realize that, the more successful you will be.

 

 

Oh, and always remember to call mom at least once a week. I still think she knows everything. The number one blessing of being in our family is knowing you have a support system always—no matter what.  Leggings are never a substitute for pants, unless you’re wearing a long top that covers your butt or it’s an 80s party or you’re running a marathon.  When your friend asks if she looks fat and she does, say the outfit just isn’t her color or style. Don’t date drummers; it’s a cliché for a reason. Have a designated driver or a cab ALWAYS- NO EXCUSES! Even though I know you won’t be having sex until you’re 40 and married, just know condoms are non-negotiable.  Have daddy go with you to help pick out your first apartment so he can check out how everything works. Have mom go with you to make sure you’ll have everything you need, because she thinks of everything.

 

And I love you tons.

 

xoxo,

 

Aly  

Expectations vs. Reality

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As an eternal optimist, I tend to go into all situations expecting the absolute best outcome.  This has served me well in many, many ways and I would never want to change that outlook. However, experiences in fitness have given me what I like to call a cautious optimism, and what M likes to call “finally, somewhat of a grasp of reality from a freaking Disney Princess.”

 

Clearly, my parents are to blame.  I was raised by two loving parents who encouraged me to go after my dreams and convinced me I could do anything with some hard work and a good attitude. Probably part of it is due to the fact that I’m a millennial, thus an entitled narcissist. Either way, I have some issues with realistic expectations.

 

Like camping.

 

It’s not that I don’t like the outdoors—it’s really the opposite of that.  I love a good outdoor workout. I’m extremely fond of front porches, especially when I have a glass of wine to go with them.  Beaches? Wait just one second—let me grab a bikini and some sunblock and baby, I’m there. Parks are delightful—in fact, I just returned from the park by my apartment. I can play catch all day, man.

 

Then my fiancé— I mean HUSBAND (how long does it take for that to sink in?) talks about going camping. At first, this seems like a great plan, but then we start talking details. My expectations and his reality are completely different.

 

You see, my friends can attest to the fact that my childhood ideas of outdoor frivolity were a bit skewed. My grandparents own a motorhome, and I don’t just mean one of those little pull-behind-your-truck, I’m-just-a-tent-with-some-mesh-walls kind of a deals. I mean, like something that Mick Jagger rolled around in with all those girls that dropped their panties at the mention of a rock star. And, you know, Keith Richards and the other two guys. 

 

Imagine my astonishment when I’m invited to a Christian music festival at the age of 10 (They do exist. Imagine Bonnaroo, but replace the pot and shrooms with Surge, Swedish Fish and WWJD bracelets) and discover that not all camping involves king-sized Sleep Number beds and DirecTV. And definitely no private shower and restroom facilities. How did they expect me to do my hair in butterfly clips and rock my Limited Too threads in this squalor?

 

Suffice it to say, I’ve had to readjust expectations many times since that day. The hardest of all these readjustments was when it came to my fitness expectations. There is absolutely nothing worse than having your hopes dashed to the ground by reality. 

 

When I began training, I expected immediate results with very little sacrifice on my part. Obviously I was going to don my most adorable outfit and go run for a bit on a treadmill and leave looking like Zoe Saldana’s hot white sister.  Somehow this did not happen! What?!?!

 

A major part, for me, of becoming more fit is the education that led to more reasonable expectations. Remaining ignorant surely wasn’t going to help me get results, neither would believing every single thing on the Internet or in the latest bestselling diet. Learning how my body worked, what nutrients actually DO, and the different functions of each aspect of a training program were imperative to my success in learning to become healthy.  If you have no idea how anything works, then there is no basis for an expectation at all, and a high likelihood of disappointment.

I’ve since then read TONS of books and articles claiming the best training programs and diets. Bodyweight only training, Crossfit, Tabata, HIIT, Running manuals, P90x with all its muscle confusion, yoga, Eat Stop Eat, The Skinny Rules, Paleo–I love them.  They may as well be the next Nora Roberts novel. The problem is, I was so incredibly confused! There were so many conflicting opinions! 

My best advice for wading into these waters? Ask a trainer that you trust and do some experimentation. It’s actually pretty fun to try all sorts of new things and learn different opinions.  Some are wacky and sound crazy, and more often than not (in my experience) that tends to mean that they are wacky and crazy. But before I leave you floundering, I wanted to add one more tip.  

 

I am obsessed with this girl, Molly Galbraith.  She’s legit. Her blog is crazy good and her story is inspiring. If you’re looking for a springboard to jump into this world of living healthily, I think she’s a great place to start. I’m always looking for experts to learn from, and I have gotten so much out of reading her stuff.  Since I am totally not an expert and am just an eager novice, it’s been so incredible to read from someone who just makes SENSE. 

How about you? Any training programs that you are obsessed with? 

 

Cheers!

Hi. My Name is Aly, and I’m a Recovering Bride

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Remember that girlfriend that you had in high school that just dropped off the face of the planet when she got a boyfriend?  You used to look forward hanging out together all the time and then she went and got all self-involved, so you were all, “Screw her, I don’t need that!”

I’m that friend, or at least I have definitely been that friend for the past few months. So sorry, please forgive my negligence.  July 13th I tied the knot with the love of my life and have been absent from all of my favorite activities because I was in Bride Mode. It has ended, and I am back and more motivated than EVER!

Please indulge me, as I know this portion of my post is not directly fitness-related.  However, mental sanity is a necessity. Do not take it for granted. And so, for some of you upcoming bride (and grooms/families of brides and grooms/friends and saints who put up with them), I’ve compiled a list of things that I found were key for having a joyous day instead of wanting to have a diva Bridezilla attack on everyone and everything in sight.

  1. Remember that this glorious day you have waited for your whole life is basically a big party. If things go awry, I swear it’s not the end of the world.  People are excited and rooting for you, so try not to have a panic attack. It rained on the day of my outdoor wedding, and you know what? We had a wonderful day anyway. Just be sure to have backup arrangements.
  2.  Be clear on the guest list and make sure everyone else in the wedding party and family is too. You can’t invite everyone that you’ve ever met, unless you have unlimited resources and time. We had a guest limit imposed by our venue, and wanted a more intimate wedding.  It was probably the most stressful part of the wedding to try to enforce the guest list that my husband and I had decided on, and I’m sure some feelings were hurt. However, at the end of the day this is about the Bride and Groom, and if others don’t like it, bummer for them.  Don’t let anyone bring you down. I was lucky enough to have a groom that didn’t care to take care of awkward situations like this in my corner.
  3. Take time to be alone with your new spouse for a few minutes during the reception or right after the ceremony.  After your ceremony, you’re essentially a celebrity for the next few hours. Everyone wants to take a picture with you and talk to you. It’s fabulous—but the few moments my husband and I were able to steal a few unwatched kisses and be giddy about the fact we would be together forever were priceless.
  4. Splurge on your photographer. You spend all this time and money making sure everything is exactly how you have imagined. It was imperative to me that we hire someone who could make everything as visually beautiful as the memories in my mind.  A special thanks to my dear friend Daniel and his company, Michael Bordeaux Photography. Pick someone with whom you are comfortable and someone whose style you love.
  5. Pick attendants that will actually be helpful. My girls and his guys were INCREDIBLE and helpful with anything that we needed.  They talked me down from my minor panic attack, and planned him one heck of a bachelor party. This is always a tough call when you’re trying not to hurt feelings.  We each chose three of our very closest friends who we knew would have our best interest at heart.
  6. Eat. ‘Nuff said.

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Ok that’s all I’ll harp on the whole wedding planning thing. As far as my adventures in fitness, I have absolutely been slacking due to wedding palooza. Yesterday I went back to the boxing club for the first time in FIVE WEEKS and I’m absolutely feeling it today. I think I’ll never be able to move my shoulders again—in a good way! It is thrilling to be back into something I love that makes me feel good (or will soon).  Getting back to it is intense, but it reminds me how much better I feel afterward. Performing horrifically last night has been the best motivator now to get back into my old healthy routines.  I forget how good my body is designed to feel and am looking forward to getting back to a more fit me. More to come, folks.

No for real, I swear.

Cheers!

Just a Man and His Will to Survive

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Have you ever felt just a little bit overwhelmed at the gym? Like maybe you’re the only person there who doesn’t bench 750 pounds or run marathons?

When I first started working out, I was in a constant state of being overwhelmed and down on myself.  The group class was the embodiment of anxiety. Do I want to spend 30 minutes to an hour being the chubby kid in the back row heaving like a beached whale? No thanks.

But I have a secret. You are one of the blessed few that gets to hear it.  Group classes can actually be an ego boost! They give you mojo and can crush that plateau. 

Sure, sure, I’ve mentioned them before but I wanted to highlight how big of deal they’ve been for me. That workout buddy you have is perfect and wonderful, but having a whole group of people who notice when you’ve been skipping out is such a motivation.  Here are some tips that I wish I’d known from day one.

Group Class Survival 101

1.  Not everything is about me.  Everyone in the class you just entered is working on their own fitness goals. You aren’t the center of the world.  Not everyone is staring at you.  Not everyone is wondering why the hell is that girl here.  Not everyone just noticed that you couldn’t knock out that last pushup. Promise.

 

2. Chill out. Take a break. There’s always that moment in the middle where I’m pretty convinced I’m about to die.  I’m a little embarrassed how long it took for me to have the realization that this is MY class and it’s all good if I take a little break and grab some water.  I always had this idea that I had to do everything exactly like the instructor—pace, intensity, length, speed, and height.  Yeah, that instructor that teaches these classes 4 times a day and has dedicated his/her life to teaching others fitness. Needless to say, I couldn’t quite keep up.

 

3. Bring water. And a towel. If it’s a good class, you’re going to sweat like crazy. Dehydration will make you shaky and unfocused. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated. Don’t get blinded by sweat dripping into your eyes, causing them to sting like mad.  You won’t be able to concentrate on the instructor or see what they’re doing, so a towel is a great plan too.

 

4. Don’t let your clothes be an obstacle.  I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again! Confession: I didn’t follow my own rule at a recent boxing class and really regretted it.  You know those sports bras that zip up in the front? Cute right? WRONG. While we were doing sets of burpees then mountain climbers, the zipper came unzipped…whoops. I can promise you I’ll never again be wearing that one to a high intensity class. Oh, and do us all a favor and wear shorts long enough to cover your ass.  

 

5. Talk to people! They’re probably nice. As an added bonus, you get a new support person cheering for your success and doing the same thing you are.

 Hopes this helps! Let me know if I missed your favorite tip 🙂

 

Cheers!

It’s Fine By Me If You Never Leave

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My relationship with exercise has always had a remarkably similar storyline to my relationship with men. It all begins with one great day.

You know the day I’m talking about.  It ‘s one of those days that leaves you going to bed smiling and giddy at the promise tomorrow holds… so giddy that you can’t even sleep because you’re too excited and your mind is making a plan for what that week will hold. For guys, it was an upcoming steamy night. For exercise, it was the bikini I was going to get for this summer. Surprisingly similar outfits were attached to both visions.

Morning would come, and I would spring out of bed singing.  The sun is shining, coffee is brewing and I’m ready to meet each challenge that heads my way with the poise of Grace Kelly and dynamic influence of the Iron Lady, may she rest in peace. This manic, likely unhealthy state of sheer optimism and fortitude lasts for weeks on end. Ok, typically about three or four.

Reality would inevitably have a way of rearing its ugly head. I just don’t feel like going to my group class.  The gym is too packed for me to go. My arms are sore. I had to work late. The guy I’ve been seeing started talking about his car more than is necessary, unless he’s at the Ford Dealer. I found someone cuter. This guy is sweet, brilliant, and interesting… buuuut this guy has season UK Basketball tickets. Deuces. (People still say that. Yeah they do.)

Rinse and Repeat 

This cycle was my life from age 16-22. I don’t think there was the slightest problem with the guy side of it. Prior to age 22, there is no way I had the attention span to be in a real relationship, not to mention zero desire to do so. The exercise thing is where the problem resided.

However, it wasn’t until I met the love of my life that I realized I had commitment issues. My friends are probably laughing at this, because I couldn’t even commit to a hair color until about six months ago (light brown, shockingly my natural hair color in case you’re curious). I think I’ve just been born with a restless spirit.

When I ran across this quote while I was perusing an educational literary magazine, I thought it was a beautiful way to state a lesson with which I struggle. Oh, and it was definitely on Pinterest, but educational literary magazine sounds way better, right?

Commitment means staying loyal to what you said you were going to do long after the mood you said it in has left you.

Through tough times, it is essential for me to remember why I started something in the first place. I want a stronger, healthier body to enjoy my life. Without exercise, my stress levels skyrocket. I have crazy high energy, and day-um can I wear some jeans now.

When M is really pissing me off (which is rare! Love you), I strive to keep in mind all the good times we have had, and my excitement for our future helps me when I’m convinced for a fleeting moment that I should be single again…after a good boxing class of course, because I am not that rational in the heat of the moment.  Then I remember I’m crazy about that guy, and common sense wins.  I’m still a work in progress, but hey—my favorite part of life is achieving what I’ve set out to do.  And wine.

Cheers!

A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action

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Warning: Read at your own risk. It’s a little more touchy-feely than I usually write, but in order to continue to share about other aspects of my life, I felt the need to share this portion of my history. I do not equate my story with anything similar to real tragedy, and hope it doesn’t come across as self-indulgent. I only hope that through sharing my experiences, maybe, just maybe someone can find joy and their own self-worth.

Around these parts, I’m known for being almost annoyingly happy and cheerful.  The “almost” I added, as to make myself feel better because it has got to get irritating.  I can’t help it! It’s true! I genuinely love life, love my job, love my fiancé, love my family, love my friends. Ok, I’ll stop—don’t punch me in the face (but I’d dodge it anyway, man).

A big secret to my happiness has been confidence in who I am.  I haven’t always had it. Fitness wasn’t the only piece to this puzzle, but it was an irreplaceable tool I utilized to find my self-worth. Again, I did not find worth in fitness, but I used fitness to help myself discover my own worth.  It was more of a symbol of how I am capable of changing things in my life when I put my mind to it.

During my college years and immediately post-graduation, there were some tough days on the ego.  The weight gain caused me to lose who I was. I felt trapped in my body, and unless you’ve been there, you can’t quite get it.

Blessings through friends proved priceless. Fortunately, during this weak period of my life, I had an incredible group of friends to lean on.  Friends in whom I put my utmost trust.

Part of growing up for me, though, was learning that trust is a gift that I could not share with every person I meet.  Some of my friends were and still are wonderful people to be around, and I wouldn’t trade a day I spent with them. However, I know now that it is foolish to share details of your life with the selfish and insecure.  If a person can’t accept who they are, it can lead to a warped perspective on their views of others.

It took some time to get over the hurt of some personal ties being severed. It took even more time to forgive and move past it, accepting that sometimes what matters isn’t others’ perspectives, but rather your own knowledge of truth.

Experiences with this breaking of trust led me to a key perspective that I still consider my life mantra.

 

I can’t control what others think of me, but I can control my own actions. If I live a life I’m proud of, no one can take that from me.

 

This realization that the only person I can control is myself led me to the gym. After seeing firsthand what playing the constant victim looks like, I knew I never wanted that for myself. No one is to blame for my actions but me. I needed to take charge. I wasn’t going to live one more day in a life that I didn’t choose.

I don’t mean to be sappy, but that is what my experience felt like.  Basically, I had to decide to put on my big girl pants and take charge of my own life.  Fitness gave me a way of controlling who I was, and you know what? I felt incredible. I was stronger than I ever thought possible.

That kind of attitude couldn’t help but make me a happier, more confident person.  Stress was completely bearable because I was in control. My career was on course because I knew it was my responsibility to not just sit there, but to really make something happen. I can honestly say I’m grateful for the more challenging times because they were such turning points for me.

Oh, and for the record, a boyfriend never dumped me again because they “didn’t think I was very attractive.”  True story. Totally happened.

Cheers!