I recently started my second season of TRX training.  Not exactly ground breaking news – until you consider the fact that two weeks into the last season of TRX, I had decided that there had never been anything on this Earth that I hated more than TRX (ok – it still isn’t ground breaking news, but maybe it is at least slightly more interesting?).

I started January really excited about TRX and was really looking forward to the classes.  But to my surprise, I really struggled with the first couple of classes.  The workouts were so much harder than I expected (which I know is a good thing – but it can be hard to remember that when you are rolling around like a fish out of water trying to get your heels into the TRX straps).  And despite the fact that I had an awesome trainer helping me through the class (thanks Tracy!), I felt demoralized after the first few classes.

But I decided that TRX was something I really wanted to do and I made myself stick with it.  I formulated a strategy to get myself through those first couple of weeks and I’m really proud that it worked.  Now, I still have a long way to go before I master the TRX (I love the TRX motto of “Make Your Body Your Machine”!) – but I happily signed up for a second season and now when I’m done with a TRX class I leave the gym inspired (well – inspired, sweaty and tired).

I’m sure someday I’ll face a new fitness challenge (like when I finally work up the courage to take boxing!) and I’ll end up feeling like I did after those first few TRX classes.  So I decided I should document my strategy – and I thought I’d share it with you.

  1. Do not pay attention to or compare yourself to anyone else in the class.  Every person is at a different fitness level and has different strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Remind yourself that no one else in the class is paying attention to or judging you – and if they are, then they aren’t working hard enough (so they don’t count!)
  3. Once you get over any hang-ups you have about how you are faring in comparison to the rest of the class (or am I the only one that neurotic?), remind yourself that you are most likely in the company of some awesome women (shout out to Tracy’s TRX team!).  Support them and let them support you.
  4. Talk to your trainer/instructor and don’t be afraid to ask for (and use!) modifications.  I probably should have put this one first.  Tracy helped me few modifications I could make when I was having trouble with certain exercises.  Once I used them (a got over feeling weak for needing them), things became much less frustrating.   We have amazing trainers – we shouldn’t forget to use them (even if I do occasionally roll my eyes at them when they ask me to do burpies…).
  5. Set a date for yourself and commit to continuing with the workout (no matter how much you think you hate it) until that date and then give yourself permission to never do it again if you get to that date and still hate it.
  6. When all else fails, fake it until you make it…

It’s true what they say about riding a bike. It just comes back to you, no matter how much time has passed. Within 3 minutes of my first spin class in over a year, my inner smile returned, my legs found their rhythm and every cell, muscle, thought, quickly remembered how important it was for me to be there.   As always, I enjoyed the dimmed lights, the loud music and the sense of being in a group while focusing inward. There is no competition, no comparison – it’s just a small room packed with individuals sharing an experience. Kind of how I always view the Boston Marathon, actually. No threat.

I was actually able to go to two spin classes this week and already feel like a new person.   I used to love starting my Fridays with Emily M at the Chestnut Hill club.  Unfortunately, with all of the changes in my home life, I have not been able to make that ticketed 9:15 class.  And now, I am thrilled to find that she has added a 10:15 to the roster.  That I should be able to enjoy on a regular basis.  Emily has great music, fun rides and a natural way of leading the class with just the right amount of conversation.   Her calm nature will surely ground you and help you to refocus on your own well-being.  If ever you are looking for a great way to start your weekend a bit early, try out one of her classes.

For a long time, I spied on the spinners from afar. From the safety of the treadmill and the elliptical machines, I watched the ladies ride in unison and then emerge from the room soaked in sweat and accomplishment. They wore power on their relieved and satisfied faces. Oh, how I envied them. And yet I felt trapped by my not-so-daring personality type and stayed put on the machines that I knew I could do well and without embarrassment or risk of “failure”.  Then, one morning I felt compelled to check out the class schedule and saw an Intro to Spin segment listed. Even though I hadn’t ridden a bike in a decade or more, I played with the idea of trying it and headed to the club.

Thank God I did, because it was love at first ride. On those stationary bikes, I soared into my own soul.  A few times a week on that seat, I met my 47 year old, bike-riding brother who had died suddenly of a heart attack. He met me there and filled my head and heart with humorous, healing and inspirational chatter. My dad then passed away and began piping in with a few lines and special appearances. And then I met and had delightful conversation with the baby boy who had been conceived. I rode with and spoke to him until a week before his birth. Before long, my rides were filled with the calls from my heart to allow my marriage to die a graceful death. And this week, my mind allowed visions of a new life to surface. The right class, the right teacher and the right space can support you in untold ways; it’s simply a matter of finding your place at the club and allowing your body and heart to take the lead.

As I hovered outside the door of the spin class on that Sunday morning so long ago, trying to gain the courage to enter the room, a stranger stopped to encourage me. As she swung the door open with a smile, she assured me that I could be in control of my own ride, that I could sit by the door and leave if I wanted to, and that she was fairly sure that I would be hooked by the end of the hour. She also clarified that the women who were riding, in full gear and full stride, were not there for the intro class, but had indeed chosen to ride through one class and into the next as a way to winter train for the PanMass Challenge. Suddenly, it didn’t feel so intimidating. I thought that she was the teacher and followed her to a bike on the right-hand margin of the room. She promptly introduced me to the teacher, David, and asked him to help me set up my bike as she headed to her own in the far corner of the room. She was right, by the hour’s end, I was hooked and ever so grateful to her. I don’t remember her name, but would recognize her anywhere, in or out of context.   After a while, I even had my own “gear” and “stride”.

And so, my advice to you is that if you want to try a new class or experience at the club, just go for it and leave all of your self-limiting labels at the door. It may just change your life. And, if you ever see anyone lurking on the borders of a class that you enjoy, please take her hand, guide her over the threshold and welcome her into your circle. It may just change her life.

I must say, an almost-two week respite in FL does wonders for the body and soul. Just to leave my shovel standing aside my front door and head to the warmth of longer days and expansive views of the bay was rejuvenating. Of course, with the anticipation of mornings by the pool and afternoons by the sea, came the reality that it would be time to break out the bathing suits, shorts, sleeveless shirts. Egad. Could that possibly be the downside of this sunny vacation? Last year when I made the same journey to visit my mother in her winter home, I was smaller than I had been in years, and yet here I was, facing my empty duffle bag and a pile of summer clothes that may or may not fit. And so, I decided not to focus my attentions there, but to rather focus on enjoying the break in weather and routine, regardless of what I was wearing.

As we slipped through the sliding doors of the airport, we could sense the color that we had missed for so long. The greens were verdant, the oranges juicy, the reds blossoming. It was as though our world of black & white film had transformed into a color filled, multi-layered feature.   Everywhere we looked, there was life and movement. I had forgotten how moods and health change when the cold air bites us with each step outdoors and the blanket of white weighs upon us, begging us to stay inside and cozy. Granted, I did get lots of exercise while shoveling my seemingly endless driveway and walkways. I was just as happy, however, to get the same level of exercise while walking back and forth, time and time again, from dune to water’s edge with pails full of water and mud. To get it while chasing my 5 year old who was chasing dolphins. To get it while throwing balls around a tennis court for my little guys to collect and bring back, only to be tossed again. We let the warmth energize us.

And so, as we get back into our groove here in Boston, I want to remember the power of color, to smell it, taste it and feel it around us. Since the snow continues to cover my neighborhood, I have turned to our fruits and vegetables to satisfy part of this need and tropical desire. For years, my sister has made and shared a 7 Spice Mix that is very tasty. Although it is a great addition to many dishes, I especially love it on roasted vegetables. Just this afternoon I cubed a sweet potato and beet, tossed them with a bit of olive oil and the spice mix. I popped them on a parchment lined cookie sheet in a 400* oven and let them cook for just under 30 minutes. A great snack full of color, vitaminsminerals and healthy benefits, it also curbed any cravings that I may have had for something sweet or salty. I have also enjoyed this spice on a combo of summer squash, zucchini, asparagus & bliss potato all cut up and roasted.  Brussel sprouts, eggplant and broccoli.  Really, I haven’t yet met a roasted veggie that doesn’t taste even better with a dash of these flavors. The mix is nice because it doesn’t mask the flavor of the given vegetable, but rather seems to draw it forth and match it.

Since my sister no longer lives locally, she responded to my most recent request with the recipe rather than an already-made batch. I had all of the ingredients in my cabinet and now my stash is full.  According to her, one taste enhancing tip it to use the freshest spices possible.   She taught me to fish.

I hope that if you try it, you’ll like it. Enjoy.

7 Spice Powder

Ingredients                Small                      Large
Garlic Powder              1 – 1 ½ TBS               3 TBS
Ground Cumin             ¾ – 1 TBS                   2 TBS
Ground Coriander      ¾ – 1 TBS                   2 TBS
Herbes de Province    2 TBS                          4 TBS
Celtic Sea Salt                2 tsp                           4 tsp
Black Pepper                 1 – 2 tsp                      3 – 4 tsp
Cayenne *optional     Dash                            Dash

I feel like I’ve spent the past couple of months lacking focus and motivation (to put it politely) when it comes to nutrition and working and out and, well, pretty much everything.  I have no problem blaming part of this on the weather – when even walking to the bus starts to look like a scene from the Iditarod, it is hard not to take comfort in the arms of pizza, red wine, my couch and a good book.  Add to this the fact that I’ve found myself working a fair amount on the weekends and my fitness goals were starting to take a back seat (which is so not where they belong).  So I jumped at the chance to participate in Healthwork’s Drop 10 Challenge. The promise of accountability and some friendly competition seems like just the kick in the (maybe fitting just a little too snug) pants I need.  I had my initial assessment on Saturday with Lauren and we got to sit down and talk as well.  It was great to be able to set some new goals and also to articulate some of the struggles I’ve had recently, as well as some of the things I’m really enjoying (TRX!).

I highly recommend sitting down every few months (no matter good or bad things are going) and taking stock – I left the gym feeling better (and more focused) than I have in months.  I realized (or maybe just admitted) that my biggest problem lately is that I’m not taking the time I need on the weekends to do proper meal planning and preparation, which means I end up eating crap throughout the week, which makes me feel like crap, etc., etc. (As an aside, my favorite part of Saturday’s conversation went like this:  Me:  “I’ve just been eating so much crap lately” / Lauren:  “I’d rather hear that you have been eating too much, but still eating healthy food” / Me:  “Well, I’d rather be able to tell you that – but I would be lying”).

I know that I do really well when I spend time on Sundays doing all my meal planning and preparation – but I’ve been letting other things (work, helping friends, bad TV) get in the way.  So this weekend found me with my recipe collection and my calculator planning out all of my meals for the week.  I then spent a few hours Sunday afternoon doing all the cooking.  And oh my, I made a new recipe from Eating Well for a healthy version of tuna noodle casserole – after the first bite (also, in the interest of full disclosure, after I made a second batch due to ruining the first one with my broiler), I remembered why it is worth it for me to take the time on the weekends to do this.

So tomorrow is the first Drop 10 workout.  I’m looking forward to it.  My team is totally going to win.  (Hence the title of this post).  That is, assuming the results of my Drop 10 are more successful than my first attempt at that tuna noodle casserole…

I’m not talking about his certainty that we would someday find the rainbow connection (although I have my doubts on that as well) – I’m talking about classic Sesame Street number, “It’s Not Easy Being Green” (I am totally dating myself with my Sesame Street references here – anyone who was a toddler in the age of Elmo is reading this and wondering what I’m talking about.)  (To be fair, there is a good chance that *anyone* of *any* age that is reading this is wondering what I’m talking about).

With my most favorite Christmas present ever (that would be the Vitamix blender), I am find it very easy indeed to be green. To be more specific (and possibly start making sense), I’m really loving the spinach smoothies I can make with my new blender.

The first time someone told me about putting spinach in a smoothie, I looked at them like they’d just suggested I throw Kermit himself in the blender.   It sounded revolting to me and no matter how many times I heard people talk about them, I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.

To be fair, I must admit that I struggle with getting enough green veggies even under optimal conditions.  I wish I was one of those people that naturally gravitate towards fresh salads (they *do* exist – I’ve met them), but I’m not.  So the idea of pulverizing said green veggies and mixing them with a perfectly lovely fruit smoothie was slightly blasphemous to me.

But after using my Vitamix to make everything else under the sun (oh the soupy goodness!) and after reading Johanna’s “Sneaking In The Veggies” post (https://livewellwomen.wordpress.com/2011/01/04/sneaking-in-the-veggies/) from earlier in the month, I decided to give it a try.

I fooled around with some recipes and my calculator and came up with a 200 calorie smoothie that I could fit into my meal plan (spinach, half a banana, blueberries, light soy milk and ice if you are curious) and decided to give it a whirl (please excuse the blender pun!).

The first time I tried it, I grew weary as soon as I threw the ingredients in the blender.  It did not look very appetizing to me.

Things did not get any better after blending.  This just did not look like something I wanted to consume.

However, I fought my impulses and toasted to my health.  And it was quite simply a delight!  Despite looking kind of like the cartoon spinach Popeye used to squirt out of can, it tasted like the banana Laffy Taffy candy I loved last week when I was a kid.

I’ve fallen into a routine of having one every day (being a creature of habit, I haven’t tried any new recipes – but I will soon).  I go to the gym after work and then I have to trek out to Roslindale, so by the time I get home I am famished and likely to eat the first semi-edible thing I can get my mouth on.  This sometimes results in my snacking on string cheese or something similar (which I, ahem, sometimes forget to log) while I get my actual dinner ready.  Now I’ve been coming home and whipping up a smoothie as soon as I walk through the door.  I then sip it while I’m getting everything else ready.  And as a bonus, if I forget to throw a salad together to go with dinner, I’ve still consumed some fruits and veggies with dinner.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to enjoy my smoothie…

I’m feeling in need of pithy, clichéd sayings because I’m battling the impulse to throw in the sweaty gym towel.  Not when it comes to the gym in general mind you – just when it comes to my dismal performance in TRX TEAM training.  From a rational point of view, I know that it is perfectly fine that I’m struggling with TRX TEAM.  It means I have plenty of room for growth and I know that the challenge is good for me.  I know that if I stick with it, I will get better (and stronger!) and I will once again be in love with TRX TEAM.  However, if my rational point of view was always in charge, then I would be able to say that I have never once spent an entire day eating pizza and watching bad TV – and I can’t truthfully make that claim.

So I find myself battling the evil voices in my head telling me that I should just give up (side note:  why do the evil voices *always* manage to yell louder than the nice ones).  It has been so long since I’ve fought this impulse (that is, to just give up an exercise that is too hard) that I’d thought I’d totally conquered it.  When I first started seriously working out, I dealt with it a lot.  There was a six-month gap between my first and second BURN classes because I just decided I couldn’t handle BURN classes after the first one (and it took me six months to get back up on the horse – well in this case the treadmill).  And now, even when a BURN class leaves me wondering where the nearest AED is, I still love it.

So I know that I can work through this.  It is just really hard to focus on that fact when I’m struggling to get the TRX straps around my feet and then I’m barely able to do even one atomic pushup or when I fall out of the TRX while trying to do a one-legged squat (oh yeah, did I mention I fell flat on my butt in the middle of the gym?  That was awesome).  And it is especially hard to keep the proverbial “can do” attitude when I start comparing myself to the awesome ladies that are rocking the TRX on either side of me.  That kind of comparison I something that I firmly believe should be avoided in pretty much *any* circumstance – but this time I just can’t help myself.

Luckily, the TRX instructors at Healthworks are amazing and Tracy manages to keep me in the game even when I feel like my only option is flee the gym and never look back.  And I was so excited about starting TRX TEAM that I know all of the amazing things about it. And I know, to bastardize Eleanor Roosevelt, that no workout can make me feel inferior without my consent.  So, I’m going to keep at it.

My plan for this to not pay attention to how well anyone else is doing (unless I’m doing it to be inspired by their awesomeness) – I’m just going to focus on my own progress (no matter how incremental it is).  And I know that in a few weeks, I’ll be writing a post about how I can’t believe I ever thought I wanted to give up on TRX.

When was the last time you got out of your culinary comfort zone? The start of the New Year is a perfect time to look at your habits with fresh eyes and attempt to try something new. Today I ventured out of my food shopping routine and visited Reliable Market, an Asian grocery shop in Union Square, Somerville. I had already gathered necessary ingredients to make this Post-punk Kitchen curry udon recipe, but hadn’t been able to find the udon noodles during my usual trip to Trader Joe’s. At Reliable Market, I found the udon (big, chewy, Japanese noodles) plus a bunch of other fun additions to my kitchen. I brought home a few bags of dried shitake mushrooms ($.99 a piece), teriyaki-flavored seaweed snacks, and some matcha green tea powder—another ingredient that had eluded me during trips to mainstream stores in the past.

Besides the healthy, bargain deals, just the act of wandering around an unfamiliar environment, looking at different types of produce, spices, and sauces, was enough to make me feel refreshed and inspired.

Curry Udon

udon curry stir fry

I made my beautiful curry udon stir fry, with the shitake mushrooms, as well as broccoli, red pepper, and tofu. I always try to add in as many veggies as possible when it comes to stir fries, an easy way to get a big serving of vegetables in one delicious meal.

I’m in love with the teriyaki seaweed snacks, and looking forward to going back to Reliable and picking up more. They had about 30 different kinds of seaweed snacks at this store! There are only 10 calories in 10 flavorful, crunchy strips of seaweed, as well as 50% of your daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A. And, medical journals like Nutritional Reviews have shown sea vegetables to be high in many essential vitamins and minerals like iodine, copper, and zinc. Make sure you read the labels of seaweed snacks, though, as some contain MSG.

I also made a matcha green tea smoothie, blending my new matcha powder 

Matcha green tea smoothie

(1 tbsp.), with 1 cup of hemp milk, 1 tbsp. of honey and a few ice cubes. A refreshing alternative to iced coffee, and high in cancer-preventing polyphenols.


Have you tried any new foods or places to shop lately? If you’re interested in visiting in the Reliable Market, or other interesting ethnic shops in the Somerville area, check out Nibble, a new blog by the Somerville Arts Council, highlighting recipes and ingredients from local shops. Go explore!

I spent the Christmas and the New Year at my parents’ house in Omaha (and lest you think that Omaha is not a very glamorous place to holiday, consider the fact that none of than Lady Gaga also spent Christmas in Omaha and the local paper splashed all over the front page on December 26th).  Thanks to the fact that my parents belong to a wonderful gym and the fact that preparing healthy meals is a breeze when you have nothing else to do, the vacation was very compatible with healthy living.

Of course, the New Year often turns thoughts towards resolutions.  I’ve never been one for “diet” resolutions – I tend to make the same two resolutions every year (master both French and the guitar- neither of those things have yet to happen.  Maybe this year…).  But this year I decided to think about things to which I’m looking forward.  There is always a bit of a letdown at this time of year and winter can seem long and bleak (even for winter lovers like myself).  I’m hoping that by focusing on a couple of things that I’m excited about that I can keep myself from slipping into hibernation mode.

So here goes…..

1.        TRX!!!!  I start my TRX Season next week and I can’t wait.  I actually took a TRX interval class at my parents’ gym and realized just how much room I have for improvement on the TRX.  That is my nice way of saying that I’m really not that good at it – and I am so looking forward to getting better.  I think it is going to be a great way to jump start some serious fitness gains this year.

2.       Vita-Mix!!!  I got a Vita Mix for Christmas and I’m really excited about all the different ways I can use it for healthy eating.  I’m particularly looking forward to the fact that I can make soup right in the blender because the motor generates so much heat (I’m pretty sure that is how it works – maybe it is just fitness magic).

3.       Dolphins!!!  My family is all meeting up in Florida in December.  I’ve never been to Florida (fun fact:  it is one of only four states that I have never visited) and I haven’t seen my brother in over a year, so I’m really excited.  But back to the dolphins….My brother, sister-in-law and I are going to spend the day at some resort where we can snorkel and swim with dolphins.  I realize this is incredibly dorky, but I don’t care – I can’t wait to the whole cheesy dolphin kiss thing.  Also, you have to wear a wet suite at this resort.  If that isn’t incentive to hit the gym, I don’t know what is.

4.       Enell!!!  I got a new sports bra last week – and I splurged and got an Enell Sports Bra.  It looks like a girdle and it costs more than I normally spend on sports bras (or on shoes, for that matter) – but it was 100% worth it.  I hope I’m not just in the honeymoon phase because I’ve had other sports bras that I thought were amazing at first and then ended up feeling like they weren’t that great.  But this time it feels like true love.  I’ve already put it through the paces – and through all my jump roping, running and jumping jacks it kept everything where it was supposed to be.  The thing is so supportive, I’m pretty sure it actually makes me stand up taller!

All those exclamation marks have exhausted me, so it is time to sign off.  I hope everyone has a happy and health New Year!

“Don’t eat anything that comes from a package”.

My doctor dared me as I was leaving her office after my annual check-up. Clear to both of us was that my weight and creeping cholesterol levels were publicizing the stressful changes in my life. In the six months prior to my November appointment, I had not only gained almost 20 pounds but also experienced a wide array of not-so-serious- but-hard-to-miss stress related symptoms. And so, my trusted physician threw this very salient morsel of advice my way.

It’s not that this statement is especially profound. It doesn’t provide a sparkling insight. It may, however, offer the stripped down reminder and inspiration that I need. The single rule is simple enough to follow. It seems to keep the focus on choosing rather than dieting and controlling. There is no measuring or weighing, judging or guessing. There is only one question to ask.

I do like some things that come from a package, I must admit. And I do believe that I could eat very healthily with some packaged foods in my diet. Perhaps, though, it’s time to experiment. I remember with fondness a guided, 9 week Auyervedic cleanse that I did years ago and look forward to once again letting go of all that is clogging my body and my life. Adding the healthy never seems to be the issue; it’s subracting the unhealthy and low energy that seems to be the block.

My life flows more smoothly when I eat food that reflects the intention to be healthy and clear. I laugh more heartily, connect more easily to others and feel better living in my own skin when I eat and drink well. And so, at this moment, why are my choices littered with foods that bring neither health nor clarity? Why, with all of my knowledge and desire, do I find it difficult to embrace conscious eating as a continuous and natural setting? Who knows.  Perhaps today is the day to explore even more deeply what “foods that come from a package” offer me.  Perhaps today is the day for even more change.

The 12 Step adage, “One day at a time”, wields tremendous power and makes all things seem possible. I am sure that even one day without packaged foods will resonate with the woman whom I want to be and will bring her forth once again.

One of my biggest goals for the new year is to eat more vegetables.  I’m lucky, in that I really like most veggies, but in order to hit 5 servings a day you really have to plan and think about things.  This week, I have no plan (oops).  We got home from vacation on Sunday night and I had to hurry up and get some groceries for our bare cupboards.  I couldn’t handle the thought of one more meal out and I really wanted to cook something that wasn’t beige, the food color of choice in my holiday travels, so I ran to the store.  FYI, not having a plan is expensive.

So yesterday I knew I was going to have a salad for lunch.  That was my husband’s request and I am too lazy and uncreative to think of something else for myself, so that settled that.  But the rest of the day was a mystery.  I made up for it by throwing veggies at myself at every turn.

For breakfast I had a standard bowl of oatmeal with some canned pumpkin stirred in.  According to this website, pumpkin has a ton of nutrients and vitamin C.  Heading a cold off at the pass with breakfast that tastes like dessert?  Yes, please.

For dinner I made my favorite macaroni and cheese recipe, from Rachel Wilkerson.  This uses skim milk and a smallish quantity of good cheese, so the calorie count is not out of control.  And it also uses a whole bag of spinach, so Popeye would be proud.  I love macaroni and cheese almost as much as I love my husband, and he loves this recipe too.  Win-win.

Before bed, I was still kind of hungry.  Because I brilliantly decided on our 6 hour road trip home that we were going to institute meatless Mondays, and because I forgot the key ingredient for the meatless meal I had intended to make, I wound up making the mac and cheese that I usually serve as a side dish and calling it dinner.  I needed something else to fill me up, so I pulled out the blender and made myself a green smoothie.  Check out www.greenmonstermovement.com if you have no idea what I’m talking about.  I combined coconut milk, frozen peaches and pineapples, a few ice cubes and a big handful of kale in the blender.  I would have used spinach, but we ate it all for dinner.  When you make one of these, as bizarre as they look, you can’t taste the greens that you throw in there.  I swear.  I tried to take a picture of me and my green monster, but after all of that traveling, I looked worse than my smoothie did.  This is one of the best ways to sneak some greens into your life.  Make it taste like fruit!  My husband always claims that if they could make broccoli taste like apples he would eat it; now I just made kale taste like peaches.  He still didn’t want it, but I didn’t want to share anyway.