Thursday, February 4, 2016

How Do YOU Celebrate?

Perhaps it has to do with how you were raised. Maybe in your home of origin, every happy event was enjoyed around a massive cake covered in pink roses made of frosting. Or good news was always greeted with champagne. Or champale. Remember that stuff???

Recently my daughter received some good news: she WILL be going to college! I asked her how she wanted to celebrate. I mentioned we could take her out to dinner. Yes, I am one of those people who thinks "celebration" equals "eating food." And usually drinking some form of alcoholic beverage along with said food. I'm not snooty about the food I want when I celebrate. In fact, I enjoy an excellent burger and fries, or fish and chips, probably more than any other restaurant meal. But my daughter doesn't love eating out.

Her suggestion? She wants some more holes in her ears.

Yup. Additional piercings. Probably means a trip to the mall. Ugh. Not my favorite destination. But since I did ask, I'll be taking her to the Piercing Pagoda so she can have more chunks of metal shot through her earlobes. Could be worse. She could have requested a tongue piercing or a face tattoo, I guess. Maybe I should be happy.

But my point is that there are many ways to celebrate an accomplishment. It seems so natural to turn to food as the center of every joyous occasion, but even us old dogs can learn new tricks. You might not want extra piercings every time you receive good news, but there are MANY different kinds of treats, gifts, and activities that might be considered celebratory.

1) A trip to the spa. You could celebrate with a mani/pedi, or a facial, or a full body massage. If you want something exotic, you could try a hot stone massage or a mud bath followed by a salt scrub. If you want to save money, you could try a DIY spa day at home. (I'm not sure I'd experiment with hot stones at home...)

2) You could visit a local museum. Here in Washington DC, many museums are FREE and open to the public 7 days a week. Smaller towns have galleries. Counties have art centers which often include free exhibits of local artists.

3) Instead of viewing art, you could celebrate by making art! You probably have all kinds of art supplies lying around your home. (I know I do!) Making a special piece of art that celebrates an event or accomplish is an awesome way to make the good feelings last even longer.

4) Enjoy a day in nature. Wherever you live, there are nearby parks, forests, lakes, beaches, or other natural landscapes worth exploring. Take a hike!

5) Visit the zoo. This has always been a favorite of my kids, even now that they are essentially grown. The zoo in DC is also free. The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore has free parking, though not free admission. Both are fabulous day trips for those of all ages.

6) Go fishing. Or visit an aquarium. Either way, get closer to our swimming friends for a celebration.

These are just a tiny handful of ideas. Stretch your imagination the next time you have an occasion to celebrate. You will make memories that last a lifetime, especially if you permanently pierce a body part.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Hot Bath AND a Nap

In my last post, I discussed the concept of becoming your own BFF. But that was just a pile of words. Today, I took action. Instead of giving lip service to this idea, I got down and dirty with it. In actuality, I got down and clean with it.

Up until today, my week wasn't progressing perfectly.

The weekEND was wonderful. I heard about my story getting selected for the upcoming Chicken Soup book. Then my daughter was accepted into her college of choice--in fact, the only college she applied to. As if this wasn't enough awesome news, she then interviewed and was hired for a job. Hooray!

So what did I do? I opened a bottle of wine. A pinot noir, to be exact. And we had a little celebration dinner on Sunday evening. I had taken a month-long break from all alcohol, so one glass of wine knocked me on my ass, then gave me a raging headache on Monday. Good start to the week, right? Then Monday night, I couldn't sleep. This almost never happens to me, but when it does, I am a total wreck the next day. So my Tuesday morning classes were difficult. The hangover headache was still hanging on. I ate ibuprofen just to survive.

But then my much-needed day off rolled around.

Instead of spending the day on errands--shopping, cleaning, cooking or the many other tasks that need doing around here--I decided to REALLY take the day off. I reclined in my clawfoot tub for an hour with epsom salts dissolving in the warm water for my sore muscles. After lunch, I reclined again--this time in bed--and took an hour-long nap. It's amazing how tired I was after that bath!

End result: I feel SO much better.

Do you ever give yourself a day off? I mean, a whole day. Yes, including pampering yourself. You don't have to sit in a bathtub or lie in bed, unless those are the activities your body craves. You can give yourself a facial or a foot massage. You might choose to make yourself a nutritious salad or a smoothie. You could watch DVD's or Netflix on the couch or read a good book in an armchair all day.

We all need downtime. When we run ourselves ragged, no one wins. We wind up sick and exhausted and often angry about it. Although I am dedicating myself to cleaning this year, I must also remind myself that those dishes will wait. The mudroom has been muddy for the entire winter, so another day of staying dirty won't kill anyone. Allow yourself some time off now and again.

This is how we become our own best friends.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

How to be your own BFF

On the second-to-last episode of My Diet is Better Than Yours, the five contestants say goodbye to their trainers for a 7-week stretch. At the end of this period, after trying to stick to their diet and exercise plans without the support of their "experts," they will meet up for the final weigh-in and find out who wins the $50,000 prize. Plus $20,000 worth of groceries. Not bad for 14 weeks of dieting.

Before entering the competition, everyone on the show gained weight, in fact became obese, for different reasons. One man was in a car accident and forced to lie in bed for months in order to heal. Another became extremely busy running his own company, working ridiculous hours and never sleeping. But underneath these seemingly disparate "reasons" lies a basic lack of care for themselves. Bottom line: they were not being their own best friends.

If you were put in the care of your own best friend, a person you cherished and wanted to see prosper, would you feed them junk food by the bucketful until they got fat and sick? Or would you cook them nutritious meals made from wholesome fresh veggies, high quality protein, and healthy fats? Would you encourage them to get up and move their bodies or bring them another DVD to watch in bed?

These five contestants were each given a personal trainer. This is the equivalent of a best friend. The trainer's job is to make sure the contestant is eating a proper diet and exercising in the correct manner to promote safe and healthy weight loss. Four out of the five contestants embraced this opportunity and made friends with their trainers. These four all saw significant progress in their weight loss as well as their medical results (a lowering of blood sugar levels, cholesterol, inches around the waist, BMI, etc.). One contestant, on the other hand, rejected not one but two different trainers, lost very little weight, and decided, after 7 weeks, to quit the show.


Why would an intelligent woman throw away the opportunity to change her life for the better? Why would she select two very different trainers and diet plans, only to reject both in the end? Why would she walk away from an opportunity to win a significant amount of money (and groceries!) by simply doing something she (supposedly) already wanted to do?

This is a very clear example of someone not being a friend to themselves. In fact, this person is her own worst enemy. When caring experts reached out to her, offered support, cheered her on and tried to push her toward HER OWN goals, she did everything in her power to get in her own way. She quit in the middle of the 5K race while everyone else finished. She whined about being tired during her martial arts test and refused to celebrate her successful completion. She decided she didn't like or respect either one of her trainers. When it was time for her to go it alone for 7 weeks, she quit the whole show.

Does this remind you of anyone you know? Do you shoot yourself in the foot instead of having your own back? Do you give up when the going gets tough? Or do you surround yourself with people who want the best for you? Do you cheer yourself on?

A best friend is always kind, but also honest. She never gives up on you. She knows how much you are capable of and she tells you so. When you fall down, she reaches out a hand, but you still have to choose to stand up for yourself. Everyone needs a best friend. You can be your own.

Side note: I watched the finale of My Diet is Better Than Yours. The winner of the $50,000 prize (plus groceries!) was Jasmine! Yup, a woman won the whole thing. Up against two much bigger men, she had the greatest percentage of weight loss. She also won the half marathon. She and her trainer will be featured in People magazine.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Joy of Less

Hooray! I received some excellent news today! My short story titled "Too Much of a Good Thing" is going to be published in the upcoming Chicken Soup for the Soul volume called The Joy of Less.

The stories in this volume revolve around the theme of less is more. This might mean paring down one's possessions, letting go of relationships that no longer support us, or simplifying one's life in a variety of ways. For many of us, this is an important aspect of growing older. We learn the value of our time and our energy, and begin to spend both more wisely.

The wheels of publishing grind slowly, so I've been waiting for months to hear about this submission. I knew I was selected as a finalist, but I only heard today that I had made the cut. I can't wait to share this book with you! I know many of my friends and readers agree with this book's philosophy that living with less can often bring increased happiness.

The last story I published in the Chicken Soup volume about angels was a disturbing tale of violence. (I still have one extra copy of this volume, in case anyone missed it!) I am thankful to say that this latest essay is funny and uplifting, and contains no violence whatsoever.

When the softcovers come out, I will be sent 10 copies. I'll need a few for gifts, but if anyone is interested in purchasing one or more of my extra copies, please let me know! (I can deliver copies to those living close enough to Howard County, Maryland...) The cost for the paperback books will $15 each.

Thank you all for your ongoing support. Reading this blog takes time and energy, and I'm grateful that you use your precious time to read my words. There is no greater gift for a writer. (I can't believe I just called myself that!)


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Kick-in-the-Butt Workout

Like many of my faithful readers, I've been stuck inside the house for almost a full week. Cabin fever has set in. Bigtime. My teenaged daughter has become permanently embedded into the couch cushions. We may need to rent some type of crane to remove her. If they ever open the schools again, that is. My hubby left (for the first time since Snowpocalipse began) this evening, taking the Subaru down to DC to teach aikido. I've heard from friends on Facebook that the roads are not superb, and downright dangerous in places due to piled up snowbanks and lack visibility, so I'm praying that everyone out there is driving intelligently. (ACK! Who am I kidding!!??)

Luckily, I have a large studio in my home where I choreograph my Fit Jam routines, practice yoga or Pilates, and hold private personal training sessions with clients. So I've been able to keep up with my own practice. But dancing all alone lacks the excitement of teaching a class full of enthusiastic participants.

Today I decided to switch things up.

This is always a good idea. Our bodies quickly acclimate to our workouts of choice, reducing our calorie burn and heart rate during exertion. And it is very typical for us to choose the type of workout that feels the most comfortable for our bodies. Those who are very flexible tend to enjoy yoga. Those who love to dance will select aerobics. Those who are strong and muscular will enjoy lifting weights. This is natural. But this also means that those with muscular bodies tend to be strong, but tight and lacking flexibility. Those who are very flexible love to stretch, but are often too loose at the joints and lack stability and strength. Both these states are a prescription for injury. Mrs. Loosey Goosey will be more likely to fall down and break bones because of her unstable joints. Mr. Tighty Mighty is likely to experience a tear by straining an overly tight and inflexible muscle. Switching up your workouts can help you avoid these pitfalls.

Here's how to kick your own butt today:

1) Begin with a warm-up. If you are a young child, you might be able to skip this step. But if you are a fully grown adult person, I suggest you always warm up your muscles before exerting yourself. This is just common sense. You need to get the blood flowing, your heart rate slightly elevated, and begin to sweat BEFORE picking up any heavy weights. I used our 45 minute walk (through the DEEP snow!) with the dogs as my warm up. I was sweating before I began lifting. You can use marching or jogging in place, jumping jacks, power walking, stair climbing, etc.

2) Grab a kettlebell. If you don't have a kettlebell, order one from While you're at it, you can also order a book called Kettlebell RX by Jeff Martone. (Find it here:
This book will teach you absolutely everything you need to know about kettlebell safety.) Or find some heavy dumbbells. My kettlebell is about 35 pounds. This is the perfect size for kettlebell swings.

3) Deadlift the kettlebell at least 10 times. This will fully warm up your legs and back muscles, as well as your abs. To perform the deadlift, position the kettlebell between your feet. Hinge forward from the hips, keeping your back flat and your knees slightly bent. Tighten your abs, then grab the handle and lift with your legs, standing up straight. Squeeze your butt as you lift, allowing the kettlebell to hang. Keeping your back flat, lower the kettlebell back to the floor. That was one rep. Repeat 10 times. If your low back hurts, engage your abs MORE. If your back still hurts, go take a warm bath instead of moving to step 4.

4) Learn to swing the kettlebell. Watch this video for some tips: Try a short set of swings to begin with, maybe 5-10. Stop if anything hurts. If you think you might be doing it wrong, take a kettlebell class or find a trainer who can observe your technique and make corrections.

Kettlebell swings provide very intense exercise, combining aerobics and strength training. The movement works your glutes, hamstrings, back, and abs. Your heart rate will soar during your swings. Rest between sets, working your way up to 100 swings per workout. I like to do sets of 20 or 25. This is not something you need to do every day. Allow your body to recover between sessions.

Mix up your workouts and try something new! This will liven up your snow days. Really!


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New TV Show About Weight Loss

Have you seen the new show on ABC called My Diet is Better Than Yours?

It has been airing on Thursday nights from 9-11pm. I never stay up past 10pm so I've been watching it on instead.

The premise of the show is that 5 obese contestants choose a diet plan from a bunch of strange prescriptions no one has ever heard of. The "experts" that go along with these plans advise the contestants on what to eat, how to exercise, and how to change their lifestyles in order to lose weight. After 14 weeks, the best plan, based on the greatest percentage of weight loss, will win.

The plans have names like "The Wellness Smack-down Diet" and "The cLEAN Momma Plan." The "experts" range from dudes in camo wearing headrags to spandex-clad, goldielocks hotties. They spout all kinds of bizarre theories as if they were facts: self-massage will somehow break down and release fat(!) and there's nothing wrong with eating cookies (containing loads of sugar!) as long as they are vegan! (Both of these suggestions were courtesy of the Wellness Smack-down Diet...) The cLEAN Momma Plan advises constant task-ercising, including while saying evening prayers and during meals. No lie.

Despite these off-the-wall ideas, the contestants have been losing weight on all the plans. The show focuses most of its attention on the lifestyle changes which must accompany weight loss. Contestants are learning how important sleep is, for example, and ways to ensure a better night's sleep. Tasks like grocery shopping are broken down and analyzed for better efficiency. Although there have been some strange suggestions (like purple sheets will help you sleep better) many of the ideas seem helpful for the average overweight person.

For the most part, even with all the oddities, I feel this show has loads of potential. It is a giant step forward from The Biggest Loser, which currently airs on NBC. Here are some of the reasons why:

1) No contestants are eliminated from the show. Ever. They weigh in each week to track their progress and if they are unhappy with their diet, they can change plans. So the "expert" is the only one booted off the show, not the person attempting to lose weight. I like this very much.

2) Every week they receive information beyond just the # of pounds lost. Inches lost around the waist, total hours of sleep, hitting target heart rate during exercise are all mentioned, along with medical facts like blood sugar levels. Losing weight is never just about pounds on the scale. It's about getting healthier and having a better life. So I like hearing more than just how much weight was lost.

3) The trainers ("experts") talk about why their plans are working. Some of this is pure hooey, but some information is valuable. The Paleo dude (Wild Diet) talks about how you have to EAT fat to BURN fat. In other words, restricting fat does not work. He also explains why grassfed meats are so much better than grainfed. (The contestant on the Paleo plan is in the lead, having lost the most weight so far...)

4) The contestants receive TONS of support. They each have their own personal advisor, trainer, and coach. In addition, there is Shawn T., the host, who steps in to encourage contestants when they are struggling. (You can read Shawn T.'s blog about the show here:

5) The contestants lose weight while living at home, going to work, and doing all their real day-to-day stuff. There is no ranch where the magic happens (as on Biggest Loser). They need to learn from Day 1 how to shop for the correct foods, prepare them, take them to work, etc. They need to figure out how to squeeze exercise into their busy days. When the expert leaves them to do it on their own, they will already be lightyears ahead of those Biggest Loser contestants coming home from the ranch.

6) Many different diet plans can work. This is made clear by each and every contestant losing weight every week. While some plans might not be as sustainable for the long haul, it is good to be reminded that there is something out there for everyone.

The finale of My Diet is Better than Yours airs this Thursday at 9pm on ABC. Check it out to discover which diet plan wins!

Monday, January 25, 2016


Day Three of the Storm of the Century. Just heard we broke the record for the most snowfall ever recorded in a 3-day period at BWI airport. The total there was 29 inches, but out here in Western Howard County we have more than that. I'm guessing at least 3 feet.

As I type this blog, my hubby is riding the Kubota up and down the driveway, hefting enormous scoops of snow and dumping them to the side. We are praying he can clear the 1/3 mile of gravel road before he runs out of diesel fuel. We started with a full tank, but we don't have any back-up.

Walking the dogs has become an adventure of epic proportions. Akitas are extemely fastidious and will not poop just any old place. So this morning I attempted to wade through drifts almost waist high, carving narrow tunnels through the snow, in order to find a suitable squatting area. We made it to the river, which was partially frozen over. But when the dogs stepped onto the ice, it cracked. I decided not to try crossing as a freezing cold bath might dampen my mood. After the trek back and cruising up and down the already-plowed portion of the driveway, nobody pooped. Epic fail.

I spent a good half hour shoveling snow around my garage after that. It took about 4 whopping shovelfuls in each location to get down to the gravel. I wasn't able to clear much of a swath before my muscles started talking to me. I was delighted to discover that My Fitness Pal gave me some exercise calories for shoveling! (I really should apologize for all the mean things I said about this app. It can be a pal when it wants to be.)

I've had a hot bath and a nap. I came downstairs to find a roaring fire in the woodstove. The house is really warming up now! After another walk with the dogs, and another attempt to get the two of them to poo, I'm thinking it must be time to bake something!