June To Do’s…..and how Sunday became Thursday

I’d every intention of publishing this post last Sunday, but Sunday got the best of me. The day was full, of things both planned and unplanned: an extended breakfast-turned-brunch date with a friend, that crept into the latest part of the morning…..followed by an impromptu visit to the softball field to cheer on our good friend “Mad-dog” Mati as she pitched like a fiend at her softball game, striking out player after player to help her team win the game and thereby retain their number one position….and lastly, dinner out at a restaurant wherein I ate such a ridiculous amount of food that the only energy I had left was expended by moaning about the brick that was in my stomach. (I took the “unlimited soup, salad and breadsticks” menu item very seriously Sunday night.) I could barely keep my eyes open through the True Blood season premiere, it was that bad.

I was sure I would get it done on Monday, but then Monday (as well as Tuesday and Wednesday and today) have looked like this, or a variation thereof:

6:30 am – go to gym

8:00 am – drive home and quickly eat and shower

8:40 am – drive Carsten to orchestra camp

9:20 am – drive Anna to piano lessons

9:40 am – pick Carsten up from orchestra camp

10:00 am – pick up Anna from piano lessons

10:45 am – drive Anna to soccer camp

1:00 pm – pick Anna up from soccer camp

5:00 pm – drive both kids to swim practice

5:15 pm – drive home, cook dinner, clean up after dinner

8:00 pm – crash on sofa, moving only to retire to bed

There were also two trips to Target, and the grocery store, one trip to Kohl’s, the post office and the doctor’s office in there. I have always thought that if I ever won the lottery, one thing I would indulge in would be to hire someone to do the grocery shopping for me (I loathe the grocery store). I’m actually thinking that a full-time driver would be a better use of my money at this time. At this rate, I may also have to hire a ghost- blogger, too…..

So I started this post about a week ago, on June 6th. And now, I have piddled my way along to June 14th, which makes it seem like I’ve infinitely diminished my chances at making some of these things happen. But here goes, anyway:

  • Eat outside, at least once a week. The weather in June can be all over the board, but there are often some really great days for being outdoors before the heat and humidity of July take over. Ok, so this is really more of a ‘goal’ than a ‘to do.’ Noted!
  • Plan a day trip into Chicago to ride Sea Dog. Carsten is DYING…..DIE-ING….to do this. Sidebar: speaking of Chicago, last week, we did this
    Lunch at Dick’s Last Resort, where wearing paper hats with crude expressions and throwing napkins is part of the restaurant’s tradition.

and this and this

in the city. Summer in Chicago just rocks. Anyway….moving on!

  • Visit the local Mexican supermercado. We passed a Mexican grocer the other day, and the kids were curious about it. We didn’t have time to stop, but I promised them we’d go back. I love to go to the supermercado, too; so much cool stuff there!
  • Work out, work out, work out. My gym membership will be going on hold July 1st, because with all we’ve got going on that month, I know I won’t make it in for at least three weeks, probably four. Need to make the most of these next few weeks before taking a break. This week’s tally so far: 4 for 4 days!
  • Make something….anything….from my new cookbook, Plentyby Yotam Ottolenghi. Carmelized Garlic Tart…..I’m looking at you. 
  • Register kids for next school year. Just a few short years ago, school registration was still being done the old school way: go into the school, stand in long lines, and move from station to station as you filled out form after form. Now, it’s all done online, which is infinitely more convenient, however, I must admit it lacks that certain ‘festive’ feeling I used to get, skipping into the building, dragging my despondent children with me. Heh.
  • Develop a To Read list for summer. I have recently read three books, and none of them was very much worth the effort: Fifty Shades of Grey (E.L. James), The Corrections (Jonathan Franzen), and The Hunger Games, Book 1 (loved the movie; was lukewarm on the book – an unusual stance for me). I’m feeling very discouraged, and frankly, rather lost at bed time. I usually have a running list of things To Read, but for some reason I do not at the moment. Suggestions? I’ll share one with you in exchange: Blood, Bones and Butter (Gabrielle Hamilton). In spite of a few holes in this memoir, it was full of some damn good writing. The hyperlink will take you to Amazon, if you want more details. In the meantime….help!
  • Redo my workout playlist – the sooner, the better. I’m getting a little bored with the current tunes. What do you listen to when you work out? I’m always looking for suggestions – unless they fall under the category of “country.” Sorry, but no can do.
  • Clean out the inside of the taxi van. Dear God. *shudder*
  • Try not to piss off Ivy anymore with my atrocious blogging/work ethic……oy. You’ve the patience of a saint, girl!

(It just occurred to me that I should have numbered these instead of bullet-pointing them, but let’s just get this done already, shall we??)

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You thought I would choose Doritos, didn’t you?

If this were a paying gig, Ivy would have soooo fired me already. I’ve dragged my feet on writing this post for so long, she would be totally justified in doing so. But! There is a reason! In my opinion, a very good reason, that I took so long.

When I got this writing prompt in my email from Mama’s Losin’ It, and Ivy and I decided to run with it, I knew in a heartbeat what I would write about: pizza. Oh. My. God. I could eat pizza ~ obscene quantities of pizza ~ pretty much every day. Doesn’t much matter if it’s thin or thick crust, stuffed or not, or even if it’s of relatively decent quality: as long as there aren’t any olives of green peppers on it, I’ll pretty much eat it in any form. (And even then, I would probably just pick the offensive toppings off.)

Carsten loves pizza as much or more so than I do, and since we haven’t made homemade pizza in a while, I thought we should make some ~ you know, in honor of the blog post. But then there’s the whole bit with letting the dough rise (takes time!); and working around the kids’ evening schedules so that we’d have plenty of time to actually make the pizza; and then really, there’s the root of the problem: if it’s here, I will eat it. And since I’ve been working my way towards being the valedictorian of diet management on My Fitness Pal (not really; I sort of suck at diet management), making pizza for dinner didn’t seem like a wise idea, because food has been my Achilles heel in this whole workout/weight loss business.

Though a slacker blogger I might be, I would not stoop so low as to not hold up my end of the blogging bargain! So in the interest of being a reliable blogger, I made pizza.

Thinking it would be a fun little family project to make pizza together, I picked a night when the kids had no activities, and Noel did not have to work late. But it turned out that the evening I picked, both kids got invited to go play at a friend’s house, and Noel decided to mow the lawn. Alas, I was left alone with a ball of dough, a pound of mozzarella, some sauce and a plethora of pepperoni. Dangerous, indeed.

This is how I felt making the pizza:

Not because everyone abandoned me, but because I promised myself I would not eat pizza. And then, I had to quickly get rid of the sad-faced pizza before Anna walked in and saw it, because if the pizza was sad, she would be sad, and then she would not want to eat it. I’m not even kidding; she is still working on eating a small chocolate bunny that she got in her Easter basket weeks ago, because she felt bad about eating the rabbit ~ poor thing!

Anyway, I was bummed about making pizza, because I had already planned that I was going to have salmon instead. Because I knew if I ate one piece of pizza, I would want six, and that, would be a problem. And you know what? I did not eat even one slice of this:

Yes, that is two different sizes of pepperoni on there. Why, you ask? That’s just how we roll….

Yes, I agree: there should be some kind of award for that! But, as the saying goes, “abs are made in the kitchen,” and they are definitely not made out of pizza. Though that evening, I was not sure if I felt better or worse about my feat of great restraint. Sigh. But the fact of the matter is, if I could eat one food every day, without regard to calories or health, pizza would be my drug of choice.

That is the sad, s-l-o-w-l-y disappearing chocolate bunny, just to her left.

Just out of curiosity, this makes me wonder what the pizza situation is like in Dublin. Ivy, can you get good pizza there? I remember when I briefly lived in France, the pizza was rather disappointing ~ and it often came (strangely) topped with a fried egg. We do not do fried eggs on our pizza here. We have also tried pizza in Norway. It was ok, but again, not the same as at home. It (along with Nutella) did, however, save Carsten from utter starvation during our stay, as the fish-heavy diet of the Norwegians did not appeal to him at all. Lastly, we tried some pizza in London. Again, it was ok, but nothing spectacular ~ though you can see from the photo that the lackluster quality did not stop me from eating it, even after I’d already had a spectacularly huge and delicious meal of Indian food just prior:

The pigeons were also not particular about the quality of the pizza. Who knew we have so much in common?

Ivy, you know if you ever come to visit, we are totally gorging on chocolate cake and pizza! (Uh, minus the pigeons, of course.)

What is your favorite, eat-with-wild-abandon food?

All in a day’s work(out)

In getting to know Ivy through our blogging over the last year or so, I’ve learned a little bit about what her workout routine was like, and I was intrigued by it. I’d never heard of the particular kind of martial art she practiced, and I wanted to know more. So I asked her if she wanted to do a post about it, and I told her that I would also do one about the kind of work out I do. It would be kind of a comparison: Workout, Dublin-style vs. Workout, Illinois-style. Or something like that.

Anyway, after reading Ivy’s post about Bujinkan, I’m sorry to say that I have to follow her act. Reading about Ivy’s workout was a little like watching an Indiana Jones film: blood! bruises! injuries! danger! excitement! Man, all I can claim by way of injuries is stubborn tendonitis in my left shoulder and some sore muscles.

With that in mind, I regret to tell you that I will now be following Ivy’s post up with a Nova-style documentary on old-school exercise. So make yourselves comfortable ok?!

****

A couple of years ago, I turned 40. In an act of classically bad timing, it was right around that same time that I let my gym membership lapse. I’d gotten bored, didn’t want to spend the money or give up the time, wasn’t motivated to go, or when I did go, the things I was doing were not producing any kind of change in my body. So I gave it up, and instead, did nothing.

Well, actually, I did do something. I used that free time from the gym to experiment in the kitchen. I was cooking up crazy-good dinners and desserts. Any time I had some free time, I thought about what I could cook. I had a “cooking bucket list” of things I’d wanted to one day make: brioche, panna cotta, homemade bread, homemade ice cream, carnitas, chana masala, a leprechaun trap cake, and the list went on. It was a very long list, but I did end up crossing all of those things off of the To Make list, and then some. Of course, all of that cooking ended up in a whole lot of eating, and well, you can see where this was headed, right?

I’d heard tales from friends who’d already crossed over to the other side of the 40’s about how your metabolism slows down as you age, but all I can say is that I guess I was in total denial. I had never been overweight in my life, and I’d always eaten whatever I wanted. Why would this change now? But then one day (yes, it seemed like it happened over night), my 40-year-old metabolism up and gave me the middle finger, and I started gaining weight. The more weight I gained, the more depressed I got, and the more depressed I got, the more I ate. And drank. And laid around feeling depressed. And baked to cheer myself up. When one day I discovered that I only weighed about 15 pounds less than my husband (who is a good 5 inches taller than I am), I knew I had to do something. But faced for the first time with needing to exercise, not just for the sake of clearing the trans-fat out of my arteries from my copious Doritos consumption, but for a real need to shed some pounds, I had no idea where to start. Do I join a gym and just start doing classes? And what kind of classes? Yoga? Pilates? Zumba? Do I do weights? Do I do cardio? Do I do both? If so, how much of each and how often? Do I simply take up running? (I hoped not, because God, I hate running.)

Maybe I was over-thinking things, but I really felt paralyzed about what to do.

Then, I ran into my friend Melissa (you can see a picture of her here). She looked so different from the last time I’d seen her.

Melissa had never been overweight, but she had dramatically transformed her body, and she looked amazing. She was competing in, and winning, figure competitions, and while I personally did not have that same kind of goal in mind, I knew we both shared the goal of wanting to transform our bodies, and I wanted to know what she was doing to make that happen.

So we talked a lot about what she was doing, and she invited me to try one of the classes she did at her gym. I went with her one day, and, in an experience I originally wrote about here, I basically died on the gym floor, and was reborn as a newly dedicated gym-goer. I signed up for the classes the very next day, and I’ve been going ever since.

That was last November. In the months since then, have I transformed? Absolutely. I’ve lost a total of about 25 pounds so far, and am still working on another 10-15. I almost can’t even believe that I actually had that much weight to lose. They are sneaky things, those calories.

So, what have I been doing all this time? It’s been a combination of three things: weight training three times a week; doing a group training class that focuses on interval circuits three times a week; and lastly (perhaps, most importantly), making some fundamental changes in my diet. Very old-school stuff, really. Simple as that.

***

Let me introduce you to Mike Neumann:

He’s guy who makes the magic happen in the gym. Don’t be fooled by that nice, friendly, smile on his face. It’s just there to lull you into a false sense of security, until he gets you back in the group training room and forces you to ‘make something big happen’ (code for: kicks your ass). And that thing hanging around his neck? Some call it a stopwatch; others, an instrument of torture. Depends on your perspective.

The group training classes I do with Mike are kind of like a semi-private training session. Class size is kept to a small number (on average, there are not usually more than 4-6 people in a class), so even though it’s not exactly a one-on-one session, the small group size does allow for some personalized attention. Which means, don’t think you can fly under the radar, hanging out and having a conversation with someone about what you did over the weekend, when you should be cranking out some bicep curls.

Class lasts 30 minutes, and is a grab bag of walking lunges, burpees, push-ups, squat jumps, Spiderman crawls, shuffles, sprints, knee-slaps (jump up in the air and slap both knees before landing), side lunges, and mountain climbers (to name a few), with anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes devoted at the end to ab work. I love this kind of workout, because the exercises are simple, straight-forward moves that are challenging and effective, and Mike mixes it up just enough to keep it fresh. The entire 30 minutes of class, Mike is either encouraging one of us to ‘just get three more reps’ of something, or he’s motivating us with tips on ‘how not to sabotage your efforts at the gym when you go out to eat at a restaurant.’

I think it’s fair to say, his class is an intense 30 minutes that leaves most of us splayed on the mats in a pool of sweat. But there is nothing better than the feeling at the end of having made it all the way through.

In addition to the class, I also do weights three times a week, each day focusing on a different body part, or combination of parts (chest and back, for example). Mondays are leg day (my personal favorite), and here’s a look at a very typical Monday for me:

Squats:

Leg extensions:

Leg presses:

One of the best things about working with a trainer is having someone who pushes you. I know for a fact that I achieve more in the gym as a result of this than I would doing it on my own. A perfect example: I’d been doing three sets of squats for about 12 or so reps at 115 pounds for quite a while. During one of our sessions, Mike took the 35-pound plates off the bar, and replaced them with 45-pound plates – you know, those plates that are GIANT? I didn’t say anything, but honestly, I was panicked. Did he seriously think I could squat that much? I had my doubts. Even though I was only adding 20 pounds to the overall load, there was something about seeing those huge, 45-pounds plates on my bar that was psychologically freaking me out. If I were working out on my own, I really don’t think I ever would have loaded those plates on the bar myself.

But in the end, I did it: I got about 8-10 reps, and it wasn’t nearly as awful as I’d thought it would be. In fact, I was even a little bit ecstatic over setting a new personal record for myself: a 135-pound squat. I’ll take it.

(By the way, I’m not in the habit of taking photos of myself while working out. Mike took these for me, for the purpose of using them in this post. Just thought I should clarify.)

****

In addition to doing class and weights three times a week, I also try to get in roughly two hours of straight cardio during the week. Some days, I do a step aerobics class, or sometimes I’ll just do a 30-minute interval run, or a 30-minute incline walk, on the treadmill. I try to arrange it so that among all those options, I end up with having done a total of two hours’ worth of cardio each week.

****

So that’s my workout week in a nutshell. But the biggest and most important change of all – the change that really began to affect a transformation for me – was when I changed my eating habits.

Up until my 40’s, I was fortunate to have the kind of metabolism that allowed me to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to, without worry of weight gain. I’d always been fairly active, but often thought of my time at the gym as my ticket to eat whatever I wanted. I worked out hard; why shouldn’t I be able to eat a donut or four? But this component of Mike’s group training is probably the one thing that has made the biggest impact.

When I joined Mike’s class, I was introduced to an entirely new religion of How and What to Eat:

So I slowly began implementing the guidelines that are documented on that board. I didn’t change everything all at once, but gradually, I began to try, as much as I could, to make what I ate fit into that framework. I increased my protein intake, decreased my carbs, and most importantly, started measuring my portion sizes and tracking everything. Sure, I had a vague notion that a bag of Doritos and a Diet Coke was probably not an optimum lunch. But once I really started paying attention to the numbers associated with eating like that, it was much easier to exercise a little restraint!

Mike tells our class constantly that “abs are made in the kitchen,” and that 80% of the change you see comes from what you do outside the gym. After a few months of taking his advice to heart, I’d have to say I agree. As much as I wish it weren’t true, Mike is right: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. It’s no small coincidence that it’s called a ‘muffin top,’ you know.

 ***

In these past few months, I’ve learned a ton. Mostly about the diet/food side of fitness, but also about weight lifting and how to work in the cardio, as well as how much cardio. I’ve met some new people, and run into some old acquaintances at my new gym. But the most important thing, I think, is the reminder of how much better I feel after a workout. It sounds trite, but there have been many, many mornings when I have felt miserably tired, or extremely cranky, or overwhelmed by my To Do list, and going to the gym was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. But the one thing I’d promised myself when I signed up for this was that I’d be consistent, no matter what. So, even when I don’t feel like it, I go. And every time I do, I’m reminded once again of how addictive that post-workout feeling is, and how as little as one hour at the gym can totally transform my mood for the rest of the day. Even if the rest of my day is a complete disaster, or I’m plagued by the feeling of having gotten nothing done all day, I can at least look back on my mornings and be reminded that yes, I did, in fact, accomplish something. Maybe that ‘something’ only amounts to 11 pushups instead of 10, or maybe it’s only an extra 10 pounds on leg extensions, but still, it counts. Mike says every day in class that “we’re gonna make something big happen today.” And every day, in so many small ways, that’s exactly what we do.

One last video, that I’ll post, not for the sake of gratuitous footage of me working out, but so you can hear a small sample of some of Mike’s commentary from class. The video is, admittedly, a little long –  6-minutes – but it gives you a good taste of how Mike’s classes are run. He manages to fill, not just the 6 minutes of abs, but the entire 30 minute class talking about one thing or another: form, diet, motivation, etc. and this is a typical example. I like it, because it takes my mind – at least a little bit – off of the pain!

***

If you are local and might be interested in Mike’s classes, you can find him at Impact Fitness.

Right Now….

Current time: 10:19 am

In my glass: an Americano with cream

In my belly: vanilla protein pancakes

In my ears: the muffled sounds coming from the video game my son is playing in the basement

Out the window: SUN!

What I’m wearing: Black yoga pants; purple fleece half-zip (I think this is the same ‘uniform’ I was wearing last time I wrote a “right now” post….sigh)

Last watched: The Lorax, the movie

Feeling good about: The sun shining; an open calendar today; where the needle landed on the scale this morning

Feeling bad about: Not sleeping well at all last night, and feeling tired and achy this morning.

Next to me: Our cat, Lena, lying on the back of the sofa behind me and watching the birds out the window. Also, an empty cup of coffee that needs to be remedied, soon.

Making me think: Making mental lists of things to cook for the week (what needs to be pulled out of the freezer, what needs to be purchased, etc)

Photo Challenge – Day 25 (Something Pink)

Swimming By Numbers:

  • Number of swim meets left after this one: 0
  • Number of new swimsuits purchased: 4
  • Number of swimmers participating in the 8 and Under division: 80(ish)
  • Number of events swam: 3
  • Number of events cancelled due to sick swimmer: 1
  • Hours of travel to and from swim meet: 2 (and change)
  • Hours spent at swim meet: 7
  • Minutes of actual swim time for our particular swimmer: 1.5
  • Number of restaurants eaten at that day: 3
  • Number of snacks packed: 8
  • Number of “sport beans” consumed: 2
  • Number of smoothies purchased: 1
  • Number of smoothies consumed: 1/4
  • Number of swimmers cuter than this one: 0