I joined a beginners running club a couple of weeks ago. I’ve intermittently run for the past couple of years, but I wanted to go back to basics and learn to run with a group. And this winter was a wasteland of personal fitness, so I needed to start at the very beginning with a “Couch to 5K” program.

At the duck pond in town on Wednesdays and Saturday mornings, Linda, the trainer, blows whistles for us to run and then walk. We’ve built up to a three minute run and a one minute walk for thirty minutes. It’s unbelievably awesome. I mean it’s not like I’m Jack Dorsey or anything, with a wackadoo fasting schedule and all that, but I do like getting muscle-y.

I think that I’ve earned a new running outfit, so after I tidy up a few loose ends with work, I’m going to the mall to get a new running outfit. And maybe a new dress. And maybe a manicure. Retail therapy is always good.

What’s your exercise regimen these days?


Fitbits and Morning Runs

Hope y’all had a good holiday weekend. We did a lot of socializing, and socializing means lots of last minute cleaning and food prep. I did 16,000 steps on Monday, according to my Fitbit, which may have made up for all the wine that was consumed.

Are Fitbits for old people? I honestly don’t think my steps to the bathroom should count towards any daily exercise goals. On the other hand, it’s kinda fun. I do like counting things. And competing with my friends for weekly steps. And it seems to work for some people. A former colleague has lost almost 100 pounds since she retired; she became an obsessive fitbit user.

I’m always tinkering with my schedule. Trying to find ways to squeeze in more work hours and accomplish more. Lately, I’ve switched from the 9:30 spin class to a morning run after Ian gets on the camp bus at 7:30. I’m done earlier and I don’t have to deal with the crazy women at the gym who shower and put on a full face of makeup before their workout. I can it all done with coffee breath and bedhead. I have a bigger block of time to get work done. I suck at running now, but maybe I’ll be okay by the end of the summer.

I also calibrate all that running with two or three apps on the phone. I do enjoy exer-tech.

Do you use apps to monitor your daily exercise goals?

Hidden Hunger on the College Campus


College conjures up images of all-you-can-eat dining halls, midnight runs for pizza, tubs of ice cream in the dorm-room fridge, and ethnically sensitive burritos. I remember working in the dishroom of a dining hall as a student and grabbing trays of half-eaten burgers and pancakes from the conveyer belt, dumping all the mess into large trash cans. If anything, college is associated with an excess of food, where students gain the “Freshman 15.”

Recent research on hunger at colleges opens serious questions about those assumptions.

More here.


Living Well

I love these two profiles at the New York Times about Dan Buettner, a longevity expert.

I entered a cooking depression last week. Sometimes it feels so pointless. All that work goes into a product that is instantly gone. It’s not a book or a painting that will be there for eternity and has the potential to be appreciated by thousands. A meal is for a handful of people for an hour at most. When I started logging my calories into the iPhone app, food became a number, which made the whole process of cooking even more dull.

But there is more to food than a number. It shouldn’t be an artform either. It’s best when it’s fun and simple and honest.



I was always one of those people who was effortlessly thin until about five years ago. Somehow, I blinked, and I was ten pounds too heavy. Well, I was ten pounds heavier than I felt comfortable. If I caught myself at the wrong angle in the mirror, I saw a stranger.

So, I decided to do something about it. I moved the scale from a box in the basement into the bathroom. No more denial. I started counting calories on an app on my iPhone. I also switched my gym schedule.

I used to go to the gym in afternoon after I got some work done. I did a little treadmill action, while watching Kardashian reruns. That wasn’t good enough, so I’m taking morning spin classes instead. I need a professional to kick my ass. I’m not sure I’m losing weight yet, but I’m definitely stronger.

This new routine has thrown me into the gym culture big time. In the afternoons, the gym is pretty much empty. It’s me and one 70-year old woman who reads People magazine on a bike. The mornings are packed. After three weeks, I’m starting to recognize the regulars. I know which guys are the projectile sweat-ers in my spin class. I know which instructors play the best music. I also know who has exercise-anorexia.

There are a few women in my spin class, who after doing ten miles on their bikes, will get on the eliptical machine for an hour, and then come back in the evening for another class. Three hours at the gym per day. That’s a little weird. There are a few hardcore cases that require professional intervention and a brownie sundae.

I need to get to that place in between chubby girl in the mirror and gaunt woman in the spin class. That place is ten pounds.

To lose this weight, I’ve made several tough changes. Pasta and bread are gone — not easy, but necessary. The leasurely Kardashian workouts were tossed. I’m going to give my body another month before I take more drastic steps, but wine and cheese will be the last thing that I’ll fling off this boat.

Do It Yourself Health and the Anti-Vaxx Movement

Ross Douthat has a rather excellent piece in the New York Times. He thoughtfully explains why some people end up not vaccinating their kids.

These are people who have direct, immediate, personal experiences that make them anywhere from skeptical to terrified of giving their kids certain vaccines. The much-discussed example now is parents who have a child who seems to slide into autism immediately after vaccination, but the category is wider than this. There is still a lot of mystery around human health, and there are a lot of people who have medical experiences, or whose children have medical experiences, or both, that are strange and baffling and awful in ways that simply don’t respond to standard medical diagnostic tools and methods. This the world of “chronic fatigue” and “fibromyalgia” and “environmental illness” and is-it-Lyme-disease; the world of the “sudden illness” that changed Laura Hillenbrand’s life; the world of all kinds of debilitating allergies and inflammations and reactions and agonies that sometimes get classified (not unreasonably) as psychosomatic but aren’t experienced any differently than a normal, mainstream problem or disease.

And people in these worlds end up relying on personal experience, not medical consensus, in the treatments they choose for their families because the medical consensus doesn’t seem to offer them anything: It can’t explain why they’re sick or why their kids are sick, it didn’t predict the reactions they seem to have to different medications and treatments and antibiotics and, yes, vaccines, and it doesn’t offer a clear path back to health … so they feel, very understandably, like they just have to experiment until they somehow find their own.

If we really want to increase the vaccination rates in this country. It is best for us all to not dismiss the anti-vaxxers as insane and selfish. It probably is best to understand where they are coming from. The anti-vaxx movement may have begun as a hoax, which I find totally infuriating. But Douthat is right. Western medicine doesn’t have all the answers.

One of my good friends has a daughter with severe Celiac Disease. She has major, big-time issues with gluten, as well all sorts of other mysterious aches and pains that take the poor girl out of school for weeks. The doctors don’t have much advice for my friend. She’s had to figure out herself how to treat her daughter. When her daughter gets an ordinary chest infection, she has to call the drug companies to find out if their antibiotics contain gluten. She gets most of her advice from parent chatrooms on the Internet.

And then I’m in the autism community. In our case, doctors have been exactly zero help. His pediatrician never thought my son had a problem. His neurologist diagnosed him at age five, but hasn’t been any help since then. She’s a drug dealer and doles out some attention medicine, which is mildly useful.

It is blatantly obvious to all the parents in my clique that some autistic kids get better and some kids don’t. Some kids learn how to talk and communicate and have useful, productive lives. Other kids stall out. Again, doctors and western medicine are useless at this point. We huddle in corners of therapy centers sharing our secrets.

Some people believe that kids recover from autism when there is a major change in diet. I don’t see it, but others do. I’ve seen the impact of intense interactions between the child and parents or other adults. With enough effort, the young brain can sometimes get rewired. Still, both these beliefs — food and intense interactions — are examples of DIY health, cobbled together by people who aren’t getting answers from the medical community.

So, I do have some sympathies with those who question the medical establishment. Douthat doesn’t think that sympathy and increased information will change the minds of people who don’t vaccinate their children. I think it’s an important first step.

UPDATE: However, however, however. Where the anti-Vaxxers and I part company is when they state that western medicine is purposefully hurting children. Doctors are willingly disregarding the interests of the their kids and pumping poison into their veins. I think that Western medicine still doesn’t have the answers for many serious health issues, but I don’t think that doctors are actively hurting my kids.

How to Do “Healthy” — Cook and Prep in Large Quantities

Making fun of Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP advice is low hanging fruit. It’s way too easy to mock. But I’m feeling lazy this morning, so let’s look at her 7 Day Detox diet. In addition to getting tons of colonics (!), she says we should purge toxic foods from your diet. OK, I’m down with clean eating. The colonics, not so much. So, what does she have to say?

She provides a menu for three full meals, a snack and lemon water for seven days. The recipes look tasty enough. I would probably eat everything and enjoy it. But the time, oh Gwyneth, the time.

Shopping for the week of ingredients, many of which can’t be found even in a Whole Foods, would require at least five hours. The list of ingredients were long. They would require several trips to stores on multiple days to assure vegetable freshness. And what are coconut aminos? Then there’s cooking and clean up time. This menu is a full time job.

Here’s my shortcut to healthy eating… Cook and prepare in large quantities.

Yesterday was my heavy lifting cooking day. I was in the kitchen for about two or three hours and Steve did the clean up later. What did I do?

Three Days of Salad

Because I’m Italian, we eat a cooked vegetable and a salad every night. I try to eat one at lunch, too. When I was growing up , our salads were very simple — some lettuce with some tomato or cucumber and some dressing. Now, we eat more complex salads.

A complex salad is a mix of raw vegetables, a protein, a sharp taste (cheese or olives or herbs), and a touch of dressing. If there are leftover cooked vegetables, they can go in, too. Not so complex, really.

The trick with salads is to cut up a ton of vegetables all at once. Enough for three days of salad. I put them in handy see through containers in the fridge and then assemble them when needed. It takes three minutes or less to do the assembling. Last night, I cut up cucumber, red onion, and cilantro. I had some feta crumbles and leftover olives from the holidays. I use bottled dressing to save time.

I wash enough lettuce for the week and keep the salad spinner in the fridge. Last night, it was arugula and green leaf lettuce.

Other items that could be ready and handy might be — sliced hard boiled eggs, leftover chicken (also sliced and ready to go), rinsed beans of any kind, celery, shredded carrots, boiled potatoes, green peppers.

Power Cooking Squash

I got a ton of squash from my CSA this year. At the end of the season, I had almost twenty squash in storage in the garage. There were pumpkins, butternut squash, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, and kabocha squash. Making squash can be very time consuming. So, it’s best to cook several at the same time and then freeze them. They freeze very well. I now have side dishes for six meals in the future.

Last night, I was down to the last four squash. I made two spaghetti squash using this Martha Stewart method.  They went into freezer bags for future use. The last two were small butternut squash. I cut them in half. I covered the cut half with a little olive oil and salt. Then I roasted them cut side down for half an hour at 375 degrees. When they were done, I flipped them over, added a small pad of butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Cook for another five minutes.

I told the kids that it was a “squash bowl” and that they should scoop out the food. They ate it.

When you freeze food, remember to label the item with a date. It’s good for six months.

Power Cook Everything

Along with the squash and salad, I made black beans and brown rice. (Ian, who is only 12, got leftover pasta and pork.)

I like to double or triple the quantities of everything that I cook. Steve packs up leftovers for lunch. I eat it for lunch. Jonah eats it as his first dinner, when he comes home from school. And I like to reuse parts of the previous meal in the next dinner. Picky eaters have a plan B in the fridge.

So, I made two cups of brown rice (Trader Joe’s Basmati plus one cube of chicken bouillon). I sautéed some fresh salsa from the local supermarket in some olive oil. I added two cans of Goya black beans, a dash of cumin, salt, and cayenne.

Many supermarkets, not just the high end ones, prepare their own salsas now. Our local one is great. It isn’t spicy ketchup, like some of the jarred stuff. It’s nice chunks of tomato, onion, pepper, and cilantro. They’ve done the prep work for me for so many meals — omelettes, rice, beans, fish, whatever. Supermarket salsa is my favorite cooking hack.

Brown rice takes an hour. Black beans take three minutes.

It takes the same amount of time to make twelve servings of food as four servings, so make more food.