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Friday, September 13, 2013

Facebook Forgiveness…Yom Kippur in the Electronic Age

I thought about writing this in my Facebook status box this morning…To all those I have wronged, I’m sorry.  Then, I thought, how disingenuous and trite that sounded.   As a kid, I used to nervously think about Yom Kippur and all its implications. Of course, the YK liturgy usually compounded my anxiety with frightening descriptions of angels trembling, the book of life, who shall live and who shall die.  I wasn’t paralyzed with fear, mind you, but I took the forgiveness aspect of it rather seriously.  I actually asked my family members and friends for forgiveness without the crutch of Facebook, Twitter, email, or Instagram.  Ironically, the more technology we acquire to stay in touch, the less we are able to reach out personally and connect as humans, as we did back in the “stone ages” before all these technological marvels were a reality.

Admittedly, I too have fallen into the ease of connecting via the computer.  I appreciate the fact that I am now in touch or reunited with those I grew up with, or befriended along the timeline of my life. I don’t really need to ask them for forgiveness, because if I did something that long ago, we have either forgotten it, or, they’re simply not on my friend list.

So, why do I feel compelled to put out a blanket “I’m sorry” status for all of the 329 not my closest and personal friends to see?  Why don’t I just get on the phone or send a personal message?  Is it that I like to see my little like button rack up the number of hits I get?  Perhaps I was unaware that I wronged someone and this easily gets me off the hook?   Or, maybe it’s more altruistic in that it technically provides someone with an open opportunity to ask ME for forgiveness. Hmmm. 
It seems that seeking or granting forgiveness is a prickly challenge. It requires forethought, emotional energy, soul searching and diplomatic wordsmithing.  It’s an intensely busy day at the office for our moral consciences and I hate it.  I despise conflict; moreover, I’m twitchy with that murky feeling of unknowingly hurting another person.  Yet, the feelings that expose and humble us are the true grit and guts of Yom Kippur; I hate grit and guts.  Facebook forgiveness seems like a good compromise, certainly much simpler and more time efficient than defying convention and going old school with the archaic                             t-e-l-e-p-h-o-n-e.   
I tried to relate this message to my daughter who is close to Bat Mitzvah and for the last week has been referring to Yom Kippur as “the day of evil.” 

            “Why do you call it that?” I ask.
“I hate that everyone is sad.”  I try to make her understand that it’s not a sad holiday per se, like Tisha B’av, rather, it’s contemplative.  She wasn’t buying it.
 “ I hate (emphasis on the hate) that you get a really bad headache from lack of coffee, and then you’re grumpy.” 

 “I’m not grumpy.” I insist.  She crosses her arms, taps her foot along with that signature twelve-year old bravado smirk.  

“Okay, I may get a little grumpy.”  I admit.  “But I’m not sad.” 

“So what would you call it?” She asks. 

“I would call it…uncomfortable, but not because I can’t have coffee.  It’s uncomfortable because I’m forced to look inside myself.  I need to face the flaws and try to rummage up any remaining dormant strength I have left in my reserves to fix it, whether the issue is with myself or somebody else.”
           “Well, wouldn’t it be easier to do that with a cup of coffee?”  She says wryly.
           “Honey, forgiveness isn’t supposed to be easy.” I responded.
In the end, I decided to drop the Facebook forgiveness thing and leave my status updates to all things mundane and/or quirky.  I guess there was a part of me that felt that forgiveness shouldn’t be demoted to a paltry and mediocre update.  Instead, I am trying very hard to upgrade forgiveness to a deeper, more personal level, which isn’t always easy to do, especially without coffee.


Monday, September 9, 2013

My Big Fat Vegetarian, Carnivorous, Food Allergy/Cholesterol Free and Low Sodium Rosh Hashanah

The fact that Rosh Hashanah was so close to Labor day last week left me in a bit of a panic.  I'm not sure, but I think I heard my leather boots sniffling in the back of my closet, waiting to be called into high-holiday action. Yet, imagine their shock when I picked out something (gasp) sleeveless, not to mention that I went to high holiday services without... panty hose...(Please mom, don't judge me) still relying on my fading summer tan to complete my late summer/early fall ensemble.
Clearly, there was a majority of women who followed suit, though, I did spot one boot wearing maverick.  Sure, it was chilly at 6 a.m., but is that enough to justify wearing boots especially when she walked in the same time as me (albeit late at 10:30) and the thermomemter was registering at  least 80 degrees? No matter.
Holiday meals and guests at my house, are another thing that puts me in a tizzy. Due to food allergies, I make myself responsible for all the food, because it cuts down on anxiety with pot luck dinner as I know that every item on the table is safe. I usually make all the desserts, sides, veggies, etc... Though, being a former vegetarian, I do relegate the turkey to my girlfriend. I know nothing about cooking no turkeys. I stick to meatballs.  In fact, I stick to all meat without bones, skin, or goopy stuff. If it looks like an animal in its original form, I don't cook it. She brings the bird, it works well for us. Other than that, I ask people to bring wine, but no other food.

At my table, there are very different types of eaters. My daughter is vegetarian while my son doesn't eat meat unless it's a hot dog (which is questionable as meat anyway).  He  is also severely allergic to all things nuts and eggs.  One guest needs low-no cholesterol and recently my father in law who had open heart surgery now requires low sodium. Oy. I understand various eating concerns as we live with it on a regular basis and like me, I don't like to pester the host.  Because I understand the issue, I go out of my way to make my guests feel comfortable insuring that there will be food available and that they don't have to bring their own stash.

I pretty much have the veggie thing down as my daughter is thrilled with sides, grains and challah. The egg-free and the cholesterol thing work together simultaneously.  Sure, a stick of non-hydrogentated margarine may contain some cholesterol, but I didn't really use it that much.

So now we get to low sodium....HMMMPHH.  I have to admit, this posed a bit of a dilemma.  To say that I was uneducated on the matter was an understatement because I had no clue as to how much sodium some of the items at my dinner table  actually contained.  Let's take my signature side dish..carrot mousse.  This dish is soooo good. In fact, it was written up in the Washington Food Blog a few years back. 
Feeling rather smug that I could deliciously provide food for my father in law without sacrificing taste, I figured this dish was fine because it didnt require any additional table salt. However, somewhere during my clueless cooking and preparation, it dawned on my that while added salt wasn't an issue, sodium hidden in the individual ingredients might be. Uh oh...this was certainly a game changer. I pulled out my little calculator and began tallying up the points on the sodium scale. 
Turns out, one 8x8 pan of carrot mousse contains...drumroll please....965 milligrams of sodium!!! What? Seriously? When Lot's wife turned around and became a pillar of salt, I think it was 965 milligrams! Forget my trip to the Dead Sea, I can just pour 965 milligrams of salt into my tub and float in the privacy of my own home.  How did I not know this?
Then I started to investigate all the other dishes. Meatballs, roasted veggies, potatoes, bread pudding, mandelbread, honey cake, apple cake, carrot cake..salt, salt, salt. I'm thirsty just talking about it and the virtual blood pressure cuff is cutting off my supply.  Thankfully, the challah was the lowest salt content of all.
Slowly, meticulously I worked my way through each dish and found an alternative, though, I decided that the desserts needed the salt to truly balance out the dish. Even with the salt, and in limited quantity, it wouldn't tip the scale.
I switched the meatballs to turkey, and took out the salt replacing it with other spices. I  made a separate baking pan of roasted veggies and potatoes with Mrs. Dash and quite honestly, I could have made it that way for everyone as they tasted great. Mrs. Dash and I have become quite close these past few days.
Bread pudding... difficult. Whole wheat bread per slice has 180 mg.  A bread pudding requires a loaf...yikes.  I left it as something to eat in moderation. A scoop perhaps.
Mousse..the main offender. I removed the tofu (120 mg) and replaced it with Ener-G egg replacer. Took out the non-hydrogenated margarine (520 mg) and replaced it with 1/3 cup canola oil and 2 TBSP applesauce.  The carrots have natural sodium (325 mg) but it is called carrot mousse, so I didn't replace those. I brought the total count to roughly 325 mg. in an 8x8 pan give or take a few mg's.  Phew.

Holidays and food are supposed to be symbiotic, therefore I find it a mission and definitely a labor of love to be able to provide no matter the restriction. Kids and adults alike with food restrictions often feel like the awkward ones on the bleachers at the school dance, watching everyone else have a good time. 

Nevertheless, if a diet conscious, salt lovin', recovering bake-o-phobe like me can make it happen....anyone can.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Diary of a Bake-o-Phobe-Manic Muffin Monday

Looking for a quick grab for breakfast? Perhaps a long road trip and snacks are a must! Look no further.  Here are the best muffins that are tasty, allergen free( dairy, egg, and nut) , and best of all they are packed with nutrition.  Not comfortable baking? Me too. These are sure to get you over your Bake-o-Phobia.  Try one and see for yourself!

Blueberry and Banana Muffins

Blueberry Breakfast Muffins

1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 unbleached all purpose flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 TBSP wheat germ
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup sucanat (can reduce to 1/3 cup)
1 cup soy milk (can use Rice milk or Coconut milk)
1/4 canola oil (can also use coconut oil melted)
1 TBSP apple cider vinegar
1 cup berries (fresh or frozen, blueberry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Line muffin pan with cupcake liners

Sift the flour, baking soda, salt and wheat germ in a large mixing bowl.
In a separate bowl, beat sugar, soy milk, oil and vinegar (can be done by hand vigourously)
Make a well in the flours and pour in liquid ingredients

Mix quickly just until flours and liquid are combined.

Gently fold in berries ( coat the berries in a little flour first so they don't sink to the bottom)

Using a small scooper fill the muffin tins about 2/3 full

Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until muffin tops are lightly browned.

Insert toothpick. When it comes out clean, they are definitely done.

Banana Breakfast Muffins
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 cup Sucanat (If you want extra sweetness you can add 1 TBSP of agave nectar)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp flaxseed (or wheat germ)
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup canola oil ( you can use melted coconut oil)
4 very overripe the kind your kids won't eat MASHED bananas
1/4 water (or coconut water)
1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat oven to 350
Line muffin tins with cupcake liners

In a large bowl beat sugar and oil together and then add mashed bananas, vanilla and water until combined.

In a medium bowl, sift flour, cinnamon, flaxseed, baking soda and salt (you can get away with sifting, if you mix it with a whisk to combine)

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix until just combined. Do not overmix. Fold in raisins.

Fill each tin about half way full of batter ( I use a small ice cream scoop).

Bake for 20-30 minutes until they are golden brown and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Running in Circles…One 5K at a Time

Ah….the year is finally winding down, yet, I am still running in circles. Camp forms need to be completed, sneakers need to be replaced, closets need expunging, duffle bags require fumigating.   I’m a one woman show.  I  amass the camp clothes, label, wash all the pool towels on a regular basis and I wonder sometimes, do my kids actually know how much behind the scenes preparation it takes just so they can have fun? The answer is a resounding NO.  I work alone with no one beside me.

 I’m not looking for sympathy or to be a martyr mommy, mind you.  I know the work is par for the course.  I do however, expect a modicum of help such as hanging up the chlorine- scented laundry to dry so it doesn’t produce material that requires a skull and cross bones warning.  Usually the kids comply with that one; otherwise, I’m on my own.

 I live for summer.  I relish the quiet, the heat, and the one dropoff and pickup I have to make at camp. Eventually, briefly, I no longer have to run in circles. I wait for this season, I yearn for it and yet as an adult, summer always seems to slip through my fingertips.  Summer used to feel like a long and bountiful picnic feast, when I was a kid.   Now, it feels like a drive-thru meal.  As soon as I get all my summer ducks in a row, the school packet is in my mailbox, and I already feel winter’s noose around my neck.

This summer, my daughter made a request that initially made my heart sink.  She didn’t want anything expensive, like a shiny new electronic gadget, or iPhone.  She didn’t say, “Mom, I’ve decided my goal in life is to become a Justin Bieber roadie and ride around the country in a van with a mattress and a guy with really cool tattooes and his name is…. VooDoo.”  Nor was she demanding, moody, or even whiny with her request. In fact, I should revel in the fact that she likes me, she really likes me and more importantly, she wants to include me in her aspirations. 
“Mom, I really want to run a 5K. Will you do it with me?”
“Of course, but we need to go slow.”  I respond.
A big hug ensues, and I’m left wondering how I am going to pull this one off.  Now, to the avid runner enthusiast, this may seem like a no brainer; a 5K is not so hard. However, to someone who has endured three decades of injuries to the same knee, the thought of running 3.1 miles all at the same time is rather daunting.  In fact, it strikes panic in my heart because due to cortisone shots, and lots of physical therapy over the years, I have managed to get my arthritic patella to a point where I don’t feel pain on a regular basis.  I can only imagine what running will do to reverse all my hard work.
My knee usually sounds like a bowl of rice krispies at any given moment.  If they handed out prizes for the loudest crack from a bodily joint, I’m a blue ribbon winner.  In fact, my knee predicts the weather better than the average weatherman does.   Now there’s a career…”And over to you Rachel, does your knee tells us if we need an umbrella today?” “Well Ryan, I’ve got a lot of aching this morning, and a few more pops and cracks than usual which usually signifies overhead thunderstorms.”
Nevertheless, moments like these are rare, and like summer, they are over much too soon. We have been training 2-3 days a week following a slow and steady running plan that intersperses running and walking.  I do a lot of prep for this mind you. I take Motrin, put a lot of icy hot on my knee and cover it with a brace, and then ice it when I get home.  It aches a bit, and I keep reminding my daughter that while I would like to reach the end goal with her, she may have to get to the promised- land without me.  I know it’s not what she wants, and while running is not my favorite form of exercise, it’s not what I want either. 
So, I’m back literally and figuratively running in circles, except the difference now is, I’m not alone because I’ve got my baby  beside me.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Keurig Conundrum and Other Coffee Anxieties

My twelve-year old is currently taking health class in middle school. I must tell you that the dinnertime conversations this week have been peppered with some fascinating tidbits. I nearly choked on my chicken the other day when I got questions pertaining to menopause.  Really? As if they don’t have enough to worry about in their young, hormonal, over programmed and pressured lives?
This week they are currently learning about infectious diseases.  Now we are in fear of Diphtheria, Lockjaw, Tuberculosis, and Rubella.  Seriously, did the teacher forget to tell them about disease control and oh, I don’t know, IMMUNIZATIONS?  Today’s disease du jour is HIV/AIDS.  Hmmm, I’m thinking pasta would be an appropriate side dish to accompany a serving of sexually transmitted disease table talk.
Last week, they studied addictions, which is what brought this jewel of a conversation to the forefront.

“Mom, are you addicted to coffee?”

“Yes,“said my husband.

“No, I’m not addicted like people are addicted to drugs.”

“Yes, yes you are,” he said.

“Don’t you get withdrawal symptoms, like headaches when you don’t have it?” My daughter piped up. 

(OK here is a side note, remember when you had your first child and all the other kids were talking and yours wasn’t yet? You worried, stalked the pediatrician, read every book on developmental delays, searched everything bad on the internet, and misdiagnosed your child like a million times? Me too). 
“Uh, kind of.”
“Didn’t you take Motrin on Yom Kippur because you had to fast and knew you couldn’t have coffee and the headache would be really bad?” The husband reminds me.
“So? It’s not really an addiction.” My voice sounds squeaky and I squirming.  They are both looking at me. 
“Okay, I’m Rachel, and I’m a coffee addict.”
Technically, I suppose I am an addict of sorts. I mean, I absolutely need a cup to get me through the morning. Admittedly, I actually panic if I have an early morning appointment and I don’t know how I will slug down a cup of coffee before I go and it is up for debate that if I had another child, I would name it, Starbucks.  Finally, as long as it’s confession time, I have an impressive, museum worthy collection of travel mugs and Styrofoam cups with caps in my cupboard.
 So, it’s ironic that my husband exploits my coffee weakness in front of my offspring given the fact that the enabler bought me a Keurig for my birthday this past November. That’s like giving an alcoholic a beer making kit and saying, “use this judiciously.”

Truthfully, the gift made sense. When my husband went cold turkey on the juice a few years back, I no longer needed to brew a small pot and yet, there I was brewing the same amount because, it had become a part of my routine and I finally had it down to a science .  Sure, I could have spilled the rest out, as I didn’t really need four cups, but that would be soooo irresponsible. 
Enter the Keurig.
I had a few reservations about Mr. Keurig.  On a philosophical level, it represented change, something I continue to resist. Honestly, I was a bit antagonistic about it on my kitchen counter and my Mr. Coffee wasn’t too happy about it either.  I’m not sure, but I think I heard it say, “Et tu café?” (My daughter just learned about Julius Caesar). 
It would change my coffee lovin’ life forever.  Now, I had to get my head out of pot brewing mentality and focus on “the cup.”  If the cup was too big, the coffee tasted like dishwater with a hint of chocolate, too small and it was sludge.  The medium was usually the best setting, but then I had to get used to my gigantor coffee cup on steroids being half-empty.  I mean would you stop filling the deep end of the pool at 3ft? Of course not, because that would be dangerous and negligent. See where I am going with this? Sigh.
Next, I had to deal with the arduous task of ordering coffee flavors. This is utterly staggering as there are too many to count. They all sound scrumptious, like a dessert reception in my cup. Chocolate Glazed Donut, Cinnamon Roll, Super Duper Chocka, locka, creamy latte surprise with caramel accents and a hint of rum, just to name a few.  It took me longer to narrow it down to three flavors than it did to fill out our tax return.  Okay, our accountant did that, but you get my drift.
My coffee conundrum may seem insignificant.  Yes, there are probably better things to rant about, but in its simplest form, it’s really just another coping mechanism for change.  As the school year begins to wind down, I feel the bittersweet stirrings of another year completed, and the realization that my kids are getting older, and so am I.  My baby moves on to 3rd grade, and the twelve-year old will celebrate her bat mitzvah, and I think, “How the hell did I get here?”  

Yet, as I look at my half- empty coffee cup, I realize that I’m probably looking at it all wrong, it may seem half-empty, but truly, my cup runneth over.


Tuesday, April 30, 2013

My Own Happiness Project-Top Ten Things to Make Your Life a Happier One

Admittedly, some days are harder than others.  Frenetic schedules, family emergencies, carpooling, and to- do lists a mile long.  When you need Monday-Thursday to catch up from your weekend, there’s definitely a problem.  I also admit that I am prone to letting little things get to me, even though I try not to let that happen, but, alas, it does.

 I know I am not alone in this world when I say, “Calgon, take me away,” (yes, I am dating myself with that expressionl).  Even if I could sit in a bubble bath, alone, on a different planet, without children screaming through the door for advice, homework help or snack, I would probably compile lists in my head regarding the groceries, meals, and upcoming camp preparation.  Before you know it, the bubbles have fizzled out, and I realize, “Wow, I still need to lose those 7lbs!” Ugh.

Nevertheless, this is what life is, a careful balance of carpools, rehearsal schedules, afterschool activities, variety shows, plays, karate, Hebrew school, and oh, yes, eked out relaxation time with the family. Tucked within this blurry of activity is a schedule peppered with holidays, special family occasions and grandparent visits that jolt us out of the mundane and remind us to be grateful.

It’s hard to keep our heads above water, and when you are in the throes of life, it’s hard to feel happy when you feel the crushing weight of responsibility.  In this scenario, the best that one can achieve is to strive to find a few minutes of happiness each day, even if the day is turning out to be a complete bust. I have comprised a list of the top ten things, requiring minimal amounts of time that will leave you with a little piece of happy. J

Always put your keys in the same place

How does this make you happy? Well, if you’re like me, you have placed your keys in your pocket, purse, table, hall table, coffee table, bedroom, which inevitably is covered by a paper, book, or sticky paper towel.  This ensues in a 10-minute manhunt for AWOL keys, thus prompting a string of obscenities that only a sailor could love.  Once the kids overhear this rated R language, it requires a 5-minute freakin’ sermon on why cursing is bad.  The keys are located, I’m off to my destination, with a traumatized child and desperately seeking a good explanation other than, “I couldn’t find my keys,” in order to save face.   As I mentally tick off a respectable reason for being late, I go through a red light, prompting a cop to follow me.  I worm my way out of a ticket, and arrive really, really, late to my destination.  I am mad, frustrated and stressed.  If I had just put my keys in the plate (that I specifially made at Made by You Pottery specifically for keys) on the counter, my day would have been soooo much happier.  Seriously. I now make a very conscious effort to return my keys to the same place. 

Flower Power

You would be amazed at the power of the flower.  I love looking at fresh flowers on my dining room table. They don’t have to be a fancy bouquet, just a cheap bunch from the grocery store. My personal fave is the sunflower with it’s cheery, bright disposition.  They are nature’s anti-depressants, and they make me smile in the morning, even though it’s an ungodly hour to be awake and making school lunches.  Just make sure you keep the water fresh, and throw them out before they begin to stink…dead, rotting flowers could be a real happiness buzz kill. 

Dates with the Weights

Sooo hard.  I write all morning, run errands, and then begin the second  part of my day with the kids.  Realistically, I don’t get to workout until after they are in bed.  9:00 p.m. workouts are challenging! There have been times where my workout suffered due to sheer exhaustion! However, on the nights I keep my dates with the weights, I am rewarded with a feeling of calm, a sense of accomplishment and more importantly, a snack… because you should always eat after a workout.   

Scrub Your Way to Happiness
I have a faux Clarisonic Microdermabrasion Brush that I bought on sale a few years ago. I’m sure it’s not as effective, that being, it doesn’t rotate as fast as the gold standard.  Nevertheless, I began using it again, after I unearthed from under the bathroom sink due to a leaky pipe.  WOW! What a difference in just a few days.  It just feels good on my skin, and I really do believe it enables the skin products to work even better!  Soft, refreshed, clear, invigorated skin is definitely something to be happy about! 

Break with Breakfast Boredom

I eat oatmeal EVERYDAY!  I love oatmeal. However, every now and then, I cannot even manage to choke it down.  Changing up your breakfast is not only good for your psyche; it also helps rev your metabolism.  It’s like exercise, if you don’t challenge yourself; use the same amount of weight; identical cardio program, your muscles adapt to that and don’t grow.  It’s the same with food.  If you eat the same thing, day in and day out, your body becomes accustomed to that.  Change it up-Whole Wheat Ezekiel bread with nut butter and banana, a smoothie, whole grain cereal with berries, or try my Healthy Little Debbie’s.
Living with Laundry
Tooo funny. For those who know, I have been lamenting about laundry for years because I never seem to get ahead of it.  All is right with the world when everyone has underwear, socks, and pants neatly tucked away… at the same time.  Admittedly, I haven’t perfected the laundry system by any means. Normally, the pile of laundry is overwhelmingly high.  When I actually wash it, however, it never seems to make it’s way upstairs thus forcing me to go down to the cold, basement, in the wee hours of the a.m. on a dryer hunt for socks.  I have to admit, it makes my morning stressful.  I am a work in progress on this one.


Heat and Serve

Leftovers are a gift in my opinion because it saves so much time regarding dinner! Nothing makes me happier when I don’t have to think about what to prepare.  Heat and serve my friends, heat and serve.


Ditch the Dinner Guilt

 There is one night a week where our schedules are so hectic; we don’t even get home until 7:00.  It’s hard at this point to start cooking, so I have resorted to pizza night; an individual, pre- packaged crust that each kid gets to make themselves.  It takes 10 minutes from start to finish.  The kids lavish it with olives, broccoli, sauce and cheese and eat with a large salad (yes, my kids fortunately love salad…and Brussel sprouts, go figure).  In the scheme of life, it’s not a home cooked meal, but it’s a compromise.  It’s fast, filling, and compared to greasy takeout, it’s not so bad. Sure, I could make my own whole-wheat pizza crust from scratch, but there are many days where frankly, I just don’t want too.   Don’t get dinner guilt because one or two meals out of seven isn’t so great.  Your guilt only makes you unhappy, which trickles down to them.

Fuzzy Sock Fetish

It’s the little things in life that make us happy like cozy…fuzzy socks. They are like hugs for your feet. Everybody should own a pair. 


Say, "No" to the News
For some, watching CNN is akin to watching sports.  News addiction (in my opinion) can be detrimental to your happiness.  I am most happy, when I don’t watch the news. However, I don’t want to be uninformed or ignorant either.  I usually watch the 10p.m. news, for the first 5 minutes. After the litany of stabbings, home invasions, and fatal traffic accidents, along with the headlines, I am usually ready for a Seinfeld re-run.  If there’s a compelling cover story, I will suck it up, along with a read through of the weekend paper.  In short, if the world is coming to an end, I am sure my mother will call to tell me.  I don’t have to watch it on the news.
There you have it…10 things that require minimum effort and cost very little to nothing at all.  Try our own happiness project and let me know how it goes.

Stay happy!


Monday, April 22, 2013

A Healthy “Little Debbie”-Recipe of the Week

Remember Little Debbie’s, with all that yummy cream centered between two chewy oatmeal cookies? Ah, yes, soooo delicious. I went through a Little Debbie phase back in grad school where I just couldn’t get enough of them.  At the time, I was weaning myself off Pop Tarts; my sugary, hydrogenated laden, cholesterol building, fat inducing toaster pastries.

After I came out of Pop Tart rehab, however, I was pulled right back into another addiction.  I guess I wasn’t strong enough to resist the lure.  No, I didn’t take up smoking, or even alcohol.  Instead, I became heavily addicted to….Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies.  On closer glance however, innocence is shattered because they are bad…really bad. Yes, such an innocent name for such a potent snack cake. 

The very first ingredient is Corn Syrup.  Shame on you cute Little Debbie!  Three different hydrogenated oils follow this.  At this point, your cholesterol is rising by just reading the ingredients. To think I ate these unscrupulous morsels by the box load!  I ate them during finals, research papers, boredom, and on the subway back and forth from school. In retrospect, no wonder I had so many headaches! Sugar was leaching itself into my body and coursing through my entire central nervous system!  I walked around with fallout Little Debbie crumbs clinging to my shirt, while white crème stained the corners of my mouth, making me look like a strung out Little Debbie addict, as opposed to the doe eyed innocent country girl on the box.  

 Little Debbie is the Devil.  

Whenever I see the Little Debbie box at the store, I feel a twitch, my pulse quickens, and I have to get out of the aisle.  I shove my cart fast and furious in an effort to flee.  I usually don’t go down the cookie aisle, but sometimes, they deviously place the Little Debbie’s on the end cap aisle, in a sneaky yet clever marketing effort to get you to buy them without even going down the cookie aisle.  Demons.

I get home and unload all of my produce, Quinoa, Greek yogurt, wheat germ, fruit, and the good stuff.  However, my mind keeps drifting to ….Little Debbie.  Damn her.  I must have her.  So, I get myself to the kitchen in an effort to make a healthier option. Something that won’t sabotage my efforts, yet, tastes good.  I mix, and measure, and come up with a healthy and tasty alternative.  You can give it to your kids for breakfast; use it as a post workout snack.  You can also just make them as cookies without the cream.      

I bring you, Little Debbie’s Nemesis…Healthy Little Debbie.  Enjoy  

Makes approximately 24 small cookies, you can increase their size however. 


1 cup Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

½ tsp. baking soda

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. cinnamon

¼ tsp. salt

1/3 cup Sucanat (you may even lower this to 1/4 cup if your banana is ripe bordering on mush)

1 TBSP wheat germ

2 TBSP vanilla protein powder (optional, but it boosts protein and adds vanilla flavor)

2 cups oatmeal (whole oats are great)

¼ cup raisins (optional, or cranberries)

2 tsp. vanilla (the pure kind, not with corn syrup)

1 medium-large overripe banana mashed well

1/3- cup coconut oil (or regular canola oil is fine)

Preheat oven to 350

Line two cookie trays with parchment paper

In a large bowl, whisk banana, oil, sugar and vanilla together until oil is completely absorbed.

Sift dry ingredients (except the oatmeal and raisins)

Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well.

Add the oatmeal and mix.  You will have to use your hands. 

Add the raisins and mix well into dough.

Use a scooper (mine is a small one) to scoop dough onto parchment paper.

Press down slightly to flatten cookie.

Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden and bottoms are slightly brown.  You can keep them in longer if you want them crunchier, but they are best at 10 minutes.

Cool on a wire rack

Place 1 TBSP of crème filling on the flat side of the cookie and cover with another cookie.

Cream Filling- A few options.

Plain Greek Yogurt

Vanilla Greek Yogurt

Soy Yogurt

Frozen yogurt




Friday, April 19, 2013

Spring Challenge 7lbs in 7 weeks: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (in reverse)

 It has been exactly one week and three days since I started my 7 lbs in 7 weeks campaign. I have a number of observations about my spring challenge and I bring them to you uncut, unedited, painfully honest, embarrassing, out there, but hopefully, motivational.

The Ugly
Never set your expectations too high.  For example, I am going to lose 30 lbs in a month.  Clearly, this is an impossible expectation with doom written all over it.  However, I put out a very reasonable expectation, 7 lbs in 7 weeks.  This would undoubtedly be a healthy method-1 lb per week. Yes? Of course the answer is yes, but in my brain, deep within it’s coffee soaked crevices, I had an alternate plan.  I figured since 1 lb a week seemed soooo simple, then, I would probably lose more than that, hailing me as the goddess of weight loss.
My alternate plan was very convincing in my brain, even though my realistic plan was the one I set forth on paper.   Now, I know you have all done this.  It’s what we do.  We set forth, ready to forge ahead and kick butt, and while we are full of this motivational hyperactivity, our expectations soar, and we think we can conquer the world, and ultimately disregard the realistic foundation put into place that eventually gets us to the point where we want to be.  
I’m not saying you can’t shoot for something better, but it’s like that commercial of the overweight man who weights himself before stepping on the treadmill , runs for 30 seconds, and then gets frustrated when he weighs himself again and the number is still the same.  I bet he had an alternate plan in his head too.
The Bad
Sigh. Okay, true confessions.  Last week wasn’t bad.  I skipped a workout, but worked out 4x that week. Yes, sometimes life gets in the way, and for the most part I dealt with life and worked out, but sometimes your body just says, “Nuh uh! Not happenin' today.”  Therefore, I indulged my muscles and took a break.  I stepped on the scale this past Tuesday, thinking I was going to be pleased.  If the scale could talk here is how it would have responded to me after my initial weigh in.
Me: "Seriously?" "Not even one pound?"
Scale: "Are you talkin’ to me?"
Me: "I can’t believe I cannot even take off one blessed pound."  I was so careful this week.
Scale: "Didn’t you have a cheat day last Friday?"
Me: Yes, but, I built that in.
Scale: "Yes, but you only really started to pay attention that Tuesday, what did you expect?"
Me: "I don’t know at least half a pound?"
Scale: "Really?" (Might I add the scale sounds really snarky)
Me: You suck.
Scale: "Hey, don’t hate the messenger, I just report the facts."
Me: 'I’ll be back."
Scale: Bring it.
There you have it. One week down, and I lost NOTHING!  My alternate plan was 2lbs. for my first week out.  I told my alternate plan to take a hike.  It was sabotaging my efforts and playing tricks with my psyche.
The Good
Point #1-The shorts that prompted me to do this, are definitely looser. They no longer strain against my waist and the thighs feel less tight. Progress.  The other thing is, I wasn’t happy with my Tuesday weigh in, so I weighed in again today, and lo and behold, 1 ½ lbs. are shed. Yeah, me. The scale now reads 136.  Victory is mine. 
Point #2-I’m not an overweight person.   For the record, I am at a healthy weight by government standards, by personal standards however, my goals involve finding a comfort level that makes me happy.  I’m not looking to shrink to a size 2, but rather, to be in the size I am supposed to be, comfortably.  No alternate plans, this is really what I strive for.
Point #3-I feel better.  I really do. Last Friday’s cheat made me keenly aware of what it means to feel positively awful.  I wasn’t planning to cheat last Friday.  In fact, I was stellar the entire day, until I got to the grocery store, and the cookie samples sent me into a dizzying, vortex of shame.  Let’s just say, I made quite a few excuses, to return to the bakery aisle and when I got there, I shamefully made it seem like I hadn’t been there before. 
I had my act down (because I have done this before).  First, I tentatively approach the samples and make a face as if to say, “Wow, I didn’t know these were here, I think I will try one (yeah right, like 6 of them), while looking at the ingredients as if I was going to buy them.  I think the woman in the cheese dept. was totally on to me.  This initial cheat led me down the path of unrighteousness at home as well. Don’t ask, don’t tell, but it wasn’t pretty.  That night, I felt as if I was 6 months pregnant; loaded down, uncomfortable, bloated and full.  I swore I felt something moving in there, probably just a load of junk trying to get through my intestinal tract. The good news is that I couldn’t wait to start fresh again the next day!
Point #4-If I can motivate just one person, I’m so happy that it was my husband, who is riding my diet coat tails and has joined fornces with me. Normally, he and I are like a seesaw.  When he’s good, I’m bad and vice versa. Now we are in this together, and it’s so much better when you and your spouse are on board together.
My final observation is that I have listed way more good than bad or ugly. Therefore, I am definitely onto something and I look forward to the changes ahead.  There is always time to join me, hop on board and start your own challenge.  I look forward to hearing from you. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Telling Your Kids that the World Can Suck-Thoughts on Boston

I rarely have the television on when the kids are home, and for good reason.  At 5:30, I was blissfully living inside my temporary domestic bubble.  My husband wasn’t travelling and thus, able to take our son to karate, leaving me an hour of luxury to actually make dinner, as opposed to slapping something together.  As I stood in the kitchen, chopping onions, relishing the quiet as my daughter studied nearby, and looking out the window at the tree coming to life with its yellow pom- pom blossoms, I actually felt, peaceful.  I didn’t need to rush anywhere, no one was asking me for anything, and I was totally engaged in my task. I even think I was humming.  Very- rare- indeed.

The telephone pierced my silence. I almost didn’t pick it up because my hands were a little wet from the onion. Of course, I was out of paper towels, even though I had just gone to supermarket on a $300 run, but forgot the one item that propelled me to go in the first place. Now, my bliss turns to annoyance. My hands have onion slime on them and I see on the caller ID that it’s my mom.  If I don’t answer, Iknow she will call again, and probably at an even more inopportune time.  I grab a bunch of tissues and pick up the phone with a thin film of Kleenex stuck between my fingers.
                “Hey Mom, what’s up?"
                “Nothing much, where’s Larry this week?”
                “Um, at Karate? Why so interested in his travel schedule?” 
I am a little suspicious. Normally, I don’t get calls from my mother in the early evening.  Her phone call M.O. is usually slated for the a.m. where I automatically think someone has died, (yes, I have turned into my mother) or later in the evening when I am trying to maneuver post homework metltdowns, bedtime skirmishes, or shower debacles.  So, 5:30 was not a routine phone calls.

                “I just wanted to know if he was home.  Doesn’t he usually travel a    lot to Boston?”

                “Mom (I hear the irritation in my voice) what’s wrong?”
                “ Did you hear what happened at the Boston Marathon today?”
                “No, I haven’t had the news on all day, especially in the afternoon when the kids are home.”
“Oh, well, two explosions went off at the finish line, there were a lot injured people and two were killed.”
I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.  I was still reeling from Sandy Hook, eventhough that wasn’t even an act of terrorism, just some crazy, misunderstood lunatic who decided to take the lives of innocent babies. My heart still hurt.  I was having trouble processing.  Wasn’t I just humming while admiring the blooming tree outside?  Innocence was shattered again, as I exclaimed, “Oh my God,” over the phone, unbeknownst that my 12 year old was sitting at the table.
After I hung up the phone, it was hard to return to my regularly scheduled life. I wanted to turn on the TV, but I didnt.  My daughter wanted to know what was wrong, and I suppose I had to tell her. She’s not a baby anymore, they will most likely discuss  it at school. I picked up my iphone to try to make sense of such a senseless act.  Since it had only occurred a mere two hours ago, there was only limited information. 
“Mom, I know something is wrong, what is it?”  So, I told her and I was angry that I had to tell my kid about how much the world can suck. 
My husband and I decided not to tell the eight- year old. What’s the point? We sat him down after Sandy Hook and gave him a very brief explanation, careful not to make it too scary, mindful about emphasizing that he was safe.  We decided to do this because we were so convinced that someone in school would say something, and he wouldn’t be prepared.  Yet, no one said anything, so why not delay the ugliness that will destroy his innocence again? Why can’t we just let him have a childhood where he oesn’t have to worry about crazed gunmen, or terrorists?  The truth is, we can’t, because unfortunately this is our new reality.
I still mourn for those in the Twin Towers, and Sandy Hook, and yesterday’s calamity, and I carry it around my heart like a giant, dead weight.  I wonder how different life will be for my kids when they are my age. What will befall our country that they will have to explain it to their kids, if they even decide to have them because the world is even more crazed by then?  I wouldn’t blame them, though there goes my anticipated golden grandmother years. 
I felt guilty for enjoying the mundane only moments before.  I stood in the kitchen, motionless, staring into space, when the front door opened and the sound of my eight- year old’s laughter jolted me back to the world of the living.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Spring Unveils a Diet Challenge-7 lbs in 7 weeks

As many of you know, I was born and raised in Queens and consider myself a native New Yorker at heart.  When I moved to Maryland twenty-two years ago, (I still can’t believe it has been that long) there were a few things I had to get used too.   First off, I walked like the roadrunner on speed. I was like the person who races down the people mover at the airport while everyone is casually standing on the belt.  My speed was a testament to my NYC roots until my roommate told me to slow down. 
Second, nobody…and I mean nobody, wore their purse strapped across their chest.  Harkening back to my subway days where you always had a purse around your chest and one hand resting by the zipper or opening.  Third, everything closed really early (especially in the burbs) and opened later than I was accustomed too.  What do you mean I can’t buy a gift for the teacher 10 minutes before I’m supposed to present it to her because the mall doesn’t open until 10:00?  Clearly, I needed to plan better.
The last thing I had to get used too was Spring's quick turnaround.  Now, I admit, the last few winters have been rather mild, and I’m not complaining by any means, but the thing about Spring here is that it’s all or nothing. There’s no in between.  For example,  this year, it snowed the last week of March and the entire spring break was cloaked in coldness, rain squalls, and 40 degree temps, and then, BOOM, blistering 90 degree temps where I actually had to turn the air conditioning on.  It’s crazy! The buds on the trees don’t know what to do with themselves.   The cherry blossoms decided they weren’t ready during “peak” season and refused to blossom on time.  My cabbage plants can’t really decide whether to die or not. 
The worst part for me however (aside from the allergies), is that I have gone from jeans and boots to summer clothes overnight.  Didn’t even have time to pull out the Capri’s and short sleeve shirt, no siree, I had to go straight to shorts and a tank top…and it wasn’t pretty.  The shorts were a wee bit tight, and the tank was too short to cover where the shorts were too tight.  UGH! Same dilemma; different spring. 
Now, I could lament that I recently had the flu, which knocked me out for 6 days with an additional week just to be able to breathe again.  I could also confess that prior to my illness; I neglected the basic tenets of good eating and exercise. The kids were sick, the hubby was away, and I was just exhausted. However, I choose to make myself accountable, rather than lament (eventhough I just did). Yes, I am rolling out my spring plan and I hope I inspire you all to create a plan as well.  Here are the basic  rules of your plan.
1.       It has to be realistic
2.       It has to be do-able
3.       You have to try to stick with it
4.       You have to re-set your mental attitude.
My Plan
7 lbs in 7 weeks.  That’s right, I am on board, ready to fight the fat fight, just in time for Memorial Day where G-d help me, I will have to put on a bathing suit (or maybe just hope for another snowstorm, it could happen, right)?
Basically, it’s one pound per week.  It’s realistic, totally do-able, not too extreme, and if you want to join me, you can.  Now, I realize I am not going to emerge a bikini model (probably as likely as a snow storm in May) but, at this age, bikini model really isn’t the goal anymore.  The goal is to be comfortable in my own skin, to feel good and to be the best I can be.   

The plan begins with the dreaded weigh in…check (and in the spirit of accountability, it was 137.5).  Yes, I did it on an empty stomach, yes, I took off every stitch of clothing, and yes, I took my hair out of its piled up bun.  Hey, hair on top your head adds weight.  No judging.
Below are some sample meal and workout plans.  I will be writing on what works and what doesn’t. Remember, just because it works for me, doesn't mean it works exactly the way for you. The point is to get an idea of what a clean diet consists of and a realistic workout schedule.
Workout Plan
Monday-Weights, Biceps and Triceps (Three- mile walk)
Tuesday- Cardio /Cage class/Shoulders Weights
Wednesday- Weights-Back and Chest
Thursday-Cage (We use bands on this day…KILLER)
Friday- Active Rest (possibly three- mile walk)
Sat. –Rest (or a walk)Sunday- Leg workout (We will see how sore I am from Thursday's bands)
Meal Plan
Nothing drastic….It's clean eating, but I like my carbs, and I need them. I just cut them down a bit, and focus on eating them closer to the morning hours…Here is a sample day.
Breakfast- Most days
Green tea with Lemon-before I eat anything, I start with this brew.
Oatmeal ½ cup
½ TBSP coconut oil ( yes, it’s a healthy fat and it fills you up)
1-2 TBSP wheat germ
¼ cup blueberries (or whatever berry I have on hand)
½ TBSP shredded unsweetened coconut/1 tsp. agave nectar 
On days where I know I can’t sneak a snack, breakfast looks like this, it's a little bigger
2 whole-wheat waffles
½ TBSP coconut oil as a spread
1 tsp. agave
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tbsp. wheat germ
Handful of berries

Handful of almonds (around 10)
1 piece of 80% chocolate (gotta have the chocolate)
1-2 TBSP dried tart cherries or half an apple
Coffee with cinnamon and ¼-cup 1% milk

Lunch (this is my latest favorite)
½ cup black beans
2 TBSP corn
1 tsp. olive oil
¼ piece of avocado
Serving of protein (chicken, tuna, or 2 veggie nuggets)
1 corn taco shell
I usually mix the beans, corn, parsley and avocado together and place the protein on top, or put it in a taco shell.
Small Clementine, or a few strawberries
Water-about three cups (24 oz)

Snack-Mid Afternoon 
1cup Greek Yogurt1/2 banana or berries
1 TBSP flaxseed
Water or green tea (24 oz)
Dinner- Always changes depending on what I make the kids or if the hubby is home.  Last night I ate another bean/corn serving with some leftover chicken and a few Brussels sprouts.

Late night snack- When I work out with weights at night, I still have to eat something afterward.  Here is my latest fave.  I only ate half of the recipe.  The rest is for today’s snack.
1-cup Greek yogurt
1 serving Whey protein powder Vanilla
1 tsp. cocoa powder
Mix it all together, cover with foil, and leave in fridge for at least an hour.  It has the consistency of pudding, and a whopping 22 grams of protein.  I ate half of it with a tsp. of raw pumpkin seeds and a smattering of chocolate chips. YUM.
Water for workout

Cheat Days:
I have dedicated Fridays as a cheat day.  I know, I just started and I’m already cheating.  Well, I need to cheat, I live to cheat, and cheating is the only way I can do it.  Therefore, I cheat responsibly.  I usually bake cookies for the kids on Friday for the week.  I love to indulge in cookie dough and a few cookies.  I do it in the earlier part of the day, so there is still time to burn the calories off just by being active. I will blog more on the cheat, and if it works. 
Week One
This week has been okay, and since I only weighed myself this a.m., I can’t tell you if I lost anything, so my plan is to do it once a week, probably on Tuesdays, as that gives me some time to regain footing from any weekend indiscretions.  From a psychological and physical perspective, I feel pretty good.  I am very sore, as I haven't worked out in a month and attended my cardio/cage class this past Tuesday.  I wasn't even up to snuff in terms of intensity, and I had to use my inhaler as my breathing capacity wasn't fully there. I didn't slack, I just didn't ramp it up, and I'm still sore!
My little clothes shopping expedition wasn't great.  Probably shouldn't do these sabotage type activities until I have seen some results, but I really needed some spring couture.  Let's just say, I bought one item out of the five thousand things I tried on.  It was further motivation to stay on track, eventhough I wanted to plunge into a pool of ice cream.  
So, there it is, my Spring plan.  Tell me what you think, give me suggestions. Ask me a question.  I am sure this will be seven weeks of success, frustration and soul searching.  I promise to be accountable, I plan to be realistic, I hope to be inspiring. 
Stay tuned!