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In some crazy way, I can say that it was indeed a Happy Thanksgiving. We entertained not out-of-town relatives, dear family friends or make-themselves-at-home siblings. Instead, our guest, the infamous stomach bug, was uninvited and unfriendly. In my opinion, it overstayed its welcome, but has now seemingly and finally left our home, leaving only hints and whispers of its lingering and annoying presence.

On Tuesday, I was remembering one of my favorite Thanksgiving mornings, just a few years ago, when I was able to start the day with a Healthworks spin class. By the time I headed to the home of some friends (who are both chefs and wine connoisseurs, mind you), I felt great and hummed with energy. That early morning work-out, time alone and sweat set the tone for the rest of what became a balanced and very happy Thanksgiving celebration. On Tuesday, I also remembered, somewhat sadly, that this year, I would not get to the club, or sweat, or enjoy time alone.

And then, by Wednesday, the subtle complaints and hollers from our stomachs began. No Kindergarten that day. No work either. The writing was on the wall, even if I didn’t want to read the message just yet.

And so, with a bit of comfort and normalcy returning to our moments, I look back on our non-traditional, isolated holiday weekend with a bit of a smile. It turns out that it was somewhat healthy in an uncomfortably unhealthy way. Even with a very quick trip to my mother’s home, the calorie intake was low and guarded. For us, there were no hors d’oeuvres, fancy drinks or rich desserts. No extras enjoyed as we dashed in and dashed out. Not disappointing as I also realized that it meant there were neither over-sugared and over-stimulated children nor an over-triptophan sedated mother.

Once we were home, I enjoyed a good 36 hours of near continuous lunges, sprints, dead-weight lifts (Luckily, I have a 5 year old 45 lb weight and a 1.5 year old 25 lb. weight in house and easily accessible. Who needs barbells?), and stair climbing with overflowing baskets of laundry. I even got a great upper back workout as I scrubbed the bathroom & bathtub, washed floors and spotted carpets.  During our down time, my boys and I enjoyed many hours of old cartoons, chapters of The Magic Treehouse, adventures in firefighter role-playing, handfuls of dry Cheerio-s and glassfuls of warm Ginger Ale. When the high drama moments had passed, we each enjoyed splashing, or soaking, in long and relaxing bubble baths.

Life is good.

In the end, I got my Thanksgiving work-out. It just came in a form that was unexpected and unlike any that I have enjoyed before. May I return to my spin class for next year, but for tonight, as my sons sleep soundly and in relative comfort, many are the blessings that I count.

Thanksgiving is just around the bend, and while this time of year marks the start of the holiday season, it also means that its time to be prepared for something much less fun: cold and flu season!

I was sick all of last week, and know a few other people in my office and grad school program have been coming down with colds  also. I’m thankful to be feeling better and able to be up and active by now—as we all probably know, it isn’t until you’ve felt unhealthy that you tend to fully appreciate just how great being healthy really is.

Hawaiian Ginger Chicken Soup and Sriracha

I made a batch of this Hawaiian Ginger Chicken Soup from EatingWell.com when I was feeling sick, and I’ve decided to go ahead and dub it the “new” chicken soup. While I love the Lipton’s noodle packets as much as the next person, a spicy, pungent soup filled with dark green leafy vegetables, is much more beneficial to your body. It is VERY ginger-y, which I love, but those who aren’t really into ginger may want to reduce it a little. Ginger is acknowledged as having tons of health benefits, including: boosting immunity, relieving gastrointestinal discomfort, and reducing inflammation. The spicy Sriracha in the broth is excellent for clearing up a stuffy nose! I hope you don’t end up needing a cold-remedy, but should you need one, keep this dish in mind. :)

Have a great holiday!

In my house, there is no mention of Christmas before Thanksgiving.  My husband’s obsessive love for his favorite, often overlooked holiday makes him turn into kind of a grinch when he hears the oldies station start their 24 hour holiday music at the beginning of November, and when that aisle in Target gets decked with lights while the Halloween costumes are still out he all but breaks out in hives.  But now that Thanksgiving has been properly celebrated (twice – and with the use of this hat) we can start the Christmas season!

I love Christmas, but even before that starts – I love Black Friday.  I love giving presents.  I love shopping and I love thinking about what each person on my list will look like when opening the wrapping paper on Christmas morning.  And don’t even get me started on how much I love wrapping.  Last summer I clean out and organized my closet and came to the scary realization that I may have some sort of specific hoarding disorder focused on holiday-themed giftwrap.  But I am usually too excited to wait until after Thanksgiving to do my Christmas shopping and on Black Friday I’m usually done.  I hardly ever actually buy things for other people on this day, and I end up shopping for myself.  Give a little, get a little.  So in honor of Black Friday and my admittedly sort of messed up tradition, here is a list of some health and fitness related Christmas gifts that I would like this year – maybe it will inspire you to give healthy gifts to the people you love, or to put some on your wishlist.  (Does your family make you do this?  I have to make a list of things I’d like and then email it to my dad.  He threatens me for weeks that if I don’t send him a list, I will get a Star Trek t-shirt for Christmas.  This is the exact same threat I’ve been hearing for 10 years.)

  • iTunes gift cards.  I need a new workout mix, badly.  I have been listening to Ashlee Simpson and Miley Cyrus.  Please help.
  • Pants from Lululemon.  According to everybody I know, these pants are made with magic and make your butt look amazing.  And they are supposed to last forever and not look like you wear them to sweat.  Actually, I’d take anything from that store.  Please give me the bag that it comes in, too, because it’s so cute. 
  • Healthy cookbooks.  Clean Start by Terry Walters, The Best of Clean Eating, and The Vegetable Dishes I Can’t Live Without by Mollie Katzen.
  • While we’re at it, a knife that cuts things like vegetables without having to saw through them.  I realized that I don’t even have a non-serrated knife in my kitchen.  This may be a problem.
  • Massage gift certificate.  I need to relax.
  • Cold weather running gear.  I would love another Nike hat with a ponytail hole, some running gloves, and a couple long sleeved shirts that will keep the wind out.
  • Sweaty bands.  These are supposed to actually stay on your head and not pop off in the middle of a workout.  The impossible dream.
  • Gift certificate to Healthworks.  I’d like to try Gravity and BURN.  And hopefully live to tell the tale.

Well, I guess that’s quite a list.  I have been pretty good this year.  Happy shopping, everybody!

So, I’ve kind of been feeling sorry for myself over here.  Since my foot injury, I have been taking a break from exercising and trying to let myself heal.  But, this has really meant that a large part of my normal routine has gone by the wayside.  I haven’t been to the gym and I haven’t been running.  The doctor told me to not walk more than I have to so I’ve resorted to taking an elevator here or there when I would usually take the stairs.  I’ve been a little down.  I have that paranoid feeling thatI’ve immediately gained 10 pounds (delusional, I know), my energy levels are nowhere near what they usually are, I am pretty sure I won’t be able to run the race I signed up for on Thanksgiving morning and I miss the ladies I see at my usual gym times, who always have such nice and supportive things to say.  All in all, I spent a couple days this week having a personal little pity party on my couch.

But, last night my husband and I had our second annual Friend Thanksgiving dinner.  We had invited over a bunch of friends, both old and new, made a menu, cooked a turkey, and had a blast.  We were so lucky to have 16 of the people who are the most important in our lives (including a college friend who came all the way up from Virginia to join us) in our house, and it really put life into a little perspective to me.  It inspired me to really think about and appreciate the blessings in our life.

We are lucky to have a place to live, even if we still haven’t found the perfect house to buy and we’re still renting in a less than ideal location.  Our rental apartment has enough room that we were able to gather together all of these people, however  awkward the seating arrangements were, and at a time when so many have so little, I am reminded that we have a roof over our heads and a warm place to sleep.  We are lucky to have the luxury to have not only enough to eat, but to be able to provide a dinner.  Not to mention to have a friend’s boyfriend who makes and shares excellent pumpkin cheesecake.  We are lucky to be able to have the good health to enjoy our time together, and the good fortune to laugh about shared times we’ve had in the past.  I am blessed to have an amazing husband, whose love of Thanksgiving inspired our new tradition and who was brave enough to pull out the turkey neck and giblets before he followed his Food Network recipes to an OCD-level of accuracy.

 

I’m thankful for the reminder to look around and be grateful for what I have, even before the holiday itself reminds us all.  I am going to have a week of giving thanks, not just a day, and hopefully I will remember to carry this gratitude with me throughout the year.  Because even though I am frustrated about not being able to work out for a little while longer, I am lucky to have an amazing gym like Healthworks to miss, and the prospect of many future sweat sessions when I am healed up.  Not everybody is as lucky as I am.

I am not a dog person. Lately, however, I have been appreciating the dog people of my life in a whole new way. In the past couple of weeks, I have enjoyed long walks and even better conversations with great friends as they take their four-legged family members out for adventure.  On more than a few occasions, the Fionas, GiGis and Higginses have begged for fresh air and a good meant-for-exercise run. I have been reminded that like children, when it comes to dogs, there is no “later” option.  I have also been reminded that unlike children, there is no choice to stay inside, regardless of the weather, when a potty emergency arises.

During a recent trip to the Berkshires, I stayed with two different dear friends. It was so great to sit and sip tea, sharing both memories of our past experiences as well as our current storylines. We moved from room to room, becoming more and more comfortable in the coziness of great couches as we reconnected. In the mornings, it was great to wake, enjoy healthy breakfasts and continue our conversations. The dogs interrupted, though, and needed to get out, leaving us no option but to pile on the fleece and comfie clothes. In both cases, we walked a bit before unleashing the dogs; they immediately bolted and played with an exuberant and almost frenzied sense of freedom. Although we didn’t sniff trees or chase squirrels with them, we did find a brisk pace that filled all of us, each day, with life. The autumn colors were vibrant and so were we. Women running with dogs.

Since those great escapes into the woods, around empty schoolyards and through quiet, small town neighborhoods, I have had occasion to accompany other dog owner friends and family members on their daily journeys around the block. For me, it has been a great, untapped source of exercise. My boys want a dog and may one day get a non-allergenic one. For now, our fish Rosie will do. I will, however, visit dog-loving-friends more often and focus not as much on the leaping , lapping adn subsequent sneezing and watery eyes as on the potential for a great trek, rain or shine.

I’ll have to remember this next weekend as we head to ME for a pre-Thanksgiving family gathering at my younger brother’s new home. Perhaps I will count on Emma, the resident Jack Russell, to keep my calories eaten/calories burned equation in check.

This morning started out promising when I stepped out of the house and saw the sun for the first time all week.  However, it quickly went downhill.  It bottomed out during a two hour lunch meeting when I ended up eating the lunch that was provided (giant chicken parmesan sandwich, chips, cookie – and a mint).  I then spent the rest of the afternoon feeling guilty and bloated (and I think we can all agree that those are two of the more unpleasant feelings).  To add insult to injury, eating like that did simply not provide me with the fuel to face bootcamp (the bloat and the guilt didn’t help either).  I couldn’t jump rope to save my life, my pushups were horrible and one point I found myself just standing and staring into space instead of doing jumping jacks (luckily Lauren didn’t see me!). So instead of leaving the gym feeling invigorated, I left feeling defeated.  Making poor eating choices is like the prank gift that keeps on giving.  And you know what a (very evil) part of me thinks the solution to this is? Ordering pizza (you know theory, right?  The day is shot to hell anyway, so I might as well enjoy some cheese and

pepperoni).  This is one of those times when I need to sit myself down and have a serious talk with myself.  It would go something like this:

Me:  Why on earth do you think that pizza is going to make anything better?

Other Me:  Um, because it tastes good? And it tastes even better with beer?

Me:  Look, we ate crap for lunch and then felt like crap all afternoon.  And then felt even worse after our  pathetic  performance in bootcamp.   Can you not see the cause and effect going on here?

Other Me:  Whatever.  It was a TWO HOUR meeting with a 67 page PowerPoint presentation and the sandwich smelled awesome.  What was I supposed to do?

Me:  Not interested in your excuses.  You were supposed to NOT eat it and instead eat the nutritious lunch we brought with us and then be ready for bootcamp.

Other Me:  Um, can we finish this later?  I think the pizza place stops delivering at nine.

Me:  Sigh.  You are not getting it.  Eating pizza is just going to continue the crap feelings.  It is a very dangerous road to travel.  This is stupid – every pre-schooler in world knows that two wrongs don’t make a right and that is exactly what you are suggesting we do, thunder thighs.

Other Me:  Ok, ok.  I get it.  But by the way, every pre-schooler also knows that you aren’t supposed to call people names.  The thunder thighs thing was out of line.

Me:  Point taken.  I feel we’ve really grown tonight.  Now let’s go have a good dinner.

So I successfully avoided compounding the error of my ways with pizza and beer.  And I’m trying not to be too hard on myself for the transgression (no more name calling!).    Struggling through sprints in bootcamp was punishment enough – I just hope I remember that the next time I’m face with food I shouldn’t eat! Whenever I am on the fence about working out, I always tell myself that I have never once regretted *going* to the gym, while I have many times regretted skipping it.  Similarly, I have to start reminding myself that while I have many times regretted what I’ve put in my mouth, I don’t think there has ever been a time when I got to the end of the day and said “Damn, I should have eaten that sandwich.”

So, after all of my excitement last week about running outside with my new hat and not letting the winter get the best of me… I hurt my foot.  I don’t know how exactly, but I am pretty sure that it had something to do with the cold weather forcing me to wear socks with my cute pointy flats, the shoes slipping off my feet all day, and curling my toes weird in response to keep said cute pointy shoes on my feet.  And I had a 13 hour day.

By 6 pm, I was getting a weird pain in my toe.  By the time I got to leave school to go home at 8, I was just plain hurting.  And then – here is the brilliant part – on Thursday, I went for my planned run with my friend anyway.  We had the day off, we had a plan, I was in a good mental place about running and keeping up my schedule, and I decided to just do it.  Remember how I like to pretend I am a badass?  Not. So. Smart.

Thursday during the run I was ok.  During the walk back I was in a little pain, but no biggie.  That afternoon, shopping with my husband for new work clothes (because, by the way, he just keeps losing weight and losing weight – but that’s another frustrating story) I was ready to cry in the mall.  I couldn’t fight the tears by the time we got in the car.  I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, but my stupid toe pushed me over the edge.

So, after some WebMD research, some ice and some Advil, I have decided that I have to rest for a little while.  I went to the doctor on Monday and she confirmed what I suspected.  I strained a tendon somehow.  I think it was the stupid shoes.  And really, I managed to train for and run a half marathon with no injury at all, but wearing every day shoes to work led me to this?  Ugh.  She told me no running for awhile and no more walking than necessary.  Not much of anything for awhile.  Just rest, ice and Advil.

The ironic thing is that sometimes I would think to myself, I would love a reason to just take a break from all of this exercise for awhile.  Wouldn’t that be nice, if somebody would tell me I couldn’t work out and I could just stop, just for a few days?  Well, now that I was told that, it’s driving me crazy.  I want to exercise.  But pretty much every step that I take is at least a little painful, so I am waiting like I was told and trying to just get better.  At least I don’t have to use crutches.  I guess the moral of the story is, be careful what you wish for?  Or wear more comfortable shoes.

 

pumkin pie oatmeal

Pumpkin-pie oatmeal

 

I never get sick of oatmeal. I might go through brief interludes of interest in switching it up with scrambled eggs or a breakfast sandwich, but for the most part oatmeal and I stick together like glue every morning. I switch it up with a cold variation like bircher-muesli in the summer, and in the fall and winter I love having a hot bowl in the morning, always with toppings. To me, it’s the perfect breakfast food. The health benefits are undeniable–oatmeal has been found to lower cholesterol, and provides energy in complex carbohydrates with lots of soluble fiber to stabilize your blood sugar. It’s also inexpensive–I like to buy a jumbo box of plain, old-fashioned oats, which has about 30 servings and costs around $3-4. None of the pre-packaged, sugary packets for me, thanks. My long-time standby mix-ins for hot oatmeal have included chopped apples, cinnamon, honey, and nuts.

hemp milk

Lately I’ve tried some other varieties that I thought I’d share. First off, I usually mix my oats with half milk and half water. I recently discovered the joy of using hemp milk from Trader Joe’s in this mix. Their hemp milk provides almost half your daily serving of Omega-3 ALA fats–those healthy fats you need for a healthy functioning brain and heart. The fat and protein the hemp milk provides makes for an extra creamy bowl of oats, and I find that it really helps to keep me full for longer.

Along with hemp milk I’ve tried a few new add-ins:

The Thanksgiving-season appropriate Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal, with:

  • 1/4 cup canned pumpkin (plain, not sweetened)
  • Pumpkin pie spices: ground ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon, adjusted to your taste preference. I like a lot of ginger in mine.
  • Drizzle of honey
  • Chopped walnuts
  • Raisins

I scoop the pumpkin in with the uncooked oatmeal and hemp milk and heat it up all together (about 4 minutes in the microwave), and then add on the toppings and an extra splash of milk once its cooled a little.

My other new favorite variety involves:

  • 2 tbsp dried, unsweetened coconut flakes
  • dried cranberries
  • chopped walnuts
  • drizzle of maple syrup

This variation came out of using what I had on hand in the pantry, and just happened to come together fabulously. It might be my favorite variety to date.

Enjoy!

Oh, the long-awaited extra hour of sleep! How I pined for it, wishing and hoping that it would indeed be and feel true. Alas, as the boys woke last Sunday morning, the usual 6:30 plea for breakfast felt much more disappointing and difficult than usual. I swear the self-adjusting clock gave a wink and a sneer as it glared 5:30 in my dark and cozy room, seemingly wishing better luck next year. Bummer.

As I think about living well, healthily and happily, I have come to believe that sleep is the most important factor in the equation. Chronic, sleep deprivation, for whatever reason, is insidious and sneaky as it reaches into every fine line of our lives. I haven’t yet mastered how to fit myself into my own very busy days. Trying to do that with virtually no sleep has created mystery where there used to be routine. I just don’t know how to enjoy regular exercise and healthy, relaxing meals when I am running from early morning to late night on imitation energy. Just this week, sick and teething children have left me with fewer than four hours total sleep on three different nights. Then, as I twirl through the following days of details, work, students, drop-offs, pick-ups, errands, meals left behind for the different babysitters & same kids, laundry blah, blah, blah, I find myself reaching for yet another comforting cup of tea, diet Pepsi, handful of high-calorie nuts, chips and hummus, unbalanced meal. What I really want, of course, is to crawl into a kid-free bed and slumber. A funny word, but one so appropriate for the sleep of my dreams.

There have been moments when I could sneak a walk outdoors or a quick trip to the club by myself; however, during those pauses I am so overwhelmed with exhaustion that I can’t imagine anything worse than trying to push my body even a whisper beyond where it is. And so I skip the exercise and reach for another caffeinated drink or quick sugar shot, when what I really need is sleep. To slow down and to savor deep, uninterrupted rest. And then to go for a great, sweaty work-out soaked with lots of water. Pure and simple.

I will figure this out. I must. So for the next week or two, I am keeping my sights on this core element of my life. If my hypothesis is correct, the sleep is the kernel for health and the exercise and healthy diet the byproducts. Rather than focus on the classes at the gym that I want to attend, the veggies that I want to enjoy and the higher energy that I want to feel flooding my system, I will just sleep whenever and however I can. Ideally, the simplicity of this shift in attention will offer permission to just stop, will calm that voice that “shoulds all over myself” and will, in the end, invite health and wellness back to my days.

And so with that, good night.

I got my hair cut on Saturday morning, and as I was leaving the salon, the receptionist wished me a Happy Thanksgiving.  I can’t believe we’ve reached the point in the year where it is acceptable to wish people a Happy Thanksgiving.  This realization inspired me to make the most out of the dwindling opportunities for outside fall fun.  I actually tried my hand (feet?) at jogging in the Arboretum on Saturday afternoon (actually, it was more like evening as I found out once I got to the side of the Arboretum furthest from my house and it quickly got dark.  Oops.).   Honestly, I probably did as much walking as jogging (lots of hills in the Arboretum and as I wrote about last week, I’m just getting back into running) – but it was a lovely autumnal jaunt.  The air was just brisk enough (it stayed on the side of invigorating without crossing the line to chilly) and the scenery was beautiful (although past their peak, the leaves were still putting on a show).  On Sunday, I ventured out my neighborhood and went for a hike in the Blue Hills.   Hiking is probably my favorite outdoor activity.  It is easily customizable (in a place like the Blue Hills with lots of interconnecting trails, you can go for as long as you’d like and you can opt to get your heart pumping with elevation gains or you stick to flatter trails) and it doesn’t really require much (although I’m a firm believer in a good pair of hiking boots and I use trekking poles).  And you get treated to moments like this:

Now, no one loves their gym more than I do.  And I know that I get the best workouts at my gym (especially with a trainer breathing down my neck) – but I also like having my weekend workouts be more focused on an actual activity.  In the summer and spring, this is pretty easy to pull off (hiking, biking, swimming, tennis, etc.).  But it gets hard as it gets colder.  And even harder still when the snow starts.  So I’m really glad I made an effort to take advantage of the fall weather this weekend.  Hopefully there will be a few more weekends like this to enjoy before winter takes over!

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