Saturday, 22 December 2012

The Contract. (Or, How I Got My Husband to Lose 20 Pounds)

It was the middle of November. We were curled up watching a movie. Out of the blue, I asked him, "Will you let me control what you eat and how you exercise for two weeks?"

"Sure," he said.

He agreed too easily.

"Three weeks," I amended.

"Sure," he said.

I immediately dug out a pen and paper, quickly wrote out a list of rules, which would function as a contract, reviewed them with him, and made him sign the bottom. I worked quickly, knowing I had managed to catch him in a very agreeable state, and that I should take advantage of the opportunity. Never before, in the twelve years we've been together, have I had complete control over something like this. I couldn't wait to be in charge. I was almost giddy.

Before I share the rules listed in the contract, some background on my husbands health. He's a tall lad, six foot three, and has hovered between 220 and 235 for the past decade and a half. He hits the gym regularly, and can put on bulk by just looking at a set of weights the right way. However, he also consumed 5-6 liters of ice cream a week, and on the nights he wasn't eating ice cream, he was eating mounds of peanut butter slathered on a couple pieces of bread, and a beer stein full of milk. He was strong and fit, but had excess weight to lose.

So this is what I made him sign:

The "At the Mercy of My Wife" Plan
November 17 - December 8

  1. Lift weights 3x week (He can choose the days)
  2. Run 5x week (I choose the days)
  3. Only one coffee per day, the rest is green tea
  4. Eat every 3 hours. No exceptions. This will require bringing snacks on work days.  **I approve the snacks**
  5. Three water bottles per day 
  6. Push ups on command 
  7. No supplements, shakes, etc.

Absolutely no exceptions:
 - No snacks after 8pm
 - Mealtimes are single serving only
 - No arguing or whining like a baby

**We will be discussing this on a regular basis, so be ready to report on plans for the day, and how the day went. Provide details.**

So he signed.

His runs were between 3 and 6k, nothing substantial, the point was just to get him outside doing cardio. The push ups on command were by far the most entertaining of all the rules. I typically made him do 15 or 20, sometimes I went up to 50...sometimes only 10. Several times a day. And sometimes one set right after another. After another. One day he did over 200 push ups. A couple times I had him clapping in between counts. Like I said....very entertaining.  His snacks were some combination of: yogurt, apples, cheese, raisins, pumpkin seeds, almonds and clementines. If he had milk, it was only 1 single cup, 250 ml.

He rarely complained, though he did try to swindle an extra gym day from time to time. My surprise push ups only made him grin. I only ever heard him utter once that he was hungry, but I think that was a day he lifted weights and ran. But it was at 9:30 at night, and past snack time, so he waited it out. He followed the rules exceptionally well, although there were a few skipped snack times. He paid for that in push ups.

Within two days of signing the contract his pants were loose. Within a week, his chest and shoulders were getting more defined. By the end of two weeks, he had lost 7 pounds and was noticeably slimmer in his midsection. By the end of three weeks, he had lost 20 pounds. We were both shocked.

I was expecting him to lose maybe 12 pounds over the three weeks. But I assume that not devoting as much time to lifting weights and more time spent on cardio, that he had some muscle loss as well. Which is fine, he was pretty bulky to begin with...he could afford to trim down.

So that is the contract. I know some were asking about it, and its nothing crazy or special. Exercise regularly, and eat healthy in proportioned sizes at regular intervals. I think it worked well for him, because he followed the rules, and knew he had someone else, besides himself, to answer to. Plus, push ups.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

What goes around, comes around.

We went out with friends to dinner a few weeks ago, and I don't know why this happens, but the subject of our veggie box came up. Must have been talking about kids, trying to get them to eat, or something along that lines. Whatever. Anyway. I go through my whole veggie box spiel, and she says she was interested in the idea and planned to get signed up. Over the next couple of days, I sent her the contact information of our farmers and didn't think much about it.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and we are at their place for dinner. We sit down at the table to eat, and they have served Shephard's Pie and some squash on the side. Smelled heavenly.

Then they say that everything we are eating that night is local, from the veggie box they signed up for! Woo! The Shephard's Pie hamburger was even mixed with a bit of the lamb from the box.

And then I asked what kind of squash it was, and she said it was the squash from the box as well. Wait. What? You mean those squashes that we've been getting are edible? I've been using them as ornamental fall decorations around the house!! They are so little and pretty!

See? Looks different than other buttercup squashes...more ornamental...

So I passed the word of the veggie box to someone, and in turn they taught me something new! And now I have five little squashes to roast...mmm... And now I'm glad that I talk about my veggie box in random conversations. It all works out in the end.

Monday, 1 October 2012

My Veggie Box.

"Your what?"

That's the usual reaction when I mention my veggie box.

Every week, I pick up a plastic tote full of vegetables, eggs and herbs from a local farmer. I believe it started as a part of a government healthy eating program. I signed up to the program, and now every week, for the past two years (possibly three- I'm getting old and am losing track of time) the farmer packs up a large number of boxes into their cube van, parks in a central spot in town, and townfolk like myself pay the $25 to give back their empty box and pick up a new one.
A mid-summer veggie box. Mmm corn on the cob.

This was the contents of the box this week:
  • broccoli 
  • cauliflower
  • beets
  • kale 
  • tomatoes
  • cucumber(2)
  • large white onion
  • spaghetti squash
  • dozen eggs

And two week before:
  • carrots
  • red cabbage
  • cucumber(2)
  • tomatoes
  • leek
  • broccoli
  • small sweet dumpling squash
  • large white onion
  • swiss chard
  • dozen eggs
So you get whats fresh, and there is a good variety, in the summer at least. In the winter, there are a lot of root vegetables, which they sometimes supplement with their own flour, or pancake mix, homemade jam or fresh bread.

The great thing about the veggie box is that it really forces me to eat more veggies. Pasta is a rare thing in our house, as is rice, fries or any kind of boxed side dish. I love love love squash. I am starting to learn how to eat beets (we bought a juicer!), and recently discovered that bacon (from the same farmer!) is a very tasty ingredient in a cabbage dish. You have to get creative.

I really recommend looking into this in your own town. For smaller households, you might be able to negotiate with your farmer to get a box every second week, perhaps. We are really lucky, because our farmer also supplies frozen meat boxes as well, as they raise cattle, pigs and lamb. Grass fed so good.

When you live in a rural setting, take advantage of the ruralness. Local veggies ftw.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The documentary that changed the way I ate.

The tagline for Food, Inc. is "You'll never look at dinner the same way again". Never have truer words been spoken.

When we watched the documentary, I had no clue about food systems. I had a good handle on nutrition, and the rules: stay out on the outside walls of the grocery store, don't eat food that comes in a box, blah blah blah. I mostly listened to it. I get my veggies from a local farmer, but still bought my meat from the grocery store. And occasionally bought processed food for the sake of convenience and a "treat" for the family: chicken nuggets, chicken burgers, hamburgers, etc.

I was pretty much in the dark.

I encourage everyone to watch it. Granted, this is a documentary about the American food system, but who knows what happens inside an industry?

I've made some pretty significant changes in the eight months since I've watched it. I no longer buy chicken at the grocery store. The only chicken we've eaten since last January (eight months ago) has been whole chickens, raised locally. The farmers that provide us with our veggie box also prepare a meat box as well, so I've been buying their locally grown, grass fed beef. And let me tell you. Grass fed beef tastes so much better.

I've been reading more about what the industry is putting cattle through, and in the book I'm reading now, The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Micheal Pollan, has done some eye opening research.

A cow can't live on a feedlot for more than 150 days, without succumbing to one of the many diseases and sicknesses that it is inevitable with being on a corn fed diet. Bloating to the point their stomachs balloon and put so much pressure on their lungs, it suffocates them. Acidosis -really bad heartburn- to the point of diarrhea, ulcers and liver disease. These cows are sick. Antibiotics are the answer, of course. Antibiotics are pumped into the bodies of those cows to keep them alive as long as possible, to gain as much weight as possible before they are ready to slaughter.

This author, Micheal Pollan, was a part of the Food, Inc. documentary, as was this interesting guy: Joel Salatin. He's probably one of the most memorable characters in the doc. He's being interviewed, and telling stories while working on his farm, and we're literally watching him wring a chickens neck with his bare hands as he speaks. But he is so charming, you actually feel good about the chicken bodies piling up. These chickens are wholesome. Dead... but wholesome.

I hope everyone has a good weekend. Watch the documentary if you get a chance. Find out more about what you are eating. Support your local farmers. More importantly, trust your local farmers. Know that they care about what they are feeding you.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

My newest obsession.

Now that Tough Mudder is over, I need something else to work towards. I took a week off to do nothing, and tried to figure out what I'm up to next. And then I saw it. The internet pointed me towards Nerd Fitness website, and a couple of articles in particular.

One article is a success story about Staci, who went from a little overweight to a kickass powerlifter. Besides telling Staci's story, the article drives home the point that lifting big weights does not make you big. That was one thing that was always in the back of my mind, and one of my first questions to the trainer when I started at the gym. I didn't want to get bulky. When I read Staci's story, a lightbulb went off.

The other article is about body fat percentages.

So, between the two articles, I've made some changes, given myself some timelines, and reworked my handy dandy workout whiteboard.

My handy dandy workout whiteboard.
My goals over the next four months is to:

1. Deadlift 150% of my body weight
2. Lower my body fat percentage (I'm hoping by 5%, but would like to get my hands on some calipers first to see what's feasible)

To do this, I'm lifting heavier weights with lower number of reps, focusing more on lifting and less on cardio, and eating every two hours.

This is my second week on the plan and I am loving it. Eating every two hours is awesome. Its making me drink less coffee, so my stomach isn't as rotten all the time, I have tons more energy, and my workouts have gotten way more interesting.

So that's what I've been up to! One journey ended and another one begins.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Tough Mudder. Let's do this.

Mile 7

I am sitting in tall brush under the sparse shade of a tree on the side of a mountain. I am covered in dried mud. No... more than mud. There is small twigs, dead grass and other unknown material dried to my skin. I look to my left. My brother's face is grey. He's in pain and I know he's considering quitting. Movement catches my eye. I watch a bug navigate the debris on my arm. A second one lands. I watch that one, too. Any other day I would have flicked them away, but today I had no energy to care, let alone move. I can feel my friend look at me, concerned. The mountain path we just finished was the toughest yet. We were near the end and people were struggling, myself included. Dozens of bodies littered the edges of the path, on all fours or laid on their backs, trying to catch their breath, coax their muscles to loosen and let them continue the climb. My husband says, "Let's go." He pulls me to my feet and I step into the hot sun. Break is over. We keep moving. 

Mile 3

We walk up to the Berlin Walls as a group. One person asks, "How are we doing this...same as last time?" Someone else agrees. A third person gets into position, kneeling so I can step on his back. I feel a twinge of fear, but I ignore it - I've done this before. I can do this. I use my husband for balance as I step up onto his back with the left foot, and place my right foot in another's waiting hands. I reach for the top of the wall and push myself off from his hands. It worked. I lean way over the edge to get my weight balanced and pull one leg over the edge. I sit up straight, straddling the top of the 10 foot wall. I have no time to stop and enjoy the view or the moment, although I am vaguely aware of the chaos around me. I grip the wall tightly with my hands, lean down and swing my other leg to the other side. My body is pressed against the wall and, still gripping the edge, lower myself down to hang from the wall. My hands let go and I drop. 

Two more walls left to go. And they only get higher.

Mile 9

I watch my teammate successfully get up Everest, one of the obstacles I've been fearing the most. It was his second attempt; his first time ended up with him sliding down the huge greased quarter pipe. I knew it was my turn. He was up at the top of the pipe, arms ready, waiting for me. I pointed at him, signalling to him I was aiming for him. I started to run, pumping my legs harder as I got closer to the pipe. My feet slammed into, two, three, four times. I'm near the top, as far as I can go, and I see the hands I was aiming for. I grab them and they grab back. I shouted at another guy close by to grab my leg, as I twist and try to get my foot up as high as I can. He catches it and between the two of them, they haul my body clumsily over the edge. I get out of the way quickly. I shout my thanks and start the descent down the other side. They don't hear me as they prepare for the next body hurling itself towards them. 

Mile 5

Music pounds. Queens of the Stone Age, my brother tells me later. A teammate hands me half of a banana and tells me to eat it. I decline. My stomach was in no shape for solid food. "You need it," he insists. I take small bites and eventually get it down. I take another sip of water. We're at one of the water stations. There is dirt at the bottom of the cup. I drink it anyway. I'm sitting down again. I don't want to stand up yet, I know I'll be dizzy and likely fall over and I don't want a medic over here. I've heard some others talk about dehydration and the need for more water stations. I sit for a minute longer. The water and music does the trick. Feeling more energetic, I get up on my legs and we start the steep climb towards the next obstacle. 

Mile 2

I get down on my hands and knees onto the mud and rocks. I look into the dark tunnel and it reveals nothing. I know there are people waiting behind me, so I get down on my belly and inch carefully inside. Huh. Ok. Moving carefully doesn't get me anywhere. The tunnel is dark and small and I don't know how long it is. I need to get through the tunnel quicker than this. My crawling becomes quicker, less careful. My knees drag across rocks. My elbows do most of the work, reaching forward, and pulling my body, keeping my hips low. My hands hit dirt directly in front of me. Have I reached a dead end? All I see is blackness. Feel around for empty space. Found it. Twist my body to make my way around the corner. It's a tight squeeze. I wonder how people twice my size, guys like my husband, are getting through this thing. I crawl for a bit longer. I see light! I drag myself through a couple more feet of rocks. I can feel skin being ripped off my elbows. I crawl past the edge into the sun. I hear my teammates start to cheer and I respond by grinning. Let's do this.

(Note on Mile 7: I heard after our group went through this stage of the course that the organizers closed off this leg and shortened the course. People were dropping like flies. Someone saw a guy being carried off this section of the mountain on a stretcher. It was tough.)

Thursday, 12 July 2012

I'm about to sign my first death waiver.

Training is over. House is cleaned. Kids are packed. Laundry is happening. Almost ready to go. Only thing left is to do is sign my death waiver.

Checking out the Tough Mudder participant page today and I noticed their Event Schedule reads like the following:

Step 1) Bring Your Signed Death Waiver
Step 2) Pick up Your Participant Packet
Step 3) Get your Face Marked
Step 4) Don’t Throw Up

Well, that's great. Don't throw up. Thanks for the tip. Everything else is covered in the death waiver.

These are my two favorite paragraphs:

"I understand and acknowledge that these risks may cause harm including, but not limited to:  bodily injury, ranging from minor to severe; illness or infection, ranging from minor to severe; physical and/or mental effects of exposure to extreme conditions and circumstances, ranging from minor to severe; temporary or permanent disability; paralysis; death; and property damage or loss. 

  I expressly, knowingly and voluntarily assume all of the risks of participating in Tough Mudder.  I understand and acknowledge that these risks include, but are not limited to:  falls; illness; infection; contact or collision with spectators, personnel, and other pedestrians; contact or collision with motor vehicles or machinery; contact or collision with other participants of varying skill levels; contact and the effects of contact with natural and manmade fixed objects; natural and man-made water, road and surface hazards; close proximity and/or contact with thick smoke and/or open flames; inadequate competition equipment and/or equipment failure; dangers arising from weather conditions, including but not limited to extreme heat, cold, humidity, ice, rain, hail, lightning, or fog; imperfect course conditions; and inadequate safety, first aid and/or emergency response measures."

In all honesty, I'm really not that worried. The terms and conditions of using a PS3 are pretty frightening as well...and really, has anyone out there ever suffered dizziness or seizures from Tiger Woods PGA 13?

So I'm going to go sign this. My first death waiver. Meh. I just hope I don't throw up.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

The Hipster's Guide to Building a Home Gym

I've mentioned a couple times now my home gym (I think I called it ghetto gym before, but I'm realizing now hipster might be more accurate) and promised I would feature it in an upcoming post. Well, you are all in luck; this is that post.

I need to make very clear that this is not a pretty gym. There is no pink. There is no comfy, ergonomically correct machines guiding your limbs across perfect planes of motion. Nothing is new in my gym. Its all bought used, or built from scratch. 

If you like shiny, stop reading now, this is not the gym you are looking for. 
Yes, that is some sort of pipe elbow. 
When I first decided I wanted to work out at home, I knew I wanted a hardcore gym. My inspiration was my brothers gym. Well, his first gym, he's since upgraded to something much shinier. I remember seeing he had chains hanging from the rafters in his basement and was so impressed with the toughness of it all. Who needs fancy equipment? This is more authentic. 

So I set to work over a couple of weeks to gather the most authentic gym equipment I could find. Also, incidentally, the cheapest...I didn't want to spend the ten grand it could easily cost to put a new one in.

The Hipster's Guide to Building a Home Gym

1. Know someone handy enough to build you a power rack. 
My power rack was going to be the biggest piece of equipment in my gym. I did some research and sent my father the specs I was looking for. He came over one weekend and we had it set up in an hour or two. The bars on the side I use for pull-ups and chin-ups, so it does double duty. Love love love my power rack. 

Another blog post to cover the building of the power rack.

 2. Scour the classifieds for used gym equipment. Bonus points for finding bright red vinyl with cigarette burns. Your husband must freak out a little bit at this, but you tell him although this weight bench might be old, its tougher than any old WalMart weight bench. This is the granddaddy of weight benches.

3. Cracked weights with cement dust dripping out of it is also an important part of any gym collection.

4. A homemade ply box made of pallets add a fun twist. See the post: How to Build a Plyo Box in Five Easy Steps for instructions.

5. Rusty equipment adds that extra bit of toughness. (Also makes it look like you've been working out for years...)

5. All lightbulbs must be bare, and ceiling rafters visible. No fancy light fixtures or ceilings for us.  If they could flicker a bit and buzz a little, that would be cool too. This all adds to the authenticity.

6. The only two things I bought new: the foam mats, and the yellow 10 pound kettle pictured below. And really, my husband bought me the kettle as a surprise, so it might not even count. The foam mats were a necessity for me though...that cement floor is hard on the joints.

And that is how a hipster builds a gym. Recycled gym equipment. Homemade power racks. Ceiling rafters. Rusted metal bars. Throw in some obscure music and you have yourself a gym.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Upper Body Workout That Left Me in a Puddle on the Floor

Five weeks until Tough Mudder. My last week of training went not too bad. Skipped a workout, but fit another run in on another day, so it works out right? Switched a terrain run for a 5K race, and managed to squeeze it out in 27 minutes, which I was happy with.

So this week my goal was to spend some more time on my upper body strength, as it is not my favorite area to deal with (see my previous post Why I Love Leg Day), and thus sorely lacking. I enlisted the help of my husband to come up with a set that focused on upper body, and also featured mostly body-weight moves.

What he came up with was probably the toughest workout I've ever had. I was a panting, sweating mess about halfway through. If he wasn't there talking me through it I never would have made it. And I get to do it again the day after tomorrow.

Do this circuit five times, with no rest:

  • Chin ups x 5
  • Push ups x 10 (hold for 5-7 seconds halfway down, then raise)
  • Plank 60 seconds
  • Clean and Press x 12

And that's it. It doesn't look like much now. Four little itty bitty bullet points. But there was times in between exercises that I couldn't have uttered a complete sentence to save my life. I dropped to the floor after those 60 second planks and didn't think I would make it back up. Today, my upper body feels good, no pain or DOMS, just pleasantly achy.

Normally I wouldn't do core work on an upper body day, but figured might as well. And my husband definitely assisted on the last few chin ups, so I can't take credit for all of them.

And that's it! The first upper body workout that I didn't hate but still kicked the crap out of me.

Happy training!

Monday, 4 June 2012

TM Countdown: Six Weeks

Six weeks to go until Tough Mudder

Its time to buckle down and focus on strength, mobility and nutrition. 

Monkey bars, here I come. 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

How to Burn Rhubarb Jam

Ahh good to be back. I've been on hiatus for a couple of weeks, but I swear not out of laziness. Things have been busy.

The weather has been absolutely beautiful here, so I've been spending a lot of time in my garden beds. I fell off the training wagon for a bit, so this week I've been slowly and painfully climbing back on (why, hello, Advil.) I also took a trip to Bar Harbour, Maine, and did some mountain climbing for the first time. Its been a busy three weeks.

The beautiful spring weather has brought a lovely crop of rhubarb, so I harvested some of it a couple of days ago and attempted to make a jam.

Berlin, my cat, is stalking through this tangle of rhubarb.

I love the thought of making my own jam. My family goes through so much of it. I've always held back from making it though - I've only made jam once before, years ago, and it was a lot of effort for results that were just meh. I figured my canning skills were ... lacking. My confidence was restored last weekend when I was at a birthday party, and my brother-in-law's mother said "No. Anyone can make jam." Huh. Well, ok then.

So I went for it. The recipe was as follows:

3 pounds rhubarb
4 cups sugar
lemon juice, to taste

Step One:
Cut off the leaves. Wash the rhubarb and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Put the sugar and rhubarb into a large glass bowl and cover. Place in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours, coming back to stir the mixture gently a couple of times.

Step Two:
Pour the mixture into a large, heavy bottomed pot. Using high heat, bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. My cooking time was a little over half an hour. The last bit of cooking time, add the lemon juice in to taste.

Note: When stirring, stir gently. The rhubarb falls apart easily. Also, when nearing the end of the cooking time, it will start to stick to the bottom, so be wary. (Mine stuck to the bottom, and I made the mistake of scraping it back up. It turned the batch a brown color, which was disappointing. It smelled a little burned at first, but luckily did not seem to affect the flavor, though. Its delicious.)

Step Three:
Ladle the jam into your jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe down rim, and screw on lids. Process for 10 minutes.

My jam is wonderful, albeit a little discolored. I most definitely have not gone to the fridge and eaten a spoonful of it.

Actually, yes. Yes, I have.

So in my delight at producing a tasty jam, I now have jam fever. I turned my sad attempt at a vegetable garden I started three years ago (I order my veggies from a local farmer now, so no need to grow my own- I'll leave it to the professionals) into a strawberry patch. I look forward to making -and not burning- some strawberry jam.

Stay tuned for more adventures in jam. Wish me luck.

Strawberry Patch: The Beginning.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

How to Build a Plyo Box in Five Easy Steps

I'm sure many of you were on the edge of your seats this weekend, wondering how the box would go. Well, rest assured, it went awesome, and I now have a box on which to do box jumps.

If I were to build one again, I would make sure to watch for a few things, which I'll list at the end of the post. In the meantime, follow these Five Easy Steps to build your own Plyo Box. (Thanks Steve, for the correct terminology, "Plyo Box" is much more descriptive than "Box". To those that don't know Steve: I sat beside him when we went to see Avengers this weekend.)

Step One:
Pick up some pallets at your local hardware store, shipping depot, or friendly potato farmer. You should be able to get them for free if you ask nicely. If you ask extra nice they will also help secure them into the trunk of your Civic.

Step Two:
Gather your tools and prepare your space. It was a nice day, so we worked outside. You'll need a reciprocating saw, drill, screws and a hammer for prying. 

Step Three:
Use the saw to cut the pallets roughly in half. You might need to eliminate the middle slat completely to make the two halves equal size. The width I chose was 21 inches, it seemed to work out perfectly on two of the pallets. Keep the bottom slats on, and try to ensure you have a bottom slat near the outside edges. You might need to pry one off and re-position it. We also reinforced one of the pallets that I would be landing on with some extra braces that were left over, you can see on the top pallet below.

Step Four:
Place a half-pallet on top of another and line it up so the edges are square. Take your drill and, on an angle, screw the bottom slat of the top pallet into the top slat of the bottom pallet. It sounds complicated, but basically you are just screwing them together to keep it safe. Repeat 2-3 times on one side, and 2-3 times on the other. Repeat until all the half-pallets are screwed together. 

Step Five:
Place in a spot where you have some headroom. I had some extra foam, so I placed the foam in front for softer landing. I might pick up some more foam to place under the box as well, so the box sinks a bit, and therefore less chance of it moving on me. I have some pallets left over, so I can increase the height easily as I  need. This is currently at 19.5 inches. 

And there is your Plyo Box! Easy peasy.

Some lessons learned:
  1. Pick pallets that are of equal width. My bottom two are about an inch and a half wider than the top two.
  2. Pay extra attention to the bottom slats. We didn't pay enough attention, and left a half-pallet missing a bottom slat on one side and didn't realize until we were ready to screw it together. Then we had to scramble to make it even.
  3. The pallet's wood is very, very dry. We encountered a lot of splitting, so if you have a magic trick against splitting, now is the time to employ it.

Good luck on building your own Plyo Box.

(I have some pallets left over, so I'm excited to try something from the list of 35 Amazing Uses for Old Pallets...even though, after this weekend, the count now should be at 36.)

Happy box jumping!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Weekend Project: Build a Box.

So. I have no idea how I'm going to do this yet, but it is going to happen.

I've established already in the blog that I'm putting a home gym together in my basement, and that I'm heading to Tough Mudder in a couple of months. And Tough Mudder is not about how far you can run, or how much you can bench press. It's more like how well you can haul your body over a ten foot wall.

I'm trying to incorporate different types of exercises all the time, to keep challenging myself. I recently started biking, which I used to do a lot of when I was younger, and I am really, really loving it. Biking 10k is so much easier than running it. Must be the wheels.

Anyway, back to the box. I saw this article 35 Amazing Uses for Old Pallets (which I'm sure everyone has seen by now, it's had several rounds on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest) and got inspired.

I am going to build a box, with pallets.

And then jump on them.

Here is an excessively long video on box jumps (1 minute, but you get the point after 12 seconds) about how to do them.

I'm hoping this fun and almost child-like exercise ("MOM! Look how high I can jump!!") will give me some explosive power to get me up over that 10 foot wall.

This is my plan for the weekend:

First step: Collect old pallets.

Second step: Nail them together into some box-like structure.

Third step: Jump on them.

Shouldn't be too bad right? Stay tuned to see how it turns out. 

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Almond Butter: A Review

We grew up with peanut butter. My kids are growing up with peanut butter. Some of my best food memories as a child is melted peanut butter dripping hot off a toasted english muffin onto my fingers or a plate below.

On the scale of healthy food, peanut butter has its good qualities and its bad. High in protein, spreading some PB on a slice of whole wheat bread offers a great protein to carb ratio. Also, it is high in monounsaturated fat - one of the better fats. However, it's the added sugar, salt and vegetable oil that's making me think there must be a healthier alternative.

In my effort to go more natural, I'm going to give almond butter a test run.

The First Impression
Seeing the container in the store is a little off-putting. The packaging (no offense, Barbour's) looks like it hasn't been updated since the seventies. And since there is no added vegetable oil to keep it from separating, the oil sitting on top as at least half an inch deep.

Stirring was a little ardous as well. The oil has not only migrated to the top, but the thicker parts of what was supposed to be smooth butter has dropped to the bottom. So the stirring process has to mix the oil back in, but also scoop up what can only be described as "almond sediment".

Once this goopy task is over (and the rationalizing that went with it) the result is... different... and pretty darn tasty.

Its nuttier tasting than peanut butter, not as thick (as evidenced by my drippy looking container - sorry for the grease stain), and the texture is...more real. Like they had actually crushed nuts and made it into a paste.

Skippy Peanut Butter.

Barbour's Almond Butter. 

We have to double the numbers in the Skippy chart so we are measuring the same quantity. 

The regular peanut butter has double the saturated fats, and a whopping 130mg of sodium compared to the 2mg in the almond butter. There is slightly more protein in the almond butter, and 60% of the daily recommended value of Vitamin E, a nice little antioxidant. Skippy doesn't even list Vitamin E.

In Conclusion
I like the almond butter. It has a more sophisticated taste, it was processed locally, and the sheer volume of sodium we would be cutting from our diets is staggering.

Which brings up my next challenge: switching the kids over.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Skinny Calves Suck.

One of the (many) reasons I started lifting weights was to reshape my legs. My calves are on my hitlist these days, and working out from home, getting a good calf workout is hard. I've found that calves is the only muscle group where a machine workout gets a better result. The standing calf raise was my favorite. Unfortunately, at home, I'd never get that amount of weight over my head if I were to replicate with a barbell.

If anyone has a great at-home calf exercise that really puts a burn on, please let me know in the comments! I welcome the feedback.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Why I Love Leg Day

When I first signed up for a gym membership, they threw in a couple of free personal training sessions, which was perfect, because I like a kid on the first day of kindergarten, walking in to a room of third-graders: uncool and unsure. He put me on what he called a Two Day Split: upper body one day, lower body the next, and showed me the ropes.

So over the course of the next couple months, I followed his routine, expanded the routine to include other exercises, started to love the treadmill, and got so comfortable at the gym I thought I owned the place. Fast forward two years, I'm working out in my basement, and even though I know fun new workouts are out there, I still find myself doing leg day, arm day, run. Leg day, arm day, run.

I put up with this (somewhat) monotony because I love leg day so much (conversely, I despise upper body day).

Look at that form. Source: No idea, but seriously, props.
I've heard a couple people say they hate leg day, and I can understand why, its tough. I once had to run out of the gym mid-conversation because I thought I was going to puke on the poor guy's shoes. But then you just learn not to do legs on an empty stomach.

Anyway, without further ado and preamble, my top five reasons why I love leg day:

  1. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts are my absolute favorite move. I love the way they feel. I love the stretch they give. The weights are really big too, which is also very satisfying. I'm getting to the point now my grip isn't strong enough to hold all the weight. 

  2. Shorter workout time. Upper body days take a much longer time since there are much more muscle groups on upper body day (a lot divide upper body into chest/back/arms days for this reason). Lower body day is more short, more simple. Don't let short and simple fool you though. Those are big muscles you are working on, it takes a lot of energy and can drain you pretty fast.

  3. I appreciate the transformation. Lifting weights, as opposed to running or pilates, more drastically changed the shape of my legs. Running and other cardio will shrink you, but you'll still be the same shape - just a smaller version. Pilates or yoga will give you long lean muscles, but won't result in anything drastic. Weights are what you need to reshape.

  4. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts.

  5. Stiff-Legged Deadlifts. 

And there's the list! For those interested in trying it out, here's a link to a good Stiff-Legged Deadlift tutorial

happy deadlifting.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Month Three and Shampoo Free

(t minus two and a half years)
This whole thing is because I'm over thirty. It takes a lot for me to freely admit that I'm thirty, I had a hard time with that milestone. I was on the countdown since I was 22. Eight years away from thirty, I would say.

Turning thirty brought some unexpected changes. For one, I suddenly and inexplicably developed allergies. It was like someone had flicked a switch. One spring, everything was fine; the next spring, itchy throat, watery eyes, runny nose. Awesome. I love thirty.

Allergies suck.

The second change I noticed was my hair.

I should begin first by explaining that I have never (up until turning thirty) paid any attention to my hair. I got it cut about twice a year. Didn't bother with hairstyles or products. Wash. Brush. Sometimes blowdry. It was shiny, it was thick and straight with a slight wave to infuse some body. Pretty much maintenance-free.

Then thirty hits.

I started waking up in the morning with this crazy, wild, curly, unmanageable hair. Washing and brushing was no longer an option. Blowdrying made it sit a little straighter, but all that heat was drying my hair out.

So I started buying products. I first started with products to make it straight again. I found one product that actually seemed to work pretty well, but it was discontinued shortly after. After my third straightening product, my hairdresser introduced me to a flat iron.

Between the blowdrying and the straightening, my hair was getting seriously dried out. The front and top strands looked like straw and the back was a mess of curls and kinky ringlets. Enter even more products. I started using a conditioner after shampooing, a heat protectant before blowdrying and some other flat iron spray while I straightened. Then, serum to finish it all off. Oh, in addition to the dried out crazy hair, I developed a rash on my neck from the conditioner. I was loving thirty.

Oodles of product.

After cutting conditioner out of my routine, I bought a better blowdryer and ceramic roundbrush, and was careful to blowdry so that I didn't need the flat iron. I'm now down two products and one device.

(t minus four months)
After a while, I started using half the shampoo I normally would. Just a small little bit, and only on key areas of my head: the crown, temples, behind my ears and at the top of my neck. Very little shampoo, and almost no suds.

I also started reading that shampoo is really damaging to your hair. We use it to remove the grease from our hair, but it does the job a little too well. It removes too much of the natural oils, which leaves the hair dry and brittle. But those smart shampoo companies have a solution...another product for us to buy to combat the negative effects of shampoo: Conditioner. Perfect! A product to put the oils back in our hair that the first product stripped out.

Our body's natural reaction to being stripped of its natural oil is to produce more oil to compensate. And what do we do with oily hair? Use more shampoo. So as a result, we have dried out ends, oily scalp, and oodles and oodles of product.

(t minus three months)
So I stopped using shampoo. And after almost three years of unmanageable hair, it's finally coming back around.

I'll explain what I do to wash it, but I have to clarify that it's not a graceful switch. Your hair will go through an adjustment period, probably about two weeks. Mine was three. Get used to ponytails or hats. Your scalp will continue to produce oil at a rapid pace, expecting to be stripped of its natural goodness by your shampoo. It will eventually level out, and depending on your hair type and natural oiliness, you can get away with washing it every couple days.

I say washing because I am washing my hair, just not with shampoo. I use a combination of baking soda and water to clean my hair, and another combination of apple cider vinegar and water to condition and soften.

We all know baking soda is a great cleaner, it can scrub up a kitchen sink real good. And my parents always got me to brush my teeth with baking soda before a trip to the dentist. (And survived my childhood with no cavities! I got my first cavity later in life...when? You guessed it. Thirty.) Because the baking soda is very slightly alkaline, the apple cider vinegar restores the pH, detangles, and leaves it soft.

(the recipe)
One good thing that came from my product experimentation is the abundance of bottles to choose from to house my new concoctions. I put the baking soda in a squeeze bottle with a small opening, and the ACV in one with an opening I can pour.

Beginners, start with this recipe:
Start with 1 teaspoon baking soda and mix with one cup of water. Use about half of this mix per wash. I put it on my scalp, and rub my fingertips around to scrub away any excess oil and dirt, and leave it on my hair for a bit before rinsing it out.

Use 1 teaspoon ACV and 1 cup water and mix. Again, use about half of this mixture per wash. Pour it over your head, concentrating on the ends. Let it sit for a bit before rinsing out.

And that's it! Easy peasy. Everyone is different, so you might have to tweak the concentrations a bit.

Personally, I use 2 teaspoons of baking soda in the cup of water. I found my transition period was taking longer than two weeks, it was still too greasy for me to be comfortable, but as soon as I doubled the baking soda, I could start wearing my hair down again. I had to adjust the AVC mix too: I use half cup AVC to a half a cup of water. The kinky, frizzy, curliness has calmed down exponentially since increasing the concentration of apple cider vinegar.

If you give it a try, just wait for a couple weeks for your hair to adjust to the new routine, and then, make sure you are using the mixture that's right for your hair. Start with the recipe above, but if you find your hair is dry and crunchy, decrease your baking soda, or increase your AVC. If you find your hair is oily, increase the baking soda, or decrease the AVC.

I had also made the mistake early on of forgetting the chemical properties of what I was using...I was using the baking soda on my scalp, and the AVC only on my ends (like I would normally use regular conditioner). But I noticed my hair was getting lighter at my roots and looking kinda frizzy. I needed the acid in the AVC to neutralize the baking soda. After I figured that out, my roots calmed down.

(t minus zero)
It is so nice not to have to desperately turn to products to fix my hair. I can't claim my hair is perfect - it isn't. Some days, yes, I wake up with random ringlets. But not as often as I used to. And I rarely have to use the straightener anymore. I think that is almost as good a payoff as being shampoo free. I'm not continually damaging my hair with the heat and products. And its straight! And manageable!

Low maintenance hair again at last.

This picture was taken halfway through writing this post, with absolutely no planning or prep (just a quick brush), and washed the day before. I was housecleaning most of the weekend, with it up in a ponytail most of the time. I think I even had a toque on yesterday doing yardwork. No straightener. I don't even think I blowdried.

I know it sounds very hippy to say you don't use shampoo, but I like it. I like not being a slave to these multinationals that could have come up with a better cleaning solution for our hair, but didn't. And I like that its cheap. And that its made my hair easier to manage.

Now, to find a natural alternative to these darn allergies...

Friday, 30 March 2012

Mud? Bring it on.

The very first time I saw this video I knew I had to do it.

My marathoner friend and I joked about trying it out, I think both of us testing each other to see how serious we were. I showed my husband, and his exact words:

"Have fun with that." 

He warmed up after watching the video again (how intense is that video?) and my marathoner friend said she was game too and that was it. We were in.

We talked to some other friends and coworkers and managed to round up a few more mudders. Here is the crack team:

The Marathoner.
She's been killing it on the roads all winter, running through rain and snow, just to get those kilometers in before her big run this spring. She's all about kick-ass motivation. She will be the one on the course making sure everyone gets over every wall.

The Do-It-Yourselfer.
Much like myself (surprise! this one's my brother) this do-it-yourselfer has put together a gym in his basement. Though his is way more professional and cool looking than mine. I asked him once if he was excited about this, and he confessed, "I can't stop thinking about it."

The Adventurer.
He's taking his family down for a vacation the same weekend, and oh, decided to throw in a climb of White Mountain while he was at it. Our adventurer doesn't mind the occasional marathon or living in the woods for 72 hours. Also...biked with Lance Armstrong.

The Jock.
Plays rec hockey and dodgeball. And dodgeball is tough, man, real tough. He pulls out 10k's on the weekends and still manages to fit in trips to the gym and dabbles in some P90X. He's afraid he's going to be the weak link. I don't think so.

The Lifter.
This is the one that said have fun with that. He a bit of a gym rat, benching 365, but recently joined a running group to trim down some of the bulk and prepare for that portion of the course. He's also just discovered a passion for greek yogurt "for the casein".

And me.
I'm lifting weights 4 or 5 times a week (favorite move: stiff-legged deadlift), running twice a week (working up to 15k), doing pilates semi-regularly (to stretch me out) and I swear I am going to be a rock star at pullups by July (aiming for 10...they are super hard.) I've been running regularly for about five years now, and been at the weights for two. Obstacle courses? Not even once.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

It's been a rough week for working out.

Last week was a great week. Got a couple of runs in. Did a couple killer leg workouts. Upped my number of pushups. WOo.

This week, not so much. I had a million reasons (Well, really, only one. Sore knees. They really did hurt.). I even took the elevator at work, which I never do.

I wasn't even using my Brand New Kicks, which every person, man or woman, likes to do when they get them. New sneakers FTW!

Reebok RealFlex. Pretty. 

I bought these little pretties because my outdoor runners were getting really muddy from running on the dirt roads in the spring, and they were tracking dirt all over my gym floor. (Maybe a post later to show off what could quite possibly be the most ghetto gym owned by a middle class girl ever? Wait for it.)

Anyways, no gym this week. In addition to the sore knees, my three year old got sick, and over the course of an evening I was puked on more than once, and shocker! I got the bug as well. And there goes a weekend.

Ok. So. No more excuses. Next week, it is ON.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Baking Soda, Why Do I Love You?

Four simple yet important reasons:

1. I wash my face with you and you don't dry my skin out, or make it tight and flaky.

2. I wash my hair with you and you don't make it frizzy like shampoo does.

3. I brush my teeth with you and you make them whiter.

4. You are cost-effective and powerful.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Current Obsession: Apple Cider Vinegar

I've been using Apple Cider Vinegar for about two months now as a conditioner on my hair. I recently had a nasty bout of acid reflux and did some searching on Crunchy Betty, as I had a vague recollection of seeing her heartburn post. Her experience: two tablespoons in a glass of water and bam! Heartburn gone.

Let me tell you, I've had worse tasting stuff. But not much worse. It's pretty bad. But the acid reflux disappeared immediately. It was magical.

I tried the ACV in a glass of water and found just it lasted too long. I shoot it out of a shotglass instead now, so it's over quicker. Some times it goes down better than others. It's still gross. But it works.

Photo courtesy: Heinz Canada

What else does it do? 

According to the internet, it can clear up pretty much anything: acne, eczema, burns, bruises, BO, headaches, hemorrhoids, insomnia...the list goes on. However. This is the internet. And we know how much we believe the internet. (You can't. Don't do it.)

I can at least attest to the "makes your hair softer!" and the "cures acid reflux!" claims, since its worked for me the past two months.

I'll continue to report back if I find some other helpful uses. 

moar reads!

Here I am.

Never thought I would see myself here. Freely expressing myself on the interwebs. I'm the one who barely passed computer class, never used email and was completely ok with that. I had a healthy fear of technology. Now here I am, living and working in a high tech world.

This is a blog about my recent attempts are living a simple and low-processed lifestyle. Again, something else that I never cared about. I never cared about what shampoo I was using, or what went into my fast food, they were just a part of my life. Now that I'm running a family, and finding that there are chemicals and companies out there that aren't doing me or my family One Bit of Good, I'm trying to make a change. Slow and steady.

I call it The Mom Effect: drive slower, eat more veggies, exercise for fun.

Boring? Yes. Better? Also, yes.