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Experience Life Magazine

On The Bike: The Inspirations for Another Springtime of Riding

Merckx copy

Winners of the 1975 Druivenkoers Overijse: Eddy Merckx (center), with second-placed André Dierickx at right, third-placed Roger de Vlaeminck left.

The first bicycle race I ever saw — not including those I witnessed from over the handlebars, chasing my brothers and friends around the block on our 30-pound Schwinns — featured none other than Eddy Merckx. I was hooked.

I’m reminded of that race again now as the winter (slowly) turns into spring and another season of Classics begins.

The race occurred on 27 August 1975; I had just turned 14. It was a nothing race, a local competition for a festival day that took place after the season — i.e., the Tour de France — was largely over. The race was called the Druivenkoers Overijse, a kermesse through the countryside and several small farming towns south of Brussels, Belgium. We lived about 10 minutes away, and although neither of my parents were bike-racing fans, the whole family piled into our old Volvo station wagon to go watch.

As Americans living in Belgium, we of course knew who Merckx was — although I had never even heard of bicycle racing before. In fact, we had been told about the national hero’s exploits time and time and time again by enthused — no, rabid — Belgians whenever the opportunity arose.

I even remember one French-language class in school that evolved into a lecture on Monsieur Merckx and his training regimen with simulated high-altitude atmosphere in his garage for his 1972 hour-record ride in Mexico City; this discourse was delivered by our oh-so-chic Belgian female teacher, who seemed the furthest thing from a cycling enthusiast that I could imagine, then or now.

The way to watch a Belgian one-day race is not to crowd around the finish line and await the finale. Instead, when in Belgium, do as the Belgians do: My family went to a bar on the edge of the town of Overijse along the race course, and my parents soon had goblets of Belgian beer in hand.

The bar was a quaint old roadside place, and it was overflowing with cycling — and beer — fans. Everyone milled around outside right on the road edge as the peloton came by for the first time.

The racers were a blur, gone in two, maybe three, seconds.

So, everyone went inside the bar and drank beer and ate moules-frites, until someone outside shouted that the riders were coming around the course again.

Everyone rushed back outside, and another blur went by. Then back to the beer and lunch.

Those blurs were darn impressive. The riders were so fast, a rush of colorful jerseys and bicycle frames, sunlight glinting off the spinning aluminum wheel spokes, shouts from the riders and fans, a slipstream you could feel on your face, and that wonderful, musical, fast-tempo click of the freewheels — a symphony of Campagnolo!

Fans at our bar pointed out Merckx, who was there at the front in each of the successive blurs. And he was working, hard, even in a race that didn’t matter. There were no points to be won, no prize money of serious account, no real fame to be had. But he rode for his home fans, and they appreciated it all. Perhaps it was missing out on winning his sixth Tour that year that pushed him so.

By the end of the race, we saw three blurs go by. In the center of Overijse, Merckx had won — in the world-champion rainbow jersey, none the less, riding for the famed Italian team Molteni, and astride a glorious DeRosa-built bicycle. His archrival Roger de Vlaeminck, riding for Brooklyn Chewing Gum, finished third. Lucien van Impe, who’d win the Tour the next year, was seventh.

In retrospect, I actually saw little of that race, just those amazing blurs. But the cultural event — and Merckx’s head-down, all-out, dust-and-sweat-coated determination — stuck with me forever. (Ditto for the rich taste of true Belgian frites with mayonnaise.)

Can’t remember if I unbolted the chromed-steel fenders from my fire-engine-red, three-speed Schwinn Speedster that same afternoon, or if it was the day after. Probably brought me down under the magical 30-pound mark, but I was ready to ride.

Experience Life Magazine

Why You Should Talk to Strangers

What if teaching kids to fear strangers damaged their present and future happiness?

It may be so. Two social scientists recently conducted studies in New York City investigating the psychological effects of brief interactions with strangers, like smiling at people on the sidewalk or exchanging a few pleasantries with the barista during a coffee order.

The results overwhelmingly showed that brief connections with strangers make people feel better, partly because we repress our grumpiness and present a kinder face to people we don’t know. Feeling seen is also important for humans, so something as inconsequential as holding the door for the person behind you can give both of you a lift — just because she knows you spotted her.

Read more about these studies (and why efficiency is overrated) in the New York Times article from last Sunday.

And don’t skip the slideshow “Touching Strangers,” a photography project showing strangers in contact. The fourth image is the best thing I’ve seen in a long time.

Courtney Helgoe is senior editor for Experience Life.

Experience Life Magazine

Simple Meals for Non-Cooks: Pan-Seared Salmon and Bok Choy

As mentioned in previous blogs, I don’t consider myself a “cook.” Lately, I’ve been re-evaluating why I don’t don that term easily: Perhaps it’s because I have no official training or that I simply don’t like labels.

I’m exploring these notions, and learning a lot of cooking tips, for an upcoming article for Experience Life. You’ll be able to read all about my cooking-class experience in our October “Food” issue.

During each of the classes in my six-week course, we learn a cooking technique and then we have to try to utilize what we learned on our own.

This week’s “homework” was to pan fry a meal in a cast-iron pan.

Here’s my recipe for pan-seared salmon, bok choy, and fried rice.

Salmon and bok choy

Dust off that cast-iron pan you have in your cabinet — yep, the one you might be intimidated by.

Put it on the stove on medium heat. Once warm (this happens in a few minutes, trust me),  add the olive oil. The amount depends on how well seasoned your pan is.

Once the pan starts singing, add some bits of chopped garlic and onions. As they begin to simmer together, add the rosemary sprigs. Once the mixture is cooked, push it to the side of the pan.

Add the salmon, skinned side up, and salt and pepper to taste. Top with some of the garlic, onion, and rosemary mixture, and squeeze with lemon. (The fish gives off its own oil so you may or may not need to add more oil.)

Cook until brown and then flip. At this point, you can easily remove the skin. Turn down the heat a bit and cook until done.

Once your flip your fish, add the your bok choy to the skillet — it will pick up the seasonings you added and get a nice smokey flavor. Remove the salmon and bok choy, and add some rice to the pan if you wish; stir-fry until brown, and then mix in the remaining garlic and onion mixture.

Top the rice with the salmon and bok choy, and enjoy.

If you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you can try this dish with a tempeh steak or some mushrooms and it will taste delicious, too.

If you follow a grain-free diet, the salmon and bok choy are just as tasty without the rice.

Now here’s your assignment: Get a cast-iron pan, some of your favorite ingredients, and cook up a one-pan meal of your own. Then let me know how it turns out. If I can do it, you can do it!

Heidi Wachter is the Community Engagement Specialist for Experience Life.

Experience Life Magazine

A Better Breakup

“Conscious uncoupling” is the term Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin chose to describe their recent decision to end their marriage. Their use of the term unleashed a tidal wave of snark, particularly on the web. Critics find it entirely too precious. They seem certain that beneath it must lurk simmering resentments and insincerity.

Still, I have to wonder, what’s so wrong about choosing one’s words carefully at a time when it has to be tempting to sling mud? Couldn’t there be anger and disappointment and a sincere effort to take the high road, especially when you’re talking about your breakup to other people? (In this couple’s case, about 7 billion other people?) And what is so offensive about trying to break up … well, nicely?

A little digging also reveals that the term “conscious uncoupling” is not something the couple made up. It was originally coined by a psychotherapist named Katherine Woodward Thomas, who teaches the skills in a free online course. Her goal is to help people end relationships in a way that doesn’t turn them into the walking wounded for the next five years. For my money (or not, since the course is free), that sounds better than the alternative, and worth the risk of a little Internet scorn.

TELL US: What do you think about conscious uncoupling? Have you seen it happen? (Perhaps by another name?) We’d love to hear your stories below.

Courtney Helgoe is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Juices vs. Smoothies: The Great Debate

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 1.28.37 PMOn vacation recently, I had this conversation:

Fellow vacationer: So what do you do?

Me: I’m a health journalist.

Fellow vacationer: Really? That’s cool! So let me ask you a question: do you do juicing?

Me: Sometimes. But more often I make smoothies.

Fellow vacationer: Oh! Cool. [Pause.] OK, wait, sorry to be ignorant, but what’s the difference?

Me: You have to use a special juicer to make fresh juice, and the juicing process removes all the pulp from the fruits and vegetables so it’s easier for your body to absorb all the amazing phytonutrients that are left behind. When you make smoothies, where everything is mixed in a blender, all the pulp remains behind.

Fellow vacationer: So if juicing helps you absorb nutrients better, why do you prefer smoothies?

Me: I like to err on the side of fiber.

Fellow vacationer: Aha! Fiber! Wait. What? Fiber? Like, Metamucil?

Me: Well, sort of …. Oh, gosh, how to explain fiber on the fly? You know what? We did this great article on the subject a few years ago. It will explain it way better than I can. I’ll send you the link.

Fellow vacationer: Cool! Did you eat at that fish taco place? It’s amazing! And today we’re going to go to Mayan ruins, and …

[The End]

Green drinks, both juices and smoothies, are a topic close to my heart (as you know if you’ve seen or tried some of my experimental recipes). And they’re a great topic to revisit for spring.

For anyone interested in getting started with green juices or smoothies, here’s a link to that article I mentioned to my fellow vacationer. It’s full of information and delicious recipes.

If you want to dive even deeper into the world of green drinks, check out Kris Carr’s website. She’s a great champion of the green drink and has lots and lots of amazing recipes. (And she’s a former Experience Life cover!)

Happy green drinking!

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor.

Experience Life Magazine

DIY: Homemade Eyeliner

I ran out of eyeliner this weekend, and instead of ordering some online and then waiting for it to arrive, I thought it would be fun to try to make my own. I’m always a fan of cheap, safe, non-toxic makeup that works. Even better if it’s DIY.

I found various recipes across the web, but opted to follow this one from Yum Universe, which I modified slightly. I am really happy with how it turned out — and how it stayed on. Even with riding my bike to work and and going on a walk (hello sweat!), it stayed on my skin without smudging.

What you will need:

  • Activated charcoal (I found mine at a co-op in Minneapolis; Yum Universe has a great photo of what the charcoal looks like when you take it out of the capsule.)


    Activated charcoal, which I purchased from the co-op for $8.99.

  • A glass container
  • Olive oil
  • An old eye shadow container for storage

What to do:

  1. Break open a few capsules of the activated charcoal. I used three.
  2. Mix in a bit of olive oil, or as much as you prefer for texture.

When the concoction reaches your desired consistency, scoop it into the empty container and press it down with your finger. Apply with a Q-tip or spongy eyeliner applicator.

Here are a few other eyeliner variations I’ve come across:

For more DIY makeup ideas, see Experience Life director of digital initiatives Jamie Martin’s post on making her own bronzer.

Tell Us: Have you experimented with any DIY makeup? What did you find to be successful?

Experience Life Magazine

The Lunchtime Blues

My daughter’s sixth birthday was last month, and as part of celebrating her big day, I visited with her during lunchtime at school. It was an eye-opening and disheartening experience, to say the least.

Let me explain …

The school she attends allots 15 minutes for recess, followed by 15 minutes for lunch. Naturally, I’ve always thought that she had a full 15 minutes to eat lunch. Not so much.

Lunch Observations

After recess, my daughter and her classmates stood at the door waiting to be let in by a school employee for a minute (or two). Once inside, everyone needed to take off their hats and mittens, and hang up their jackets. They kept their snow pants and boots on (gotta love winter in Minnesota!).

Once their jackets were hung up (with me helping a couple kids shove hats and mittens into coat sleeves), they washed and dried their hands.

Then they tromped off to the lunch line with their snow pants swooshing and boots clomping to pay for their food, work their way through the line, and finally to sit down to eat.

I pack my daughter’s lunch everyday, so luckily there’s no waiting in line for her.

My daughter and I sat down at our “special guest” table and she proceeded to open her lunch while the other kids were still checking in and getting their food. I looked at the time. They had just spent five or so minutes doing all of the above tasks.

That meant we were down to only 10 minutes to eat … and even less for the children who were last through the food line.

With the few moments of  lunchtime left to actually eat (which, again, I had presumed was a full 15 minutes), my daughter was able to eat a few bites of pasta, a couple of blueberries, a small carrot, and drink her milk. (Note 1: She didn’t get a chance to eat her treat, probably because I was there and requested she eat the healthier items first!)

Because it was her birthday, my daughter was able to invite a friend to eat with us. This friend  happened to have a home-packed lunch, too, and she was able to eat half of her sandwich (which was already a half so it was really only a quarter), eat her treat, and drink her juice box.

No wonder my daughter always has leftovers in her lunchbox: She simply does not have enough time to eat. And no wonder she usually eats the treat first: She knows she won’t have time to eat it if she waits until the end (smart girl!).

When our time to actually eat was up, I watched as her classmates clomped and swooshed their way to the trash bins with nearly half of their food unfinished. (Note 2: The dumping time also takes time away from the “lunchtime.”)

The 15-Minute Lunchtime Misnomer

When all was said and done, the 15-minute lunchtime was reduced to seven or eight minutes for some kids, which set off several red flags for me:

  • Some children snarf their food so they don’t go hungry (causing issues with eating too much and not listening to their body’s natural signal to stop eating).
  • Others won’t be able to eat enough and will be hungry in a short while (which seems true for my daughter and her friend).
  • Some kids will go for the treat first versus the fruits and veggies so they don’t miss out (which could lead to future sugar addictions and other health issues).
  • Lunch is treated as a secondary and unimportant activity during the school day, when it should be treated with as much care as math or music.

It seems to me that all of the above are setting our children up for a host of long-term unhealthy eating habits.

I’m Not Alone

I found this interesting report — “Children eat their school lunch too quickly: an exploratory study of the effect on food intake” — from the National Institutes of Health. The researchers look at the amount of time that schools currently allow for lunchtime and measured the amount of food consumed. The research concluded:

“If insufficient time is allocated for consuming school lunches, compensatory increased speed of eating puts children at risk of losing control over food intake and in many cases over-eating.”

This report seems to support my concerns. And, it doesn’t look like I’m alone about crammed lunchtimes. The following are just a few articles and additional research reports that came to the top of a quick Google search about the topic:

Please note that I’m not suggesting that the actual lunchtime be much longer than 15 minutes — I believe 15 minutes is an adequate amount of time for most young children to eat (and that anything longer could lead to mayhem in the lunchroom!).

I am suggesting, however, that “lunchtime” not include entering the building, hanging up outdoor wear, washing hands, or waiting in line to actually get food.

There simply needs to be a few extra minutes to allow for the inevitable transition from recess to lunch so the children have a full 15 minutes to eat.

TELL US: What are your thoughts or observations if you’ve attended lunch at your child’s school? Has your child said they don’t have enough time to eat?

Christy Rice is the circulation coordinator for Experience Life.

Experience Life Magazine

DIY: Homemade All-Natural Bronzer

In my last post here on Unedited, I wrote about my quest to clean up my makeup supply. I’ll build on that here by sharing this homemade bronzer that I came across over at Pinterest.

A homemade bronzer that’s good enough to eat. (Image via ThankYourBody.com)

Seeing as we endured what seemed like an extra-cold, extra-long winter here in Minnesota, and my family was not lucky enough to escape to warmer climates in the midst, I’ve been feeling a bit paler than I like. It was time for a little shot of color, without hitting up a tanning bed (something I did all too often for many years). So when I came across this blend from Robin Konie of ThankYourBody.com, I knew I had to give it a try:


  • 1 tbs. cinnamon powder — provides glow
  • 1 tsp. cocoa powder — gives depth and darkness
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg powder — will give a sun-kissed glow
  • 2 tsp. arrowroot (you could probably sub with corn starch if that’s what you have on hand) — spreads it all out and lightens it
  • 15 drops lavender or rosemary essential oils (optional) — keeps it together and thickens it

Adjust the ingredient amounts to suit your skin tone and mix well in a small bowl; break up any clumps until it’s smooth. Store in a clean, empty compact, and pack it in firmly.

What’s not to love about about a bronzer made with common spices?

So far, I’m a fan of the concoction, though the one thing I would have done differently is grind the nutmeg more finely: Grating didn’t quite do the trick. Oh well. I’ve got an all-natural cosmetic that cost me next to nothing, plus a healthy glow that I can feel good about.

TELL US: What are your favorite DIY concoctions? Leave a comment below or tweet us @ExperienceLife. 

Jamie Martin is the director of digital initiatives for Experience Life.

Experience Life Magazine

Hate green drinks? You won’t after you try this one.

Now that this brutal winter is over, I’m celebrating with one of my favorite green drinks. This concoction is almost impossibly easy to make and tastes like the tropics. I guarantee you’ll love it — unless, of course, you hate cilantro (and I used to, so I understand). If that’s you, I have a substitute recipe below.


Cilantro and lime make up Laine’s favorite summer green drink.

Super Best Summer Green Drink:

  • 2 lime wedges
  • 1 handful fresh cilantro
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 or 2 ice cubes (optional)


Voila! One sip, and you’ll think you’re sitting on a beach in Mexico.


Super Second-Best Summer Green Drink (for Cilantro Haters):

  • 2 lemon wedges
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 or 2 ice cubes (optional)


Voila! One sip, and you’ll join your cilantro-loving friends on that sandy beach.

Laine Bergeson is an Experience Life senior editor. 

Experience Life Magazine

Giving Gardens

I took a deep breath, surveyed the room, and relaxed. It was a cold, icy February Thursday in Minneapolis, and I waited as 30-plus people trickled in for the City of Minneapolis’s Giving Garden Workshop. I kept my knee-length coat zipped and found it difficult to imagine gardens would ever exist outside again: All I could see out of the window-lined room was white and ice covering every outdoor surface.

Those presenting about their giving gardens reassured me that the gardens would indeed begin to grow and bloom again. As people from a variety of organizations shared their experiences, I felt a piece of my soul revived.

Susan Schuster of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota explained how their corporate company was the first (that they know of) in the Minneapolis area to begin a giving garden. In 2007, three employees were walking along paths amid a massive lawn and had the thought: “What if we used this space as a garden?”

They requested permission to create a “Community Giving Garden” by digging up a section of the lawn at headquarters.

As the garden grew, they recruited volunteers within the company to help tend it; they then donated the harvest to a local food shelf. Little did they know, it would be a catalyst for more than 15 giving gardens in the Twin Cities.

The Thrivent Financial team used a straw-bale technique to grow a giving garden in the organization’s parking lot. (Image via HealthyEatingMN.org)

Once such garden is at Thrivent Financial. In 2013, the organization built a straw-bale garden covering two spots in a parking lot. Despite having little gardening experience, 43 volunteers took to tending the plants. Their first year was not without setbacks: Storms and rain blew bales over, and ruined structures. They kept at it, though, taking notes, and adjusting strategies.

At the end of the season they donated their fresh food to House of Charity. This year they plan to expand their straw-bale garden, applying the lessons they learned from year one.

The Midway YMCA in St. Paul set out last year with 50 garden-in-the-boxes, which were donated by the Minnesota State Horticultural Society. The program’s curriculum included preschoolers to 12-year-olds: They took garden lessons, and learned how to plant, water, weed, and pick food. They also learned to cook recipes with the food they grew.

Producing around 500 pounds of food in its first year, the Midway Y giving garden is a great example of how a common goal can create community, and of how instilling valuable knowledge about food and health can transform the next generation: These children are learning invaluable skills about self-sustenance — something they can take home to share with their families.

St. Paul Midway YMCA before. (Image via Health Eating MN.)

St. Paul Midway YMCA in their first year of gardening! (Image via Health Eating MN.)

Retail Construction services also participates in giving gardens. They creatively use old syrup barrels from Coca-Cola for rain barrels, while also raising bees, composting, and growing potatoes.

To discover more organizations in the Twin Cities Corporate Giving Network, see Healthy Eating Minnesota Network.

Other organizations that were at the workshop included Gardening Matters, Local Food Resource Hubs Network, Hennepin County Master Gardeners, Minnesota State Horticultural Society, Minnesota Project, Minnesota FoodShare, and the Minneapolis Healthy Food Shelf Network.

Gardening is not a new concept, and yet it’s something that is re-emerging as consumers’ desires for real food trump that of processed. Some schools are even including gardening, harvesting, and cooking in their curriculum, along with other wellness programs like meditation and yoga.

Schools such as the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago, Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, Calif., and the Khabele School in Austin, Texas have seen  positive improvements on test scores, behavior, and family eating habits. In Growing Healthy Kids Experience Life goes in depth with each of these schools:

“The engaging curriculum has had a ripple effect on families, as well. Gisela Alcantar, who has for children at AGC, says her kids practice the school’s earth-friendly habits at home, leading the family to recycle more and eat more organic foods. It appears that educating healthy kids helps create healthy adults — even if they don’t attend the school themselves.”

“My kids look at food differently now,” says Griselda Cooney, whose two children attended MLK when they were younger. “We’ll go out and buy a sandwich and my teenager will be like, it tastes really weird; it’s not fresh. We don’t do processed food anymore, and they don’t crave Cheetos.” Cooney’s kids have moved on to high school, and she is now employed by ESY as the Family Class Coordinator at MLK.”

“In their wellness class, kids discuss study skills and personal organization, as well as tools for healthy living. These wellness lessons are embedded in all of the curriculum. Every class starts with “centering,” a short meditative practice that promotes mindful breathing and compassion. And each ends with a debriefing, when students report to the teacher what they learned, whether they were able to focus, what they think they contributed and what they took away.”

Giving gardens, wellness classes, and cooking in schools may all seem like idealistic endeavors, but the reality is people, schools and kids are doing this — and thriving.

Inspired to start a garden of your own? See “The Kitchen Garden” by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl for quick tips and recipes.

Casie Leigh Lukes is Experience Life‘s digital content specialist.

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