Faith-The struggle is real

“I bought a gift for my girlfriend’s bachelorette party and they didn’t even have a box for me to put it in” I said sobbing into the phone to my friend.

I was walking out of the crazy busy mall in 88 degree, humid weather. Earlier that day I stopped at Market Basket to grab fruit salad to bring to a lunch with a different friend and stepped in gum. Shortly after leaving the store I received a text about bringing fruit salad to a brunch the next day. And now, I was walking out of a mall without gift wrapping for a gift. It felt like life became exponentially harder all in one day.

From the other end of the phone, in the only way a friend could ever do something like this to make me feel better, all I hear is chuckling and I immediately start laughing at the absurdity of my reasoning for crying. He then asked me what was truly wrong.

I attempted to give him the aforementioned obstacles in my day, to which he replied “so you need to stop at another store, big deal”. Again-only in a way this friend could say to me to make me laugh. He knew there was something deeper that spurred this, because he knows me well enough to know I don’t get upset over trivial things (more on this later). Then I proceeded to tell him what really triggered it. (pro tip- the first answer people give is rarely the most truthful).

While I was waiting in line forever-only to find out there wasn’t a box for my gift-I was flipping through Facebook as you do. There was a post from three of my friends from back home, all with their significant others, going to an event I was supposed to go today. It hit me, I’m back at square one, watching everyone live their life with their best friends and I am flying solo.

Then, like any good friend, he went into empathy mode and reminded me it’s ok to cry and be upset. He said all the things a good friend should say, but that I don’t necessarily currently believe (and that’s ok).

The one thing he said that struck me the most was “It’s so peculiar to hear you crying. You’re always so upbeat and optimistic. The whole time I’ve known you I don’t think I’ve heard you cry once”. (We’ve known each other ten years… Holy crap. Ten years!) Instinctually I thought, “I don’t want to be known as that person who pretends to be happy all the time, and who people think never has any problems”. Then I realized these are two different things.

I have been authentically happy for a very long time. Every now and again I have mood swings as any girl does and throw myself pity parties, but on the whole I am consistently happy and I should be proud of it. It takes work to be this way. I read a lot, don’t watch the news/t.v. shows, listen to podcasts of successful people, work out consistently, pray, maintain great friendships, eat healthy, surround myself with positive people.

The struggle of life is real. I have struggles, you have struggles, we all have struggles. Life’s about responding to these struggles with a good attitude, because that’s when it’s hardest to have one and when I have to draw on security and stability from God the most. I’m not perfect yet, as I was reminded by today’s experience, but I’m a lot farther than I’d be without preparing myself.

Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it. The victorious performance itself is merely the demonstration of their championship character.

My friend told me today that I’m the best break up handler she’s ever known. I’ll take it.

Faith-Learning Values Part 2

The following are values that I wasn’t aware that I valued until I started dating someone for the first time.

  1. Truly honest communication even if you’re going to hurt the other person. I know that sounds funny, but let me elaborate. For example, I asked at the beginning how we should go about paying for things. He answered that he would pick up a majority of the time, but it would be great if I picked up once in a while. Well, it turns out he really wanted it to be a 50-50 split, but didn’t want me to think of him as cheap. From my perspective, I have been on my own for 27 years and can handle myself. I understand men don’t *have* to be providers anymore. I also appreciate frugality and good money habits. Had he been honest in the beginning, it would’ve avoided a disagreement down the road. Another example is when he suggested we take his motorcycle to Newbury street, but had no intention on actually doing so. He explained that it’s a really big risk to have me on the back. I asked my male friend what the deal was with this, and he said sometimes he promises his wife things without thinking about the consequences and in reality it would be a bad idea. He apologizes when he recognizes he does that.
  2. Grace. This was already on my list, but I have a new perspective. Grace for yourself. In my point on honest communication, there are going to be times you feel angry/resentful/dishonest/shameful and you need to be honest about that with your partner. It’s ok to have those feelings. Let’s figure out what’s causing them and have the respect and grace for each other to know we’re human and will feel those things and let’s work toward fixing it.
  3. Expecting the best out of people. I understand this can’t be helped depending on how you were raised. I come from a family where everyone we knew was a friend/trustworthy until proven otherwise. Sure, we get burned sometimes, but in the long haul it pans out. I don’t think this is a deal breaker, but it does manifest itself in odd ways.
  4. Empathy. I thought I was really terrible at this. While that may be true, it turns out I still have a pretty good head on my shoulders.
  5. Having a high self image. I often thought that if only a man were not intimidated by me it would solve all self image issues we would have. (I have none. *sarcasm*). I discovered that the man has to believe he is lovable, which is why it is important to love yourself before you get into a relationship. The hamster wheel and I were bffs as I was constantly running to make him feel like I was truly interested in him for being him, and not because I had been single for 27 years and was desperate. I know relationships are work and about choosing to love, but I learned that you can’t teach someone to love themselves.
  6. “The only man that deserves you is the one who thinks he doesn’t” This quote has long been a pet peeve of mine. I understand the sentiment, but I’d rather a man with the self confidence and self image to say “I’m awesome, I deserve her” than one I have to constantly work to build up (similar to 5, but I wanted to break it up)
  7. Consistency. In one minute, I was criticized for making him feel like a wallet. In the next, I was told not to put so much pressure on myself to figure out my retirement/being a stay at home mom situation because there would be a male in the picture to help some day. In one minute, I’d be told I was too productive and should take some downtime, and in another I was told I wasn’t productive/ambitious because I wouldn’t work toward advancing my career skills. It’s hard to hit a moving target.
  8. Who doesn’t keep score. Love is 100/100, not 50/50
  9. Someone who doesn’t treat me like a chore/obligation
  10. Someone I feel comfortable being honest with. I started out being honest (at times brutally) and would learn his reactions to things. It became harder and harder to be honest and I had to start making decisions about whether I would bring things up or let it go. One weekend we were going to an event near my parents’ house. I thought it would be cool if my parents could join us. However, when he met my parents, he made a comment about how meeting them was a huge deal like it was a big sacrifice he was making for me. I was hesitant to bring up having them come to the event, even though I knew they’d enjoy it.

Disclaimer-This list isn’t my comprehensive values list, it only consists of values I didn’t know I had until this relationship developed.

Faith-Learning Values Part 1

During my 27 years of being single I have had a lot of time to develop what I thought was the perfect checklist for my soulmate. Honesty, good money management skills, healthy habits, helps me slow down, Catholic, with a side of tall, handsome, and athletic.

I’ve also done my fair share of reading about/observing relationships. If your man does x,y,z you should get over it. A, b, and c are red flags. L, m, and n are things that could change over time. D, e, and f are deal-breakers. I’m breaking up with him because g, h, i. He brings me flowers so I love him forever. The following are values that were confirmed are important to me.

  1. Apologizing. It was a big step when he took the time to apologize for something that he did wrong, all without my prompting him to
  2. Thoughtfulness. There was a weekend we were apart and he had something going on late into the night. He took the time to step away from the obligation to call me before I went to bed because he knows I go to sleep early.
  3. Chivalry. One of my biggest personal growth points is to let a man do things for me. It’s been a big change from being the strong, independent, I can do anything woman my parents raised me to be. He bought me flowers, he would help me with my technology issues (even though I could have figured out most of them myself, I wanted to let him feel masculine), carry my bicycle up the stairs, cook dinner, and walk on the outside of the street.
  4. Adventure/spontaneity. I’m such a planner, and while sometimes it is really difficult to adapt to someone who is not, it turned out to be fun setting off and not really having expectations for what would happen.
  5. Good food sharer
  6. Can make me laugh
  7. Is smarter than me in some ways
  8. Compliments me/notices when I try to impress him
  9. Asks me about my comfort-This played an important role in many situations and I was really glad he was concerned about it.
  10. Good conversation. We almost never run out of things to talk about
  11. Can stand silence. Even if we did, we were comfortable in the silence.
  12. Is willing to try new things.
  13. Is handy. He could fix his own car/motorcycle, to me that is super sexy
  14. Financially conscience. Knew to invest in index funds/Roth IRA. Man after my own heart.

Disclaimer-This isn’t everything, it doesn’t include some basics like family-oriented, into healthy habits, Catholicism, but I figure those go without saying based on my blog.

Finance-The Big Reward

The following picture was my schedule in September of this year. What’s interesting is this was a month after I paid off my student loans, but truly I had residual gang-busters attitude sticking with me. There are probably months I could find earlier that it’s even crazier, but we’ll work with this. There are not many days I wasn’t working at least two jobs.

What’s not pictured-My normal TED hours on the weekend and my engineering job from 6am-230pm, and eating dinner at Framingham state every day for my food study. When you see “TED” it’s extra TED hours. When you see “work” it’s front desk work at the YMCA.

The double JCC cycles is some bug with my calendar app.  I can’t do repeat events in Tiny Calendar, so I do it in google instead and sync it, but they end up showing up weird. I like Tiny Calendar because it has this view. Google and apple don’t.

The miles/weird text is my mileage for training for my half marathon. Yes, I need to schedule mass and yoga in otherwise I won’t do them. There are two social events.

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I kept telling myself it would be worth it. Coming out the other side-now having no student loan debt- I can tell you with every fiber of my being it was worth it. Am I rolling in dough now? No. Am I buying a house? No. But you know what, if I were to lose my job I would only have a $200 car payment to take care of. I could go home and live with my parents (as a last resort) and I would only need to do that after about a year (because I have an emergency fund). I can sustain myself on my side gig income.

That, my friends is the big reward. Financial security.

The second big reward is my upcoming Europe trip, Spain France and Italy with EF College Break. Here’s what I’m doing:

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I can’t tell you how much I sacrificed. Maybe one day I’ll put a list of all the things I gave up to pay off my debts. And to be honest, I struggled buying this trip. It’s expensive-$3600. That’s a good chunk of change. But do you see that schedule I had? Do you know that I never travelled abroad? That I’m the only Catholic that’s never been to Rome? (ok, exaggeration… kinda). That Barcelona has been on my bucket list since I studied it in middle school learning Spanish? I even polled my spin class-Do I buy the Europe trip or do I save for a downpayment? They’re all in their 50s-60s-70s. You know what they all said? Buy the Europe trip.

I cannot wait to go. I am so excited.

Finance-Side hustle number 2: The “dream” gig

Despite working multiple roles at two gyms I still felt like I wasn’t doing enough to pay off my loans. I was really discouraged at my engineering job, with no professional growth or promotions in sight meaning no more money. I was tired of engineering in general, and no other job descriptions really caught my fancy. Thinking out of the box I applied at the non-profit organization TED, you know, TED talks? For a customer service support role. Something I new I’d be a shoo-in for because of my customer service experience at the YMCA. It was a remote position. I have always dreamed-and still do-that I’ll give a TED talk someday.

I was hired and away I went. They trained me for all things TED related and now I know way more about that organization than I ever thought possible. Same thing happened with the YMCA. It turns out things aren’t as straight forward as they appear.

It’s really flexible. I work from home and essentially my role is to manage the customer service email queue. I answer questions like “I am this really awesome person, how do I speak at TED?” or “I saw this really great talk this one time and all I remember was it was about a train”. In those cases Google search is your best friend, but they’re convinced I have some categorized stock of TED talks in my head. I use Salesforce Desk platform (I don’t recommend it).

I also get to do their customer support at conferences (still remotely). I can’t go into much detail, but there’s opportunity to talk to people like Elon Musk and Tim Ferriss.

I’d like to get invited to a conference one day, and I keep holding out hope it happens. This gig pays me $14 an hour and I generally work 4-6 hours a weekend. It’s really low-key, they are all really fun, and I’ve learned even more than I already knew about customer service. I learned my lesson from my first side gig and started funneling this pay check into my student loan debt pay off account which has become my downpayment account. I re-directed this money without fail to my student loans, no matter how badly I wanted to use it for some other financial thing going on in my life. It meant being really proactive about transferring the money. This brings me to a related topic-the student loan giants will make you work hard to pay off extra for your student loan. You can’t auto-increase your student loan payments and if you want to pay extra you have to manually do it. (If someone knows otherwise, please inform me so I can inform others!). Honestly if I could’ve I would’ve had TED send my pay checks straight to Navient. I was so on it though anyway because I was so tired of my debt that it didn’t really matter.

Anyway, TED has been a great side gig. I don’t know how long I’ll do it for, but because it’s super flexible I don’t really mind it for now. And it pays above minimum wage. It’s an extra $200 a month.

Finance-Side hustle number 3: The first “gig” that started it all

I have been procrastinating writing this post. I usually do that for two reasons. One, I don’t have an exact plan of what I’m going to say and I have so much to say and don’t know how to organize it. Two, I have difficulty expressing my emotions verbally. Let’s give it a shot.

I moved to Framingham a year after graduating to get out of the hectic city and save a little money. I realized how big of a burden my student loans were to buying a house, or virtually anything I wanted. It became my mission to pay off my student loan debt for that reason and because that debt is essentially meaningless- there’s no collateral. It’s the worst debt you can have. When I graduated I had $25k in student loans, so I was one year in to a eight year payoff I think.

My job, thankfully, allows me plenty of flexibility and as long as I work 8 hour days I can do it whenever I want. To avoid traffic I became an early riser and worked 6am-230pm every day. This left a lot of time for a second job. I wanted something low-pressure, which I accepted meant low-paying, flexible, and fun. After brainstorming, I decided that I could work at the YMCA less than ten minutes from my house.

I applied to work at the front desk and was hired. I had to work one weekend shift and one week night. The computer skills were a steep learning curve but nothing a millennial can’t handle. My co-workers were about what you’d expect for a minimum wage job.

I can’t remember exactly how much I made during my three years there, but I remember one year my W-2s reported around $6,000.

Looking back, I could’ve tried to find a higher paying job like waitressing or something. Here are the benefits you may not be able to put a price tag on:

  • Flexibility- While I did have two shifts a week, I could easily get them covered (although I rarely ever did). I also picked up so many shifts to cover for other people. If I ever wanted extra money (read: I always wanted extra money) I picked up another shift. There was certainly not a lack of them considering the lack of ambition of my co-workers
  • Opportunity cost- With my non-work hours from 3-4pm on, I would probably have been going out with friends or spending money somehow. Since my life was sometimes spent at the YMCA working, I wouldn’t be spending money elsewhere
  • Perspective-I didn’t understand poverty until I worked there. I didn’t understand the financial impact kids have on your life. I didn’t understand you have to find somewhere for them not only for the summer but for snow days, professional days, holidays. I didn’t understand how mature kids from immigrant families need to be to deal with translating. I really didn’t understand how sensitive of a topic money could be for some people.
  • New friends-I found a good companion or two that I could talk to while on shift to get some perspective on life situations. I learned a lot about peoples’ different walks in life and how those shape their views.
  • Customer service-This was huge. Even on my worst days, feeling tired or worn out or having to help someone swipe in for the fiftieth time, I had to have a smile on. I wasn’t perfect, but I overcame a lot of tough situations. I learned not to broadcast peoples’ financial situation to the rest of the world as best I can. That if they’re angry at you it’s mostly a reflection on something they’re angry about.
  • Community-I enjoyed seeing the same members come in often. I enjoyed seeing “my kids” grow up. Seeing the same members come to my classes. One of the members died and I really missed him. The kids always come in with their smiling faces and start to get to know you. Many of the members saw me losing weight and kept complimenting me. They would often tell me how cheery I was and helpful. I tried to reciprocate when I saw members getting in consistently.
  • Work benefits-I had a free gym membership with my employment. So maybe I didn’t have the best pay, but I did have a $56 a month membership at a gym ten minutes from me. There was also free food often.
  • Professional/life growth- This was the single biggest benefit this little “gig” gave me. It started as a front desk job, but I took a spin class and fell in love. The teacher I had was phenomenal. I think if I had been to a different teacher I would not have fell in love. I asked the group exercise director if I could get certified to teach so there could be more classes. She said yes, so a mere three months later I was certified. That doubled my hourly pay. (Keep in mind it costs money to get certified, so you start in the hole, like college). Now I had the opportunity to make more money and work more AND get a workout while getting paid. I lost another 10lbs due to switching up my workouts and spinning so often. Then, a new fitness director started. She approached me and asked if I wanted to work at a different gym and I said yes. I know what you’re thinking, but think about how badly I wanted to pay my student loans off. I started at this other gym and guess what? Doubled my pay again. Over Christmas time when people take a lot of vacation there was one two-week period I made $550. While at that gym, the fitness directors there were looking for more personal trainers. Becoming one was something I toyed with for a long time, but it was never good timing and it was expensive. I emailed them and asked what it would entail. They were piloting a new program-expensing certification for new trainers for a one-year commitment! God is so good. So I took the training, passed the exam, and became a certified personal trainer-in exchange for a one-year commitment to the gym. I also became certified in TRX through them and can renew my license through them. All of this because I started at the front desk at the YMCA.

Downfalls:

  • Relationships- Thankfully I have really great supportive friends that stuck with me. They never saw me and I would explain to them my mission to pay off my loans and the thing is they all understood. They all hate their student loans too. After paying off my loans I have connected with the ones that matter with my time and we are back to being really great friends. There was a period in time where I was lonely. This could’ve been other factors, though. Like my best friend leaving to becoming a Nun and my other leaving because she got a boyfriend.
  • Exhaustion-There were many times I’d work 3 different jobs in one day. There were times I’d work until 10pm at one and wake up and work at 545am at another. Despite all that I had an ego and said that I’d take every opportunity I could to work. Do I regret that? Sometimes. But truly I don’t remember what negative consequences came of that, except maybe some emotionally charged attitude issues at work. At some points in my life it was work, eat, workout, eat, work, sleep for day after day. I don’t regret it.
  • Engineering growth- Sometimes I wonder if I had done things differently-like went back to school part time, take a course that advances my engineering discipline, took a project management certificate, would I be further along in my career long term. Maybe. But I have always been one to spread myself wide. Maybe that’s what’s putting me behind and I should get over it. Or maybe I’m happy teaching spin. Maybe I’m happy that I have different skill sets and that if anything happened to my engineering job I’m in a position I could survive with my gym income. Maybe I’m happy that having the gym job keeps me in shape.
  • Money direction-If I could do it all over again, I would’ve directed this money into a separate bank account and worked on living off of what I made in engineering. Mixing the money was not a good idea. I made it work, but I think I could’ve done it faster re-directing it.

I don’t regret working at the YMCA. At the time it was the best decision for me. I don’t regret for a second working my ass off to pay off $25k in three years. Now I can relax a little and set up a game plan for my next financial goal-buying a two family.

You should go for that side gig. If it’s something you enjoy, if it’ll bring you other benefits beside financial, go do it.

I’ll end with a bittersweet picture of the TRX and spin room-where my fitness instructor journey began- on my last class I taught there.

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Finance-Frugal Clothing Finds

When I was paying off my debt I spent little to no money on clothing. I was so focused on paying it off I didn’t spend hardly anything on extras.

This can be a struggle on your wardrobe, especially when you’re losing weight. Introducing the clothing swap.

The idea is all your friends (and their friends) purge their closets and bring their clothes to a mutual friends’ house. There’s usually food involved, but not necessary. Then everyone goes through the clothing and picks out items they’d like to take home.

This saved me through the last few years. I never really brought clothes because I was size huge and none of my friends were. As I was losing weight I started fitting into more and more clothes that my friends would bring. A few more inches and I’ll be able to fit into a ton.

For now I take a lot of good items away. We had a clothing swap this past weekend. To give you an example of what I took-this is a picture of me in a dress from White House Black Market. Very flattering if I do say so myself!

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It’s the perfect work dress because it has sleeves and as it gets warmer it’s long enough I don’t have to wear tights.

I am so glad I don’t have to go shopping for dresses. I grabbed three work worthy ones at the swap! I now have a weekly wardrobe-before I only had one or two I could wear in the summer.

It also helps having your friends’ opinions while you’re trying clothes on. I trust them to say yay or nay.

Remember, this dress was free!

I volunteered to take the leftover clothes to salvation army. 6 garbage bags worth! Oh, and you can bring jewelry, belts, and shoes. I grabbed a white belt to accent a new black dress I took!

Some of you may think it’s weird… but who cares?! I think 3/4 articles of clothing I have are from the clothing swap. No one knows the difference.

Faith-Accepting Reality

There was a time in my life I thought everything had to be perfect and if something went wrong I had to make it better immediately. When I couldn’t make it get better I’d lash out in anger.

I think this stems from my childhood. My brother died when I was 2, and I am sure I didn’t understand why my parents were always upset and why my love was never good enough to make it better. This conclusion has been reached after many discussions with close friends and not from therapy, so who knows if it’s accurate.

I’ve matured a lot in this area. My quick-to-anger personality has mellowed. I am able to accept reality and breathe and know that life moves on even when it’s not perfect and that I am loved anyway. Today, though, I was quick to anger at my friend and I knew immediately it stemmed from something I was going through that currently isn’t “perfect”.

I put “perfect” in quotations because my perfect is different from God’s perfect. God’s perfect is more tolerant of mistakes, diversity, and human fallibility. My perfect depends on if things are going according to my plan and everyone is perfectly happy.

Back in January one of my friends/mentors sent me a devotional. She suggested I read it and reflect for ten minutes and write whatever I want. I fell out of the habit because (insert stupid excuse here), but today when I snapped at my friend I knew I needed to work on my emotional stability again. So I didn’t wait until tomorrow, I opened it up today. God’s timing is perfect. Read this and tell me that isn’t true.

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Devotional here

Love and prayers,

Sarah

Finance- The wasted $2 avocado

I spent about 1.5 years of my life working my butt off and being financially frugal so I could pay off my $25,000 worth of student loan debt. I worked every extra shift, covered every spin class, never went to concerts, didn’t go on vacations or extra excursions, had my parents help me by buying food from Costco, I didn’t buy dunkin donuts or go out to eat often, I didn’t buy clothes unless it was a necessity. I was really extreme and I don’t apologize for it.

After I paid off my loans in August I went on a little splurge. I bought into a few kickstarter projects. I replaced my sports bras that would give me clothing burn after 3 miles running. I bought really nice sport tights made out of recycled plastic water bottles. I bought a trip to Europe. Then, in late August I also started my food study program.

The food study provided all my food for me for the next nine months of my life. So right when I allowed myself to go out to eat or even eat meals on the go, I started a program where I couldn’t do that.

That program ended three weeks ago. I now need to make my own food. I can sometimes (read: a lot of times) over pack my schedule. When all your food is made for you, this isn’t an issue. Last Monday was the first time I resorted to going to Panera in a pinch to buy dinner. I bought a $10 salad that was over rated. I felt guilty at the time. How could I spend that much on food? What about my other financial goals? Are they going down the drain? Seriously… could I be more dramatic?

My boyfriend pointed out to me that it was ok I bought the salad. It was sad that he had to even point that out to me in the first place. That’s what 1.5 years of frugality will leave imprinted on you.

Which leads me to the $2 avocado. For my lunches I buy ready made salad mixes  and add either an avocado or grilled chicken strips from Trader Joe’s. I have this natural talent of timing avocado ripening just right. Not sure how it happened, but I do. On Wednesday we had a power outage at work and we were told it would take two hours to come back. I have always wanted to do a spur of the moment lunch with my boyfriend, so while he’s still only a half hour away I texted him and we decided to meet up for Indian. My salad with avocado was in the kitchen, ready for me to eat and be healthy with a perfectly ripened avocado.

After planning something that I’ve always thought would be a fun thing, the thought in my mind was “what if my avocado is too ripe by tomorrow and I’ve wasted it? Avocados are expensive”.

Avocados are two dollars. TWO DOLLARS.

Sometimes  More often than I’d like to admit I have to remind myself that it’s ok to live life and not be perfect. To waste. To spend the $10 on a salad. As Ramit Sethi says, it’s not the $10 salad that’s going to be the deal breaker. It’s your financial systems and your income.

Fitness-Osteoperosis workout 2

Set 1:
10-12 reps
1. Squat with Bosu ball and arm extension (Bring the arms out and in at the bottom of the squat)
*To increase intensity, add more weight
*Add pause at top to increase intensity
**Slow and controlled movement
*Add hold in the down position
**She does it kneeling, but I think standing in a lunge position is better.
Set 2:
10-12 reps
*Use a weight for balance then eventually for strength and increasing difficulty
*Started with 6lbs
**Slow and steady
***Keep shoulders high on ball to help discomfort in neck area
*20 sec hold
**Start to make circles with your elbows as you advance
Replacement exercise for dead bug in Workout 1:
10-12 reps
She complained that dead bug gave her back problems so we switched it out.
I am the star of the video of chest press on Bosu ball!