Thursday, June 28, 2012

Easing Stress by Adding Mystery to My Day

Will my husband be able to get out of bed today? Will I need to call my parents to come take care of the kids? Will I get everything done that needs done today? As a mom and caregiver I found that my thoughts were overrun with the negative anticipation of the next crisis.

One day, I read an article in a women’s magazine about how adding an element of mystery can spice up a relationship. Right now my relationship was fine, but my own life definitely needed some spice. How could I add mystery to my life?

That Friday was my monthly self-proclaimed Donut Day. Once a month I would treat myself to two donuts and a coffee for breakfast. For a year I had been getting the same thing. This month I decided to spice things up a bit. I asked the server to pick my donuts for me and then I turned my back to the counter. She handed me my closed bag. The two minutes that it took me to get from the counter to my car were very exciting. What kind of donuts did she give me? Chocolate? Cream-filled? Glazed? I couldn’t wait to open that bag!

Those turned out to be two of the most relaxing minutes I’d had all week. To be thinking of something fun instead of something stressful was wonderful. I arrived at work with a smile on my face instead of a pounding headache.

My first attempt at adding mystery to my life was successful so I decided to try again. In making plans to meet a friend for dinner I asked her to pick the restaurant and only give me the address for my GPS. When getting dressed one Saturday I had my daughter pick out a shirt and then I based my outfit on it. I bought a crazy flavor of potato chips that I had wanted to try and waited a couple of days before opening the bag.

Now I'm constantly thinking of ways to include some positive anticipation to my day.  If my GPS takes me on a route that I'm not sure of, I can just go for it and see where the GPS leads me.  When I'm reading a book and get to the last chapter, I can set the book aside for the day or an hour to let myself anticpate how things are going to end.  There are so many possibilities!

The negative anticipation is still there, but the added spice of mystery provides me with enough of a break to keep pushing ahead.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Sleep Solution

One way that stress attacks me is by affecting my sleep patterns.  Most nights I am asleep literally seconds after my head hits the pillow (This is so annoying to my husband Jamison who will be talking away before realizing that I am already fast asleep!).   However, some nights I lay there unable to get my mind to stop.  Other nights I am suddenly wide awake my heart pounding and mind racing at 3:00AM unable to return to a peaceful slumber. 

Besides stress disturbing with my sleep pattern, my husband has a difficult time sleeping due to his chronic illness.  He is often up and down throughout the night.  I used to sleep through all of his noise and movement, but now the slightest thing can wake me up.  I may not fully come awake, but my deep sleep is still interrupted.

As a result of these interruptions, from stress or Jamison, I was exhausted.  This was impacting my mood, my decision making and overall enjoyment of life.  After reading several articles about sleep, talking with friends and trying out some options I discovered my sleep solution . . . a simple five-step ROUTINE!  I found that doing these five simple things as I crawl into bed helps me to relax and prepare my body and mind for a peaceful slumber.

STEP ONE: A hot cup of decaf tea.  Most often I enjoy a cup of Chamomile Tea with a touch of honey.  The herb chamomile is a well-known natural relaxer.  (There are many other kinds of tea.  It's important to make sure that whatever tea you drink is decaf.) 

STEP TWO: Lavender lotion.  According to, lavender calms the mind, eases stress and tension and relaxes the body.  Lavender comes in many different forms - oil, dried, lotion, powder or candles.  I've tried different forms and prefer to use it in a lotion.
STEP THREE: Sleeping Mask.  I received the BEST pair of pajamas for Christmas - thick soft flannel ones.  They came with a matching sleeping mask.  I dug it out from the bottom of my PJ drawer and gave it a try.  At first I felt really funny wearing it, but now I love it!  The mask blocks out any light from the TV, laptop or hallway.  I have quite a collection of masks now! 

STEP FOUR: Music!  I listen to Jim Brinkman or other instrumental piano music on my I-pod.  My son blasts his rock music so loud that I don't know how he sleeps through it.  I like my music quiet and calming.  Once I'm fast asleep Jamison will take my ear buds out for me or some nights I turn my I-Pod off on my own without even realizing it. 

STEP FIVE: Getting tucked in!  This may sound really silly, but it has become my favorite part of my Sleep Routine. Once I crawl into bed with my mask on and ear buds in place, Jamison pulls the covers up, tucks them in around me and kisses me on the forehead (We quickly discovered that a kiss on the lips leads to a mouthful of lavender lotion - not very pleasant!).  As a couple dealing with a chronic physical illness, this is a time of connection for us.  Jamison has struggled with feelings of not providing for his family or not being able to "take care" of me since he is unable to work and can't financially provide for us.  This is a way for him to "take care" of me and a time for me to feel taken care of.  It is very intimate and soothing.   

My routine is not always full-proof and I don't always follow all five steps every night, but I have found that even doing a couple of the steps helps me to sleep better.  There are many other things that I read about and tried that are said to help improve sleep such as a warm bath, Melatonin or a foot massage.  As with most other aspects of our health, what works for me may or may not work for you.  You have to find out what works best for you.  If you struggle with getting a good night's sleep for whatever reason, I encourage you to explore your options and find your Sleep Solution!  Getting enough sleep is an important part of leading a healthy life.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Letterboxing: Active, Inexpensive & Creative Fun for Your Family

I'm always on the lookout for FUN, FAMILY-Oriented activities that are FREE and focus on FITNESS in some capacity.  Several years ago I learned about Letterboxing through an article in Family Fun Magazine and instantly fell in love with it!  Letterboxing fits all four of my criteria - it's a lot of FUN, the entire FAMILY can participate, it's basically FREE and you can't do it sitting on your couch (there's the FITNESS focus!). 

Letterboxing (similar to geocaching minus the use of a GPS or compass) is a treasure hunt.  You follow clues that lead you to a hidden box.  There are thousands of boxes hidden all over the world in places such as the woods, coffee shops, cemeteries, ballparks, and even highway rest stops.  Some are easy to find while others involve a several mile hike or bike ride.  Clues can be found at or on the "Letterboxing North America" Facebook page. 

My family on a Letterboxing adventure in
Mosquito Lake State Park in Cortland, Ohio

Before starting out on your first hunt, you'll need to gather or purchase a few items:
1) a journal - This can be a simple spiral notebook or a fancy journal.  Choose whatever works best for you and your family's budget! 
2) a rubber stamp - On the Letterboxing website there are instructions about making your own rubber stamp or you can buy one at a craft store.  You can also find them at the dollar store!  The website encourages you to make or buy one that symbolizes your family.  The stamp that we use is a country-style patchwork heart with four different patterns in the heart. 
3) an ink pad - This can be purchased at the craft store, any office supply store or also found at the dollar store.
4) a pen (You can Letterbox without the other three items, but I'd at least make sure you have a pen with you!)

Once you've selected a box to look for, print out the directions or bookmark it on your phone (Keep in mind, that in some wooded locations you may not have access to the internet!) and head out to begin the fun!  When you locate the box you are searching for, you'll find a journal and a rubber stamp.  You'll stamp your stamp in the box's journal and the box's stamp in your journal along with writing a brief note.  It's neat to look through the journal to see how many other people have found that box and where they are from.

JJ found the Letterbox we were searching for
inside the trunk of a fallen tree.

Writing in the Letterbox's journal

Besides the fitness aspect of Letterboxing, there is also the educational aspect - problem solving, math and history to name a few!  Plus, your family can also create and hide your own Letterbox.  That's something I'd like my family to do someday.

We've been Letterboxing since JJ and Ellie were little.  While they grumble a bit when I mention Letterboxing today, as you can see from the pictures, once we get started they still get into the excitement of the hunt!

I encourage you to give it a try.  I know your family will enjoy it as much as we do.  Happy Hunting!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

It's OK to Throw Yourself a P.I.T.Y. Party!

My dad has a favorite saying: "Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan."  It's a motto that the entire Hamer Crew lives by.  But what happens when you plan your work, begin to work your plan, but then life throws you a curve ball and your plan doesn't work??  You do the obvious!  Dramatically throw yourself across your bed while loudly sobbing.  Get the ice cream out of the freezer and eat it directly out of the carton with a serving spoon.  Drive to the mall and buy yourself a new pair of shoes.  Crawl into bed, throw the covers over your head and don't move for at least 12 hours. 

I'm sure that at this point you expect me to say that those are not healthy reactions to planned work gone wrong, but instead I'm going to tell you that that is EXACTLY what you SHOULD do!  I think that P.I.T.Y. Parties are very healthy!


I found that too often when things went wrong in my life I would "stuff" my emotions and put on my happy face.  THAT'S not a healthy choice to make.  Emotions need to be expressed - good and bad.  When we stuff our bad emotions they don't go away.  They simply eat away at us and show up in ways such as a headache, high blood pressure or a bad mood.  Sometimes we may not even realize that our stuffed emotions are causing us harm until, over time, something drastic happens. 

That's why bad emotions need to be expressed, but they should be expressed in HEALTHY ways.  Throwing yourself a P.I.T.Y. party is a very healthy way to express those emotions.  The key to having a healthy P.I.T.Y. party is doing it PURPOSEFULLY.  Doing something on purpose indicates that you have control of the situation.  So if you are going to throw yourself across your bed and sob - go ahead and release all of those yucky emotions, but get up after ten minutes.  If you are going to get the ice cream out of the freezer go ahead and cover those yucky emotions with sugary sweetness, but put a scoop or two in a bowl, don't eat the entire quart.  If you are going to go out and push away those yucky emotions by treating yourself to a new pair of shoes, be wise and don't splurge on a $300 pair (that will only lead to further yuckiness when you see your bank statement!).  If you are going to hide from those yucky emotions for a little bit, go to bed early, but make sure you get up for work the next morning.

Once you indulge those yucky emotions by acknowledging them and releasing them in a purposeful way, you'll be ready to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move on with a new plan!

A goal that I was working toward this year was to run one 5K a month.  Right off the bat I had to miss the January 5K I had signed up for due to my husband's health.  "No problem," I told myself.  "You'll start in February and run eleven 5K's this year."  I ran the Runnin' Outta My Mine 5K in February and was working my plan as I prepared for March's 5K.  Then my blood pressure spun out of control (I'm a stuffer!  Not releasing those yucky emotions caught up with me and showed up through a dangerously high blood pressure!) and I learned I would be sidelined for my March 5K.   I was absolutely devastated.  So I threw myself one heck of a P.I.T.Y party!  I cried.  I talked my mom, sister and best friend's ears off about how horrible this situation was for me.  That night I ate four pieces of pizza instead of my normal two and indulged in a Dairy Queen Blizzard.  Over the weekend I took a nap on Saturday AND Sunday afternoons.  I definitely INDULGED THE YUCKINESS, but I maintained control of myself and PURPOSEFULLY told myself the party would end on Monday morning.

With the help of medication and making some lifestyle changes to start to reduce my stress, my blood pressure is back down and I've put my running shoes back on.  I'm re-focused and am now planning to run ten 5K's this year.  At least that's my plan . . . and believe me, I'm workin' it!

Monday, March 26, 2012

I Love My New Pink Cup!

If you are looking for a way to add some PIZAZZ to your Health Journey this Spring, here is a simple and inexpensive tip: Buy just one new piece of gear or clothing.  The anticipation of wearing or using your new treat will be just the thing to push you off the couch! 

For me, my new piece of gear this Spring is my flowery pink cup that I carry with me just about everywhere.  Not only do I drink more water during the day (Something I've struggled with in the past - I'd get home and couldn't figure out why I was so incredibly parched.  Then I'd realize that I hadn't drank anything all day!), I'm also reminded to make healthy choices simply by carrying the cup.  Take the steps instead of the elevator.  Pass on the vending machine.  Go for a quick walk mid-afternoon.  To me it was worth the $7.50 I paid for the cup at Old Navy!

Me and my pretty pink cup!

 There are numerous other options:  Pick up a new shirt at Old Navy or Wal-Mart - the prices are SO reasonable!  Grab a new towel to take with you to the gym or the pool.  Add colorful shoe laces to your running shoes.  Buy funky patterned head phones.  Browse the thrift store for a new serving bowl for salads or veggies at dinner.  You don't need to spend a lot of money.  The simple fact that it is something new-to-you will add the excitement and motivation that you need to give yourself a little added momentum on your Health Journey this Spring.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chocolate-Banana Sipper

I was searching for a diabetic alternative to a chocolate milkshake for my residents and came across something yummy . . . the Chocolate-Banana Sipper!  I haven't tried it out on my family yet, but it was so good I couldn't wait to share it with you.

2 cups fat-free milk
1 banana, sliced and frozen (I had them in freezer for about 30 minutes)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine all ingredients in a blender.  Cover and blend until smooth and frothy.  Makes 4 (8-ounce) servings.
Calories: 122
Protein (gm): 5
Carbohydrate (gm): 23
Fat, total (gm): 1
Cholestorol (mg): 2
Dietary Fiber, total (gm): 1
Sodium (mg): 65

CONFESSION: My first batch was very good, but my second batch received better reviews.  The secret?  I added one scoop of sugar-free vanilla ice cream. 

As I continue my search for healthy recipes that my family will actually eat, I've had great luck at  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

A Trip to the Doctor Changed My Picture of Success

It started on Monday evening.  I came home from work and my ankles were HUGE!  By Tuesday my legs began to hurt because the skin was so tight and my head was roaring.  On Wednesday my wedding rings, which the week before spun around my finger, wouldn't budge and my chest burned.  Thursday I decided that it was time to call the doctor and make an appointment.  I expected to get in to see him in a week or two.  As I described my symptoms to the receptionist, she suddenly put me hold saying, "Just one second.  I better get the nurse."  The nurse?  Why do we need the nurse?  The nurse came on the line and asked me again what symptoms I was experiencing.  After going through my list she asked, "Where are you right now?  Are you able to come in . . . now?"  Maybe this was a little more serious than I thought.  I texted my boss and headed out the door. 

Tears streamed down my cheeks as I drove to the doctor's office.  I knew what the problem was - my blood pressure.  I had worked so hard to lose weight and improve my overall health so that get my pressure would go down and I could get off of those pills.   

I arrived at the office and they didn't even give me a chance to sit down in the waiting room before I was whisked to the back.  Yep - my pressure was back up.  WAY up. 

Fortunately, I have a FABULOUS doctor (Dr. Gerald Byers of Premiere Medical Associates). 

"Remember Lisa, skinny people have high blood pressure, too" he said to me after checking my pressure himself and seeing my chin drop to my chest when he read the numbers.

"OK, the simple fact that you used the word 'skinny' makes me feel a little bit better, but this still stinks!" I replied. 

Dr. Byers reminded me of what he told me a couple of years ago (This man either has an amazing memory or he takes great notes!).  I had three things working against my blood pressure: family history, stress and my weight.  I had taken care of and continue to take care of the weight part.  I still have no control over my family history.  Now I need to tackle the stresses in my life and how I am handling them.  I also need to go back on medication.  That was not what I wanted to hear.

Dr. Byers asked why I was so against being on the medication.  The first thing that I thought of was that that was what was supposed to happen.  You lose weight and get off your pills.  I thought of all the episodes of Biggest Loser that I had watched where they celebrated people getting off their medications.  The people were so happy and proud.  It was a sign that they were succeeding in meeting their goal of being healthy.

I've had a couple of days to process this.  I realize that I was putting a lot of my focus on those pills as my sole symbol of success.  In my mind, having to go back on them was a sign of failure.  Was that a realistic picture of success and failure?  No.  I can write a long list of ways that I have been successful in improving my health over the past two years - completing multiple 5Ks, fitting into size 14 jeans, JJ and Ellie asking to go to the gym to name a few.  Does it really matter that I have to swallow a pill once a day to keep my blood pressure under control?  No.  Is it a serious matter that without that pill my pressure is so high that I can't even safely exercise?  Yes.  Looking at it that way makes me realize that the benefits of taking my blood pressure medication far outweigh the benefits of being able to say that I take no medications.   

Besides learning the valuable lesson of re-defining what success looks like to me in terms of my Health Journey, I also was reminded the importance of keeping my doctor's appointments for my blood pressure checks.  I have to confess that I had been so excited to get off the medications that I didn't go to my last six month follow-up back in November. 

Another reason I love Dr. Byers - his response to reminding me of how important that is: "If I wasn't so proud of you, I'd be reading you the riot act about not keeping your last appointment.  Instead I will just say I better see you in two weeks for your blood pressure check."

Don't worry Dr. Byers.  I'll be there.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy March Fourth - One of My Favorite Days of the Year!

One of my favorite days is coming up . . . March Fourth!  Our family has been celebrating March Fourth for the past several years. It is the only date on the calendar that is a command . . . March Fourth . . . March Forward . . . Move on. It is a great day to set a personal goal for yourself and begin to teach your kids about goal setting. By this time, if you set a New Year's Resolution there is a good chance it's been long forgotten. This isn't about resolutions. It's about a goal . . . a measurable, achieveable, pleasurable goal.  Or as my friend Emily Jackson shared with me SMART goals: S=small, M=measurable, A=achievable, R=realistic and T=time specific.

Over the years my family has celebrated with games involving Tootsie Rolls (tootsies, toes, feet, marching forward!), yummy dinners with moving-themed food (wagon-wheel pasta, Rocky Road ice cream and "sneaker"-doodle cookies) and talking about goal setting. For the past six years we've traced the kids feet onto paper and then written our individual goals around the drawings. Each year we can review the goals from the year before to see if we accomplished them and see how much our children have grown. We started this when JJ and Ellie were 6 & 3 . . . you're never too young to start learning about the importance of goals! You're never too old either!  I'll be celebrating March Fourth with my senior citizens at work.

The celebration doesn't need to be expensive or extensive . . it can even just be a conversation over dinner! Or it can just be something that you do for you. Take a moment and think about what you want to achieve in life. To be healthier? To write a book? To learn a new language? To go to bed with a dish-free sink every night? Get more sleep? The possibilities are truly endless! What can you do THIS YEAR to MOVE toward reaching that goal?

Happy March Fourth!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Anchovy Experiment

Have you ever tried anchovies?  Before last week I'd only heard of them being served on pizza and had never been brave enough to try them.  It seemed as if they were either something that people loved or hated and I honestly couldn't think of anyone who loved them!

The latest issue of SELF Magazine has an article entitled The Pasta Lover's Diet with six guilt-free recipes.  They all looked yummy, but the one that caught my eye was Rigatoni with Roasted Broccoli and Chickpeas.  I love chickpeas!  The high-fiber beans were highlighted as the star of the recipe.  I decided to give this recipe a try; however, I was completely caught off-guard when I started to add the list of ingredients to my shopping list: 

1 can (2  oz) anchovies packed in oil, chopped, oil reserved

What??  Anchovies???  Ewwwwww!  I debated making the recipe without the anchovies, but after some thought decided to jump in with both feet.  I always tell JJ and Ellie that you can't say you don't like something if you've never tried it.  It was time to Walk the Walk and not just Talk the Talk.  Bring on the anchovies! 


1 can (2 oz) anchovies packed in oil, chopped, oil reserved
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can (15.5 oz) chickpeas (liquid reserved), rinsed and drained
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 lb broccoli, cut into small florets
1/2 lb whole-wheat rigatoni
1/2 cup grated Romano cheese

Heat oven to 450 degrees.  In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, saute anchovies with oil and garlic until anchovies dissolve and garlic browns.  Add chickpea liquid and bouillon to anchovies; cook, stirring, until bouillon dissolves.  Pour anchovy mixture into roasting pan; add chickpeas and broccoli; stir to coat.  Roast 20 minutes.  Cook rigatoni as directed on package until al dente.  Drain rigatoni, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid.  Add pasta to chickpea-broccoli mixture; roast until pasta is completely cooked, adding reserved liquid a little at a time and stirring to reach desired consistency, 5 to 10 minutes.  Remove from oven; let sit 5 minutes; serve topped with Romano.
Serves 4.  450 calories, 7 g fat (2g saturated), 77 g carbs, 13 g fiber, 25 g protein

This pasta dish is SOOOO good!  The recipe was fairly simple to make.  I ended up putting the veggies in a roasting dish that wasn't big enough to hold the pasta, too.  Instead of dirtying another dish, I added the veggies to the pasta on the stove and completed cooking it there rather than putting it in the oven.  As it states in the directions, the anchovies dissolve as you cook them so it didn't really even feel like I was eating them!  My family wouldn't have known either except for the smell that filled the kitchen (though my children are in that hormonal dramatic stage so their reaction was a tad exaggerated!).

Not interested in giving the anchovies a try?  No problem!  Ironically, my sister found this recipe at the same time and decided to try it, too.  We were talking about these fabulous new recipes we had tried and discovered that we both tried the same one.  Guess what?  She left out the anchovies!  Even without them, she enjoyed the dish as much as I did. 

Anchovies or not, this is a healthy yummy pasta recipe.  If you've never made anything with anchovies, I encourage you to experiment and give them a try!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

40 Days . . . Make That 38 Days . . . OK - I'm Shooting for 36!

Sometimes we have great ideas, great intentions of starting something, or great hopes of making a change, but then everyday life gets in the way.  We unexpectedly have to work late.  One of our children gets sick.  The pile of homework brought home resembles Mt. Everest.  Whatever "it" is, time runs out and our plans are shoved aside.  The old me would have thrown my hands up and with a huff of frustration saying, "There goes those plans out the window!  Just FORGET it!"  The new me looks at those situations and says, "OK, it didn't work out today.  What does tomorrow look like?"  Sometimes I have to look at tomorrow and the next tomorrow and the NEXT tomorrow, but the RIGHT tomorrow often comes and when  the time is right I'm ready to jump in.  That's exactly what has happened with my plans for Lent this year.

Though I have never participated in the practice of giving something up for Lent, I fell in love with an idea that I read about in Guidepost Magazine ( - 40 Days of Kindness.  Lent is about sacrifice.  Sacrifice doesn't always mean denying ourselves of something.  Sacrifice can be taking something that we have and giving it away - whether it's our time, our smile, our things . . . you get the idea.  Plus, there are MULTIPLE health benefits to doing good deeds such as relieving stress, lowering blood pressure, improving school performance, reducing chronic pain and more!  The website has a ton of information and a TON of ideas about good deed doing.  40 Days of Good Deeds - This seemed like the PERFECT project for The Jenkins Family! 

The night before the first day of Lent seemed like the perfect time for me to introduce this new project.  I selected one of my journals from my collection of blank journals (It's a bad habit - I can't pass a beautiful or colorful or sweet leather-smelling journal without buying it!  I already have enough to capture a lifetime of words and ideas, but I just can't stop myself from buying more!) for us to record our Good Deeds every evening.  I couldn't wait to see what ideas my family came up with of ways to give to others!  Tuesday arrived - I and was ready to share the idea with my family over dinner and kick-start our Good Deed Adventure on the first day of Lent. 

That's when the obstacles starting rolling my way.  Stomach Flu.  Piano lessons running late.  A Work day that would not end.  I'm picturing the final obstacle course on the TV show Wipeout when contestants are climbing up the ramp and large logs start rolling down toward them.  They either jump over them or get knocked into the freezing water below.  Needless to say, it's Saturday morning and the fourth day of Lent.  I've been knocked off course the last four nights, but I keep climbing up the ladder and facing the next log rolling my way.  I'm convinced that today is the day when I will get to share my idea with my family and we can kick-off our 40 . . . 36 Days of Good Deeds!   

There are two things that I hope you take away from reading about this experience of mine:

1) If you have an idea, a hope, a dream, an inspiration and an obstacle throws you off course, DON"T GIVE UP!  Try again tomorrow.  And if need be - the next tomorrow or the next tomorrow!  Trust me, the right tomorrow will come.  Two quotes that I love about perseverance:
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.  - Thomas Edison
When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.”- Author Unknown
2) If you are feeling stressed out, over-whelmed or know that you need to do something to kick-start your Health Journey, I invite you to join me on this 36 Days of Good Deeds Adventure.  I obviously don't know the outcome, but I have a feeling that it's going to be AMAZING!  If 36 seems like too much, start with seven or even one!  I'll keep you posted on our Adventure.  Let me know if you start your own.

Happy Good Deed Doing!

Monday, February 20, 2012

My Favorite Heart Healthy Breakfast

Last week one of my residents (I work in a Senior Citizen Apartment building.) brought me the latest issue of Taste of Home Magazine.  He recently had a heart attack and purchased the magazine after seeing "Eat Your Heart Healthy" printed across the top.  As we reviewed the heart healthy recipes together one of them caught my eye - Brown Sugar & Banana Oatmeal.  One word . . . YUM!!!  I made it for my dinner that night and it's so simple to make that I've eaten it for breakfast every day since.  If you are a fan of oatmeal, you have to try this!

Brown Sugar & Banana Oatmeal
1 cup fat-free milk
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1 tsp brown sugar
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 large ripe banana, sliced

Combine the milk and oatmeal.  Microwave for 2-1/2 minutes.  Stir in the brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and banana. 
215 calories, 2g fat, 3mg cholesterol, 71 mg sodium, 42g carbohydrate, 4g fiber, 10g protein

February is American Heart Month.  Heart disease is the #1 killer among women.  Prior to starting my Fitness Journey I was living with many of the risk factors associated with heart disease - high blood pressure, overweight, being physically inactive, and family history.  One in four women will die from heart disease - I didn't want that to be me.  I don't want that to be you.  Check out for more information about heart disease and what you can do to prevent it.  And while you read it - enjoy a bowl of heart healthy oatmeal!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Dessert with Breakfast???

My drive into work today started out as a torturous one!  The residents of the apartment building where I am a social worker had asked me to pick up donuts to go with our morning coffee.  So as I sat in Pittsburgh's nasty Parkway East traffic, I was stuck in a car filled with the amazing aroma of fresh baked donuts.  The one cup of bran flakes with skim milk I had had for breakfast was not helping me fight the desire to pull over, throw the lid off the top box and just devour those donuts.

Then the DJ shared a health tip that he had recently heard - Individuals trying to lose weight who had dessert with their breakfast lost more weight than those who did not.  WHAT?!?  The rationale actually did make sense to me.  1) Eating the dessert in the morning gave you the entire day to burn off the extra calories vs. eating dessert after dinner.  2) Eating dessert in the morning helped to satisfy one's sweet tooth rather than fighting the sweet tooth all day before eventually giving in to the craving and eating way more sweets than you should. 

I decided to put this tip to the test (after all - as my fellow Pittsburghers would all agree - Bubba from the 100.7FM morning show is a very reliable source!).  Earlier today I sat down with my residents and slowly ate a fluffy vanilla cake donut covered with chocolate frosting and pink sprinkles.  MMmmmmm . . . It was SO good!  I purposely savored every single bite.

Here we are several hours later after a day that included the Food Bank bringing several full-size sheet cakes from Sam Club in their monthly delivery, multiple trips past the vending machine and an extremely late lunch.  I truly have not been tempted once.  When I see the cakes or the vending machines I automatically think back to the donut I enjoyed earlier rather than fighting with myself about sneaking a bite or getting a snack.  On a day that would normally be filled with cravings, I haven't had a single one! 

I'll report back to let you know how the rest of my day goes, but so far so good!  I give this health tip a thumbs up!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Master of Mom Guilt

When I first started adding exercise to my daily routine, I was worried about taking time away from my family.  I had to work, make dinner, help the kids with their homework, spend time with my kids, spend time with my husband, clean, do laundry, pack lunches, pay the bills, grocery shop . . . and exercise???  How was that going to work?  I had so little time with my family as it was that I couldn't imaging squeezing in one more thing.  The simple thought of it sent waves of guilt running through me.  My solution was to add exercise in at the very end of my day. 

For Christmas my parents gave me a very attractive bright orange reflective vest with even brighter yellow stripes and I was good to go.  I would get everything done that needed to be done that day and hit the street around 11PM for my daily run.  Fortunately for me I found that exercising that late at night didn't hinder me from falling fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.  This arrangement was perfect - no one had any idea that I was even gone since they were all sound asleep!  Guilt-free running!

Once I began to run 5k's, I realized that I had another perfect arrangement.  More often than not, I'd get up, go run the 5k and be home before my family was even awake (Yes, I am blessed with kids who have always been excellent sleepers!).  Once again - guilt free mom-time.  Love it!

Then one day it dawned on me - my kids had absolutely NO idea how hard I was working and how much I had achieved.  They had no idea because they were sleeping through my entire journey!  One of my reasons for starting this journey was to be an example to JJ and Ellie.  I wanted them to see how when you set a goal and work hard you can do it!  I wanted them to see how exercising on a regular basis impacts your body and your mind.  I wanted them to see how exercising is fun.  Instead, they could see that I was losing weight and that I was less stressed out and grouchy (at times!), but they had no way of answering the questions of how or why. 

I started to run earlier in the evening while the kids were doing their homework or taking showers.  I started to wake them up on Saturday mornings to go with me to some of the 5k's.  I started to take a Zumba class one or two nights a week. 

Did my family automatically embrace my new love of exercise?  No.  You would not believe the whining and complaining and carrying on that occurred when I left the house.  Man - did that Mom Guilt kick-in strong!  After all, I am the Master of Mom Guilt.  And I learned from a pro - right Mom??  (Ha!Ha!)  How could I take this precious time away from my family to be so selfish and do something for me?  That just wasn't right.  So, I started to skip Zumba class and I started to not run as often and I . . . started to feel lousy and lethargic again.  Mom Guilt was paralyzing me!  My family was definitely not getting the message now!

Three things happened to help me conquer Mom Guilt when it came to my exercising:

1) I had to believe that I was a good example for my family.  I was no longer a Chubby Mama dragging herself around the block every night.  I was a success story!  I had tackled health and wellness and I was winning! My family could look at me and visibly see the physical difference in me.  I started to believe that about myself by making sure that my self-talk was positive (self-talk is a very powerful thing!) and embracing the compliments that my family and others gave me. 

2) I had to realize that by taking an hour out of my day to exercise, I was not taking away an hour from my family, but rather giving them an important gift that would last a lifetime!  I was giving my family the gift of my health - a healthy mom will be around a lot longer to torture her family than an unhealthy one!  I was giving my family the gift of their own health!  I was giving my family the gift of a more pleasant mom who had pounded a lot of her stress out on the street!  Who doesn't like to receive a gift? 

3) I beagn to include my family in my exercise.    I didn't have to run every day.  Exercise could be going outside and playing basketball with JJ.  Exercise could be going for a family walk in the woods.  I took JJ and Ellie to a Zumba class so that they could see what I was doing when I went to class.  It's nearly impossible to feel guilty when your family is sweating right next to you!  And I think that my kids are actually starting to "get it!" -  they ask to go to the gym now.  How cool is that?!?

I'm not perfect - Mom Guilt still rears her ugly head occasionally.  My family still complains at times when I head out the door or drag them with me to an early morning event (though the promise of pancakes at Kings' has helped in this situation).  But Mom Guilt no longer paralyzes me and stops me from exercising.  Mom Guilt is no longer the master of me!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Story Part Three - 5 Lessons Learned

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Marie Robinson

Soon after I received the e-newsletter from Prevention Magazine about training for a 5K, I decided that this would be the path I would travel to create a new end to My Story.  I didn't have a lot of money, but all I needed was a pair of running shoes and a watch with a timer on it.  That was financially manageable.  I didn't have a lot of time, but I was able to run when I could fit it in, which more often than not was late at night.  That fit into my life without causing too much extra stress.  It had been a long time since I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried something new.  This seemed like a safe choice.  I could do this! 

These are the lessons I learned during the three months I spent training for my first 5k.  (In case you are interested, here is the link to the 5k training program I followed:

Lesson #1 - Write your goal down and post it where you will see it on a regular basis.

Once I made the decision that I would train for a 5K, I had to find one.  I picked my starting date as January 2nd and counted fifteen weeks on the calendar which put me in mid-April.  There are numerous websites that list 5K's and other running events.  I went to and and found the Genesis Riverside Run on Saturday, April 10th, 2010.  I wrote down my goal and posted it in multiple places - inside the cereal cupboard, inside the front cover of my planner, by my desk and tucked inside the visor of my car.  I will complete a 5k on Saturday, April 10th. 

My son, JJ, cheering me on as I head out for my first training run.
I laugh now at how bundled up I got - four layers!
January 2010

Lesson #2 - Share your goal with others.

I probably took this one to the extreme.  I told EVERYONE that I came in contact with that I was planning to participate in this 5k.  As a lifelong people pleaser, my thinking was that there was no way I would humiliate myself by backing out and not completing this challenge.  People I knew did me a HUGE favor by remembering my goal and asking me about it often through those three months.  They truly pushed me to work harder and keep going.  I was shocked with how many people encouraged me at work or on facebook or through e-mail the week before my big day. 

Lesson #3 - Make your exercise schedule work for you.

At one point in my training I became very frustrated because I was always too busy and tired on Tuesdays and kept skipping the workout.  I was ready to give up.  Talking to my mom about it, she asked me "Who is telling you that you have to run on Tuesdays?"  That question made me stop and think.  "The schedule on the paper," I quietly answered.  "The paper?  Do they have a day to rest on the paper?" she asked.  "Yes, on Sundays." I replied.  "Why don't you rest on Tuesdays and run on Sundays?  Don't give up.  Just make a simple change to make the schedule work for you."  I always knew my mom was a wise woman!  Making that switch was a huge mental turning point for me.  I had been trying to fit myself into the training schedule, when what I really needed to do was fit the training schedule into my life.  It worked - I didn't quit!

Lesson #4 - There is truth to the statement that your body with become addicted to exercise.

During one of my annual doctor visits my doctor started in on her annual "You Should" lecture.  I remember her saying that if you push through the initial hurdle of exercising on a regular basis and wanting to quit, your body will become addicted to exercise.  Your body will CRAVE exercise.  Seriously?!?  Like I believed that one!  Then one night about half-way through the training program, I decided that I was too tired to run and I crawled into bed.  I couldn't relax.  I couldn't fall asleep.  My brain was going over my day trying to figure out what was wrong.  I wasn't necessarily stressed out about anything specific.  I hadn't had any caffeine late in the afternoon.  I definitely hadn't had time for a nap.  Why couldn't I fall asleep?  Then it dawned on me.  I got out of bed, put on my running clothes, ran a quick mile, came home, hopped in the shower, crawled back in bed and fell fast asleep.  I was addicted!  My body couldn't relax and rest until I had exercised.  I was so excited to go back to the doctor and tell her that she had been right!

Lesson #5 - It is important to have someone to hold you accountable.

I knew that my brother-in-law, Chris Tomley, had run 5k's in the past.  I asked him if he would run my first 5k with me.  This was one of the best decisions I ever made!  On the day of the 5k I was SOOOO nervous!  We gathered with the other runners at the starting line - my heart was racing.  I looked around and saw all of these thin people in their spandex running pants and fancy running watches.  There I stood in my capri sweatpants and ball cap.  I definitely did not look like I belonged with this crowd.  The starting gun sounded and Chris and I took off.  Everyone seemed to be bumping into me as they tried to pass me.  After about 100 yards, I came to a complete stop and burst into tears.  I was saying to Chris, "This was a HUGE mistake.  I can't do this.  I'm not ready.  Let's just go."  I am so thankful for what Chris did next.  He took me by the arm and pulled me to the side of the path.  "We're just going to stand here and let everyone pass us.  Then we are going to get back on the course and we are going to run and walk and run and walk until we reach the finish line."  I got myself together and when the last of the crowd had run by, Chris and I started to run.  We did just as he said - we ran and walked and ran and walked until we crossed the finish line.  Throughout the course Chris encouraged me and joked with me (My favorite was when a young boy passed us running the other way toward the finish line.  Chris said, "Just ignore the fact that the little 7-year-old is running faster than you."  Ha!Ha!).  If Chris had not been there with me, I would have given up!  I needed him there to push and encourage me.

My Coach, Chris Tomley, and I at the Starting Line of my first 5k.
April 10, 2010

April 10, 2010 was a HUGE day for me.  My goal was to finish in under 45 minutes.  Chris and I crossed the Finish Line in 43:16.  The feelings that I had when I crossed that Finish Line are nearly indescribable - extreme joy and pride are what comes to mind.  I was SO happy!  I had set a goal for myself.  I had stepped out of my comfort zone trying something that I had never done before.  I had been ready to give-up and quit on a couple occasions throughout the three months of training and on the course, but I hadn't . . . I kept going. 

These five lessons that I learned spurred me on to continue this journey of health and wellness.  I had been at a point in life where I didn't like where I was, something needed to change.  I needed to start working toward a "new ending."  This was my first step in that new direction and it was AMAZING!

Are you where I was?  Are you in need of a new direction toward a new end?  I invite you to hop on the path of health and wellness that I'm on . . . there's plenty of room!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My Story Part Two

Where were we?  Living life I had dreamed of . . . rug pulled out from under me . . . weight sky high . . . stress sky high . . . walked out the front door.

I didn't have a plan when I left my house.  I just started walking and then began sprinting down my street.  I ran as hard and fast and far as I could.  Soon my lungs were burning and I thought my heart was going to explode.  I stopped right in the middle of the street bent over with my hands on my knees sucking in the Fall air.  I picture it now like a scene from a movie - deserted street, a black sky filled with hundreds of stars, I stand alone illuminated by a single street lamp (I know - way too dramatic!  But this is my story!).  I looked around and realized that I made it about two houses down from mine, which in my Pittsburgh neighborhood is not that far.  Not ready to go back inside, I stood up and continued to walk around the block.  With every heavy step I stomped out my stress: the financial stress, the stress caused by lack of time and sleep, the stress of being a caregiving spouse, the stress of being a working mom, the stress of lost dreams and unmet expectations. 

When I had circled back to my house I paused in my driveway and realized that I felt better.  My thoughts had cleared.  My lungs felt crisp from the cool air.  My shoulders didn't feel as tight.   

I headed out for a walk again the next night and the next and the next.  As I walked I thought about all of the "you should" statements that people had made.  I thought about the health classes that I taught my senior citizens at LIFE Pittsburgh and our talks about not letting life pass you by, living on purpose and doing that by setting goals and constantly learning.  I found that after a few days I was feeling better physically and mentally.  Having a little bit of time alone at the end of the day was a real treat.  These walks were making a difference in my life.  Maybe there was something to the idea that exercise helps to relieves stress!

A few days after I started taking my late night walks I received an e-mail at work - Prevention Magazine's e-newsletter.  I didn't recall signing up for it and it wasn't forwarded from anyone.  How did it end up in my in-box? 

The lead article was "Sofa to 5K Training Tips."  I was instantly reminded of my high school classmate Jodi Barber.  She had begun running within that past year and was now running in 5k's all over New England.  Jodi looked fantastic and her pictures on facebook showed her having an amazing time at all of these events.  I began to think that it had been a long time since I had stepped out of my comfort zone and set a goal for myself.  Time was flying by and I was missing everything.  There was no excitement, no adventure - just BLAH!  My stomach began to stir with that feeling of excitement that you get when you are heading up the hill of a roller coaster - you know that you are in for an exciting ride, but have a twinge of fear mixed in there, too.

I made a decision.  I was going to run a 5K.  Who cares that I hadn't run since running the mile in my high school gym class (and even then I don't think I ran - just kind of stumbled along in the back of the class complaining the whole time!).  Who cares that I couldn't think of the last time I had done any type of physical exercise that caused me to break a sweat.  I was going to do this.

Remember that quote that I have hanging in my office - "No one can go back and make a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new end."  I was going to make a new end for myself . . . and I was going to do it wearing a pair of running shoes!

I'll share that part my story with you in My Story Part Three.

By the way - I'm still not sure how I got that e-mail.  I like to think that God sent it to me to push me into motion.  Thanks God!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

My Story Part One

I think that it is important to take a moment and share my story with you.   How else can you trust the ideas and suggestions that I share with you?!

My life had been going pretty much as I had planned: college followed by graduate school followed by getting married followed by two kids.  I was a stay-at-home mom, had been asked to serve on my children's preschool board of directors (The first step in becoming the Super Mom PTA President I had always envisioned myself being!), had just been elected to serve on our church denomination's district women's committee and was having a blast serving side-by-side with my husband in youth ministry.  Then the rug was pulled out from under us.

My husband began experiencing multiple chronic health problems which eventually led to his going on disability and my needing to return to work full-time to support our family.  At that point my emotional eating tendencies kicked into high gear and I began packing on the pounds.  After four stress-filled years, my weight hit 242 pounds (I thought for a long time if I should include that number, but it was what it was and it is no longer!). 

That's when all of the "you should" comments started.  "Lisa, you should really eat better."  "Lisa, you don't look too good.  You should get more sleep."  "Lisa, you should exercise.  You'll feel so much better."  "Lisa, you should carve out some time for yourself."  You should!  You should!  You should!  Blah Blah Blah!  Those are two words that I can't stand to hear. 

In September of 2009 I went for my annual physical.  My weight was up again.  My blood pressure was up again even on medication.  My cholestoral was up and my doctor was seriously considering medication.  YIKES!  He launched into one of his "You should" lectures.  He told me, "You have three factors that are contributing to your health problems.  1) Stress.  You have a chronically ill husband, two young children and you work full time.  That's not changing anytime soon.  2) Family History.  You can't change that either.  3) Your weight.  You CAN control that, but you have to make the choice to do something about it."  I tucked his comments in the back of my brain and went on with my life.

Then, one night in November of that year I was loading the dishwasher.  The kids were in bed and Jamison was watching TV.  I can't remember exactly what had happened that evening, but I remember feeling extremely stressed and angry at my situation.  At that moment I knew I had to get out of that house.  I didn't put on a coat.  I didn't tell Jamison what I was doing.  I simply walked out the front door . . . .

This sounds like a good place to pause for now. 

One thing I want to point out is that everyone has different stressors in their lives.  I can look to my left and find someone who's life appears much easier than mine.  I can look to my right and find someone who's life appears much more difficult than mine.  For you, my story would fit into one of those two categories.  You are either letting out a huge sigh of relief becuase your life doesn't seem too bad anymore.  Or, you are rolling your eyes because you know that I have absolutely no idea what stress is when compared to your life.  What I've learned as I've contemplated my story is that your stressors are just as important and real to you as my stressors are to me no matter where they fall on my stress scale.  This has helped me to stop comparing myself to others and worrying about what others are thinking.  As a result, I find that I am able to truly focus on ME and MY health. 

I leave you with a quote that I have hanging in my office:
"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending." Marie Robinson

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Give your Health Journey a Kick-Start!

Before I started exercising on a regular basis, the thought of exercising never even crossed my mind.  I eventually realized that I had to throw the "HAVE TO" out the window and find my "WANT TO."  The problem was that I didn't know HOW to do that.

What gave my journey toward health and wellness a kick-start two years ago was trying something new.  I would have NEVER imagined that I would enjoy running (Trust me - I remember with great agony running the mile around the Franklin Regional High School Complex for the President's Challenge 20 years ago!).  To train for and then complete a 5K was completely stepping out of my comfort zone.  In the process of training, I learned something about myself: life had just been passing me by - wake up, pack lunches, go to work, make dinner, drive kids around, go to bed, repeat.  Trying something new added an element of excitement that I was missing.  I had something to look forward to everyday.  I had a new goal that I WANTED to prove I could accomplish, even if only to myself.  Challenging myself gave me an enthusiasm for exercising that hadn't been there before.

On Saturday, I was talking with a woman in her 60's.  She recently took up Synchronized Swimming.  Synchronized Swimming!!!  At 60!  Isn't that so cool?  She has a private coach.  Her group is training for a performance.  Seriously??  Isn't that amazing!  As she talked about swimming her face lit up and I could feel the enthusiasm bursting from her.  This woman told me that she never imagined herself swimming, but when she moved into a new apartment community there was a pool so she decided to try it.  That led to an invitation to join the Synchronized Swimming group.  Had she not stepped out of her comfort zone and jumped in that pool, she would not be having the amazing experiences that she is having now.

Is there something new that you've always wanted to try?  Kick boxing?  Skating?  Karate?  Rock Climbing?  Kayaking?  Zumba?  The list of possibilities goes on and on.  What's holding you back?  Go for it!  Who knows what could happen!  I'll share with you tomorrow how I decided on running.

For the record - I had mentioned in a previous post that I would set my 2012 health and fitness goals by 1/6/12.  They were ready on 1/6, but my house was invaded by 12 year-old boys so I couldn't get to the computer.  So, I'm a few days late, but here they are . . . In 2012 I will
1) Participate in one running event each month including 2 5-mile and 2 10K events;
2) Take 1 minute off of my 5K time;
3) Take at least 1 Zumba Class a week;
4) Try a Spinning Class; and
5) Lose 15 more pounds.

Have you set your health and fitness goals for 2012?  It's not too late!  I hope your goals include trying something new.  Trust me, it will give you the kick-start that you need.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Re-Define Exercise

As I SAT on my bed watching tonight's episode of Biggest Loser I was challenged to think of the excuses I had used to not work out today. Pittsburgh traffic combined with a couple of snow flakes added over an hour to my commute home so I missed Zumba.  After picking JJ up from basketball practice I was so cold when I walked in the door that I couldn't imagine going back out to head to the Y.  The new season of my favorite show was starting tonight and even though I DVR'd it, I didn't want to be up too late.  Those sound like great excuses.

Then I was reminded of something I learned early on in  my journey of improved health - Exercise is simply increased movement.  By changing my definition of exercise from having to do heart pounding, sweat dripping, breath stealing aerobics for an hour to simply increasing my movement, the guilt that used to come with not "exercising" was gone.  Don't get me wrong - it's important and necessary to do the heart pounding, sweat dripping, breath stealing aerobic exercise, but there is also benefit to moving more than before. 

Since making that realization two years ago, I've been having a lot of fun discovering different ways to add movement to my day.  And it is SO easy!!  I park far away from the entrance to the grocery store.  I take the steps instead of the elevator.  I dance around while doing the dishes.  I raise my toes while sitting in meetings.  I use the copier at the far end of the office.  I walk around the school or track while my kids are at sports' practices.  Even when time is tight, I can find a way to add more movement to my day.

So tonight, I got up off the bed, grabbed my exercise band and did arm exercises while Bob screamed at his team on the treadmills.  I marched in place while Dulvett challenged his team to step it up.  Did I break a sweat?  No.  Did I burn calories?  Yes.  Do I feel guilty for not running today?  No.  Did I exercise today?  YES!  

Think about that - how can you increase your movement today?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Let's do this!

Yeah!  My first Blog post!  I am SO excited.  The title of my Blog comes from the notes that I leave my family on weekend mornings to let them know why I'm not home if they wake up.  I'll grab a piece of scrap paper and scribble "went running" before heading out the door for an early morning run. 

Exactly two years ago I started my journey to change my lifestyle and get healthy.  It's a journey that I continue on today and one that I know will be one that lasts a lifetime (I'll share what led to the start of that journey in a later post.)  As a working mom with two young children and a husband with a chronic health condition, I was short on time and money.  As a result I have had to find creative ways to incorporate healthy choices into my daily life.  Sound stressful?  Absolutely not!  It's been the exact opposite - I'm having a blast!

I'm excited to start recording my ideas, my successes, my flops and my experiences in order to share them with others.  My hope is that others will share their lives with me.  Learning from others is the best way!

So here is one of the first ideas that started me on my journey:  Start with a small goal.  It's the beginning of a new year and many people make resolutions.  However, people often set themselves up for failure by setting a goal that is WAY to BIG.  For example - "I'm going to lose 50 pounds this year."  While that is a goal that is achievable, it is going to take a long time to get there.  It's easy to get frustrated or lose focus.  I'd start much smaller than that - "I'm going to lose 5 pounds before the end of this month."  When I achieve that goal I can celebrate and feel really good about what I've accomplished.  Then I do it again.  I like the quote by Louis Sachar - "It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward."

My first goal for this year is this - I will set my health goals for 2012 by Friday, January 6th.  (Ha!Ha!  Remember that I mentioned being a working mom with two kids and a husband?)  That seems achievable to me!