Iceland, Day 4

We could only pick up Top 40 radio stations in the car, so we heard the same 10 songs over and over. Fortunately, this was the week that “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines” dropped. Mood Music!

On day 4,we headed back south. The fog was crazy! This is what a typical town in Iceland looks like:

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And a typical rest stop? Look at this shit. We were walking to get lunch (and free wi-fi!) and I turned around and just started laughing.

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Even the tiniest things are cute. It’s hard to tell in the picture below, but that green traffic light has a happy face on it. Justin told me that while I was sleeping, he drove through a speed radar and it displayed his over-the-limit speed along with a frowny-face.

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This was a fun adventure day! All three stops were within an hour of our hotel, so we just did a nice little circle around the area. First stop, Kerið. This was a giant volcanic crater. Not much to do besides walk around it, but for Missouri and Indiana kids, it’s kinda neat.

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Up next? Motherfucking Gullfoss:

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In pictures, it’s not as pretty as it is in the spring or winter, but in person it’s completely overwhelming. Above is the top of the waterfall. Here is how far down it goes:

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The craziest part is that they let you walk on the slick, flat rocks at the very top. This is where I would’ve died if I had worn my adorable yellow boots.

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Our last stop was the Great Geysir, Strokkur. Not really picture-worthy, until the BOOM:

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Strokkur was home to a great lodge that looked like a 60′s Howard Johnson’s, btw. Finally, we headed back to our hotel, Grimsborgir. Look who we found along the way!

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Grimsborgir was an absolute delight. This guy had a towel draped over his forearm almost every time we saw him. He was so nice! (That’s an autographed picture of Bill Cosby behind him.)

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We didn’t just have our own room this night–we had our own little house!

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With Stephie-sized showers! Yay! There was a hot tub outside, but it was right in front of someone else’s window.

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This night was unforgettable because: Eurovision.

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Eurovision is like American Idol except it’s the Olympics. Each European country picks one singer to compete, and then the entire continent votes. We were eating dinner in the hotel’s restaurant when the Icelandic artist sang. The whole room dropped everything they were doing to watch. “It’s Iceland!”, our host said, so proud and happy.

Every song in the competition had been playing on Top 40 radio for a while. We had no idea what was going on at first, so this one was extra confusing. Make sure you wait for the dubstep to kick in:

(If you’ve never been to Europe, the way you felt watching that clip is basically how Europe feels.)

The voting phase was really fun because each country’s version of Ryan Seacrest took turns reading their country’s polling results in broken English. After so many adventures, it was nice to relax and watch some monumental TV. But don’t worry, we did it the American way–by building our own couch:

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FEATURED FOOD OF THE DAY: I didn’t eat anything that unique today, so here’s the paper I read while drinking some afternoon espressso:

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Iceland, Day 3

Mood Music!

On day three, we stuck to one area on the Snafellsnes Penninsula, here:

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Justin made us stop at one of the many, many lava fields along the way. I am too short to get a decent picture of this, but this field felt like it went on forever. It was overwhelming to think about how it must have looked and felt when it first appeared, as well as how old it was. Most of the lava fields are covered in moss today. If it was anywhere else in the world, I would have probably thought about all the death and destruction, but considering how empty Iceland is today, I guarantee it destroyed, at most, two or three huts.  It was so eerie and beautiful!

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Jusrin also planned a stop at Búðir. Apparently, he has always loved this church, so we stopped to take a closer look. I cannot stress enough how beautiful this place was. There were waterfalls dotted along all of the snow-covered mountains. There was an old graveyard out back. The church was surrounded by yet another lava field. And past the lava field, the ocean. Absolutely stunning. Like most places in Iceland, it was empty and we got to appreciate everything alone.

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He was heartbroken that the hotel next door was booked solid when he planned our honeymoon. But I like where we ended up, just down the road at Hellnar. The hotel was adorable, but the best part was just a short walk away: Badstofa sea cave!

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This cave is known for its incredible lighting, thanks to the hole in the top. There were seagulls everywhere. You have to climb over a beach full of pebbles and round rocks the size of basketballs.

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I think this is the day I started thanking Justin profusely for the ugly brown hiking boots that he bought me 12 hours before we left. I had bought these adorable yellow rain boots because I heard that I would need them for the waterfalls and stuff. That was one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done. I basically would have died without those hiking boots.

It was impossible to not think you were in The Goonies while standing in that cave. Another thing that added to the childlike, magical vibe of it all? The winding dirt path down the hill and the little cottage that you encounter along the way:

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We saw people eating on the porch, so we knew that it was a restaurant of some sort. The inside was teeny, just two little tables, a counter and tons of traditional Icelandic art. A tiny old woman greeted us and we asked for a menu.

“Oh, I don’t have a menu,” she said in a thick accent. “I have waffles, [something], [something], and fish soup.”

Obviously, I ordered waffles and obviously weirdo Justin ordered fish soup. We also had coffee with real sugar and cream! I gave up all those creepy artificial sweeteners years ago, so I’ve been drinking black coffee for 4 years. I forgot how incredible the real stuff is. Oh, and my waffles had real butter. The best part? They were heart-shaped. Tell me this isn’t the perfect honeymoon picture right here:

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The old woman and the cottage really reminded me of the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Justin and I both whispered this to each other at the same time. Then as we were leaving, we passed two German tourists and heard them whisper, “[Something something] Hansel and Gretel.”

Then we hiked over to the sea cave. I think Justin was about to cry, he was so happy.

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Up next, Lóndrangar! Getting there was quite the journey. We started by climbing a giant hill to get to the
Þúfubjarg cliffs:

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Then we had to climb down this crazy-ass path:

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Here I am whimpering in the face of death:

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THEN we had to hike through this huge lava field along the cliffs. This was taken about halfway through; the hill we climbed down is in the distance. It took over an hour to hike all the way. It was so much fun! This is the day I discovered how much I love hiking.

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Finally, we reached Lóndrangar. These are volcanic plugs. The taller one is from the mid 1700s, the smaller one is from 1938. They’re so old that the volcanic crater that surrounded them has completely eroded.

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This was another time that I felt like I was in some sort of children’s movie, where the evil queen lives:

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I highly recommend hiking as a honeymoon activity. It’s such a great bonding experience!

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Finally, we ended the adventure by seeing a big rock sculpture (not pictured) in a gorgeous fishing village. (Though, it should be noted that basically every village in Iceland is a fishing village.)

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Oh! Longtime readers will love how we ended the day. At the Mall of America, we came across the As Seen on TV store. I told Justin about my old obsession with Kinoki foot pads. He thought it was hilarious so he bought some (what a romantic!), and this was the night that we tried them out! Yay!

I am thrilled to report that the infomercial does not lie. The pads started white and turned completely black and sludgy. (Justin took a picture, but it grosses even me out.) I also felt amazing the next day. Was this because of the detox pads or because honeymoon? I really want to try them again!

FEATURED FOOD: Heart-shaped waffles, duh!

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Iceland, Day 2

Mood Music!

For our second day, we took a Jeep tour of some of the best spots in Western Iceland. To get to our tour guide, we had to drive though a very long, very hot tunnel under the ocean. I did this once when I traveled from London to Paris, but it’s much creepier in a car.

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The other side was gorgeous, though!

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We were dropped off with our official guide at a random gas station. The Jeep was massive. I think I pulled at least three muscles climbing in and out of this thing all day:

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Our first stop was at the hot spring Deildartunguhver. Throughout our trip, we heard about the geothermal aspect of Iceland, but this is one of the few times we experienced it up close. Iceland basically powers their entire country on this stuff. You can bake bread just by sticking the dough in the ground. The steam smelled strongly of sulfur. This is our Viking tour guide:

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Because we went to Iceland during the end of the off season, there wasn’t as much green as you would normally see. However, in places like this and the waterfalls we visited in the south, the moss on the rocks was practically glowing.

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Up next, Hraunfossar. There’s not much to explain; it was just gorgeous. Look at that blue!

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The area included a hiking path. Justin brought 4 cameras to Iceland, 5 counting his phone, so I would often walk ahead of him while he snapped a million pictures. (This is why half of my pictures are of Justin taking pictures.) So I would often come across something amazing, then get to watch Justin turn the corner and react to it, too. When I got to these rapids, I just started laughing at how insane it looked. And when Justin saw them, he laughed too.

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Up next, a glacier! That’s right, a fucking glacier. It’s called Langjokull. I had no idea that we would be driving to–and on–this thing. We were introduced to the power of this Jeep right away when we started driving on roads deemed “impossible.”

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Like, look at this hill. Those other tire tracks are at least a foot deep. I would have trouble walking up this hill, let alone driving. We slid side-to-side like we were on a rollercoaster, but we made it! I can’t believe I didn’t puke. Then we drove up 15 more hills just like it.

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The glacier was 32•F–not cold at all! Here’s my husband on a glacier without a coat:

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There was a group of people camping and para-sailing on the glacier. They were gliding on the snow for what seemed like forever. In hindsight, I wish I had asked them if I could try, but that glacier was no place for an injury. The remoteness was terrifying. Anyway, this guy glided (glid? glode?) by our Jeep on the way out and asked if we wanted some coffee. When we said no, he smiled and just sailed away.

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There were a couple camps on the bottom of the glacier, and even a cottage. Also: sled dogs! I have finally seen sled dogs! They did not look friendly:

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So how does a car drive on ice? By taking some of the air out of the tires. More surface = more traction. Any time we had trouble, he jumped out to let out air and that did the trick. I wonder how people figured this out? When we got back to civilization, we had to stop to put the air back in.

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There are horses everywhere in Iceland. These guys were gorgeous! Our driver pulled over and said, “Would you like to make some friends?” They came over to us right away.

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Look at my handsome husband. Jeez.

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Our driver also moonlights as a camera man for the many films and commercials that are shot in Iceland. You’ve seen the Fjord below a million times, even if you don’t know it. Whenever you see a car weaving around a mountain road near the water in a commercial, it was probably filmed here.

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Finally, we went to Þingvellir! This might be my favorite stop of the whole trip. This is where the tectonic plates for two continents meet. See that giant crack in the earth?

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That’s Europe on the left, America on the right. At one point, Justin and the tour guide left to go find the bathroom, so I was left alone staring at this thing. I felt like I was on the edge of the earth, and I guess technically, I was.

The coolest part about Þingvellir National Park is that you get to walk in the gorge and, if you wander far enough, you can find places where they almost meet. The tour guide actually drove to the other end of the path so that Justin and I could have the whole place to ourselves. That’s right, our own personal tectonic crevice. We both got to stand on two continents at once!

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Oh, just before we went home, we passed this stream and the tour guide said it’s some of the clearest water in the world. All in all, an unforgettable day!

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FEATURED FOOD: Pepperoni Taco. I got it at the gas station.

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Iceland, Day 1

When I was 12, I joined Columbia House (for the first time). I chose my 11 free CDs, but couldn’t find anything else I wanted for my 12th. I browsed through the catalog, and I remember being fascinated by Björk’s Debut – her very weird name, her wild hair, her alien face. I’d like to think that album was the one that cost me a penny. From the first listen, I was in love. Thus began a two-decade love affair with Iceland.  (I faithfully bought every Björk album until the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack–I’ve already watched someone go blind in real life and have no desire to watch it onscreen.)

Mood Music!

When Justin and I first started dating, one of the first things we bonded over was the fact that we both had always wanted to go Iceland. So when he surprised me with this honeymoon, I was ecstatic for a million different reasons. Plus, after 18 months of wedding planning and saving up vacation days, it was well earned. I know that most women look back on their wedding day as the best day of their life, but I prefer to think about Iceland, and traveling around such a gorgeous, weird, fascinating place with my best friend, who was possibly even more excited than me.

There’s waaaaay too much to cover in one entry, so we’re going to do this one day at a time. Well, today you get a bonus day, too.

In order to get to Iceland, we had to fly out of Minneapolis… so we flew in the day prior. We had a whole morning to kill, so we went to Mall of America, which was right down the street from our hotel.

Mall of America is, in fact, very big… but for some reason, it didn’t feel as big as I thought it would. I think that’s because aside from the amusement park in the middle, it’s all very much like a normal mall. There were 4 stories, with several wings on each floor. There were at least 6 different Lids locations. It was pretty hilarious.

We spent 5 hours walking every inch, with a lunch break in the middle. I could write a whole entry about Mall of America, but I’ll sum it up with this picture of an Orange Julius and my favorite purchase:

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The flight to Iceland was only 6 hours. Flights from the US typically leave in the early evening, so you arrive at about 6 in the morning the next day. Iceland Air is wonderful! Also, they waste no time finding a place to land:

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Justin booked everything through a great travel agency called Nordic Visitor, and they sent a driver for us. He held up a sign with our name on it at the airport! We have fucking arrived, folks! He also had one of those cars that runs on trash. Whee!

Because it was our honeymoon and we were ballers, we got the biggest suite in the hotel. A two story room, with the only balcony! It was a great way to kick things off.

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This is where we got to experience our first Icelandic continental breakfast, which I’ve already established was legendary. The hotel restaurant was so cool! These numbers were made out of screws:

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Our waitress looked exactly like Willow from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but I was polite enough to not take a picture.

Soooo… Reykjavík. How the hell do I describe Reykjavík? It’s the largest city in Iceland… really, the only city, with 2/3 of the country. But it still feels small. Every building is unique and colorful. Businesses and homes are side by side. The people are so nice and so insanely happy! Everything is so clean, even when it is covered in grafitti. I wanted to stay there forever. I don’t know what else to say.

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Harpa, Iceland’s largest music venue:

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We only saw terrible skateboarders, but there were so many and they were so dedicated:

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A beautiful home (a fireplace in the front yard? Hi.) and their awesome garage:

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Vikings and gnomes were everywhere!

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My favorite spot was The Laundromat Cafe. It was kind of like Rooster in St. Louis… cool decor, crowded, so hip that it might be overrated but who cares? They had free wifi! Woo! Also, delicious food, incredibly nice people and the best hot chocolate of my life, or at least until I realized that everyone in Iceland rocks at making hot chocolate.

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Okay, so, Justin also made me go to the Icelandic Phallological Museum. That’s right, the Penis Museum. You guys, it was so fucking gross. The one guy working there looked exactly like you are imagining he would look. I just wanted to take a shower. Sure, there was hilarious paraphernalia like this:

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… but there were also preserved penises in jars. Like this sperm whale penis, which is taller than me:

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I came across one penis toward the exit of the museum, and I yelled to Justin, “Gross! This one is covered in hair!” Then I looked at the label and yep, it was human. That’s when I screamed, ran into the gift shop and refused to come back. That’s right, the worst part of my honeymoon was a male human penis.

Finally, we visited Hallgrímskirkja, which is the large church in the center of the city. This is where people get all of those famous shots of the colorful roofs. I could have stood up there forever. Reykjavík just makes me so happy!

(After the museum, the shape of this church was a little traumatic.)

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FEATURED FOOD: Hot chocolate! Whee!

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ECSTATIC PICTURE OF JUSTIN OF THE DAY:

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Björk on her home planet (she goes outside around the 2:00 mark):

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Obstruction

Heh heh heh.

I feel bad that I left that last post up for so long without explaining: Justin has nothing to do with my depression. In fact, he’s one of the few things that consistently makes me happy. He’s my best friend and my favorite person, and I’ll never stop being amazed that I’m the one who got to marry him.

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However, he’s working full time, going to school full time, working at an internship and he’s the layout editor for his school paper. And while his schedule is, shockingly, not as crazy as it has been in recent semesters, he’s gone during weekend days and sometimes three weeknights in a row. When I’m coping with stuff (and don’t consider drinking “coping”), it makes things hard. But I’m so proud of him and I’m always amazed by the work he’s doing.

I could name about 1,000 reasons why I was sad, but not a specific reason, and that’s when you know it’s depression. It started creeping up about a month before my Grandma got sick. I think it started with selling my family home. There was one day where I woke up happy, walked to work in gorgeous weather, and was excited to see all of my friends that night, but then I got a call that my Grandma was in the emergency room. Moral of story: always stay depressed?

It really was the perfect storm of stuff: bad project at work, feeling left out, missing my Grandma and my dad and my house, gaining weight, not sleeping at all. And you know, when you’re getting married, you get used to an insane amount of attention… and then it all goes away. So the sad, lonely, empty times felt a million times worse thanks to that extra deprivation.

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Anyway, I’m slowly but surely getting back to normal. Here’s some ways I kicked myself in the ass:

1. Quit Facebook

I don’t like broadcasting shit on Facebook like I do here, so I took the temptation away by deactivating my account. (Also, at the time, tons of my friends were on this road trip together and thanks to a seating limit I wasn’t invited, so it was nice to not look at their 8 million posts and pictures. I wasn’t mad, but that timing could not have been worse. I was literally like, “I need help; today I’ll make an effort to spend time with friends,” and then NO YOU CAN’T BECAUSE THEY’RE ALL HAVING FUN WITHOUT YOU HAHAHA)

I did not miss Facebook. At all. I liked being forced to call/text my friends and develop real friendships. I LOVED not hearing about politics or worrying about how to please everyone I know all at once. My day felt cleaner and easier when it wasn’t clogged up with the lamest, stupidest details about everyone’s day. (I know people say this is a Twitter thing, but I only follow clever people there.)

Not feeling the urge to check a website 6,000 times a day? Freedom. Pure freedom.

Of course, I’m back for now… there are cancer updates, trial news, and long-distance bffs I need to keep track of. I missed some friends’ jokes. BUT I don’t have the app on my phone anymore, I delete/unfollow people every day, and I know that when I deactivate it again, I’ll be able to go even longer. I know it’s like the most dramatic thing you can do in this day and age, but it’s worth it every now and then.

2. Excercise

I joined this app called Gym-Pact; you commit to a number of workouts and put up money for each one. For example, I commit to 6 days a week at $20 a workout. If I miss one of those workouts, I would have to pay. So far, I haven’t. I’ve made every workout, which means I make money, thanks to everyone who failed. Like my BodyBugg, it turns things into a game and forces me to get off my ass. I love it.

I’ve also joined other apps like DietBet and Luminosity, but I’ll talk about those some other day.

3. My basic formula

Sleep, exercise, Vitamin B and sunshine. Now that it’s cool outside, I can walk to work–and I’m definitely feeling the results.

4. Drugs

So, I thought I could ween off of Ativan to be ahead of the game when Baby Time happens, but this was not the time to have trouble sleeping. All it did was help create the Perfect Storm. Maybe when I get back up to running 6 miles every morning, I’ll try again.

5. Distractions

Since Justin is gone two or three weeknights in a row, I try to stay distracted during those times. Walking with Veronica. Evening trips to the Y. Visits with my shrink. TV time with Jen and Ron. I also go out more on the weekends: parties, dinners, girl’s nights with my work friends, “Friday Night Grown-Up Time!” with Jen. As long as I’m not here alone, thinking about my Grandma and my Dad, I seem to do fine.

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6. West Coast

I wasn’t broadcasting my depression on Facebook and I was trying to keep my crying at a minimum around BFFs like Jen and Vee, but I was very honest about it on Instagram and Twitter. And while I wasn’t trolling for attention, Erin and Janet both sent me out-of-the-blue Cheer Up presents. I literally burst into tears when I opened these–happy tears. It made me feel like someone heard me, that someone cared. And sometimes, that’s really all you need.

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I’m still feeling fat thanks to the Post-Wedding 15, but apparently women are happiest at Size 12? So maybe I should gain some weight and see how that body feels. Ha!

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You Know It’s Time For My Annual Nervous Breakdown When …

… I write an entry about how depressed and lonely I am and how I have no friends …

… and then I delete it …

… and then I post it again …

… and then I edit it to be like, “Except for Jen and Ron, as usual, obviously” …

… and then I delete it again …

… and then I cry in the bathroom and go run 5 miles and finish a book about Scientology and feel better.

I’m glad only like 20 people read my blog these days (and one is in India?) so only a few people get to witness the chaos (and thank you for loving me and/or hate-reading me). This is so much better than when I would write massive, epically embarrassing entries on Ambien and like 300 people would read it before I woke up and deleted it in a panic. There are people out there who still think I’m a psycho because of that.

Anyway, I’m still really sad about what happened a week ago and I will probably be sad about it forever, but I think I’m feeling better.

… well, I watched Breaking Bad last night, so “better” might not be the right word. “Feeling okay about real life but totally fucking sick to my stomach about fictional characters” might be a better description. Like, I feel hungover from the stress of that show. Yikes.

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Gluten-Free Stephie

Did you know that I stopped eating gluten? I stopped eating gluten about a month ago.

We’re not trying to have a baby right now, but we’re talking and planning … and for the first time, I realized that I would have to stop taking all of my daily meds. I don’t take a lot of medicine, but I take stuff for allergies, sleeping … and (in the summer) sweating. I have a friend who sweats even more than I do, and she told me that she found out that her sweating was because of a gluten intolerance. I read up on gluten intolerance symptoms, and so many of them are things that I suffer from (joint pain, anxiety, sleep issues, etc).

I have friends with serious, severe Celiac Disease and I’ve witnessed how hard it is for them. I also used to work in a health food store, where people with gluten allergies have always had to shop until recently, so I’ve been aware of this issue for a long time. I am very, very grateful that I do not have Celiac Disease, so let’s make it clear that I don’t just think of this as a fun experiment. But if there’s any time to try avoiding gluten and find out for myself if this is my problem, it’s now.

These days, people tend to roll their eyes when someone mentions they’re avoiding gluten because they think it is just a fad diet. They bring up the low carb craze and try to mansplain to me that it’s not actually going to help me lose weight. I love telling those people that I wrote my master’s thesis ab0ut the low carb diet and the marketing and advertising behind it, so I fully understand how those diets and fads gain momentum.

However, while avoiding gluten is tied to one fad diet (paleo), it’s also an easy way for grocery stores to bring in an entire segment of people that couldn’t shop at their store before. And because of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, grocery stores need to compete with health food stores more than ever, so they are paying attention. This may stick for a while. I don’t think that stores will keep their giant gluten-free aisles for more than a couple years, but hopefully places will be permanently conscious of carrying gluten-free alternatives.

To be honest, I am eating more paleo than anything these days. Aside from gluten-free pizzas when I go out with friends and the occasional bowl of corn/rice cereal, I haven’t bought any products that are specifically gluten free. I don’t usually buy bread or baked goods anyway. So the only change I’ve really made is that I stopped buying fast food or pigging out on goodies at work. I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination or anything, so while this is by no means an easy lifestyle for people with Celiac, it has been relatively painless for me.

It’s been working, believe it or not. I still sweat in 90-degree weather, that is just science, but I’ve been more comfortable outside recently than most of my friends and I’m not afraid of going out at all. Justin is usually the one to turn on the air conditioning, not me. I don’t need a fan when I’m getting ready in our muggy bathroom. These are huge developments. And because the main reason I’m avoiding gluten is sweating, I’ll be able to slip up occasionally in the winter. I plan on avoiding gluten year-round, but I can still eat stuffing on Thanksgiving or an Easter casserole and suffer through the side effects with minimal discomfort.

I also feel amazing these days, but the fact that I do all of my shopping at the Farmers Market probably has something to do with it. This boost in my mood is much needed because I’m also cutting out sleeping pills and we all know how great that works for me. Shit’s been rough. At least I can take my old friend Benadryl.

My goal to sit up straight this month was serendipitous because work is nuts and I will be spending all month sitting at my desk. Anyway, that’s going well.

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