Sunday, November 29, 2015

Past Loves Day Story Contest

I bet you didn't know that September 17 is Past Loves Day. (It just so happens this is also my mother's birthday. She turned 86 this year.)

This past September 17, I submitted a short story for the Past Loves Day Story Contest. I just received a letter in the SNAIL MAIL (believe it or not!) telling me I received an Honorable Mention. What followed this announcement was a full paragraph of glowing feedback for my "powerful" and "compelling" story. (If you wish to read this short story, it will be posted in the coming weeks on

In this day and age, it is a very rare thing to find a REAL letter, of any sort, in the mailbox. But for the two editors of Spruce Mountain Press in Vermont to write personally to each winner of their contest displays a deep level of caring and a sincere love for the art of writing. On this gray and drizzly November afternoon, their note brought a warm glow of happiness. I felt heard and acknowledged.

Sometimes writing can be a very lonely profession. I love the part where a story suddenly presents itself and I get to follow it, hunt it down, capture it with words, and pin it to the paper. But once it is written, then comes the hard part. Is it any good? (I never know.) Can I fix what's wrong with it? (I'm not sure.) Should I share it? (That doesn't seem safe.) Will anyone like it? (Probably not.) I think I'll just sit on it for a while, like a mother hen on her nest, keeping those fragile eggs warm, while none of them ever hatch or see the light of day.

Thanks to this blog, and to you all, I have an outlet that does feel safe. When I can't manage to put my creative work, my fictional stories, out there in the mean and scary world, I can always sit down and share something simple with you. Maybe just a recipe for the pumpkin pie I made on Thanksgiving (I'll get that to you SOON!) or an anecdote about something funny that happened during yoga class. Perhaps this blog isn't deep or profound, maybe my musings aren't mind-shattering, but I hope you find something here that touches you on occasion. Maybe makes you laugh, or at least smile.

If so, that is good enough for me.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Snacks to Avoid Weight Gain

I recently read a blog about snacks to help with weight loss. One thing jumped out at me immediately about the list: it was all carbs. Every item on the list was composed of mainly, or in most cases ONLY, carbohydrates. Suggesting someone eat a snack of pure carbs--even "complex" carbs-- is a recipe for blood sugar spikes followed by blood sugar drops, excessive hunger, mood swings, cravings for more sugar, and general unhappiness. This is the curse of the carbohydrate. Protein and fat create lasting satisfaction.

The carbo-loaded snack list included: hummus and veggies, edamame, fruit, kale smoothie, and oatmeal. Did you notice anything about these items? Yes, they are all vegan. If you abstain from all animal products, you are at a great disadvantage when it comes to finding high quality sources of protein. At least hummus contains a small amount of (lower quality) protein (in the beans) and some fat (in the tahini and olive oil). This is probably the best choice out of all the items on this list.

I'm not suggesting one should never consume fruit, oatmeal, or kale smoothies. I'm suggesting that every time you snack, you should BALANCE the carbs with protein and fat. 

Let's take these suggested "snacks" and balance them.

1) Hummus and sliced turkey roll-up. Take a one ounce slice of deli turkey breast, spread with one ounce of hummus and roll up. Voila! Perfect snack containing a great balance of protein, carbs, and fat.

2) Edamame. Throw this in the compost pile. I don't recommend anyone eat soy products, especially those which have not been fermented. Soy is highly indigestible, highly allergenic, and its phyto-estrogens can possibly disrupt your natural hormonal balance. If you are over-weight, you already have too much estrogen floating around in your system (produced by excess fat cells). There is much controversy within the nutritional community over soy. I say, why risk it?

3) Fruit and cheese. Instead of chowing down on a big bowl of fruit salad, choose a small apple and a cheese stick. The cheese contains protein and fat. The apple is pure carbs, but has plenty of fiber. The combo is filling, low-cal, and balanced.

4) Kale smoothie with Greek yogurt and/or protein powder. Instead of blending a juice drink made with only fruit and veggies, add a cup of Greek yogurt (containing both fat and protein) OR add a half an avocado (for healthy fat) plus a scoop of protein powder. Boom: balanced shake!

5) Oatmeal Meatloaf. Instead of scarfing a bowl of plain cereal, substitute a cup of rolled oats for the bread crumbs to your favorite meatloaf recipe. Also add a cup of grated carrots and a cup of grated zucchini. You can substitute ground turkey, chicken, bison, lamb, or pork for all (or part) of the regular ground beef. Grab a slice of cold meatloaf (or warm it up!) for a healthy snack with plenty of protein.

5) Deviled eggs with baby carrots. Since I took away your soybeans, I added a snack of my own to the list. Pastured eggs (from chickens that live on GRASS) are one of the healthiest whole foods you can find; they contain all the essential amino acids, about 7 grams of protein, plenty of fat (as long as you eat the yolk) and combined with a veggie make an awesome snack.

6) Slices of cucumber topped with cream cheese and smoked salmon. I realized I neglected to include any seafood. You could substitute tuna or salmon salad or shrimp dip as the topping. Fish and seafood both contain plenty of high quality protein as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Most of us don't get enough of this important nutrient.

Another tip for creating balanced snacks is: think of a snack as a mini-meal. This is an important difference. When we usually think of "snacking," we imagine a big bag of chips or jelly beans or cookies. A "snack" has thus become the mindless shoveling of endless handfuls of empty calories into our faces. The fix? Transform that snack into a thought-out preparation, more like a meal. Choose 2-3 foods that supply a balance of all three macro-nutrients. Open your mind to "snacking" on healthy small meals.

Another snack tip: when you are eating, just eat. Instead of grazing at the counter or in front of the TV, sit down at the table. Eat your snack with a knife and fork (unless it's a kale smoothie!!!) and take some time to savor it. Really taste your snack. Drink a large glass of water or a mug of herbal tea with your snack to help your belly feel full. Then get up and move on. Do something active that doesn't allow for snacking, like taking a hike or dusting the ceiling fans. Forget about food until it's time for the next meal.

Let me know if you try some of these snacks. I hope you find them satisfying!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Power of No (for the Holiday season)

I could just as easily write a blog about the wondrous nature of YES. But I believe I'm a pretty positive person, especially when I sit down to type up a blog. I tend to blab on and on about all the good things you can and should do for yourself. Yak yak yak.

Time to get real.

Because our time is short. If you are a newborn baby (with brilliant reading skills) then you might have close to a hundred years yet to live. Maybe even more. But most of you have a whole hell of a lot less than that. If you are a very lucky fifty-something-year-old, you might have thirty years to go. And if you think back, the past thirty years have probably passed in a blink of an eye. Most of those years are just a blur in my mind. The nineties? I have no clue where those went. I spent that decade in a zombie state of pregnancy, nursing round the clock, attempting to sleep anytime the baby slept, and just barely surviving. I escaped with maybe half of my original brain function.

What was my point?

Oh yes. The power of saying NO.

If you are a female person, like me, you may have been raised to be nice. My mother is British and she is very nice. I think many of us feel pressure to be as nice as our mothers. (Insert a slap across the face here.) Get real. I'm never going to be one tenth as nice as my mother. No way. I was raised just outside of NYC and I lived in Queens for a year while I attended grad school. If I had any niceness in me, it was scoured from my system as a result of boarding the NYC subway on a daily basis. You can't be nice and live in New York. You will be squashed like a bug. And then pissed on.

But I digress. Again.

In addition to not being very nice, I am also an introvert. Some people find this hard to believe because I have pushed myself out into the world, onto various stages, in order to conquer my fear. Still, I hate crowds. My worst nightmare is a party where I know no one. But it doesn't matter how comfortable an introvert seems in public situations; the social interaction is always draining. While extroverts gain energy from being in the company of others, introverts are sucked dry. We need to recharge our batteries by being alone. We need plenty of time BETWEEN social commitments.

Finally she gets to the point!

During the holidays, we may receive invitations to attend various parties, functions, gatherings, concerts, meetings, cookie swaps, who-knows-what. We might be pushed to entertain others in our home. Maybe you can say YES to all of this and never bat an eye. Maybe your family can arrive from outer Mongolia and camp in your living room for a week or two and you are simply stoked. Maybe you can host your daughter's softball league in the afternoon and attend a black tie gala that same evening all while juggling flame-covered batons. Maybe you are superwoman or Batman. But I'm not.

I am a selfish, not nice introvert who needs to take a nap before she turns into Garfield, the world's grumpiest cat. The ability to say NO is my only superpower. I've learned over the years that saying YES when I really want (need!) to say NO is not a gift to anybody. Over the holidays, I need to check my grump-o-meter frequently. If the arrow is wavering into the red zone, it's definitely time for a break from humanity. Otherwise, I could experience a break from sanity.

So during the holiday season, you might want to check your own grump-o-meter. And remember that some of your friends or loved ones could be introverts. (We make up about half of the population.) If someone wants or needs to be alone, it doesn't mean they don't love you or care about you. And if you need to take care of yourself by saying NO on occasion, it doesn't make you a bad person. It makes you a smart one.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

What's for Thanksgiving Dinner?

Be glad you have never witnessed one of my Thanksgiving breakdowns. Although I am a full-grown woman, every year this holiday reduces me to toddler-like tantrums. I have shed real tears over the ruined gravy. (I can't seem to make it from the little package.) The meal always ends with me proclaiming I am never going to do this again. But it's like childbirth: the memory fades, November rolls around again, and I am once more purchasing one million different ingredients from a minimum of three different stores to concoct another feast too large and complicated for one demented woman.

So there I was, shopping in Costco with my poor husband, and we ran into the turkeys. Now cooking a whole turkey never works out well for me. I can't tell you how many overcooked, dried-out, dark brown birds I have served. Meat like chalk, even the lumpy gravy cannot save it. So every year, I try to find a way to exclude the star of the show. And yet again, somehow an entire bird snuck into our shopping cart and we brought him (her?) home. Looks like I have to cook it now.

Everyone has their favorite dishes and of course you can't forget any of these. We have a small family, just four of us, but this (somehow!) adds up to about twelve dishes for me to prepare. Sure, some can be made ahead of time. This delightful practice means that I spend not one, but two or three days chained to the kitchen stove, slaving away in a hot, steamy hell. Then I have to find space in the fridge to store all the pre-cooked dishes when Mr. Tom Turkey has already claimed an entire shelf for himself.

Okay, another option might be traveling to a relative's home and allowing them to do all the work. This sounds good in theory, but also ends in disaster. One year, we drove 6 hours to upstate New York so my sister could host Thanksgiving. While Maryland is often balmy in late November, upstate New York is frigid. It had to have been below zero with the wind chill that year. We arrived to discover no turkey would be served. No, she had decided to forego the traditional meal (!!!) and make homemade PIZZA. Perhaps some of you have attempted to prepare or eat homemade pizza before. If so, you know it SUCKS. Unless you own a pizza oven, were born in Italy, and raised in a pizzeria, there is no way to replicate this product in your home. Ordering takeout would have at least tasted good. When we returned to Maryland, I immediately headed to the grocery store to purchase a discounted (post-Thanksgiving) turkey with all the trimmings in order to remedy the ruined holiday.

This year, I have a plan. I'm going to get on top of this. I will simplify our meal in several ways in order to save time and stress. First off, I will ditch the sweet potatoes. No one really likes them except me. I will not touch the gravy. This honor will be passed to my husband who is able to read and follow directions. Ditto the mashed potatoes. I will pull up my big girl panties and face the turkey like a man. There must be a way to cook that damn bird properly. Perhaps I will even consult a cookbook. When all else fails, I will have another glass of wine. I hear Pinot Noir goes great with turkey...

Friday, November 20, 2015

FREE Bootcamp in the Park

Yes, you read that right! I'm offering a special on Black Friday: FREE bootcamp for anyone who has ever taken a class with me. And all their friends and family, too. Since I've been teaching in Maryland and the surrounding area for approximately 30 years, this amounts to quite a few students! (And if you have never taken a class with me, but would like to try a FREE bootcamp workout next Friday, just leave me a message in the comment section and I'll get the requisite paperwork to you!)

(Bootcampers chowing down at the annual potluck picnic!)

Here are some FAQs:

What do I need? 

First of all, we will meet outdoors, so you need to come dressed for the weather. This means layers. I recommend high-tech fabrics that wick moisture away from your skin. Cotton is a lovely material, but not for working out. Cotton absorbs and holds moisture against your skin which can cause chaffing and discomfort. Layering offers you the option of stripping down when you get warm and then covering up again if you start to get chilled. Don't forget a hat to hold in your body heat. And gloves are vital for cold weather workouts at the park. On your feet, running shoes or cross trainers are preferable.

Please bring a set of dumbbells. If you have more than one set, bring a selection! I will bring some heavy weights which we can share, including a couple of kettlebells. You can always choose which amount of weight to use; nothing will be forced upon you!

Also bring a thick mat or towel to use for ab work. And WATER! Even though it's winter, we still need to stay hydrated before, during, and after working out.

If this is your first workout with me in a long time (or ever!) you will need to bring a PAR-Q form which details your medical history and any special needs. If your medical history, address, or emergency info has changed, please let me know so I can send you a new form.

What will we be doing?

We will start off with a thorough warm-up that covers all the joints of the body. We will gradually build up to a sweat then add dynamic (moving) stretches. Every bootcamp class is different; each one explores an area of the park including hills (sprints, lunges, bear crawls) and various structures like benches, bleachers, monkey bars, stairs (pull-ups, push-ups, box jumps) and every class employs basic movements like squats, lunges, jumps, step-ups, jumping jacks, and burpees. Anything you cannot do can be modified so that you CAN do it!

How long does each class run?

Each class lasts about an hour, but we perform a wide range of different exercises, in different locations, over the course of that hour, so time always flies by. We take enough time for a thorough warm-up as well as a cool down stretching routine and ab work. The most intense parts of the class are short and sweet, but definitely effective.

I am overweight and out of shape. Can I do this workout?

Yes! You might need to modify some of the exercises, or perform fewer repetitions, or take frequent breaks during the workout. But everyone has to start somewhere. If you can participate without beating yourself up, you will improve your fitness level every time you show up. You will be amazed at what you can accomplish.

How is this bootcamp different from all the others I could try?

This bootcamp is unique because of my eclectic movement background. As I mentioned, I've been teaching various movement and fitness classes for over 30 years. I have BA and MA degrees in Dance and Dance Education with an emphasis on Anatomy and Kinesiology. I've studied many forms of dance, Pilates, yoga, contact improvisation, Thai yoga massage, and YogaRhythmics. I understand proper placement, posture, and usage of the body and can point out problems and solutions. I bring a unique set of skills to the bootcamp arena.

If you have questions I haven't addressed, or if you'd like more information about this local Howard County bootcamp, please leave a comment below. Hope to sweat with you in the park on Black Friday!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Stop Consuming Junk! (It's not just what you eat!)

Every day we are alive, we make choices. What we choose to absorb into our bodies, minds, and senses has a huge effect on every aspect of our health: physical, psychological, and spiritual. There is a ton of junk out there being offered to us on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis. How much junk do you take in each and every day? Can you control this flow of junk? How do you pull the plug?

JUNK FOOD is everywhere. When you shop at the grocery store, junk food takes up the vast majority of designated space. Sure, there is a junk food aisle. Maybe you could just skip over that one aisle? Nope, junk food has penetrated every single aisle. All of this highly processed food means more profit for everyone. A plain old potato doesn't pack much profit for anybody, but once it is sliced, diced, shredded, deep fried, seasoned, preserved, frozen, and packaged, you will pay many times over what that original, lowly potato cost. The best way to avoid the cost of junk food (monetary and health costs!) at the grocery store is to shop the perimeter. Choose products that have no list of ingredients: fresh produce, grassfed meats and poultry, pastured eggs, wild-caught seafood. If you can make your own, instead of buying something premade in a factory, go for it. If you have to buy some processed foods, try to avoid those containing refined sugars, flours, preservatives, additives, and transfats. Look for short ingredient lists that only contain real food.

JUNK NEWS is also everywhere. How many horrific, ugly, disturbing, sensationalized stories do you want to absorb each day? I haven't watched the news on television in decades. Who wants to hear about all the bad news and none of the good? News programs are designed to upset people, to cause anxiety, to ramp up the negative emotions. "If it bleeds, it leads." I realize some people want to stay "informed." I find it much more peaceful to be blessedly ignorant of most news. If you are interested in particular kinds of news, you might try selectively choosing websites or twitter feeds to follow. This way you can weed out the news you want or need to hear, while blocking most of the extraneous and stress-promoting hype.

JUNK ART is another load of crap that is shoved in our faces on a daily basis. Have you ever surfed through the TV channels in awe of how many absolutely worthless shows are produced? Have you ever tried watching the show about hunting bigfoot???? (A group of people walk through the woods in the dark, saying, "Is that a 'squatch?" It never is.) And how about the radio stations that play the same 4 songs over and over, hour after hour? The same songs with the same 4/4 beat, repeating the same 4 notes, with the same boring, empty lyrics. And the authors that churn out hundreds (literally!) of "novels" with the exact same plot, a different set of names, but basically the same characters, performing the same actions, even parroting the same lines! The library shelves and the bookstores are filled with this drivel. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of creativity, art, music, literature, film, and even television. But how much worthless junk do you want to absorb through your eyes and ears each day? Remember, you have choices.

JUNK RELATIONSHIPS are another waste of time, effort, emotion, and often money. Are you throwing away your precious life with people who drag you down? Who can't be happy for you when you succeed? Who are only looking to get something out of you rather than share something with you? Are you trying to please someone who will never be pleased with you? The world is full of beautiful souls who want real friendship and have real love to offer. Take a close look at the people with whom you spend the majority of your time. Do they make you feel warm and fuzzy? Or anxious and stressed out? Cut ties with those leeches that are sucking the life force right out of you. Choose relationships that lift you up instead.

These are just a few of the junk traps to avoid. If you think of more, please add them below, in the comments section. We can help each other escape the junk by becoming more aware.


Monday, November 16, 2015

Which Exercise is the BEST?

If you are a fan of group exercise classes, you know they come and go. Back in the 80's, we were all doing Jane Fonda-style calisthenics which involved deep stretches with lots of bouncing. Great if you're looking to overstretch, but no longer recommended for those who'd like stable joints. Then Jazzercise caught on, but now that's something your grandmother might do with her bridge club. Step aerobics was hot for a while. And Zumba made a huge splash in the pond, spawning many spin-offs. But what is the BEST exercise for creating all-around fitness, including strength, flexibility, cardio, agility, balance, and speed?

As you might guess, it is difficult to find everything in one package. Yoga is great for flexibility and balance, and you can certainly build some strength as well, but that's about it. Pilates combines flexibility and strengthening, but again is lacking in the aerobics department. However, if you look at aerobics classes like Zumba and Step, there is very little stretching and not much strengthening going on. If weights are used, they are mostly for toning rather than building real strength.

For this exact reason, I like to mix things up. I combine Pilates matwork, Zumba-style aerobic dance, and yoga into one class for an hour and fifteen minutes every Friday morning. This is my most popular class, probably because the workout touches on every aspect of fitness. By adding the use of stability balls, stretchy bands, medicine balls, body bars, and dumbbells, I can up the challenge. The music makes it fun, too. (This class is called Fit Jam: Fire and Spice. It is offered through Howard County Rec and Parks at 9:30am at the Gary Arthur Community Center in Glenwood. The next session starts in early January.)

Bootcamp is another great option for those looking to gain strength, agility, and cardio benefits. A good bootcamp class will challenge all the major muscle groups throughout the body. It's unlikely your instructor will provide much in the way of stretching (this tends to be overlooked in favor of strengthening) but you will probably work on all the other aspects of your fitness profile. In my bootcamp, however, I make a point of stretching out every muscle group before class ends. (Leave me a message in the comments below if you are interested in trying a bootcamp class in Howard County.)

If you're looking for a VERY challenging workout that covers most of the fitness bases, you might want to check out a Crossfit Box. Crossfit combines HEAVY weightlifting with all sorts of gymnastics-based exercises like handstands, walking on your hands, swinging from a bar, etc. Workouts also include aerobic challenges like sprinting, rowing, burpees, kettlebell swings, and/or swimming. I'm not sure if any stretching is involved, as I have never visited a box. But I believe the instructors receive excellent training and can make the workouts accessible for men and women of all ages and fitness levels.

I realize you have more to do than just workout, so it's important to make your exercise time count. Look for classes that address all your fitness goals in a single package. Shop around! Let me know what you find!