Friday, October 29, 2010

a new spin on an old fave

the crisp air and fall feeling of my day has inspired me to change my post at the last minute. i had planned to touch on the wonders of baking soda...but i want to share one of my all time (and now my hubby's as well...) simple vegetarian recipes perfect for this time of year: kickin' mac & cheese! not only is it tasty, but it warms you all over and fills you up.

1 1/2 cups elbow macaroni 
4 tablespoons butter (divided in half)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
6 teaspoons green Tabasco sauce (this is the magical ingredient; if you are unsure if you can handle the spice, use 2 teaspoons and garnish finished serving as desired)
1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese (not quite as critical as the sauce, but just as sassy)
1 3/4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup dry bread crumbs
2 teaspoons chili powder

  1. preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or as directed by package for al dente; drain.
  3. in a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. whisk in flour and cook, stirring continuously for 1 minute. gradually whisk in milk, mustard, salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce. bring to a gentle boil, again stirring constantly. boil for 1 minute - lower heat to lowest setting. whisk in pepper jack, cheddar, and Parmesan until smooth. stir in cooked pasta and pour into shallow 2 quart baking dish.
  4. melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter. (you may wish to use 3 tablespoons butter depending on how saturated you want your crumbs to be.) stir in bread crumbs and chili powder. sprinkle over macaroni.
  5. bake for 38 minutes. let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.
i suggest serving with seasoned asparagus and a glass of white vino for a perfect fall treat! bon appetite!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


When I step out of my comfort zone, there are always those first few instances where the situation isn’t 100% comfortable. The first time I try a new group fitness class, I feel like I am constantly 5 steps behind and everyone can tell. When I first started working out with free weights, I felt like I was in a “girl free zone” and I was entering man territory. Yet with both of those situations, after a time or two, the “gymtimidation” was gone. It wore off quickly. I was comfortable. I knew what I was doing and I knew nobody was paying any attention to me anyhow if I didn't. The only time I haven’t gotten comfortable quickly and easily is with swimming laps. 

First and foremost. I love swimming laps. I love being in the pool and the workout I can get . If could guarantee that I’d be alone in that old olympic-sized, I’d swim laps every day. But drop one other body in the pool and I start convincing myself that the workout is less enjoyable. Drop another body in the same lane as me and I quickly start trying to convince myself that my workout is over.

Your probably thinking I learned how to swim late....but you'd be wrong. I grew up with a pool in my backyard. I was definitely a water baby. Most of my first memories are in the pool. However, I never learned proper stroke technique. With two big brother’s (who ridiculously enough were on the swim team), I was of the “drop her in and see if she can do it” school of thought. I learned young, but I never learn right. For nearly two decades I could hop in the pool whenever I wanted and I never had to think about how I looked, if I was in someone's way, or if people noticed how frequently I had to take a break.

My entire life I have swam under water. Only in the last year have I learned the proper techniques for freestyle, backstroke, etc. And let me just say this, they are a lot harder than swimming like a fish. While I try to convince myself that just like in group fitness classes, nobody cares enough to pay attention to how ridiculous I look…I cant make myself believe it. That’s part of the reason I have to set weekly swim goals – because I know if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t go…and I’d be missing out on a great workout and an opportunity to improve.

When I'm unsure about something new, I usually just jump straight in (metaphorically and physically). I'd rather just get it over with, than feel the cold water on my toes and have the opportunity to chicken out. But that doesn't mean it's any less intimidating the next time.

How do you deal with low self-esteem when it comes to sports, workouts, or anything else for that matter?

Links to Health:

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some Support...

In the past, we have talked about setting goals. We have talked about eating right and working out regularly. We have also mentioned setbacks and how to get back on track.

But my mother mentioned something to me that I don't think we have talked about.

Supporting each other.

Do you have a support group? Or at least someone to be there to be your cheerleader, your shoulder to cry on and your go-to-person for crazy ideas?

For some, the support group comes from a formal group, such as Weight Watchers or TOPS. For others, it is someone you run with, someone to just get you out the door. Others turn to blogging to get support, like Michelle, who is totally rocking the weight loss. I have even heard of people who use Twitter to lose weight and in an instant allow the world what they weight, what they ate, and how much they worked out. A world of people to support them.

But why do we need support groups (or people)? Is it the accountability? Is it the way they make us feel when we succeed...and when we are failing (we need them for both)?

For me, I find that I feel so much better when I can tell someone that I screwed up. It is a fresh start for me, a new beginning of possibilities. And the possibilities are that I will succeed this time. And my support group believes in me. They are there, cheering me on, and picking me up when I need it. Sometimes they can be a little harsh, but I know they do it because they know that I have the potential to do great things.

And when I tell them that I have succeeded in a goal...that is a fantastically wonderful feeling. Its like I am soaring. And it keeps me going...

Do you have that?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

babies and body images.

being pregnant has its distinct advantages.  for example, i felt Baby move for the first time yesterday, and that surreal experience is definitely up there with the top 10 WHAT THE HECK! moments of my life. it's amazing that, as it goes along, i keep trying to picture what this little person will be and come to terms with the fact that, no matter what, this child is going to give the two of us a run for our money.

it's very exciting.

one of the things that has been the most challenging for me, as someone who has lost a great deal of weight in years past and who was struggling with the last 30 before getting pregnant, is the idea of seeing weight gain as a positive thing. 

right now, i'm in that nebulous period between not showing much at all that's discernable to anyone but me and my husband yet not being able to button any of my pants and needing an entire new wardrobe of elastic-banded goodness.  all of the things that are supposed to be growing are growing (ahem, i'm looking at you, chest) and the things that aren't supposed to be growing aren't.

that's all good.

yet, i can't help but just feel FAT.  nothing fits the way it used to, and in my previously conditioned mind, that's a red alert neon sign that i have not been doing my duty: i must not have been eating well, i could not have been exercising well, i must have been a slothful gorger of all manner of deliciousness.

when you're pregnant, that's just NOT TRUE. (i mean, i'll admit to too many cookies, but overall...there's more fruit and less baked goods up in here.)  but try telling that to a mind already hard wired with messages about body image and weight and scales and all of those things that the world tells us is important. 

it's hard is all i'm saying.

i spent the first trimester holding steady. according to the doctor's scale (though i will admit that retaining water may have helped me out that first visit), at my 14 week visit, i was exactly where i started.  since i am already over my target weight, that's what i wanted to do.  it was a healthy option for me, individually.

well, the second trimester has brought with it an appetite that just won't stop and the inevitable (and happy! i get it! it's good!) weight gain. not scary. not inappropriate.  just a couple of pounds that, probably, i needed. 

i'm still eating vegetables and fruits and trying hard to keep it all in check. i write everything down so that i know when i can have that piece of toast at bedtime or when i should really reevaluate why i'm eating that piece of toast at bedtime.  i'm still exercising all of the habits that made me successful before, and so i know that i will be successful and healthy this time. 

there's not really any more i can do unless someone creates a 36 hour day.  my doctor isn't concerned.  my husband isn't concerned. no one is concerned. 

but it's still strange to be in this wonderful place, where i have to retool my entire way of looking at my body, at the world of food, at the scale.  i'm trying to look at it all very philosophically. 

i've always said that i didn't want to pass on to my children my anxiety about weight and body image and the world's conception of beauty. i wanted to pass on to them a desire for health and activity, to see their bodies as a sacred creation that they are charged with using well while they are here on Earth.

it seems appropriate to me that the process of bringing those children into this world may be the one thing to help me finally and really understand and embrace those things. 

my Baby is already teaching me to chill. i sort of dig that. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Pizza

I love Saturday morning breakfast. It's a time when the whole family can get together and enjoy a breakfast a little more involved than cereal or cheese toast. Recently my In-Laws visited and my Mother-In-Law brought this recipe for us to try and it turned out great!

Sausage and Egg Breakfast Pizza
(From the November issue of Taste of Home)

1 8-oz tube refrigerated reduced-fat crescent rolls
1/2 pound Italian turkey sausage
1-3/4 cups sliced mushrooms (optional)
1-1/4 cups frozen shredded hash brown potatoes
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 green onions, chopped (optional)
2 tablespoons finely chopped sweet red pepper (optional)
1/2 cup shredded fat-free cheddar cheese
3/4 cup egg substitute

1. Separate the crescent dough into eight triangles; place dough on an ungreased 12-in. pizza pan win points toward the center. Press dough onto the bottom and up the sides of pan to form a crust; seal perforations. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, crumble Italian turkey sausage into a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray. Add mushrooms; cook and stir over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Drain and set aside. In the same skillet, cook potatoes, garlic salt and pepper over medium heat until browned.

3. Sprinkle the sausage mixture over crust. Layer with potatoes, onions, red pepper, and cheese; pour egg substitute over the top. Bake 10-12 minutes or until egg is set and cheese is melted.

Friday, October 22, 2010

when life gives you lemons....

happy friday, everyone!
fridays are my day off, and like anyone with a day off i had the choice to get things done...or have some fun. as tempting as the outdoors are this time of year i went with the former.
sitting at my desk, furiously typing in an attempt to successfully upload my thoughts before the little one wakes up, a smile is on my face. my house smells like the citrus section of a floral shop - and i dig it!
you guessed i bring you...
while lemons aren’t as abundant in usefulness as vinegar can be, it isn’t the red headed step child of green cleaning, either. 
for a not so lazy friday, here are just a few suggestions:
  • trash can freshener - don’t waste your pretty penny on scented trash bags! simply place the rind of a lemon (an orange will work, too) at the bottom of your can and voila! 
  • furniture polish - mix lemon juice with olive oil (1/2 cup and 1 cup respectively) 
  • (solid)brass and copper polish - cut a lemon in half, and sprinkle surface with salt. rub in circular motion to polish - rinse well with water. (this does not work on plated pieces)
  • drain freshener - done doing the dishes after dinner? freshen the drain by grinding up a lemon (or orange) peel - your whole kitchen will feel refreshed!
  • removing stains from tupperware - squeeze half of a lemon in stained tupperware, add some baking soda, and scrub! (for deep, tough stains it can help to let the paste sit overnight.)
  • lime and calcium buildups - squeeze lemon onto areas affected in bathroom or kitchen, allow a few minutes to penetrate, and scrub
  • removing rust from clothes - squeeze lemon juice onto rusted area, sprinkle on some cream of tartar, and pat with finger. allow to sit for 15 minutes or so. rinse and clean. **don’t attempt on any silk fabric! 
until next week...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Final 10 for '10

We all know I am a goals girl. I find I am more successful at things when I have a goal in mind. As we are approaching the end of the year, I decided it’s time to set some guidelines to get myself through the holiday season.

In January I did a health and fitness challenge called 10 in ’10. The premise was setting healthy lifestyle goals to accomplish during the first ten weeks of the year. You can read about my original goals here.  

Because we are in the last ten weeks of the year, I thought it might be a good time to do a similar challenge to wrap up 2010. In fact, most of my goals will be the same (with the addition of a few new ones). I was doing really well with them in the spring, but they somewhat fell by the wayside over the summer because we did a lot of traveling. 

Here are the goals I will be working to meet over the next ten weeks:

Goal 1: Swim laps at least once a week
Goal 2: Maintain a fitness schedule of at least 3 cardio and 3 strength sessions a week
Goal 3: Go to a swim stroke clinic
Goal 4: Read a new book on clean eating
Goal 5: Food journaling at least 4 days a week
Goal 6: Go to Yoga or Pilates class at least 5 times
Goal 7: Try a new recipe from Clean Eating recipe

I like to set goals that I have to work hard to achieve, but are not impossible to achieve. You will never hear me say that my goal is to lose Xlbs in a certain time period. I can't control what my body does...only what I do. I am going to be working to achieve these goals while traveling in and out of town for holidays, conquering exams, and battling wintertime laziness.

I’ll be updating with my weekly blog posts to hold myself accountable. If anyone wants to join in and set health/fitness goals for themselves, let me know!

Do you have any goals to help you through the holiday season?

Links to Health:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

smells of the season, or why i am in love with cinnamon.

(i actually wrote this AHEAD of my tuesday deadline. i promise! but then tuesday came and BLAM. brainfade. a little late, but nonetheless well-intentioned.)

in my writing about literature class, we're reading odes.  so, when thinking about what i wanted to talk about today, i thought maybe i would write an ode to what has to be one of my more perplexing, but delicious, pregnancy-induced fixations.


i love everything that it is featured in. i dream of cinnamon rolls, convincing myself that i shouldn't be.  once i caved and musicboy and i ate cinnamon rolls for dinner. they were pretty stupendous.

but it goes beyond the obvious. anything that cinnamon seems like it would work well in, i am about it.  pumpkin bread.  cinnamon applesauce.  cinnamon streusel mini-wheats. apple pie yogurt.  cinnamon bun yogurt.  cinnamon bread.  soon, oatmeal cookies.

sweet mercy, it's a little ridiculous.

but it's not a bad fixation, in fact.  i did a little bit of research and found a few of the following fun facts.  did you know that cinnamon has the power to:
  • lower LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff you don't want)?
  • improve your memory?
  • preserve food naturally?
  • regulate blood sugar?
  • heal arthritis pain?
  • contains fiber, iron, and calcium?
suddenly, i'm feeling so much better about the cinnamon i've been inclined to include in my food of late.  perhaps it's my body's way of telling me that i need a little less sugar in my blood and a little more calcium in my diet.

or maybe i just like cinnamon because it's awesome. so, i didn't exactly write an ode to cinnamon, but a long and developed one exists in my heart.  there's nothing better than the smell of cinnamon baking, and there's nothing like tasting the hint of it in something that makes you feel warm inside.  it's a rather ridiculous thing to post about, but that's really what i've been thinking about: cinnamon and how much i love it.  (i also love cumin, garlic salt, and hot sauce, but that's a post for another day.)

tell me i'm not crazy. tell me you have a particular brand of affection for a spice, whatever it may be, that keeps on manifesting itself in your cooking.  what do you love about it?

or just tell me i'm crazy. either way, me and cinnamon will still be bffs forever.

(or at least for the next few months.)

The Elite

I am pretty competitive. I am on a church volleyball team and it pains me when we lose (which is not often). I like to say I am good at a lot of sports, but I don't excel at any sports (just ask my kickball team, after we lost yesterday...sad sad day).

But I often wonder how elite athletes are able to keep up with rigorous training schedules and have the mental ability to be able to just go. For example, how does Ryan Lochte (#1 in the world, he just beat Michael Phelps) swim for 6 hours a day and then train on dry land? Granted, this is his job, but the sheer exhaustion would get to me. How did Tim Tebow train enough and change his game enough that he was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft? These athletes serve to inspire and challenge us, but what is their special gift that keeps them going?

The New York Times just addressed this very question in a recent article. Apparently, elite athletes have what is called "mental tenacity". They are able to push through the pain, and do whatever it takes to win and make them champions.

Can you imagine if we just had a little bit of that in us?? I would actually make it to the gym everyday and work out for an hour. We could even apply this to all aspects of our lives. My house would be sparkling, my grading would be up to date, my diet would be in check and I would be married with 3 children :)

Ok, ok, maybe that is a little extreme. How about we just apply it to our health...After all, aren't we "playing to win"? We are dealing with our lives, and if that doesn't motive us to win, I don't know what will!

I have a poster of Tim Tebow in my room and an autographed picture of Ryan Lochte in my classroom, reminding me to push through the pain, get stuff done and do whatever it takes to win. What can you use to inspire you?

If you want to read the article click HERE and allow it to inspire you to have mental tenacity!

(PS- How did yo do on your challenge last week to do something for yourself? I did so-so, but I did spend more time outside...)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Losing the baby fat

Have you ever heard that with each child you have the weight is harder to lose? I have and I never understood it. Well I'm here to tell you it's true. But it's not because your body can't lose weight. It's because you don't feel like doing anything about it. My day is split between making a toddler and newborn happy and any time left over is devoted to Real Housewives or some other junk TV that allows my brain to turn off.

I need to make some changes.

With my first baby, I gained A LOT of weight. Around 70 pounds. That's outrageous, I know. It wasn't all french fries and Coke, I had to stop taking some meds and that contributed to the gain. I lost all but 25 pounds of that weight. And then I got pregnant again and gained about 35 pounds. What did all that get me? Two healthy babies and this:

(Talk about putting it all out there... I can't believe I'm actually putting before pictures on the internet.)

I have 50 pounds to lose, 60 if I want to be back in my wedding dress. That's a lot. And I'm ready to do something about it. In the past I've lost weight following Weight Watchers and that's what I'll be doing this go round. I signed up today and weighed in. I'm interested to see how the weight loss goes this time because I'm nursing and Weight Watchers gives a million points to nursing moms. For exercise, I'm going to do my best to take the girls on a long walk every day. This may take a lot of bribery to get my toddler in the stroller, but I'm going to do my best.

This is going to be hard. My husband doesn't get home until October 29th, so I'm by myself. It's so easy to order pizza or hit the drive-thru and it's pretty difficult to go grocery shopping. That is one hefty double-edged sword. But on the flip side, when we do go grocery shopping I am definitely going to be counting that as activity points! =)

That brings me to this question... What are some of your healthy and quick dinner ideas that feed 1.5 people? I'm hoping that finding some new recipes will keep me excited and keep dinners interesting.

This is the start of quite the journey and I'm excited to share it with you! Wish me luck!

Friday, October 15, 2010

greening the cleaning

In the spirit of full disclosure...(and since I will soon be teaching my son that "honesty is the best policy")...I gave my husband a merciless really hard time when he announced he wanted to green the way we clean.

In our relationship, I'm the dreamer; he's the doer. I am the artsy, right-brained creative who is passionate about an idea one minute, and have forgotten it as I move on the next. Daniel, on the other hand, takes it all in and then develops a plan of action. (i.e. I announced a couple years ago that I was considering going back to being a vegetarian. The next week at the grocery store as I was putting chicken cutlets into the cart, Daniel asked what I was doing, a dumbfounded look spread across his face. He had already been operating sans carcass for a week, had registered for PETA emails, and had added Food, Inc. to our Netflix cue.)

When we found out we were expecting, Daniel decided it was time to make a change. Dragging my feet, not to mention everything else since the first trimester knocked me on my butt, I agreed. After a few days of an intense relationship with Google, I was secure in our choice. Research shows that by making the switch to a green clean approach you reduce your family's risk for asthma, allergic reactions, skin conditions, and more.

Therefore...I present Green Cleaning ideas from our home to yours! It is not only a healthier alternative, but an excellent way to save money! For the next few weeks I'll focus on a cleaning agent and all it's possibilities.

  • Vinegar
    • Vinegar is an excellent cleaning agent, not to mention plentiful and cheap!
    • You want white vinegar for cleaning purposes. (Save apple cider and balsamic vinegar for cooking.)
    • All purpose cleaner replacement.
      • Deodorizer - Have a room or area of your home that an odor has attacked? Pour some vinegar in a cereal bowl or small Tupperware container and place in the suspicious location for a few hours. The vinegar will remove the smell.
      • Surface cleaner - Mix 1 part vinegar to 1 part water into a spray bottle. Use everywhere from shower to kitchen table. 
        • Personally, I use this approach with an old t-shirt to dust or to clean windows with yesterday's newspaper.
        • Great on soap scum and hard water stains! (If you live in FL like me, you know that's a plus!)
      • Floor cleaner - Throw out the Pine Sol and say hello to vinegar mixed with hot water! Have a robot mop? No problem! We use white vinegar mixed with hot water rather than the Clorox alternative in our Scooba. 
        • Grout - scrub vinegar on bathroom tiles to remove grout buildup! 
      • Toilet cleaner - Have rings that just won't budge? Flush the toilet allowing water level to go down and pour pure vinegar around the bowl. Scrub and flush.
      • Laundry - My son and I both have very sensitive skin, and vinegar acts as a combatant on our team! Mix 1/2 cup into wash with detergent; vinegar will not only help to break down the detergent to make it more effective, but it will result in less trace of detergent in your clothing. Added bonus? Vinegar helps colors stay bright! This will prolong the life of that favorite item.
      • System cleaner - All the mechanics in your house will appreciate a vinegar bath from the inside out. 
        • Iron - pour vinegar into water chamber to remove calcium and lime build up
        • Coffee maker - remove lime stains on inside and outside by running vinegar through once a month
        • Washing machine - run a cup of vinegar on a normal wash cycle once a month...this will not only refresh your system, but will solve the problem of misty glassware!

We are still learning, and regularly come across great substitutions we'd never thought of. Please share any ways you use vinegar in the comments section so we can all grow! Until next week.....

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Reading My Food

Do you look at nutrition labels while shopping or before eating? It’s something that I do pretty consistently, because I like to know what I am putting into my body. It’s also something that it seems many people do not know how to do, or rather do not think to do.

A good resource to help you learn to read nutritional labels is on the FDA website but here are a few tips to get you started.

Serving Size:
Pay close attention to the serving size and the number of servings within the food product. All of the other information on the nutrition label will be in reference to the serving size. This is where food companies often try to outsmart consumers. The packaging may state that the food is low calorie/low fat/etc, but the serving size may be minute.

Calories and Calories from Fat:
This part is simpler. Calories provide a measure of the energy you get from a serving. Too many calories in a day can cause a person to be come overweight or obese (your doctor, nutritionist, or personal trainer can help pinpoint an ideal number of calories for daily consumption). Also, it is important to make sure that within those calories, you are getting the proper nutrients.

Which Nutrients Are Proper?
Further down the label, you will see fat (+trans fat, & saturated fat), cholesterol, and sodium. These are nutrients that you want to limit and be conscientious of due to their negative health effects. 

Nutrients such as dietary fiber, iron, and vitamins are also listed. When reviewing a nutritional label, be sure you are getting enough of these nutrients. Many of these have positive health effects and can help prevent illness and keep your body in ideal condition.

Ashlee and Carrie have previously discussed a couple of these in the past: trans fat and fiber. If you are unfamiliar with the consequences and benefits of either of those, it would be worthwhile to check out those posts.

Percent of Daily Values: 
When reading over the various nutrients on a label, note the percent of daily value section on the right side. This will help you pinpoint which nutrients will help you reach a well-rounded diet each day.
I’m not saying you have to read nutritional labels all the time, or that it needs to take over your life. It is just important to know how to read a nutritional label and when trying a new product, give it a quick glance.

Links to Health (I’ve tossed in a few extra because I forgot to include any last week):

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Take Care!

I am a teacher. Did you know that (I think you do)? I teach 10th grade English (please don't judge me on my poor grammar and misspellings, I like to take a break from such things when I blog) and I love my students. Really, I do.

It seems as we get more into the school year, there is a phrase that I keep hearing on repeat:

Make sure you are taking care of yourself...

At first, it seemed like a silly bit of advice. Of course I am going to take care of myself. I'm not married, don't have children, I have one roommate and sometimes I have a dog (shared custody). Who else am I going to take care of??

But, as school has picked up, I find myself forgetting myself. Don't ask me when was the last time I went to the gym. Don't ask why I have Kabob Palace on speed dial. And don't ask how much sleep I'm not getting at night.I think as we get caught up in the hazards of life, we forget that in order for things to run as smooth as possible, we need to be in running as smooth as possible.

So, I offer a challenge to those of us who are neglecting ourselves (yes, I see you in the back of the room. I am talking to you). Instead of overwhelming ourselves with a need to be fixed right away, I challenge us to do one thing this week for us. And keep it up for the week.

Go to bed early. Have a salad for lunch instead of a cheeseburger. Go for a walk. Pray (for the spiritually inclined). Do something that makes you happy.

Me? What am I going to do? Well, I think that I am going to start moving more. We are having beautiful weather in DC, perfect for biking and being outside. I will update you next time on how I did...

Post a comment and let me know what you plan to do.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

training--for a different sort of goal.

now that my pants don't fit very well anymore (thank heavens for birthday gifts of belly belts!), i'm beginning to feel the effects of all of these pregnancy changes.  namely: my back HURTS. frequently. differently. 

at first i thought "hmm. must have slept wrong." but when it's fairly consistent and it doesn't really change much, i began to think about what i could do, proactively, to solve this, my particular brand of pregnancy woe.  in my mind, i thought: "if my back hurts now, boy howdy, 37 weeks is going to be no fun."

unless i plan ahead. unless i prepare myself. unless i--wait for it--train for my third trimester.

do whaaa?

in thinking about how i want my labor, delivery, and late pregnancy to go, i've been reading a little and thinking a lot about what i can do now to prepare myself well for that ultimate of endurance tests.  the birth plan we're considering requires me to understand and be able to work with my body throughout labor and delivery, staying connected to my own instincts and the messages my body is sending me.

it's also going to require a whole heck of a lot of stamina.

but the time constraints that have faced me this semester are daunting at best.  to try to get to the gym is a monumental task, and i'm often frustrated by my lack of energy or the way that my body now moves differently.  my feet seem to not like my shoes, the treadmill seems to go to fast, and the only real prenatal class offered by my gym is a water class that happens exactly when i have a job to do.

i let this get at me for a couple of weeks--i'll admit it.  but when my back started to really hurt, i began to think that maybe the "training" that i need isn't the training that i'm used to. 

enter yoga.

the idea of prenatal yoga is practically in the water around these parts--everyone seems to know about it and praise it to high heaven, but a couple of things really stood out to me: the way that it builds muscle strength and flexibility, the deep stretches that accompany the practice, and the breathing techniques that help prepare one for labor and delivery.

those are three reasons right there to sign me up.

so i bought a DVD (shiva rea's prenatal yoga) that came highly recommended from the nameless, faceless masses on amazon, and i tried it for the first time yesterday.  (yesterday was also the first time that my back hurt so much that i had to bring a pillow with me to class to put in the small of my back, if that tells you anything about my physical condition yesterday.)

it was challenging and it was motivational and it WORKS.  the dvd is broken up into three sections, beginning with a stretching and meditation section (which was far more challenging than i initially thought it would be), followed by one standing pose section and one floor pose section, and ending with a guided meditation at the end.  i've done yoga dvds and classes before, so i'm not a total novice, but i found this one challenging and accessible after nearly three months of no (real) physical activity. each of the sections provided not only modifications for each trimester, but also challenges.  i assumed that the standing poses section would be the most challenging, but each section provided me with something that i wasn't great at.  far from being frustrating, it showed me that i had much to learn and encouraged me to keep at it.  challenges keep me hungry.

by the end of the 50 minute session (which you can easily break into smaller, shorter bits by skipping sections), i felt more muscles than i have in a while (hello legs--did you like those lunge poses?) and i felt like my back was FINALLY loosening up.  today, it's infinitely better. 

while i suppose a review of a prenatal yoga dvd doesn't do much for those of you who currently pregnant, but let me just say this: yoga is an amazing way to work on lengthening your muscles and gaining balance and strength.  it can be an excellent supplement to an aggressive cardio workout routine, because it not only focuses on other elements of your physical well-being, but it also encourages you to become aware of your body and how it works. the term "namaste," often used by those in yoga practice, means "peace be with you."  in our quest for healthy living in this noisy, frantic world, a few minutes of peace can only be a positive thing. 

try it.  it can't hurt--well, except in good ways. :) 

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Swamp Stompers

When the crisp fall finally hits Florida, there is one exercise activity I am always pumped to do…channeling my inner Tim Tebow on the stadium steps. A friend and I hit the UF stadium (aka the Swamp) last night for a workout, something we hadn’t been able to do in months because it has been so incredibly hot. We had a workout that would leave almost anyone gasping for breath.

Don’t feel like you have to have a college stadium nearby in order to do this workout. Any high school football stadium (or really any place with a ton of stairs) will do.

1.     Start out by walking/running (whichever is preferable to you) two loops around the stadium/field to warm up
2.     Run up and walk down 5 rows of steps - In our stadium, there are generally about 90 steps in a row. Adjust the rotation to whatever works best for you.
3.     Every 5th row of steps, rotate between 10 pushups (on the ground or on the benches) and doing lunges
4.     When feeling daring, sprint up 45 steps 
5.   Cool down by walking/jogging two more loops around the stadium
6.   Stretch! 

We found a jar of pickled peppers. They were an excellent weight lifting tool!


1.     Remember that in some stadiums (including the Swamp) the steps become more steep as you go higher
2.     Do not push yourself too hard with this workout if you are a beginner. It can be a killer on your knees.
3.     Do not workout alone in a large stadium…especially at night
4.     Take breaks when necessary
5.     Drink plenty of fluids

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


People. I have an announcement.

Fall is here (in case you weren't aware).

I don't know about the weather where you live, but the weather in DC has been miserable lately. Rainy and cold. Not a good combination.

I was working late one night and noticed how the rain had picked up. No good, I thought to myself. And then I realized I had absolutely nothing to eat at home. I wanted something that would make the chill in the air go away and warm my toes...
And then I thought of my chili...

And then I thought that I would share the recipe with you.

Simple Turkey Chili

Brown the turkey and add onions and green pepper...Add some garlic, water, crushed tomatoes and the beans (mashed)
The seasoning!
Let it simmer about 30 minutes
Oh my goodness. The chili totally hit the spot! My roommate and I both ate very well that night and I was able to take some for lunch the next day (and I put some in the freezer for another night...or two).

Here is the full recipe:

1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1 pound ground turkey
1 onion, chopped
1 green pepper
2 cups water
1 (28 ounce) can canned crushed tomatoes
1 (15.5 ounce) can canned kidney beans, drained, rinsed, and mashed
1 (15.5 ounce) can canned black beans, drained, rinsed, and mashed
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


1. Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Place turkey in the pot, and cook until evenly brown. Stir in onion and pepper, and cook until tender.

2. Pour water into the pot. Mix in tomatoes, beans, and garlic. Season chili powder, paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper, cumin, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.

See, told you it was easy!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

puree your way to deliciousness.

the chill in the early morning air over the past week, even here in the super south, has convinced me that what i needed to do when i was at the store today for my normal weekly shopping was to hunt down the ingredients for something delicious and pumpkin and baked.

well, i looked in the usual places for those convenient cans of pumpkin puree, but they were nowhere to be found. rather than hunt down an employee, who probably would have been very helpful but probably would have told me that the recent announcement that the pumpkin shortage was over had yet to catch up with my local grocery store, i decided to do what i know to do anyway.

create purees myself.

i know i've spoken of this puree presence in my cooking life before, but i don't think i've discussed how easy it is.


i'm pregnant, just out of my first trimester. what this means is that the current state of my house indicates that i am loathe to do anything that involves multiple steps. the laundry can get washed and dried, but it ain't folded or put away.  i can make a meal, but i can't manage to figure out how to think ahead to defrost meat for said meal.  i can barely get my junk together to put together a slow cooker chili, which is possibly the easiest meal ever (other than delivery pizza, which was last night). 

i'm not superambitious teachergirl of late is my point.

so when i tell you that it's easier, cheaper, and more healthy to create your own pumpkin puree, i'm totally serious.

first of all, you have to think outside the pumpkin box.  yes, it's pumpkin season. yes, you will find pumpkins at your local grocery, home improvement, or roadside stand.  however, they are priced at a premium right now because, well, it's 'tis the season to bake, carve, and decorate with pumpkin.  so, any self-respecting capitalist is going to jack those prices up.

you know what ISN'T jacked up? the price of butternut squash.

now before you go "EW!" and dismiss everything i'm telling you, please let me assure you: you can make PIE with pureed butternut squash this thanksgiving. i dare your guests to know the difference. they won't. in fact, it may be the most delicious "pumpkin" pie they've ever had.  i think it's better.

(and they call butternut squash pumpkin in other countries, like australia, where my wonderful husband served our church for two years. so there's that.)

today, they were $0.99 a pound. i picked up the biggest one i could find, which was about 3.7 pounds. so, all told, i spent about $4 on the whole thing.

here's how easy it is to turn your oddly shaped "pumpkin" into purees for now and later (sorry for no pictures--see earlier explanation about pregnancy and lack of the ability to plan ahead):
  • find the biggest and sharpest knife you have. the hardest part of this whole process is cutting the beast in half.  I suggest sitting it upright and letting gravity do the work.  be CAREFUL. it doesn't have any give to it. if you have to, just work your way around and through it. you want to slice it lengthwise in half, though, not into slices.  just two halves.
  • scoop out the bottom, bell-shaped halves. it has a filling like...wait for it...pumpkin! so just like you'd clean out a pumpkin, you clean out the seedy, stringy middle of the bell. that's it, though. the rest of it will be awesome deliciousness.
  • put it on a cookie sheet or broiler pan and put it in your oven to roast. i put my oven on approximately 450-475 and cooked it for a little less than an hour.  you can tell if it's done by sticking a knife into it. it should be the consistency of a cooked baked potato, approximately.
  • take it out and let it rest. you want to let it cool for a sufficient amount of time that you can work with it effectively (with no toasted fingers!).
  • scoop out the flesh into a bowl.  there will be more than you think.  make sure that you do not get the skin, which should allow you to pull the flesh away easily with a large spoon.
  • grab a blender or a food processor as well as about a cup of water.  you'll start to blend the puree with the water together to get it to the consistency of baby food.  I found that using enough water made this process INFINITELY easier than when i've done it previously.  i had a huge amount of flesh to puree, and i just kept adding to my blender. when i added enough water, i had it blending with no trouble.  
  • divide the puree up into sandwich bags.  i measured it out by cupfuls this time, but half-cup purees also work well for inclusion into recipes.
from my 3.7 pound butternut squash, i got 5 cups of puree.  that's FIVE recipes of 18 pumpkin muffins each.  what an amazing return on a little bit of investment and time!

of course, the options for pumpkin related things are endless. these are the muffins that i made today, but there are also these cookies which look like a pretty decent (and vegan/lowfat!) option if you're bored with the pumpkin bread/muffin variation. and, of course, there's always the pie route.  but you can also use this puree with a cake mix to make a healthier, calorie-reduced brownie mini-muffin (this is a huge favorite of my husband's).  i pretty much add a handful or two of chocolate chips to all of these, fyi, and they're all DELICIOUS.

while i'm all about convenience, some times it's just as easy (and even more inexpensive!) to do things yourself. the added benefit is that you know what's processing has happened to your food--and you can feel good about the vitamins, minerals, and healthy elements that have gone directly from your oven to your fresh purees!

i'd encourage you to try it this holiday season. see what you can do with it, and then share your experiments! with all of these pumpkin purees, i'll soon be dying for new recipes to try so that i can fill my house with the smell of fall.

next step for me? might be homemade applesauce.  such are the effects of fall on me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

10 Things To Do Outside this Fall

With a high of 62 degrees, Fall is in the air here in Virginia. I love this time of the year because the weather is cool and the outdoor activities abound.

Here's ten family-friendly things to do outside this Autumn:

1. Visit a local pumpkin patch.

2. Take a hay ride.

3. Try your luck in a corn maze.

4. Attend a sporting event (ahem, Go Gators!).
Or better yet, organize a neighborhood flag football tournament.

5. Rake up piles of leaves and have jumping contests. Best "splash" wins!

6. Go apple picking.

7. Check out state and local parks and take a hike.

8. Have a picnic.

9. Attend your local fall festival.

10. Make a bonfire and roast marshmallows.

(I love this picture)

Friday, October 1, 2010

a week of reflection

Most days start with the goal of putting your best foot forward, having a positive outlook, and the pursuit of making one good choice followed by another. (Kellogg's NutriGrain commercials ring a bell...?) As a wife, and now a mother, I find myself carrying the yolk of making wise decisions for three, not just myself ... and I'm happy to do so...on most days. :)

This week, however, I have found myself just trying to make it through the day next hour. 

Daniel, the hubby, flew to Colorado at the crack of dawn Monday morning; he will be out of town through this Sunday. (Which reminds me - am I the one getting him at the airport...? I digress.) A nursing baby with another dual ear infection. Phoebe, a spastic dog that thinks she must protect the 'castle' at all costs, a fact of which the neighbors within a five mile radius are now all too painfully aware. Three cats who have recently made the switch to soft food, for dietary reasons - see first paragraph, and serve as a living, breathing, clawing alarm clock if not fed promptly at 5:30AM. A part-time job that lately consumes my full-time thoughts. Oh - and don't forget the cherry on top: the phone call from my dad who saw a summary of the above in a status message on Facebook and felt it necessary to call and remind me that in his mother's day the wife/mom took care of all of that and more every week before gender roles became more balanced. Thanks, Dad.

This was my week and my selfish complaints ... until Wednesday.

As I sat down in the family room, with my well deserved glass of wine, ready to unwind from the day I was jolted as I read, "Missing Plane Wreckage Found In Alaska." I became sick to my stomach as I read further: "Officials said there were no signs of survivors."

For five weeks now, family and friends of Mason McLeod and three others have done all they can to keep efforts alive to find the plane that went missing on August 21st. This story has been featured on every news outlet and in every publication in the Northeast Florida area ever since.

This wasn't just a news story to me, or many close to me. Mason was a friend - and always will be.

Details on his life, his dreams, a synopsis typically given as if someone's life can be summed up in a sentence were all included in the broadcasts and news articles. But that wasn't the Mason I knew. Who was the Mason I knew? First boyfriend in the 6th grade. Amazing writer. Humanist. Homecoming date, freshman year. Witty observer. Entrepreneur. Friend. Son. Intelligent. Lover of art. Jaguars fan. Classmate. Avid reader. Jack of all trades. Political activist. Pilot. Ranger. A goof. Serious. Genuine.

Last night friends gathered from all over to celebrate the life of the one we've lost at a benefit held in Mason's name. All money raised will go into a scholarship fund, as well as pay for gas to continue the search for the still missing remains. (To donate, please visit As I stood surrounded by faces from past and present, hearing and sharing so many stories of how Mason inspired a laugh or a life choice from everyone in attendance, I started to realize how much I took for granted this week.

I was able to hold my son every day and tell him how much I love him. My husband made it safely to CO, and with God's help, will make it safely back to me in just a few days. I have a dog, that as spastic as she may be, loves me so much that she wants to protect me from anything she fears may cause me harm. I have three cats that recognize that we made a decision for them to better their health and they are meowing to let me know they approve. I have a job, and it helps me to provide for my family. I have my life.

Sometimes it can be so much easier to look at the negative, than to search for the silver lining.

Tomorrow when I wake up, as I'm preparing my mental "to do" lists for the day, deciding what the healthiest breakfast choices are for myself and the baby, scheduling the day, feeding the pets, and "Shh-ing" the dog, I am going to take a moment and acknowledge how truly blessed I am, and to find a reason to laugh.

For that, and so so much more, I have my dear friend Mason to thank.