January 10: Sending a care package

One of my fondest memories from undergrad was receiving care packages from my mother. I didn’t receive many — maybe one per academic year — but the gratitude has lasted the many years since I opened my final one during senior year. I received a couple of them while in graduate school at the University of Arizona, too. Each care package contained a short note from my mom, a nick nack (like a minature Eeyore stuffed animal), and chocolate. Lots of chocolate. During my days at Howard University, the packages usually arrived after Halloween. In Tucson, the shipments coincided with Girl Scout cookie time.

While I was so excited about the chocolate, the notes and a thinking-of-you gift were what I really appreciated. Though I chose to pursue my education far from home, knowing that someone was thinking about you enough to take the time to buy shipping materials and whatever was to go into the box, to wait in line at the post office, and to pay almost as much or more in shipping than the cost of the contents, that’s something. I would be remiss to not mention that two friends, Maria and Meredith, both from Howard,  sent me care packages during my first year in graduate school. It’s one thing for a mother to send her daughter packages, and it’s entirely something else for a friend to send one. So, thank you, ladies. After all these years, I have not forgotten your thoughtfulness!

During holiday season when I usually ramp up baking, it was on my heart to send a care package. For the last few years, I always bake a few loaves of pumpkin

Pumpkin bread loaves fresh from the oven!

bread during the fall. Nick tried some one year and harassed me for months to make him a pumpkin bread. I said I would but fall turned to spring quickly in Tucson; pumpkin  bread and 60 degree weather don’t really go together in my mind. We eventually made pumpkin bread, and he talked about how good that bread was for at least a month haha! So, naturally, when I planned to make pumpkin bread, I knew one person would appreciate it most: Nick.

Like I imagine my mom must have done all those years for me, I packed a box with goodies that I knew Nick would enjoy. I wrote a note, too. Monday, I went to the campus post office with the box in tow and sent the package on it’s way. Being able to give is truly something special. I am going to have to make a habit of this, if only just sending a card in the mail with a handwritten note!

P.S. Writing this post is reminding me of what wonderful friends I have! A friend from high school, Lisa, actually sent me the pumpkin bread recipe last year. She found it in Buttercup Bakes at Home. The recipe is more bread like than cake like, which I for one enjoy. It will be my go-to pumpkin bread recipe!

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January 7: Spinning class

Yesterday afternoon, a group of friends who also happen to be colleagues, went to the campus recreation center to try spinning. The Center was hosting an open house, so admission to the facilities, including group fitness classes, were free for the day. Apparently I was so excited to try spinning that I had us at the gym an hour early. While I’m sure they had better things to do that play a very comical game of around-the-world, my friends were good sports as we found something active to do as we waited for class to begin.

In preparation for our first class, I did some online research so I would know what to tell my friends to bring for class. Some tips for spinning class can be found here. I didn’t need my towel as much as I expected since the room was well ventilated. A 32 oz bottle of water was sufficient,  though you should definitely begin hydrating about 1-2 hours before class.

Mary and Justin adjusting their bikes before class

I knew I was in trouble when I could barely lift the spinning bike to roll it into a position in front of the mirror. The four of us adjusted the seat and handle bars as the instructor prepared for class. While I tried to do some basic research before class, none of us were really sure how to properly adjust the bicycles. At the beginning of class, the instructor explained that the seat height should come to your hip when standing beside it. The position of the seat, whether closer to the handle bars or further away, depend on your range of motion. The seat should be so that when you push your glutes as far back as comfortable, you can rest your hands on the lower corners of the handle bars. Also, the knees should not go over the toes when peddling. The height of the handle bars can vary, though the instructor suggested it be in line with the seat height for beginners.

Class started out as if I were riding a regular exercise bicycle. MJ’s “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” blasted, so I was dancing on my bicycle as we learned some more basic information, like don’t adjust the tension any more than is comfortable for our level of fitness. The ride in the park abruptly ended, as we mimicked riding up mountains and performed interval circuits. Some circuits were pedal quickly for a certain amount of time then recover for 30 seconds. We worked for 30 second quick tempos to 3 minutes. And this was after we did alternating standing and sitting for about 2 minutes, at which point it felt like the muscle was falling off my bones. I thought Bob kicked my booty; I hadn’t yet met the spinning bike. I worked so hard that the seat no longer felt uncomfortable because my butt and thighs were basically numb. I’m not going to lie: I wanted to quit. My years of yoga came in handy because I just focused on breathing deeply and keeping my abdominal muscles tight. I slowed down until my breathing stabilized, then I slowly ramped back up to continue challenging my body.

Bottom line: Spinning is a great cardiovascular workout. Using the larger leg muscles really increases the heart rate, which means more calories burned. I enjoyed simulating an outdoor bike ride. Standing while pedaling, though difficult, was actually a bit of a relief from sitting down. The bike I was on had a wobbly handle bar even though I tightened the knob as best I could, so it was that much harder to pedal standing. Apparently, my form was bad because one of my friends later shared that when she kept her upper body steady, the handle bars didn’t wobble. Good to know. I had fun but I won’t be making the class a regular part of my fitness plan; spinning is just not my cup of tea. Next week, the entire week of group fitness offerings are free. I’m going to try yoga pilates and kickboxing! Maybe one of those will be a better fit for me.

January 6: Loseit.com

I have found my new favorite website! Every month I read about awesome phone apps for health and fitness. Well, I’m still in the dark ages and do not own a “smartphone”. Paying $1500 annually toward a family plan isn’t a good use of my money at this point in life. Come to find out that applications are often available as traditional websites, including Lose it! I just signed up for my free account. Lose it! is basically an online food journal; you track calories in and calories out. What I like about the website — besides it’s crisp, colorful design — is that I don’t actually have to keep up with the calories of most of the food I eat. I did have to search the internet for nutrition information on homemade pot roast because apparently people only eat store bought pot roast. I can even “create” an exercise. I don’t have a heart rate monitor, though, so I have zero clue how many calories I actually burn working out. Sure I can find reasonable estimates, but they are less precise than actually using my heart rate to determine calories expended on any given task. Anyway, my point is that I do not know how accurate the measurements are for the exercises included in the database.

I am not a fan of counting calories. I do, however, think it’s good practice to know what’s going on with the food I put in my mouth. I always read labels for new products I buy. The only reason I joined the website is because I am not seeing much change in the measuring tape. I feel that inches on the tape rather than pounds on a scale are a better barometer of my weight fluctuations. I’m not a spring chicken any more, and I’m learning the hard way that I can’t eat the way I did in my 20s. That chocolate addiction I have is not doing me any favors against the battle of aging. I should say that I’m not old. I’m 31 and by all accounts healthy. However, I cannot continue to eat whatever I want, maintain the same level of fitness and expect to remain at the same weight over time.

By entering my meals and exercise for today alone, I realized that I am not eating enough food. I have about 850 calories left for the day and still must account for the calories I will burn during spinning class this afternoon. It’s basically like I didn’t two meals today. No wonder I have not been seeing any progress. Here I thought it was just eating too many cookies, which I am absolutely sure is not helping my situation. But not consuming enough calories may have my body in starvation mode. I eat when I’m hungry; that is one thing friends and family who know me will say: I do not miss a meal, especially a free one! I’m going to continue to use the site and monitor daily net calories. If I have not seen progress as measured by the tape by the end of the month, I’ll have to go to plan B, whatever that turns out to be. That’s a bridge I will cross later.

January 5: Yellow and orange tomatoes

Tonight I tried an old favorite dish with a very new twist. The September 2010 issue of Shape magazine featured “Weeknight dinners made easy”.  I opted for the easy baked pasta tonight. I love to cook. I actually began trying to learn to cook to help mend a broken heart. It was my first semester in graduate school at Georgia Tech; I was living on my own for the first time. Then, all I could do was some very basic meals, and not that many of them. Taking up cooking was just what I needed.

I enjoy making comfort food the most; as a Georgia Peach, I am partial to southern fare, though! For tonight’s dinner, however, I chose a simple pasta dish. I first became hooked on baked pasta while working on my Ph.D. in Tucson, Arizona. Because the temperature ranged from mild to ridiculous most of the year, comfort food was quite undesirable; I didn’t even want to turn on the stove most weeks. Somehow, I didn’t mind baking, but that’s a story for another day! Anywhoo, the pasta bake was a nice compromise. The prep and cooking time were minimal and it was inexpensive to make. I used chicken sausage and spaghetti sauce to make my pasta bakes in the past. The Shape magazine recipe appealed to me because it was made with fresh produce. I’m trying to reduce my intake of processed foods because they often contain unhealthy amounts of sodium.

After my doctor’s appointment this morning, I stopped at Kroger to pick up ingredients for dinner. Rather than stick with the usual red tomatoes, I was curious about yellow tomatoes and orange tomatoes. With different colors, yellow and orange tomatoes have different nutritional content than red tomatoes. One of my health goals this year is to actually eat at

A colorful display of fresh produce

least the minimum servings of vegetables a day, which for my age group is 2.5 cups according to the 2005 USDA guidelines. Like most Americans, I have issues meeting the daily recommendations. The website is not user friendly, so follow this link to better navigate the site and determine minimum recommended servings for all food groups.

It took me about 20 minutes to prep the vegetables for the pasta. Buying a bunch of spinach instead of a bag sounded like a good idea when I was in the produce aisle; not so much when I had to snip stems and rinse leaves. Fortunately, the leaves were not gritty with dirt. I skipped cutting the spinach because I was growing hungry. While the pasta cooked, I wilted the spinach with the tomatoes. The recipe failed to mention whether to reserve the liquid from the cooked produce. Noticing the liquid that remained in the bowl with the reserved tomatoes, I chose not to add the pot liquor. When I poured the mixture

The finished product. Yum!

into my olive oiled baking dish, there was about a half inch of liquid in the bottom. I wish I knew the volume of the baking dish; I estimate it’s about 4 quarts.  A 9 X 9 inch pan should be a gracious plenty, though.

While I am sure one could eat the pasta alone, I highly recommend serving it either as a side dish or with a salad. The 2.5 cup recommended serving barely covered my plate. Healthy eating, in my opinion, is as much about perception as it is what we actually eat. Of course, I could buy new, smaller plates, but I need to woman up and learn portion control using what I already own. The dish was intoxicatingly fresh tasting. Fresh herbs instead of dried herbs would have been a better choice. I tried a Tuscan seasoning blend I purchased during Christmas time from TJMAXX. The pasta bake required a heavy hand when seasoning; otherwise, it would have been quite bland. I’m not a wine drinker, something I hope to change in 2011, but I totally expected a glass of wine to make the dining experience much more enjoyable.

Bottom line: I give this recipe an A+. The ingredients were very inexpensive; I spent about $7 on them. With the anticipated four servings, that’s less than $2 a serving! Preparation of the produce and pasta was reasonable for a weeknight; if you have someone else to help out in the kitchen, it’s even quicker. The taste enlivened my buds; the aroma wafted through my apartment. Definitely taste the pasta before pouring into the baking dish. I will definitely make this dish again! It was such an easy way to meet have my daily requirement of vegetables.

January 4: Pomelo fruit

I was in the produce section of my local Kroger and happened to see a pomelo on sale for 99 cents; I purchased one. I had never heard of a pomelo until I read about it in the September 2010 issue of Shape. After watching a few Youtube videos on how to peel a pomelo, I came home last night and excitedly began revealing the fruit. Removing the rind was not as difficult as I expected. Even though the skin is thick ― about half an inch ― it was very easy to peel. It felt almost spongelike. The flesh was covered in thick pith and skin; the skin was similar to grapefruit. I spent the better part of 30 minutes removing the flesh from the thick skin that encased the edible flesh. My pomelo produced about 2.5 cups of flesh.

The fruit of my labor *smile*

I found the fruit to be very similar to grapefruit, though juicier and somewhat sweeter. Based on my initial experience, I doubt I will purchase another pomelo. The amount of fruit for the cost is very good, but I had to work for those 2.5 cups. What “exotic” fruit have you tried and would recommend?

January 1: Bob Harper’s Cardio Conditioning DVD

Happy New Year! It’s a dreary day here in southwestern Ohio. It’s only 9:30 am and I.am.worn.out. I prefer to work out in the mornings because it’s amazing how many excuses I can find to not do it later. The endorphins boost my mood and help start my days off positively; I usually feel a sense of clarity as well. But Bob Harper even killed my endorphins. I completed the hour workout, resting when necessary. At the point I could no longer do the moves in proper form, I opted to take a quick water break. I felt like Bob’s alter ego was on screen. I’m used to happy, cheery Bob from The Biggest Loser. Sure he’s gotten upset onscreen, but I guess the producers edit him to be the good cop so Jillian can shine as the bad cop. Well, Bob is devious. If I wasn’t trying so hard not to pass out on my living room floor, I could have sworn he was enjoying watching his cast suffer through his workout.

Purchasing the DVD was not an impulse decision, though. I had an inkling of what I was signing up for when I tossed the case into my shopping buggy. As with most non-clothing purchases, I do a fair amount of research online before spending my hard earned money. Amazon.com usually has a sale on fitness DVDs in January to help the millions of Americans who resolve to “get healthy” and “lose weight”. In preparation for the sale (it’s going on right now in case you’re interested) I researched Bob’s new DVDs on the website to see what people had to say about it. I tend to find amazon.com reviews to be pretty accurate, so I read about 20 of the comments to make an informed choice. Reviewers, who were mostly average Janes and Joes, described how gangster the one hour cardio workout was for them. One reviewer even commented that she appreciated seeing the cast struggle and sweat. I mean, have you ever seen such a thing? If I wanted to wear a bikini with confidence this year, I knew I needed something to whip me into shape. So when I saw the DVD in Wal-mart last night, I purchased it since the cost was comparable to Amazon’s sale price. Plus, I didn’t have to spend $25 so I could receive free shipping. Oh, and I could start right away on toning up!

I know by the end of the day my body is going to be cursing me out. But I am proud of myself because I really wanted to try the 20 minute routine and ease into the hour workout. I wanted to quit, but I didn’t. In Jillian’s 30 Day Shred, she recommends we “go to that special place” to push through a challenging move. Well, with Bob’s cardio workout, I took a vacation in my special place for an hour! Bob did a great job motivating me to push harder, though. Just when I didn’t think I could do one more repetition, he started counting down; I could tough it out for 10 more reps or 30 more seconds. I thought of myself on a Caribbean island in my bikini. When Bob said squat lower, I thought of adding more junk in my trunk. After all, I have some skinny jeans to fit into when the next snow storm blows through!

So, as you work toward getting healthy and losing weight in 2011, try a new exercise routine, fitness class, or fitness DVD that you might think it “too hard”. Making excuses can paralyze us in many facets of life; doing what we think we cannot do will be liberating. Even as I hobble around my apartment on this first day of the new year, I know that my muscles are becoming stronger, including my heart. Feeling change makes me smile; seeing change will take some more time, but it’s coming, too! Some new fitness endeavors I will try this year include spinning; bikram yoga; a kettlebell workout; a bootcamp workout; walk/run 10,000 step a day for a week; participate in an aquatic fitness challenge at my place of employment; and run both a 5K and a 10K. Knowing me, I’ll probably find something else to tickle my fancy to escape the inevitable rut. Did you make a fitness related resolution? Please share below in the comments!

December 31: Introduction

I’m sitting in my living room watching Bob Harper’s Cardio Training DVD. I read reviews on Amazon and it sounded up my alley. I’m always looking for a new challenge when it comes to my physical fitness. See, I become bored rather easily. I actually wasn’t aware of this until one of my best friends made the comment a few years ago. Initially, I didn’t take her seriously, but being self-reflective I began to notice the pattern repeating in my personal, academic and professional lives.

Perhaps my constant need for change motivated me to set an ostentatious new year’s resolution for 2011: try as many new things as possible. I’ve spent eight years trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I grow up. I am a chemist by training; I completed my doctoral research in chemical education. With my sole focus on academics and training for my future career, I lost some of my zest for life; I just wanted to cross that finish line after the metaphorical ultra-marathon. Graduate school is not for the faint of heart.
Well, I have my Ph.D. and a new lease on life. I have a bigger paycheck, too, which is important because some adventures will require some funds. I should probably make a budget, but that just takes some of the fun out of it. I’m cheap, so I won’t be foolish with my money. But I like options. So, what are some of the new things I plan on trying? I asked friends and co-workers for ideas because I had a grand total of 10 at the beginning of December. I’m still open to suggestions! Below is a small sampling of what I plan to try.

Give a stranger money
Run a 10 K
See the Nutcracker ballet
Bake bread from scratch
Wear a bikini – in public
Visit a state I have never visited
Try new spices, foods, and dishes
Go ice skating
Wear skinny jeans
Automated blood donation (rather than whole blood donation)

I will chronicle my journey in this blog, which is something new for me. It’s really for me to see how much I have grown as the year progresses. Experts recommend finding a group of like-minded individuals to help stay accountable for any goal. Even if no one reads my musings, the blog serves as a barometer of how much I have grown as I strive to try as many new things as possible in 2011. Who knows, maybe someone else will be inspired to break free from their comfort zone and try some of these things, too. As for Bob Harper’s DVD, I will keep my cell phone close in case I need to call 911! Hahaha ;op

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