Coming Clean

One woman’s honest quest to clean up her unhealthy life for herself and her family.

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Experience Life Magazine

Weather Watcher

My father has always been tuned in to the weather. Every morning, he’d be one of the first ones up, checking the weather reports on the news and reading the paper. Now that he’s retired and an active Facebook user, all of his online friends can also benefit from his re-posts of weather updates.

The worst scenario, he aimed to teach us, was to be caught in the elements unprepared. Never too hot or too cold, and keep your hands, face, and feet protected. My mother, a nurse who spent many years in the burn unit and saw the unfortunate consequences of inadequate winter gear on the appendages, reinforced this sensibility.

Yet, up until 2009 or 2010, I’d say, I didn’t fully absorb this message. If it felt too cold outside, instead of purchasing the right gear, I’d just stay inside to read a magazine or watch TV. Too hot? I’d rather enjoy the air conditioning. I remember one sad summer when I was maybe 12 or 13, and my mother pleaded with me to go outside and help with her garden. Being a tween and it being too hot, I felt, it was best to stay inside, talk on the phone with my friends while watching our favorite shows, and eat Doritos.

No wonder it took me so long to truly enjoy the outdoors. Avoidance is one surefire way to create both fear and unnecessary anxiety.

Curiously, I also married a man who shares my father’s keenness for weather watching. Kyle’s morning report includes road conditions, impending snow, and a discussion on whether or not I should let my car “warm up” before getting on the road. He’ll also give me a rundown of the afternoon report, so I can plan for my commute.

I find it charming from both of these men in my life, but I also wonder why I seemed so indifferent to the weather all these years, especially when I live in a state that has all four seasons (sometimes three-and-a-half, depending on how long the winter lasts). Was nature really that uninteresting?

The more I’ve learned to understand my body, the more I care about my environment. These past few years of working on my weight loss, I’ve started enjoying sunny days — instead of dreading how much I’d sweat, which would surely be a lot (I still sweat, but much less since I dropped the extra weight). When the snow falls, I get excited to snowshoe. Even the rain, which suggests a nice break to read a book or nap, means greener grass and rosier flower petals.

Being more in tune with nature has showed me other perks:

  • I sleep better. I wake up easier. Although I’m still working on my sleeping schedule (the conclusion of March ends Sleep Awareness Month, but my work continues!), I’ve noticed a shift in better-quality sleep when I spend more time outdoors and when I exercise. And try as I might to sleep in on the weekends, I can’t fight the morning sun shining in through my window. The sunrise wakes me up, and I’ve been spending my quiet mornings reading.
  • I understand my own energy levels and needs better. When it’s really hot, I can feel my body move at a snail’s pace. The heat is draining, and I allow for more lounging. If my body needs rest, I respect that. Those images of neighbors on their front porch, drinking ice tea and fanning themselves on hot nights? Completely sensible and necessary.
  • StPaulWinterMarketI have a greater appreciation for farmers and healthy food. Fresh, organic strawberries in the winter in Minnesota can run upwards of $8 (California friends, I know that’s pretty standard). In the summer, I can buy them for $3 or $4, or I can pick them fresh at a nearby orchard. Eating seasonally makes sense, to both my wallet and my taste buds. The St. Paul Farmers’ Market stays open year-round, but in the winter, the farmers are selling mostly meats, root vegetables, apples, and an assortment of wreaths and mini decorative pine trees. (Pictured at right: Me on our visit, January 2012.) few years back, I went with my friend and chatted with a farmer helper from Farm on Wheels. He had just turned 21, but I was shocked at how mature he seemed. He spoke eloquently about his products and their farm practices, and I couldn’t help but think how opposite my 21-year-old self would have been compared to him. He seemed to have an innate value for the importance of hard labor, and showed pride in the rewards his farm reaped. I really admired that trait, and grew a new reverence for farm life. (Read more from one of my favorite farmers here.)

Can a better me come from loving and respecting the environment surrounding me? Most definitely.

 

 

Experience Life Magazine

Signs of Spring

Happy First Day of Spring! I don’t know about you, but this long, cold winter has me ready for the change of seasons like no year before.

When it’s started to get warmer these past few weeks (which is about 40+ in Minnesota), I’ve pulled out the short-sleeve tees. My coworker, Laine, celebrated a recent warm day with a pair of heels that showed a bit of skin. Our rationale: If it’s true that you dress for the job you want, then maybe the rule transfers to dressing for the weather you want. To be sure, I’ve been adding in more pastels, too. I figure it can only help to pull out all the stops when it comes to ushering out the great Polar Vortex of 2013–14. (Our local paper, the Star Tribune, tallied all the numbers for our state and their design team came up with an “I Survived” snowflake badge for social media.)

Combined with more sunlight in the evening thanks to Daylight Savings, the vernal equinox has shifted my outlook. I’ll admit the cold, dark days got to me, and I often felt like I was walking around in a fog, like Pig Pen with his ever-present dirt cloud in Charlie Brown. But now I’m feeling a bounce in my step, and more optimism as I consider all the beauty in the day-to-day and the possibilities for 2014.

Take this morning discovery, for example: As Kyle and I made our way out the door, we noticed that these tiny plants beneath the pine tree in our front yard had survived the beast of this winter. The yard had mountains of snow piled up, but deep below, the green leaves made it. Perhaps the snow preserved them, as if they were frozen in time. The sight of these perennials made me positively giddy.

The snow will melt, the seasons will change, and like these little plants, we are born anew.

EarlySpring2014

Vernal equinox fun fact: Although the name implies that the length of day is exactly equal to the length of night on today’s vernal equinox, that is, in fact, incorrect. The equality of light usually happens before the vernal equinox, according to Geoff Chester, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. The definition of “vernal equinox” stems from when the center of the sun passes over the Equator. Read more in this piece from National Geographic.

Experience Life Magazine

Cold-Weather Lessons From International Falls

This has clearly been a hard winter for all of the United States, frozen in what the media and Twittersphere are calling the Polar Vortex. And perhaps you’d think that, because I live in Minnesota, that it’s just business as usual.

Really, I want to believe that. It gets cold, sure, but wind-chill temps dipping down to -30 and -45 degrees?!? That’s madness! And snow, lots of snow: Today’s 30-minute commute was double the time after the evening snowfall, and I saw seven cars stranded or off the road on the drive in to the office.

The cold weather in other states may put people in panic, but since we are used to the elements in Minnesota, we have the equipment. Many of us have the clothing and strategies to embrace the snow and not let the cold defeat us. This year, as I did last year, I went snowshoeing on the “warmer” days (that’s 20-30 in my mind; 30-40 is positively tropical!).

In the northern city of International Falls, they do as many of the towns do here and make up games and celebrations (St. Paul’s Winter Carnival is happening now). I was catching up on my DVRed Nightline episodes and caught this video. It reminded me today to look on the bright side of this season’s challenging weather:


See more US News from ABC|ABC World News

Experience Life Magazine

Kindness Collection

Every year after Christmas, I tell myself I’ll start shopping earlier next time. In my perfect world, I shop throughout the year, finding just-the-thing for my special someone in a tiny unique gift shop in a new part of town. Or I find something great on a trip or at the antiques shop near the cabin. And instead of stressing in December, I breathe easy.

So far, I’ve gotten as far as keeping a list in Evernote of ideas or a Pinterest board of gifts that would be wonderful to give. Hey, it’s a start.

One area I’ve been more successful is card collecting. I borrowed this idea from my mother-in-law, Cindy, after spending 40 minutes in the card section trying to find the perfect card for Kyle. When she has some extra time, she’ll peruse the cards and gifts area of a store and purchase her favorites. Then she files it in a box, divided by birthdays, anniversaries, sympathy, and other categories.

I loved this life-hacker-style idea, so I started one of my own. When I travel or find myself in a new gift shop, I look for interesting cards. My collection is not as organized (which feels wrong to a Virgo), but I did flag a few with Post-its and names — maybe when I add the recipe-card dividers, I’ll even create subdivisions for friends, family, coworkers.

Tonight I went looking for a birthday card, and came across this custom letterpress-printed card from Lunalux that I’ve been holding onto. Since I wasn’t feeling so hot today and took a rest day to heal, it was just the right card to keep me inspired in my healthy pursuits. The quote reads:

Card“Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.

To keep our faces toward change

and behave like free spirits

in the presence of fate

is strength undefeatable.” —Helen Keller

It lifted my spirits, and imagining the recipient made me smile. I won’t send it yet, but I’ll know when it’s time, and who will need it most.

If you’ve discovered a way to make gift giving feel extra special, I’d love to hear it.

Experience Life Magazine

Stay Warm, My Friends!

It’s not news that’s it is cold out there, so cold in Minnesota, in fact, that the governor closed all public schools for today. (Minneapolis and St. Paul schools will also be closed tomorrow, which was announced today.) This morning when I woke up, it was -20 degrees, and the windchill was nearing -50. Brrrr!

If you’re stuck inside today, hopefully you’re not going stir crazy. I’m a bit of a homebody, so I don’t mind it, whether I’m indoors or in the yard. Not wanting to brave the elements, I’ve locked myself away. (For a writer in Minnesota, this is the best weather as it forces one to get creative. And I’m super productive, which I know pleases my boss.)

It’s easier, however, for me to sit for hours on the couch or in my chair when I’m working from home. (It’s the difference of some 4,000-plus steps on my UP band.)

So how am I making sure to move more today? I set my band to buzz every 30 minutes so I stand up and walk around; I swapped my usual water glass for an oversized Mason jar so I drink more water (and subsequently use the bathroom more often); I’m following DVDs for today’s workout; and I’m adding in a bonus workout tonight from our video library.

This body-weight workout can be done at home or at the gym (a good day for a sauna or steam following your workout!).

Modifications for Home: If you don’t have a bar at home, a sturdy railing could work and the stairs could stand-in for the Assisted Pushup. If you don’t feel comfortable putting your weight on the railing for the Assisted Squat-to-Muscle-Up like me, I’m doing a deep squat followed by a powerful vertical jump, and then adding in a few triceps dips, too.

I haven’t been able to get quite as low as Jamie in the video, as seen below during one of my summer workouts, but I’m working on it. (For those of you longing for warmer months, just look at the green grass! So wonderful! So luscious! Ah, sweet memories of walking barefoot in the grass. Soon, soon.)

Summer13_bearcrawl

So tell me: How are you moving your body and staying warm today?

Experience Life Magazine

Developing a Home-Workout Practice

Since our move in June, we’ve been rearranging and organizing, moving furniture here and moving it there. We had one word in mind when we were house hunting, “retreat,” and we feel like we’ve found that in our cozy home in the woods.

Cozy, I say, because most of our rooms are set up for relaxation. A comfortable couch, a plush chair, and our beloved TV. While our outdoor spaces are open for play, I haven’t really designed an indoor room or corner for fitness. (And from what I’ve learned from various shows on HGTV, you want spaces for activity, play/games/entertainment, conversation, rest, and storage.)

We do have one living space that I find very perplexing. It’s long and a bit narrow, and features a fireplace and large glass patio door. Right now, it’s home to a bookcase, futon, piano, and guitar. We recently moved an antique game table by one wall, but it doesn’t quite fit, so back it goes to another room.

With all the floor space, it seems like it could work well for exercise. There’s the bonus of natural light coming in from the door, and the ceilings are high enough for jumping rope.

So I moved my equipment into the bookcase, a collection which includes:

  • a 10-pound kettlebell
  • a 25-pound kettlebell
  • 5-pound dumbbells
  • 10-pound dumbbells
  • a jump rope
  • an ab wheel
  • resistance bands

I mixed and matched a few items for a circuit, added some body-weight moves like push-ups and lunges, and felt mostly clear on what I needed to do. After all, I spent good money on trainer Shane who taught me soooo much about fitness and how to move my body, not to mention all The Workout programs designed by top trainers and coaches I’ve fact-checked for the magazine. Just pick a program, any program, and I’ll be on my way.

Here’s the thing: When it comes to my workouts, I like to be told what to do. Ten squat thrusters, then 10 star jacks — go! I can write out my plan to follow, but there’s something about a coach directing me that keeps my intensity up.

So I surfed the Web and found some great videos, this one that only uses body weight, and tried my hand at our December kettlebell workout. I’d throw in some dynamic stretching and felt motivated to move even more. And there’s my point: My theory is that a good home-workout routine, whether indoors or a run in your neighborhood, incites more healthy behavior and even more activity.

My vision for an ideal active day: Rise to meditate, journal, drink tea. Exercise with, say, push-ups, burpees, lunges, and weights or resistance bands. Include a fitness or yoga DVD to advance. Feel great! Go to work, walk at lunch, eat well. Feel even better! So much so that I want to keep it going and pop in to the gym to lift weights or take an indoor cycling class. Pound my chest, my day has been awesome.

See where I’m going with this?

Shaun T. for our June 2012 cover story. (Photo by Kwaku Alston.)

So one day, while surfing the tube in the previously described cozy space, I came across an infomercial for personal trainer Shaun T.’s newest workout: Focus T25. He packed some of the hardcore moves from Insanity into 25 minutes. After testing his Insanity-inspired workout that he designed for our June 2012 issue (see video below), I felt compelled to try this abbreviated version. (Plus, I’m a sucker for both Shaun T.’s charm and the presentation of infomercials. I also ordered the NutriBullet, which I’m really enjoying, but then had to ban myself from watching any more infomericals in order to protect my pocketbook.)

For those of you that are Life Time members, Insanity classes are offered at several clubs around the country. Let me know if you’ve tried it in the comments section below.

Focus T25 set up so that I do it five days a week, during the weekdays, with rest days on Saturdays and Sundays. Wish me luck for my first day on Monday!

Experience Life Magazine

The Snow-Shoveling Workout

Shovel1_webLast week I relied on Mother Nature for my workouts. Within a few days, we were covered with a heavy blanket of snow, the most accumulation in the Twin Cities happening on Wednesday.

Being our first winter in our new house, we didn’t quite know what to expect from shoveling the driveway. (I haven’t lived at a home with a driveway since my parents’ when I was 18. Our garage backed up to the alley at our last home, and all we had to shovel was a short distance of sidewalk.)

The length of drive to the street got special attention from our snow blower, but I took to the landing and dug right in. One of my coworkers caught a news report that said shoveling the snow was the equivalent of lifting nearly 20 pounds per shovel.

I figured, if I move fast enough, I’ll get a cardio workout; with the squatting and lifting of the shoveled snow, I’ll get in some strength training; and keeping steady on the ice will be good for my balance.

Shovel2_webAfter an hour of shoveling, I was exhausted: My heart was beating faster, I was sweating under my layers of clothing, and the next day, my arms and core were sore. Success! The aftereffects of a great workout.

I know we start to complain about the snow come February (or maybe you are one to do it now), but the mix of hard work and spending time in nature gave me a natural mood boost. (Get more tips in “Beating the Winter Blues.”) And in the years since I’ve ventured out on snowshoeing expeditions during the winter, I’ve learned to appreciate all the seasons.

What do you do to stay active in the winter?

Experience Life Magazine

Exploring the Woods

Last night, Kyle and Chloe and I made our way around a lake near our house. Or, that was the plan.

It’s not a terribly large lake to walk around: maybe 1 hour to walk and 30 minutes to run? The neighbors estimate it’s about 3 miles around, which would make it a great route for my 5K training.

DeepLake

We found ourselves near a prairie at one point (this can’t be right), then spit out onto side streets with unfamiliar names — clearly streets we haven’t driven down or past before.

So where the heck were we?

It was getting dark, so we started to hustle with only my phone as a guide. My maps program outlined the streets, but not the off-road trails, so we were out of luck to find our way back to the main trail that hugs the lake.

While it wasn’t the preferred path, we did get a nice tour of the north side of the lake. New houses we hadn’t seen before, some set up with Halloween decorations. We found a few hawk feathers in the ditches, and evidence of wildlife in the grasses.

DeepLakeTrails_RunningAnd I noted two things:

  • Chloe is a terrific running buddy, as always, but poor girl is getting old and tires much faster than before. Her body may not want to keep up, but her enthusiasm keeps her going. What’s around the next corner, Mom?! Let’s go sniff that pile of dirt!
  • Kyle’s pace is perfect for me to work on my endurance training. He’s 6 feet, and I squeak in at 5 feet 5 inches, so his long legs allow him to walk much faster than myself. I normally end up speed-walking next to him, but during our walk, I kept up a nice steady jog. And a few times we both took off running when Chloe prompted us to move. There was a new pile of dirt to smell, after all.

It’s not the path we meant to take, and where we ended up was safe and sound at home, but the explorations along the way were worth the detour.

The main trail? I’ll find it. Eventually.

Experience Life Magazine

The Start of a Great New Month!

September is my favorite month of the year for several reasons:

  • While we Minnesotans cherish our summers, I always feel like I’m running around in too many directions: BBQs! Family game night! Happy hour on this awesome patio! No, wait, this awesome patio! And don’t miss this outdoor music concert! How about yoga in the park? Let’s do it all! There are so many great events and no shortage of get-togethers (including the Great Minnesota Get-Together, the State Fair) that I feel like I can’t keep up. After Labor Day, life seems to slow down a bit more as the kids go back to school and everyone gets back on schedule.
  • My birthday is in September, on the 12th. I’ll be 32, and I’m psyched for another year of growing and improving mentally, physically and spiritually. (And it’s an even number, which, strangely gives me comfort. I do much better in even-numeral years, historically.)
  • The cool nights and warm-but-not-hot days are just the tops. It’s my favorite kind of weather, all around.
  • Workouts al fresco = much more enjoyable minus the humidity.
  • Our wedding anniversary is also in September, on the 9th. This year we’re celebrating in the northwestern woods of Wisconsin with a trip to Hayward.
  • Some of the coolest people I know are Virgos, including several of my co-workers, who also, and perhaps not surprisingly, also match me on the Enneagram personality scale as No. 1 — the Reformer/Perfectionist. At least they can understand my obsessive, hyper-critical ways!
  • Shout out to this month’s issue, which includes my weight-loss story in How I Did It. I’m very proud to share it with you all.
  • Back to school. I love seeing all the photos of the kids going back, the children waiting at the bus stop, the backpacks, and the rows of school supplies in Target. A few weeks back, I enjoyed a dinner with the College Gals at our alma mater, the University of Minnesota (go Gophers!), and I started to get the itch to go back myself as I strolled through campus. There’s more I want to learn, in health journalism and healthcare, as well as nutrition and personal training and life coaching. Oooh, and creative nonfiction! I always dreamed of earning a master’s degree someday, but now I’m interested in new and additional avenues to pursue. Of course, with us buying a new house this year and a full plate at work, I don’t think it’s the right time (tuition for the U of M is $12,060 per two-semester school year now — much different than the $5,720 per year when I graduated in 2004). Maybe I’ll grab a new book from our Big Ideas series and find a shady spot on the Mall to read instead. (Or rather, for now.) And I can always look into other programs, like those offered through Life Time Academy.

Are you a fan of fall? Share your love in the comments section below!

Experience Life Magazine

The Slow-Down Plan

These past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. In fact, so much so that I didn’t even realize how wound up I was until I finally started to relax.

The short of the longer story (to be reveal in upcoming posts): We sold our house, bought another, and moved within the course of 51 days. It felt a bit crazy-making at times.

Our sweet little home in the city gave us shelter for nine years, but we had outgrown the space, so we had begun looking last fall. I won’t bore you with the real-estate details, but the stress that accompanied this process was intense. It put us on edge, and I often found myself highly sensitive to any questions about buying and selling. We’re both relieved it’s done, and we are finally able to get comfortable in our new home.

Part of our new home and thus, new lifestyle, is a much slower pace than I’m used to. We’re outside the city, and it’s a battle I fought for a while: I insisted that I could only live in the city, after residing there since freshman year of college (I grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis). Kyle enjoyed the country, so it was important that we could find a compromise.

Again and again we returned to the word “retreat” to describe the place we were looking for, and if we were lucky enough to find it, we would know it.

photoThe home we found is indeed that retreat. It is surrounded by nature. As I write, there’s a doe sitting in our front yard. Yesterday, three wild turkeys walked through our backyard. And there are trails everywhere, glorious trails, beaches, lakes, tennis courts, a golf course, and fields to run and play.

When I drive into the neighborhood, following the winding roads — note the 30 mph speed limit, both to mind the neighbors/children and the wildlife that frequently cross on their way to the adjoining conservation area — I can feel a calm come over me. The house is peaceful, the pets are relaxed, and Kyle asks why I’m speaking so loud when I inquire about dinner. That’s right: I forgot that we move slower here. We like the quiet.

So what does this new lifestyle mean for my weight-loss plan? I’ll be trying a few new things, including more walking, but getting back on track with lowering my stress is step No. 1. More on that to come….

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