29 September 2014

Common Core Math Rant

By now, you've all seen it: the supposed letter from the supposed engineer who was so flummoxed by his child's math homework that he wrote a smart-assed letter to the child's teacher. He made especially sure to emphasize that he was an engineer and couldn't figure this newfangled, crazy math out. I would like to know what the last thing this dingus "engineered." A birdhouse? A piece of IKEA furniture? THIS is exactly our country's problem. Our "engineers" (aka people who are supposed to be using science, math and technology to invent shit to solve our problems) ...can't figure out how to solve a problem. 

Let this stay-at-home mom who has only gone to a few years of art school teach you how it's done. There is this thing called THE INTERNET. You can log on through your COMPUTER. From here, you can do one of two things:

a. Google the problem, or the math concept and - voila! - choose whether to read about it or watch YouTube videos on how to understand it.

b. Email your child's teacher and ask him or her how to do the problem. Then, ask the teacher to point you to some websites or tutorials so your child can better understand the concept. 

BLAMMO. We've done both and achieved success. And I didn't even go to engineering school. 

You see, folks, like it or not, Common Core math homework is here. Oh, but "I don't like change!" and "Obama!" and "My little kid was crying!" and "He/She is so unmotivated now because gold stars are no longer coming out his/her ass every time he/she farts."

Too bad, pussies. In life, this is what we call "a challenge." I, for one, am not teaching my kids that the moment something gets hard, we should blame the f*cking President and give up. No. My kids are learning that it's okay to cry and throw our pencils - for a second. Then we take a small break, a breath, and maybe even have a cookie (mom gets a shot of whiskey), then we get our ass back to work and solve the problem. Each time we do this, it reinforces my kids' resiliency, and teaches them they can, in fact, do it. Plus, they learn about math in ways I was never exposed to.

I was taught the school of rote memorization. This worked out for a while, because I can remember things pretty well. Social security numbers, bank accounts, credit cards, birthdays. I got it. But then something happened as I got older. My brain started jettisoning information it deemed irrelevant to make room for all the new information I was required to hold as a mom of three, and now... I don't know how to do anything without my calculator. Sure, I got decent grades. Then I gave up on math mid-High School because I didn't really grasp it. I only memorized tricks to get answers. Geometry was great because it was visual. After that, I realized I was in over my head and quit. Now I don't math. 

I don't want this to happen to my kids.

Whether your kid has good mathematical fluency depends on a few factors. They may take a shine to it, they might not. At least this way, they have the opportunity to understand how numbers work together instead of just memorizing sequences that will be lost by the time they are 30. 

If your kid is a total basket case, measuring their worth on grades and pats on the back instead of actually LEARNING, that's not common core's fault. If your kid falters, teach them how to take a breath, get back up and solve the problem. Don't sit there and cry/complain with them that this is too hard to instantly perfect. Don't blame teachers and the government in front of your kids and on social media to feel vindicated. Because, let me tell you something. You and your child will get overtaken by the hungry hordes of students from all across the globe who will drink your kid's milkshake, then charge you for it later. 

This rant has little to do with my feelings of Common Core in general, and NOTHING to do with my feelings on our education system. This is only about how I feel Americans seem to boo-hoo, point fingers, and give up, instead of using a little resourcefulness and ingenuity to figure out how to solve problems. All people like this so-called "engineer" care about is the easy A and not about having children who can independently problem solve. This scares me. Our world is globalizing. Our economy and the things that sustain us are constantly in flux. If we refuse to adapt to change and teach a generation of kids to just hole up and blame others when things get hard (sounds like Congress now, really) ... guys, all the dreams and ammo and freedom we cherish won't save us. 

Now quit your shit. Get up, set a good example for your kids and teach them how to succeed when the going gets tough. 

18 March 2014

Meal Plan Questions

I've had some questions on facebook about food prep for my upcoming fitness plan. So here it goes:

This year has been rough. The Viking & I put ourselves on hold. Between handling the crisis and the move, taking care of the kids and both of us working, there was simply no time for us. We haven't worked out in a year and we are over it. So, we're getting gym passes and getting back on the 'ol horse.

I have no idea what my husband's plan is, but I am going for a second attempt at Jamie Eason's LiveFit (on bodybuilding.com). Her meal plan is the 3 small meals a day with 2 snacks in between. I don't recommend eating quite this much if you aren't lifting weights. Honestly it's hard to get all of it down until you are a few weeks into the workout program.

That said, whether you want to do LiveFit with me, a different program, or just want to eat healthy (if this is your option, you DO NOT need to eat 3 of these things a day), this is what I'm doing with all those freezer portions:

PROTEINS
- Cut 3oz portions of salmon, frozen individually.
- Grilled a bunch of chicken breasts with seasoning, sliced up and bagged 3.5 oz portions.
- Cubed up a pre-cooked turkey breast and bagged into 3.5 oz portions
- Made large turkey meatballs, cooked & froze 2 in a pack.
- Mini bison meatloves, cooked & frozen individually.
- Bag of frozen hake (firm white fish) fillets, individually frozen.
(Going to buy egg whites every week, too.)

VEGGIE SIDES
- blanched green beans, froze in 3oz portions.
- bought frozen broccoli florets, frozen in 1/2 cup portions.
- cooked & mashed sweet potatoes, froze in 1/2 cup portions.
- Roasted asparagus & froze in 3 oz portions.
(also going to buy salad fixings every week)

VEG DISHES
- Veggie chili & quinoa, frozen in 1/2 cup portions, with 3oz cubed cheese.
- Veggie curry & quinoa, frozen in 1/2 cup portions.

SNACKS
Pumpkin/walnut protein muffins, frozen 2ea.
Berry protein muffins, frozen 2 ea.
Lemon chia seed protein muffins, frozen 2 ea.
Banana walnut protein muffins, frozen 2 ea.
(also buying Greek yogurts every week.)

As you see, the majority of my small meals will be frozen for convenience. A sample day might be 2-3 egg whites on a piece of toast for breakfast, a whey shake post-workout, muffins for a snack, a protein & a veggie side of my choice for lunch, a yogurt for snack, a protein and veggie side for dinner (or a chili or curry).

This way I do not have to worry about what everyone else wants, eating higher fat & carb-laden foods because it is what the kids eat, etc. No fuss, no muss, perfect portions, variety, and 98% of it keeps in the freezer. Pull out, zap it (or bake the fish), done. If I don't have to worry about my meals, I have a chance at sticking to the plan. Otherwise, let's face it, I would fail. I have no time for cooking or will power at the moment because I am working from home and raising 3 kids. Finding time to get to the gym is going to be challenge enough, right now.

So all this food is taking me a few weeks to prepare, and we still need to choose a gym, but come March 31, we are going to get our shit back together. If you're game, join me or pick your own plan and join me anyway.

08 February 2014

On Anger

Anger gets a bad rap. "Let go of anger," they say, "anger is cancerous," "anger is evil," and "never get angry, always remain calm." I disagree. I get the point, but that's not the whole story. Every emotion has it's place.

You see, anger and me, we have a relationship. I'd never advocate "hanging onto anger," but the fact remains: anger has saved my life. And I love it.

Most everyone knows I have panic and anxiety disorders. I've been afflicted since childhood. It got so bad in High School that my Junior year, I lost 10 pounds and I couldn't go to school much. It was too hard to go out with my friends at times. I spent my days nerve-addled, locked in chain-smoking sessions on our screened in back porch. Some of you understand, but those who don't, imagine if you were on an airplane that got hijacked by terrorists. One of them grabs you and has a box cutter to your throat, screaming something in a language you can't understand. Your body will flood with adrenaline and the terror will push you towards fight or flight. Feeling like you cannot do either, the adrenaline will make you sick and paralyze you. That's what happens to me. No terrorist, no drama or trauma, but my body floods itself with the panic response for no good reason. I feel like I am dying. I feel terror, as if something is about to rip me open from the inside. I cannot breathe. My eyes will sometimes go dim, as if I am about to lose consciousness. I feel sick to my stomach, clammy, and my heart is racing. My stomach lurches, trying to empty me of any unnecessary energy expenditures. My mind is screaming to GET AWAY. But there is nothing to get away from. Nothing to run from, except myself, and I can't do that.

For a long time I couldn't do anything. At a point, I couldn't leave my house. I was paralyzed, filled with dread and exhausted from the constant stress my own body was putting on itself.

Then I got angry.

It started as a superficial kind of anger at my situation. "I'm so mad! Why is my body so stupid? I f*cking hate myself!" You know, that kind of angsty crap. Self-loathing and fist-shaking. But then the anger grew deeper and settled in. Then, a funny thing happened.

It pushed me past my fear into action.

Anger isn't just being mad about something. Anger is a response to fear and for good reason. It propels you to move, despite of your trepidation. It's the "fight" in fight or flight.

Anger has picked me up off the floor. Anger has motivated me to compete and become stronger and better. Anger has carried me though fear and grief. It has propelled me into the lion's den and given me the strength to come out the other side, bloodied and swinging.

I'm not lying when I say anger has saved my life. I would be immobilized on a screened porch without it. I wouldn't have had the determination it takes to live this life. Life takes guts and my anger steels them. I am grateful for my anger.

Obviously, harboring anger, misplacing anger, being violent and raising your blood pressure aren't good things. Sometimes I have the temperance of a pit viper. And that's when I try to employ that calming, peaceful, Buddha shit everyone posts about on facebook. Because calm is for after the storm, at least for someone with my particular handicap.

Emotions are a balancing act that help you respond to living, not a simple set of "good" and "bad" feelings. So don't be so quick to push away your anger. Let it sit down with you, have a drink, and talk to it. You might learn something.

13 December 2013

Taking a Closer Look at Input & Output

Now that you have (hopefully) been monitoring what you eat through apps or a food journal, you are no doubt beginning to realize how all the little extras set you over your limit. You are learning how much you consume versus how much you burn, depending on your activity level. Hopefully it is an eye-opener. 

Being December, it would be impossible to start a real diet or workout program now. Try to do the best you can and avoid the filler (last week's discussion) and eat clean during the week. The best thing you can do is keep up your activity levels with walking, biking and micro-workouts. 

As a matter of fact, this month is a good time to experiment with your apps. How many calories, exactly, is that brandy Alexander? How many grams of fat was in that bisque? (Wait, I thought soup didn't count!... Right?) Are you eating enough vegetables? Fruits? (The kind that aren't baked into a pie?) How many grams of protein are you getting in a day? And how much cholesterol do a mere few slices of bacon contain? 

It might be a little depressing, but it's necessary. The point isn't to be upset that all the things you enjoy are killing you, the point is to realize eating them every day is accumulating and killing you. Sneaking treats adds up. And when you see how much that handful of potato chips costs, it might give you pause to reach for something else, like a banana or an apple, and wait to spend those calories when it's worth it (think: Grandma's fried sweet potatoes.) 

How much walking do you have to do to burn off one serving of au gratin potatoes? Your favorite takeout? Calculating these intakes and expenditures will probably make you more prudent about your decisions in the future. I also hope it makes you a little bit angry. Just a little bit, though. Too much anger leads to self-flagellation and guilt-eating. We don't want that. The goal here is to let the little seed of anger motivate your will power through this last month and inspire a permanent change. 

Be honest. Track EVERYTHING. You'll learn so much that eventually you won't need apps, you'll be able to tell the approximate nutritional information and serving size with one glance. It's an empowering thing, to know what you're consuming.

06 December 2013

Fit Club: The Holiday Binge.

The holidays are a dangerous time. It is dark and we are cold. Not only are our bodies searching for extra calories for the winter, our spirits are searching for comfort and familiarity. Mom's smoked turkey, Grandmas killer stuffing, Aunt Janet's gravy, and your sister-in-law's to-die-for pies. (Or maybe this is just me fantasizing...) 

And it is all there, spread before you, filled with butter and cheese and wrapped up in a crisp of bacon. But there is more. All your favorite foods surrounded by a zillion variations of cookies, tarts, custards, chocolate-dipped everything and heavy cream drinks. And it doesn't stop until after New Year's Day, where one last sickening binge-a-thon sends us all to the gym for two weeks in January to pretend that "it is all going to change, starting THIS year!" 

Well, what if I told you that you don't have to feel like a wad of lard, dipped in regret, come January? Because you don't. There is a way to indulge without over-indulging or sacrificing your favorite comfort foods to the gluten-free, sugar-free, fat-free altar. 

It's all a matter of prioritizing the good stuff and avoiding the fillers. 

First of all, do not make the holidays "healthy." No one, not even a vegan, wants to eat a to-fucking-furkey. Make a curried vegetable stew instead, they will thank you. Do not use sugar substitutes or smart balance in place of butter. If you feel you can make a dish with a little less of the bad stuff without sacrificing flavor, that is acceptable. But no substitutes. It's depressing.

AT THE DINNER
When you go to a holiday feast, think of what you really want. Make a list of your must-eats. As you pass the dishes, or stroll the buffet table, don't plop a glop of every mystery casserole onto your plate. And for god's sake, don't grab bread rolls (unless bread rolls are a must-eat for you, and if they are, my condolences on the lack of culinary skill in your family.) There should only be room for your priority dishes. This tip alone should save you about eight million useless calories. 

There are two types of holiday dinners in my extended family. One is a large buffet where many contribute dishes and one is a sit-down, plated course-style dinner. At the buffets, I like to fill 1/3 of my plate with a salad or vegetable, then one turkey wing. This doesn't leave a lot of room, so I am careful about the portions of sides I choose. This way I never eat too many filling potatoes and starches that expand to 5x their size within a few hours and make me groan all the way home. At the other dinner, I've learned to only eat about half of what's on my plate for each serving. 

To help you eat a reasonable amount, don't forget to move during the day. Get one of your micro workouts in, or a small challenge. Take a walk in the morning before you start cooking. And eat. Eat a small balanced breakfast, a small balanced snack, and a vegetable-laden light lunch (to help you expel dinner later). Keeping your blood sugars level and not starving yourself will help you avoid all the cheese logs and senseless appetizers before dinner, too. 

DOWN TIME IN BETWEEN DINNERS
But that's just the meals. During the season, you are inevitably inundated with cookies, donuts, cakes, pies, tin cans of chocolate dipped caramel corn, liquor, cream and syrup filled coffees, and more liquor. Use the same filter. Munching down another shortbread cookie for no other reason than "this one has the red sprinkles on it" is going to cost you. Don't eat the junk. Dunkin' Donuts? Store-bought frosted sugar cookies? Little Hershey's chocolates? NO. Those are the same damn chocolates from Halloween, just wrapped in Christmas colors. They are not special. They will not make you feel good. They are there all year-round, do not be tricked into thinking otherwise. Keep on your sensible diet schedule. If you have to stay out of the breakroom, stay out of the breakroom. If you have to throw out that sleeve of holiday Oreos or candy that your neighbor brought you, throw it out (or better yet, donate it to a food pantry). I used to feel guilty tossing sacks of candy and cookies away, but we simply cannot (and should not) eat it all. What's more important? Your health or someone spending $3.99 on you? 

And if you are a gifter, consider downsizing the cookie tray, or better yet, giving a healthy item like fruit or homemade almond butter? Better yet, how about a non-food gift?

It's not such a problem that we eat a few decadent dinners and a slice or three of pie in this two-month time span, but that we are mindlessly stuffing ourselves with nuts and fatty meats and cookies and treats in between.We are both tempted and guilted into eating tins and tins of cookies brought to us by well-meaning neighbors. All it takes is a filter. Pick out the best and avoid the rest. 

Lastly, don't forget to keep moving!

29 November 2013

Integration, Part Four: Diet


I've covered simple ways to be more active that don't divert you from your day-to-day goings on. But all the tread-desking in the world can't fix a bad diet. Unless you're 23 years old and on the track team, eating on the fly will catch up with you fast.

This is the area you may have to make an initial investment, because you need to get control of what you eat and when you eat it. A lunch cooler sack, water bottle and a set of glass or plastic reusable containers are a MUST.  You can spend $20-$50 on this stuff, depending on what you need and where you purchase it. But it pays for itself in the long run, especially if you are eating out a lot. 

Forget about all the diets out there for the moment. We are just beginning this journey and we want to make gradual changes we can stick with, not sudden overhauls that send us to the bathroom every other hour and poison our co-workers with our noxious health food gasses. No, your body takes time to adjust and will go through withdrawals and possible fits of intestinal rage. I like to keep that part to a minimum. So, let's focus on initial, easy changes.

RULE #1: Eat to live most of the time and live to eat on special occasions. Simply put, eat clean six or seven days a week. When a party or holiday or special dinner rolls around, indulge. If you find there is a "special occasion" more than twice a month, then scale back how much you indulge. If your job has to do with taking clients to lunch, order healthy options off the menu as much as possible to maintain an 80-90% to 20-10% ratio. Do not deprive yourself completely, but don't justify every meal out as a "special occasion." 

RULE #2: Eat small meals every 3 hours or so that are predominantly composed of complex carbohydrates (aka vegetables) and protein. Your metabolism gets sluggish if you starve and gorge all day. You should eat something within an hour of waking, and throughout the day to keep the furnace burning and your blood sugars level. 

RULE #3: Get the extra, empty calories out of your life. Do you drink pop every day? Do you stop for a scone and 3,000 calorie coffee beverage in the morning? Do you grab a bag of chips or candy bar from the vending machine more often than you'd care to admit? Stop it. This is the hardest part, because you are addicted. Not only are you stuck in a bad habit, but your body waits expectantly, like Pavlov's dog, for it's treat at the given time.

One way to begin to make better food decisions is to download an app that tracks your diet. MyFitnessPal and Livescape are two comprehensive, user-friendly options that not only count calories and nutrition, but what you burn during activity as well. You can see in real time where your weak points are and watch your progress as you become savvier about the quality and quantity of your food intake.

Remember, no crazy diets just yet. And no "mega" supplements. Seriously, there is plenty of research coming out that points to mega-dose supplements as being linked with higher levels of cancer and disease. A regular multi is fine or if you have been diagnosed as deficient in a particular area, a supplement is safe as long as it's not one of those 2,000x the RDA dose pills.

Some good ideas for meals and snacks are: 
a few egg whites and whole grain toast with peanut butter
a large salad with dark leafy greens and chopped veggies with a little grilled chicken on top
a cup of Greek-style yogurt
A piece of baked, broiled or grilled fish and a cup or two of steamed vegetables.
carrot sticks and hummus
A protein bar
an apple with a few tablespoons of nut butter
A chicken breast and half a baked sweet potato
Grilled vegetables and a half-cup of quinoa
A smoothie made of almond milk, Greek yogurt, a banana and some frozen berries with a scoop of whey protein powder

If you make sure you are getting protein at every sitting (lean meat, fish, natural peanut butter, legumes, whey protein), you will feel sated longer and avoid that shaky feeling that inevitably sends you to the vending machine or the breakroom to chow down on whatever office treat has been lying on the countertop all day. (Or the cookies in your kid's snack packs.)

If you are drinking a caffeinated pop and want to quit, you can switch it out for iced tea once a day, so you don't suffer headaches. Get unsweetened and add a tablespoon of organic sugar or honey. I don't care if it's natural or not, I avoid all sugar substitutes. They taste awful and some of them, like agave nectar, spike your sugar levels just as bad (or worse) as the real thing. Sugar, like gluten, is being fashionably demonized at the moment and I wouldn't put too much stock into the hysteria if you are consuming small to moderate amounts. A lump in your tea is not harmful. The cups you were drinking in the form of pop, however, is.

Speaking of drinking, one more thing. Raise your hand if you know what it is. 50-80oz of water a day, depending on how much tea or coffee you drink and how active you are. That's somewhere in the neighborhood of 7-10 cups a day. Buy a water bottle. Contigo makes a great 24 oz. one with markers on the side, so you know how much you've downed. Water is essential for your bodily functions and has the added benefit of making you less hungry. Did you know one sign of being dehydrated isn't just thirst but a mistaken feeling of hunger? Now you do.

So, to recap: quit your bad habit, eat small, balanced meals every few hours, track your input and output with an app, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. Brown bag your meals and snacks for complete control and try as best you can to limit fast food and temptations. Most importantly, don't treat a setback as a failure. If you accidentally slip, and your mouth falls around a breakroom doughnut, don't beat yourself up or wash it down with a bag of chips because your diet is ruined anyway, just enjoy the doughnut, track the calories on your app, and carry on. 

26 November 2013

Let's Talk About Shopping on Thanksgiving.


All over my Facebook feed, big orange bulls eyes are cropping up everywhere to signify people's disdain for Black Thursday becoming the new Black Friday. And I totally get it. The mad rush to buy buy buy and spend spend spend can get pretty nauseating, especially during hard financial times. We have enough stuff in our closets, crap in our garage, things in our drawers and junk lying about. Enough is enough, right? The holidays shouldn't be about going into debt to buy people a bunch of things they don't need. It should be about togetherness, and generosity, spending time with the people you love, and lighting up the darkness of winter together. Being grateful for what we have and for each other. Good food, good wine, good music, good times. 

But, (you knew a "but" was coming), I think this whole pledge not to shop so people can be with their family thing is a bit misguided. 

First of all, there are plenty of jobs that have always been running on Thanksgiving. Hospitals, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, hotels, movie theaters, restaurants, the list goes on. Why are Target employees suddenly above it all? 

Second, it might not have occurred to many of you, but not everyone has a family table to go to. And some people are fine with that. They like the holiday money and having something to do and friends to talk to on what would otherwise be a lonely day with a microwaved meal in front of the TV, or a forced "togetherness" with a family they'd rather not be together with.  

Third, come on. Everyone is up on their high horse acting like Thanksgiving is a sacred day. Honestly, besides a little "Grace" before the meal, if that's your thing, how grateful is everyone, really? Are our heads bowed? Are we savoring our bounty? Ruminating, with each bite, on what a wonderful life we have? Not really. In most families, half is involved in some knock-down, drag-out political debate, a quarter is glued to the game on TV, the womenfolk are too busy cooking and bustling to do much besides materialize in the conversation every twenty minutes, chardonnay in hand, and disappear back into the kitchen. The teenagers show up, eat, check their phones until its time to leave and then do so. And all we are thinking is, "Why oh why did I have to eat that last slice of pie?" Don't get me wrong, we all love each other and have a good time, but it's not the be-all end-all of days. It's a skosh more "gluttonous" than "grateful" if we were to be truly honest with ourselves. (And if you're not living the grateful, humble, family-centered life otherwise, this pledge is a bit empty. "I pledge to go to a dinner I already have to go to and I don't really have anything else going on, nor particularly want to shop..." )

So here's my opinion. If you want to shop on Thanksgiving, go ahead. Some people really enjoy the hunt and the chaos of the stores. It's a sport. To them, I say have fun. If you don't, then by all means, don't shop. Your sentiment is noble, but everyone's lives are different. 

If you believe in family, don't wait and put all the pressure on one or two days in November and December. Be with your family. Spend time with them throughout the year. If you are disgusted by consumerism, don't buy tons of presents. Period. It doesn't matter what "day" you boycott if you're spending away every other day. If you believe everyone should be comforted on holidays, go volunteer at a soup kitchen or a shelter. Deliver a basket of goodies to your local police or firemen on Thanksgiving. But don't assume that because people go on with their lives when you think they should celebrate your way, that it is wrong or evil. You don't know where they're coming from. The whole country can't shut down to force everyone to chew on a turkey with family members because you think that's the way it should be.

We just moved over 1200 miles from our family this year. We are taking our kids to see a movie on Thanksgiving. It's such a popular thing to do, in fact, that we had to pre-order our tickets by the seat. Guess in this family-oriented, religious community, working on Thanksgiving is a-ok.