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I am, no doubt, a breakfast eater. According to the rules of healthy living, it seems this practice gains me bonus points on most self-assessment quizzes. It’s a meal that I always enjoy and prefer to eat at home. I am not one of those people who loves going out to breakfast, exploring new diners, searching for the perfect home fries, adding a long list of veggies and cheeses to my omelet or drinking the seemingly endless flow of coffee refills. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy a fresh bakery bagel with a hot cup of tea every once in a while, but when imagining a meal out on the town, breakfast is seldom my choice. I was raised on non-sugared cold cereals, vats of fiber-filled hot cereals, fresh waffles, french toast and poached eggs. For a while, we even ventured into the world of homemade yogurt, adorned with wheat germ and fruit. My mother’s goal was to jumpstart the days of her eight children, six of whom were boys, with healthy, hardy fare. Clearly, I have inherited this gene as I send my own sons off to their adventures with bellies full of good choices. Luckily for me, I usually eat what I serve in the morning and so am able to stick to my own high standards.

This is the time of year when I begin to shift my cooking gears a bit, leaning more towards warm and comforting foods on these brisk mornings. Although we love our oatmeal and cream of wheat, quinoa (keen-wa) is the hot cereal that I especially like for its versatility. The Incas deemed quinoa as sacred, referring to it as the “mother of all grains” while appreciating it as a complete plant protein full of essential amino acids, dietary fiber, phosphorus, magnesium and iron. Its gluten-free qualities make it easy to digest as our bodies mine the nutritional treasures. While in other people’s homes, at cooking classes and in restaurants, I have enjoyed quinoa (both red and white) in a multitude of dinner sides; however, for me, it resides primarily on the breakfast food shelf in my heart. I am endlessly surprised (who knows why after so many trips to the supermarket) that I can never find the quinoa in the cereal aisle and must travel to the grains section of any given store to find it sitting aside the millet and barley.

Although I always enjoy quinoa infused with the flavors of apples, almonds, cinnamon and almond milk, my favorite, slightly decadent recipe includes coconut, dried berries and almonds. I do believe in some of the healthful qualities of coconut and, when eaten in moderation, don’t mind using it as a tasty ingredient in my dishes. In its various forms, it adds both creaminess and crunchiness to this meal. When I know that I won’t enjoy the luxury of the 20 minute cook time in the morning, I make a pot the night before. Usually, I’ll splash a bit of the remaining coconut milk into our bowls before reheating so that a bit of moisture is reintroduced. Another option is to drop a dollop of fat free Greek yogurt atop the cooked quinoa. If you feel like you would like a bit more sweetness, you may add a drop of stevia or honey into the mix just before eating. At our house, we find that a small teacup will provide a great combination of protein and complex carbs, keeping us satisfied and running smoothly for hours.

May you have fun playing with this recipe and venturing into new combinations and pairings.  I imagine you will find new love as well.

1 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 cup lite coconut milk
Dried berries (Trader Joe’s has a “Dried Berry Medley” that is great in this recipe)
Sliced almonds
Unsweetened, shredded coconut
Place the water, coconut milk & quinoa into a saucepan.
Bring to a boil, sprinkle in small handfuls of almonds, berries & coconut as desired.
Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until liquid has evaporated.

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This week I did my best to add more veggies into my diet.  I’m usually one for a sensible happy medium outlook on eating, but lately my attitude of eating everything in moderation sort of slipped into just eating everything.  Oops.  So, focusing on Tosca Reno’s principles of Clean Eating (if you haven’t read The Eat Clean Diet, I really recommend it!) I planned out my meals and snacks for the week and went grocery shopping on Sunday.

I usually love grocery shopping, especially wandering around the aisles of Whole Foods browsing all of the options and tasting all of the samples.  But this week I was on a mission and I focused on vegetables and lean protein (and that free sample cranberry orange scone at the bakery.  Oops again.)  I tried to get a variety of veggies so that I wouldn’t get bored easily; if I bring salad to school for lunch all week, by Thursday I want to throw my Tupperware at the wall.

I wound up looking all over for new ways to eat my veggies.  On Carrots N Cake, Tina talked about this book that I’d really like to get (you know, in case you’re looking for a Christmas present idea for me) because I could use some inspiration.  I wound up using a couple of really good recipes from bloggers out there that I thought you guys would enjoy.

Low and Slow Sweet Potatoes from Kath Eats Real Food are hands-down the best way to eat sweet potatoes.  Cutting the potatoes into thick circles and roasting them in the oven turns them into something different and delicious.  Roasting veggies really does bring out the sweetness, and exposing this much skin from gives an opportunity for them to become kind of puffy – not crunchy exactly, but kind of like when you bake pierogies in the oven.  The outsides get a little poofy and the insides are smooth as though you had mashed the sweet potatoes up.

I also made kale chips for the first time.  I don’t even know who to give credit to for this, since it seems like it’s on every healthy eating blog out there.  Apparently I’m a little late to the baked kale rodeo.  By spreading pieces of kale leaves on a baking sheet, spraying them with a little olive oil and sprinkling with sea salt, I ended up with something that tasted kind of like Baked Lay’s, but with no weird ingredients.  Here‘s a recipe for you from over at allrecipes.com.  Don’t mind the photo – they are ugly, but they taste good!

Anybody who has creative veggie ideas, please send them my way!  I could use some more inspiration!

I like to think I’m  someone who pushes myself in my workouts.  I also like to consider myself a “quiet” person, but a friend nearly spit out her drink when I announced this the other day, so eager was she to correct this illusion.  Apparently, I harbor under a lot of false illusions.  So when left to my own devices, I do try very hard at the gym – but I don’t try hard enough.  I’m fine with cardio and basic strength training exercise – but I totally cop out when it comes to exercise I truly detest (proof the universe hates me can be found in the fact the exercise I detest are the ones that trainers love) and when it comes to exercises where I’m not totally confident in my ability to perform it without breaking a window/maiming a fellow gym member/knocking out all of my teeth.  So this all means that my workouts on my own in Europe were not on par with my normal workouts.

That changed today.  I swore at Lauren under my breath  a few times and half way through demanded that she return the present I gave her for her birthday – but when it was all over, I wanted to hug her (I was very sweaty – so *not* hugging her was kind of like a second birthday present).

When I’m working out by myself, my thought process goes like this:  “I will do planks now.  Actually, no.  I will just lay here on my stomach for a while.   I’ll suck in my stomach while I’m doing it though – that will totally work my abs.”  Planks are probably my least favorite gym-related activity.  I did not do a single plank the whole time in Europe.  I even lost my “plank elbow” (also known as the rough skin around my elbows where my arms touch the ground during planks).  And then there was today’s workout, where we did many, many plank.

Another solo scenario:  “I think I’ll do some dead lifts with this super heavy weight.  I’m totally strong enough for it.  Hmm, but what if I do something wrong and screw up my back or break a window.  Maybe I shouldn’t risk it.  Is there a juice bar in the gym?”  But in Bootcamp, I know I can rely on Lauren’s expertise to keep me away from broken backs and broken windows, so I’m free (and encouraged) to try the heavier weight.

All of this is my way of saying that today’s boot camp was the best workout I’ve had in over two weeks and I needed it.  I felt grumpy and slow in a way that didn’t have anything to do with post-vacation/back to work blues.  Nothing like a butt-kicking work out to clear the cobwebs!  If you are interested and have never tried agroup training class, I highly recommend it.  Being a confirmed introvert and self-conscious about the way I look (and sometimes smell) when I workout, I never would have thought I would like them.  But I absolutely love them.  You’ve got a trainer to push you and you’ve got classmates who cheer each other on (and sometimes plot about overthrowing the trainer in a bloody mutiny – but that hardly ever happens).

 

Anyway, I feel I have diverged a bit.  I just feel 100% better after today’s workout.  Now I just need to get back to sticking to me eating plan…

 

no planks were done in this lovely gym….

And lest you think I didn’t work out at all in Europe, I present you with a picture of my gym in Prague (people looked at my pretty funny when I was taking this picture – I didn’t care).  A lovely and fine gym, but there was nobody there to tell me to do planks.  And I don’t know the Czech word for plank, so it would have just been confusing.

So, a long time ago one of the trainers at my Healthworks suggested that I “shake things up” a little bit and try new things. She thought it would keep me from getting bored and keep my body from getting too used to the same old routine. Of course, I promptly ignored this advice and kept doing my same old routine. I like routine. I like knowing that it’s Wednesday, and on Wednesday nights I go to Body Pump. I realize that this makes me sound like Sheldon from “The Big Bang Theory” (do you watch that?) but I kind of take comfort in knowing what comes when.

Well, we kind of know how far this has gotten me. Stuck on a plateau. I’m not putting any weight on, but I haven’t been taking any off, either. So I finally decided to bite the bullet and, after my normal routine class on Monday, I stayed for Urban Rebounding.

Holy cow. First of all, I don’t really take many classes that require too much coordination. I am not exactly what you would call graceful. This was maybe my first problem. But also, I didn’t really expect to sweat a whole lot on a trampoline or for my quads to feel like Jell-o by the end of the class. I kind of had this idea in my head that we would be doing splits in the air and jumping around like that music video the girls did on “Saved By The Bell.”  [Best. Episode. Ever.]  I did not think that my shirt would have become an entirely different shade of gray due to all the sweat. This class was much more challenging than I gave it credit for, but it was also really fun! The songs were upbeat and fun (and not from the 80’s – I don’t know why that is the idea I have when I think of taking a cardio class) and FAST and we stopped and got off of the trampoline a few times to do lunges and planks and to use barbells for arm exercises. This was no afternoon of bouncing on the trampoline in my sixth grade best friend’s backyard.

Maybe the only downfall of the class was watching myself look like a total goof in the mirror, but once I got over that I was able to just have a good time.  Overall this was a great workout and I will be back.  And who knows – could this be a gateway for me into the scary, scary world of Zumba?

Well, I’m back from my European jaunt.  I had an absolutely wonderful time (it was one of the few times in life where things were actually *better* than I expected) – but I am also very happy to be home (not so happy to be back at work, but that is another story).    I’m just about finished catching up with sleep and laundry and I’m looking forward to spending some time cooking and preparing meals for the week (the fact that I’m looking forward to cooking shocks me as much as if I had suddenly spouted a pair of wings).  I missed having total control over my eating choices in Europe and I didn’t always make the best decisions when it came to food (and, erm, beer).  But I’m not going to waste time doing a post-mortem on the whole things – it was an amazing trip and now that I’m back I can refocus.  I usually feel invigorated at this time of year and it seems like a much better time to make changes than on January 1st (I think it harkens back to the “back to school” spirit on the season).  I’ve got my meal plan for the week all set (hurrah for soup season!) and I’m very much looking forward to getting back into my gym routine.  I would really like a new short-term fitness goal on which to focus –  I was hoping to find a Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Trot” near my house that I could aim for, but I can’t.  I think I respond well to these kinds of short-term goals because they keep me focused.  I’ll keep racking my brains because I’d really like to publically state the goal here – you guys will keep me honest.  In the meantime, I thought I’d share this picture of me and one of my new super-thin European friends:

(Just kidding – it is from this amazing church in the Czech Republic that is entirely decorated with human bones.)

I am the daughter of a breast cancer survivor. I am the daughter-in-law of a breast cancer survivor. I am the sister-in-law of two breast cancer survivors. I am a personal friend of a breast cancer survivor. I am the professional friend of a breast cancer survivor. I am the godchild of a breast cancer non-survivor.

We all know what it feels like to create such a list for ourselves. Women of all ages, races, religions, social and economic groups are affected by this disease. Many of us may, one day, be forced to address the same questions, fears and life-altering choices that women are facing every day. That moment when we feel the lump, get called back with a questionable spot on a mammogram, notice a strange and unexplained symptom, are forced to learn about the rare, and often fatal, Inflammatory Breast Cancer.

And so …

As we find ourselves in the midst of Breast Cancer Awareness month, I hope that you have committed yourself, in some meaningful way, to this very worthy cause of raising funds in the name research and patient care & support. There are myriad ways to make physical, financial and emotional donations. Three years ago, when I chose to participate in the Avon 2 Day Walk for Breast Cancer, I asked two friends to join me on the adventure. One agreed enthusiastically and whole-heartedly to walk by my side. The other simply and honestly said, “I don’t walk, but I do write checks”. May we all look at the women who surround us each day – at work, at the school bus stops, at the health club, at the supermarket, at our own family get-togethers – and may we recognize that any one of those women may at some point have an intimate relationship with the phrase, “breast cancer”.

Take a moment to explore what is possible for you. And then take action. Let your heart guide the steps you take. Do you want to walk, to ride, to volunteer or to write a check? You choose.

Take a moment to explore the Healthworks homepage. And then take action by following one of the links. Be willing to become one of the women supporting women.

While October is still with us for another week, I wanted to remind everybody that it is still Breast Cancer Awareness month. Healthworks is teaming up with four great organizations in their Learn, Give, Hope campaign to support the fight against breast cancer. I just bought a Mel’s Bracelet from the Friends of Mel Foundation, which does amazing things for women living with cancer – including providing retreats so that women can get away from the day to day pressures of dealing with the disease.  I was particularly touched by this idea, as I watched my mother fight breast cancer for twelve long years, and I know first-hand the emotional toll that it can take in addition to the obvious physical effects.

Last month marked ten years since I lost my mother to breast cancer.  She was one of the best, kindest, funniest, most amazing people I have ever known, and she was a fighter to the finish.  I try to live my life each day in her spirit, helping people, sharing love, and creating joy.  (This is a photo of me with my mom.  I still have not quite learned how to smile for the camera.) If you have a few minutes, please go look at Healthworks’ Learn, Give, Hope page to learn more about the organizations they are working with and how you can support them.  Or drop a donation in one of the collection bins at your Healthworks!  So many lives have been touched by breast cancer; there is something we can all do to help.

These days, one of my favorite reasons to get to the gym is to make it to a BodyPump class.  Sometimes I have trouble making myself get off of my couch and out the door if I plan to go after school (even if I have my gym bag in the car first), but when I log into the Healthworks website and reserve a ticket for BodyPump with Toni, I get motivated.

First of all, BodyPump makes you feel like a badass.  They have posters of scary looking sweaty people that look like this:

And slogans like “Pressure Makes Diamonds.”  They make you feel like you’re going to do something really tough, and drip sweat on the floor, and be really sore the next day.

But even though it’s really, really tough, it’s also really easy.  The instructors always take the time to explain how much weight you should be using, what your form should look like, and things you should remember.  There is good music playing to keep you from getting bored (and if you’re lucky, teachers who sing along with the lyrics) and routines that are simple enough to master but hard enough to keep you working.

After my weight training hiatus due to my summer of sloth, I am back into a BodyPump routine.  I told Toni a few classes ago that I was sad to have had to cut back on the amount of weight I could lift and she assured me that I would be back where I was before in no time.  Three weeks later, I don’t feel like my arms are going to fall off after the biceps track and I don’t have to take a break during the lunges.  I’m not exactly mastering the decline pushups during the chest track yet, but I have hope.  Add to that my delusional/obsessive desire to get arms like Michelle Obama’s, the joy I get out of ostentatiously complaining to my co-workers that I’m so sore because I worked out so hard, and my continued journey down the path of weightloss, and I’ll be at BodyPump tomorrow night.  See you there?

Who’s the Fairest of them all?

Last weekend, on that sunny Saturday after a long bout of rain, my boys and I took the annual trek to the Topsfield Fair. This was our first experience with the weekend crowds and potential sensory overload. I am not typically a “fair girl” and often cringe as I walk through the gates and into the world of chintzy toys, greasy food and flashy rides. All meant to install disbalance, I am sure. For me, fairgrounds are saturated with chaotic movement and unhealthy patterns. But this year, to my surprised delight, felt different.

As I think about our day, the moments that fell before and after the hours of adventure at the fair actually defined our experience most. It all seems so logical from where I sit tonight. May these tips pop into my head before our next outing …

WALK: This year, we walked from the home of some local friends rather than from the parking lot. On such a brisk afternoon and evening, this bit of exercise and fresh air left our small group feeling great. The kids ran together on the way, and dragged feet together on the way home. The adults did a bit of the same, enjoying mix-and-match conversations as our paces and the width of the sidewalks changed.

EAT: Prior to going to the Fair, we enjoyed a hardy lunch at home, and then snacks and drinks at our friends’ home. The healthy and not-so-unhealthy choices insured that we were full and satisfied heading out the door. Not one of us felt the low-sugar frenzy or temptation to eat foods that would leave us feeling nauseous or regretful, or both.

SOCIALIZE: Travelling as a small pack was a bonus this year, especially since it was my first husband-less trip to the Fair. At one point, I enjoyed an hour alone in Kiddie Land with my 5 year old because the four other women, mostly mothers of older children, offered to keep my 18 month old with them. I never imagined that option and yet there it was. I loved the time dedicated to my elder son while they loved the time remembering the joys of hanging out with a toddler. We were able to divide and conquer, keeping everyone happy and where they wanted to be. I also noticed that the great company caught and kept our attention far more than the food kiosks and slurpees ever could. We were far less likely to stand in a long ice cream or pretzel line as a group of 8 adults and 7 kids.

REMIND: One friend arrived at the pre-Fair get together armed with unfrosted cupcakes of various sizes. Like a rock star, she enjoyed the adoration of the under 12 crowd screaming her name and announcing her entrance. The tray of desserts and bag full of sprinkles surely boosted her loveliness and highlighted her popularity. We laughed as she asked each child which frosting he/she would like to taste. Before coating and decorating the cupcakes, she doled out a tip of a teaspoon full of the chosen flavor. The children stood in line, giddy with anticipation. I didn’t understand the gift of her tactic until my 5 year old first noticed the cotton candy stand. I found myself responding to his request for the sickly sticky “treat” by reminding him of the cupcakes that awaited all of the children back at the house. I offered the sensory cue to bring back that tiniest of tastes of vanilla frosting and it worked. He never asked for another thing while walking through the maze of meant-to-tempt food options.

TASTE: At one point, we emerged from the bathroom to face a woman handing out samples of Werther’s butterscotch. I led my son right past with a gracious, “No thank you”. A moment later, however, I returned and reached for two of her hard candies. I explained to my smiling 5 year old that these treats were for big boys, and were not chewy but rather meant to be sucked and savored for a long time. Later, I did the same thing with the samples of kettle corn. He got a kid-size handful and then as I wasn’t interested in the snack, I gave him mine. He was thrilled with my sugary generosity and had just enough to satisfy his multi-faceted desire for Fair goodies. No overindulgence and not a dime spent.

MOVE: As I watched my son weigh his choices about how to use his tickets, I saw the pure energy and fun of moving bodies. He jumped and jumped and jumped in the bouncy houses, smiling and experimenting with new moves the entire time. He lifted the mallet, time and time again, trying to ring the bell and ultimately win the coveted blow-up guitar. His body just participated fully in each of his decisions as he tended towards the rides and games where he got to “do” something. Even as I later watched my little one dancing to the cacophonous music coming from all rides at once, I smiled and remembered the joy of finding one’s groove. I, who am usually a self-conscious dancer, found myself scooping him in my arms and enjoying the rhythms with him. Focusing on their movement created an oasis where we enjoyed a private moment amidst the chaos of the moving throngs.

LEAVE: It is crucial to recognize when the line where fun is no longer fun is approaching. The adults, ready to leave at that moment, were able to enthusiastically rally the kids and head back to the house for another spread of home cooked, healthy foods. And of course the treat of their cupcakes.

As I drove home late that night, with two very happy, exhausted boys in the back seat, I saw clearly how our choices guide our moments and paint our lives. In years past, after quieter weekday adventures to the Fair, I often rode home, the passenger, feeling more agitated, low-energy and full of foods upon which I wasted a lot of money in the name of poor planning. Now I know how to create the fairest fair of all.

If you had asked me a few years ago what I thought about the Tufts 10K for Women, I would have told you that it’s annoying that they close of Memorial Drive on Columbus Day and you can’t get around Boston where you want to.  But last year, as I started pushing myself to run more and I found new challenges to take on, I registered for the race.  (Well, I convinced my friend to register for the race, was too chicken to actually register myself, and then had to pay the late entry fee when I got there because I couldn’t let her do it alone when it was my idea in the first place.)

Today was my second time running this race and I have to say, it’s amazing and inspiring.  It is not only extremely well-organized and planned out, but it is just fun.  I love their slogan – Start strong; finish stronger.  I love the route from the Boston Common through Back Bay, down Memorial Drive, across the Longfellow Bridge and back down Mass. Ave.  But I also love being surrounded by 7000 other women doing the same thing that I’m doing.

I never really think about being surrounded by strong, healthy women and how much that pushes me to continue on my own fitness journey, but today I was struck by the camaraderie that comes with sharing goals and common celebration.  Around mile 5, when I hit a slump, a woman in a green tank top came up beside me and said, “Come on, you can do it.”  She was right; I could.  That was the little push I needed to get me past my (mostly mental) wall and to the finish line.

I certainly didn’t set any personal records today, but I did accomplish a goal and I reminded myself what I need to do to keep at it.  Here’s hoping that while I keep going in my weight-loss journey, I keep getting the little pushes that I need to remind me that I can do it.  Thanks to that girl in the green top, if you happen to see this – I’m going to keep you in mind next time I’m feeling too lazy to pack my gym bag, make a healthy dinner, or treat myself well.