Getting Back on Track Before Going Back to the Gym

pexels-photo-374101.jpegLast year was a tough year for me personally, and unfortunately, I went off track a bit when it came to exercising. I really didn’t take care of myself. While I hadn’t packed on too many pounds, I just didn’t feel right. I felt achy and lethargic, and somehow my muscles disappeared! It was time to buckle down.

Since I hadn’t been to the gym in a while, I didn’t want to overdo it by going into overdrive the first day back—something I’ve been known to do, many a time. Instead, I started with at-home exercises to build up my stamina, so I wouldn’t kill myself when I actually did haul my butt back to the gym.

Every morning, for a few weeks, I’d do at least 15-20 minutes of yoga, along with an intense 5- to 10-minute abs workout (planks, opposite arm/leg raise, squats, plank with leg lift, exercise ball, etc.). I figured if I could get up to a half-hour-plus workout routine in the mornings without gasping for breath, then I’d be “good enough” shape to return to the gym.

The best part about doing these at-home exercise—except for no-equipment needed—is that I could actually see a difference! That, coupled with a few dietary changes, I noticed my metabolism was up, I lost the extra few pounds, my muscles were toned and firm again, and, best of all, I’d lost about an inch around my waist. Woohoo!

If you’re struggling to get back on track like I was, go easy on yourself. Don’t guilt yourself into going to the gym every day, when we all know that life gets in the way.

Take it one day at a time, like I did, and you’ll see the changes soon enough.

Hearty Split Pea Soup

IMG_6766In the winter, I love making a variety of soups. Not only are they filling, they are loaded with vitamins and nutrients that your body needs to get you through the cold winter.

Over the years, I’ve experimented with different ingredients in my soups, along with the different types of split peas. I used to love green split pea soup, but over the last several years, my palate has changed; and now, my favorite is yellow split pea. It tastes a lot lighter is more flavorful than the green.

Split peas have about 10 grams of protein and fiber per serving. Yellow split peas are an excellent source of B vitamins, rich in the amino acid tryptophan, and contain potassium. So, if you’re looking for a heart-healthy soup, try yellow split pea! It pairs perfectly with a glass of wine.

Here’s how I make mine:

Ingredients:

8 cups of vegetable broth or water (I use organic vegetable broth, no salt)

1 package of yellow split peas (sorted and rinsed)

2 cups green cabbage, diced

2 cups carrots, sliced

1 medium onion, diced

1 tbs olive or canola oil

1 ½ tsp sea salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp hot pepper (optional)

Directions:

Heat oil. Add diced onions and sauté until golden (usually 5-10 mins).

Add carrots and cabbage, stir, cook for 1-2 minutes to soften; then add peas and vegetable broth, stir thoroughly. Cover pot. Bring to a boil. Cook for one hour on low.

Add sea salt, ground black pepper and hot pepper (optional). Cook an additional one hour on low.

Be sure to mix every 20-30 minutes. The peas can thicken quickly, and you don’t want a burned layer on the bottom of the pot.

If you make the soup, be sure to let me know how you like it.

Enjoy!

Healthy Treats for Your Dog

When Emma first came into the family, she was a tiny four-pound bundle of white fluff. I wanted to be a good pet-parent and feed her a healthy diet, so she would live longer. But I didn’t want this to be limited to just her meals; I wanted her to have healthy snacks, as well.

Considering I’m a healthy eater, I’ve made sure my dog is, too. Emma does not get any “junk food,” table scraps (that weren’t prepared with her in mind – no salt, additives, etc.) or dairy (dairy is actually not good for some dogs). She eats a healthy diet of grain-free kibble with a dollop of grain-free soft food. And, if she gets any extra treats, I make sure to reduce her meals slightly so that she maintains her weight and doesn’t gain. (The more overweight your dog is, the shorter their lifespan.)

While she does enjoy her “people food” treats, she does get her usual chewy provided by the vet to help keep tartar at bay and her teeth strong.

Here are some of Emma’s favorite goodies, which happen to be super healthy—and which you can share with your fur baby, too.

Fruit: Since Emma has nixed bananas from her diet, she does love a good apple. Whenever I have one as a snack, I cut up a slice for her so we can enjoy it together. Apples have antioxidants and are loaded with vitamin C. In the summer, we switch to watermelon (seedless, of course), which has plenty of lycopene, vitamins A, B-6 and C.

Veggies: I’m a veggie lover (as I don’t eat meat), and so, I share my love of veggies with Emma. She loves roasted broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and Brussels sprouts, which have plenty of vitamins A, B1, B6 and K, folate, fiber and potassium. Sweet potatoes are the bomb! They’re a good source of vitamins A, B-6, C and E, not to mention calcium and iron.

Peanut Butter: I’ve never met a dog who doesn’t love peanut butter. Peanut butter is a good source of protein and has vitamins B and E and niacin. I buy the no-sugar, no-salt added, all natural kind. This is the best for dogs. And, a little goes a long way. A small dollop will keep Emma licking her chops for ages.

Salmon: This is one of the best things you can feed your dog as it is full of Omega-3 fatty acids. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and is good to keep the joints supple. When Emma goes to agility class, dried salmon treats are her reward. So even if she doesn’t get grilled salmon (yes, I make her grilled salmon on Sundays), she still gets the benefits from the treats.

What does your dog like to eat?

White Rabbits—Carrying on the Tradition

pexels-photo-786273.jpegEver since I can remember, on the first of every month my mom would always say, “White rabbits, Heather!” And I’d answer back, “White rabbits, Mommy!” It was a fun game of verbal tag just between me and my mom. Sometimes, I would manage to say it before her and feel like I won the game!

I asked my mom how the tradition began. She told me, when she was a child in Scotland, it was her cousin who said, “white rabbits” every month. It wasn’t until I got a wee bit older did I ask her what it actually meant. Why did we go around saying that on the first of every month? There had to be something behind the silly expression, right? There was, but she said it had something to do with superstition and didn’t bother to elaborate. The Scots are known for being superstitious, but my mom never was. So, I decided to find out on my own and ask someone else in the family.

Turns out, the saying actually dates back centuries in Britain. People would say, “white rabbits” upon awaking on the first of the month to ensure good luck for the entire month. Works for me! Considering the way things have been going the last 15 months, I certainly could use all the good luck I can get these days.

Growing up, hearing “white rabbits,” always made me smile. It was something fun I shared with my mom. And I looked forward to the first of every month to see who would be the first to say it.

Even now, on every the first of every month, I’m reminded of our tradition. And while my mom is no longer here (she passed away a year ago), I still find myself saying, “White rabbits, Mom.” If only Emma could speak instead of bark, I’d have her carry on the tradition, too.

White rabbits!

Do you have a fun family tradition or childhood memory that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about it!

Man’s Best Friend is Good for the Soul—and the Body!

The day that I brought Emma home from the breeder changed my life. She was a tiny little ball of white fluff that loved to nuzzle my neck and get lots of cuddles, which she still loves to do—along with getting plenty of belly rubs.

At that time, I was going through a very bad period of depression, and once she joined the household, life became a bit more gratifying with her at my side. After all, I had a puppy to walk (and boy, does she love to walk!), to feed and to tend to. There was hardly time to succumb to depression. For those of you who have/had puppies, you know that for the first 6-8 months, you’re on the go. Nonstop.

Emma has been by my side for many years, and has helped me navigate through depression, anxiety and grief, while keeping me active and motivated.

Not surprising, there are a majority of studies that show the physical, emotional and social benefits of having a canine companion. Here are just a few:

Reduce heart disease. A recent study shows that having a canine companion is associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease (lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels).

Lower stress. Having a fur baby can help lower anxiety and blood pressure, reducing the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Think about it. You’re sitting on the couch, giving belly rubs to a cute little fur ball who wants nothing more to snuggle and be pet. It turns us to mush, right?

Weight loss. If you have a dog, you better love to walk—and walk a lot. Ever since I brought Emma home, she’s been a walker. I know we were meant for each other because, I too, love to walk and hike and be outdoors. Our daily routine consists of at least 3 miles—sometimes more in cooler weather, and less in the summer. But we make up for it with her agility classes, which usually give me a run for my money, too!

Social life. Before I brought Emma home, I didn’t know all of my neighbors that well. But once Emma was on the scene, all that changed. Neighbors with dogs would come around and we would share stories about our fur babies’ latest antics. Not only that, but whenever I’m out and about with Emma, I’m guaranteed to be stopped by someone who loves dogs. It’s easy to strike up a conversation when you’re accompanied by a great conversation starter. (Read: single peeps, having a dog is great for getting dates!)

If you’re thinking about getting a dog, stop thinking about it and do it! You won’t regret it. And if you are already a pet-parent like me, then you know what a bundle of joy these four-legged fur babies can be.

Five Tips for Traveling With Your Dog

I love to travel. Exploring new hiking trails or different cities can be exciting. But I have a small dog and I don’t like leaving her behind. Thankfully, after years of hating the car, she has grown to like traveling.

The first time I took Emma on a plane was last summer when we visited my dad in Florida. Needless to say, I was a nervous wreck. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t help worrying about: What if she pooped on the plane? What if she had to pee? Would she howl or whine if the flight was delayed? What if something unexpected happened to me, what would happen to her? All that and a million other things crossed my mind.

Since then, though, we’ve been on a plane several times. Each time had its own minor worries (mainly because I’m a worrier), but it all went well in the end…even the one time when she pooped inside the terminal at JFK. Yeah, well, if she could’ve just held it two more minutes, we would have been at the pet relief area; but when you gotta go, you gotta go. And while it was one of the things I was initially worried about, poop happens. I grabbed one of the dozens of bags I keep in my jeans pockets when we travel, and quickly cleaned it up and tossed it.

Here are some of my travel tips for smooth sailing with your small pet:

1. Choose A Destination Wisely. Are you staying with family/friends, or will you have a dog-friendly hotel room? Either way, be sure to bring items from home that has your dog’s and your scent on them, so it will help her settle in when you arrive. Plush squeaky toys, balls, and a small blanket are always a good start.

2. The Right Carrier. If you’re flying with a small dog, then she can come on the plane with you. You’ll have to use a carrier that is acceptable to the airline, so be sure to check their website before you purchase one. Inside the carrier, keep a shirt or item of clothing that has your scent on it so your pooch will be calm during the flight.

3. Back Seat Driver. If you’re like me and you like toting your dog around with you no matter where you go, you’ll need to find the option that works for you. The best carriers and harnesses, though, have been crash tested, so do your homework before purchasing. The best ones are a bit pricey—but certainly worth the safety of your pet.

4. H2O. Whenever I take Emma out, I always carry a bottle of water (you can refill it anywhere) and a small collapsible dish. Just like humans, dogs need to stay hydrated, especially when traveling.

5. Travel Food. Just as you would pack snacks for yourself, be sure to bring some along for your pet. Keep in mind: feeding your pet right before a trip is not a good idea, especially if you’re flying. It will increase their urge to go potty in a contained environment. But once you’re on your way, a few bites of kibble here and there will keep her satisfied until you reach your destination.

Over the years, I’ve taken Emma on countless trips with me. And whether traveling by car or plane, these days, she’s a better travel than I am!

Neil Diamond Says Farewell to Touring

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When I turned on the news this morning, the first thing I heard was legendary singer/songwriter Neil Diamond announced his retirement from touring due to his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s. I couldn’t believe it. Fans around the world are stunned.

Just last year, I went to see Neil at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The man is a master songwriter and entertainer, who never ceases to disappoint. His show was a trip down memory lane not only for him, but his audience as well. (At least, for me, it was.)

img_6906Thanks to my mom, my earliest childhood memories include Neil Diamond. My mom was a huge fan, and I became one as well. She discovered Neil in the ‘60s with his very first album. She loved that he was a local boy from Brooklyn. More than that, she always said to me, “He’s a poet. He speaks to the soul.”

How right she was. From songs like Cherry, Cherry, Brooklyn Roads and I Am, I Said to You Don’t Bring Me Flowers, Story of My Life and Nothing but a Heartache, Neil always knows how to tug at the heartstrings and reach into your soul to bring back a memory.

img_6895I recall in particular this one year when my dad and I got my mom Neil’s latest album for Christmas. My mom and I would sit in the living room every day and listen to it, along with all his other albums. (This was back in the day of the LP records.) She would sing along, and I would, too, while trying to complete a puzzle of the United States that was spread out on the living room floor, the sun pouring in through the front window. I remember this like it was yesterday. It’s one of my favorite memories of me and my mom.

The first Neil Diamond concert I went to was with my mom at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. In fact, every concert of his I went to was with my mom—except for last year. She had passed away a few months before, so I went solo to see our favorite singer, to just “be” there with mom, like all the other times. It wasn’t the same without her, but I’m glad I went, now knowing that was the last Neil Diamond concert I would ever see in person.

This morning, after I heard the news, I put on Neil’s music and sang along, just as mom and I did for all those years. Only this time, my eyes burned with tears. Nothing can take away my memories of me and mom and Neil, but nothing will ever be the same again for me. No more attending live concerts, no more singing Sweet Caroline with Mom at Neil’s shows. Thankfully, I have all his music to enjoy for years to come. And, while he has retired from touring, I can look forward to hearing new songs from Neil in the future, as he’s now sticking to writing, recording and pursuing other projects.

Thank you, Neil Diamond, for bringing your poetry into my and my mom’s lives. My childhood wouldn’t have been the same without you.

Okay, now it’s time to pour me some Red Red Wine with a splash of Cracklin’ Rose.

Cheers, Neil!