"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Sunday, January 6, 2019

2018: The Year of Growth and Redemption, Part III: Redemption

My house. My land. My island. My flag.

Continued from here.


Enrique Iglesias's Move to Miami, featuring Pitbull

It is hard to choose a favorite photo from this month, but this would perhaps be one of the most representative. I look like a freaking strong beefcake in that photo on the left, enjoying every single bite of the half a key lime pie that I ate all by myself without a care in the world, without feeling guilty, without feeling like the wheels were going to fall off. Because you know what? This was not a binge. I had macros that I was assigned and while I was free to not track if I didn't want to because vacation, I made this whole thing fit without starving myself in order to do so, just to prove to myself that you can have your pie, enjoy it, still have your regular meals AND abs to show for it afterwards. (It also helps that key lime pie is fairly "macro friendly" for a pie, which I discovered later :)...)
It was a breakthrough moment in mending my relationship with food.
This photo is creepy af but it is one of my favorites of the ones I took on this trip because it tells its own story. It is representative of the type of photography I used to enjoy creating back in PR when I walked around with my SLR on the weekends and developed my own film. It was interesting to post this one on social media and read the comments it received based on what people saw.
June was an amazing month and probably one of my favorites of this year, though each month from here on out would have something really special about it. <3

Carlos was offered a promotion at work, a promotion where it was expressed that they prefered he be off on the weekends...which meant we would be back to not seeing one another since I worked weekends in the ICU. (We spent the first 7 years of our marriage working opposite schedules: I worked weekday days and he did weekend overnights. While a lot of married couples prefer to spend time apart (I will never understand that) Carlos and I genuinely like one another. The opposite life was awful. We paid our dues in that department already.)

I considered requesting a shift change to weekdays at my ICU job but the "problem" is that I adore my weekend peeps, and the 100-mile round trip commute into Northern Virginia on weekdays can be prohibitive when rush hour can make the one-way trip take over two hours. That's not so bad with an 8 hour shift, but remember I'm scheduled for 13 hours, and that often turns into 14, 15. Nope.

I half-heartedly scouted for weekday positions at veterinary hospitals closer to home. I really liked one specific hospital that has an amazing reputation in the region for work-life balance and a positive, teaching environment but they were only hiring for overnights at the time. Walking into the hospital and talking to its people, I had the same feeling of coming home that I experienced when I first interviewed at my NoVa job. I didn't take the position but it was good to get to meet them and know they are an option.

This is the ICU tech procedures book.
I work with a bunch of hilarious weirdos and I love it.
Carlos was able to arrange things so that he was working Saturdays in dialysis and Sundays at his part-time in the ER (he keeps the ER job because he adores it just like I do my ICU position) so that we could still have two days off during the week together, which solved the schedule problems for now.

We started going to Alive @ Five in downtown on Thursdays when the weather permitted. Alive @ Five features local bands at 5:00 pm at Carroll Creek. The cover to get in is $5 and you can buy locally made beer, wine or food for $5. Hence the name. :) All proceeds go to fund the Downtown Frederick Partnership, which is the organization that makes our downtown area the amazingness that it is.

You only see this photo, but when I see it, I remember the music as we walked towards Carroll Creek. <3
Remember at the show when I said I wanted friends who lift? I got them through CrossFit!
Shown here with two of the guys from our box, whom we bumped into at Alive.
The biggest highlight of this month was the cruise trip, which I wrote about here. It was epic in the sense that I. LET. GO.

I let go of all of the fears I'd developed around having to look a certain way, eat a certain way to look that way, and exercise a certain amount in order to fit into this mold I had designed for myself over the course of the last year. I ate really healthy, I worked out a tremendous amount anyway, but I did it because I wanted to, not because I had to. I had SO. MUCH. FUN just living in the moment.

I enjoyed being with Carlos's family and had fun with the nieces and joked around with his dad and brother. We disconnected from phones other than to use them as cameras, and spent every waking moment together. I played hard and slept hard. And I took photos. So, so many photos.

I've been told before to put the cell phone down when it comes to taking pictures. I refuse. I have a Bachelor's in art and am a very visual person. I took 3 years of photography lessons and I write on social media (if only for my own enjoyment) and it is impossible for me to look at beautiful moments in life and not want to capture them. I have always been this way: in a time when photos weren't digital and people didn't just carry cameras everywhere or take photos of everything because it cost money to develop, I would simply draw those beautiful and/or memorable moments instead.

Goofing around with my brother.
I had forgotten I used to paint his nails during his goth phase. That's what I'm doing in the bottom sketch.
Small moments from the one time we went to Arroyo in November for Thanksgiving break.
My brother and I used to have the silliest inside jokes that only we understood. I captured them with these sketches. They would have been completely lost in the fog of memory otherwise.
I remember this day because of this drawing. I was in my first year of college, dressed in a tiny black tank top with a long flowy black skirt and sandals. It had been pouring all morning and it slowed to a drizzle when I parked at school. The parking lot asphalt was brand new; they had just paved the Natural Sciences parking lot after decades of it being a dirt lot. The smooth wet asphalt was like an enormous mirror: I could see the reflection of the dark skies above me beneath my feet as I walked along. I thought that it must have been a really cool sight: me dressed in black, walking across the blackness with blackness above me, yet mirrored on the ground beneath me. So I drew it.
The portable camera that I happen to have on me at all times now in the form of my phone is honestly one of my favorite things about modern technology. Sometimes I capture what I see because I want to share the moment with others, but most of the time it's for myself. Memory changes with time, blurring the edges of what we remember. My paternal grandmother died of Alzheimer's and I've forever had a deeply ingrained fear of forgetting everything. It's why I write in so much detail...and why I take photos of everything. I want to remember the moment, the emotion, the smells, the sounds, the events around that specific instance in time.

Photography allows you to capture a moment with crystal clarity so that you can look back on it later and remember it in vivid detail. I am fortunate to be married to someone who feels exactly the same way about the significance of photography. We feed off of each other in that regard because we also love one another's views of the world.

This was one of my fave photos of us together this year and it was taken during this trip.
A great example of Carlos's incredible eye. He took this photo during this trip.
I posted about this trip already and it wasn't very popular...I suspect because I was brutally honest about our experiences with a boat full of American tourists that didn't really want to learn more about other cultures nor about the impression of the US that they were giving the worlds they were visiting. While people on vacation are most certainly entitled to have fun, it is NOT OKAY to have fun at the expense of verbally (and sometimes physically) abusing your hosts, be it the employees on the ship or the bartender at the bar in Cozumel. Then you're just making a fool out of yourself and the country that you represent. As someone who grew up in dual cultures, who is trying to constantly educate about the importance of "different" = "acceptable," it left me with a really bad taste in my mouth. Enough that I felt compelled to write about it, if only to create awareness. Like with my March show prep: a trip can have a downside to it and still be absolutely amazing and I wrote intensely about both of these aspects in the cruise post. I've realized though, that when it comes to writing and the way it is interpreted, the eye of the beholder will give the written material its own color no matter how much the writer tries to explain what they really mean.

Case in point: the Bible. The biggest misinterpreted written piece in human history, over which wars have been fought and entire groups of people enslaved and exterminated.

Anyway. The trip was transcendental in the best way possible. Here are some of my favorites of the photos Carlos and I took because why not. I'll let you look at each one and imagine its own individual story if you missed the original post. :)

Carlos took this one.
I love it so much because there were like 5 different things happening at once here and he captured them all!

This photo seems so refreshing.
It was hot. as. BALLS. because we were on the back lower deck of the boat so there was no wind. The sun beat down on you without anything to cool you off. I lay in my bikini on that chair in the sizzling sun, the sweat slowly trickling down my back until I felt like I was starting to be fried to a crisp, simply because I loved the view so damn much! Lol
This was another example of simultaneous and sharply contrasting emotions over a moment in time.
Carlos and I finally gave up and moved up to pool deck, where there was shade and an ocean breeze.
I love Miami now because we haven't lived in its vicinity for 6 years.
I can view it through its artsy, upscale, eccentric art deco filter again.

This trip left us wanting to return to South Florida to just spend time there for a full week enjoying it as tourists that know it as well as locals do. It's a completely different experience when you know exactly where to find what you want...like the best Cuban coffee in town, shown here. ;)
Once back in Maryland, we continued doing fun things like wandering around town on our days off together.

I did not ride in June. We stopped by the barn occasionally to check on the girls, groom, fly spray, and bathe them, but that was pretty much the extent of my interactions with them. I was finally happier with Lily's weight.

Get ready: I'mma write a lot about food and working out here too! I explained the brunt of what happens next here. <- That post was typed while on the plane to Florida, where we would take the cruise to the Keys and Mexico.

What I didn't tell you guys was that pretty much less than a week after Trainer quit training, we had this amazing WOD at the box on power cleans, which are another of the Olympic lifts. I had never done them before and was pleased to realize that I could move 79 lbs right off the bat. I liked them so much that I decided I wanted to practice them on m own...so one afternoon I went to the globo gym to work on my cleans.

Well. I made it to 75 lbs. I was fatigued and sore from a week of working out hard on this day, and I was a little too confident in my ability to move this loaded barbell from the floor up to my shoulders at speed. I ripped the bar off the floor but I didn't do so evenly. I can't tell you what I did wrong, but when I received the bar, I felt like someone had kicked me right at the base of my spine, just above my hips.

It was not a pleasant sensation at all and it was my first time experiencing pain in my spine itself vs the muscles or nerves around it.

I immediately gave up on power cleans for the day and moved on to work upper body, being very careful to brace my abs and keep my back neutral. The pain was a dull ache, which still allowed me to move, but it was a relentless 7/10 that didn't improve regardless of position. I continued working out because going home and lying down in bed would have just made my lower back muscles spasm around my spine, making it even worse.

I got in my car after this workout and while still parked in the gym lot, for the first time since Trainer had said he wasn't training anymore, I broke down and cried. I cried because this was exactly why I had wanted to continue working with him: because I had known that with him I wouldn't get hurt. I cried because I was afraid of not having direction in my training anymore. I cried because I would miss working with him, specifically. I cried because how on earth was I supposed to believe in myself now when I didn't have someone else that I trusted believing in me first?  I cried because how the fuck was I supposed to keep claiming my space on my own? I didn't know how to do that. And then I cried because I was so freaking mad at him for not even saying good-bye. Like what kind of trainer does that when you've been working with them for so long? I then cried because I was now hurt and I wondered how long now before I would be back to normal. I cried because I was afraid in the future I'd misgauge or miscalculate or be overconfident and make myself worse.

I was kind of a mess.

And then I made myself stop crying because that wasn't going to change anything and my training situation was what it was now and it was for the better because now I could do whatever I wanted. I had All of the Possibilities in front of me. And my back would get better, just like everything else had.

And it did. I took anti-inflammatories at home and went for a run that afternoon because that didn't bother me at all; movement made my back feel better. After the run I pulled out all of my Back on Track stuff. This would be a huge help when I was lying down to sleep at night or sitting for long periods (like in the car driving to work and later on the plane to Florida for the trip, because yes: this did happen right before the trip). I told my shift leader that I couldn't lift heavy for a bit and she assigned me all the small top cage patients (so I wouldn't have to bend over) that first weekend after the injury. I continued going to CrossFit but I explained the situation and Coach A and Coach D had me scale everything for the first couple of weeks while also watching my form like hawks during lifts. CrossFit was an enormous help in getting my back on the mend, actually. Two weeks after the incident I texted Carlos from work one morning, "I need to start every day with CrossFit just so my back doesn't feel stiff! :D"

It took months, but it did get better. Getting exponentially stronger was also a huge help.

At the end of June, I signed up for weekly lessons with Coach A on the Olympic lifts so I could learn proper technique with direct supervision. She started me with the snatch, the most difficult of all the lifts.

With just a PVC pipe in the beginning and it was still hard af.
I'd give you the headliners on this in July.

Right after Trainer exited my life, I realized I needed to eat more. I just wasn't sure what ratios I needed to use in order to fuel my current insane activity levels: CrossFit WODs + Strength classes, running 3-4 miles/day, and additional strength training in the form of bodybuilding splits. I was working out for an average of 4 hrs/day for five days a week, which is not that far from elite athlete level. The one thing I knew was that carbs needed to go up and I needed to quit carb cycling. I explained in the post referenced above how I stumbled upon Black Iron Nutrition for nutrition coaching: I wanted guidance because at the time I was toeing the line with full-blown disordered eating way too closely. I went on their wait list and in the meantime used IIFYM's Macro Blueprint to re-calculate my macros for my activity levels. The calories were within what I had been using as maintenance (~1900) prior to all the keto nonsense, with carbs about as high as my high carb days had been (~ 200 g/day). I gulped, accepted the fact that I would probably be seeing less of my abs for a while as my body adjusted to carbs and the temporary water retention that comes along with that adjustment, and took the plunge.

That was hard. I slowly increased the amount of carbs I was eating over time and kind of avoided mirrors for the 10 days or so that I was on the waitlist for Black Iron because I knew that, after so much time worrying about looking like a bodybuilder, I would freak out and try to backtrack into carb cycling. It sounds really dumb but when you spend a year with your focus being on looking a certain way, it becomes difficult to think in a different manner. I knew in my head that the changes I was noticing in my physique were temporary. And so instead, I decided to enjoy the fact that for the first time in a long, long time, I had steady energy levels. In fact, by the time I heard from Krissy Mae that I had come off of the BIN wait list, all of my clothes were suddenly fitting looser (though I still weighed the same!) Yet I was eating more: my metabolism was starting to rev back up.

One of the first things that Jilda and I discussed was the fact that I had successfully reverse dieted myself to more livable numbers both calorie- and carb-wise. "Reverse dieting" refers to slowly coming out of a stricter diet by slowly increasing macros over time. It allows you to reset your metabolism: constantly cutting calories with traditional diets eventually stalls your metabolism because you are making your body get used to functioning on less energy requirements. If you're doing it right, with reverse dieting you'll get amazing amounts of energy, you'll get hungrier as your metabolism speeds up with more food, and you will also lean out more. It's one of the beautiful discoveries of modern nutritional science. (<- That article both explains the concept and gives an example within a bodybuilding format, which again was the type of nutrient manipulation that I had been hoping to learn when I chose that specific sport.) I had read about and used this technique on my own to get myself out of my first two preps without rebounding weight-wise. (Trainer did not believe in reverse dieting, which always left me wondering about the long-term success of his previous bodybuilding clients.) I had used it successfully again this time around, while silently grabbing the little voice in my head that liked to scream, "You're gaining weight!!!!" that had gained so much force during this third prep, and finally shoving it into a box that got duct-taped shut and kicked into the darkest corner of the attic of my psyche where no one could hear it anymore. (How do you like that imagery? Lol That really is what it felt like, though!)

The first set of macros she would assign me was very similar to what I was already using from IIFYM, which meant I was already comfortable with those numbers.

I was starting week #2 of working with Jilda when we left for the cruise. I had been given permission to not track macros because Vacation, but I wanted to track just to prove a point to myself: that I could fit in "fun foods" again and enjoy them without turning it into an out-of-control binge or mentally beating myself up over eating things that weren't "healthy." I had strayed a long way from the girl that had a healthy relationship with food back when she chose to embark in bodybuilding last year, and I wanted her back.

And I did get her back.

Cruise food! I was still enjoying the fact that I could eat as much fruits and vegetables as I could ever want. I still have a hard time believing that even those were restricted when doing the low carb thing.  6 months later and I still can't get enough veggies in my meals.
There is quite a bit of meat on this plate but it's drowned out by 3 different types of salad.
I worked out a lot during our trip...actually, I went on an 11-day streak. We were walking everywhere and Carlos and I took the stairs every time we went up and down the 11+ stories of the ship, but I was also clocking in an additional 4-5 miles running on the treadmill + an hour of strength training in the form of bodybuilding splits in the ship's gym. In all honesty, I was having a ton of fun being able to do that much activity-wise now that I was getting to a point where I was properly fueled for it, but there was also a part of me that wasn't quite sure how to stop when it came to decreasing the amount of exercise I was doing. That would happen later. Since I still found it enjoyable and honestly had no interest in working out less because of that, I decided I wouldn't worry about it just yet.

I was astounded when we returned from the trip and 24 hours afterwards I took a bathroom selfie because I liked how I looked...and on a whim decided to compare it to that one photo from Peak Week for the March show...and realized that I looked exactly the same now...if not better.

And it had happened while having FUN on a cruise and eating well and Jesus Christ NOT starving. Not many people get to say that.

My other favorite part of this month was being able to do All The Barbell Work I could possibly want. Since how much weight I could move was limited by my recovering lower back, I dove whole-heartedly into fixing my squat depth with lighter weights and continuing to explore this new world of CrossFit that incorporated so much barbell work that I had never encountered before: thrusters, overhead squats, push-presses, the Olympic lifts, etc.

I continued running once back home from the trip. Length of runs continued to average 4-5 miles. I had a goal to hit the 10k distance but I would eventually let that go in the name of strength.

More photos from my runs:

Food continued to be this amazing, beautiful, nourishing thing now that I was allowing myself to eat like I needed to for my activity levels with the guidance of BIN.

Black Iron Nutrition chili lime shrimp recipe that became a summer staple.
Also, this plate looks small but it's bigger than my face. That's a shit-ton of food in there.


Matisyahu's Sunshine
"Keep on moving till the first rays of dawn
Keeping it on till the day is done
Morning till the nighttime blaze is on
All along I keep singing my song
I said, this phase is always
Sometimes I get so crazed
But just know that I'll always stay
'Cause you're my light through the haze..."

The day we finally went to Cunningham Falls.

July is my birthday and it is my favorite summer month because of that. I personally think birthdays are amazing: it's your very own holiday! You gotta celebrate that shit, dude. :) We celebrate ours for the whole week.

We did our first holiday WOD at the box on the 4th, which was an absolute blast since it featured only the Olympic lifts. Carlos and I were going to meet up with some of the couples from the box at Baker Park for the afternoon celebrations and evening fireworks but the whole thing got rained out. :( Booooo.

I made shrimp and turkey sausage vegetable packets in the oven for the 4th.
Carlos and I were originally going to spend my birthday at Ocean City. I had booked the hotel months in advance for a steal and I had requested the day off from work to celebrate, but some unexpected bills forced us to cancel the trip. Instead we had a small staycation and since my birthday fell on a Sunday, I even got to have brunch!

But first...First Breakfast: one of my homemade lattes, mayorca sweet bread that my mom had sent from the island, and a veggie and egg scramble.
And then gym. I bought myself this limited edition Doughnuts & Deadlifts shirt and was sporting it for the first time on this day. (D&D is owned by the same woman that runs Black Iron Nutrition: Krissy Mae Cagney.)
Carlos was trying to capture my arm and shoulder pump.
Then brunch at Madrones!!! We started with breakfast shots: a slice of bacon, a shot of whiskey with butterscotch schnapps, and then you chase it down with orange juice. This was amazing. We would turn it into a holiday thing for us.
My delicious Bloody Mary.
Funky Monkey Bread.
OMG this was incredible. It's like a giant breakaway cinnamon roll.
That's chocolate sauce in the middle btw.
My veggie hash.
And yup: you are encouraged to NOT track macros on your birthday with BIN! So I didn't. I pretty much ate exactly what I wanted, again without turning it into an out of control binge, and didn't feel a lick of guilt about it.
I had lunch and dinner too. I just didn't take pictures. :) I also don't really remember because alcohol and dessert (dessert was Cold Stone cookie dough ice cream cake. *drool*)

We continued celebrating into the rest of the week.

We walked around downtown lots. I loved this sign.
I also loved this set of kitchen towels!
THIS. I especially love that it's a Dr. Seuss quote.
I kind of took it to heart on the blog.
Really pretty leaf on the sidewalk. Yet another of the many random things I decide to take photographs of.
Part of the celebrations included a visit to the the lake at Cunningham Falls. We arrived super early on a weekday to get a head start on the summer crowds.

The views were gorgeous.
But as islanders, we were pretty underwhelmed with the beach itself.
You now know the kind of beach we're used to.
We basically hung out in the sun for a few hours just to say that we spent part of a day there.
Well, Carlos really hung out in the shade while I took advantage of the sun. Lol
We need to go back to hike there.
We left when we got hungry and decided we wanted Real Lunch.

The Maryland Heights trail in Harpers Ferry had been a long-time bucket list item of Carlos's. Since we were doing All the Outdoorsy Things in the name of my birthday celebrations, I suggested we go do it once and for all.

It was well worth it.

Also: I continued to prove that you can EAT and have abs!
The entire month was just freaking awesome. More below in Training.

We weren't too bummed about the Ocean City cancellation because we were still going to be heading to Puerto Rico at the very end of the month. I spent the rest of July excitedly planning our trip.

Aengus started hogging my computer desk while I was typing, which led to moments like this one.
The snuggliest undead tripod Zombie Cat everrrrrr...
Carlos sent me this photo one day while I was at work, "I folded your laundry and your cat and put them in the basket."
I nearly died. *LMAO*

Living the beefcake life. ;) Here at Alive @ Five.

Same day as the previous pic.
I really needed to hear this at the time I found it.
It was a rough year on the friends front.

Because of the Birthday Curse, I only went to the barn once all month. Carlos checked on the girls for me. Can you understand now why I don't write about the horses anymore? There are so many other things that are important too.

This photo was taken returning from the barn that one time I went with Carlos.

By the time July came around, my back felt 95% back to normal and I dove into CrossFit with no reservations. I wrote about that here. I was working out an insane amount, especially when it came to lifting, but I was enjoying every second of it because I had energy for daaaaaysssssss thanks to being properly fueled. I was so...HAPPY. Just so very, very, very happy. It permeated everything.

Continuing to work on perfecting my squat and deadlift...and now starting to add more weight!
The first time I nailed a really pretty overhead squat. These were SO hard in the beginning!
The moment was captured by Coach A.
Perfecting dem front squats too!
Squat Day in class made me happy. <3
Zeus, the box's Pittie mascot, sunbathing by the garage doors.

Carlos and Zeus.
Working on stretching and mobility with Coach A after one of my snatch classes. The cool thing about these lessons is that they weren't just about Olympic lifts for CrossFit: about 50% of these first few classes addressed so many mobility issues and imbalances I'd developed over the past year bodybuilding. I also finally started to get answers to questions about technique and form when it came to lifting in general. Ex: we spent a good portion of July working on hip flexibility to improve my squat depth. Everything I was learning here were pieces of a puzzle that I would continue putting together as the year progressed. 
This would be Coach D. *Lol* He is Coach A's husband and the other head coach of our box. He's also a personal trainer, a ski instructor,  and a certified massage therapist. He's also the one who's into teaching the powerlifts to competition standards. :) On this day I kept having issues with getting my left shoulder as high as my right when getting the bar overhead during snatches in my private lesson with Coach A. She called Coach D over to get his opinion on what was causing the issue. He discovered a giant knot in my left rear deltoid that he enthusiastically unknotted in order to give me my full range of motion back. It was both fascinating and excruciatingly painful. Carlos thought my reaction was very, very funny.
This was what I thought of Carlos's amusement. ;D
And more photos from my runs in downtown.

Carlos took this one from the public library outdoor balcony.
I had gone for a run while he watched Alive @ Five from this spot.
One of the most amazing things about getting my nutrition in order wasn't just having all of this boundless energy. It was also discovering how huge of an effect what you eat can have on every single aspect of your life. I knew it already from carb cycling, but now that I could eat the right foods in the right amounts (as in, a whole lot more!), it became even more evident.

Jilda assigned me separate macros for rest days, low volume days and high volume days. It was similar to carb cycling in that rest days were lower carb and high fat, and high volume days were lower fat and higher carb. There wasn't a set pattern to the days though: I simply chose the set of macros I wanted to use based on my activity levels for a given day. We agreed to play it by ear for my work days: slow work days could be counted as rest days, but busier days could most certainly be classified as low volume days. I would take enough food to do one or the other (it just required swapping out my afternoon snacks) so I could choose based on my hunger and energy levels throughout the day.

Pork and veggie noodle stir fry.
The amazing thing here was that my rest day macros, which were the lowest carb, still had over 200 g of carbs/day! I had not eaten that much carbs on a work day since before starting the ICU job in May of 2017...and I had not realized how drained I was while at work when eating low carb (less than 50 g/day) until I was suddenly properly fueled for my activity levels at work too.

I used to have to take caffeine pills or a 5 Hour Energy or a third coffee mid afternoon at work because otherwise I'd feel ill from exhaustion halfway into my 13-hour shift. Now with this much food, I discovered that not only did I not need that afternoon caffeine boost...I also had a clearer mind when working with critical patients, my thinking was faster, my strength was greater, I had more patience with difficult patients (I hadn't been impatient before; it was just a lot harder to get me rattled now), I laughed a whole lot more, and I wasn't struggling to stay awake on the long drive home on Sunday night.

Holy shit guys, I was even sleeping better. I had not realized how poor my sleep quality had been until that too was fixed. I wasn't sleeping more on weekends, but my sleep quality was so much better that I'd wake up on Sunday morning feeling outright refreshed to start my second 13-hour shift. I had no idea carbs could influence how well you sleep, but they most certainly can!

My hormones finally started regulating this month too. I got a real period for the first time in a year and I started to notice trends in terms of how my strength, endurance and energy levels changed depending on what my hormones were doing in different parts of my cycle. This too was fascinating! As an athlete herself and as a nutrition coach Jilda had experience with this as well (you can destroy yourself hormonally, from your sex hormones to your thyroid to your adrenals, by not eating enough and/or working out too hard), so it was awesome to be able to ask her about all of these things I was noticing/discovering about my body and have her there to explain it to me.

FINALLY!!! Finally, finally, FINALLY, I was learning exactly what I had hoped to learn with bodybuilding: how profoundly nutrition can affect your body. I'll go into more detail on this in August as the patterns I was noticing became more established.

THIS IS SO FREAKING TRUE. And it fits perfectly with the events of this month.

The month ended with us getting off a plane on our homeland. But I'll go into that in August. :)

This photo was also taken in July, from the house that I grew up in.


My love.
"Not many things wait for you in life. Animals, people, things, they age, they die, they leave, they wither away and rot. But places...sometimes places wait for you for years, for decades, and despite the sun and the wind and the rain, they never change. They're just...there. Waiting."
- Me. This post.

August found us in Puerto Rico for the first time in 10 years. Each day spent on the island was a separate post.

First post: Introduction to why we made this trip.
Second post Arrival on the island and visit to the house where I grew up.
Third post  We travel along the northern coast to the northwest corner of the island, Rincon: Carlos's and my favorite beach town. We've always said that if we ever retire, it will be on the beach in Rincon.
Fourth post  We cross the central mountain range and head to Arroyo. <3
Fifth post Return trip to Maryland.

That vacation was one of the most significant events of the entire year because if affected us both so profoundly.

It was indescribable to be able to set foot on our land again, to drive on our roads again, to see our green volcanic mountains again, to be within 30 minutes of a beach no matter where we were standing, to speak our language with our accent and our slang with everyone around us, to not be seen as an "other," to realize that so many of our idiosyncrasies that American friends find unusual or irritating are in fact part of our cultural heritage. Like giving unsolicited advice to the people we care about. It's a Puerto Rican thing guys. While I finally adjusted to this mainland norm over the course of the last year once I realized that "Do Not Give Unsolicited Advice" is an unspoken American Commandment, I want to clarify: I don't do it anymore unless asked, but if I've ever given you advice in the past, it's because I cared about you. Just like cats presenting you their butts is part of their way of politely saying hello (*giggle-snort*), Puerto Ricans giving you advice is how we show we care. I've had island family and friends try to tell me how to manage my horses on the endurance trail, how I should lift weights (or not), how to drive, how I should keep my cats, how to live, what I should do with my career, etc, even when they had no idea what they were talking about. Is it annoying? Sometimes. But you listen because sometimes there is a takeaway that ends up being useful, a different angle that you hadn't considered, and also because it's that person  showing both empathy for your situation by putting themselves in your shoes, and that they care about you enough to take the time to try to help you out.

It was so good to go back and rediscover both the island and ourselves.


While it made me fall in love with my land again with the same ferocity I used to have for it as a child, revisiting it was also shocking in a way that I can't describe. A Puerto Rican friend that still lives on the island had been furious at me over my post-hurricane blog posts...she insisted that the island was fine and recovering, though my family and the local news said otherwise. Her insistence was honestly one of my reasons for deciding to just get on a plane and go see for myself...because despite all evidence to the contrary, I wanted to believe her so badly.

So on the one hand, I owe her that: she was a motivating factor in me finally getting us on a plane to PR. But on the other hand, I have a real problem with being persistently lied to, especially when the liar is just choosing to Bird Box her way about a reality she just doesn't want to accept.

The damage from the hurricane is real. While pretty much everyone has electricity now, the island has not recovered from the storm and its economy continues to forever spiral downward. And just like I predicted when the current president stepped into the White House, the current US mainland administration is helping to accelerate that downward spiral.

If you voted for this monster, you contributed to the current fate of my people.
Choosing to avoid political discussions is your privilege showing.
My people do not have that privilege and you do NOT get to tell minorities how they should feel about mainland politics that adversely affect them! 
You can live in a horrible situation and eventually get so used to seeing/experiencing it that you stop seeing it for what it is, but that doesn't make it any less real.

I took all of these photos. They are not from the internet; they were taken with my phone and my own two hands:

"Por que nos mienten?"
"Why do they lie to us?"
The numbers on that mural were the real death toll from the storm.
We were on this gloriously beautiful beach, and we turned around to see this: a grim reminder of what the island had lived the last year, that the US president refuses to recognize and validate simply because it makes him look bad.
You can't cover up the truth or try to twist it around just because it's inconvenient for you.
There are two things wrong with this picture.
Blackened street lights that never regained function after the storm.
You can't really tell in this photo, but there was SO much that was wrong with the background that would have been easy to get used to if you saw it every day.
There are two things wrong with this picture as well.
I documented some of the damage for my own purposes but didn't capture all of what we saw because it was too heartbreaking. Plus, you guys have already seen all of that on the US news while the storm and its effects were still being covered here. (You know, before we were forgotten among more 45 news.)

And it was true: the damage was all you could see for the first 24 hours. The new reality superimposed itself harshly on our old memories of how Puerto Rico had been when we lived there. Some places I couldn't remember at all because they had changed so much, and I found myself desperately searching through a box of memory trying to remember what they looked like before, what I had known before. My reality felt like it had been shaken up and stood on its head like a snowglobe, the pieces of what I remembered falling around me like the flakes inside the globe.

But then, after those first 24 hours, we too got used to what we were seeing. This is a warning to all of you: you can become conditioned to living in any type of situation if you decide to accept it, whether it is a life of peace and happiness or a life of neglect and violence. It is a warning for you that people can very much become used to living in circumstances that aren't considered "normal" by first world standards. They can become accustomed to governments that steal from them, that increase their taxes in unlivable ways, that take away their education, that pollute their drinking water and destroy their natural resources.

All of that has already happened in Puerto Rico.

It is starting here now.

Mainlanders: take a look in the mirror. Realize what is happening here, now. Puerto Rico has always been the US's little experiment ground: for birth control, for military weapons, and for changes in government policy. I lived through the transition period that brought about the current reality on the island, and I'm seeing the same changes happening here on the mainland right now as we speak with the current administration. This, more than anything, is what makes my hackles rise. If you accept it, it will become your reality too. And once that happens, there is no turning back.

This is real.

In our case as visitors to Puerto Rico that didn't have to live there, once we were able to see past the dire changes that unnervingly screamed "Help!"...we were able to see the beauty, the familiar, and recognize what had once been our home.

And so I decided I wanted to focus on the beauty that we saw, the parts of the island that you would never know about unless you knew a local or went out of your way to research Puerto Rico. I shared that part of my land with the world.

I decided...

...that I would show you Puerto Rico...

...the way we see it:

This beautiful...





My isla bonita.

Ours. For both Carlos and I, this is our home, our point of origin. 
A home that we can only return to as visitors because of what the US and a hurricane have done to its economy.

The visit to the island was probably one of my biggest contributions to social media to date. It is the first time that I have posted photos live as events were unfolding. The response on Facebook especially was incredible and it was wonderful to see people I hadn't heard from in years come out of the woodwork to say how educating the photos were, how much they had enjoyed them, and how it had changed their perception of the island. It made me feel "seen" and like people cared, and it motivated me to start posting more about my personal life on there again. In my grief, I had become this sort of angry, resentful recluse, and being able to share the island and see people be excited about it helped me come out of that deep dark burrow of despair that I had dug myself into.

Telling people that something they did made a difference for you is so important, guys. You can change that person's entire life around. The reaction the photos received on social media was unexpected and it was so rewarding. I felt like the sun had come out again for the first time since the election.

I had expected a similar response to the pictures and story on the blog since that was the main reason why I took all of those photos, so I was terribly let down by the fact that it didn't cause the conversation that I had hoped for. While I needed to put those posts together for myself, I was so so...vulnerable in them that I was honestly sorry that I had chosen to publish them. I guess travel posts are not that much of a hit on this blog in general (which really sucks because we want to travel more so you'll just have to put up with it ;) ), but it's my continued frustration with having a formerly equestrian blog with a mainly equestrian audience where I don't really write about horses anymore: there just isn't much of a reaction unless I'm writing about horses, even when the events I'm describing are ten thousand times more important to me than the horses have ever been.

This hit the nail on the head with so much accuracy when it comes to my feelings about the island, its fate and the way mainland politics have played into it. It finally put into words everything I had been feeling since the election two years ago, that was amplified tenfold by Maria last year.

I appreciate so much the people that did take the time to comment on my PR postsI cannot thank you enough. Some of you guys moved me to tears (in a good way!) and the comments were forwarded to my family to read. You made a difference by commenting, you made us feel seen, and it was good to hear that for some of you my writing about the island has indeed created a ripple effect. It was exactly what I had hoped for. <3

It's just really hard to stomach seeing your people so exhausted by their circumstances that they've given up fighting them.

My goal with these posts, of putting them out there in order to educate mainlanders, was in the hopes that you would understand why my people and my island are worth saving. To show you that we are quite different from Mexicans and our country is nothing like anything you'd find on the mainland. I also wrote them to remind you that not only does this island belong to you too, we are also YOU. You are living a situation that could bring you to the same problems the island is having now. It is actually very easy for a first world country to turn into a third world country. 
Take it from someone who lived it firsthand: It's really simple!
All it takes is one corrupt government and a people that are a little too confident in their democracy who sit back and wait for things to get better on their own.

It was wonderful to know that the posts made a difference for those of you that commented. It made it feel like all my writing isn't in vain.

I like to think that the photos on Instagram and Facebook at least caused a ripple effect. Maybe not on a social level, but at least at an educational level.

This is my favorite view on the entire island. It is my favorite view in the world: it is the view as you're sweeping down from La Cordillera onto the southern coast of the island.  Maybe it doesn't translate for Americans, just like most of you don't seem to understand why I make such a big deal out of mayorca sweet bread. ;) But my whole family is as fond of this view as I am and so I wanted to share it with you.
I included it in my Arroyo post, except the video wasn't working in that post. It's working here now.

Regardless, it was a significant and emotional trip for us. It was important because it allowed me to remember who I am and where I come from and to embrace again all of the misunderstood quirks that make me "me" due to the fact that I am Puerto Rican first and foremost.

I was born in Oklahoma but I would still be Puerto Rican even if I had been born on the moon. 

And no one can take that away from me.


Once back home in Maryland, the adventures in our hometown continued. Carlos and I loved going out for walks in the afternoons on our days off together. I love this city so much. It's a real city with a small town vibe and it has the best of both worlds. We just love being locals here.

This was my taken-at-home favorite photo of the month. This has no filters: it was taken in the exact same instance as the previous one, but Carlos chose to focus the camera on the light behind me. I love how it looks all liquid metal-y or like a scene from a graphic novel.
Meanwhile, I was taking a photo of this when Carlos took the previous two pictures.
I liked the contrast of colors and textures.
But quite boring compared to my film-degreed husband's! ;)
A hawk on a light post.
Leaving the White Rabbit Gastropub one afternoon after stopping by for a couple of beers.
A glorious sunset driving home.
Carlos texted me this one day.
"You need to measure your words..."
(It's a colloquial Spanish phrase whose meaning translates to "Choose your battles.")
The response translates to, "Go fuck yourself." 8.5 cm
I roared with laughter.
I want to explain a little about Carlos. The general notion is that I am the warrior between the two of us and he is kind of a passive bystander. HA! HAHAHAHAHAHA... Nothing could be further from the truth. I have come out into the world the way I have because I have him as a role model. He is the one that literally set me on fire and stoked the flame: Carlos is as much of a warrior as I am, if not more. He is very social, very funny, very much an empath and is capable of getting creepily accurate readings on people at first sight. Everything he has ever said from first impressions of friends has always been 100% on the mark. He is fantastic at both de-escalating and drawing shy, awkward people out of their shell. Thanks to all of this, he is able to give people exactly what they need at exactly the right time, be it a laugh, reassurance, or putting them in their fucking place. Because he has no qualms about that last one either. He is fair, but ain't no one walking all over him, which is what makes him an excellent nurse and now supervisor. Unlike so many men, he is not afraid of Feelings but he also doesn't let them get in the way when Things Need to Get Done. He is one of the people that I admire the most in the world. He is my husband, yes, but he is also my best friend and one of my biggest role models. Every day I strive to be more like him. I am what I am today because of him.

I sent Carlos this one one day. The people that know us from his angle (that know him first) think he's an asshole and I'm some sort of martyred saint, which we both find hysterically funny. The typical reaction when people finally meet the other half of us, regardless of who they knew first, is "OH. I get it now."
His response to the meme above was, "Are you calling me a softie?!"

This photo was my response.
Carlos: "Whatever."
Guys: when you choose a life partner, choose someone who is your equal.
Work was hilarious and amazing. This was around the time I discovered the "My Story" feature on IG and started posting some of my random everyday pics there. Some work pics go on there every so often.

Trevor is very clever when it comes to giving us accurate water temperatures while defrosting plasma.

"I'm a loaner, Dottie, a rebel."
Dottie has since returned to the company that loaned her to us.
She was The Good One and I miss her terribly. <3
I had been working here for over a year and had not yet met Stabby.
The day I did, I ROARED with laughter.
Fortunately, I have yet to see Squiggily Squags on an EKG...
I love the fact that teaching and learning are a big deal at my hospital, that quality of medicine is taken very seriously, but having a sense of humor is also valued. 
I was putting in charges at the computer when I took this photo. That little dude in the top cage was my patient.
He was adamant about the fact that I needed to PAY ATTENTION TO HIM STAT. (He was fine and he was one of my favorites that shift...and apparently the feeling was mutual because he would just bark at me anytime I was within sight, "Pets every hour on the hour are supposed to be treatments too, Nurse!")
I became really, really good at Bulldog anesthesias in Surgeryland.
You try running anesthesia on a 50 lb animal that is bred to have a trachea the size of a literal straw and then we can talk about it. ;)

My cats were adorable beyond words.

We're still not sure how he gets up there. We've never seen him actually climb the cat tree; we'll just find him there on occasion. Remember he only has one hind leg so this is extra challenging.
The general theory is that he teleports.
He always has to yawn when you point the camera at him. Always.
These shenanigans made it hard to write.
You have to be doing something right for a cat to look at you like this. <3 <3 <3
Every time I walk into the bathroom, he comes running and plunks himself on the rug like this, with his front feet tucked up like a squirrel and this same expression of bliss because he gets to be in the same space with me. On this particular day I stepped out of the shower to find him like this. He didn't care that I was dripping and let me take the picture.
I love him so much I can't even stand it sometimes.
Astarte was one of a kind, but after her death Aengus crawled into my heart in a completely different way.

Nothing of importance to talk about. We were at the barn every day to grain Lily and do groundwork with her. Gracie felt ignored. They both got groomed and fly-sprayed. The vet came out for shots. I did not ride. Lily went up for sale.

These were the only equine photos I took all month.

She's just so gorgeous.

We managed to CrossFit while we were in PR, which was pretty awesome. :)

When you're so pooped from the WOD you can't even do anything when the camera is aimed at you!
It was SO much fun to do CrossFit to reggaeton!
I continued with CrossFit at home.
More deadlift technique work. I went through a phase where I was really hyperextending my back on the lockout regardless of how little weight I was pulling. I still have somewhat of an issue with feeling when my back is perfectly straight during lockout vs hyperextended like this with really heavy weight. It's not going to hurt me nor cause penalties, but engagement is better if you keep your back straight.
Finally hitting bodyweight with squats!!
This was the day we did Beowulf, which I never did write about. Beowulf was epic; I mentioned it somewhere in this post. After THAT monster WOD, I proceeded to do the Strength workout which involved squat drop sets with increasing weight, which was a whole other level of torture. I used fractal plates (they are fractions of a pound) in order to increase weight as directed for each set. That's what you see here with the little colored plates next to the black collar. 
Trainer wouldn't let me sumo deadlift during the powerlifting block.
(It was actually one of the reasons for The Deadlift Argument: I had been struggling so much with conventional that I decided to try sumo...and discovered on my own that it was easier and I could pull more weight with sumo thanks to my conformation.)
We were taught how to correctly sumo deadlift one day in class at the box. Once I knew how it was supposed to feel, you bet I sumo'ed till the cows came home just because I could...and also out of pure pent-up rebellion. Though I would still continue chipping away at conventional because by golly I was going to own that lift no matter what.
I'm proud to say that nowadays I can pull the same amount of weight for both deadlift styles! :D
More on that in September.
This WOD was insane. I finished it with a grin. Carlos barely survived. *lol*
Getting all artsy fartsy with barbell photos during Open Gym at the box one morning before work.

My running in downtown continued. My August photos were especially beautiful, if I say so myself. They were a huge hit on Facebook, so there's that.

There was dancing at the bandstand one afternoon. <3

The view through my favorite weeping willow.

This is my favorite mural in downtown.
I'm obsessed with lily pads, water and light, mkay?
High schoolers LARPing in Baker Park! Though I wondered if this might not have been the local fencing club in medieval costume, since they were wearing face shields as well.
I ended up running at dusk often on Mondays and Wednesdays: I'd get out of Surgeryland at around 6:00 pm if I was lucky which meant that if rush hour traffic was bad on Route 15 (it's only one lane in each direction so when you're stuck, you're really stuck) I wouldn't have much time for actually working out by the time I got to the box for Open Gym. So on days when traffic sucked, I'd rush home, change into my running clothes, and drive downtown to find a spot near Baker Park to park.

This has been my running route for the past two years. I've always run past the castle of the public gym at the start of my runs long before I started training for bodybuilding, long before I knew the castle was a gym. It used to be the old National Guard building and I had always thought it just contained local government offices now.

The castle of the public gym.

Baker Park, as seen from almost exactly the same spot as where the previous photo was taken.
On one of these evenings I parked next to the tennis courts as usual. It was 7:30 pm so I had about an hour of light left. The park was crawling with people like it normally is during the warm months: people playing in the park green with their dogs, hanging out together, playing soccer, running, walking. In other words: the park was busy. There were cars driving past on the street next to me. I had locked my car and was sliding my earbuds into place when something suddenly made me look up as a specific ordinary-looking car drove past me.

It wasn't an ordinary car. It was Trainer's car.


I paused while walking, wondering what in the world had made me look up precisely at that moment. I would have missed it completely otherwise: there is nothing about it that stands out when it is among other cars. I watched him pull up by the gym.

I finished setting up my music and Endomondo, and broke into a jog. I was not going to alter my route just because he had shown up. You bet I was still going to run past the gym.

So you know how in 80's and 90's chick flicks, when the heroine vindicates herself at the end of the movie it's this kickass moment where she shines and proves everyone wrong by showing them that she can do the thing? And she looks so put together and amazing and everything goes perfectly because Yes, She Can Do The Thing and she gets to shut everyone up and earn their respect forever?

And you know how in real life when you get that same opportunity with a former coworker that made your life miserable, or a boss that didn't believe in you, or an ex that didn't think you were enough, or a former friend that betrayed you...in real life, that person shows up and they catch you at the worst possible time? On a day where you didn't bother brushing your hair and are wearing mismatched socks in the grocery store. Or you fail placing the IV catheter on a stable Great Dane. Or you trip and fall on your face in front of this person. Or you have a 15 minute conversation with them and it later turns out you had a piece of broccoli stuck in your teeth the entire time. You know, in real life it's never like in the movies.


He had just gotten out of the car when I came up even with him. I swung wide on the sidewalk so that I was in plain sight and saw out of the corner of my eye when he stopped on the edge of the pavement to let me pass.

He saw me. I had wondered if he would try to say hello. I would have stopped if he had.

But he didn't, and so I pretended to not see him.

I accelerated, running past the gym and past the bandshell. Up the hill, past my favorite view of the Baker Park waterfalls.

I was halfway up Carroll Creek a good half mile later when I came to an abrupt stop because I realized I was flying. My heart rate monitor indicated that my heart rate was at 165 bpm. Endomondo told me that I had just run a half mile at a 7-min mile pace: I was sprinting. Faced with the data of my speed, I suddenly realized that I really needed to catch my breath. I paused Endomondo and sat down on a bench to laugh: I had subconsciously run faster than ever before in my life because there was no way in hell that I was going to let him label me as a "jogger."

I then realized how I looked on this day.

This was my favorite running outfit this past summer and I had been wearing it on this day. This photo was not taken on this day; it was taken the previous week. BUUUTTTT...check out my quads. And my shoulders.
I had just proven to Trainer, whether he realized it or not, that genetics was never a factor in the trainability of my lower body. Not only had I achieved it, I had done so by training my way and not starving.


So that was my silent little win that day. I got up from the bench and continued on with my run.

Carlos got a huge kick out of the whole story when I told him later.

Sometimes things really do work out like in the movies! ;D

As for Trainer being at the public gym after he had said he couldn't train people...evening hours at the gym had been extended for the summer, which I'm assuming meant he could go back to training clients now in the evenings after work. I didn't care enough to find out and confirm this. *shrug* I was just happy to have figuratively had the last word after all. ;)


On the nutrition front:
Based on my feedback during check-in, Jilda had continued very gradually increasing my carbs, especially for my high volume training days because I was doing so much. It had been determined throughout my check-ins that I responded really well to this particular macro as a primary fuel source and so in August I officially became a member of the "300 g of Carbs Club."


I continued to prove a point by still having abs. :)

Taken a week after the PR trip.
Oh yes you can eat carbs AND have abs!
Also: I do not do crunches. This 6-pack happened because you engage your core for everything with CrossFit.
While we're talking about abs, let's talk about hormones since this only seems to be openly discussed in women's strength circles and I think more people should know about it. (I don't know why this subject seems so taboo on the mainland; it makes me uncomfortable to talk about it here for fear of readers going, "Ewww that's TMI!" I didn't have to think that way in PR. On the island we talk about sex and reproductive health like we do about food: it's a normal part of being human. It gets discussed with both men and women whether in a sexual relationship or not because it's part of being alive. Also: men want to learn about your body. It's in their best interest in order to both live with you at peace and also to be able to please you in, well, other areas. I don't understand the medieval views on the subject here.)

So in my case normal hormone fluctuations make my abs disappear twice a month, which can still be unnerving sometimes but it's completely normal. So guys: no, I don't always look like in the two photos above. Most healthy female athletes don't look the same way throughout their cycle. The PR trip coincided with my period, which meant I had zero abs during the trip. I didn't care. But for honesty's sake so you learn to appreciate your body too, here's proof:

Taken during the PR trip. I had wanted to post it online but raged at the thought, "People are going to say, 'She let herself go!'" Even though that wasn't true at all. Arrrrgh. You couldn't even see my obliques though.
During the trip I was loosely tracking macros while fitting in the yummy goodness that you can only find on the island, but what you see here was not related to the diet: it was 100% hormone-induced. And that's fine because healthy hormones make you stronger!
Fun fact: most women retain water the week before or the week of their period. It's not as common but some women also retain water for a few days while ovulating. I had suspected this before, but I would confirm it again now that I was officially tracking measurements and weight fluctuations with BIN: I am one of the latter. I'm talking a sudden 2 to 3 lb weight increase for 3 to 5 days during ovulation, so it is noticeable and it is also reflected in measurements. It used to freak me out but now I look forward to it because it's also the time of the month when I am my absolute strongest. Not kidding with the caption of the photo above: your natural hormones really DO make you stronger!

Another thing I had noticed prior to the pill was that I was always tremendously fatigued the week before my period. Always. The hormone changes had always disrupted my sleep, fogged my brain, and affected my strength in the gym. This time around after coming off of HBC again, I'd started noticing the same things as my body normalized hormone-wise with the increased food.

Interestingly, as Jilda continued increasing my carbs over time, my sleep during this particular week of the month improved significantly and I stopped being as fatigued. My strength, though, continued to take a hit. Sometimes even the empty 45 lb barbell felt heavy all by itself and trying to push the same way I normally do meant that I'd end up injured. In August I strained my right shoulder during dumbbell clean and jerks on precisely this week of the month. I discussed it with Jilda and we decided to try a deload every month the week before my period. Remember that time I hurt my back in June? That was also at this same time of the month. Ligament laxity is a thing during the week before your period and it is a result of natural hormone fluctuations. Have a really cool article written in laymen's terms about a study on this subject, because I think this is so fascinating. :) To sum it up: during the 5-10 days before your period, estrogen (which is responsible for keeping your muscles and ligaments tight) starts to drop, resulting in generalized weakness. Towards the end of your cycle, your body also starts to produce relaxin, which is a hormone that promotes muscle relaxation. This double whammy of decreased estrogen + increased relaxin has the purpose of making your cervix open up in order for your period to happen...but it also causes all of the muscles and ligaments in your body to become softer.

Since I was training so hard all the time, we decided that I should start considering giving my body a periodic scheduled break and what better way to do it than to schedule it at a time of the month when my body wasn't feeling strong anyway. I was getting another wish yet again: I was going to start working with my body and what it naturally does in order to make it stronger, instead of trying to constantly fight it.

What is a deload? In strength circles, it is a week where you simply take it easier. Some people spread it out more so that it is less frequent, but it is a good basic rule of thumb to schedule it once a month when you're training hard. You can maintain a certain level of intensity during your deload but the goal is to back off on the amount of weight you're lifting in order to give your nervous system a break. It's a fantastic time for focusing on technique work, conditioning, or cross training. In my case, I realized that while my strength takes a giant hit the week before my period, my endurance soars. If I want to PR distances and going for time in WODs, this is the best time of the month to do precisely that.

I would implement this in September.


Eastside by Benny Blanco

My favorite photo: Gracie's ear flicked back attentively towards me.

I sold Lily. I wrote about that here.

It meant I could finally start riding Gracie consistently without guilt. I rode about that here too.

The beginning of September was sad because I felt so awful about my relief over Lily being gone. It was like a breakup from a toxic relationship. I grieved over the fact that at one point she had been so important that my entire life had revolved around her. I had loved her but from week one she had also been the primary source of stress and anxiety in my life what with the constant injuries to herself or me. I could finally admit the extent of that.

Bodybuilding taught me that it is okay to give up. It's okay to fail. I had failed with Lily and that was okay. I had needed to either let her go or quit horses altogether forever, so I chose to let her go. I love Gracie for herself, but as of this writing I still struggle with feeling anything other than a passing appreciation for horses in general. They went from being my favorite animal around which I wanted my entire life to revolve, to being just another animal that I love like I do all animals. I can still identify with equestrian bloggers and love reading about those of you who live and breathe horses to the max. But my empathy is distant, in a sort of past tense, if that makes any sense: "I remember what that used to feel like." The experience of owning Lily for seven years killed a lifelong passion that I had once thought was indestructible. It left me emotionally exhausted to the bone when it comes to horses.

The flame is gone.

Sadly, I am not the only equestrian that this has happened to.

Carlos and I continued enjoying our days off together. Downtown Frederick has a huge outdoor festival in mid September called In The Street, where Market Street gets shut down so all sorts of local vendors can sell their wares, from art to services to food. We had gone our first year living in Frederick but had not been able to make it back due to our work schedules. This time around, we requested the day off at our jobs so we could go.

It was the first chilly day of fall and the event got horribly rained out. It still took place, but they cut the festivities short because of the downpour. My friend Jess had also been able to take the time off from work so the three of us were still able to hang out. Instead of participating in the festival though, we ended up bar hopping in order to seek shelter from the rain.

We ended the day at a pub called Magoo's that we really want to make part of our regular rotation...
and we keep forgetting!

Jess's work schedule is even crazier than mine. She still works as an anesthesia vet tech and now moonlights at a small general practice on her rare weekdays off when she is not on call.
(And people think vet techs have it easy. HA! Hahahaha...I keep saying it: our jobs are tougher than nurses'.)
This was only one of two times we were able to hang out all year and as you can probably tell by our expressions, we were talking about work when Carlos took this photo. Lol
The rain continued on through September, limiting our outdoor explorations in town.

My cats were as adorable as they are every other month of the year. I think I'll just keep posting photos of them in the "Personal" section of this review. :)

Me: *opens closet door to grab a pair of shoes*
Zombie: *runs into closet to investigate this secret world that he never has access to*
Me: "Zombie, you need to come out. You can't stay in here."
Zombie: *plunks himself down on closet floor and looks at me helplessly* "I'm a cripple. I can't move."
Me: *sighs* "Fine. I'll carry you out of the closet."

I did one commission in September. I haven't really been drawing this year.
Aengus thought this was a perfect time to nap against my hand.

Those whiskers. <3

"Pet me. On my face.  Like dis."
Seriously. That's what that gesture means.
He was playing with a feather toy that he insists on keeping in the bathroom.
Cats are endlessly weird. But it's also what makes them so amusing.
"'Blogging'? Is that that your term for petting me while I hang out on this desk?"
Me: "No, it actually involves typing..."
Aengus: "I only remember you petting me when you're touching that 'keyboard' thing."
Me: "I have no idea what you're talking...Ugh you're just so CUUUUUTE!!!"
Aengus: "I rest my case." :)
 Sometimes work was magical. 

A very foggy morning on the way to Surgeryland.
Back country road in Loudoun County, VA.
This was my shortcut for avoiding morning rush-hour traffic.
Like this patient who curled herself up against my arm while I was getting her blood pressure.
I felt compelled to stay there for a little longer after her treatments were done.
And this butterfly that landed on my scrubs while I was walking one of my canine patients.
A beautiful morning while driving through Virginia countryside on Route 15 on the way to Surgeryland.

This is unrelated to everything else but it made me laugh:

And that's pretty much how I feel about it, "So what?"

While the injury I sustained to my right shoulder in August was fairly minor, it was still a rotator cuff strain so I took it easy on the heavy overhead lifting for several weeks to give it a chance to heal. This meant that I was pickier about which WODs I did (if they involved a lot of upper body movement like wall walks or wall ball shots, I stayed away) and instead focused more on bodybuilding-type training on my own + the box's Strength classes.

This meant that for the first time since May, I started swinging by my favorite globo gym more often. Up until then I had been doing most of my solo work during Open Gym at the box.

I've been going to this particular gym for the better part of 3 years now. I'm one of the "regulars" there, and while I don't really interact with anyone other than exchanging smiles and hellos with the other regulars, I always feel safe and "known." I like the layout of the gym, the type of crowd that it attracts, the staff, the amenities (nothing super fancy) and the equipment: they have a lot of bodybuilding-specific machines that are hard to find in average commercial gyms. As well as three squat racks and a platform for lifting. They also started a powerlifting club on the weekends, which means they also allow members to use chalk for barbell work and are okay with noise while lifting (like letting the barbell slam on heavy deads. lol)

I think it was my second time going into the globo gym since I'd officially started using it with regularity when I unexpectedly bumped into PL, Trainer's powerlifting friend from the public gym. I had no idea he used this gym too! We caught up. He asked me if I was still working with Trainer. I told him no and explained. PL had a close friend who trains people specifically for NPC and some of his athletes won at the March show; he could hook me up. I told him I was not continuing with bodybuilding but I really appreciated the offer; if I change my mind down the road I'll take him up on it. He seemed bummed: like so many people who had seen me in action at the public gym had already said, he told me that I had the drive and work ethic for it. He wasn't an expert but the way he saw it I'd just had a trainer that didn't know how to properly finish a prep of that level. I had looked really good, just not as cut and dry as you need to be for NPC.

I love that no one has ever questioned my discipline during that whole thing.

We got to talking about Trainer and PL filled in the gaps of how they had met and gotten to know one another. Basically, Trainer's powerlifting knowledge came from PL. And PL isn't a recreational powerlifter like so many men you see at the gym. He was as I had suspected: a competitor. The topic switched to deadlifts and he said that if I ever needed guidance, he was happy to help.

With that, we both returned to what we were respectively doing. And I was again left wondering about how life is this giant puzzle where one thing leads to another.

Meal prep for my work week: roasted chicken breast, butternut squash, cauliflower rice stir fry with broccoli.
Puerto Rican style pink and kidney beans with squash. (On the island we use native pumpkin because yes, we have our own pumpkin species there. We just call it calabaza. It's similar to acorn squash.)
One of my favorite parts of fall and winter is All The Squash
In September, sushi became (and still is) my favorite post-workout meal. This was tuna nigiri with mango salsa and a side of rice, broccoli slaw and brussel sprouts with grilled balsamic tomatoes sprinkled with feta cheese.
I know some people need protein shakes to meet protein requirements and they can be super convenient post-workout for most. But after a year of being instructed to drink them post workout and having to sacrifice full meals in order to accommodate the damn shakes: I was thrilled to give protein shakes the most sincere, "Fuck you forever." After a year of eating over 200 g of protein/day, meeting just 130-140 g/day (the requirement with BIN of 1 g protein/lb body weight, which is way more typical for athlete diets!) with only real food is a no-brainer.
I never did find out where Trainer got his 200+ g of protein/day for female athletes. That was extreme even by bodybuilding standards.
More meal prep: baked chicken breast, butternut squash, and a purple cabbage slaw.
Work lunches are usually very filling (high fiber) but on the lighter side macros-wise in order to fit in the vast number of snacks I eat while at work, which currently are: low fat mozzarella sticks, 100-calorie packs of almonds, RX Bars, Larabars. I still try to eat about every 2-3 hours.
In September I reached a crossroads with my own training: I continued my weekly private lessons with Coach A on the snatch, I was doing about 75% of the WODs, continuing in the Strength classes, running, and doing my bodybuilding splits...but starting to trend towards wanting more technique work during my own time. The skills list for CrossFit is endless: you could train 12 hours a day and still not cover it all. Rope climbs, handstands, handstand push-ups, GHD situps, barbell lunges, muscle-ups, double-unders, ring work (like gymnasts do), in addition to the Olympic lifts and powerlifts. I didn't even know where to start with it all. One day I'd want to practice my pull-ups which I wasn't as confident about, and the next I'd really want to continue working on my squats, which was something that I felt confident in being able to work through on my own. I discussed it with Jilda during one check-in: I felt like I was all over the place with my training and like I had crossed over into senseless overtraining territory. I needed direction. She nailed it: I missed having progression, where you start at a baseline and build from there to get to x place with your training, be it developing a 300 lb deadlift or a chiseled body for the stage or handstand walks to compete in the CrossFit Open.

At the time, I was considering eventually participating in local CrossFit competitions. My squat was the one thing that was close to RX level, my deadlift wasn't too far behind, but my ability to do push-ups, pull-ups and Olympic lifts were seriously lacking. My biggest weakness was my upper body: it looks really pretty but like I've discussed before, it's not very strong, and that was my limiting factor for all of the gymnastics-type stuff.

On the plane to PR, I read an article in one of my fitness magazines about this amazing stunts woman and everything that she was capable of doing. She was considered unstoppable. She brushed that adjective off in the interview. She was simply just very methodical: when she decided she wanted to achieve something: she'd just break down the skills required to get to that end goal and take it one step at a time. She was doggedly persistent in attacking each one of those skills at a time.

I identified so strongly with what she described. "This is how I tackle my entire life," I thought. "I can apply this to CrossFit."

I had to start with pull-ups.

I was doing a couple of add-on programs I'd found online for both squats and pull-ups, but they didn't feel like enough. I downloaded Hybrid Performance's sample programs and started playing around with them...and fell in love with their Deadlift Protocol. The perk of this program was that it contained a lot of the exercises I had been doing for pull-ups already so it was a twofer: I could improve my deadlift and my upper body strength!

Jilda agreed that this was an excellent idea, and that's how in September I started to really hit deadlifting hard. And I loved it. I started learning to trust myself when it came to how I felt with the weight I was moving on a given day and whether I should move up in weight if the programming required it or stay where I was at based on how I was feeling. Coach A had recommended I film my lifts so I could form check myself and so I could bring them the videos if I wanted her or Coach D to critique me...and that's how in September I became a lot more consistent with getting video of myself lifting. Most of them I still keep to myself, but if a lift is especially correct or significant, I'll post it on IG.

In training deadlifts with the corresponding accessory work 3-4 times per week for what would be just under two months, I went from being not that confident at them with a 1RM of 175...to eventually beasting out 215 lbs.

But I'll get to that part in October. ;)

I did my first deload week and absolutely loved it. It was awesome to take a step back and stop focusing on moving heavy weight and just work on technique and speed.

This was during that first deload. Squat clusters to Zum Zum by Daddy Yankee: 4 squats, rack the barbell, rest 15 seconds, do another 4 squats. Repeat a total of 4 times. That's one set. I was doing 4-5 sets with 2-minute rests in between.  I was struggling with 131 lbs on the bar, which would have normally been light for me. Hormones aside, this exercise is SPICY...and I should add it to the rotation again. 

My body continued changing.

It is kind of strange to realize that this view has become
your normal when you look down at yourself.

June to September.

CrossFit continued to be fun, especially because it was the thing that Carlos and I did together whenever possible. The deadlift protocol ended up being AMAZING for my upper body strength and I started moving from scaled territory weight-wise into more and more RX work in the WODs.

Carlos doing glute-hamstring raises on the GHD.
Check out his triceps!
Carlos chilling with Zeus inbetween classes.

Coach A took this photo in class. It was featured on the box's website. It was the day I graduated to the RX 35 lb kettlebell for hand-release KB swings.
I continued running. Now that at least part of my training had direction, I found myself running less, averaging more like 3 times/week. I had been pushing to consistently reach 6.4 miles (10k) during my runs but I ended up giving up on that goal in favor of lifting more; my runs averaged anywhere from 3 to 5 miles instead.

This view. Forever and ever and ever.

Some leaves were starting to turn towards the end of September. 

I love the water lilies in Carroll Creek.
Each house in downtown has its own individual personality that changes from season to season.
This was a collection of fall-themed bobble heads on a downstairs windowsill.
This white duck and the male mallard are always together. <3

Baker Park with the sun shining through the trees.
Downtown Frederick hosts The National Clustered Spires High Wheel Race in August every year. It is one of a handful of high wheel bicycle races held in the entire world, and the only one in the USA. Here is their Facebook page since their website is currently down.
It's common to see locals riding their bikes in the months leading up to the race and the month after.
Morning light. 

It rained a lot in September, as you can tell by the appearance of the water in this photo.
Photo collage of a watery downtown one afternoon after it had rained.

Do you see the rainbow? :)

Speaking of rain...

There was one afternoon where I really, really wanted to go for a run but the forecast had said all day that it was going to start pouring right at around the time I had been planning to head for downtown. So I had mentally cancelled my plans...and then realized that the bad weather was holding after all: it was gloriously sunny outside when I scrambled into my running gear.

I saw the dark clouds gathering in the horizon as I pulled out of the apartment parking lot and hightailed it into downtown as fast as traffic would let me.

I pulled into Baker Park as the clouds rapidly approached. I snarled. I should have just come out earlier.

"Please. Just let me get 3 miles in," I thought at the weather gods as I looked at the sky and started running.

"Fine. But only 3 miles," they said.

They kept their word.

I ran the fastest 3 miles I had run to date, racing against the darkness rolling in.

Of course I documented it! Duh. I had a feeling I knew how this was going to go and I wanted to be able to look back and say, "Ah, these are the photos from that one time I outran a thunderstorm!"

It reminded me of The Nothing.
You could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance too, and that was with my headphones on!

This was the moment where I slammed to a stop and turned around to start
heading back towards the car as fast as my feet would take me!
You can see the frayed edges of the clouds above the trees: the rain was only minutes away at this point.
I hit the Baker Park sidewalk just as the first few drops started to fall. I looked up at the sky at the same time as a man that was walking past me. He was in full rain gear. I wasn't. He looked at me and said, "It's coming! RUN!"

I broke into a sprint as the wall of rain came up with a roar behind me, lightning crackling around me, flying past the public gym towards my car as fast as my feet would take me. The storm was HERE.

I leaped into the car and slammed door shut behind me as the skies opened up and buckets of water poured down. It was like a scene in a movie.

I laughed and laughed and laughed. "I guess Accuweather's forecast was right after all!" And then, "Thank you weather gods!"

The streets actually flooded during my 10 minute drive home: that's how hard it rained.

And that is the story of how one afternoon I outran a massive thunderstorm. :D

To be continued. :)


  1. He likes the ER? That was the most challenging and completely unrewarding part of the entire hospital/rescue training I just went through. The ER was pure stress, nothing planned nothing expected, NOT ENOUGH NURSES, they were always on their computers and I would sit with patients in the individual ER rooms and just say, "Sorry, they seem to have lots to do...." *sigh* But I never left them, even when they had to pee into urinals in front of me (but that's easy next to the vomiting).

    Intensive, and OR were sooooo much nicer. A buffer of "the expected/planned for." Patients who know why they are there, what is going on, the occasional one whom I'm allowed to give a cup of coffee to.

    I think ER would be bearable if you had optimal teamwork with nurses who truly enjoyed each other's presence.

    It was a true joy to return to the ER from an ambulance, and bring them patients instead of receiving. The nurses who were rude to me, I could ignore. The nurses who were kind, I went right up to and called them by name, "NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN!" ...as if they recognized me in blaze orange instead of scrubs....?: )

    Carlos must have that special thing that makes people able to survive in that department. I couldn't shake the dust from my feet fast enough.

    This month I have my final class and final state test. I am studying every day. I am more determined than ever to do this and do it well. It's not ego-satisfying, well-paid work, it is something that matters. But then there's the language barrier...

    1. I had told you: yes, he loves the ER. :) It’s the only reason why he keeps one foot in that hospital. Carlos is an adrenaline junkie: he’s gone skydiving, rappelling, rock climbing and on all sorts of adventures. ER work is how he gets his fix now as an adult. He’s also one of those people that gets along with everyone, both patients and coworkers, and can positively change the environment in a room just by walking into it. The fact that he loves the job is also a factor in changing the environment: his happiness and enthusiasm are contagious. He’s honestly had less problems with the ER nursing team than the dialysis team: his dialysis team treats it as “just a job” whereas the ER team is there by vocation, because they want to be there.

      I’m in the same boat as you: my job doesn’t pay that well (though Northern Virginia pays vet techs more than most other states) but it is work that matters.

      I wish you ALL THE SUCCESS on your final test!!! :D

  2. Oohh, those sketches! <3 Your artistic eye and talent is amazing, and I love the style of your sketches.

    So, so much more I want to comment on -- and have been following your previous posts -- and I don't even know where to begin because there is so much that you write that I find myself nodding my head, or thinking, "I can relate to what she's saying." But then I hesitate over leaving a novel-length comment. :) So know that I'm loving reading your posts, I'm just really bad at commenting and expressing it!

    1. Thank you Ashley, I loved this so much! It meant a lot. <3 Please know that I love long comments and novel-length ones are welcome anytime you feel like writing them! ;D

  3. Alive @ Five sounds amazing. I love to live out in the country, but I do wish we had more stuff like this around us...

    I loved seeing you so relaxed and happy on the cruise trip. You BOTH so deserve that kind of getaway.

    I had a pretty good laugh at the REFUSING to put down the cell phone. I will fight for your right to take ALL THE PICTURES. A friend of mine once asked me why I had so many IG posts and I was like, "I'm sorry you don't find your life as interesting as I find mine." -_-

    I hope you continue to share your sketches with us. I so adore them. Your talent is amazing. Not just your ability to actually draw, but also the way you capture stories and moments in your art. Wow.

    I cringed reading your recap about American tourists. It's something I grew up so hyper aware of. Even though I identify as American more than Polish these days, I feel like I get a bit of an outside perspective from the way I was raised, and it's so frustrating to me when people who have never experienced anything but the US can't see it. There is so much rudeness in this culture and it's infuriating. Not to mention the complete inability to admit that maybe America isn't #1 in All The Things. UGH!!!! I can't even...

    Don't even get me started on the misuse of the bible.

    Your food posts and pictures always leave my mouth watering...

    Love the Maryland Heights photos! Gorgeous.

    I love that you are voicing the concept of "There is more to life than horses" so well. Even as a horse trainer who HAS TO look at horses all day, I find that there is an importance to balance. I constantly tell my clients that there is more to life than horses, and I think I probably get Looks from other trainers in the area because of it, but it's TRUE. It's not healthy to ONLY do horses.

    Your PR posts were my absolute favorite posts of any blog all year. The love you have for your island flowed through your words and the photos were absolutely to die for. However, I also love the brutal honesty with which you dissect exactly what our corrupt government is doing to ITS OWN PEOPLE. And if people don't see why that's a scary indicator of things to come... well... your Birdbox comment couldn't be more accurate.

    ...your comment about not being the only equestrian the flame has gone out for resonated with me. I feel like so many of the very best horsepeople I know end up walking away from the sport because of the heartbreak and drama of it all. My view on horses has definitely changed since Ozzy died... and I think that if I didn't have endurance, the flame would probably go out for me as well. I very seriously want an office job so that horses can either become an enjoyable hobby again, or just sort of fade from my life entirely. That's a depressing thing to admit out loud because they're such a big part of who I am, but I often day dream about what my life would be like if it DIDN'T center around horses all the time. Again, thank you for voicing that part of your journey on here... it's important.

    1. "A friend of mine once asked me why I had so many IG posts and I was like, "I'm sorry you don't find your life as interesting as I find mine." -_-" <- LOL!!! I might have to borrow that response!

      Fortunately the people on that boat are not representative of what we've experienced of Americans overall, but the people living in the places the boat visited had no way of knowing that...these tourists were just feeding into an existing and very negative stereotype. I really wish something more than just basic world history was taught in school here. It would really help open the minds of Americans to the outside world.

      I love in turn that you post about geocaching and your hikes with Mike and your adventures with the dogs, because it speaks the same thing: there is more to life than horses.

      I'm so glad you loved the PR posts and understood where I was coming from with my honesty about them. <3 <3 <3

      I love reading about your life because it's an alternate reality for me: I chose horse training as my sole job at one point, but got seriously hurt only a month into it. It forced me to walk away and make different choices, which I've always been grateful for. I dabbled in it again on and off throughout the years as a side job, but the lack of compliance from owners/riders when you've been pouring so much work into them was my #1 pet peeve.
      So I read your stories and identify so so strongly with them because it is so easy for me to think, "This would have been me." Even the way you handle situations is pretty much the way I would have handled them. I admire you for lasting as long as you have as a trainer in the equestrian world because it is NOT easy. I'm so happy you are now working with clients you enjoy training and that you are in a position where you can say no without taking a financial hit. <3 That's the most difficult part: trying to be selective when the work can be so inconsistent at times. At one point I had considered becoming a personal trainer myself but it's the same issues as being a horse trainer/riding instructor. So I completely understand why you have considered moving away from horses...I adore working in the veterinary ICU but at some point I will have to move away from working on the floor myself: regardless of how fit you are, there is only so much hard physical labor your body can take as it ages. This applies to riding/training/instructing in the equestrian world as well. You and I are in very similar boats on many levels. <3

    2. We can't teach about other cultures here... it might open people's eyes to the fact that 'Murica is not #1!!!!1111elventyone!!! in everything. Ahem.

      The lack of compliance from owners is the biggest thing that is going to drive me right out of business. Even if I got to the point where I couldn't do the physical stuff myself, I don't think I'd get tired of the horses themselves, but boy are the people exhausting! Mike tells me he can't see me sitting at a computer all day long, and that I'd die of boredom, but, frankly, I'm ready to be bored for eight hours a day, and have energy (mental and physical) the rest of the time.

      The current clients and the flexibility are what make me stay.

  4. Okay - so Ashley captured a couple of things I want to say in response to this post:

    • Your artwork is gorgeous - technically so good but also such a cohesive and unmistakable style. I don't remember running across anyone on your level when I went to art school. (graphic design + illustration)

    • You write the most comprehensive posts. They pull the reader into your world. There is so much I want to respond to, but worry that a few brief sentences don't do justice. Maybe others feel the same? It's a different blog experience for me. When I see you have a new post up I often resist the temptation to visit right away - I would rather have a comfy seat and a beverage at hand to fully immerse myself in the experience.

    My equestrian flame has dimmed as well. Lack of quality time and apprehension about the impact another injury would have has made me re-evaluate the place riding has in my life. Anyone who needs their body intact to make a living understands...

    Hopefully we will all find more balance and hope in 2019 ❤️