Looking for Caitlin

I didn’t know of another Caitlin until middle school and even then, I actually didn’t meet the other Caitlin until high school. I am pretty sure I heard of Katelyns and Katelins and Catelynns and Caitlyns before then, but Caitlins were rare. I was always called Cat-lin at the doctor’s office and soccer try-outs and roll call at the first day of school. When people took a stab at spelling my name, they would always begin, “K” and were always surprised by the second “I.”

When my parents registered me for elementary school, the Korean registrar could not get his head around how my name was spelled or pronounced. He called me Callatini and the name stuck as a nickname. If you know me on other social platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, now you get it.

We could never, ever find personalized products with my name. I always had to be Kate or Katie. Sort of took the magic out of a gift. (“What does this say?” “It says Katie.” “Who’s Katie?” “Well, honey, they didn’t have Caitlin. Katie is almost like your name.”)

Caitlin is not a rare name anymore. Most of the Caitlins I know of are a good 10-15 years younger than me. Those Caitlins probably had the personalized shoelaces and novelty license plates and souvenir keychains.

I am a Coca-Cola marketer’s dream. I love their Share a Coke campaign. I’ve purchased bottles with friends’ names on them. I have taken photos of randomly placed bottles that just happen to have a couple’s respective names on them. I have smiled and laughed at the clever (and regional) terms of endearment – mate, love, bestie, BFF, dude, etc. I have drunk out of bottles and cans with a variety of names including Ronan and Ciara and Dad and Go-Getter.

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I cannot pass the Coca-Cola section without digging through for my name.

I still cannot find Caitlin.

I have looked at supermarket shelves, news kiosks, and gas stations in the United States, United Kingdom and Ireland.

I have consulted the Share a Coke website and they say it’s out there.

Share a Coke - your name is out there!

I can find pretty much every name except mine.

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Where are you, Caitlin?

When I try the Share a Coke locator on Coca Cola’s website, it prompts me to ask my friends for their help via social networking. So, here I am. Help me!

(The six-year-old Caitlin, who desperately wanted the personalized souvenir license plate, would be forever grateful.)

August 19, 2014 at 6:50 pm 4 comments

Sisterhood

Today is National Middle Child Day. Since my iPhone was reset last week after an incident that shall be called The Day the Wifi Antenna Died, I’ve been getting all sorts of random, generic calendar alerts and this was one that I was actually delighted to see. A day to celebrate people like me: middle children.

National Middle Child Day

I think this calls for cake!

Did birth order define me? Sometimes…and in some ways. I suffered–do still suffer–with middle child syndrome. Sometimes…in some ways. When I read the traits of a middle child, I can check off many of them and I’m sure the ones I don’t immediately associate myself with are the most true.

This past weekend, while visiting my parents in the US, my mom shared a stack of letters she had recently found. The letters spanned the late 80s to mid-90s and many were still in the original envelopes with her parents’ address scribbled on the front. We took turns reading aloud snippets from typed Christmas letters and handwritten (Catholic school cursive) notes.

In one letter, my mom recounts the first few weeks without my dad after he had been sent to the First Gulf War. We were living in Korea and she did not know exactly where he was or when she would hear from him. Being so far away from her family was difficult and she had months stretched out in front of her. She wrote about how my sisters and I made sacrifices and compromises to help with the time he’d be away. My older sister had agreed to babysit so my mom could make an aerobics class and I agreed to share a room with my younger sister since she was frightened of being alone (a fear that only got worse while my dad was in Desert Storm, but I’m pretty sure me being in the top bunk all those months helped.) In return, what was my younger sister’s compromise? It was simply to be kinder to me, to include me more. My mom wrote a short paragraph explaining that my sisters often ganged up on me and left me out.

We all laughed and I pretend-pouted for the second-grader in the letter who really did often feel left out. Who did struggle a bit to find a place in a family of five, a family of three girls. I was not the oldest. I was not the youngest. I was not the first to receive something, to go somewhere special, to get extra privileges, to excel, to disappoint, to try nerves, to test boundaries. I was not the last. I was never in charge. I was never looked after like the baby of the family. And all this was ok. Sometimes, better than ok.

When our parents would go out for the evening, my dad would assign my older sister “the boss” title and it was understood she watched our younger sister. My dad told me I got to be “the superintendent,” which sounded just as good, though I had no idea what it really meant. He said I was responsible for watching out for myself, which he said was a full-time job and at the time, I felt quite proud. I liked looking after myself–better than managing or being managed.

It was middle child syndrome that led me to write letters to God, asking him to bring me a little brother. I left these notes dotted around the house like they were reminders to pick up milk.

I couldn’t fix the order of things. I couldn’t go back in time. I wasn’t sure I wanted to erase my sisters. I just figured that adding a boy to the mix would shake things up. I’d no longer be the only middle child and I’d had my fill of sisters. I’d try teaming up with a brother.

But a little brother never arrived.

And somewhere along the line, I realized you could never really have your fill of sisters.

Looking back, I see it is being the middle child that actually made me closer to both of my sisters. I could go either way–older or younger. The age gaps were not that big anyway and the older you get, the smaller the gap seems. In some ways, I got the best of both worlds. I got to be the big sister and the little sister whenever it suited me.

My sisters and I are close for many reasons. Growing up as military children who moved every 18 months or so is a large part of that. We were each other’s friends when we had no friends. We were constants in an inconstant world. We were the three of us, never just two or one. We were a team. A manager, an employee and a superintendent.

But we are close these days because we choose to be. We don’t have to be. We want to be.

When I think about the friends I have chosen in my life, I marvel at how many have sisters and how many have only sisters. I wonder if that is coincidence. Very few are middle children like me, which is also something to think about. I seem to be drawn to the first born and the baby. Is that because there are more families with two kids rather than three or more? I don’t know. Is it because I look for my sisters’ qualities in potential friends? I think so.

Of course, these days, it’s anyone’s guess which of us will be married next or get promoted or buy a house or go gray first. We don’t go in age order anymore. I’ve had plenty of opportunities to be first and last and maybe never. I’ve been happy to be in the middle of all of it. I wish everyone had a sister or two.

In just a few months, my younger sister will be 30 and I’m pretty sure I need to stop seeing her as little. My life experiences match my older sister’s and I can’t really refer to her as the big sister, especially since she is the shortest of us all. Our birth order is still very much a part of us. We do things that the others dismiss as “what the oldest always does” or because “the baby always gets away with it.”

But now, in adulthood, it seems like a more level playing field for our team of three.

We are sisters, equal and constant.

A little brother would have totally screwed that up.

 

 

August 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm 3 comments

Boobs! Now I’ve got your attention…

It’s been one of those weeks. I found a lucky penny on Tuesday and I’ve been wondering when it’s going to start working. (Maybe it already did. Maybe I was about to be hit by a bus or lose my purse or maybe my trousers were about to split when I bent over to pick up the penny. Maybe the penny jumped in to intervene. Maybe I’m now just out of luck.)

Of course things could always be worse. I could be living in a war zone. I could be terminally ill. I could not be able to afford trousers.

Yesterday did not help. On my commute home, I read an article in a women’s magazine about new medical research that basically says there is a biological clock implanted in your breasts and it is set a few years ahead of your actual age. Yes, we now have two biological clocks to fear. And those are just the clocks scientists have found!

It’s just one more source of pressure. You feel old? Well, your boobs are even older! Have you looked at them lately? Because wow. Neck down you look 45, but like, not a bad 45. Just not late 30s. Oh you’re 31? Gee, I’m sorry. I had no idea. Do not sleep on your side ever again.

I glared at the man across the aisle. He sat back, low in his chair, legs stretched out in front of him, munching on an apple and watching something on his tablet. He has no idea. Life is so easy for him. Look at him. Not a worry in the world! I bet he didn’t even try those jeans on before he bought them. Men!

A few minutes or so later (I can’t be sure how long because I was in a trance, staring down this unsuspecting man), I took my aggression to my phone. I typed out a long message about the article and hit send.

My phone lit up with a reply.

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I had meant to send it to someone else, clearly. But would it have killed Scott to say something along the lines of, “You don’t need to worry about this. You can’t better perfection.” If I were a man, I’m pretty sure I would make the best boyfriend/husband. I always know what to say.

(Because of this text conversation, I think Scott sensed danger at home and went to the pub with coworkers.)

After sending the text to the correct person and a few others who I thought might share my feelings, I gave the stink eye to the guy next to me for a little longer before turning my attention back to the magazine.

The article ended with an ever so helpful three-step exercise for toning at home.

Stylist magazine "Happy Boobday" article
Look, it’s not like this is news. There are loads of exercises for firming up your pectoral muscles. We’ve been told to take care of our decolletage before it turns crepe-y. We should take care of that area, especially since it’s so often exposed to the sun. We all know how we can get better breasts or appear to have better breasts if we so choose. I’ve seen the creams and lotions and serums that vow to wow. In fact, I’ve tried them. One of my bridesmaids gave me a tub of boob firming magic potion at my bachelorette party. I followed instructions but I didn’t see any changes. Unless of course you count the itchiness and the rash. (I thought it might just be like those lip plumping glosses that make your lips sting and then go slightly numb. Totally normal.)

But there was something about this article–slotted between a columnist’s joy for the end of topless pictures of women in “lad mags” and Hillary Clinton’s take on why the White House needs a woman–that made me feel quite sad. (And also concerned that I don’t apply facial oil at night. Is it necessary for these toning exercises? Would a make-up remover wipe do the job?)

It’s probably just my mental and emotional state this week. It’s been a tough one and not just because Garth Brooks canceled his Ireland gigs. I was already feeling overwhelmed and this article just pushed me over the edge. There is so much in the world telling us what to be and do and need and want and love and hate and have and give. And now? Now on top of everything else, I have to regularly massage my breasts. I can’t even get it together to floss as part of my nighttime routine.

At that moment, I just couldn’t take it. As I blinked back tears–tears that I know are completely wasted on this but it’s impossible to reason with your tear ducts–I was reminded of a conversation I had with my mom a couple of years ago.

We had been talking about the state of the world today, as you do, on the way home from a shopping excursion. We had just pulled into the driveway and as she turned off the engine, I summed up our conversation with something like, “Yeah, and now girls feel like they have to do all sorts of crazy ‘beauty’ treatments to be attractive, thanks to the porn industry.”

My mom turned in her seat, wide-eyed. “Really? Like what?”

I should have offered something like…manicures, yep, so much pressure to get a manicure! But instead I said, “I don’t know, like bleaching…down there.”

“What? What do you mean? Is that…oh my gosh, is that what I think it is? Really?”

“Mom, I can’t have this conversation with you. Look it up on urban dictionary after I leave.”

But it was too late. She hit the child locks and I was trapped.

The rest of the conversation is fuzzy, which I am sure is down to a totally legit form of PTSD. But I do remember her collapsing back into her seat, full of despair, and saying, “I’m just so sad for my girls.”

Then she had a little cry for womankind everywhere.

True story.

I think she let me out of the car about an hour later when she believed I was, at the very least, safe from those sorts of societal beauty pressures.

You might be thinking, just stop reading these magazines! And I would agree with you (why am I always tempted by freebies?) but we all know that’s not the only problem. These messages and pressures are everywhere. I know I’m part of the problem sometimes. I buy the products, I pass judgment on celebrities (and real people), I spend too much time criticizing myself, I feed the machine. Just last week I read that some beauty authority had discovered the “perfect” angle for noses and I wanted to see how mine stacked up. I asked Scott to measure it, but he flat-out refused, saying this was “borderline the most ridiculous conversation we’ve ever had.”

I’m not sure what other conversation this is tied with for “borderline the most ridiculous,” but I’m sure he’s right.

It is all pretty ridiculous.

July 17, 2014 at 8:00 pm Leave a comment

It’s the little things

While we wait with bated breath to hear the verdict on the Garth Brooks concerts in Ireland #letsgo5inarow I have had to focus on small joys this week.

Kittens!

Our nameless neighbors adopted two kittens. They spend hours chasing butterflies and pouncing on dandelions in our garden and retreat to our windowsill every evening for a bit of relaxation. I’ve had to stay behind the glass because of Scott’s cat allergies. My resistance is a true act of love.

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I don’t know how long I can hold out.

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Dunkin Donuts in the UK

I’ve been following Dunkin Donuts’ arrival in the UK but so far, the shops they have opened aren’t convenient for me. When I emailed them with ideas of how to spread the word of their launch in London, they sent back a blanket PR email which basically said, “We got this.” But they don’t have this because everyone I have talked to either has no idea what Dunkin Donuts is or did not realize the popular donut and coffee shop had crossed the pond. Call me, Dunkin. I got this.

As I was exiting my train station, I noticed a familiar logo. Lo and behold, Dunkin Donuts had set up a small kiosk of donuts in WH Smith at Marylebone. I had to check it out and take a bunch of photos and share it on Instagram immediately. Unfortunately (or fortunately because I pass this donut kiosk every day and I don’t need more temptation in my life) they don’t have munchkins or any cake donuts available. I’m told by my friend/fellow expat/Dunkin Donuts lover over at Lovely Jubbly London that the stand-alone shops do have munchkins. (She would know because she won a year’s worth of donuts at the Harrow shop’s opening. Well jel.)

Dunkin Donuts in the UK

Greeting cards

You know my penchant for a good greeting card. As I was exiting Baker Street station (yes, another cool thing happened on my way out of public transportation) I passed a card shop that was trying to off load a bunch of lovely cards. The original prices ranged from £2.50 to £5 but they were selling them for 99p or 2 for £1. A no brainer. I bought 18 cards and I love them all!

If this sale had happened in the US you would probably struggle to find cards that weren’t damaged in the mad rush of customers or smudged with grimy finger prints or missing their envelopes. Most greeting cards at these specialty greeting card shops in the UK are sold in cellophane wrapping. You could argue that it’s wasteful but it means you don’t need a plastic bag when you check-out. You can save the planet in other ways!

(My favorite of all the cards is this really gorgeous sympathy card. Maybe it seems a bit weird to buy it in anticipation of something really morbid happening…but it was such beautiful cardstock and handmade with love in the Scottish Highlands. I wonder who the lucky recipient will be!)

PBS America

I think this channel has been available on Sky TV for quite some time but I only just discovered it. I guess because it’s in the 500s and I don’t usually venture into those channels because it’s all war and religion and science and nature and Fox News. PBS America’s UK website describes the channel as “showing British viewers a different side to America.” Not the Jersey Shore, Keeping Up with the Kardashians and I Wanna Marry Harry side, the other side. All the Kennedy documentaries your heart desires. Also America’s Test Kitchen. Sorry Nigella.

A taste of home

This one sort of ties up the loose themes in this post: food products and discounts. (You were probably wondering where I was going here. I’m not sure either.)

Let me take you back to 2011 when I was wandering around Washington-Dulles airport looking for something other than Panda Express. I’m pretty sure I was trying to make a smart food decision (because otherwise I’d have gone for Panda Express, obvs) and found a kiosk that seemed promising. It boasted descriptions like LOCAL and ORGANIC and FLIGHT-FRIENDLY and I was SOLD. Just as I was about to hand over money for the world’s smallest selection of cut-up fruit, I saw a display of trail mix. I love trail mix! And this didn’t have M&Ms in it so I figured it was probably pretty healthy. (It was not healthy.)

However, it was delicious. It was called Feridies 5 O’Clock Crunch and it was the stuff of dreams. Later, I emailed the Virginia-based company to ask if they sold their products in stores in the UK. (Yep, another company I emailed. I like to go straight to the source.) I thought it would make a great party snack and/or gift from the land that I love. I got a very nice email from one of the owners, Jane, explaining that they had been sold in Whole Foods once upon a time but sadly I’d have to wait for my next trip stateside for more.

I pretty much forgot about Feridies until I saw the familiar packaging on the shelves of Homesense (UK version of Home Goods) this week. I excitedly told Scott about my discovery as I cleared the shelf of 5 O’Clock Crunch. He gave me the side eye and said something about not liking the smell of peanuts. Killjoy, or what?!

So I took to email once again and continued my 2011 correspondence with the company. Jane replied promptly, thanking me for the email. She seemed really pleased for me and my trail mix treasure.

This experience made me way happier than it should. It’s just trail mix. Right?

But what I realized is that it was not so much the trail mix or the discounted price or the fact that I was in the equivalent of Home Goods. It was just that something from a small company in my home state nearly 4,000 miles away had made it all the way over here. And I found it.

I love so much about my life in England. There are many seemingly insignificant things like the aforementioned that bring much happiness. Cellophane wrapped cards, TV shows, somebody else’s kittens.

But, honestly, I don’t think I’ll ever stop getting excited about seeing something from that home over here in this home. And maybe one day, vice versa. May I never stop loving the little things from both.

That is my wish for anyone far away from home or missing home or going home or making a new home.

Now I just need to find a greeting card that says so.

July 14, 2014 at 8:13 pm 3 comments

Prescription for sun and salt water

One of the many wonderful things about living in England is the amount of paid annual leave we get. I feel very fortunate to have such a generous allotment of time because it certainly helps me cope with living far away from my family and friends. Over the last few years, we have spent nearly all of our vacation time visiting these friends and family and I love it, I really do. But then we realized we haven’t gone anywhere just the two of us for more than a long weekend–just because we wanted to, just because we could–since our honeymoon eight years ago.

I know. It sounds like I’m complaining because I’ve been on so many vacations with all my paid vacation time but they’re not the vacations I class as true vacations because sometimes I only get to go somewhere for three days AND I have to spend the time seeing my wonderful family and friends AND most of the time it’s for a wedding SOMEBODY PUNCH ME. I know. But I think you would agree it is important to spend time with just each other. And not like the normal time where we eat leftovers, argue about whose turn it is to wash dishes and spend the rest of the evening watching episodes of The Good Wife until one of us dozes off.

So, we did that thing that I’ve heard of where you excitedly come up with vacation destinations, whittle it down to a short list and then actually book a hotel. Amazing! Of course, it wasn’t quite so easy. Scott wanted Cancun and I had visions of crazy Spring Breaks I never went on but heard a lot about. (SPOILER: He talked me into it. We went to Cancun.)

On this vacation–the one I kept referring to as “our first real vacation in eight years” much to Scott’s exasperation–we decided we didn’t want to do anything but lay low and relax at the resort. No car rentals, no day trips, no planned activities. Well, Scott decided that. I wanted to have a few things planned. I mean, this was not a honeymoon. We needed some activities! I talked him into a day trip to the Mayan ruins and agreed that that would be it. Nothing else.

But can you go to Cancun and not experience a bit of the nightlife? When the opportunity presented itself, we knew we had to take it. YOLO and 31 is the new 21 and all that.

Our hotel hooked us up with a VIP pass to Coco Bongo, sort of like a cross between a Las Vegas show and a dance club. (If you look on TripAdvisor, the owner description says: “weave your way through crowds of half-naked and thoroughly inebriated college kids and dance the night away to pulse-pumping, eardrum-throbbing rhythms: this club is the mecca of Cancun’s often rowdy nightlife.” I’m glad I didn’t read that until after we went.)

Anyway, in the interest of brevity and because photos really can tell a better story, here’s another spoiler alert! We had SO. MUCH. FUN.

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TOO. MUCH. FUN.

Upon exiting the club, tired from tearing up the dance floor and tipsy on tequila, I hit a particularly slippery patch of tile flooring. I felt my ankle roll as I fell off my sandal. The side of my foot hit the hard floor and I yelped in pain. As I straightened back up, a light breeze lifted the balloon hat off my head and blew it down the street.

My foot didn’t hurt enough to stop me chasing the hat. YOLO and 31 is the new 21 and all that.

I spent much of the next day icing my foot with whatever I could find in the mini bar. (At the time, I didn’t realize we had an ice bucket and that every evening the maid filled it for us. I never even opened the door to that side of the cabinet. I missed out on loads of good stuff like extra champagne flutes and those little hotel branded chocolates.)

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I spent the next few days with my foot up trying to keep the swelling down. And Googling as much as possible with the very, very slow wi-fi.  “What is the bone on the side of the foot?” “How do you know if you’ve broken your fifth metatarsal?” “Visiting the ER in Mexico”

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Luckily we had no more plans and could just lay low. I never did go to the ER. I let the sunshine and the water do the healing.

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Icing my throat seemed to help too.

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July 1, 2014 at 6:43 pm Leave a comment

When an Englishman loves an American woman: World Cup edition

Every four years, my husband becomes obsessed with football. The rest of the time our house is pretty much sport-free. Scott doesn’t follow a Premier League team and goes to the odd football game when his hometown is playing. (I do realize how lucky I am.)

But when the World Cup rolls around, the basic rule of thumb is: if England is playing, we are watching.

I don’t mind because I really enjoy football and like I said, I can’t complain if this is the only time sport is on our TV. (However, there is this World Cup app on Xbox One called Brazil Now that is popping up even when we’re not watching the matches. I was kept informed of every goal France scored as I watched Orange is the New Black.)

On Saturday night, we stayed up to watch England play Italy. With the game coming to a close, Scott’s negativity set in. (This wasn’t helped by the fact that we had run out of milk so he could not have a late-night cuppa.)

“Oh dear” and “Shit!” were followed by “C’mon, England!” and then “We’re just not good enough.”

With two minutes of the extra five in added time gone, Scott announced with finality, “I won’t see England win the World Cup in my lifetime.”

I nearly spat out my drink. “You’re 35! What are you talking about? Why aren’t you being more positive? You’re so British!”

“What do you mean, why am I not positive? Two minutes left out of 90–95 with extra time!– and Italy is winning. Let’s get that whistle blown before they make it 3-1.”

“C’mon,” I said, patting his arm. “Haven’t you seen Miracle and The Mighty Ducks and Angels in the Outfield? Keep the faith!”

The ref called the game and Scott went straight upstairs to bed.

As we brushed our teeth, I said, cheerfully, “At least England only lost by one goal.”

“Cait,” Scott said, shaking his head. “It doesn’t matter. You win or you lose. We lost. That’s all that matters. We might as well have lost by 10.”

We tried to get some sleep but even with the windows open, our room was too warm. Just as I was about to nod off, I heard voices. A group of England fans were returning from the pub. As they passed our house, one said to the other, “My nan is Scottish” and the other pointed out his Welsh heritage. Someone else piped in about her lineage. Scottish, Welsh, Irish, Northern Irish.

Scott sighed heavily and mumbled, “Nobody wants to be English tonight.”

“We can cheer for USA!” I offered.

He pulled the pillow over his head and turned his back to me.

“Whatever,” he said, curtly. “I don’t like football anyway.”

 

World Cup t-shirts

June 16, 2014 at 3:00 pm 2 comments

Mission: Possible

On Monday evening, I noticed a tenderness in my arm. After that day’s exercise challenge and a boxing session, I ignored it, sure it would subside after a night of ibuprofen.

I woke up to an egg on the outside of my elbow. A warm bruise had formed over night and it hurt to run my fingers over the skin. I continued on with my exercises and didn’t think about it again.

Until I sat at my desk and it all came back to me. The day before, I had leaned back in my chair to talk to a colleague and when I scooted forward into my L-shaped desk with more speed than I intended, my office chair pinned my arm between the desk and the chair. I’m not going to lie. It hurt really, really bad. As I jumped up, the chair lifted slightly and squeezed my arm tighter–for what must have only been a split second but felt like forever–before I jerked my arm away.

The large bruise of shades of brown, purple and green has spread around my left elbow. I wish I could say it’s from a particularly intense sparring session or a tough work out, but it’s from my office chair. Probably made worse by exercise. But still. Pathetic. It sort of complements the red streak of rug burn on my right arm. I can still make out the grooves of the guest bedroom carpet imprinted on my skin.

I’m well on my way to earning one of those Darwin Awards.

30-day-challenge

As I reach the end of the challenge, having completed my daily requirement of 250 squats, 160 crunches, 64 leg lifts and 155 second plank by 6:15 am, I’m reflecting on the past 30 days.

Number of days I was fortunate enough to get all my exercises done in the privacy of my own home: 10

Number of times I had to break up the plank: Several

Number of days I woke up sore: 19

Number of days it took for my arms to heal from rug burn: 26 and counting

Number of days I talked about the challenge: 30

Number of muscle aches & pains: how many muscles do I have? That many.

Number of injuries: 1

Number of injuries related to the challenge: .5. See above.

Favorite work-out song: Eminem’s “Till I Collapse”

Other activities I did while exercising: watched TV, cooked dinner, listened to music, waited on hold with customer service, wore an exfoliating face mask

Number of nights I got home late and did the exercises while tipsy: 2

Number of sizes dropped by the end of the challenge: 1

Number of days I said there was no way I could make it to the end: 5-7

Number of days I said it was easier than I thought: 4 (Days 1, 2 & 3, followed by day 15 when I was spurred on by being halfway there)

Number of days I wanted to skip a workout: 30

Number of days I skipped a workout: 0

June 12, 2014 at 9:52 pm 1 comment

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