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I am writing this in the hopes that someday I will reread this and learn my lesson.

This weekend, I made 6 kinds of cookies.  The cookie baking started when my then-fiance/now-husband and I just graduated from college.  He started working in the office where he still is today, and because he was working in an administrative role, helping out pretty much everybody in the office with clerical and computer-related tasks, he started getting a lot of Christmas presents as sort of thank you gifts toward the end of the year.  We quickly realized we could not possibly afford to buy presents for the 20 people in his office in return and still pay our (living way beyond our means/what were we thinking/oh boy did we get in debt in the beginning) rent, we made cookies for the office instead.  I would say that I make the cookies, but he is an excellent dish washer and errand runner, always willing to go get the one more stick of butter or dozen eggs that I need and underestimated.  You can’t take for granted the value of somebody willing to do that stuff while I do the fun stuff.

So anyway, 8 Christmases later, I kind of end up making a lot of cookies every year.  We also give them to the neighbors who put up with us and bring in our mail and recycling bins while we’re at work and the people who continue to hire me every summer at a fabulous program where I am lucky to work, so they hopefully won’t forget about me in the long stretch between August and June.  And a couple of other assorted people.

So why is it that 8 Christmases later, I haven’t learned to chill out with the rubber spatula licking and the quality control taste testing?  My sugar tolerance has significantly lowered over the years; as I always tell people when they give me funny looks when I’m waxing poetic about food, I used to be a lot fatter.  And not only did I lose almost 50 pounds along the way of those 8 cookie making years, but I also got a lot healthier.  Last year, I started learning about eating clean and, inspired by my friend Alyssa, who gave up white flour and sugar cold turkey (and told me to shut up and do it or stop talking about it already – thank you, I needed that) I changed my diet totally.  I went from watching my diet by means of finding all the ways I could eat junk and still lose weight (Fat Free Cool Whip and graham cracker sandwiches, anyone?  Diet Coke cake?  You know what I’m talking about.) to cutting out processed foods, high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and other stuff and eating a many whole foods as possible.  (Oh, and some weeks, spending as much money at Whole Foods as possible.  But that’s a topic for another post.)  And I feel great.  Usually.  Except now, when I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck full of cookies, with a little trail of royal icing dripping from the corner of my mouth.  Next time, please remind me that I can’t eat like I used to.  It’s not worth it.

Oh, and just for the sake of comparison, here’s a little snapshot of Christmases past:

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2003

Christmas 2009

I’ve been struggling lately with my enthusiasm level when it comes to working out.  Usually, I genuinely look forward to my time at the gym and my mood suffers noticeably if anything gets in between me and my workout.  But this fall (aside from my constant love of my Making the Cut classes), I have found myself having to really force myself to go to the gym.  And then when I get there, I sometimes end up slacking off quite a bit.  Last week I remedied this situation by meeting up with a fellow Healthworks member and working out together.  And this week I attempted to shock my workout life back into action by shaking up my actual workouts.

First up was an old friend that I hadn’t visited in a while – Burn.   For me, Burn is still the hardest workout around (this probably has something to do with the fact that no matter how much I try to love running, I *hate* it).  That being said, I pretty much never feel as good as I do after taking a Burn class (once the feeling returns to my legs and I stop seeing spots, that is).

On Friday, I tried something brand new and attended one of the TRX demo workouts.  I had done a few TRX exercises here and there while working out with trainers, but this was the first time I tried a whole workout with TRX.  I watch the TRX video on the Healthworks site during lunch on Friday.  It both inspired and frightened me.  I had the sound off, so I’m not sure I totally understood everything – but based on the exercise I saw the people in the video performing, I think that TRX has the ability to turn people into superheroes.  I couldn’t believe some of the things I saw people do. Turns out my inspiration was called for, but my fear was misplaced.  The demo class was amazing  (unbelievably hard, but amazing) and I really like the kind of workout you can get with the TRX (I also loved some of the stretches we learned using the TRX – after a week of dead lifts, the hamstring stretch I learned on Friday night quickly became my new favorite thing).  I loved the demo class so much that I’m going to do it again this week!

And the third kick in the pants of the week came from yoga.  I have never done yoga.  It intimidates me.  Based on what I’ve seen, people that do yoga are bendy and graceful.  I am neither of those things.  But after taking a yoga class – well, I’m still neither bendy nor graceful.  But I’m really glad I tried it and I very much appreciate the fact that the instructor just encouraged me to try what I could and stick to what felt right to me.  I may have been right about my lack of grace, but I was wrong to be intimidated by yoga!  So I’m calling this a successful week.  There is a unique pleasure that comes from trying things that are intimidating and I feel like I’ve hotwired my workout enthusiasm back to its appropriate level.  Let’s just hope this continues!

Today is my grandmother’s 80th birthday.  I feel so lucky to have not only gotten to know this woman not only as a grandmother and child, but also as an adult and a friend.  Throughout my life she has always lived far away from me – in Florida or California – but maybe that’s part of what has made our relationship so special.  We’ve talked on the phone and visited each other, and I am always struck by how much she makes sure not to take any time together for granted.  She’s been one of the biggest supports in my life, always listening and giving advice.  So on this special occasion, I want to share a few of the important things she has taught me.

  • Go after what you want.  My grandparents first met at a fraternity mixer in college.  All of the men had to take off

    Lulu and me, on my most recent trip to California

    one shoe and put it in the middle of the dancefloor, and all of the women then chose a shoe from the pile and had to dance with its owner.  The story goes that my grandmother watched carefully which shoe belonged to the handsome guy who caught her eye and made a beeline for that shoe in the pile.  It gets mildly less romantic when you hear that the first thing my Papa said to her was “Hurry up and give me my shoe back, I’ve got a hole in my sock,” but that was the start of a relationship that led to 52 years to happy marriage before my grandfather passed away.

  • Remember where you came from.  My Lulu, as we call her, always talks fondly about the days when she and my Papa “didn’t have two nickels to rub together,” but she always does it with such love and longing in her voice that you imagine she wants to be back there.  When my husband and I were first married, she reminded me often to take the time to enjoy our time together and learn from the struggles we would go through in order to become stronger together.
  • Give of yourself.  After my grandfather retired, Lulu and Papa went to Lithuania on a volunteer trip.  Papa, a career civil engineer, worked to teach engineers there to set up new systems; Lulu taught English.  At 80 years old, my grandmother even now makes the effort to volunteer with an organization that raises money for her community and does different service projects.  She has taught me the importance of being selfless.
  • Get over it.  One of Lulu’s favorite sayings is “offer it up,” which, as far as I can tell, means to get over yourself.  Whenever one of us is whining (or canowering, as she says) about something petty, Lulu comes back with that little gem.  Offer it up and get on with your life, already.  Lulu knows that life is too short to dwell on the negative.
  • Know who you are.  Lulu is confident in her beliefs and strong in her will.  She doesn’t let others tell her what to think, nor does she listen to hurtful comments that come from ignorance of not understanding her values.  She has taught me to have faith in who I am and who I can be.
  • Take pride in yourself.  When I was in third grade, I remember rushing through my homework to “sit and visit” with Lulu on one of her trips to see us.  A retired elementary school teacher, she looked at my sloppy work and told me very seriously that I should never put my name on something I was not proud of.  That has always stuck with me, and that work ethic has followed me through graduate school and into my professional career.  Other vestiges of schoolteacher remain; she grades herself on how well she does the crossword puzzle in the newspaper each morning, and deducts points for neatness if she has to scribble something out.

I hope that I live a life half as rich as Lulu has already enjoyed, although I must say she shows no sign of stopping now.  And I hope that someday somebody can say about me what I feel about her.  She has taught me so much, in her own sweet, funny, sharp as a tack, kind way.  She doesn’t take herself  or life too seriously – except Jeopardy, the Green Bay Packers and the morning crossword puzzle.  Those are the important things, after all.

For any elves out there who may still be looking for the perfect gift, have I got some websites for you.

It was in 2000 that a dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. In the only way natural to her, she faced her disease with tremendous poise, courage and beauty. We should have known then that in the midst of difficult, painful and scary moments, she would focus her attention and intention upon the creation of a product and company dedicated to alleviating discomfort for hormonally-unsteady women everywhere.

As her own treatment and chemo-induced hormonal changes sparked unbearable night sweats, the imagination of her former Olympic skiing and bobsledding husband started problem solving. At his suggestion, she wore his dry wicking athletic clothes to bed one night. At that moment, performance sleepwear was born and the couple proved, in yet another way, that they were going to navigate and conquer this disease together.

And that they did. She has now been cancer free for years and they have indeed created a dreamy line of sleepwear. And so, if you know anyone who loves luxury, needs a great night’s sleep or begs for uninterrupted and deep rest, then you simply must check out this product. These dry-wicking pajamas are soft, silky and comfortable. The proprietary fabric is reminiscent of both your favorite lingerie and the best athletic wear you have ever worn. You can order nightgowns, camisoles, shorts, full length pant and top sets or any combination of such. You may also pick and choose from a wide array of colors, piping and button options. You can go for sexy or practical or both. Everything that you order is “custom built” according to your preference and design.

No longer is their consumer base rooted solely in women experiencing the hormonal fluctuations resulting from cancer treatments, pregnancy and menopause. My own favorite, go-to, nightgown was a gift that I wore before, during and since pregnancy. For me, shifting hormones have not been a problem, and yet I love the feel of these pajamas and wear them often. As the product line and options expand, so does the clientele. Women of all ages are enjoying and ordering these fabulous pajamas for women of all ages. Actually, men of all ages are also ordering these fabulous pajamas for women of all ages. Recently, I suggested to one of my close male friends that he buy a nightgown and set of pillow cases for his lovely wife. She is, for some undetermined reason, suffering from night sweats that keep her awake and changing linens when she would rather be curled up next to her man. In the end, I suggested, it would behoove him to keep her comfortable and asleep. At my own wedding, another male friend advised my husband, “A happy wife = a happy life”. This is just one way to keep a wife happy. For all of you women looking for something to make your man smile this Christmas, don’t forget to order a set for him, too! The shorts and tops will have him looking athletic and buff while feeling just as comfie as you do. No matter how you look at it, this is surely a great way to crawl into bed.

And there’s more … the company has now grown into the field of tailor made scrubs as well. The greatest part of this gift is that anyone who lives and works in scrubs will enjoy the delight of feeling as though she/he is wearing comfortable, fashionable and professional pjs to work. Our friends have created a fabric that is anti-microbial; sweat-wicking; odor, stain and wrinkle resistant; fade and shrink proof. Again, each set is made to fit your individual taste and designs. The palette of colors is extensive, the combinations seemingly endless and you may have names or logos printed on the scrubs themselves. I have to say that my brothers and sister-in-laws who are in the medical field are already wearing and loving them. The women, especially, appreciate the shapeliness of the styles and piping. Regardless of body size and shape, everyone whom I have seen seems to look taller, slimmer and more comfortable and fluid in their hospital garb. My same brothers and sister-in-laws are giving the scrubs to each other, their colleagues and support staffs for Christmas gifts this year.

Just imagine, you could be the favorite gift giver this year. Or the most grateful gift receiver this year. Simply explore www.performancesleepwear.com and www.performancescrubs.com and you won’t be disappointed. Some choices could be gift wrapped and slipped under a tree while others could just as easily be placed on the top of your own wish list for Santa.

I have never been one of those people who doesn’t like to be alone.  In fact, I am the opposite.  I’ve gotten off trains to avoid people I know (and quite like!) just because I’m reading and don’t feel like having a conversation.  I spent this recent Thanksgiving Day alone at my house (after spending the day leading up to Thanksgiving with family out of state) and although I got sad stares from people when I mentioned this, I had a perfectly lovely day.

I definitely brought my introverted tendencies to the gym when I first started working out.  I heard people talk about the benefits of having a workout buddy, but I felt strongly that the only company I needed (and indeed could tolerate) was my iPod.  But over time I’ve learned that when it comes to working out, there is indeed power in numbers.  If I’m planning a strictly cardio workout and I’m just going to get on the treadmill for 40 minutes, I still want it to just be me and my headphones.  But for other workouts, I find I do much better if I’ve got company.  Things began to change when I started working out with trainers and then started the small group training like Making the Cut.  If I know that I am expected at the gym by at last one person, then I am far less likely to think of an excuse to skip a workout.  And when I’m working out with other people, I find it much harder to (for example) just give up in the middle and lie on the gym floor for awhile (not impossible mind you, just harder).  So when my normal Making the Cut class was cancelled last Thursday, I did something that what have surprised my former self and asked if anybody wanted to get together and work out on the day of the cancelled class.  I’m so glad I did (and I’m glad that someone took me up on it – thanks Jolie!).

So I offer you a piece of advice during this hectic, festive season.  If you find yourself struggling to get to the gym, see if you can find someone to agree to meet you and make a date or find a class and reserve a spot in it.  Or if you find yourself getting to the gym but feel like you aren’t really pushing yourself as hard as you could, try working out with other people and see if it shames inspires you to kick it up a notch .  Or if you just find yourself getting bored while you are at the gym and cutting out early, try making a friend work out with you so you can discuss, oh I don’t know, whether or not Taylor Swift is too young to be dating Jake Gyllenhaal (not that that is what we discussed on Thursday.  We discussed the situation in North Korea and the chilling effect it could have on strained the US-China relationship.  I swear.) Now if you find yourself craving beer and pizza while you are working out, I have no advice for you – but if you figure anything out, please let me know!

This is a photo I took at a statue park outside of Budapest where a bunch of old Communist-era statues are now displayed.  This statue celebrates the awesome power of working out together (I’m pretty sure they are in the middle of some jump squats).  Or maybe the power of the proletariat.  Or maybe both.

I have never actually craved the traditional “comfort foods” and yet I have recently found and enjoyed some delicious and cozy meals to warm these brisk autumn evenings.   I have always loved to flip through cooking magazines, scan health food books and saunter through recipe websites, collecting treasures along the way.  While living with my husband, I experimented regularly with collected recipes and as we ate, we would decide whether it was a keeper or a throw away.  It was a mostly tasty system for getting through the always growing stack.  I haven’t been as diligent about trying new things now that I am working through dinnertime most nights.  In the name of making life easy for the sitters and comfortable for the kids, I tend to leave meals that I already know will be eaten enthusiastically rather than questioned suspiciously and refused wholeheartedly.  Recently, however, I pulled out a recipe that has been in my “untried” box for years, made it and left it to be reheated.  The sitter, the kids, the landlord and I voted unanimously that this is indeed a keeper for us.

I would consider this more of a stew than soup, but that may simply be a semantic difference.  I like my “soups” to be hardy and thick, without a lot of extra broth, and so this fits our tastes well.  Its primary texture is creamy and a bit mushy, but that is partly what makes it feel so comforting. It’s a bit like the beloved home-made mac & cheese with a few more health benefits.  This is not a soup that screams with flavor, and may actually smell more flavorful than it tastes.  It is a calming, satisfying and yummy meal that is perfect on just the right day.  The leftovers were great the next day as my 5 year old took a thermos full to kindergarten and I enjoyed a bowl at work with a small spinach, goat cheese and walnut salad.

Always keeping our family palates in mind, I may make a few changes the next time I make it.  I know that we would like a bit more garlic, for instance.  I will also either skip the cheese or continue to replace the Swiss (my sons deem it too strong and smelly) with a Monterey Jack or some other similarly mild flavored substitute.

Enjoy.  I have been re-inspired to try a new recipe at least twice/month, even if I am only cooking for a small crowd with small appetites.  Perhaps you will be inspired to do the same.

Lentil Barley Soup

¼ cup margarine (I use ghee and not nearly as much)
¾ cup onion, chopped
¾ cup celery, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp dried rosemary, crushed
½ tsp dried oregano, crushed
¼ tsp pepper
1 28 oz. can tomatoes, coarsely chopped
¾ cup dried lentils, rinsed and drained
¾ cup pearl barley
6 cups water
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
4 oz. shredded Swiss cheese

Melt margarine in a 4 quart Dutch oven or soup kettle. Cook onion, celery and garlic until tender.   Add water, undrained tomatoes, lentil, barley and rosemary oregano and pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.  Add carrots and simmer for 15 minutes more until carrots are just tender.  Ladle into soup bowls and top with cheese.
Makes 5 servings.

Nope – this isn’t a super late post about Halloween.  I’m taking about the holiday season and the endless party that kicks off at Thanksgiving and goes until January 2nd.  Fake blood and ghosts are nothing compared to the terror that lurks in these weeks.  It seems that this time of year there is no shortage of the pitfalls that await people (ok, me) who are trying to stick to nutritious eating and an ambitious workout schedule.  Between the cold weather, the busy schedules that just beg you to skip the gym, the gluttonous and delicious treats that pop up everywhere,  and the “it’s the holidays – who cares?” attitude, it’s like the perfect storm of weight gain.  Throw in those heart-warming holiday moments like your second-cousin twice removed (or something like that) stating that you have (and I quote) “fat legs” and then asking why you aren’t married and frankly I think it’s a miracle that I don’t just spend the last part of the year in a dark room with a box of wine and multiple packages of raw cookie dough (luckily for the offending relative, he happens to be a super cute four-year-old who also made me a car out of construction paper and wrote “I love Jen” on all of his drawings – but still!).  I read somewhere that the average American gains something like 6 pounds in the last two months of the year.  And frankly, I have above average talents in this area.  This all leads me back to my original point:  the potential for backsliding on my fitness goals at this time of year truly frightens me-  give me zombies and vampires any day!

In an effort to combat this fear, there are a couple of steps I know I need to take right now and I’m putting pen to paper (metaphorically, of course – but cursor to word document just doesn’t have the same ring) to make sure I follow through.

  1. I need to make sure I have a workout schedule in place.  I do very well when I know I have to go to the gym for a particular class/task/workout/etc.  I’ve been struggling this with September (I’m slow) when I lost my Wednesday and Friday workouts with Shauna.  I still have Making the Cut (which I erroneously always call Boot Camp) on Tuesday and Thursday – but I need to fill the gaps.  I either need to write out a plan for my non Boot Camp days every week or enroll myself in another class (I’ve been trying to work up the courage to take Spin classes and I also have my eye on those TRX contraptions they just put in upstairs at Healthworks Back Bay).
  2. I need to limit the holiday parties.  This one won’t be that hard because there really are not that many people who want me to come to their parties.  But my work party is a perfect example of something I should probably avoid.  It’s huge and loud and I never talk to anyone – I just eat my way around the room (whilst also skipping the gym) and then go home.  Now I know there are people that would tell me that in a perfect world, I would be able to go and limit my food choices to healthy options (or at least healthy portions).   I don’t think that’s true.  In a *really* perfect world, I could eat whatever I wanted and not have to worry about it.  And I would also have a job that somehow paid me to travel and read books – so I probably wouldn’t even have an office Christmas party to attend anyway.
  3. As kind of an addendum to point two, I also want to pick out a few events that I *do* want to attend and maybe allow myself a small splurge.  Keeping these in mind will make it easier to say no to the other temptations.  I’ve already got my eye on my friend’s Parisian-themed Christmas party and dinner at my favorite restaurant at my parents’ house (because nothing says Christmas like tacos in Omaha).  Of course, I’m not taking about going crazy – I just want to know where there a few occasions where I can indulge just a *tiny* bit.
  4. I need to make sure I continue to make time to do all my food planning and preparation on Sunday nights so that I have a week’s worth of healthy food ready to go.
  5. And perhaps the most fun….Find the joy and celebration of the season in places *other* than the bottom of a vat of mashed potatoes.  Even if it is just putting up some lights in my living room!

Stay safe out there….