Saturday, December 31, 2011

Last Day of 2012, Last Day in London

Greetings from London! Sadly, we don't have Internet at our London hotel, which has made it rather difficult to post an update. Luckily, we're right next to the British Library, so we have settled in to answer e-mails, write a post, and read. Let's back up a little, to our last day in Paris and the trip to London. You can also check out our first few days in Paris here and here.

Our last full day in Paris focused on museums. Fun fact: Paris is absolutely dead on Mondays, so we had to squeeze in a lot more on the other days. So on Wednesday, we managed the Louvre, the Musee d'Orsay (another art museum, similar to the Louvre but smaller), and the Army Museum. We also enjoyed another wonderful meal, more crepes, and more wine before finally saying goodnight to Paris. The next day, before leaving, we continued a tradition from our honeymoon where we create our own version of a pub crawl, except, since it was Paris, we made it a pastry crawl.

Finally, we enjoyed a glass of wine and a sandwich, picked up some champagne for New Year's, and headed to Gare du Nord train station to take the train to London. The ride was gorgeous and peaceful, and far more comfortable than a flight.

And then we were in London! Since we just spent a week in London in July for our honeymoon, our focus here is pubs, relaxing, and celebrating the New Year. We checked into our very nice hotel, Novotel London, squealed (ok, that was just me) at our awesome view, and headed out. First stop: Mable's Tavern for a pint and dinner, which consisted of sausages and mashed potatoes for me and steak and ale pie for Terry. England does not carry the healthiest food units taverns and pubs, but we did find some kale buried beneath the mashed potatoes on our plates. Then we walked to another nearby pub, The Rocket, for one more pint, sticky toffee pudding, and a rousing darts match on TV. Seriously, we wouldn't leave until it was over.

 The next morning, feeling a little guilty about all the pastries and pub grub, I took advantage of the hotel's workout room. I completed the following:
  • 10 minutes on the elliptical at incline 10 and resistance 10 
  • 10 minutes on bike at level 10 
  • 10 minutes running at 6 mph 
  • 2 rounds of: 10 push ups, 12 overhead tricep raises with 20 lbs, and 15 tricep dips
 It wasn't much, but it made me feel good enough and got a little sweat going. Then Terry and I grabbed Lara bars for breakfast and headed to Harrod's, London's famous department store. They have a huge sale the days after Christmas, and I had a blast shopping for gifts for our families. We also bought another ornament, which is another tradition for anytime we travel.

 We stumbled into the Tea Room at Harrod's, and, since there wasn't a line, we decided to make it lunch. Tea was one of our favorite parts of our last trip to London, and it was wonderful the second time, too. We each had a pot of tea and then shared a bunch of sandwiches, mini-desserts, and the world's most delicious scones, complete with clotted cream. Stuffed, we wandered around Hyde Park, where London has a huge fair/Christmas market with food, shops, carnival rides, pubs, and thousands of people. Plus an ice rink!

After some shopping near Buckingham Palace, we got ready for our evening: more pubs and pints, Wagamama (a Japanese noodle bar) for dinner, and a showing of Sherlock Holmes. Such a fun, satisfying day! This morning, we enjoyed breakfast at a nearby pub. I had scrambled eggs and toast while Terry enjoyed a full English breakfast: potatoes, poached eggs, bacon, Cumberland sausage, tomatoes, beans, toast, mushrooms, and black pudding. Delicious and super filling. Now we're off to enjoy our last day of vacation, including lunch, more pints, maybe walk Tower Bridge, and ring in the New Year. We'll be back home tomorrow, so you can count on more recaps, pictures, and a far more regular schedule of postings!

 Wishing you a very happy New Year! Start thinking about those resolutions!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Exercise in Europe

Bonjour! We're still in the midst of our Parisian getaway, and I felt compelled to update about two things.

First: working out on vacation. Now, usually I love to work out on vacations. Terry and I find ways to take long hikes or just squeeze in a jog in the mornings. But both times we've been in Europe, we've felt almost as though we don't need a workout at all. In London for our honeymoon, we ran twice through the park near our hotel (Hyde Park), but we used it as a mode of seeing the park more thoroughly. Here in Paris, we feel like a workout would be insane.

On our first day here, we walked about 13.5 miles (I originally estimated 12, but Terry mapped it out to prove me wrong). 
Our first day in Paris
Yesterday, we climbed the first two levels of the Eiffel Tower. I had no idea you could climb stairs that high. It was about 600 steps, and we also tackled the steps at Sacre Coeur, another 100 or so. You want a workout in Paris? Get one in while sight-seeing! Plus more walking around the city earned us each at least one extra guilt-free croissant.

Today was more walking around the city of Versailles. I didn't know much anything about Versailles before a friend recommended it, so here's the rundown if you're like me: It's a city about 30 minutes south of Paris where Louis XIV made his home in the late 1600s. The main part of the palace is a grand chateau, which puts all other palaces to shame. It is truly breathtaking. We toured the chateau, the gardens, and Marie-Antionette's (Louis XVI's wife) Hamlet. The Hamlet was my favorite part. Marie-Antionette thought peasant life was adorable, but she didn't want all the hard work and poverty, so she had a group of cute fairy-tale-like, thatched-roof houses built, complete with working farms and animals. The houses were truly sweet and straight out of Hansel and Gretel or Little Red Riding Hood. Plus, there are still animals! We saw roosters, goats, pigs, bulls, swans, ducks, geese, and sheep. It was a wonderful little surprise, as no one had mentioned it before our visit.

The chateau and gardens of Versailles cover about eight miles, but we only walked maybe five of them. Today, however, was freezing! We estimate 35 degrees, plus wind chill. had said 50 degrees, so guess what we were dressed for? Yeah, we were cold. So by the afternoon, we opted to take the Metro instead of walking and significantly reduced our energy exertion.

And part two that I need to share with you: the food. It just keeps getting better! We ate our favorite dinner so far tonight. For me: escargot and beouf bourguignon; for Terry: oysters and duck. We both made weird "yum" noises as we ate and ignored everything else around us. Food that phenomenal doesn't come around too often, and we savored every bite. Also, as we walk the streets of Paris, I insist (though, honestly, Terry doesn't really argue) that we stop in nearly every bakery/pastry shop we find. Which, I'm learning, occurs about every 30 feet in Paris. So we're eating tons of croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes. Today we tried an apple turnover and a chocolate-chip-swirl-thing, both of which earned a few more of those "yum" noises. We're suckers for good food, and we found a whole city of it.

In between sight seeing, walking, and eating, we've managed to read a lot on our trip. I finished one book, The Violets of March, and Terry just finished The Hunger Games book two. We're both going to read the third book in The Hunger Games starting tomorrow and are excited to see how it ends. In respect of those readers who may not be so interested in the whole book thing, I'll write a separate post with my thoughts on the books from my trip (I have a few more I plan to read) in case you might want to pick one up. Sorry - the English major in me just can't resist!

I want to share more details and highlights with you, but it's almost midnight here, and tomorrow is our last full day in Paris before we head to London on Thursday. Tomorrow we're hitting up the Louve, Musee d'Orsay, and a few other "last minute" stops that we hope we have time to see. Must sleep - and dream of pastries! Au revoir!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chestnuts Roasted in Paris

Merry Christmas! We made it to Paris without incident and enjoyed a quick dinner last night before crashing – for 11 hours. It felt wonderful to just sleep, and we woke up refreshed and ready for a beautiful Christmas in Paris. We kept reminding ourselves how crazy it was to be in Paris on Christmas Day! What a wonderful present to each other – and one we will certainly never forget.

First let me catch up on last night; we ate a delicious meal at a nearby café (it was one of only a handful of places open on Christmas Eve). Terry had salmon in a beurre blanc sauce and loved it. I had shrimp (crevette) risotto, which absolutely melted my taste buds. We enjoyed freshly baked French bread that far exceeded every expectation I had for the name. And for dessert, a chocolate éclair that I won’t even try to describe in words.

For those already exhausted (disgusted?) by these descriptions, today’s meals weren’t quite as delectable, but they still hit the spot. We walked to the center of Paris and stumbled upon the traditional Christmas markets (village du Noel, I think), rows upon rows of street vendors selling crepes, sweets, lunches, clothing, trinkets, anything you can imagine. We wandered around, enjoying the fact that we happened to be able to listen to Christmas music (Michael Buble, no less!) while walking through Paris on Christmas Day. We even stopped for roasted chestnuts! (Not my favorite nut, but cool to say we tried them.) For breakfast we each enjoyed a crepe, and for lunch we ventured up Champs-Elysee to a little café/deli for sandwiches. Both meals were good but nothing too special. After tons more walking (today’s sights included Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Company bookstore, most of the bridges across the Seine, the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysee, and a few more), we enjoyed a casual dinner at a large café near the Eiffel Tower. Terry had moules frites; I had the croque monsieur; we shared a bowl of French onion soup and crème brulee. Everything was yummy and satisfying but not quite as good as last night.

In total, we are guessing that we walked something like 12 miles today. We started around 11 am and didn’t sit (except a 20 minute lunch) until dinner at 7 pm. Then we walked about two miles home. It’s a rough estimate, but if we’re wrong my feet would beg to differ. Ouch!

Our favorite things about Paris so far:
  • The cafes and streets are exactly as romantic and beautiful as the movies suggest
  • The people have been fairly friendly and certainly not aloof or snobby
  • We’ve seen (and even met!) several other young American couples on holiday in Europe
  • The food is incredible
  • The weather is much like San Francisco: cool and a bit windy but lovely
  • Perhaps because we’re visiting in winter, it’s not too crowded
  • The lights around the city make it even more beautiful

Now we’re back at the hotel (I’ll write more about our great hotel in another post), and we got to enjoy a quick chat with my parents via Skype. If you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend using Skype to stay in touch with friends and loved ones while you or they travel. It was easy to set up and wonderful to see them on Christmas!

Tonight Terry and I are planning out our next few days in Paris and then tucking in with our books. I believe tomorrow’s plan includes climbing the Eiffel Tower, walking along Rue Cler, a picnic lunch while people watching and reading, and a walk to Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, Picasso’s studio, and Sacre-Coeur. Not a bad Monday if you ask me!

I hope you had (or are having!) a beautiful and very merry Christmas. 

Leaving for Parisian Christmas

And we’re off! Terry and I rushed to finish our giant to-do list this morning (packing, cleaning up, playing and cuddling with Scout, etc.) and are now at the airport waiting to board. The stress of traveling gets me all riled up, so this morning I added a last-minute workout in order to relieve some stress and feel a little less guilty about all the food I plan to eat over the next eight days. At first, I had planned a tough pyramid workout, but my first three minutes on the treadmill felt so difficult that I revised the plan immediately. I plan to revisit my original pyramid workout eventually, but today I switched it up.

Workout: Cardio + Chest & Back
Run 1 mile at 7.0 mph
Bench press: 15 reps at 40 lbs.
Lat pull downs: 15 reps at 50 lbs.
10 push ups

Repeat twice, for a total of three miles and three sets of strength exercises.

After the workout, I met up with my friend Amanda for a late breakfast and to catch up on her first quarter away in Chicago at business school. It was wonderful to see her and enjoy a short time together before we both continued on our busy ways.

Terry and I left for the airport around 1:30 and will continue with our adventure in Paris!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Last Minute Luggage

Terry and I leave in less than 21 hours! We're off to Paris and London for Christmas and New Year's. If you've been following along, you may have noticed that things have been quite busy for us lately. Terry traveled to Florida for the last two and a half weeks for work; my work has been as busy as ever; and we've dealt with some tough personal stuff. And now, suddenly, our European adventure is upon us!

As you can imagine, I haven't accomplished nearly as much as I would have liked by this point. In fact, I think you could say we're just a tad bit behind. As in, tonight at 7:55 pm I found myself standing in line at Marshalls purchasing the luggage that we will use on our trip. I enjoyed a few awesome conversations with folks who wanted to know where I plan to travel, and they literally laughed out loud when I told them I'm leaving tomorrow. Super!
Scout also disapproved of our last-minute luggage
purchase but ultimately made his peace with it.
Luggage: London Fog, via Marshalls

So tonight Terry and I are (in theory) piecing together the world's most last-minute packing job. Our flight leaves at 5:30 pm tomorrow, so we will have a few hours in the morning, but we wish we had just one more day to get ready and feel more organized.

Instead, as we get ready to leave, I've been thinking a lot about the original idea behind our trip. We've always wanted to spend a Christmas vacationing somewhere, and we absolutely fell in love with Europe on our honeymoon in July of this year. Our favorite city was London, and now we're excited to experience Paris. We're sad to be away from our families, but we're excited to spend some quality time together after a long time apart. We both need to decompress from work, so we loaded up our new Nook with books we've been wanting to read (on my list: the third book in The Hunger Games series, The Help, American Wife, and Violets of March) and have big plans for reading, sightseeing, sleeping, and eating tons of pastries, cheese, wine, and bread.

Luckily, in preparation for this culinary adventure, I completed an excellent cardio workout yesterday:

  1. 30 minutes on the treadmill, incline level 8, speed 4.5 mph
  2. Jump rope circuit workout from Julie's blog (our apartment is too small to actually use a jump rope, so I just jumped without one - no excuses!)

I hope to post a few times while we're away, but we aren't sure how solid the WiFi connection will be at our hotels. Either way, I hope you have an incredible Christmas and spectacular New Year! May 2012 bring you and your loved ones joy, peace, and love.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Trouble with the Holidays

Today's complete lack of health-consciousness inspired me to think about the fact that the holidays seem to be everyone's toughest time of year for staying on track with healthy foods and fitness. What I realized is that, at least for me, the problem is not any one thing but, rather, the combination of too many bad-for-you temptations and functions. On their own, these unhealthy choices wouldn't cause such issues, but they team up to attack us during the holidays.

My main struggles during the holidays seem to be the following:

Holiday parties. Between friends, family, work, and neighbors, most of us attend at least one or two parties. Today alone, I attended two parties: the staff luncheon at my work and holiday dinner with my cheerleaders. Now, parties are an issue for me because a) I'm a social eater (well, not clinically or anything, but self-diagnosed), and b) everyone brings their favorite (unhealthy, because who wants to eat whole-wheat muffins or steamed broccoli at a holiday party?) dish. Combine those two and even my best efforts to "behave" result in two helpings of pasta (lunch today) and ordering that spinach-artichoke dip we didn't really need (dinner tonight).

Increase in sugar and processed foods. 85% of the time, I avoid anything processed, and my sugar intake remains relatively low. But during the holidays, my friends or students give me homemade treats or little bags of candy; my mom's house is stocked with my favorite cookies; my desire for red and green M&Ms somehow becomes irresistible.

Decrease in the good foods. Because I'm snacking at holiday parties and munching on sugary sweets, I don't feel inclined to eat my usual healthy snacks of fruits, yogurt, or whole grains. For dinner, I'm more tired and less excited about fighting the crowds at the grocery store and end up making do with whatever I have at home, which usually means breakfast-for-dinner or some kind of pasta. Not exactly what I would call a well-rounded, balanced diet.

Less exercise. Due to the holiday parties, increased traffic, and Christmas errands, I find myself getting home later and later. Tonight, for example, our holiday dinner got me home at 9:30. Looking at the next few days, I'll feel lucky if I can get in a short workout each day. And holiday travel contributes to lack of exercise, too. When Terry and I go to Paris and London, I highly doubt we'll brave the cold for a run each day, though maybe we can squeeze in some strength training.

So if you put it all together, the holidays take a toll on your health. I think it's important to do what we can to combat holiday pitfalls, but it would take a person much stronger than myself to actually just not eat the unhealthy foods. Ha! What a concept!

A few tactics I use to try to outsmart the two-parties-and-a-partridge-in-a-pear-tree days:

  • Chug water like it's my job. I have two 32-ounce water bottles that I try to finish before I get home each day, plus I drink more water and milk at home. It gives me energy, fills me up a bit, and keeps me hydrated for all the baking.
  • Plan ahead. I had two parties today, so I knew I wouldn't be able to work out. Instead, I worked out yesterday and plan to work out tomorrow. It's best for me if I actually schedule time (sure, I write it down) to make sure it happens.
  • Force down the healthy stuff. Today I grabbed a big container of blueberries for work and forced myself to eat about a cup in between munching on chocolates-covered pretzels. At least I can say I ate a serving of fruit.
  • Avoid the "it's the holidays!" mentality. Yes, there are reasons to celebrate, and yes, everyone else is eating, but that doesn't mean I have to go crazy. Today's staff luncheon provided a full table of desserts, but I forced myself to choose only three (small!) pieces to sample. If it wasn't amazing, I didn't finish it. And I skipped my usual three cookies for dessert. Pacing myself really seems to help.
I will say, however, that I have every intention of devouring at least one pastry per day in Paris. Everything in moderation, except French pastries. I can't wait to sample a croissant and pain au chocolat! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Relaxing Weekend at Home

This weekend, a much needed break from my personal stressors in LA, gave me an opportunity to celebrate Christmas with my family, sleep, relax, and mentally prepare for the next few weeks. On Sunday, I tested my cold tolerance and braved the 30-something temperatures for a two-mile run. Then my dad joined me for a nice walk around our neighborhood. My dad is a champion walker. His ridiculously long legs keep him at a steady fast pace and force me to practically jog to catch up. I was thankful for the several stops to say hi to neighbors.

After our walk, my parents and I headed out to Santana Row in San Jose for some lunch and window shopping. 
Heading to Santana Row - and the debut of my new haircut! Plus a terrific, awkward, too-big smile!
Out for some Christmas spirit!
 At Yardhouse, we each enjoyed one of the endless beers on tap and devoured our entrees.

Dad's cheeseburger

Mom's turkey cobb salad

My grilled veggie sandwich with sweet potato fries
I personally think I won the dish-off, but everyone enjoyed our meals. The service was also super friendly, though a little slow. I've never been disappointed by a Yardhouse, so check it out if there's one in your neck of the woods.

Santana Row is a lovely few blocks of popular shops and great restaurants. We popped into Paper Source, Crate & Barrel, Z Gallerie, and Sur la Table, people watched, then wandered around the nearby mall a bit. I was a little bummed that timing wouldn't allow us to see all the beautiful lights on Santana Row, but the window shopping certainly got me in the holiday spirit. 

This weekend I also worked out with my mom at her gym. I absolutely love her gym! They always have the most recent machines and tons of great classes. Unfortunately, our desired class was canceled today for the holidays, so I did 10 minutes on the stair climber and 15 minutes on the bike, two exercises I can't do in our apartment's mini-gym. Then I let Mom take the lead for our weights, and we did assisted pull ups, seated rows, tricep pull downs, bicep curls, and about a million different types of abs. I wish I belonged to a really nice gym like that, but maybe someday...

The rest of the weekend included lounging around, drinking hot cocoa, reading The Hunger Games, addressing Christmas cards, watching Love Actually, and going to see Sherlock Holmes. (Great movie, by the way! Go see it!) It was a wonderful weekend and a perfect distraction from missing my husband. I haven't mentioned it until now, but Terry is currently away on a business trip in Florida. He has been gone for over two weeks but comes home super soon! Obviously, I wish he had been able to visit Fremont with me, but this weekend was the next best thing. Though I stayed home sick from work today, I feel rested and ready for the last three days of school before winter break.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas in Concord

As I mentioned yesterday, I traveled up north to celebrate an early Christmas with my parents and my brother and his fiancee.
Scout was rather sad to see me pack up and head out.

We met up at Chris and Ashley's place in Concord and caught up a bit before opening a few gifts. Thanks to the magic of Google+, Terry even made an appearance via Internet video. We missed him, though!

Look at that adorable couple. They actually got engaged on Christmas last year!

 Even the puppies got presents from Aunt Julie!
Giant bones!

Dad became our entertainment/post-gift bow storage.

Chris and Ashley prepared a delicious holiday meal of prime rib, potatoes au gratin, creamed spinach, and Yorkshire pudding. A few of their friends stopped by to join in for dinner but had to leave quickly afterward. Then we ventured out to check out Christmas lights.

I'm really sad to say that my phone died right after taking this first picture, but my brother has promised to send me a few more. The highlight of the adventure was a house with lights that coordinate with a radio station, similar to my favorite, Christmas lights set to "Wizards of Winter" by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The lights were extremely impressive, and I would love to go back to see more houses lit up (since we went out after 10, a lot of houses already had their lights off). By the way, did you see New Girl this week? We kept quoting the last scene where they all yell, "Turn on your lights!" Because we're all awesome like that.

Family Christmas was a success, but we missed Terry. I can't wait for him to come home so we can finally celebrate the season. Only a little longer! Meanwhile, I'm so grateful that I got to see my family and give them their gifts in person. Plus it's been a wonderful break from the chaos lately in LA, and I've welcomed the distraction!

Thanks Again

A few weeks ago, for Thanksgiving, I posted about the things in my life that make me feel grateful. Lately, things have been a little rough for me, and I've complained plenty about it. So I thought that perhaps I should devote another post to a few things that make me feel thankful.

I'm thankful to get to do a mini-pre-Christmas celebration with my family this weekend. More on that tomorrow.

I'm thankful for my husband and the fact that we manage to support each other even from 3,000 miles away.

I'm thankful for my students. My cheerleaders make me laugh every day, and I love seeing them improve and grow. My ELD students bring so much energy and joy into my classroom, and I get a kick out of watching them learn American customs. They love to say, "Happy Friday!" Yes, happy Friday, indeed.

I'm thankful for the world's most adorable cat. No offense to anyone else's cat, but they got nothing on Scout. 

I'm thankful for terrific friends. From a night out when I need a break to supporting my new little hobby (obsession?), my friends find ways to show me they care. Half of them live across the country, but we stay connected through e-mail and Gchat (thank you, Google!).

I'm thankful for the holidays. Without Christmas music, I may not have kept my sanity the last two weeks. Without Terry around, it doesn't quite feel like Christmas yet, but he got me a tree! How amazing is that? The tree, the lights, the music, the holiday movies, and little decorations around the city make me feel all fuzzy.

I am thankful that I got in a great workout yesterday. I spent a few hours cleaning, doing laundry, playing with Scout, packing for my trip this weekend, and talking with Terry, so I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get to the treadmill. Thankfully, I was super excited to try a new pyramid workout that I found on a new favorite blog. I really meant it Thursday when I said a new workout can really get me motivated! I made a few changes to Courtney's workout and then headed to my apartment's gym (well, after three failed attempts because all the machines were taken).

At first, I found this workout to be a little too easy, but the length and incline helped give me a challenge, and I really worked up a sweat by the end. 7.5 mph for two minutes is no joke! 

So despite a rough few weeks and seriously missing my husband, I'm still thankful for all the positive in my life, and I guess I need to focus on those things more.

Friday, December 16, 2011

We Have a Winner!

I can sense your excitement through the Internet. We have a winner for the OXO Good Cookie Spatula giveaway! I assigned a number to each person who entered based on the time they entered (first person to enter got #1, etc.). Then I used a random number generator to determine the recipient of the spatula. And the winner is...

Yeah...8 entries. Makes for a good
growth rate for the next one - let's hope!
Michelle! Congratulations! Michelle, be sure to e-mail me your mailing address so I can ship your spatula to you ASAP!

Thank you so much for those who entered the giveaway. I hope I get to host many more. Meanwhile, if you were interested in the Good Cookie spatula as a little gift for yourself this Christmas (as I said, you can never have too many spatulas!), they're sold out online but you can check out Bed Bath & Beyond or to purchase one. It really is a nifty little guy! (Perfect for a gift, perhaps...? With some homemade cookies...?)

I had so much fun hosting a giveaway! Thanks for participating!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Is Zucchini Bread a Vegetable?

I will randomly select a winner for the OXO spatula giveaway tomorrow (Friday, December 16) at 5 pm EST. You can still enter until then; just check out my original post to learn how to get your name included!

A lot of folks on Twitter and Facebook (<--exciting new Facebook URL!) have discussed their indulgences lately. Even almost all the healthy living blogs I read have been focusing on their holiday cookies and treats. I guess the holidays just do that to you! While I haven't indulged in any more sweets than usual (because, let's be honest, I average around three cookies per day anyway), I have noticed a sharp decline in my vegetable intake and a lack of round, balanced meals. Today, for example, I ate leftover banana pancakes for breakfast, leftover pasta for lunch, and, for dinner, scrambled eggs with zucchini bread. Does zucchini bread count as a vegetable? I ate three pieces thinking that I would be eating more vegetables that way. I really love when my warped logic results in more baked goods. (Oh, and don't worry, I still ate three cookies for dessert. I'm a champ.)

On a healthier note, I got an e-mail from a friend yesterday asking about how to get motivated on those days when you just can't imagine working out. Don't we all know those days too well? Those days when the couch feels especially comfortable, when your favorite episode of Friends is rerunning on TBS, when you absolutely cannot tear yourself away from the computer. I know I struggle with this type of day fairly often, but far less now that I'm in the habit of working out at least five days a week. Here are my tips for getting off your tush and out the door on those just-wanna-be-lazy days.
  • Just do it. Right away when you get home, just get your gym clothes on and head out. I notice that when I don't sit down or check the mail or get distracted by TV/e-mail/Internet, I'm a lot more likely to just get through my workout.
  • If you're not in the mood, you'll get in the mood eventually. Once you get started, you're that much closer to being done! I often find that about 5-10 minutes into my workout, I'm actually enjoying it and feeling really good, even when I was dreading it at the start.
  • Try something different. A lot of times I'm way more motivated to try something fun and different, even if it means just changing my running route. I'm always interested in trying new classes, new videos, new hikes, and usually that's enough to get me going on a down day.
  • Positive visualization. Sometimes I figure out my workout in the morning, and then all day I think about it. Somehow visualizing myself doing the workout makes me more excited about it, and by the time I get home I feel pumped!
  • Take it easy. Rest can be good and is super important. But if you know you should be doing something, just go do something, even if it's not an intense cardio workout. Just a long walk is a lot better than nothing! A nice 30-minute walk is perfect on these days. When I feel like I don't want to do anything, then doing something at all is an accomplishment.
  • Grab a buddy. If you're halfway through your work day and already dreading the post-work workout, call a buddy and agree to meet for a sweat session (that sentence sounded very magazine-esque...hmm...). When I know I'm meeting someone, I can at least look forward to good conversation and hope to be motivated by my friend's energy. We can push each other to get through it.
  • Use your resources. On weekend mornings, I like to mix things up and try to find something unique to keep me from getting bored. Often I'll go online to check out workout ideas and adapt them to fit my energy level and ability. You can check out some of my own workouts here.
If all that isn't enough to motivate you, I found an incredible video on my friend Michelle's blog. Even just the first three minutes are fascinating, but I recommend the whole thing. It certainly makes me feel ready to tackle my workout tomorrow!

And if that still doesn't do it, well...then enjoy this video, courtesy of my brother's fiancee, while you chill out on your couch. And then make sure you work out tomorrow! :-)
Scout would never let us do this to him. 

Giveaway Update

Hi everyone! Just a quick post to give an update on the giveaway. I'm hearing that a few folks have tried to post on Facebook, but I haven't gotten any entries that way. So if you tried to enter via Facebook, shoot me a quick email at so I can get your name in the spatula drawing! So far, I only have a few entries, and I know you want this awesome spatula for your holiday cookie-baking! If you aren't sure whether you're entry went through, contact me and I will let you know! Thanks, see you tonight to chat about motivation for working out!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Few Good Reads

Have you entered to win your spatula yet? Probably not, because only a few have! It's so easy to enter, and you could win a free spatula from me! Click here to learn how to enter.

I got an iPad for my work today! Who would have thought my first work-issued device would be an iPad 2? Not too shabby! I'm so excited to learn about it and figure out the best ways to use it in my classes. Any iPad users out there have any tips for a newbie?

After my exciting day at work, I busted out a quick incline walking workout on the treadmill, along with some bicep curls, abs, and push ups.
12-Minute Incline Walk Intervals
I completed this short incline walk workout two times before my strength training, and it was just right for today. I pushed myself fairly hard during yesterday's workout, so this one felt perfect today. Afterward, I made a disappointing meal of whole-wheat pasta, pasta sauce, and butternut squash. Boring.

I spent a little time researching some health articles this evening (while eating cookies), and I thought you might be interested in a few of them. Enjoy!

That last one is certainly my favorite today, because Michael Pollan is a genius! I love everything he has to say about food, and how he admits that he doesn't have all the answers. I strongly encourage you to check out Omnivore's Dilemma or In Defense of Food

Happy almost-Thursday! Be sure to enter my spatula giveaway!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Breakfast-for-Dinner Week

In case you missed it, I announced my blog's first giveaway yesterday! You can enter to win through Friday, December 16. Check out yesterday's post here for details on how to enter.

After a decent day at work and some cleaning up around the house, I scooted over to our gym for some treadmill action. I wanted to do five miles, but I stopped at four, which still felt pretty damn difficult - and good!  Here's how it went:
4 miles and a lot of sweat
After that workout, a chat with my parents, and lots of running around with the kitten, I decided that nothing could satisfy my hunger like some banana pancakes. As I made them, I realized that yesterday's dinner was eggs and toast. What is this, breakfast-for-dinner week? Apparently so! No complaints here (well, obviously, since I'm the one creating the menu).

For my pancakes, I started with Lisa's recipe and made a few changes. Here is my slightly altered version:

Whole-Wheat Banana Pancakes
Serves 2, with leftovers

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted, plus butter for frying
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt (I used 2%)
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 3/4 cup walnuts
  • A dash of cinnamon
Combine the dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add in the eggs, honey, butter, milk, and yogurt and stir to combine. Mash the bananas, and fold the bananas and walnuts into the batter. 

Banana pancakes
In a medium pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat and pour 1/4- to 1/2-cup batter into the pan. Add a dash of cinnamon on top of each raw pancake. Cook 4-5 minutes on each side, until the bottom is golden and the sides are firm. Serve hot. 

I liked the pancakes without any topping, but you could use maple syrup, berries, or peanut butter! Yum yum yum! These babies are the greatest pancakes I've ever tasted. They blast my old favorite - Bisquik - out of the water. The Greek yogurt makes the texture fluffy yet dense (is that possible?), and the walnuts add a magical crunch next to the creamy banana.

Tonight I worked on some Christmas gifts, tidied up the kitchen, and caught up on the Biggest Loser finale. They haven't announced the winner yet, but I'm so excited! I love that show!

Remember to enter to win your very own Good Cookie Spatula from OXO!

Monday, December 12, 2011

My First Giveaway!

What an exciting day for my little blog! Terry and I agree that a spatula is the absolute perfect utensil for my first giveaway. Here's the story behind that (are you curious to know how there could be a spatula story in my life?): When Terry and I first moved in together, I made a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond. When I reported back to Terry about my purchases, I felt the need to justify only one impulse buy: the spatula. So, offhandedly, I said, "Oh, and I bought a spatula, because, you know, you can never have to many spatulas." Little did I know I had uttered words that we would continue to quote over the next four years. (Yes, we have a lot of spatulas, but not a crazy amount. But then, what's the normal spatula count for a household of two?) Now we constantly joke to each other about how thankful we are that we never run out of spatulas. We are truly the coolest.

Needless to say, I am thrilled that OXO chose to send me one of their "Good Cookie" spatula to review and another to give away. I'm already a huge fan of OXO products and highly recommend them, so here are my thoughts about their newest spatula.
First off, I was shocked at its size! It's tiny! It would fit perfectly in anyone's kitchen.
I would have especially loved this little guy in college.
Look how cute the little inscription is! "Be a good cookie." :-)
I also love the color. Our kitchen is all bright colors, and you can see it works perfectly with our theme!
So what to do for my experiment with the new spatula? Obviously, I needed a cookie, but I wanted to try something new. Chocolate cookies? Sure!
Two pounds of chocolate.
My version of a double boiler. Works perfectly every time. Set a heatproof bowl
over a pot of simmering water and stir the chocolate until smooth.
These cookies came out dense,  thick, and fudgy. I would actually argue that there may have been too much chocolate. And that's saying something for a chocolate lover like myself.
I added walnuts to the second batch. I loved the crunch!
So, how did the OXO spatula hold up throughout the baking? It was great! I definitely recommend it! I mentioned I was surprised at the tiny size, and that size turned out to be just perfect for cookies. Often when I bake, my huge spatulas make it awkward to get the food out neatly. Fear no more! This spatula scooped up the cookies perfectly, and I look forward to trying it with other foods, like casseroles or pancakes. And - bonus - it was super easy to clean. I just sponged it off, but it can also go in the dishwasher.

And here's the greatest part (from the OXO website): Your purchase helps OXO support Cookies for Kids' Cancer, up to $100,000; 50% of profits benefit pediatric cancer awareness. Amazing! Cookies + cancer-awareness: That's the kind of company I like to see.

So! Here's the deal: If you're interested in getting your very own Good Cookie Spatula for FREE, there are three ways to enter:

  1. Comment below with your favorite type of cookie or a cookie recipe you hope to try soon.
  2. Comment on the A Better Life With Burgers Facebook page with your favorite type of cookie or a cookie recipe you hope to try soon.
  3. Send me an e-mail (abetterlifewithburgers@gmail.comwith your favorite type of cookie or a cookie recipe you hope to try soon.
As promised, I would like to take this opportunity to shamelessly increase my subscribers, so while you comment/e-mail/Facebook, go ahead and click that cute little "subscribe" or "like" button! :-) 

I will randomly choose a winner on Friday of this week, and he/she will receive the spatula as an early Christmas gift!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas Favorites

I came across this idea on two different blogs: Heather's and Nichole's. I thought it looked like a great way to spread some Christmas cheer.

My favorite...

Tradition: When I was little, it was checking out Santa's evidence all over the house. He always left a long letter in block writing and one year even got fireplace ashes all over the house. Santa also created scavenger hunts that sent my brother and I from room to room (and out in the freezing cold) to find our final gift each year. (My parents are awesome.) Now that Terry and I are married, we'll create our own traditions, but not this year! We're traveling to Paris and London over Christmas and New Year's, and you can believe that European Christmas will not be a normal tradition. 
MovieLove Actually
Hymn: "Carol Of the Bells" or "O Holy Night"
Reindeer: Cupid? I have never considered ranking my favorite reindeer.
Multi-color lights or clear: Multi-color! White lights are gorgeous to drive by, but for my house it'll always be multi-colored.
Smell: Christmas trees.
Seasonal Treat: My mom's breakfast casserole.
Christmas Picture: Our first "family" Christmas photo by our Christmas tree last year. (I would love to post it, but I'm having technical issues over here.)
Sight: My parents' Christmas tree and decorations
Best gift: It's a toss up. I think the best gift I ever gave was the first year Terry and I spent Christmas together. I created a scavenger hunt for him to welcome him to the family, and at the end of the hunt he found a trip to Denver for beer-tasting. :-) And last year, my brother proposed to his girlfriend on Christmas, so now I get to have a sister!
Worst gift: We hosted a White Elephant gift exchange, and I got Jenn's gift: a Snuggie. (Actually, it's quite cozy, but still. It's a Snuggie. How can I take myself seriously knowing I have a Snuggie in my closet?)
Special Memory: Goodness! I have to pick one? To make it easy, I'll say that I know our first Christmas as a married couple (in Paris!) will be one we'll always cherish. 
Dislikes: Now that we're married, it's tough balancing two families, especially since our parents live 400 miles away from each other. On the other hand, we're blessed to have two celebrations each year.
What are your favorite Christmas moments and memories?

Starts and Stops

Today seems full of starts and stops. I set my alarm in hopes of working out before church but ended up sleeping later and playing with the kitten before finally forcing myself to get up. After church, I tried to go to the farmers' market to restock our bread supply (my favorite bakery, Great Harvest, has a stand at our local farmers' market). But after parking and walking halfway to the market, I realized I had no cash. And finally, this afternoon, I tried to make good on my goal to do some yoga and running but completely failed.

Actually, the workout part was pretty hilarious. Since I felt sore and not really in the mood to workout, I scrolled through the yoga selections in the Exercise TV section of OnDemand and chose what I thought would be a soothing, stretch-focused, slow workout. It had the words "twist" and "detox" in the title; how intense could it be? Well, as it turned out, very intense. Okay, it wasn't horrible, but it was not what I signed up for. Look what they wanted me to do!

How is this a "detox"? 
Yeah, that's definitely happening.
Scout thought it was pretty ridiculous, too. So he
joined me in my stretching (sorry about my ugly feet).
After 17 minutes, I quit and watched the rest (and, obviously, took pictures of my television) while I stretched. Then I reluctantly moseyed over to our gym to run one whole mile and called it a day. But later, as I mentally beat myself up for wimping out and not completing the workout I had planned, I acknowledged that I should feel good about at least doing something. No, it wasn't my best day, but I still worked up a little sweat and shouldn't give myself too hard of a time for it. I think we should feel good about any exercise, even if we can only manage ten minutes or even if it's a walk that doesn't get your heart rate up. I can tell you that if I hadn't worked out at all I would have felt much worse (and guiltier) than I do now. As it is, I'm just looking forward to another try tomorrow; hopefully I can actually complete a yoga video or run more than one mile. 

Meanwhile, if you made it to the gym or managed a workout this weekend, congrats! You should feel good for any exercise and focus on increasing time or intensity as your body allows. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Take-It-Easy Saturday

Oh, sweet, sweet Saturday. What wonders you bring! (Was that too dramatic? I'll tone it down.)

Today was a pretty good day, though. I woke up early to run a few miles and knock out some lunges before a breakfast of overnight oats. You might remember my first attempt at overnight oats, which resulted in a texture that Terry and I couldn't quite appreciate. Today's batch was much better. I combined the following last night:
  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1 heaping tablespoon crunchy peanut butter
  • 6 ounces Greek yogurt
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons honey
The consistency was much better than last time, and I loved the ratio of oats to dairy. That peanut butter crunch made it delicious! After breakfast and a shower, I met up with Terry's parents, grandparents, aunt, uncle, and brother (Terry had work) for lunch at The Hat, a chain pastrami place. I am convinced that The Hat has the best pastrami this side of the Mississippi (<--did you learn a little song to help you remember how to spell Mississippi when you were little? I still sing it when I write it), and their chili cheese fries are incredible. I haven't been there in over a year because it's a very special splurge! We enjoyed a good lunch and some good conversation before I headed back to our part of town for grocery shopping and a solid hour of reading my current book, Catching Fire, the second book in the Hunger Games series. 

Another reason today was good: Scout followed me
around all day and cuddled anytime he got the chance.
Tonight I made two different types of muffins: banana-walnut and lemon-blueberry. For the banana-walnut, I simply followed the exact recipe from Lisa's blog but with muffins.

Banana-Walnut Muffins
For the lemon-blueberry, I got the recipe base from Lisa again, but I made some changes.

Lemon-Blueberry Muffins
Yield: 12

Berries that burst make for beautiful pictures!

  • 1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
Mix the flour, cinnamon, salt, and baking powder in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs, honey, oil, extract, lemon juice, and zest. Stir well but don't overmix. Stir in the blueberries. Spoon the batter into a greased muffin pan (I use an ice cream scoop to keep them even - a little trick from the Barefoot Contessa). Bake the muffins at 400 degrees for 12-14 minutes.
Adding the blueberries
Scooping the batter into the pan.
Bubbly berries!
These muffins would be much more fitting in the summer, but I've been wanting to try them for awhile now and finally had the lemons and blueberries. The lemon tasted too sour in the batter, but the baking toned down all the flavors. I think the lemon-blueberry combo is a winner! I'm looking forward to trying other variations, like almond-poppyseed!

Yesterday I vowed to squeeze more vegetables into my meals, and I made good on that promise today! Here's what I call a spinach-eggplant bake.

Spinach-Eggplant Bake
Serves 6
  • 1 bag fresh spinach
  • 1 1/2 cups organic pasta sauce
  • 1 eggplant
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Mozzarella for topping
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Dice the eggplant into one-inch cubes. On a cookie sheet, toss the eggplant, olive oil, salt, and pepper together. Bake for 20 minutes, turning once. Meanwhile, cook down the spinach in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Once cooked down, add the pasta sauce and heat to an easy boil. 

Once the eggplant is done, spray a small casserole dish with cooking spray and spread the eggplant cubes along the bottom. Then spoon the spinach-pasta sauce mixture over the top, covering the eggplant entirely. Add the mozzarella slices on top and bake the dish for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted to your heart's content.

Spinach-Eggplant Bake
This dish tasted delicious. It's similar to the roasted eggplant with tomato sauce recipe, but the spinach adds some nutritional value and tastes great. Next time I might add some cooked pasta to the dish before baking, but tonight I wanted a lighter meal. While I ate, I checked out the new(ish) series Happy Endings on ABC, which seems hilarious and makes me regret not watching sooner! Anyone else a fan?

Hope your Saturday was restful and fun. One more weekend day to savor!