This summer, I participated in a challenge at my gym: attend 15 group fitness classes, collect signatures, and earn a spiffy new t-shirt. The competitive side in me just couldn’t walk away! Who knew this would be the hardest I would EVER work for a t-shirt in my WHOLE life? 15 classes is a BIG time investment. I know, I know, it wasn’t about the t-shirt. But dagnabbit, every time I look at / wear / wash / fold / think about that shirt, I am going to remember all that hard work and commitment.
I tried so many different things this summer as part of the group fitness classes. I did a lot of yoga, but also a cardio club, zumba, kick-boxing, circuit training, and spin. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, which is a very rewarding thing to do. So there you have it – a $7ish dollar cotton t-shirt that represents perseverance, power, and pride! I will be honored to wear it until it falls apart!
We had an AWESOME time tonight at the Glo Run! It’s a 5K event that takes place at night, obviously so you can appreciate all of the glow-in-the-dark and fun lights and music. I went with my husband, Ryan, and our very good friend, Cait. We got to run for about half of the time – for the most part, people are walking and appreciating the sensory overload of the event, which makes it kind of hard to run. Ryan didn’t think he’d survive, but he did great! I love events like this Glo Run and the Color Run – they are very engaging, motivating, and rewarding for staying active! I would definitely do this one again.
I’m always on the hunt for healthy, low-calorie, filling, tasty, creative, and efficient ideas for school lunches. Above all, my lunch has to be ‘grab and go’ style, because it’s the last thing on my mind at 5:15 in the morning when I wake up for work. When I’m really tired, I know I gravitate towards more unhealthy choices, so I do my best to prevent this. I’ve found that the key to packing great lunches for my work week is to plan and prepare everything over the weekend. Some might say it looks like a lot of work, but it actually saves me time in the long run as well as gives me peace of mind throughout the week.
Usually on Sunday, I’ll make my grocery list and do all of my cooking. One of my favorite lunch options, especially in colder weather, is soup. It’s warm, filling, and – if you choose more broth-based soups – low calorie. I make my soup even healthier by what I call Hacking My Soup!
I typically start with a Bear Creek soup mix (Tortilla and Minestrone are my favorite):
I only make half of the soup mix for one week’s worth of lunches. I add 1/2 to 3/4 pounds of cubed chicken, then every single vegetable left in my fridge and freezer. I divide the soup into five 2-cup pyrex glass containers, which go in the fridge, ready to grab-and-go. I’ve been told by friends that they think eating the same thing for 5 days in a row would get pretty boring. My response is that it’s only 5 days (I do a new recipe every week), 5 days isn’t that long when you like what you’re eating, and that I’d rather eat the same thing than have to worry about making a lunch every day! Plus, you probably eat the same thing for breakfast every morning, so what’s the difference really?
I also pre-wash (and bag) all of my fruit for the week – a great mid-morning snack. Lunch this year is at 12:30, and that’s a loooong stretch from my 6am breakfast! I wash the fruit in 50/50 vinegar/water rinse, then a pure water rinse. Not only does the vinegar kill all of the bacteria, but I find that my fruits last at least twice as long (especially the berries). I absolutely live off of berries until late in the season when they become too expensive, then I switch to apples and bananas. You may have seen my previous post on dehydrating fruit, which is a great option for preserving some seasonal favorites.
Another thing I like to do is to have a plastic tote filled with individual snacks, ready to grab. Everything is all in one spot, individually packed.
My favorite grab-and-go snacks are:
*real fruit roll ups
*100 calorie packs of just about anything
*individually wrapped prunes.
Last week, I tried salads. They were a lot more work than soup, but who wants soup in the summer? I prepped all of the ingredients so I could make each salad the night before to prevent them from getting soggy. I have heard about salad in a jar, which I may need to explore! Even so, I would still want to add a protein (chicken or egg) the night before. I bought these handy salad containers, which have a spot for holding a fork and dressing.
Ingredients for this week’s salad include: Spring Mix lettuce, cucumber, red pepper, shredded carrot, grape tomatoes, hard-boiled egg, and grilled chicken. Voila, the final product:
There are 40 weeks in the school year, and I do my best to rotate recipes and try new healthy, low-calorie, filling, tasty, creative, and efficient lunch ideas throughout the year. Here is a list of my favorite lunch options (I always add LOTS of veggies!):
Pancakes are a weekend thing, right? There’s honestly no better way to spend an early Saturday or Sunday morning than sitting at the kitchen table with my husband (and the dog sitting ON my feet – he has attachment issues), reading the news, eating pancakes, and planning the rest of the day. How often do I get to do this? Almost never. Who wants to go through all the trouble and make all that mess?
WELL! I tried out another great idea I found on Pinterest. I made the pancake batter and spooned it into a plastic bag. I got the griddle nice and hot, cut off the corner of the bag, and squeezed the batter into perfectly shaped silver dollar pancakes. AWESOME!
The clean-up was almost nonexistent. I just threw away the bag! No drips all over the counter/stove to clean up. I am in love with pancakes all over again! Next weekend, I am going to try fun shapes. I mean, why not?
Like most working people, I have zero time/patience for the mundane, odious household tasks like cleaning the shower. It’s just not top on my ‘to do’ list, and I’ll admit, I don’t do it as often as I should.
As a teacher, however, I am always trying to come up with creative solutions to make things work. So how can I make cleaning the shower easier to ensure that it gets done? I found a fabulous solution on Pinterest.
I bought a soap-dispensing dish scrubber, which I then filled with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and dish soap. It stays right there in the shower. I find this a brilliant solution because I’m already in the shower and everything I need is right there (no excuses). I have a detachable shower head, so I just scrub all the walls down, hose it off, and voila – clean shower. It takes me an extra 3-4 minutes tops. Who doesn’t have time for that?
I’ll also say that I am very pleased to have moved away from harsh chemicals. The vinegar really does the trick and is non-toxic.
Even though I know my shower is squeaky clean, it still bothered me that the grout was getting dark. My house is over 70 years old, so things are always in need of a facelift. I had tried everything to brighten up the bathtub: Comet, bleach, Bar Keepers Friend, Tide Bleach pen, EVERYTHING. Trust me, I put in a lot of elbow grease, and I was very disappointed. Though ready to give up, I was willing to try one more product that my sister-in-law recommended: Norwex Cleaning Paste. I got an old toothbrush, wet it, and just started scrubbing the tile. GUYS. WOW. Just look at the results!
And to top it all off, the cleaning paste even got out some scratches in the porcelain. I don’t sell Norwex, I have nothing to gain by telling you this other than sharing something that really worked for me in hopes that it can work for you, too. I also love that it is non-toxic, made only with marble flour, chalk, natural soap, and some coconut oil. My shower has never looked better!!!
I am going to tell you an embarrassing secret. Last school year, I worked out…. 18 times. Total. For the entire school year. And it was always on a weekend. That’s really sad!
I just needed some motivation, right? I thought I WAS motivated. But it turns out, just wanting to be healthy (okay, skinny!) isn’t enough. And thinking about all the money I was wasting by paying the gym and NOT showing up wasn’t enough of a guilt trip, either.
So I tried what any good teacher would do. I set goals, a schedule, and created a reward structure. If I worked out ‘x’ amount of times, I would reward myself with a new workout shirt, etc. The problem with this is… I am in charge of the system. And I lie, cheat, and steal. I am not a reliable coach of myself. I can talk myself out of or into just about ANYthing!
This blog post is all about what DOES work for me; what keeps me active, motivated, and working out an average of 3-4 times per week. The Cliff’s Notes: competition, money, goal-setting, multi-tasking, and mental escape.
1. Fitbit One
My husband bought me a Fitbit One for Christmas, 2012. I haven’t taken it off (other than to shower) since. What is it? I describe it as a fancy schmancy digital pedometer. It records my steps, activity level, flights of stairs, and sleep. This all syncs wirelessly with my phone or computer. I get immediate feedback on my levels of activity. I set a daily goal (10,000 steps, 10 flights of stairs) and do what I have to do to make that goal. Fitbit sends me cheerful push notifications (like texts) to my phone, letting me know when I am nearing, meeting, or exceeding my goal. It’s like getting a gold star! Who doesn’t love the positive feedback?
What’s brilliant about Fitbit is the social aspect of it. My mother and sister both own a Fitbit and use it as religiously as I do. Our activity level is displayed on a virtual leader board. We three women are pretty competitive, so it’s always a tight race for first place. My sister is training for a half-marathon right now, and I’m beating myself up trying to keep up with her! After dinner, I’ll check the leader board and see who ‘winning’. I may then take a walk, run some stairs, pace while I brush my teeth, volunteer to take the dog out again – whatever I can think of to get in more steps and get to the top!
Here’s a leader board example (note who is in first place!! muahaha!)
Conclusion: Fitbit motivates me to stay in shape by encouraging me to meet my own goals and by competing with others.
2. GymPact If Fitbit keeps me moving throughout the day, GymPact actually gets me to the gym to work out. GymPact is an app for your phone that PAYS you to work out. I’ve made over $33 in 3 months. That may not seem like much to you, but it is a great bonus for me!
I describe GymPact as a way of gambling about working out. Let’s say I am willing to bet that I can work out 3 times next week. The minimum I can bet per workout is $5. So 3 x $5 = $15 total that I am willing to put on the line, promising that I will work out 3 times next week. GymPact is linked to your Paypal account, so believe me when I say that if you don’t make good on your bet, they will charge you. As it turns out, the threat of losing $5 because I am too lazy to work out is pretty darn motivating! I have not been charged EVER, because I am so stingy with my money that I’ll be a monkey’s uncle if I ever miss a promised workout.
So where does the income come from? Think of it as a ‘losers pay winners’ sort of situation. GymPact collects from the people who didn’t make their workout pledge, then divvies that money up amongst those who did keep their pledge. You can make about $0.30 to $.50 per workout – it varies on the week. Once you have reached a balance of $10, you can withdraw your earnings to your Paypal account and buy yourself something nice – you earned it!
Here is a screenshot of my GymPact app from a week this summer when I was able to work out 5 times:
Conclusion: GymPact motivates me through cold, hard cash!
You might be wondering – how does GymPact know if I am working out or not, huh? Well, the app requires that each workout is a minimum of 30 minutes and has GPS verification that you worked out. That means either ‘checking in’ at the gym with your app, or syncing GymPact with another app that tracks when you walk/run. And that app is…
3. RunKeeper RunKeeper is an app that tracks your run/walk via GPS. When I leave my house, I simply hit ‘Start’ on the RunKeeper app. The app tracks my pace, location/route, splits, duration, and even allows me to enter notes and a picture when I complete my activity. As with Fitbit, I can set a goal for myself, which RunKeeper tracks for me. The app will give you verbal notifications of your progress as you walk/run, but I turn them off for peace and quiet. Once I’ve hit the 30 minute mark, I head home and complete my workout. RunKeeper then syncs with GymPact and let’s them know what I worked out, which counts toward my GymPact pledge. Sweet!
Here is a screenshot of my RunKeeper app, showing the distance and times for all of my recent runs/walks:
Conclusion: RunKeeper motivates me through goal-setting and syncing with GymPact
Wanna know what I listen to when I work out? Hint: It’s not music!
4. Audible I LOVE to read. As a Language Arts teacher, this only makes sense. But I don’t often have time to actually sit down and read a book. I make time, of course, because that is very important. However, Audible allows me to consume more books than by reading alone. Audible is a an Amazon company that sells audio books. Payment is linked to my Amazon account, so that’s easy enough, and the books download through ‘the Cloud’ right on to my phone. Easy as pie!
What’s brilliant here is that I have made a rule for myself. I am only allowed to listen to an Audible book while I am moving. What will happen is I will get really hooked on a book and want to listen more. BUT, in order to do that I’ve got to get on my running shoes and start moving! It’s a lovely motivation, and I know that I am doing something great for my body AND my mind at the same time.
Listening to books also keeps my mind focused while I work out. When I listened to music, it was too easy for my mind to wander and start to realize, ‘Hey – working out kinda stinks! I wanna stop!’ I’d stare at the elliptical or the clock. With the audio book, I can close my eyes and let my mind travel to a far away place! The 45 minutes on the treadmill/elliptical go by in a snap, and sometimes I go even longer because the book is at a really great spot!
Conclusion: Audible motivates me by allowing me to multitask and by taking my mind on great adventures!
Some other things I have learned about myself:
5. I need to work out on my way home. If I go home first to change or relax, I am never getting back in my car.
6. I have to pack my workout clothes the night before. I always keep a set in my car. To make things more efficient, I have also considered putting workout outfits in gallon-sized Zip-loc bags so they are ready to go, no excuses.
7. I tell someone I am going to work out. It just feels horribly disappointing to tell a coworker that you are heading out to the gym, then go straight home and plop in front of the TV.
I started out with just my Fitbit, but I slowly added in the other apps. I now use all 4, and I work out about 3-4 (often 5) times per week. I feel SO much better than I did last year when I was a big ole’ couch potato. Now I never even consider missing a work out. I hope you find some of these tips helpful! Enjoy your endorphin rush!
Another food prep activity that I am doing before Back-To-School is dehydrating fruit. This makes a great, hassle-free snack at a reasonable price, and without any chemicals or preservatives (NO sulfates!!!)! You can also preserve some of your favorite seasonal items that are about to disappear for a while (sniff, sniff… goodbye cherries!!!)
I’ve got to warn you – once you start, you will become obsessed! I have since moved on to vegetables… dun, dun, duuuun! I guess once I get my electric bill, it may curb my enthusiasm a bit…
In the pictures below, you can see my first batch.
1 Gala apple
1/2 large carton of strawberries
1/3 of a pineapple (not pictured) <— my FAVORITE!!
So as you can tell, it’s not as much fruit as it looks like. I dehydrated the fruit for about 6-7 hours. I probably could have gone longer on the pineapple. I did not do any pre-treatment of the fruit, but I have heard that a dash of cinnamon on the apples is delicious, as well as a lemon/lime spritz over everything for added zest.
Of course I make sure to cut the fruits as thinly as possible. I really like the crisp edges 🙂 For Christmas, I’d love to get a slicer to make the job go faster. I think this mandoline by Pampered Chef would be great, and this slicer by Paderno World Cuisine has nice reviews on Amazon.
Some other fruits/veggies I would like to try:
Right now, we are dehydrating fools as we prepare for my husband’s 9-day camping trip to the Boundary Waters. I am dehydrating a bunch of jalapeños, which will then be crushed into powder and used as a spice in various meals. We’ve also done a pound of carrots, and 4 red peppers. The house is really getting warm, but it smells delicious!
Do you have any recommendations or tips for food dehydrating?
In preparation for … (holding my breath)…. Back… To….(gulp) School….. (there, I said it), I am beginning to get things in order around the house. One of those tasks includes grocery shopping and preparing meals. Bless the Teacher-Mothers who are able to come home and cook dinner for their families; I just can’t seem to manage that, and I’m not even a mother! I decided to try frozen Slow-Cooker meals as a new option for my husband and me. I found some excellent recipes from Six Sisters’ Stuff – they really know their stuff! Very easy recipes without crazy ingredients, affordable, and delicious.
Though they have dozens of recipes, I picked 4 to begin: Cilantro Lime Chicken, Chicken Broccoli Alfredo, Hearty Beef Stew, and Chicken Cacciatori.
I began at the grocery store, where the above ingredients cost me only $51.63!!! Since I am making 8 Bags (16 meals), that’s only $3.22 a meal! I was very pleased with this, and I know I could have done better with coupons (new goal for next round).
The preparation took approximately 1 hour, just like the Six Sisters promise. I have a few recommendations if you are going to give this a try:
1. Begin by getting out a Sharpie and labeling all of your freezer bags. The Six Sisters recommend using freezer gallon bags. I did this, but I split each of the recipes into *2* gallon bags. They say the recipes are for approximately 5-6 meals, and it’s just my husband and myself, so I figured why not make it even easier by dividing in half.
2. Prepare all of the meat first. I hate this part and I like to get it over with. I clean and trim all of the meat and separate it into the appropriate bags. Then I can clean my countertops and not worry about cross-contamination.
3. Flip out the zippers of the bag. This makes the bags stand up nicely, and they are open for dumping in ingredients. You probably knew this already 😉
4. Use this as an opportunity to clean out your fridge/freezer! I love vegetables, so I added WAY more than the recipes called for. I cleaned out my veggie drawer and any little bags of frozen veggies I had left over from other meals.
5. Save the frozen ingredients for last.
Here are the final products – 8 frozen meals for 2-3. The directions are right on the bag: they’re ‘Husband-Proof’!
And here they are all stacked up, waiting to go in the freezer. They take up about a third of my freezer space.
A tip I have heard is to use Slow-Cooker liners to speed up the clean-up process. I don’t feel good about cooking my food in plastic bags, so I will not be doing this.
I hope these meals will last us through the crazy first month of September. The investment (financial and time) are definitely worth it!