Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall: You live up to your own expectations

I just finished reading the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, a gift from a friend of mine.  This was an awesome book that now makes my favorites list!  I highly recommend it.  From the title, I figured this book would only appeal to runners, people who could directly relate to the content; as I've stated many times before, I sort of (really) detest running.  Within the first couple chapters, however, I was completely enraptured by the writing style and mystery of the Tarahumara tribe.  I realized that this was a book not just for people who can relate to running, but for anyone who can relate to life (which is... everyone).  

For those who haven't heard of this best-seller before, it's about an ancient, mysterious Indian tribe in Mexico known for their ultra-running.  It is part self-help book, part mystery novel, part biomechanics text book, and part adventure-- all my favorite genres combined into one masterpiece.  The author engages the reader from the beginning, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down (a nice change from the books I've been reading lately!).  The writing was so flawless that I actually felt like I (yes, even me!) could become someone who enjoys running.  

There were a few things that stood out to me while reading this book, and one was this passage:  
"And if I really wanted to understand the Raramuri, I should have been there when this ninety-five-year-old man came hiking twenty-five miles over the mountain.  Know why he could do it?  Because no one ever told him he couldn't.  No one ever told him he oughta be off dying somewhere in an old age home.  You live up to your own expectations, man."  Born to Run p. 50
I wonder how many of our aspirations are put on hold because we expect we can't accomplish them.  How many times have we let the words from other people invade our minds, our hearts, our drive?  How do our expectations define who we are and who we will become?  And what can we do to make sure that we do not lower our expectations but instead raise our confidence and motivation to meet our high expectations?  Who says we can and who says we cannot?  What would you achieve if nobody (including yourself) told you that you couldn't?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Spa Water

When I go to restaurants, I'm the type of person that never asks for lemon with my water.  I've always enjoyed my water "plain."  

...That is, until I learned about "spa waters."  

For those who have never heard of "spa water," it's a fancy term that simply refers to fresh fruit (and sometimes herb or flower)-infused water.  Essentially, it's having a slice of lemon with your water... but it doesn't have to be lemon!  Man, have I led a sheltered life until now!  A whole new world of non-lemon options has been opened for me.

Benefits of Spa Water

Why bother experimenting with and drinking spa water?  Here's a list of some spa water benefits:

Spa Water Flavors

As I mentioned in a previous post, each building at Travaasa Austin has a different type of "spa water," so during this vacation I was able to experience several spa water flavors, all of which I really enjoyed!  These flavors are listed below:  

Obviously, this is not a comprehensive list!  If you do a quick search online, you can find "recipes" for tons of different spa waters with such unique flavor combinations, and I'm sure they all produce a mini party in your mouth.  Don't bother purchasing a spa water book (tempting as it may be), because there are so many free ideas online.  When you drink these waters, you must keep in mind that you are not drinking a punch; do not expect the flavor to be as strong as your daily Kool-Aid.  Spa water provides a refreshing hint of flavor, leaving you wanting more.

How to Make Spa Water

Spa water is super easy to make.  I asked Eric, our waiter pretty much every day at Travaasa, how they make their spa water.  It's a part of his 6am restaurant-opening routine.  This is what he said:

By the time I was standing there chatting with him about 3 hours after he had made the water, the flavors had fully diffused and I got a little burst of refreshing cucumber-orange.  For one huge drink dispenser (the pretty glass ones that have a dispenser tab from the bottom that you use to serve large groups of people), they used what looked like just 1 large grapefruit coarsely cut into circular slices.  Couldn't be easier!  I think the trick to making sure you have enough flavor is to use quality fruit.  Don't expect your steroid-enhanced orange, which is mostly water instead of flavor, to give your the results you desire.

Once I get home, I can't wait to try out some more unique flavors, maybe even including some of my own herbs.  
Does anyone have any favorite spa water "recipes" or flavors to share?  

Friday, October 26, 2012

Equine Encounter: Life Lessons from Jasper the Horse

At Travaasa Austin, I participated in their "Equine Encounter" activity.  At first, I was a little doubtful-- all I knew was that you'd be "communicating" with horses (you didn't even get to ride them!) and that supposedly that was going to help you become a more centered person.  I love animals, and believe we can learn a lot through our interactions with them, but still, this activity sounded a little hokey.  Regardless, I joined my mom and dad and two other women as the two Cowboys led us on.

Yes, cowboys.  Full on boots-jeans-cowboy hat kind of cowboys.  The kind you'd expect to find in Texas.  They grew up on ranches (Keith them grew up in Montana, that's how you know he's a "pure-bred" cowboy) and have been interacting with horses their whole lives, including riding those "buckin' broncs" in rodeos and being kicked off a few (many?) times.  What I did not expect was to find that The Cowboys were some of the most laid-back people I'd ever met.  Jodi, especially, was so mellow and grounded.  He seemed to take everything as it is, offering advice and wisdom when he could.  I dunno, I guess in the movies they always make cowboys look really aggressive and overly dominant.  These men were dominant, but in an approachable way that made me respect them even more.

We were each assigned our own horse.  Meet Jasper:

Jasper with Keith (Jasper's head is blocking Keith) and Jodi.

Lesson 1: Walk with a purpose. 

The first thing we had to do was just walk our horse around by holding their guide rope.  We tried it on our own and then again after The Cowboys offered some advice.  The first time I tried to walk around with Jasper, it felt a little bit like he was walking me.  I walked without a purpose, and Jasper sensed that.  Our first lesson from The Cowboys is that if you don't walk with a purpose, nobody else will either.  The horses expect leadership, and if you don't show them that, they will take the lead themselves.

Lesson 2: You must enter your body to achieve oneness.

Next, we spent a long time brushing our horses.  This was our time to really connect with the horse's energy level.  After a while of brushing Jasper, I started to enter a trance-like state.  It was relaxing, and I felt that I had a purpose to what I was doing, that I was a meaningful part of this horse's life.  My purpose was to give Jasper the attention and caress that he deserved.  Keith told us that he once heard someone say that in order to achieve oneness, you must leave your mind and enter your body.  We are all one, part of something greater, but our minds are what make us individuals.  In order to be in tune with the collective oneness of the world, we must allow ourselves to leave our minds and get in touch with our surroundings.  This happened as I brushed Jasper.

Lesson 3: Stay "Level-headed" and "Take a load off."

It was amazing to see Jasper's energy level reflect mine as he eased into a relaxed state.  The Cowboys taught us that when horses are relaxed, their heads drop so they are level with the ground (rather than upright), allowing their vertebrae to expand (no longer crushed from their back sagging) and endorphins to rush through their body.  This is where the phrase "level-headed" comes from.

Jodi noticed that Jasper shifted the weight of his hind limbs and "popped" a leg (curled one of his feet under).  Horses are naturally aware of their surroundings and their main defense mechanism is to run and be quick on their feet.  Unless they are very relaxed, the horses will have their feet firmly planted in the ground so they can take off sprinting at any moment.  The fact that Jasper felt that he could take a load off a leg meant that he was making himself vulnerable, and we only let ourselves become vulnerable when we are very comfortable.  This is where the phrase "taking a load off" comes from.

Lesson 4: Make your intention known.

Finally, we each had a turn with just us and our horse in the center of a ring.  We were taught to show the horse that we are the leader.  We used a whip-- no, NOT a whip to smack the horses.  This was simply an "extension of our arm" to allow us to "convey our energy" to the horse.  We just raised it up and down or occasionally let it hit the ground but NEVER the animal; we used it as a communication tool.  We had the horse walk around the ring at varying tempos (slow walk to a trot) and stop and turn around.  And to do this, we never touched the horse; we did it all through our body language.  It was pretty amazing that we could get the horse to do exactly what we wanted by just being clear about our intentions.  Honestly, it felt a little bit like bending a spoon with my mind; I simply had to "become" my intention and Jasper would respond.  It was easy to see when we weren't clear, however.  The horse would stop or wander aimlessly if you did not give it your full attention with a deliberate intention.  The Cowboys said that these horses responded in this way not because they were trained but because this is how leadership is shown in their natural environment as well.  Apparently, you could take a wild horse and (once you've gotten him to trust you and calm down) lead him in this same way and expect the same type of favorable response.

The Cowboys would tell us about each horse and his/her personality as it was brought into the ring.  Jasper was the sensitive horse ("Red" was the mellow hippie horse that like to hang out in the flowers, another one was the dominant horse of the group that was going to rebel and test any new handler, etc.).  The way The Cowboys described Jasper reminded me of our German Shepherd, Dre, back home.  Jasper has always been a bit fearful and requires the handler to be very calm and stable in order for him to respond; if you're jittery, Jasper will be too.  This means that when interacting with him, you need to be especially aware of your body language because Jasper will read into every move you make.  That's not pressure or anything...

Once we established with the horse that we were competent enough leaders worth trusting, we stopped, put down the whip, and if we had established a close connection with our animal, the horse would come right up to us and follow us around (like a little puppy) without us needing to touch him; this was the real test.  Jasper did this on the first try!  It was amazing to know that I had made that type of connection with Jasper and that he felt the connection and trust also.  I would not have established this type of connection had I not been in tune with my body and how my actions were affecting him, been clear and deliberate in my intentions, and reached an energy state compatible with his.

In the end, the two hours I spent with Jasper were wonderful.  I think the world would be a better place if everyone spent 2 hours learning to get in tune with their surroundings by working with horses.  I felt like I learned a lot that I can apply to not just horses but also the people I interact with daily.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Travaasa Austin

I'm writing this post sitting on the deck of our cabin at Travaasa Austin, a wonderful zen-like resort just outside Austin, TX.  Everything about this place makes you want to stop and enjoy the present moment: their "spa waters" located in every building, the evening turn-down services where you get a new treat each day (so far, we've received mini pecan pies and kettle corn), the beautiful environment with limestone rocks and hiking trails in the nature preserve, the Monarch butterflies (I can't even remember the last time I've seen a Monarch-- certainly not at all since I've been in Philly), the sweet flowers behind me that smell like pure bliss, the infinity pool, the clear skies and light breeze, and the overly courteous Southern charm of the people who work here.

This was my first time experiencing an infinity pool!  They sure are beautifully designed.  I never understood before how they worked (could you go swimming right off the edge?), but then I realized there is wall preventing you from going overboard and the water from all spilling out.  The water that goes over the top of the wall collects in a smaller pool underneath.   

There are tons of these wild flowers!
Notice the bee flying away.

Each day, there are activities that you can sign up to participate in.  As an example of all this resort has to offer (not even all!), I've included the complete list of tomorrow's activities below:

7:30-8:15 am          Heart Starter Hike
8:00-8:45 am          Outdoor Circuit Training
8:00-8:45 am          Bahava- Meditation & Movement
8:30-9:30 am          Riding Lessons
9:00-11:00 am        Challenge Course
9:30-10:15 am        Bull Fitness
9:30-10:15 am        Awakening Yoga
10:30-11:15 am      Harvest Your Core Strength- Bosu Ball
10:30-1:00 pm        Equine Encounter
10:30-11:15 am      Sketch and Draw
11:00-11:30 am      Meditation Walk 
11:00-11:45 am      Culinary Demo- Mexican Hot Chocolate
11:30-12:00 pm      Guided Meditation
11:30-12:15 pm      Latin Dance Spice
11:30-12:15 pm      Slacklining
11:30-12:15 pm      Geocaching
11:30-12:15 pm      Ecology Hike
1:30-3:00 pm          Couples Connection
1:30-2:15 pm          Archery
1:30-2:15 pm          Foam Roller
2:00-3:00 pm          Hands-On Cooking- Knife Skills
2:00-3:00 pm          Riding Lessons
2:00-2:45 pm          Watsu Demo
2:30-3:15 pm          Partner Yoga
3:00-3:45 pm          Nature Crafting
3:30-5:00 pm          Private Life Coaching Sessions
4:00-5:00 pm          Beer Tasting
10:00-11:00 pm      Ghost Stories

Clearly, you can't do everything in one day!  Today, I signed up for the Heart Starter Hike, Equine Encounter, and Ecology Hike (the activities offered today are slightly different than tomorrow).  

During the early morning hike, I realized how wonderful life would be if I could just do this every day!  My new life plan once I graduate is to open up a high-end health and wellness resort like this one.  How awesome would that be?  I could design and lead fitness classes, take people on hikes, and teach people to care for their mind, body, and souls.  Who wants to invest in my new business?  And who has suggestions on where to start?

As I sit here writing this, I wonder what aspects of this vacation I can take back with me to incorporate into my daily life.  Maybe more nature walks in Fairmount Park?  Or recognizing how my body language affects those around me (a lesson from the equine encounter activity)?  Or maybe just every now and then watching how the leaves sway in the breeze and allowing myself to embrace the peacefulness of the world around me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Power of Procrastination and Grandma's Apple Dumplings

The Power of Procrastination

This evening, GAPSA, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly at the University of Pennsylvania, hosted an event in which they invited the PhD Comics creator, Jorge Cham, to speak.  For those who have not read some PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics, I recommend it... or, well, I recommend it if you're a graduate student.  If you're not, then you probably won't get it.  

The central theme of the talk was procrastination.  Let's face it-- for better or worse, we all procrastinate.  As Jorge pointed out, "procrastination" typically has a negative connotation, and because we view it negatively, we usually feel guilty after/while we procrastinate.  But this guilt is all self-created!  Jorge emphasized that procrastination is what we want to do.  We shouldn't feel guilty about doing what we want to do.  

This got me thinking, "What do my procrastination methods say about me?"  I enjoy prepping my Intro to Biomechanics recitations over prepping for meetings with my advisor; I prefer writing blog posts over abstracts; I enjoy reading my Fitness and Women's Health magazines over journal articles; I prefer creating agendas for GABE meetings over creating my research to-do list.  Does this mean I hate my life as a graduate student researcher and should quit now?  No.  I feel like I'm learning a lot (both academically and personally) through my experiences in grad school that I would not be able to learn otherwise.  At the same time, however, I need something else.  I think I've decided that research is not for me in the long term (which my procrastination techniques also seem to hint at), but what is in the long term is still to be decided.  I need other outlets to feel fulfilled, so that's why I sometimes (oftentimes?) "procrastinate" by doing something other than what I am "supposed" to be doing.  Really, though, what am I supposed to be doing?  

I am supposed to be doing what I want to be doing.

Now, procrastination comes about from many reasons, and we should do our best to identify what the reason is.  Often, I procrastinate because I feel overwhelmed or I'm not sure what my next step is or how to go about it.  I think it is important for us to realize and acknowledge why we procrastinate.

How do you procrastinate and what does it say about you?

Grandma's Apple Dumplings

Since it is apple season, and Nick and I picked apples a few weekends ago, I decided to do the ultimate Fall activity: make apple dumplings!  Specifically, my Grandma's apple dumplings.  These are the perfect comfort food.  In my family, when Grandma makes apple dumplings, that is our dinner, served with a (heaping) side of vanilla ice cream.  Yes, this is supposed to be a blog about good health and stuff... but what about the health of your soul?  Apple dumplings feed the soul.  Taking a bite of one of these is like time travel for me and reminds me of all the smiles and laughs we have shared as a family.  A few years ago, Grandma taught me how to make these beauties.  My mom and I attempted to turn her advice from years of experience into quantitative measurements, but the best apple dumpling will always be the one that Grandma makes.  Below is our family recipe, an interpretation of Grandma's art.  Grandma always makes sure to bake the dumplings in a lot of sauce because Grandpa loved it soupy.

Apple Dumplings
(makes 8 dumplings)

8 medium sized or 4 large apples
2 3/4 c sugar
4 tsp cinnamon
1 stick butter or margerine
2 c water
10 tbs milk
2 boxes Jiffy pie crust

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cut off the end of the apple to make it easier to peel.  Peel and core apples.  Cut large apples in half.
3. In a bowl, mix together 3/4 c sugar and 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon.  These measurements are approximate, so mix the proportions to taste.
4. In a pot on the stove, heat together 2 c sugar, 2 c water, 1/2 stick butter, and 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon.  Once the mixture turns bubbly, turn off the stove.
5. Mix 1 box of Jiffy pie crust mix with 5 tbs of milk.  Divide the dough into 4 balls.  Repeat with the second box of pie crust mix.  This will create a total of 8 balls.
6. Flour your board and rolling pin.  Roll out a dough ball until it is large enough to wrap around an apple.  Hold the dough in your hand with the apple on top.  Fill the apple core with the sugar-cinnamon mixture created in step 3 (~1 1/2 tsp).  Top with a dab of butter.  Wrap the dough around the apple and place in a cake pan.  Repeat with the remaining 7 dough balls/apples.
7. Sprinkle the remaining sugar-cinnamon mixture created in step 3 over the dumplings.  You probably will NOT use all of the sugar-cinnamon mixture.
8. Pour the liquid sugar-cinnamon solution created in step 4 over the dumplings.
9. Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees.  Then, turn down the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the pie crust is set.  
10. Enjoy warm and serve with vanilla ice cream!

I created these when we had guests over for dessert.  Everyone loved them and complimented me.  I told them they should be thanking my grandma!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fairmount Park and The Old Wives' Tale

Today was a lovely Saturday.  

First, Nick surprised me yesterday evening by coming home a week early from his final business trip!  About 15 minutes after I got home from work, there was a knock on our apartment door.  Coco froze in place, anxious from the noise.  Unfortunately, our door does not have a peep hole, so I had to open it blindly.  I was so excited by what I saw!  There was Nick, standing with his luggage.  The first thing I asked as I leaned in to kiss him was "Are you here to stay?"  He said yes.  He is finally done flying back and forth, spending 2 weeks in Seattle and 1 week in Philly.  I guess my patience has been rewarded!  I am so happy to finally have my fiance here to stay.

Fairmount Park

This morning, Nick and I decided to go for a 4 mile walk in the woods.  Philadelphia boasts the the largest urban park in the United States: Fairmount Park.  Fairmount consists of 63 parks and covers 9200 acres.  It was pretty chilly in the morning (40 degrees when we left at 9am), but there was ample sunshine, and overall it was a gorgeous day.  I used my Charity Miles app to log our walk and contribute to "10 breaths of fresh air" for The Nature Conservancy.  Nick thought that it was only right for us to choose an environmental charity, considering we were spending our time enjoying the beauty of nature; I agreed that it was a great idea.

It was nice to spend some time outside (and even better to be able to share it with my love).  Sometimes, I feel stifled living in the city; this was a great way to relax and enjoy the present moment.

The Old Wives' Tale, Arnold Bennett

I have this life goal of reading all 100 books on the Modern Library's List of 100 Best Novels.  It's a slow process (since I'm not a very quick reader, nor do I commit to reading every day), but I'm enjoying exploring these books (many of which I've never heard of before).  I've also gotten pretty good at finding my books in the library by following the book call number.  Prior to this endeavor, I rarely went to the library; however, I decided I could save $5+ per book, and so far, the Penn library has had everything I wanted.  

I started at the bottom of the list (#100) and am working my way up.  Today, I finished #87, The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett.  

This book took me way too long to read.  It's a pretty long book (640 pages), and the plot was not very exciting.  It is the story of two very different sisters (kind of like my sister and I), and it chronicles their lives from teenage years through their deaths.  Sophia, the younger sister, is more of the "rebel" and leads a much more cultured, worldly life.  In the end, she realizes she is no longer young, and she has no desire to lead a life where she is not viewed as a seductive beauty.  Constance, the older sister, always does things "proper."  She detests change and is a stubborn woman, set in her ways.  While I did not particularly enjoy this book, I do respect its message: a person is molded by a series of experiences, and in the end, nobody can fully understand the life of the person but the person him/herself.  

The author of this book was inspired to write it upon seeing an older, ugly woman dining in a restaurant.  The author realized that the woman was not always this way, and used this to create his two characters, Constance and Sophia.  In the preface to the novel, Bennett writes:
     "I reflected, concerning the grotesque diner: 'This woman was once young, slim, perhaps beautiful; certainly free from these ridiculous mannerisms.  Very probably she is unconscious of her singularities.  Her case is a tragedy.  One ought to be able to make a heartrending novel out of the history of a woman such as she.'  Every stout, ageing woman is not grotesque-- far from it!-- but there is an extreme pathos in the mere fact that every stout ageing woman was once a young girl with the unique charm of youth in her form and movements and in her mind.  And the fact that the change from the young girl to the stout ageing woman is made up from an infinite number of infinitesimal changes, each unperceived by her, only intensifies the pathos.
     It was at this instant that I was visited by the idea of writing the book which ultimately became The Old Wives' Tale.  Of course I felt that the woman who caused the ignoble mirth in the restaurant would not serve me as a type of heroine.  For she was much too old and obviously unsympathetic.  It is an absolute rule that the principal character of a novel must not be unsympathetic, and the whole modern tendency of realistic fiction is against oddness in a prominent figure.  I knew that I must choose the sort of woman who would pass unnoticed in a crowd." 
Overall, I give this book a 2 out of 5 stars.  I wish the story were more exciting, but the purpose was to focus on character development and in particular, the development of "ordinary" characters.  

My take-away from this novel: God willing, we will die in our old age, and our whole life story will be known only to us; therefore, for each present moment, you must do what makes yourself proud and do it with purpose.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Charity Miles and Strength Training Mini-Workouts

As a part of my 8k training, today's "assignment" was a 2 mile run plus strength training.  For my run today, I decided to use my new app, Charity Miles.

Charity Miles is a really cool concept.  You open the app on your phone (iPhone or Android), select your charity of choice from the several options, and get moving!  Using the GPS feature on your phone, the app tracks your distance and then a contribution from a corporate sponsor is made to the charity you selected.  The charity receives $0.25 per mile walked/run and $0.10 per mile biked.  You just have to "advertise" your run via a post on Facebook in order for the charity to receive the contribution.  If you ask me, that's a small price to pay.  

I started my app during my warm-up and ended it after my cool-down (I really only ran 2.2 miles in 20:25... the rest was warm-up/cool-down).  Today, I chose to run on behalf of the ASPCA, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  My 2.636 miles led to an impact of 6.591 puppy and kitten vaccinations.  

Remember that whole discussion about how I respond to external motivation?  Well, this is another form of external motivation!  Who doesn't want to run an extra 0.1 mile to help the puppies and kittens?  If puppies and kittens aren't your thing (well, then you have no soul), you can choose another charity.  There's something for everyone.  I'll probably choose a different charity next time.  The current charity options include Every Mother Counts, Autism Speaks, Feeding America, The Nature Conservancy, Pencils of Promise, World Food Programme, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, Habitat for Humanity, Achilles International, and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.  The app also has an explanation of each charity.  Does anyone else use this app?

After my run, I did a strength workout, a series of 3 mini-workouts that each targeted a different group of muscles.  I started with the large muscle groups (back, hamstrings, quads) because this is the best way to ensure your body is warmed up before beginning the smaller muscle groups.  I made sure to stretch the muscle groups after each mini-workout.    

I used 50 lbs total for the deadlifts, 30 lbs total for the squats, and 15 lbs each hand for bicep curls and shoulder presses.  I did squats with my feet parallel and hip-width apart, making sure to press my butt backwards and keeping the weight on my heels so that my knees did not extend past my toes (to avoid knee injury).  See an image of the squats here.    

Below is an explanation of a few of the exercises:

Hamstring Curls with a Stability Ball: Lie on back with ball placed under heels of feet.  Lift hips off ground and hold up towards sky as high as possible.  Keep hips raised and curl hamstrings, pulling the ball with your heels towards your butt.  Keep hips raised and let legs extend back out.  That is 1 rep.  See an image of the move from Prevention Magazine here

Crunch on a Stability Ball: Lie with your lower back on a stability ball and your feet resting on a wall in front of you.  Keep your feet in place as you crunch your chest up.  You can find an image of this exercise from Women's Health Magazine here.  I did not incorporate the twist this time; I just crunched straight up.  This exercise works more of the lower abs than the traditional stability ball crunch (feet flat on ground). 

Stability Ball Pike-Ups: Assume a plank position with the stability ball under your feet.  Lift your hips towards the air to form a pike position, allowing the ball to roll forward as your feet move.  Extend back to a plank position.  That is 1 rep.  See Women Health Magazine's description (with pictures) here.   

Side Plank Hip Taps: Assume a side plank position on your elbow (both legs straight, no knees resting on the ground).  Put your top hand on your hip.  Dip your hip to tap the ground and crunch back to a normal side plank position.  That is 1 rep.  This exercise targets your obliques.

This workout is not as intense as my 20 minute total body circuit, and perhaps not as efficient as my 13 exercises condensed to 5 but it got the job done.  Since I am now focusing on running (training for my 8k), I wanted a total body routine that would not make me overly sore, and I was already a bit burned out from my run beforehand, so I developed today's routine.  I think it's just what I was looking for.  Let me know what you think!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Life's Lesson in Patience

Remember the other day when I said I needed to improve my patience, that impatience was a weakness of mine?  Well, life gave me a lesson in patience (jeez, Life, I didn't expect you to take me so seriously!).

A few days ago, a friend asked for my address and then told me I should be expecting something in the mail this week.  When I got an email yesterday at noon saying I had a package waiting for me, I was so excited!  I love getting mail!  The whole afternoon I couldn't wait to get home and open up my surprise.

I got back home at 6:20pm.  A woman was waiting at the front desk, and I asked her if our concierge was around.  She said she didn't know but that he must be in the bathroom because there was a sign on the desk saying so.  I explained that that sign is always there, and when they mean for people to see it, they move it forward and turn it around (it was sitting back on the desk, facing sideways).  Then, we realized that it was only Tuesday, and of course, Tuesday is pretty much the only day of the week that the concierge closes the desk at 6pm (other nights it's 9pm).

Well, that was a disappointment.

I started to get angry.  My whole afternoon was spent in anticipation, and now I would have to wait another whole day?! 

It was already starting to get dark out, and I needed to fit in a 2.5 run for my 8k training, so before I could think about it any more and harp on the fact that my package was sitting behind a locked door, begging for me to rescue it, I changed clothes, put on my hot pink Asics, and took off.  By the time I had finished my 3.14 mile run (I decided I could do more than 2.5 miles), I had burned off my impatience.

This morning, walking to campus, I realized that I got to spend another day in excitement, anticipating what my surprise may be.  This evening, I picked up 2 packages.  One for Nick (his new pair of Brooks so he can get back to running), and the other for... ME!!!

I ripped it open as soon as I walked into the door of my apartment.  I threw tape everywhere.  Poor Coco suffered from my tape throwing (see the video; sorry for the poor image quality, I took it with my phone).

And in the end, my wait was worth it.  I now have a beautiful hanger, reminding me of the power of patience.  Only 234 more days of patience until I get to marry the most wonderful man and become Mrs. Sarah Rooney.  I can't wait to use this hanger to hang my wedding dress!  A huge thank you to the ever-thoughtful, Lauren.  You are too kind!  I bet you didn't think this special gift would also be a part of a life lesson for me or turn into an inspiration for a blog post.      

Funny how Life always seems to know exactly what lesson you need when.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Tolerance is Strength and Pumpkin-Peanut Butter Dip

Tolerance and Patience

Here is a quote to consider this evening:

"Tolerance and patience should not be read as signs of weakness.  They are signs of strength."  -The Dalai Lama
How many world problems could be resolved if we shared more compassion with one another?  How many more smiles would exist if we were more tolerant?  How much happier would we be if we gave others the patience that we expect ourselves?  How much easier would our lives be if we were more accepting?  

Instead, we too often let our egos get the better of us, and we attempt to demonstrate our dominance by belittling others, though not in the obvious ways like a classroom bully picking on another kid for lunch money.  We are impatient and intolerant of others' beliefs and actions.  It's a more subtle put-down but is perhaps more painful to those on the receiving end, especially when these little negativities begin to add up.  We never know how much burden another person is carrying, so why add to their load when they could already be at the limit of their capacity? 

In addition, we expect others to treat us better than we treat them.  We get angry and hold grudges when we don't get the respect we deserve.  Of course, we have a right to expect respect; however, we must acknowledge that sometimes, our own actions create a vicious cycle of "what goes around comes around."  We are intolerant and impatient, so others return the gesture.  What if we were kind, compassionate, patient, and tolerant instead?    

We all struggle at keeping an open, tolerant mind and practicing patience.  Life is a course in these topics that few will ever master; however, that is not reason to not try to continue to improve.  I know that my impatience is one of my weaknesses that I need to focus on improving.  We don't have to become saints in a day.  Instead, we should focus on doing small things, and (as math tells us), when we add up small things, we get big things.  Today, I smiled at a stranger, did a favor for a lab mate, and spent 25 minutes after class helping one of my students and encouraging her in her long-term goals.  In return, someone held the elevator for me, another person opened the door for me when I was wheeling around a cart of rats, and the student thanked me for my help and left with a contagious smile.  How are you going to demonstrate compassion today?  

Pumpkin-Peanut Butter Dip

Now that it is officially Fall, I feel empowered to enjoy all the yummies associated with this season.  One of my favorites is pumpkin-peanut butter dip.  Interestingly, I learned about this dip at a Society of Women Engineers conference several years ago.  I went to a seminar on healthy eating, and they provided us with this snack.  It goes great with sliced apples, perfect for all the apples Nick and I picked last weekend.  To make a large batch, follow this recipe:

1 can pure pumpkin (I used a 15 oz can of Libby's 100% Pure Pumpkin, this is NOT the same as canned pumpkin pie filling, which contains added sugar and spices)  
~2 cups peanut butter (about equal to the amount of pumpkin; I used generic brand creamy, simple peanut butter)
2 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cups brown sugar

Simply mix all ingredients together in a bowl.  Keep refrigerated in a sealed container to ensure freshness.  Sometimes, I just take a spoonful and eat it; other times, I eat it with apple slices.  Either way, it's delicious!  It would be a great treat to bring to a potluck.  

The original recipe uses 1 cup pumpkin, 1 cup peanut butter, 1 tsp vanilla, and still 3/4 c brown sugar.  I love this recipe, so I decided to use the whole can of pumpkin (I had no idea what I would do with leftover pumpkin mush anyway), but I did not think I needed to also double the amount of sugar.  Try it out yourself!

What do the nutrition facts look like for this masterpiece?  Well, that mainly depends on the type of peanut butter you buy and how much you eat.  But, you should know that a 1/2 cup serving of canned pure pumpkin has only 40 calories, 5 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 2 g protein, and 300% of your vitamin A!  We should try to incorporate more pumpkin in our diet.  Does anyone else have any delicious pumpkin recipes?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Spend the Afternoon

Good morning!  It is a beautiful Saturday here in Philadelphia.  As I sit here thinking about how I will spend my day, I remember a quote that I came across in my calendar a couple days ago:   
"Spend the afternoon.  You can't take it with you." -Annie Dillard

I'm sure each of us has forgotten to "spend the afternoon" too many times in our life.  We think to ourselves that we'll cash in on those saved moments later, that we can add them all up like spare change in a piggy bank.  If we represent a moment in time by a single seed on a dandelion, we assume too often that the wind will never shake those seeds away, that the seeds will remain as they are until we decide to use them.  

Unfortunately, life does not work like that.  We can't be sure that we will have a "later" to cash in those saved afternoons, and even if we do, it seems that other things will always get in the way, forcing us to postpone even further.  Instead, we must focus on living the present moment.  "Living" is not the same thing as "experiencing."  "To experience" is a much more of a passive verb; it is something that happens to you.  "To live," on the other hand, requires your active participation.  It requires you to consciously decide how to spend each moment so that we ensure our life is lived to its potential.

How are you spending your afternoon today?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Asics Gel Nimbus 14

My new running shoes arrived yesterday!  These Asics Gel Nimbus 14, limited edition color are just as beautiful as I remembered.  I purchased my shoes from Road Runner Sports, and it was a positive experience: the shoes arrived earlier than I expected, and they have a 90 day guarantee in case I realize they aren't right for me.  These shoes provide more forefoot room than my old Nikes, though I do kind of miss the rounded sole of my Nikes.  My new shoes provide enough cushion for my runs but are also light weight, so I feel close to the ground. 

Look closely at how I laced the top of my shoes.  A long time ago, I had to get custom orthotics to help heal my stress-fractured back.  The podiatrist that I visited taught me to lace the top of my shoes in this way to provide additional ankle support.  Orthotics push your foot up out of the shoe more than normal, so additional ankle support is required to improve ankle stability.  I don't wear my orthotics any more, but this lacing technique has stuck with me.  It's simple: just lace your shoe as you normally would, but at the last 2 holes, instead of criss-crossing, lace through the hole on the same side that your lace is currently on.  Then, criss-cross and bring your lace ends underneath of this straight (non-criss-crossed) portion, as shown in the diagram below.  To tighten your shoes, pull up, out, and up.  Then, tie as you normally would.  For additional support, I could use the very last hole, but I don't think I need it.  Try this out; you can feel a difference!  What do you think?

It's amazing what type of motivation my new shoes provide.  I was at work when I got an email saying I had a package waiting for me at home, and I was so excited for the rest of the afternoon to get back and go for a run.  Let me repeat: I was excited to go for a run!  That's probably the second time in my life that I actually wanted to run.  Apparently, these shoes are just the motivation that I needed, which is a good thing considering I spent $140 on them.  That's right, for the cost of approximately 2 outfits, I bought 1 pair of running shoes.  Running shoes give me sticker shock-- I'm not used to spending that type of money on one item, especially when I live off a graduate student stipend (not exactly raking in the big bucks...).  I could have bought 2 weeks of groceries, 4 new pairs of casual shoes from DSW, or splurged on 2 full body massages or 3 mani/pedis with that type of money.  

And yet...
I am happy with my decision to purchase these shoes.

Motivation is priceless, but I only spent $140 for it.  

When purchasing something, you can't just think about the immediate benefits; you must also consider the long term benefits.  For $140, I am bettering my health, improving my mood, and working towards accomplishing a goal.  These benefits far exceed anything a mani/pedi would provide.

As soon as I got home yesterday, I changed clothes and went for a 2.3 mile run.  It felt great, and I didn't get any blisters!

What was the last thing you bought for much less money than its true value?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Apple Picking and Crock-Pot Beef Tips in Mushroom Sauce

This weekend, Nick and I went to Linvilla Orchards to go apple picking.  It was such a gorgeous day for this classic Fall activity!  We picked 4 different kinds of apples: Jonagold, Macoun, Mutsu, and Ida Red.  Linvilla provided this really handy chart of different apple types and how to use them best.  The Macoun apples are indeed tasty to eat fresh.

We also brought our new DLSR camera (Nikon D3200) with us to test out our photography skills.  

Butterfly with its proboscis sticking into the apple to drink the juice. 

Exercising those muscles.

I'm pretty sure apple picking counts towards some type of activity points for the day.  We did a lot of walking, and those apples started to get quite heavy! 

Needless to say, it was a wonderful morning/afternoon.  After we collected a 1/2 bushel of apples, we stopped by Linvilla's Farm Market and Garden Center.  I was beyond excited to find out that they sold potted herbs!  I've been searching for fresh herbs to grow since we've moved into our new apartment, and before this weekend, I had only managed to find basil.  To go along with our basil, we bought parsley, cilantro, mint, and dill.  

I'm hoping that this investment will save me some money in the long term.  Herbs from the grocery store are so expensive.  On top of that, I usually only end up using a small portion of the herbs I buy and then throw away the rest because they go bad.  Money right down the drain.  By growing my own herbs, assuming I can remember to water them and keep them healthy (fortunately, I have Nick who is much better at remembering to water the plants than me), I will be able to snip off only what I need.  Let's do a small calculation, knowing that each plant was purchased at $3.99.

Did Sarah just waste her money?

4 plants x $3.99 = $15.96
Leftover potting soil: $0
3 x ~$6 for pots/under plates: $18
Extra pot I already had: $0
Water: negligible
Total cost: ~$34

Let's assume I need to purchase 2-3 bunches of fresh herbs from the store approximately every 2 weeks; each herb bundle costs $3-4.

2.5 x $3.50 = $8.75 (average for every 2 weeks)

At what point do I break even?
$34/$8.75 = 3.9
3.9 x 2 (every 2 weeks) = 7.8 weeks 

I have to keep my herbs alive for approximately 8 weeks (2 months) in order to not have wasted my money.  Challenge accepted.  Does anyone have any herb-growing tips?

Being outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and scenery, spending time with my love, and practicing my photography skills was just what I needed... some quality "love life time."  It was a time set aside to just enjoy the present moment and breathe in the beauty of life.  It's important that we each schedule some "love life time" in every day (or better yet, every moment).  Have you loved life today?

Crock-Pot Beef Tips in Mushroom Sauce 

For dinner, we made another Pinterest recipe: Crock-Pot Beef Tips in Mushroom Sauce.  I used regular Sprite instead of diet and halved the recipe so it would fit in my baby Crock-Pot.  We served it over egg noodles and with a side salad (baby spinach, baby arugula, slivered almonds, dried cranberries with oil and balsamic vinegar) and glass of red wine.

The meal was tasty, though a bit on the salty side.  It was definitely comfort food material.  Leftovers were great for lunch the next day!  (I got complimented on how good it smelled.)