Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Breathing Through Discomfort

There's a point during almost every yoga class I take where I've reached my physical (or mental) limit in a pose and all I want to do is get out of it. I mentally beg the teacher to prompt us into another position. I fidget. I grimace. I sweat. Sometimes I even come out of the pose altogether, tired of struggling. Then I spend the rest of the class, or at least the next few minutes, silently berating myself for my inability to sustain the pose. It seems like a never-ending battle. I want to grow, to build mental and physical strength, and yet I don't want to feel the discomfort associated with all that change.

It's not just in my yoga practice that I experience this conflict either. I'm starting to recognize a similar resistance in my life at large. I'm especially seeing it lately where my writing is concerned. I want to write and publish my writing. I put time and effort into formulating ideas, putting them on paper, molding them into moving stories, and editing them over and over again. But then the resistance comes. The story might not be good enough yet. It might be too personal, might reveal too much of myself. It might--no, it will--be rejected. I don't want to feel the discomfort that comes along with all that. Instead, I leave the unfinished or unsubmitted pieces in a folder on my laptop. Or I pull them out and rework them, yet again. I do everything but send them out into the world. I just haven't been able to figure out how to move beyond that fear.

The answer came to me on the mat, as they so often do these days--but that's another post in itself. I was folded into Pigeon and my right hip flexor was stretch its limit. There wasn't any pain, just a nagging discomfort that my mind wanted to avoid. I started wishing we could move back into Downward Facing Dog. I rocked my hips side to side looking for a way out of the tension. I shifted a little more to the left and the discomfort disappeared, but so did the benefits, the pleasure, of the stretch. So I moved back into the pose, where the discomfort was still waiting.

At just that moment, the teacher spoke up. "Remember to breathe. If you feel tension, try sending your breath into that area of your body." I followed her lead, inhaling and exhaling slowly, deeply. The resistance waned. My mind relaxed as I focused on the air moving in and out of my lungs, and my body responded by relaxing a little, too. I even moved a teeny-tiny bit deeper into the position, as my hip flexor released ever-so-slightly.

Understanding flickered in my mind. The discomfort won't last forever. In fact, if I take the time to breath, to experience the discomfort and allow it to pass, I might just find that I'm able to move more fully into an experience--whether it's on the mat, in my writing, or in my life.

The next time fear, discomfort or tension arises in my life, I promise myself that I will breathe into the discomfort and wait for it to pass, because it always does. Then, when the discomfort subsides, I will move forward into the things that are waiting for me on the other side.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

All That Is In Me

Two years ago in January, I made a trip to Arizona to visit my sister. At the time, I was feeling out of sorts, lost and confused about my life. I was in a relationship that I now know wasn't going anywhere. I was taking tiny steps toward a freelance career that I couldn't seem to get off the ground. I had lost all spiritual direction and was struggling to find peace in the midst of my chaotic life. So I hopped a plane and headed to a new land hoping for a revelation.

I can't honestly say that I found what I was looking for during that trip, but something new opened up in me. I had been practicing yoga for a while, and being around such interesting natural beauty stirred up the yogic instinct to be present and open in the face of new experiences. I enjoyed moments of laughter and long conversations with my baby sister. I stood on a rock on our way to Sedona and found myself reaching into Tree pose (Vrksasana). I sat beside Slide Rock, watching and listening to the water rush by, feeling my body relax and my breath steady and deepen. I watched the sun set over the Grand Canyon, recognizing the timelessness of both the canyon's existence and my own. And yet I still found myself wondering when the lightening bolt would strike, when the "ah-ha" moments would appear. Would I ever find the peace and strength that I was looking for?

For the two years that followed I began to hear that still small voice of my own spirit a bit more clearly, to explore the deeper places of my mind and heart, the ones that I had shut off for way too long, fearing the effort they might require and the discomfort they might evoke. Looking back I can see that trip for the awakening that it was, but while I was there, even in the midst of what I now see as revelations, I was still looking for something more.

This month, I'll be returning to Arizona for a trip of a different kind--a short visit with my sister followed by a few days at a trade show demonstrating products for the company I work for. This time, I'm not searching. I have learned a valuable lesson in my yoga training so far: All that I am looking for is already within me. My last trip to Arizona gave me a flicker of that knowledge, and now, when I find myself seeking out something deeper, more meaningful, more powerful, just plain more, I am able to recognize the longing and remember that I am full and complete just as I am. It is not the "more" that matters, in the end. It's the experience, the process, the journey, the moments that make up those things, that will determine a life.

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Album Review: Norah Jones ...Featuring

Confession: I haven't bought  a Norah Jones album since Come Away With Me (2002). I still listen to that album (or tracks off of it) regularly, though. Jones's soft ballads make a great soundtrack for life when you want to slow down or relax a bit. So when I had the opportunity to review her new album ...Featuring, I signed up immediately*. In fact, I signed up so quickly that I didn't even realize this was a compilation album.

It turns out the collection includes songs performed with a variety of artists from a broad range of genres (from rock to country and blue grass, to hip hop and rap and everything in between), as well as performances from her side projects El Madmo and The Little Willies. The tracks were recorded throughout her career and, placed side-by-side in a single album, you can clearly see just how musically flexible Jones can be.

I've been listening to ...Featuring over and over since it arrived in my mailbox a couple of weeks ago, and each time I listen I discover something new. It occurs to me that I've listened to and enjoyed many of these songs before, songs like Q-Tip's "Life is Better" and The Foo Fighters' "Virginia Moon", but wedged among sons like El Madmo's "Bull Rider" and Jones' own version of Blue Bayou featuring M. Ward, even the familiar songs have a fresh feel to them. It's an eclectic mix that on the surface seems discordant and jumbled. But I enjoyed the variety of sounds and voices, all connected by the cool, sultry voice of Norah Jones.

I'll definitely be putting my favorite holiday song, "Baby It's Cold Outside" (covered by Willie Nelson) on repeat this season. And since everything in my life seems to come back to yoga these days, I've can't help thinking as each track plays which yoga class playlist it'll go on. Talib Kweli's "Soon the New Day" will be perfect for a Vinyasa Flow class and Ray Charles' "Here We Go Again" has to be included at the end for lower-key stretching and cool down. I think that's what I like most about this album. There's something on it that fits every musical mood, something that will connect with everyone. My one worry for ...Featuring is that, unless there are a lot of die-hard Jones fans out there who have as eclectic music tastes as I do, there's not enough of a single sound on the album to connect with any one group of listeners. That won't stop me from recommending it, though. I think everyone could stand to broaden their musical horizons a bit, and this album is a safe, comfortable way to do that.

For more info about Norah Jones and her music, check out her website or find her on Facebook and YouTube.

*Disclosure: You can rest assured that all opinions expressed in this review are my own. However, I received a free copy of ...Featuring through One2One Network and by writing this review I was entered in a contest to win a gift card.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

When Doubt Creeps In

Last weekend I spent three days with my fellow yoga teacher trainees practice teaching, learning new postures and assists, discussing the ethics of yoga (the yamas), practicing mindfulness, and meditating. It was an awesome weekend filled with love, laughter, hard work, and doubt. Yes, I said doubt.

Every now and then I'd glance around the room and wonder what I was doing there. Am I really cut out to become a yoga teacher? Do I have what it will take to knowledgeably, accurately and gently teach others not just the physical but also the mental, ethical and spiritual aspects of yoga that I'm only now beginning to wrap my own mind and body around? Will I ever learn all those Sanskrit terms?

Sometimes I'm not sure what to do with this doubt. I try not to judge it, knowing that it rarely lasts long. I remind myself that every yoga teacher started as a beginner student. I begin to trust that in time I will grow into the teacher role, just as I have grown into the student I am now. I remember that I have a teacher's heart, that I love sharing knowledge and experiences with others, that I have always imagined I would teach in some form throughout my life.

When the doubt passes, I see myself changing. I look back over the eight weeks since our last training weekend and I can see vividly how much I've learned and accomplished in just two months. Poses that I thought were completely out of my reach, that I was sure I'd never be able to achieve, are now part of my regular practice. Just last night, I balanced in Crow (Bakasana) for 10 full breaths. Two weeks ago, I pushed myself fully into Wheel (Urdhva Dhanurasana) and remained there, steady for 10 deep breaths, as well.

Of course, some postures (Head Stand, most of the arm balances, and even Bow) are still out of my reach. And there will always be days when even the postures that usually come easily, like Tree (Vrksasana) and Bridge (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana), are more challenging than I expect. It's those things, those perceived failures, that I too often focus on. I judge as good or bad everything I attempt, and it's the bad on which I usually dwell.

So with my intention set on ahimsa (one of the yamas, meaning nonviolence or to do no harm), I will try to recognize my self-judgment and let it pass. Until our next training session, just a few weeks away, I will be kind to myself, knowing that every day, even when it's not noticeable, I am growing like a tree, my roots sinking into the ground and my branches sprouting new off-shoots toward the sun.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Space Between Effort and Rest

Last weekend I took a morning yoga class and the teacher started the practice by telling us we would be focusing on the balance between effort and rest. There are yoga postures that depend on this balance. Put in too much effort and you topple over or fall out of alignment, but exert too little effort and you get the same result. There has to be a balance between the two, and when you find that balance, you find the fullest, strongest expression of the pose.

Take Warrior III, for example. For those who don't practice yoga, or don't yet know the names for all the poses, Warrior III is a balancing pose. You stand on one leg, with the other leg extended toward the wall behind you, your torso parallel to the ground and your arms extended over your head, pointing toward the wall in front of you. To stay strong in this pose, you must be pressing your standing leg firmly into the ground, while extending your other leg and your arms with equal effort in opposite directions. Once you find that balance in effort, stretching equally in both directions, you can rest in the pose. This rest isn't so much a relaxation, as a settling in.

As I listened to the teacher talk about how we sometimes lose that balance in our practice, pushing ourselves deeper into a pose when we should be resting at our limit or holding back our effort when we could breath into a fuller expression of the pose, I knew I was about to learn a lesson I could take with me outside of that yoga studio and into my life.

You see, I tend toward too much effort--on and off the mat. I'm a control freak. Anyone who knows me knows that. I like to know what's going to happen and how it's going to happen. And when things get a little out of control, I like to put them back in order. I'm always working to make sure things don't fall apart, always trying to make things go my way. Here's the thing, though. It doesn't work. I can't control the weather. I can't control the actions or reactions of others. No matter how hard I try, there will always be things outside of my control.

So I took this lesson to heart and I listened carefully to my body. Throughout the class, as I found myself pushing too hard here, or not trying enough there, I brought myself back to the balance, that space between effort and rest, where I was settled, strong, and stable. I've been able to continue recognizing effort imbalances when I'm on the mat, in other classes, with other teachers.

Unfortunately, finding that balance in the world has been a bit more difficult. I'm still trying to find that place of balance where I know I'm making my best effort without pushing or pulling or straining too much to make something happen. There is peace in that space between effort and rest. I know, because I've seen it. And with practice, I'm certain I'll see it more often.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Walking Tall

I've been noticing lately that after just a few weeks of consistent, dedicated yoga practice, I'm walking taller. My stride is more sure.

I don't know the exact cause of this change. Maybe it's the strengthening and development of my core muscles. Maybe it's the strengthening and development of my confidence, my spirit, my "core". Whatever it is, I know I'm not the only one who has noticed.

After seeing a friend at her baby shower recently, she sent me a message and mentioned that I looked great and should keep doing whatever it is I've been doing. At first, I wasn't sure what she was talking about. I hadn't lost a pound since the last time she'd seen me. But then I saw a photo of us at her shower and I saw what she saw. My smile was wide and I recognized a confidence, radiance even, that I'm not used to seeing in myself.

The same weekend as that shower, I was at the beach with a couple of girlfriends. At one point, as we walked along the boardwalk in the late summer breeze, chatting about our lives and catching up with one another, I realized my walk had changed. At some point over the last couple of months, I'd started standing taller. Shoulders down my back, heart open and head held high, my steps confident and solid.

It seems these changes in my appearance, at least in the way I stand and walk, started when I began practicing yoga more regularly, which makes complete sense. I am strengthening my core muscles, the ones that support my torso and hips, with every class I take. I’m strengthening my mind and spirit, too. I definitely feel more confident on and off the mat as I begin to see what my body is capable of, making progress in both basic and more complicated poses.

Then again, maybe that radiance and confidence has more to do with my recent breakup. I made the choice to move on with my life, with or without The Ex, and then, when he couldn’t go forward with me, I stood my ground and took that step alone. And here I am, still standing. Confident. Alive. Better at being me. Wavering now and then, but still standing despite the winds of emotion.

Maybe it’s the yoga. Maybe it’s my choices. Or maybe it’s something else. Some combination of things I’ve yet to recognize. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be walking tall.

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Growing in Gratitude

I've written about gratitude here before, but I'm finding that in the midst of major and unexpected life changes and a schedule that keeps getting more and more crammed with things to do, my practice of gratitude gets lost in the shuffle. Instead of recognizing all the things I have to be grateful for, I focus my attention on my long list of to-dos, my frustrations and my failings.

As I've become more dedicated to my yoga practice, I can see that I am becoming less judgmental and more accepting (of myself and others), and learning to be more present and grateful in my life. I generally find it easy to express my gratitude for the big things: my health, my family and friends, my job. But in the midst of all the busy-ness, I usually forget to be thankful for the little things, the things that make those big things so much more enjoyable.

This week I'm setting an intention to shift my perspective and practice gratitude in the little things. In fact, I'm starting right now with this list of things I'm thankful for, things that I've experienced in just the first few hours of this Saturday:

  • An early start on this cool fall morning
  • Sunshine after rainy days
  • A free parking space
  • A good hair day
  • A challenging yoga class
  • Openness to new things
  • Productive writing time
  • Childrens' laughter
  • The pleasure of watching demonstrations of a parent's love
  • Soft, warm bread and hot soup
They're not monumental experiences, but I'm grateful for them just the same.

We don't have to be utterly ungrateful to benefit from having more gratitude in our lives. So I plan to take this morning's attitude of gratitude for the small things throughout the rest of my day (and, with a little practice and patience, the rest of my life). I'm hoping that focusing more attention to the positives of the little things will help me to continue forward in this new phase of my life and not get caught up in what I sometimes think I'm lacking. Out of my gratitude, I know that contentment will follow.

Thanks to Christina Katz for the inspiration to write about gratitude this week. If you're feeling grateful, too, share your thoughts on Gratitude on your own blog and link up the post at The Prosperous Writer.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Opening to the Present

I approached the studio with sweaty palms and a pounding heart. Part of that was out of nerves and part of it was because I’d spent the last 30 minutes circling the same nine square blocks looking for a parking spot and was certain I was going to be late to my first yoga teacher training weekend. Thankfully, I’d gotten the time wrong and was actually 27 minutes early.

I signed in, picked up my manual and found a spot on the floor in the alcove with a few other early arrivals. They were younger and thinner than me, probably fitter with more yoga experience, as well. Some of the women were in small groups chatting. It appeared they knew each other and the thought that there were already cliques forming gave rise to a bit of anxiety. Would I fit in here? Could I really do this? Was I ready for what lay ahead?

We rolled out our mats along the walls of the studio, all 35 of us—34 women and one man of varying ages, sizes, shapes and backgrounds—facing one another and the center of the room. And that’s how we started. No introductions, no stories, no preparation. We jumped right in.

Standing at the top of our mats, inhaling and raising our arms. Urdhva Hastasana. Folding forward, exhaling. Uttanasana. Lifting halfway up on the inhale, backs flat. Ardha Uttanasana. Placing hands down, stepping back into high plank and exhaling into Chaturanga Dandasana. Inhaling, sliding chests forward, opening our hearts. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana. Lifting hips and pressing chests back on the exhale. Adho Mukha Svanasana. Bending knees, looking forward to our hands, and inhaling, floating feet forward, back flat. Ardha Uttanasana. Exhaling, folding again into Uttanasana. Sweeping arms up, inhaling and looking to our fingers. Urdhva Hastasana. Pressing palms together, exhaling and lowering them to our hearts.

Arriving at Samastitihi. Equal standing.

And that’s exactly how it felt. Nine breaths putting us all on solid, level ground. Nine breaths linking us all together. Nine breaths and I knew this: I am exactly where I am supposed to be. Breathing. Moving. Here. Now. Opening up to my present, and whatever it has to offer.

(Photo credit: lululemon athletica)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Yogini in the Making

Three months ago, when I broke up with my boyfriend of six-and-a-half years, I braced myself for the anger and grief that I knew would follow. It washes over me, the way powerful emotion so often does, in waves that swell, crash and then recede. But under all of that painful emotion, there has been a glimmer of hope that I haven’t felt in a while.

I’d spent the last three years of our relationship denying my own desires for more attention and commitment, and putting goals on hold, imagining they’d be easier to achieve with a spouse by my side. I wished for a committed, reciprocal relationship with marriage and babies on the horizon. It wasn’t happening, though. And so finally, when the pain of waiting on The Ex became greater than the hope of some imagined future together, I decided to move on.

In my new-found freedom, not just from the relationship, but from the limits I’d put on myself while waiting on him, I decided to do something I’ve been considering for a couple of years now. I started doing some research, and without thinking too long about it, I filled out an application for a popular 200-hour yoga teacher training program that would fit into my schedule, and sent in my deposit.

The second guessing and self-doubt started almost immediately, but I held strong and the excitement for something new and life-changing quickly took over. I’ll be in training classes one weekend a month and will take at least three yoga classes a week throughout the eight months the training takes place. As the first training weekend approaches, my excitement is growing. I believe this experience is going to be powerful. My body will change, of course, as I immerse myself into regular, dedicated yoga practice. But I’m thinking beyond my body.

I’m feeling inspired in my writing after just a single class with the training instructor, and I expect that inspiration will only grow as I turn inward in my practice. I look forward to learning meditation techniques that will help me center and focus myself. My interest in the philosophy behind yoga is increasing, and I can’t wait to dig into the book list—fifteen texts, including everything from The Bhagavad Gita to an anatomy reference book to a guide to macrobiotic cooking—and start learning and exploring new ideas.

The intended end-result of this teacher training program is to earn a certificate that allows me to teach yoga to others. But I have a feeling I’m going to get more out of the next several months than I could even begin to imagine right now. For once, I’m not concerned about the unknowing. I’m happy to be taking a step forward, wherever that step may take me.

This piece was cross-posted at bookieboo.com, where I'll be journaling about my experience as I learn to teach yoga (and become a more dedicated yoga student in the process).

Monday, August 23, 2010

It's All In My Head

So much to say. So much I'm feeling. So many things happening and not happening. Change and stagnation. Sadness and joy. Fear and excitement.

In the midst of it all I'm journaling and roughing out essays and chasing the faintest shadows of Big Ideas (and small ones). There's so much in my head, swirling around like foam on the surface of the sea, and yet for some reason when I come here and look at this text editor I can't seem to gather any of it into a coherent post.

But I had to start again somewhere or I feared I'd never come back. So for now I just want to say that I'm still here. I'm doing okay. I'm getting by. I'm on a roller coaster of emotions and I'm hanging on for dear life. The ride has to end sometime, right?

Friday, July 16, 2010

*8Things: Honoring Places

Join *8ThingsThis week's *8Things from Magpie Girl is perfectly timed, yet again. After a long weekend with my family in my home town, I'm reminded of all the things I love about that little village where I grew up.

*8Things: I love about my hometown

1. Sunsets on the lake. Growing up by the shores of Lake Ontario was a real blessing. Plenty of opportunities to swim, fish, listen to the waves, watch boats and experience beautiful sunsets.

2. The smell of the air. I never thought I'd be able to tell the difference between city air and country air, but this last trip made me realize I can. Whether I smell newly laid cow manure or the distinct, fishy scent of the bay, the air in my hometown is always fresh and clear.

3. The nearness of my family. I love living in the city, but being 7 hours away from my family makes it difficult sometimes. Having a large portion of my family in the same area for a few days is always a comfort and a joy.

4. The quiet. Even when it's at its loudest, my hometown has an overriding sense of quite. At night, I can hear crickets chirping and frogs croaking, the wind in the trees, the music coming from a bar more than a mile away. Early in the morning, as I take a walk, the cows low and the birds sing. But underneath even these sounds of quiet is a silence I don't hear other places.

5. The stars. Living in the city means bright lights 24/7. I can see the sky, but not many stars, from my backyard. In my hometown, the sky lights up with a blanket of stars so plentiful it's hard to see the darkness underneath them.

6. The land. There's been a lot of development in the area where I grew up, but there's still plenty of undeveloped land. Almost everyone has a big back (and sometimes front) yard. There are fields of corn, hay and flowers. Without all the clutter of city life, it's like a vacation for my eyes.

7. The wild (and not-so-wild) life. In the city, my exposure to animals is pretty limited. I might see some dogs and cats, squirrels, birds and maybe the occasional deer or rabbit in a nearby park. But when I visit my hometown, I'm guaranteed to see all of those animals, plus muskrats, fish, cows, horses, and a large variety of birds that I don't usually see in Maryland.

8. The comfort. I've been in Baltimore for 10 years and consider it home on so many levels, but there's nothing like being back in the place where I spent my first 24 years. There's a feeling of comfort that settles in as soon as I pass that "Welcome to ..." sign that I just don't get anywhere else.

What place can you honor this week? Join in on this week's *8Things: Honoring Places by grabbing a button from Magpie Girl and writing up your own list, or leave a comment here and let me know what place you're honoring and why or how.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Recipe: Chipotle Hummus

Hummus is one of my favorite things to make when I need to bring something to a party or when I know I'll need some quick lunches or dinners. It's easy, flexible and so good. A high school friend mentioned she was eating chipotle hummus and it made me thing I should try whipping up a batch. This is the recipe that resulted, just in time for those Fourth of July barbecues. Whip a batch up and impress all your friends.

Chipotle Hummus


1 15-oz can chickpeas; drained, liquid reserved
1 large clove garlic
1 chipotle pepper, canned in adobo sauce
juice of 1 lime
1 TBSP olive oil
1 TBSP tahini (optional)


1. In a food processor, combine chickpeas, garlic, chipotle pepper, lime juice, olive oil and tahini. Process on low.
2. Add 1 TBSP reserved chickpea liquid at a time, processing until hummus is desired consistency.

It's as simple as that. And healthy, too. Serve hummus on a veggie sandwich or as a dip for veggies and pita chips.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

*8Things: Simply Summer

Join *8ThingsThis week's *8Things from Magpie Girl is an easy one. Or at least, it should be: List *8Things you must do this summer. Normally, my summers are just like the rest of my year. Maybe there's a little more traveling, but other than that, it's same old, same old. Work, farmers' market, household chores. Nothing new or exciting to mark the summer months as different from the rest of the year. Not in the ways that summer was Summer when I was a kid.

This year, in the wake of a breakup and all that entails, I've decided to make this summer special, to do things I've been afraid to do or have been putting off or giving up for the sake of said relationship. I'm spending my time with people I enjoy being with, doing things I love, things that make me happy and fill me up. So this summer, I'll be stretching myself and making time to do these *8Things.

*8Things: Simply Summer

1. Hang out at the pool. The Ex didn't swim. Therefore, we never spent time near the water. I love the water and this summer, thanks to a friend who works at a swim club, I'll be hanging out by the pool and swimming as much as possible.

2. Go to the beach. I live just a few hours from the ocean, and it calls to me every year, but I rarely make time for the trip (see #1). This year, I've got at least one beach weekend already planned. (Thanks, Mel!)

3. Pick berries. I keep saying that I want to go to a U-pick farm and bring home buckets of berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, any kind of berries), but I always let the summer go by without making a plan. Not this summer.

4. Relax. Summer used to be a time to unwind, to vacation and enjoy a slower pace. I want to feel that again this summer, so I'm minimizing my freelance work load and encouraging myself to enjoy being free of commitments.

5. Be spontaneous. I'm normally a planner, but I like to be spontaneous every now and then. This summer I'm going to do something totally out of character and last minute. No planning allowed.

6. Eat ice cream. Often. 'Nuf said.

7. Wear tank tops as often as possible. If the last few weeks are any indication, it's going to be a hot summer and I'm going to enjoy it with bare arms and shoulders.

8. Wish on stars and dream big. Summers are filled with promise and possibility. I'm going to stay open to whatever the Universe might bring my way and whatever my heart is hoping for.

What's on your Simply Summer list? You can join in on this week's *8Things by grabbing a button from Magpie Girl and writing up your own list, or leave a comment here and let me know how you enjoy the summer months.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

July Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge

It's hard to believe that another month is almost over. But, alas, June is coming to an end and the second month of the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge is almost behind us.

How did you do on June's goal to try at least one new exercise activity each week? Did you find any new exercises that you've incorporated into your regular routine? Were there exercise activities that you know you'll never try again? What was your favorite new exercise?

When I chose June's goal, I did it because I needed some motivation to get out of my exercise rut, which amounted to 30 - 45 minutes on the elliptical and the occasional outdoor walk as many days as I could manage. I had hoped to try out some new classes at my gym, maybe get on a few new machines, and try a couple of new exercise videos. Unfortunately, the classes I was hoping to try didn't fit into my schedule, and it has been way too hot here in Baltimore to even attempt doing any exercise in my living room.

Despite those challenges, I managed to add a few new exercise activities to my routing. I tried out new programs on the elliptical and treadmill. I even got on the rowing machine and stairmill and gave them a try. I'm planning to continue this challenge into July and work on arranging my schedule to try out some of those classes I've been missing out on.

The best thing about these last two months of the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge is that I feel like I've really gotten into a fitness routine. I'm exercising regularly and actually *gasp* enjoying it!

Now that we've had a couple of months to practice getting fit, I thought we'd shift gears a bit. For July's Fit 'N' Healthy goal, we're going to work on our eating habits. It's summer, and that means it's the perfect time to start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Since I gave up meat, I don't have much of a problem eating plenty of fruits and veggies, but sometimes the variety is a little lacking. Keeping that in mind, I'm making this month's goal two-fold.

July's Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge is:

Eat at least 4 servings of vegetables each day and incorporate one new-to-you veggie each week.

I'd highly recommend you head to your local farmers' market and get creative. Try some kohlrabi (these easy kohlrabi refrigerator pickles are delish). Saute up some Swiss chard. Pick up some heirloom tomatoes and make a refreshing salad. Have fun exploring new foods and dishes. And don't be afraid to chat with fellow shoppers or the farmers who grew the veggies. They'll always have recommendations and suggestions on what to try or how to prepare it.

Are you in? If so, you can check back here to tell us what types of veggies you're trying out this month, share new recipes you come across, and/or tweet about your progress using the #fitNhealthy hash tag. You can also grab the Fit ‘N’ Healthy button to put on your blog. (As always, thanks to Mel, of Mel's Box of Chocolates, for the awesome challenge button!)

Let's have a Fit & Healthy July!

If you're just joining in on the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge, the goal is to make and work toward one fitness, health or wellness goal each month. At the beginning of the month, I’ll offer up a goal that we can all work toward and throughout the month I’ll check in to make sure we’re all on track. If the monthly goal speaks to you, feel free to jump in and join us. Just leave a comment letting me know you’re trying to get fit and healthy, too. If the goal isn’t for you, don’t worry. You can still join in. Set your own goal for the month, post it in the comments and we’ll cheer you on as you work toward your goal, too.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Recipe: Southwest Black Bean Burgers

A lot of my favorite recipes are the result of looking for cheaper and easier ways to fit protein into my meatless diet. I love the convenience of frozen bean or soy burgers, but they're not exactly budget friendly. When Alana at A Veggie Venture posted a recipe for black bean burgers, I immediately gave them a try. They were delicious, so I filed away the recipe for future use -- and promptly forgot about it.

Fast forward a year and I've got black beans in my freezer from the farmers' market last season that need to be cooked and used to make room for fresher veggies. While I'm slow cooking them, I start to smell grilling food and craving burgers, but not the beef or turkey kind. I start craving those black bean burgers. I pulled up the recipe and got to work whipping up a slightly altered version based on what I had on hand.

Southwest Black Bean Burgers
Adapted from A Veggie Venture
(Makes 4 regular burgers or 6 sliders)


1 1/2 TBSP olive oil, divided
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 a 4 oz. can chopped green chilies
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cup cooked black beans (or 1 - 15 oz. can, drained and rinsed)

1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp kosher salt


1. Heat 1/2 TBSP olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the onion, green chilies and garlic and saute until the onions begin to brown, stirring frequently.
2. Transfer to a food processor and add the cilantro. Pulse a few times until roughly chopped.
3. Add the beans to the food processor and pulse several times, just until the beans are broken up into small chunks but not too pasty.
4. Put the bean, onion, chilies and garlic mixture into a large bowl. Add the egg, bread crumbs, cumin, chili powder and salt. Stir with a fork until well blended.
5. Form into four large patties (or 6 smaller ones). (If you are planning to eat them later, refrigerate at this point. You can also freeze them after they've chilled for about an hour. Just put them in a freezer bag. Thaw completely before cooking.)
6. Heat the remaining 1 TBSP olive oil in a large skillet.
7. Carefully add the burgers to the oil and cook 2 to 3 minutes on each side until browned and warmed through.

I wouldn't grill them unless, as Alana recommends, you use a grill basket. They're not solid enough to stand up to the grill grates. But they are hearty and flavorful enough to please just about any meat eater. I like mine topped with pepper jack cheese, sliced avocado and tomato, and a little bit of mayo. I'd suggest you make a double (or triple) batch and freeze some for later. You'll be thankful you did. These things are addictive!

Monday, June 21, 2010

On Becoming Authentic

Every week I get Christina Katz's Prosperous Writer newsletter in my email inbox and I can't wait to read it. I especially love her 52 Qualities of a Prosperous Writer series, and a few weeks ago she wrote about the twenty-first quality: Authenticity. I meant to write about Authenticity that week, but as it often does, life got in the way and I'm only now getting around to it.

Since I'm in the midst of some serious self-evaluation and being my authentic self is something I sometimes struggle with, I found myself reading her piece on authenticity and not just applying it to my writing, but to my life. In the article, she says:

Your authenticity is the truth about the best of what you do. So no need to ever fake it. Just be yourself. And then be a little more yourself. And then share a little bit of that with everyone else.
I want to live an authentic life, true to who I am, not who I wish I were. I want to stop trying so hard to be something or someone I'm not and to focus on the things and the person I am. You would think this would be an easy task. I am me, after all. And yet, sometimes I see what someone wants or what a situation entails, and I discretely put on whatever suit the occasion requires. I'm learning to do this less often, but it's still a challenge.

I think for me (and maybe for you, too), authenticity requires practice and some gentle reminders of who I am at my core. But, like getting back on a bicycle after a long time, I am beginning to recognize the required motions and the balance is quickly coming back to me. Without really thinking about it, I am suddenly riding along with the wind in my hair as though I'd never forgotten how to be me. With every opportunity I seize to allow my authentic self to shine through, I become a little more like my true self.

Turns out she's pretty cool, if I do say so myself.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Product Review: Elations Makes My Knees Happy, But Not My Budget

I come from a family of weak-kneed women, and I don't mean that in the swooning sense. My mother has always had trouble with her knees, and my little sister has knee issues, as well. While a lot of that trouble may stem from begin overweight in my mother's case, and doing a lot of running and high-impact exercise as a middle-schooler and teenager in my sister's case, it's clear that the problem is at least partly hereditary.

When I gave running a try a couple of years ago, I quickly found my knees weren't going to be up to the steady pounding unless I was willing to pop ibuprofen and put up with the constant clicking and crackling. And even after I stopped running, my knees never forgave me. Walking up stairs, and sometimes even plain walking, can cause my knees to pop and crackle.

About a year ago, my sister suggested I try taking a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement. She swore it made a huge difference for her, so I gave it a try. Low-and-behold, the crackling and popping subsided, although it didn't go away completely. When I came across the opportunity at FitBloggin'10 to try Elations, a liquid supplement that claimed to help maintain healthy joints and promote healthy joint function, I wasn't interested at first. I was already taking a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement, after all. What was the point in trying something new? But eventually I gave in and traded my current supplement for Elations, which includes not only glucosamine and chondroitin, but also boron and calcium.

I'm glad I did. Surprisingly, within a few days of taking the daily liquid supplement my knees seemed to get even better than they had been using the regular glucosamine-chondroitin supplement. The bottled supplement, which I tried in Cranberry-Apple, Black Cherry and Raspberry White Grape flavors, wasn't my favorite. The flavors were a bit strong for my liking. I loved the powdered packets that I was able to add to my water, though--probably because I could temper the strength of the flavors with extra water. I really liked the Raspberry White Grape flavor this way.

Unfortunately, once I ran out of the three week supply of Elations, I wasn't able to afford it. While I consider glucosamine supplements to be pretty pricey (I usually pay about $30 for a 90 day supply), Elations is even more so ($6.97 for a 6-pack of liquid or box of 7 powder sticks, or about $30 to $35 for a 30 day supply). If the cost doesn't bother you and you're interested in giving Elations a try, you can find it in the vitamin and supplement aisles of most stores. You can also get a $1-off coupon from their website.

If I decide to start running again, I might have to reconsider Elations and readjust my budget to include it. For now, though, I'm back to taking my regular glocosamine-chondroitin supplement, and my knees are relatively happy.

*Disclaimer: I received samples of Elations in exchange for my honest review. I was not compensated in any other way. The opinions and thoughts expressed are my own.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

POM Wonderful -- It's Not Just for Drinking

I received a case of POM Wonderful 100% pomegranate juice after FitBloggin'10, and while I'm not much of a fruit juice drinker, I was happy to give this a try. After all, pomegranate is supposed to be one of those antioxidant-filled super foods. And those POM-tinis we were served at the FitBloggin' reception were quite tasty. If nothing else, I'd have plenty of juice for cocktail making.

I did enjoy a few POM mocktails (1 part POM, 1 part seltzer water), but by far my favorite thing to do with my POM has been to cook it. Yep. That's right. I've been using POM in my recipes. I've made a delicious, citrus-y salad with a pomegranate vinaigrette dressing, and a pomegranate glaze that would be great on just about any protein. I used it on shrimp, but I'm planning to try it on salmon, as well as on tofu.

Citrus-y Salad with Pomegranate Dressing
Makes 2 servings.


1/4 cup POM
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
2 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

6 cups arugula
1/2 avocado, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 clementines, peeled and segmented
1/4 cup walnut pieces
1 TBSP grated fresh Parmesan cheese


1. Divide arugula, avocado, clementine segments and walnut pieces between two serving dishes.
2. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients until well combined.
3. Drizzle salads with about 2 TBSP each of the dressing. (There will be plenty of dressing left over for future salads.)
4. Top each salad with about 1/2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese.

I ate this as an entree salad one night, but I used the dressing on salads throughout the week. The sweet tangy-ness of the dressing is a great compliment to the peppery arugula, but it was also good over a baby greens mix and romaine lettuce.

Pomegranate Glazed Shrimp
Makes 4 servings.


3/4 cup POM
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp corn startch
12 oz cooked, shelled shrimp


1. In a medium saucepan, whisk together first four ingredients over low-medium heat.
2. Bring to a simmer and cook uncovered, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes or until thickened.
3. Toss shrimp with glaze and serve.

I served the shrimp over cooked brown rice with the citrus-y salad on the side. It was the perfect combination.

Friday, June 04, 2010

*8Things: Fill-'er-Up

Join *8Things
I've been reading Magpie Girl for a while now, and I particularly love her *8Things posts each Thursday, in which she lists--you guessed it--8 things related to a topic that's on her mind. Sometimes they're moving, sometimes they're random and sometimes they're just plain fun. I've been meaning to jump in and do my own *8Things posts here, but either haven't felt particularly passionate about the topics or just haven't made the time to pull together a list of my own.

When I read this week's topic--Fill 'er Up--I knew this was the week. I'm currently going through some major life change (which I'm not quite ready to talk about here) and feeling a little empty. What better time to focus on what fills me up when I feel drained?

*8Things That Fill Me Up

1. Sunshine and time outdoors. I just put together a little bistro set for my back patio and my new favorite thing to do on the weekends is get outside in the early morning sun and enjoy my little flower garden, the birds, the breeze. Even a short mid-day walk (when it's not too hot) can fill me with energy and liveliness on the most draining of days.

2. Yoga. It gives me permission to center myself and focus on what's going on inside my body. I feel stronger, more focused and better able to take on whatever comes my way after a session on the mat.

3. Time with friends. There's something healing about sitting around with a friend (or several of them) and chatting about nothing in particular and everything under the sun. And there's always a lot of laughter, which is healing in itself.

4. A good book. Since I was a kid, I've always retreated to books when times get tough. Escaping into the world of a good novel or memoir gives me a break from my own worries and stress and helps me to see the world through someone else's eyes for a change. Even if that someone is fictional.

5. Exercise. I never thought I'd be one to look forward to exercise, but my body craves it. A good workout, whether at the gym or the park, can turn my frown upside down. And a nice walk with a friend makes it that much more enjoyable.

6. A phone call. Living hundreds of miles away from friends and family isn't easy, and sometimes I just need to hear the voice of a far-away friend or family member. Taking the time to make that call and have a real conversation can make all the difference in my outlook.

7. Cooking. A lot of people shy away from the kitchen, but I've come to love the meditative quality of rinsing, chopping, seasoning, sauteing, stirring, and yes, eating, a meal made from fresh ingredients. Whether tweeking favorite recipes or trying out new ones, I can't wait to get into the kitchen and play with my food.

8. Creating. Whether it's writing a new story, taking photographs, putting together a meal from whatever is on hand or making homemade cards, I love any opportunity to make something come to life.

What's on your Fill 'er Up list? You can join in on this week's *8Things by grabbing a button from Magpie Girl and writing up your own list, or leave a comment here and let me know how you fill yourself up when you're feeling drained.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Review: The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

Long before I stopped eating meat (a year ago this past weekend), I started thinking a lot about how what I eat affects me and the world around me. It started with a desire to eat more locally grown and sourced foods, but it evolved into something bigger. As I read books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I started to realize that I could choose the impact my meals have on the environment, as well as on my body.

The next logical step for me was, to the best of my ability, to eat meat that was sustainably, organically, and locally raised. And as the cost of this decision weighed on my budget, I decided that eating less and less meat might be a good idea. Eventually, meat dropped off my menu radar, and I've been OK with that for a year now. Especially after watching Food, Inc.

The Kind Diet: A Simple Guide to Feeling Great, Losing Weight, and Saving the PlanetWhen I heard about Alicia Silverstone's book, The Kind Diet, I figured it was right up my alley. In it, she shares the information and arguments that eventually convinced her to shift from a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet and then to what she calls The Superhero diet, her personalized version of a macrobiotic diet.

Part I of The Kind Diet is the rhyme and reason of eating a diet that is kind both to your body and to the earth. As I started reading Part I, I felt like Silverstone was preaching to the choir. I knew much of what she was telling me: that eating meat and animal products affects not only animals, but ultimately the environment, soil quality, fossil fuel consumption and more. But as I read more, I learned (or was reminded of) more. Silverstone isn't preachy. Her opinion on the subject is very clear, but she gives you the facts and plenty of information so that you can make your own educated decision. Throughout this first section, I found myself nodding along with her friendly encouragement, and even (*gasp*) considering trying a vegan diet for a month. (No Greek yogurt? No cheese? Yikes!)

Part II describes how you can begin "Living The Kind Life". Unlike other "diet" books, Silverstone doesn't encourage readers to jump into an extreme diet from the get-go. Instead, she describes how readers can "Flirt" with eating a kinder diet, begin going vegan, and then become a "superhero". She suggests you choose the plan that fits where you are now and give it a try. Then, as you get used to eating in a new way, you can increase your commitment, until eventually you're a Superhero. She makes giving up meat, fish, dairy products and processed foods seem simple, gradual, almost painless. Of course, she also encourages adding foods that are pleasing to your palate so that you don't miss those foods nearly as much. And she gives suggestions on ways that you can begin to make the shift toward kind eating if you're not ready to go all the way, and still see some of the positive effects.

Part III is a rather impressive collection of Vegan and Superhero recipes. I have to admit that I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, but I am looking forward to it. Who could resist the allure of vegan Peanut Butter Pie and Mixed Berry "Cheese"cake? And then there's the Risotto with Oyster Mushrooms, Leeks and Peas, and Rice Pilaf with Caramelized Onions. I'll be sure to share them with you once I get around to making them.

In the meantime, I'd recommend you check out The Kind Diet if you're interested in eating a more sustainable, healthier and, well, kinder diet.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

June Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge

The first month of the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge is now behind us. How did you do on May's goal to get 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 or more days a week? Were you successful, or could you have done better? Did you actively pursue the goal, even if you didn't always reach it? Sometimes, not giving up on a goal is more important than reaching the goal itself.

I managed to eek out a successful month, despite some pretty lazy weekends and a lot of rain keeping me from my midday walks. The gym was definitely my friend in May. And knowing that I'd started this challenge and people would be checking in on my progress kept me pushing toward 5 active days a week. Thanks to my fellow challengers for that motivation!

If you're just joining in on the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge, the goal is to make and work toward one fitness, health or wellness goal each month. At the beginning of the month, I’ll offer up a goal that we can all work toward and throughout the month I’ll check in to make sure we’re all on track. If the monthly goal speaks to you, feel free to jump in and join us. Just leave a comment letting me know you’re trying to get fit and healthy, too. If the goal isn’t for you, don’t worry. You can still join in. Set your own goal for the month, post it in the comments and we’ll cheer you on as you work toward your goal, too.

This month's goal is targeting my personal tendency to stick with what I know. Inevitably, this leads to exercise boredom or an activity rut. Then I'm more likely to skip the exercise altogether instead of changing it up. So to jump start my fitness routine and get me out of my comfort zone, I'm encouraging a little exercise adventure.

June’s Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge is:

Try at least one NEW exercise activity each week.

We're building on May's challenge, so keep exercising at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. But this month, try adding in some new exercise activities. It's summer, so there are plenty of options out there. Get a group together, head to the park and play Frisbee, touch football or soccer. Take the kids to the pool and swim some laps. Or try a new fitness class at the gym. (If you haven't tried Zumba and you can find a class near you, I'd highly recommend it for a fun way to burn plenty of calories).

Are you in? If so, you can check back here to tell us what types of activities you're trying out this month and/or tweet about your progress using the #fitNhealthy hash tag. You can also grab the Fit ‘N’ Healthy button to put on your blog. (Thanks again to Mel, of Mel's Box of Chocolates, for the awesome challenge button!)

Let's have a Fit & Healthy June!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Recipe: Greek Chickpea Salad with Sardines

I came across this recipe while reading Eating Well during one of my workouts and I couldn't wait to get home and try it. I'd never had sardines before, so I wasn't sure what to expect. It turns out I love them. And I'm expecting this recipe will become a summertime staple. It's quick, easy and light, perfect for a hot summer evening--and leftovers were a perfect lunch the next day.

Greek Salad with Sardines
(Adapted from Eating Well)


Juice from 2 lemons (abt. 3 TBSP)
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium clove garlic, minced or pressed
2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

4-5 roma tomatoes
1 large, seedless cucumber
1 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup red onion, finely diced
10 Kalamata olives, thinly sliced
2 4-oz cans sardines packed in water, drained


1. In a large bowl, place all the dressing ingredients and whisk together until incorporated. Set aside.

2. Chop the tomatoes and cucumber into large chunks and add to the bowl, tossing to coat with the dressing.

3. Add the chickpeas, feta, onion and olives and toss again to coat all the ingredients. Either refrigerate until ready to serve or move on to step 4.

4. Divide the salad among four serving dishes and top each dish with 1/2 a can of sardines (about 2 sardine filets). Serve immediately.

I only used one can of sardines (1/2 for dinner one night and 1/2 for lunch the next day) and I had the remaining salad without sardines as a side the next night and as lunch with some crusty bread the following day. The salad (and the dressing that goes on it) is really flexible. Have fun with it!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Yoga Tune Up

As a writer I sit at a desk in front of a computer all day long. Even though I do my best to sit up straight and stretch now and then, by the end of the day my shoulders are tight and my back is stiff. I feel tension in my upper back and neck almost constantly. When I attended FitBloggin'10, I received an offer to try out this innovative self-massage kit and I couldn't pass it up, considering that I'm always looking for ways to get a free massage.

Enter Yoga Tune Up. From their website:

Yoga Tune Up® is a head-to-toe health and fitness system combining Yoga, Calisthenics, Corrective Exercise and Body Therapy in a way that heals damaged muscle tissue, increases overall strength, and bolsters the immune system.
They offer several kits to target different areas of your body, as well as full kit that includes the therapy balls and instructional CDs for all 5 target areas. I received the Neck & Upper Back kit, which included a set of two therapy balls in a mesh carrying bag and an instructional CD. After a long day at work, I quickly pulled out the balls and gave them a try using only the instructional booklet that came with the CD. The booklet contained illustrations of the positions and instructions on how to move to obtain the massage affect. Trying to do the moves without the audio instructions turned out to be a huge fail on my part, though. My placement of the therapy balls wasn't accurate and the movements hurt so badly I gave up half-way through the sequence.

I didn't want to review the Yoga Tune Up system without giving it a fair shot, though. So after a couple of weeks, I pulled it out again and tried it a few more times, this time using the audio CD for guidance. The sequence was much easier with the added audio instructions helping me to find the correct placement for the balls. When I was finished, I can honestly say that there was much less tension in my upper back and neck and I felt much more relaxed. Now that I know how to use the Yoga Tune Up balls and have seen the positive effects, I'll definitely be using the system more often. It seems to be the perfect solution for people who spend their days at a desk hunched over a computer keyboard -- people like me.

Disclaimer: I received a free Yoga Tune Up Neck & Upper Back kit. I am not, however, receiving any compensation for writing this post. The opinions shared here are solely my own, based on my personal experience with this product.

Friday, May 21, 2010

On Losing Weight Without Even Trying

I recently spent five days in Dallas for a conference. While I learned so much about the Technical Communication field and what other tech communicators are doing, I spent a good deal of my time in Dallas, socializing, eating, drinking and enjoying myself.

And yet I didn't gain a pound.

That's right. I chose whatever I wanted off the menu, ate until I was completely satisfied, enjoyed a few alcoholic beverages and only got to the fitness center two mornings of the five I was there, but I didn't gain any weight. In fact, I lost three pounds.

At first, I was totally shocked by this turn of events. After all, I hadn't been obsessing about workouts or counting every calorie (or any calories, for that matter). I wasn't eating fruit and salads all day long. I didn't refuse a glass of wine with dinner or a beer at the social gatherings.

As I thought about it more, though, I had a light-bulb moment. If I could lose weight in Dallas, surrounded by food and drink and so busy I didn't have time to get to the gym, then surely I could do it at home. But what was it about those five days that made possible? After some careful evaluation, here's what I came up with:

  1. I was walking everywhere. I wore my Gruve the entire time, and it turns out that I was burning so many calories my Green Goal increased twice by the time I got home from 10 days of traveling.
  2. I made healthy choices at most meals, but didn't deprive myself of treats. I may have had a few fries, a bagel for breakfast, or cream sauce on my cheesy enchiladas, but I balanced it out with salads, fruit, sushi and other tasty, but healthier, meals and snacks.
  3. I wasn't snacking all day and when I did eat, I was paying attention. While I carried a couple of healthy snacks with me at all times, I was too busy to think about eating them between meals. When we finally sat down to a meal, I was enjoying the dishes (and the company) so much that I ate them much more mindfully than I might at home on my couch.
  4. I was happy and less stressed. I was meeting new people, having stimulating conversations, learning new things and all-around enjoying myself. High happiness and low stress makes Ami less of an emotional eater.
In almost perfect contrast, I spent the four days following my Dallas trip in NY with my family for Grampy's burial. Enter long car trips and gas station snacks; comfort food available almost 24/7; plenty of pizza, chips and donuts; emotional turbulence; a bit of family drama; and less exercise due to a busy schedule and cold weather. Those three pounds I lost in Dallas quickly returned.

This made it even clearer to me that I can stay fit and healthy if I:
  • fit activity in wherever I can
  • eat well and allow myself occasional treats
  • eat snacks only when I really need them
  • am mindful during meals and enjoy what I'm eating
  • can manage stress with exercise and enjoyable activities
  • surround myself with people, things and activities that make me happy
Being healthy, and even losing weight, is about so much more than just counting calories and sweating it out on the treadmill. I've always heard this, maybe even knew it to some extent, but I've finally got my own proof that it's true. I feel like I've turned a corner in this journey and I don't ever want to look back.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pure2Raw Treats

When I attended FitBloggin'10 back in March, I met the two lovely ladies who run Twin Cakes Bakery, "Raleigh's first completely gluten-free, wheat-free, vegan, peanut-free, corn-free, soy-free, and casein-free bakery", and Pure2Raw, their raw, uncooked bakery. Now I admit, I was totally hesitant to try any of their products. My experience with "free" and raw products hasn't been stellar in the past. But when the twins, Michelle and Lori, provided samples of their baked treats and raw snacks for one of our snack breaks, I was pleasantly surprised. So surprised, in fact, that I emailed them and told them I'd love to review their products on my blog.

As a wanna-be foodie who is always looking for healthy snacks, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to spread the word about my new discovery. Within days of emailing the twins, I received a carefully packed box of treats cushioned with recycled packing materials, because these girls aren't just concerned about the health of their bodies, they care about the health of the environment, too. I couldn't wait to get to work trying these snacks out.

First up were the Pure2Raw flat breads. I had three variations to try: Purple Kale Onion, Swiss Chard Black Sesame, and Onion-free Spinach. My favorite flavor was the Swiss Chard Black Sesame. The sesame flavor was a great addition to the chard but wasn't overpowering. The Onion-free Spinach variation was an easy second favorite, with just a tiny hint of tang (vinegar, maybe?) and a perfectly balanced spinach flavor. The Purple Kale Onion flat bread was a bit too onion-y for me, and I love onion. The flavor was a little sweet with a bite, but the onion just took over. Overall, the flat breads were great. They were dry enough to give a little crunch, but not so dry as to be flavorless. They'd be great for mini open-faced sandwiches or topped with hummus.

Next up were the Pure2Raw crackers. There were four varieties of cracker to try: Cheez, Rosemary, Collard Green Onion, and Pumpkin Seed Kale. Overall, the crackers were crunchier than the flat breads, as would be expected. Their flavors were fantastic and I liked them all. My favorite was the Rosemary cracker, with a flavor that was the perfect combination of savory and sweet. The Collard Green Onion was another favorite, with just enough onion that it didn't overpower the cracker. The Cheez and Pumpkin Seed Kale crackers didn't disappoint either. Their flavors were interesting without being too potent or strange. And I'm still trying to figure out how the Pure2Raw ladies managed to create the "cheese" flavor without actually adding cheese.

Finally, I got to dessert: a Gluten-free Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie, a Raw Brownie Bite, and a Mint Chocolate Bite. I'd take any of these desserts any day of the week. The Chocolate Chip Cookie was surprisingly good. It wasn't soft, but it wasn't hard either -- the perfect chewy texture and chocolaty sweetness. The Raw Brownie Bite had a great dark chocolate flavor with a hint of coconut. The texture was chewy and the flavor was lightly sweet, the perfect fix for any chocolate craving. I saved the Mint Chocolate Bite for last because it's what grabbed my attention at FitBloggin' and prompted me to write this review in the first place. I love mint and it's addition to the Brownie Bites only makes them more perfect.

After having the opportunity to try some of Michelle and Lori's wonderful products, I'll most definitely be ordering from them in the future. If you're in the Raleigh area, stop by and say hello at the Carrboro and Durham farmers markets on Saturdays. And if you're not lucky enough to live nearby, you can always check out their products online and order from there.

Thanks to the twins for letting me check out their products and share them with my readers. I wish them the best of luck in their business. We could use more innovative bakers like them!

Disclaimer: I received free samples of the products mentioned in this post from Twin Cakes Bakery. I am not, however, receiving any compensation for writing this post and all opinions expressed here are solely my own.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fit 'N' Healthy Checkup

Somehow, two weeks have gone by since the start of the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge. That's what happens with life. It's unpredictable and, occasionally, overwhelming.

Thankfully, though I haven't been blogging about it, I have been pursuing my Fit 'N' Healthy goal for May:

Get 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 or more days a week.

While I was at the STC Tech Comm Summit in Dallas the first week of May, I was an exercise machine. I walked everywhere I went, and I even made good use of the Hyatt fitness center a few mornings. In fact, I did so much walking and exercising that my Gruve Green Goal skyrocketed more than a hundred calories from the previous week, and I managed to get at least 30 minutes of exercise 7 of 7 days.

Once I got back to my normal routine, though, getting to that Green Goal has been a bit more difficult. I've still been exercising at least 30 minutes most days, but without all those extra opportunities during my day and with the demands of my extremely sedentary job, it's been a struggle.

I'm looking for more ways to add activity into my day, though. If I could do it while attending a conference where I sat in educational sessions all day, then it's clearly possible. I just need to figure out how to translate all that activity into my real life.

So how are you doing with your Fit 'N' Healthy goal for May? I hope you're reaching your goal, but if not, I hope you're still trying. Every bit of activity makes a difference. If I haven't learned anything else wearing this Gruve around, I've learned that. Whatever you do, don't give up. Just keep moving!

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge

April is over and I hope everyone who joined me in my Active April Challenge met their goals, or at least made some progress toward them. Thanks to that check in last week, I did!

Now that May is here, I wanted to take on a new challenge, so I’ve decided to take the idea behind Active April and morph it into a monthly challenge that I could adjust based on changes I want to make in my life -- changes that will improve my health, fitness and overall wellness. I'm calling it the Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge.

The goal of Fit 'N' Healthy is to make and work toward one fitness, health or wellness goal each month. At the beginning of the month, I’ll offer up a goal that we can all work toward and throughout the month I’ll check in to make sure we’re all on track. If the monthly goal speaks to you, feel free to jump in and join us. Just leave a comment letting me know you’re trying to get fit and healthy, too. If the goal isn’t for you, don’t worry. You can still join in. Set your own goal for the month, post it in the comments and we’ll cheer you on as you work toward your goal, too.

Alright! Let’s get started. May’s Fit 'N' Healthy Challenge is:

Get 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 or more days a week.

That’s it. You choose the activity, so long as it gets your heart pumping. The 30 minutes doesn’t have to be consecutive, but let’s aim for at least 10 minutes at a time.

Are you in? If so, you can check back here to report your progress and/or tweet about your progress using the #fitNhealthy hash tag. You can also grab the Fit ‘N’ Healthy button below to put on your blog.

Let's get Fit & Healthy!

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

On Judgment and Defensiveness

When I decided to give up meat, it was a temporary plan. I never would have imagined at the time that almost a year later I'd still be living a meatless life. It didn't take long, though, for me to realize that as a vegetarian my food choices would come under scrutiny. I would be answering questions like "Why don't you eat meat?" and "Isn't it hard to get enough protein?" over and over again. I took these questions and other comments about my vegetarianism with a grain of salt. People are naturally curious, I thought. Yet I found myself getting tired of answering the same questions and defending my choices all the time. Why, I wondered, did I always felt like my choices needed to be defended?

At least in part, I suppose it's a societal issue. Eating meat (or drinking caffeine, or being thin, for that matter) is the baseline, the status quo. Any choice outside that acceptable social norm makes others uncomfortable and therefore defensive of their own choice. (This probably has some roots as a survival instinct, though I haven't checked out the research.) And it doesn't help that corporations behind these products are always trying to convince us that we want, even NEED, to eat their meat, drink their beverage (Got Milk anyone?) or use their product. We accept that the norm is what it is and we rarely ask why or if it's the best option.

I recently ate lunch at a table with several others and the topic of vegetarianism came up. A fellow writer told us a story about a teacher she once had who, upon being asked why he was a vegetarian, turned the question around on the student and wondered why vegetarians always had to answer that question but no one ever asked omnivores why they chose to eat meat. I mentioned how I often feel that my choice to not eat meat seems to make some people uncomfortable. It seems like my choice puts them on the defensive. As humans (and maybe particularly as Americans) we don't like to be told that our choice is "wrong", and if I'm not eating meat for any logical reason, then it seems I'm essentially telling them I'm right and they're wrong. The problem is, I don't feel that way at all. My choice is my choice. I'll respect yours if you respect mine.

I understand their reaction, though. In fact, I find myself doing the same thing in different situations. It's like when someone says, "I'm trying to give up caffeine," and I automatically answer with, "I've thought about it, but I don't really drink that much caffeine anyway." It's as though I feel the need to defend my choice to drink caffeine despite the fact that the person I was speaking with didn't say anything to overtly imply that she was making a judgment on me. In fact, it's more likely that she was just making conversation. So why do I feel that the mere act of her giving up caffeine is a judgment on my choice to keep drinking it? And why do others feel that my meatless life is a judgment on their omnivore-ism? Is it because we feel, deep down inside, that our choice might not be the best choice after all?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Some Thoughts from the Maryland Writers' Association Conference

On Saturday, I spent the day mingling and networking with writers at the Maryland Writers' Association Conference. It was a great day filled with wisdom, laughs and interesting conversation. As always, I left the conference motivated and re-energized.

Since I've told you all how I feel about writers' conferences and how beneficial I think they are, this time I thought I'd share a few of my favorite quotes and some of my take-away thoughts.

Direct Marketing May Not be for Me

The first session I attended was on Direct Marketing. Speaker Frank Joseph has been working as a direct market writer for decades and I figured if anyone could convince me that a cynic like me could write direct marketing content, it would be him. I'm not sure I came out of there convinced, but Frank had some great tips that I could apply to writing in general. My favorite quote from his talk was: "You can make money as a writer." He may have been talking about direct marketing specifically, but I'm applying his statement beyond that. I may try direct marketing at some point in my writing career, but just being reminded that I CAN make money writing was enough to put a smile on my face for the rest of the day.

Ethics of Memoir - It's About Relationships

Next, I went to Ethics of Memoir. Author Marion Winik discussed her experience of memoir writing and how it has changed as she has grown and learned from the consequences of what she has written. My favorite quote from her talk was: "The act of writing about another person takes place first in a relationship. It can't help but affect that connection." Since I write mostly memoir, I found this talk extremely helpful in reminding me that I'm not writing in a vacuum. When I write about my life as it intersects with the lives of people who are important to me, what I write will inevitably influence those relationships in some way. It's best to bring those people into the folds before publication. Otherwise, even if what I write doesn't seem negative to me, the consequences may not be pretty.

Notes from the Keynote

The keynote speech was given by Roxana Robinson, who said: "If someone else can't hear your voice, it doesn't mean you should stop. It means you should make it clearer." She also railed against the term "women's fiction", "because there's no equivalent for men." I wish I had written down her entire argument because it rang so true to me in so many ways. The basic gist was that it was demeaning, that just because a novel might be about family and written by a woman, doesn't make it inherently women's fiction. Would you call Hamlet women's fiction? Or Anna Karenina? I'm still mulling over what she said and wondering how the term women's fiction may be negatively affecting female writers and readers alike.

Taking Your Networking Viral

After lunch I attended Mindie Burgoyne's talk on Viral Networking. While much of what she talked about (networking on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., effectively) was stuff I already knew, I did glean a real gem: "Make sure you're giving fans/followers content they want, NOT what you want them to have." This is something I struggle with sometimes, particularly because my time for social networking is limited. I'm working on it, though.

Setting the Scene

The last session I attended was on setting. Lalita Noronha discussed how she uses setting to put the reader in the center of her stories, which are often set in exotic locales like her native country of India. Noronha reminded us that: "The 'where' and the 'when' can be as important if not more important than the 'who'. We make judgments on the who based on where and when." I've always loved the way Noronha describes setting with just enough detail to bring me into the story, but not so much as to distract from the story itself. I'll be spending some time rereading her stories and studying her technique over the next few weeks. I may not write much fiction, but my nonfiction writing could certainly benefit from some effective scene setting.

Those are just a few of the lessons I took home from this year's MWA conference. Feel free to share your thoughts on any of the topics I mentioned, or share some of the writing lessons you're learning these days.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Click Shakes - My New Treat of Choice (And a Giveaway)

First, the review...

I'm coming up on my first Vegiversary, and even after almost a year of eating a vegetarian diet, I still struggle some days to get enough protein. So when I received a packet of CLICK Espresso Protein Drink in my Fitbloggin'10 swag, I was psyched to give it a try. I mean, protein AND caffeine in a shake! What's not to like, right?

Unfortunately, my initial experience with the Vanilla Latte flavored CLICK Protein Drink was less than stellar. I didn't have a shaker and didn't think to use a blender, so I tried mixing it in a cup with a spoon. NOT. GOOD. It was grainy, clumpy and just plain gross. I was going to write up a negative review and let it go at that, but thankfully I didn't. On the drink-mix packet was an offer to receive a CLICK Pack (a shaker and a canister of the CLICK Espresso Protein Drink), so I decided to take them up on it and give CLICK another try.

When my CLICK pack arrived, I didn't hesitate to make my first shake, but I made sure to use the shaker to mix it. I found the flavor to be much better and the consistency to be much smoother. I didn't stop there, though. The canister gave me plenty of opportunities to try different preparations and I went all out in sampling CLICK this time. First, I made it just using cold water. Then I tried it as a frozen shake, adding ice and blending it. I tried it a third time using an immersion blender to mix in half a banana. I haven't tried it warm yet, but I imagine it wouldn't be bad that way either. My favorite preparation so far has been the frozen shake, but it's much easier to just shake it up, add some ice and hit the road with a protein filled breakfast.

Overall, I found CLICK refreshing and tasty, with great espresso flavor, and would recommend you give it a try. With only 120 calories, 15g of protein, and less than 2g of fat per serving, it's a simple, low calorie, low fat addition to your diet. Especially if you need an extra protein kick. CLICK is also low in sodium and added sugar, so you won't be getting a bunch of crap in your diet along with the good stuff. CLICK does have additives like maltodextrin and quar gum, so I wouldn't recommend a daily CLICK-fix, but I think it's fine as an occasional way to get your protein (or caffeine). If you're sensitive to caffeine, I'd also avoid drinking CLICK as an evening snack or dessert. I tried this without thinking one night, and the double shot of espresso kept me up much of the night on a caffeine high.

And now for the giveaway...

If you'd like to give CLICK a try, here's your chance. You have two ways to win some CLICK! (NOTE: This contest is open to US residents only, as the company is sending the products directly to the winners.)

Option #1:

The first 25 people to email me at writingherlife at gmail dot com with "I want to CLICK it!" in the subject line and your mailing address in the body will receive a free packet of CLICK Espresso Protein Drink.

Option #2:

One (1) lucky winner will receive a full CLICK pack, including a shaker and a canister of CLICK Espresso Protein Drink.

To enter for Option 2:
  • Leave a comment on this post telling me why you want to try CLICK. (If your profile doesn't include an email address so that I can contact you, please leave it in the comment.)
  • For an additional entry, tweet "I want to win a CLICK pack from @drinkclick and @smtwngrl! http://tinyurl.com/27aud6s" and leave an additional comment letting me know you tweeted it.
That's it. Easy-peasy!

The Technical Stuff

Contest ends Wednesday, April 28th at 11:59PM and I'll randomly select a winner (using Random.org) from the eligible comments on Thursday, April 29th. I'll email the winner and he/she will have 24 hours to contact me with a mailing address. If the winner doesn't respond a new winner will be drawn.

Disclaimer: I received a free sample of CLICK at FitBloggin' and was provided with a free CLICK pack for review. I am not, however, receiving any compensation for writing this post. The prize offered in this post is provided by CLICK.

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