Sunday, January 31

Natural Disinfectant

If you remember my post about The Green Wagon, you'll remember the allusion to the one overseas product they carry. Well, it's soap nuts.

Soap nuts are actually not nuts but dried fruit shells. The nuts can be ground into a powder using a coffee grinder or boiled. They are a natural and green alternative to many household chemicals - dishwasher liquid, garden insecticide, general cleaning, low-sudsing laundry detergent/fabric softener (even for delicates), degreaser and fruit/vegetable wash. It also has medicinal properties for such conditions as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff and lice.

The shells' saponins are released when placed in warm or hot water. The resulting liquid is antimicrobial, hypoallergenic and fragrance-free. Once the shells turn grayish/light tan, mushy and thin, they are spent and ready for your compost pile.

With my first bag, I boiled the nuts until the soap was completely released (a little over an hour.) Since the liquid is plant-based and has no preservatives, it will spoil. I keep mine in an old dish washing liquid bottle (anything air-tight will do) which stays in the refrigerator.

I put the cleaning power to the test on my toughest household task – cleaning the shower and tub. We have extremely hard well water so this chore always requires a lot of elbow grease. The soap nuts liquid handled the job better than commercial cleaners I have tried. I used a nylon scrub pad and was very surprised at how easily the soap cut through the hard water stains that I hadn't been able to remove before and it was a dream on the grout. Cool!

Saturday, January 30

February Challenge

To lose weight and gain health requires a change of habits. It's been said that it takes 21 days for a habit to stick. Pick a few of the following tips and commit to them during February. (Hey, it's the shortest month!)

1.  Hydrate – Drink ounces of water equal to half your body weight each day. So, if you weight 140 lbs, drink 70 oz. each day. The water shouldn't be flavored or sweetened and preferably not from plastic bottles. This may seem like a lot at first and you may spend more time running to the bathroom the first couple of days, but your body will adjust quickly. Further, when you feel hungry, drink some water. You're far more likely to be thirsty than hungry and soda or coffee won't cut it. You'll be surprised how many times you look up fifteen minutes later and realize that you forgot about your 'hunger'.
2.  Realize what food does and doesn't do for you – 
          When you're tired or stressed, is a processed sweet or salty snack really going to make you feel better? A few grapes or raspberries can usually satisfy my sweet tooth. 
          Wake up on a Saturday feeling sluggish? Do two or three sets of crunches or jumping jacks. Get your blood moving, literally, and your mood will follow. 
3.  Always have a snack with you – Most poor food choices are made when we're in a hurry or out and about. I keep an apple and some raw almonds in my car. They don't go bad quickly and can be eaten while driving if necessary. Plus, the sweet/crunchy combination is very satisfying.
4.  Eat out less – Total the number of times a stranger prepares your food each week regardless of which meal it is. Whatever the number is, cut back. This will aid weight loss more than anything else. It does wonders for the budget, too!
5.  Stay away from math – Don't look at packages for grams of fat or carbs. Don't tally the calories on your plate. Who cares how many calories your workout burned? Most importantly, don't weigh yourself for the whole month. Your weight loss will be felt in how your clothes fit rather than seen as a digital readout. A properly hydrated body weighs more than a semi-dehydrated one, so you will gain a pound or two at first but take a look at your skin and see the glow that accompanies a pound of water weight. Score!
6.  Don't think in terms of nutrients or food components – We need carbs. We need fat. We all get plenty of protein. Learn to listen to your body. It will crave what you need. Learn about healthy foods to meet those cravings. My guilty-feeling but oh-so-healthy foods include avocados, hummus and a small but daily dose of dark chocolate. 
7.  Live it without guilt and stress – When you're eating with friends or at a potluck, allow yourself to stop thinking about food and enjoy the blessing of community. Have a weak moment and over-indulge? Just let it go. In the long run, it is truly inconsequential. Please don't write off healthy eating for the rest of the day/weekend. 
8.  Celebrate 'you' with movement – Find a type of exercise that you look forward to, that makes you feel like you can save the world and that feels like a gift rather than a chore. Sure, there are things that we should all do in order to build strength and maintain balance and flexibility, but build fitness on a foundation of fun.
9.  Eat food – Eat with joy, gratitude and awareness of what went into bringing particular foods to your table. 

One of the biggest lessons I've learned is that the easiest way to stick to any of this is to control what comes into my home. Do you need to throw everything you have away? You can, but I'm afraid I'm too frugal for that. Just plan your meals ahead and choose differently the next time you shop.

The journey ahead is long but inspired. The goal and its rewards await you. Are you ready? :)
    

Is It Food?

Oh, such a simple question. Only it's not.

My food revolution began five years ago when I listened to an audiobook by Paul Chek entitled, 'You Are What You Eat'. It was a series of discussions on different components of our diet - fats, sugar, salt - as well as topics such as food processing, food storage and microwaving. These things all affect the life-sustaining quality, or to use his term 'vitality', of our foods. It made me feel like I should immediately throw away every bit of food in our house (without being quite sure what I should replace it with).

Many things have molded my thinking along the way – books by experts like nutritionist Marion Nestle and the very en vogue Michael Pollan, the work and resources of the Weston A. Price Foundation and a behavior modification eating plan which involved temporarily abstaining from broad categories of food such as dairy and sugar.

Food is personal.  We all make our food choices for many valid reasons, e.g. our heritage, our cooking skills, the time available in our daily schedules and, yes, the state of our emotional health. 

Are we 'wrong' to be the eaters we are? Well, of course not.

Are we obligated to continue the patterns our life journeys have set us in? Again, no.

Collectively, we have allowed ourselves to accept some things as 'food' because they are offered for sale at the grocery. We continue to do this instead of changing our habits. That this has been going on for two or three generations now is why we find ourselves where we are – painfully overweight, diseased and in lots of emotional distress about the whole thing. 

I'm grateful for what I've learned and somehow been strong enough to put into practice. With a family and a budget to consider, it hasn't been easy. We are healthy. We rarely go to the doctor. There are no foods that we 'don't eat'. There are products we don't eat. Our life isn't one of spartan food choices. Rather, the bounty of God's providence is a daily adventure. We love to eat. My whole journey, though, has boiled down to this – Is it food?

Is It Food? For Thought...
Dessert. We're going to eat it sometimes but what to have? Let's take two American favorites -- chocolate chip cookies and Oreos. Both are delicious. Both can satisfy your sweet tooth. Both are mostly empty calories. Is one better for you, though?

The best way to determine that is to gather the ingredients to make them yourself. For the chocolate chip cookie, no problem. There are many recipes which all have the same basic components –butter, eggs, flour, etc.  Check out the ingredient list on an Oreo package, though, and you'll see  some things not found in most pantries such as the emulsifier, soy lecithin. The emulsifier in your homemade cookies is the egg yolk. Of course, Nabisco can't use egg yolks in Oreos because then they couldn't sit on store shelves for a year and still taste as yummy as the day they were made. 
There is also the 'and/or' issue on the oils used. Can they not decide which one to use? No, it's about which one is cheaper at the time of processing. And shouldn't it bother us just a little that oils from three different plants can be used and still the product comes out tasting just the same
Further, the first ingredient on the Oreo list is sugar which means there is more sugar than anything. I'm not sure about your chocolate chip cookie recipe, but mine calls for a third more flour than sugar. 
Lastly, it's a lot more trouble to make cookies than to dash into Publix for their buy-one-get-one-free cookies. Psychologically, we're less likely to mow through the cookies we just spent an hour baking. 
Besides, when is the last time you opened a package of Oreos and your house smelled like a cozy little haven of yum??

Friday, January 29

Losing Weight - Mentally and Physically

Body weight and aesthetics occupy the thoughts of many women. Not so much for the guys. Why? In my mind, it boils down to the qualities which define our femininity -- emotionally responiveness, sensitivity to external feedback, the desire to preserve and nourish and, oh yes, that which goes to the very heart of our nature, the willingness and ability to give beyond our internal resources.


It's no secret that Americans are heavier than ever. Ill health and obesity are quite politically correct. They do not discriminate based on gender, age, race, income or religion. So what is nearly everyone doing 'wrong'? 


Sadly, the answer is very simple -- allowing others to select, portion and prepare their food. 


As women have become more educated and taken their considerable multi-tasking and organizational talents into the workplace, the time they are able to spend in the kitchen has dropped precipitously. We have increasingly asked minimum-wage earners to prepare substandard products in an attempt to satiate our hunger. Worse, we have allowed our food regulatory agencies to be man-handled by gigantic corporations, chemical companies and food production alliances. 


So, 2010 finds us mired in a national health crisis of overworked, under nourished adults who eat more or less blindly. As women, we struggle with guilt over not having time to cook (and often we truly don't) and stress pushes us toward ever more emotional eating patterns. We no sooner eat the last bite than we start mentally running ourselves down because we don't look the way we 'should'.


Hmmm...sound familiar? Want to to turn all the noise in your head off? Want to enjoy eating anything and everything and not feel guilty about it? Want to feel better and learn how to let your body return to its natural 'set point'? It's not easy and it's not an overnight process but the rewards are many and lasting. 


Now, I'm not a nutritionist or a food scientist but I began a personal 'study' of food five years ago. I know the changes that we've made and what they've meant to our family. For me, it's not about rules, individual nutrients or counting grams of anything. It's about eating for sustenance, joy...

...and, yes, maintaining a healthy body weight.

If this is of interest to you, please keep visiting to learn ways to achieve your goals. The methods are so non-diet that they're appropriate for the entire family. Pair them with some physical activity that you enjoy and, before you know it, you'll be walking around feeling fit and confident.

Thursday, January 28

J/A/S/O/N


You've most likely heard about the suspected links between breast cancer and shaving/antiperspirant use. It's a hotly disputed issue but there's nothing like having a young girl in the house to get a mother looking furiously into options.

Now, if you're thinking this is a 'too much information' issue, then I'm sorry. What I find really irritating is the disparity of options available to women and men. There are many non-antiperspirant options for men, but unless you're a girl who doesn't mind walking around smelling like 'Arctic Blast', 'Game Day' or 'Rugged Backwoods Logger Dude', you are left with the unlovely option of clogging every pore in your little armpits with a variety of chemicals.

So far, the best option I've found is a deodorant made by J/A/S/O/N. It 'performs' much, much better than Tom's of Maine and other 'natural' brands I've tried. There are also some crystal stick products that work well but were too 'weird' for my pre-teens to get on board with. ('But I can't take that to my sleepover. My friends will laugh!")

Sometimes I just don't have the energy for the 'well, then, are they really your friends' speech. It is, after all, just deodorant and my main concern is that they use it.

Tuesday, January 26

CSA Delivery #5


One of my favorite things about the CSA is learning what's in season at any given time. We've obviously entered sweet potato season!

It seems both magical and deliberate on the part of our Creator that sweet potatoes sound sooooo yummy and satisfying right now. Mid-July, I just can't imagine being so interested, you know?

Other than sweet potatoes, we received spring chickens, chicken breasts, beef brisket, summer sausage, pork chops, pork roasts, sausage links, whole wheat bread, corn meal, fettucini, popping corn, apple cake, oatmeal cake, blackberry preserves, green beans, corn, sorghum, stewed tomatoes and tomato juice.

Monday, January 25

Motivation Monday - 3

Wow. What a frustrating time I've had trying to post this! I don't know what's up with Blogger but, hopefully, it will work this time. :)

I've added some new moves to get the core more involved. Should be fun!!

Week 3

Reverse curl - 30 reps
Plank - hold 5 counts, rest 2. Repeat 10-12X.
Power ups - 30
Jumping jacks (JJ) - 45, then 15 sec rest. Repeat 3X.

Squat - 15
JJ - 45
Pushup - 15
JJ - 45
Alternating lunge - 12 each side
JJ - 45
Down-dog shoulder press - 15
Rest one minute and do a second set beginning with the squats.


Reverse curl - Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Bring knees up to/toward chest (hips should come off the floor.) Straighten legs as much as possible then s-l-o-w-l-y lower hips to floor. You should feel this in your lower abs (below the navel.)
Plank - Facing down, support your body on your forearms and toes. Hips should be 'tucked under' which will activate the abdominals and protect your back. If you feel this in your back at all, then the form isn't quite right. Bring the knees down and try again. You should feel this in your upper abs.
Power ups - Lie on your back with feet and arms up toward ceiling (think 'dead bug'). Keeping legs fairly straight, powerfully and explosively, reach one hand up to touch the opposite foot. Immediately, come back down and repeat, alternating hands. 
Down-dog shoulder press - Facing the floor, support your body on your hands and feet/toes with hips high in the air. (Think of your body forming a triangle with the floor.) The top of your head should be between your elbows, pointing toward the floor. Lower your head to the space between our hands by bending your elbows. Press back to the starting position.

Friday, January 22

D-I-Y Laundry Detergent


I've been making my own laundry soap for about six months now. I will never go back to the commercial stuff.

I like that the products I have to buy come in cardboard or paper rather than plastic. The detergent I make from these items lasts me far longer than commercial detergent of equal weight, thus my quest for clean clothes requires the burning of fewer fossil fuels in transport.

There are many recipes out there. I chose a powdered one and doubled it so I don't need to make it as often. Powder is quicker and less messy to make. However, if liquid is your thing, making that just requires an extra step or two.

Here's what I do:
Finely grate three bars of Fels-Naptha soap into a plastic tub. Add six cups of borax and six cups of washing soda (not baking soda.) Mix well. This definitely takes less time than it does to stand at Target and figure out which size bottle is the lowest cost-per-load.

Most recipes recommend using one tablespoon per load. I have found that 2-3 works best for us. At that rate, the above recipe will wash about 95 loads of laundry. I pay $8.10 for the ingredients which works out to less than 9¢ per load.

How does it work? GREAT!
   Our laundry (and basement) smell wonderful.
   Pretreating stains is largely a thing of the past.
   It's perfect for sensitive skin.
   Be forewarned -- this does not produce suds. We think bubbles equal clean but they don't.
   I don't have an HE machine but have read many comments that this is suitable for them.

If you're not already making your own detergent, give it a shot. Let me know how it works for you!

Wednesday, January 20

The Frugal Chicken

For as long as I can remember, the decision to eat meat or not has been a conflicted one for me. My mom, the daughter of a banker/cattle farmer, is a vegetarian. She never forced us to follow suit and prepared meat dishes for us growing up. In my 20s, I was a vegetarian for a while but, honestly, it was only because I felt I should be.

At this point, I have a much greater knowledge about what it means to consume animal products from a variety of standpoints, be they environmental, nutritional or karmic. I think about it every time I eat/cook meat, eggs or dairy. While I could fairly effortlessly adopt a vegetarian lifestyle, my family isn't quite there, especially the boys. We strike an easy balance, though, since I don't get complaints when meat isn't on the menu.

So, this leads me to investing considerable energy in finding sources for truly healthful meat. The criteria we judge our purchases by are:
     How was the animal raised?
     Was it fed a diet which God intended it to eat?
     Was it injected with hormones or antibiotics?
     Was it slaughtered humanely? (the ultimate oxymoron, to be sure...)
     Is it local?

For us, the CSA satisfies those questions.

I anticipated (and welcomed) the fact that our shares would push me out of my comfort zone in the kitchen. My mom taught me many wonderful things but I did not grow up seeing her do traditional Southern things like frying chicken or throwing ham hocks into every pot of beans. Gravy? Just the thought of it turns my stomach!

I definitely have a lot to learn...

So when our first delivery included two spring (whole) chickens, I was a little apprehensive. I just wasn't sure about having to take meat off the bone myself. As it turns out, I wish all of our chicken came this way. Preparing them is super easy and the waste is minimal which to me is showing respect to a creature which gave its life for the sake of my dinner. (Mom, I know -- letting it die of old-age would be more respectful.)

Yesterday, I roasted two 3-4 lb. chickens. Here's what I did and what it yielded...

     1. Oven-roasted with onions, pepper and a bit of olive oil.
     2. Pulled the meat off.
     3. Threw everything but the meat into a large pot with carrots, celery and whatever spices I was in the mood for. Thyme, basil, pepper, marjoram and parsley, I think. Poured in enough water to cover and simmered for an hour or so.
     4. Made gravy (for the first time ever.) It's thick and yummy-looking but one taste was enough for me. :)

This work yielded eight cups of meat, four cups of super-yummy stock and two cups of gravy. Considering our portion sizes, the meat is enough for two main dishes and a big bowl of chicken salad and the stock will be used for a third (otherwise meatless) main dish.





Tuesday, January 19

Ready, Set...Stop. Okay, Go!

As previously stated here, one of my goals for the year is to learn how to sew. I have many memories of my mom and grandmother sewing things for us kids. Now that my daughters are showing an interest, it's the perfect time to get over my perfectionistic tendencies and give it a shot.

I bought fabric last week and washed and cut it. However, when I sat down to sew, the machine wasn't working properly. It's a hand-me-down from my mom but she had it serviced right before she brought it to me so I knew it was not in disrepair. I fiddled around with it a bit but found myself frustrated. I don't even know how to sew but now I have to figure out how the machine works? ugh. That's something I need to be in the right mood for...

Fast forward to today. I'm ready. Armed with the perfect genetic storm of my dad's resourcefulness and my mom's stubbornness, I grabbed a screwdriver, some WD-40 and started taking the thing apart. My dad's motto has always been, 'If I can take it apart, I can put it back together.' And, you know what? It's worked for him. Seriously, he can fix anything except an automatic transmission (and maybe he can even do that now.)


Three phone calls and several descriptions involving such technical terms as 'thingy' and 'dodad' later, I was up and running. As I suspected, a well-placed squirt of WD-40 was all that was needed. Uncharacteristically, I refrained from just hosing the whole down with it and patiently worked by process of elimination.

So, finally, I completed my first project -- laundry bags for my husband to use at the gym. We're working to reduce our purchase of plastics and eliminate the use of disposable plastics, so small trash bags as laundry bags are definitely out. Here's how the first turned out.


And, yes, if it falls apart in the wash, I will dutifully update you, dear reader...

Monday, January 18

Some New Pups Made My Day

No, I'm not getting a new puppy. That's the last thing we need but, nevertheless, the birth of some little German Shepards blessed me today.

This morning, I left the house for a run and a workout, then met C and the kids for dentist appointments and lunch together. Just your average togetherness kind of day, right?

The stress came as we returned home and I remembered that I had totally missed an appointment with the dog trainer. I felt so bad that she drove all the way out to our house to find no one home. UGH!

My mind immediately started down that how-could-you-be-such-an-idiot path. So unproductive. Nobody's perfect but, somehow, I really do expect myself to be. (Note to self: stop that.)

I came inside and checked the messages (cringing) before calling the trainer. I had two messages from her. Not annoyed ones, though. Her dog had gone into labor this morning and she needed to reschedule. Woohoo!!

When I reached her, we both laughed at how much we had been stressing about how our own circumstances had affected the other.

I share this because this is the second time in as many weeks that this scenario has played out -- me nearly losing it because I failed in some completely human, unintentional way only to see the situation resolve itself without my oversight inconveniencing the other party. It really makes me think about how much we all pressure ourselves and how that is inversely proportional to our expectations of and ability to forgive each other.

Life really is good when we (okay, I) let it be.

Sunday, January 17

Motivation Monday - 2

It has been suggested that I post some photos to demonstrate form and I agree that more direction is needed (but don't hold your breath on any videos!) Photos will definitely take some time but I'll at least have some illustrations next week.

With that in mind, I'm going to postpone the workout I had planned to post today and just build on last week's workout.

Week 2


Warm up with five 45-second sets of jumping jacks with 15-seconds rest between sets.


Go through the following circuit twice:
Crunch - Do eight and hold the eighth for 8 seconds. Repeat four times (for one set.)
Glute bridge* - Do eight slow (3 counts up, 3 counts down) immediately followed by eight fast (up, down, up, down.) As above, repeat four times through (for one set.)
Jumping jacks - 45 seconds
Pushup - 10-12 reps
Jumping jacks - 45 seconds
Alternating lunge - 12 each side
Jumping jacks - 45 seconds

*Basic movement (not the progressions) as shown in video.

Friday, January 15

Katie's Granola

Here is one of my all-time favorite recipes! I received this with a big bag of granola for Christmas from a client two years ago. It's so easy to make and is a great snack to grab on the run.


Katie's Granola
4 c old fashioned oats (I use 1 c old-fashioned and 3 c. steel cut for more crunch!)
1 c unsweetened shredded coconut
1/3 c sesame (or flax) seeds (I've even used ground flax in a pinch. Gotta have those omegas-3s!)
1 c chopped almonds
1 c dried fruit (optional)
Mix together. In a separate bowl, whisk together the following to make a syrup:
1/4 c pure maple syrup
1/3 c oil (I use olive.)
1/4 c packed dark brown sugar
3 T warm water
1/2 t salt
Pour syrup mixture over oat mixture and stir well. Transfer to lightly greased baking sheet. Bake at 350˚ for about an hour or until evenly browned, stirring occasionally. (FYI, mine is always done in about 35 minutes.) Transfer to a large bowl and mix in dried fruit.

Thursday, January 14

Great Resource!

Yesterday, I stopped by a store recommended to me by Carrie called The Green Wagon. If you're local to Nashville or to shop online, look them up here!

They carry a wide variety of earth-friendly products, some of which I haven't seen elsewhere. Most products are local but everything else is made in the U.S. There is a singular exception to the U.S. rule which I purchased and will blog about very soon. (oooh, suspense!)

One of the coolest features is the Filling Station where you can purchase products such as shampoo, conditioner, body oil and more by bringing in your own container or buying one of theirs (for use and re-use). They have many home cleaning products as well. The selection was so unique that I was a bit overwhelmed trying to take in so many new options. I bought a few and you'll be hearing about them soon!

Normally, I'm a bit hesitant to 'bother' store help. I like to understand new things, especially when I'm spending money and some employees just don't care to educate. Well, that is certainly not the case at the Green Wagon. I had a very inspiring conversation with Jonathan who owns the store with his wife, Jennifer. For every product I looked at, he was able to give me personal recommendations and ideas. I must say that that is my favorite reason to shop at small businesses -- you come in contact with people who make a living at something they are truly passionate about.

I must admit, I care a lot about the 'green' movement but find that my mind can be spinning with ways to do things better and 'greener' while my kids try to break through my musings with pleas for food and clean clothes. Not good...

And this is where Jonathan, thus the attitude of the store, really impressed me. I didn't feel like there was any lack of knowledge which I could express that would bring an incredulous "how could you not have made that change seven years ago?" look to his face.

And isn't that what the willingness to teach that will truly change the world?

Wednesday, January 13

CSA Bounty


It's been a bit of a transition for me to adjust to shopping and planning according to the CSA delivery schedule but I knew it had been a successful one on Sunday when the truck broke down and weren't able to pick up our food. I hadn't bought bread and eggs from the store because I knew the 'good stuff' was coming. We were completely out...not a good way to start the school week!

Besides, we all treat the deliveries like Christmas morning around here.

"Mommy, what is that vegetable?"
"Did we get sausage?"
"Ooooh, what are you going to make with that???"

Not to worry, though, as 'Christmas' came today! Here's what we received....

Whole chickens, chicken breasts, beef chuck steaks, beef cube steaks, summer sausage, pork steaks, eggs, whole wheat and sourdough breads, cinnamon rolls, whole wheat spaghetti, popping corn, green beans, corn, stewed tomatoes, pickles, strawberry preserves, sweet potatoes, and squash.

Lest you think we're the world's biggest carnivores, I'll let you in on our plan. We purchased a family share of meat for the winter season which is a bit too much for us. Our family of five usually consumes about four pounds of meat per week. (The weight of the meat listed above is 17-18 lbs. The deliveries are bi-weekly.) So, I'm carefully rotating the meat in the freezer so that it will last until the beginning of the next winter season in November.

My idea is that, come summer, our food costs will drop as we only purchase CSA produce shares but that extra money will go to purchasing and canning lots of in-season foods (CSA, pick-your-own and/or farmer's market) for next winter.

That's how it works in my head, anyway. Stay tuned to find out how it really works. :)

Tuesday, January 12

A Quote For Those Inevitably Frustrating Days...


A friend sent me this quote the other day. I just love it. It's like she knows me or something...






I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
-Edward Everett Hale




Monday, January 11

Wacky Cake

This is a WWII-era recipe which uses no eggs and minimal sugar and cocoa. What served people well during times of war rationing finds a place in our home as we seek to enjoy the sweet life without a monstrous glycemic event.

If you're a bit Type-A like me, this is a very haphazard way to make a cake, so get the kids involved. Haphazard certainly does work for them! You'll end up with a light, moist and delicious cake to enjoy together.


Wacky Cake
1 1/2 c flour
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c cocoa
3/4 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
5 T vegetable oil (I always substitute olive oil.)
1T vinegar
1 t vanilla extract
1 c water

Preheat oven to 350˚. Coat an entire 8x8 pan with cooking spray.

Measure into pan: flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Use a whisk to blend together dry ingredients.
Use a spoon to make one large crater and 2 small ones in the dry mix. Pour the oil into the large crater. Pour the vinegar and vanilla into the two small craters (separately.) Pour the water into the pan.
Using a wooden spoon, gently mix everything together until you see only a few streaks of flour in the mixture.
Bake immediately for 30 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Cool completely, then dust with powdered sugar. Serve plain or with a spoonful of ice cream or whipped cream.

Sunday, January 10

This Week's Workout

As promised, here's a workout! It's not a long one for two reasons...one, if you haven't been exercising, this will allow you to develop great form on everything you're doing rather than overwhelming you with a bunch of exercises. Secondly, a shorter routine will hopefully be easier to work into your schedule. Good luck!


I want these posts to be short and easy to read so I'm bouncing around some different ways of linking to exercise descriptions. I'll just make do this week and edit this when I decide on something!

It's up to you to know what you can do in terms of any past injuries or surgery but the things I post here will be fairly basic but increasingly challenging as the year passes.

Week One


20 crunches
20 alternating lunges
20 squats


Do three sets of each with 30-60 seconds rest between each set. 


Crunch: Lie on the floor. Hands at your sides, hovering just above the floor. Slow crunches (not a sit-up), two counts up two counts down.
Lunge: Stand with hands on hips. Step out (heel hits first) and drop hips straight down so that both knees are at ninety degrees. Return by pushing through the heel of the forward foot (so toe comes up first.)
Squat: Stand with feet hip width apart. (It's not as far as you think, so check yourself!) Lower hips as if you're about to sit down. Work on doing this without leaning your torso forward -- shoulders should stay above your feet. Return to standing, pushing your weight through your heels.

Thursday, January 7

Honey Corn Muffins

Because we've received so much cornmeal from our CSA, we have been eating a lot of cornbread lately. I'll take it over rolls any day and it goes so well with chili and soups. I came across this recipe in Real Simple which uses honey instead of sugar. Yum!

Makes: 12

1/2 stick, unsalted butter
1 1/4 c flour
3/4 c cornmeal
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
2 large eggs
1 c buttermilk
1/3 c honey

Heat oven to 375. Grease muffin tin.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and baking soda. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, buttermilk, honey and butter. Add the flour mixture and stir.

Divide into muffin cups and bake until golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean, 30-35 minutes.

My 2010 Aspirations

My primary reason for jumping back into the blog world was that I really want a chronicle of the year ahead. With more time to devote to home and family, I want to challenge myself in several areas. Here are my goals for 2010...

Eat more local food -- I have no illusions of being able to go completely local because a world without avocados is not one I would really enjoy. So what I can't buy locally-grown, I will strive to purchase from a locally-owned store.
Cook fearlessly -- I already love all aspects of feeding my family. However, just a few weeks into the winter CSA program, I've already prepared several new foods and/or meals. I am so fortunate to have children who share my enthusiasm for new foods and I believe that diversity in our diet is a very good thing.
Reduce our sugar intake -- This doesn't mean no sugar. I'm not sure I could do that long term and wouldn't impose such a harsh rule on my kids but I can influence our interpretation of 'sweet.' A couple of years ago, we moved away from refined (white) sugar but I'm very interested in trying some natural options that I just haven't had time for in the past.
Learn to sew -- eeek! I'm intimidated just thinking about this one but it can't be that hard can it??
Reduce consumption overall -- Thinking of the Reduce/Reuse/Recyle slogan, I want to focus more on the reduce part. Buying less just makes a lot of sense on so many levels.
Full disclosure - I recently found myself washing aluminum foil...I mean half the time it doesn't even touch food but just covers it. Honestly, I can't decide if I'm weird for doing it or a slug for throwing so much away in the past. Thoughts?? :)
Increase our family fitness time -- My husband and I spend lots of time and energy working out but I'm feel we don't plan enough fun play time as a family. That's gonna change! I vowed to make this the first goal I tackled so on our first day back from holiday trips, I took the kids to the climbing gym.
Start playing the piano again -- My hubby surprised me with a piano several years ago and my parents spent a lot of hard-earned money on lessons (more than several) years ago. I want to put those gifts to good use.
Run a 50K trail race -- I'm so excited about this one. With my past road running injury, I'll likely never run a traditional marathon but would like to challenge myself with a long-distance event.

Exercise Glossary

On any exercise, it is important to remember that once you cannot continue with perfect form, your set is over regardless of the count. Push through the limitations that your mind sets, NOT those your body reaches. This is why you see gym rats watching themselves in a mirror. :)

Plank 
Support your body weight while on your forearms and toes. Hips should be 'tucked under' (toward floor) to take all pressure off the low back. Regression: Hold for X counts and bring knees down for X counts.
Should be felt in your abdominals/core.

Reverse Curl
Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Hands should be on the floor beside your legs. Curl knees up to your chest, raising hips off the ground. From there, straighten your legs and slowly lower hips, then feet,  to the floor. 
Should be felt in your lower abdominal (below the navel).

Side Plank
Support your weight laterally (on one side) on one elbow/forearm and the side of your foot with feet stacked. (To regress, feet can both be on the floor, one in front of the other.) 
Optional movement: Hip Tap – Lower hip to the floor and lift to start position. 
Should be felt in your obliques, the side that is nearest the floor. 

Crunch
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Hands should be at your sides. Bring head and shoulders off the floor in a slow, controlled motion with hands hovering just above the floor. Basic tempo should be two counts up, one count hold, two counts down (2:1:2). Progressions: fingertips behind the ears (and elbows out of your line of vision) and arms extended straight behind your head.
Should be felt in your abdominals/core

Dead Bug Reach
Lie on your back with arms and legs in the air (think 'dead bug'). With your head and shoulders off the floor throughout, extend one arm and the opposite leg toward the floor and return to start. The motion should be smooth and controlled with a tempo of two counts out, no hold and two counts back (2:0:2).
Should be felt in your core.

Power Ups
Lie on your back with your feet up in the air. Powerfully and explosively, alternately reach each hand up to touch the opposite foot without bending your leg. Work toward being able to touch the sole of your shoe.
Should be felt in your core. 

Hip Hikes
Stand with one foot on a stair or stable step stool. Keep the standing leg straight throughout. Drop the other foot down as far as your hip will allow. Then, bring that foot up as high as you can as if that hip is trying to touch your armpit. Slow, controlled motion.
Should be felt deep in the hip of the standing leg.

Pushups
It is very important that you practice this form until it is perfect. Otherwise, the targeted muscles will not be worked. At best, you'll be wasting your time; at worst, you'll hurt your back.
Support your weight with your hands/fists slightly wider than shoulder width apart and feet hip width apart. Your hips should feel 'tucked under' (to contract your abs thus protecting your back) and should be slightly higher than level. Lower your chest toward the floor by bending at the elbow. Your head should not drop/move out of alignment with your shoulders – watch this! It will happen as you tire. Mentally, focus on using your chest as you push up and don't let your hips sag. At first, don't worry about how far you can lower yourself but use form that, if you could lower all the way, your chest would touch first. Regression: Push up on your hands and knees. The alignment is the same, though. Don't shift your hips back to 'help' you back up.
Should be felt in your chest, arms and, somewhat, core.

Downdog Shoulder Press
From downward-facing dog position (hands and feet on the floor, arms and legs straight and hips high), lower your head from the space between your elbows to the space between your hands. Push back up to start position.
Should be felt in your shoulders and, to a lesser extent, core.


Plank Row
Begin in an altered pushup position (hands should be closer together than normal) with a 3-5 lb weight in one hand. Lift weight up toward outside of the chest and return. Complete a set on one side before switching sides. 
Should be felt in your lats (outside of your mid-to-upper back.)


Row
Grasp tubing or a band (securely anchored on a sturdy object such as a bedpost or a doorknob), pull your hands back toward your chest and return. Focus on your posture – shoulders should be back and down. Abs should be tight. Variation: Single-arm – Anchor tubing/band so that you can pull with one arm only.
Should be felt primarily in your lats (outside of your mid-to-upper back.)

Lateral Tricep Pushup
Begin lying on one side with the hand of the downside on your opposite shoulder and the other hand on the floor under your upper arm. From that position, push up until the topside arm is straight. Allow some rotation of your torso toward the floor as you push up. Return to start.
Should be felt in the backs of your upper arms.

Dip
Sit on the edge of a sturdy chair or bench (preferably one pushed against a wall) with your hands on the seat of the chair on either side of your legs. Your legs should be outstretched and heels on the floor; move hips off the chair. Lower hips toward the floor by bending at the elbows; press back up. Regression: As you tire, walk the feet in a bit to ease the load so you can finish the set.
Should be felt in the backs of your arms.
Bicep Curl
Begin standing against a wall with your feet 8" from the wall and 5-8# weights in hands. Stand straight with shoulders back and upper arms against the wall. With elbows maintaining contact with the wall throughout, face palms out and lift weights until they are nearly level with shoulders. Return to start. All motion should be controlled. 
Should be felt in the front of your upper arms.


Fly
Begin lying on your back with arms outstretched and 3-5# weights in hand. With elbows remaining slightly bent throughout and palms facing upward, bring weights together over your chest and return to start. 
Should be felt in your chest and the front of your shoulders.


Lateral Raise 
Stand with shoulders back, abs tight and hands at sides, holding 3-5# weights. In a steady, controlled motion, lift weights laterally (out to each side) to shoulder height and return. 
Should be felt in your shoulders.


Lunge
Begin standing with feet together. Step one foot forward and drop hips down. In this position, both knees should be bent at 90˚ and shoulders should be aligned above the hips (meaning you should not be bending forward). The back knee should not be touching the floor. To return, push your weight off the heel of your forward foot and bring feet back together. Don't put your hands on your thigh to help you back up – that's cheating. ;)
Should be felt in the fronts of your thighs, primarily.


Side Lunge
Same principal as the lunge, only you're moving out to one side. Begin standing and step one foot out in a straight line away from the other. As the foot lands, bend that knee and lower your hips. The other leg stays straight (or as straight as possible). Push off the heel of that moving foot to return to start.
Should be felt in the front of your thigh and your glutes (butt).


Squat 
Stand with feet hip width apart. (It's not as far as you think, so check yourself!) Lower hips as if you're about to sit down. Work on doing this without leaning your torso forward -- shoulders should stay above your feet. Return to standing, pushing your weight through your heels.
Should be felt in your thighs and glutes.

Single Leg Squat
Stand on one foot with the other leg straight and extended. Squat as you would in a normal squat but keep the extended foot off the floor. Your balance may limit you more than your strength at first so work on your form in both respects. 
Should be felt in the thighs and glute on the standing leg and the front of the thigh on the other leg.


Glute Bridge
Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Contract your glutes (butt) and push hips up until you're in a straight line from shoulder to knee and lower. Fight to keep the glute contracted throughout the move. On the variations when you're doing this double-time, use enough control that you don't hyperextend your back as you push up. Progressions: Rather that full feet on the floor, lift the toes and push through the heels. Or lift one foot off the floor for a single leg version.


Squat Jump
Begin in a squat position. Jump straight up as high as you can and land in that same lowered position. You should not be in a standing position at all during the set.


Jumping Jack
It's the same as it was in gym class all those years ago... Progression: Hold 2-3# weights in your hands. 


High Knees
Running in place, lifting knees as high as you can. 


Burpee
Begin standing. As quickly as possible, squat down, place your hands on the floor and jump feet out behind you. Jump feet back in, stand up, lift hands in the air and jump straight up. 

Wednesday, January 6

Coming Soon...To A Monday Near You!

As a trainer, I am often asked how to lose weight/get an exercise program started. If there were a quick, one-size-fits-all answer to that, I could have put myself out of a job in a matter of minutes -- and would gladly have done so as being fit is crucial to avoiding many health problems.

Working out daily used to be a no-brainer as I was always in one gym or another. Over the past two months, most of my exercise has been trail running but, oh, how I miss those daily weight workouts!

Now that I've left my job, I won't waste fuel driving to work out elsewhere but have struggled with how to fit it into my day. Frankly, sometimes the day just gets away from me. Perhaps some of you feel that way, too.

For my own accountability and to possibly motivate others, I'm going to post a workout every week. Throw it in with whatever you're already doing or use it to ease exercise into your days.

So, if this fits in with your goals, then please join me for Motivation Mondays!

Tuesday, January 5

CSA, Delivery #3

Unfortunately, I put all the refrigerated items away before taking the photo, but here's what we got last week from our CSA:

chicken breasts, chicken leg quarters, spring chickens, ground beef, chuck beef steaks, turkey breast, eggs, turnips, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, corn meal, whole wheat bread, egg noodles, cherry jelly, green beans, sauerkraut, stewed tomatoes, sweet corn, tomato juice, banana nut bread, chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal raisin cookies.

We're not even halfway through the season, but we love the CSA. I really enjoy cooking from what we receive, no matter what that is. Last week, I pulled ingredients from the pantry to create a mexican-inspired one skillet dish that, except for the seasonings, was all CSA food. Everyone loved it!

Monday, January 4

Go Cowboys!!

Hey, have you heard??? The Dallas Cowboys are the new NFC East Champs!!

The last two games have been especially sweet for me because I've worn the jersey my daughter, E, gave me for Christmas. She paid for it with her own money. I felt so guilty at first because it's an expensive gift, especially for an 11-year-old. She had her mind made up, though...

"What's the point of me buying you and Daddy presents with your money? That's just weird, Mommy."

Of course, that threw my other two kids into a panic. They apparently don't think it's weird at all. Or at least not too weird for them to get past...with all their cash safely stashed away.

Of course, from a mother's perspective, it matters not who pays for the gift a child gives or whether the offering costs anything at all. It's the bouncing around for days ahead of time in anticipation of their choices being revealed and the expectant watchfulness on their sweet little faces on Christmas morning. To see your children grow from self-centered toddlers into such thoughtful givers is truly magical.

Friday, January 1

REPOST - The Angel Tree

This was originally posted on my old blog on March 30, 2009.

Yesterday, as E was playing outside with friends, she discovered that our dog, Angel, had curled up in the base of a hollow tree and passed away.

Angel was a gift from Minama and Bittaba for S's fifth birthday. In her "first life," she was beaten and confined to a small pen. When we chose her from a cage at the Metro pound, the man helping us said, "Well, I don't know. She's awfully skittish and not very comfortable around people but she's only got a day or two left, so let's try."

He brought her out and she proceeded to walk over to where we were seated on a bench and sit down beside me, facing out. It was as if she were already ours. Tears came to my eyes and we knew we'd found our dog.

She loved keeping the many critters in the woods away and was a wonderful guard dog. She would give a waring bark anytime anyone came up our drive (unless it was one of our cars. She never once barked when C came home.) However, she never was the kind of dog that wanted to run around and play too much. Love and security can only do so much...she came into this world among people that were just too mean for her to ever fully trust. To the end, she would sometimes flinch when we'd move to pet her.

Over the past year, taking care of the animals has become solely S's responsibility. He has never once complained or forgotten to feed them. Rain, wind, snow and ice...he has cared for them and it has been wonderful to watch them bond further with him.

C and I knew that Angel would be leaving us before too long even though nothing in particular was wrong with her. She just had a bad start in life and was aging quickly. We never really voiced this to the children and maybe we should have, but in their own ways, they noticed, too.

The children have taken the loss very hard, of course, as it's their first such experience. They've all cried themselves to sleep and we've been careful to snuggle with them a little extra.

The tree that Angel died in was the very one that she used to curl up in years ago when we first brought her home. She was smaller then and I'm not really sure how she managed to get in there one last time. As we were unable to take her out, she is now buried in the base of the tree which E has aptly named The Angel Tree.

A fitting tribute, I suppose, to a life which very well could have ended without notice eight years ago on a cold table in the pound...

Welcome! (And Wish Me Luck)

1I have long been frustrated by blogging, more specifically, my ability to keep up with it. As a result of some welcome changes in my life, I have decided to resume posting on a different (not additional!) domain.

The first change is a very happy one -- for the first time in my years of motherhood, I am just a stay-at-home-mom. Since my first child was born, I have been extraordinarily blessed with interesting and financially-rewarding part-time jobs that have allowed me to stay at home with my kids. However, I have often wondered what it would feel like to be able to focus solely on my duties as a wife and mother. Over the years we have become less and less dependent on my earnings to make ends meet. With the amount of driving my last profession (as a personal trainer) required, we realized that the time and fuel costs of that commute really ate into my paycheck. While our children are all in school and increasingly independent, we see these precious years with them going by so fast and have decided to try to focus all the energies we possibly can on these three precious gifts God has given us.

Another change, albeit a very distant second in terms of importance, is that we finally have a broadband internet connection. My first couple of years of blogging, the time it took me to post was just ridiculous.  Couple that with the frustration I experienced while trying to read news, research anything or check out other blogs online and it became all too easy to procrastinate posting anything.

So, here I find myself with a new blog to replace the old. While I love sharing news and photos of my kids with family and friends, putting all that rather personal information 'out there' for anyone to see periodically made me quite uneasy. (Plus, my older two children began shying away from any photos or videos for fear I'd put it on the blog where 'all my friends will see it!!')

I don't expect that I will never post pics of my kids, but I want to focus the blog on things that bounce around in this head of mine and allow them to worry about social implosion from some other source. Thanks for reading!!