Tuesday, May 31

Does Gardening Count as Exercise?

My Knockout roses underneath
a cherry tree. I love these. They'll bloom
from now until frost!

The bamboo-like stalks of my Snowbank Boltonia plant have been pruned. The majority of the weeds plucked and disposed of from my flower beds. Two new geraniums planted and watered. And finally, last year’s Mother’s Day gift, a Topsy Turvy for tomatoes is prepared and dangling off my back porch. And yet, there’s still more weeding to do and it’s time to prune my late-blooming azaleas.

Springtime always makes me question my decision a few years ago to bulldoze my boring but low-maintenance flower beds and install a perennial garden. But then my roses bloom. And then comes the pink spirea, yellow daylilies, ornamental grasses, red and purple bee balm, lavender butterfly bush and others and I forget about the hard work. It’s like childbirth. When you’re presented with a beautiful little baby you soon forget about the 36-hours of labor is took to get there.

Shirobana spirea (pink),
gardenia (white), and
Kaleidoscope Abelia (yellow)
After toiling in the yard for a few hours the other day I thought, surely this must count as exercise. I mean, I’m sweating, bending over, squatting, walking back and forth to the garage for various tools. It’s got to count! I pleaded to the exercise gods.

So I looked it up. And the short answer is…no, it doesn’t count.


According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) adults need at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week plus, two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities. And my little gardening project doesn’t count toward meeting either of these goals.
In order to qualify as part of my required moderate-intensity workouts I have to get my heart rate up, my breathing needs to be labored and I need to break a sweat.
Well, I was certainly sweating, but that was because it was ridiculously hot. The more relevant fact is, I could still talk, sing, chat on the phone, etc. All signs that the activity really wasn’t that difficult. (This is why shopping and cooking aren't considered exercise either.)
The CDC lists the following as examples of moderate-intensity activities:
                Walking fast
                Doing water aerobics
                Riding a bike on level ground or with few hills
                Playing doubles tennis
                Pushing a lawn mower
Next time I think I’ll try speed gardening. Surely zipping around the yard like The Flash will get my heart rate up.
In the meantime, I guess I'll hit the gym and console myself with the knowledge that at least gardening is better than sitting on the couch or being parked in front of the computer. And of course, I get to enjoy my garden. Which is reward enough.

For more information on the CDC guidelines for physical activity, click here.

Tuesday, May 24

Side Dishes for a Healthy Memorial Day

Break out the grills people. It’s time to kickoff the summer season with a backyard BBQ.

I love the idea of a BBQ, but honestly, I’m almost always disappointed with the meal. My problem is that I don’t really like burgers, grilled chicken or hot dogs. They’re fine, but for me, not that appetizing. This is odd, I know. For most people the meat is the star of the show. But not for me. I like the side dishes.

Unfortunately, the accompaniments of any backyard BBQ are mayo-based potato salad, chips and salsa, and a veggie tray from Costco. Ugh!

It doesn’t have to be like this. The sides can be just as appealing as the grilled meat.

Here are three recipes for delicious and healthy side dishes to liven up your Memorial Day BBQ.

No-mayo Potato Salad

“What?” You’re saying. “No mayonnaise in a potato salad? Why that’s just not done.”

Trust me. This is fabulous. And since it’s oil and vinegar based you cut loads of fat calories out of it and you don’t have to worry about refrigerating it—a real plus for a backyard BBQ.

6 large potatoes, peeled, cut into one-inch cubes
3 c. chicken stock
2 shallots, finely chopped
3 TBLS scallions, finely chopped
3 tsp mustard seeds
6 TBLS olive oil
4 TBLS cider vinegar
3 TBLS fresh parsley, finely chopped
3 tsp salt
3 tsp freshly ground pepper

·      Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
·      While you’re waiting for the water to boil, heat the chicken stock in a microwave or on the stove.
·      Add the potatoes and boil until just cooked (about ten minutes). You want them firm, not mushy.
·      Pour the potatoes into a colander and drain off all the water.
·      Transfer the potatoes to a large ceramic or glass bowl and pour the hot chicken stock over them.
·      Toss gently and let stand about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes absorb most of the stock and are cool.
·      Pour off any excess stock.
·      Gently mix in the remaining ingredients.
·      Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Note: This can get a bit salty since the chicken stock has a lot of salt in it too. Before adding the 3 tsps of salt at the end, taste the salad and see if you want any more. You can always add, but you can’t take it away!

Grilled Corn and Sweet Onion Salad (from Boy Meets Grill by Bobby Flay)

This is a nice, light, fresh tasting salad. I made it for a dinner party a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. I hope you like it too.

6 ears of corn, husks and silk removed
¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for brushing the corn
2 TBLS aged sherry vinegar (Note: I couldn’t find this so I substituted white wine vinegar)
1 ½ tsps Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
½ large Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
2 ripe plum tomatoes, finely chopped
½ jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
2 TBLS chives, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

·      Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to medium.
·      In a large pot of boiling water, cook the corn 5 minutes until barely tender.
·      Brush the cooked corn with olive oil and grill until slightly charred on all sides, about 2 minutes.
·      Remove from the grill and with a sharp knife stand each ear on a cutting surface and scrape downward to remove the kernels.
·      In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, mustard and garlic and slowly whisk in the ¼ cup of olive oil until emulsified.
·      Add the corn kernels, bell pepper, onion, tomatoes, jalapeno and chives, and toss to coat with the dressing.
·      Season with salt and pepper.

Note: The raw red pepper was nice, but next time I think I’m going to try it with roasted red peppers.

Best Veggie Dip Ever

Tired of ranch dressing with your veggies? Here’s an old southern recipe that’s fabulous. It’s mayonnaise based, so not the healthiest of dips, but if you use light mayo and fat-free sour cream you can cut some calories.

2 c. light mayo (I like Hellmann’s Light)
½ c. fat-free sour cream
¼ tsp turmeric
1 TBLS curry
½ tsp garlic powder
4 tsp sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp salt

·     Mix all ingredients together.
·     Make several hours ahead of time and serve with your favorite raw vegetables.
·     For a twist on the standard veggie tray add blanched asparagus. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Trim off the tough ends of the asparagus stalks. Toss the asparagus into the boiling water. Boil for only a couple of minutes (2-3) until it turns bright green. Pour into a colander and drain off all the hot water. Then toss the hot asparagus immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop them from cooking further. You want them firm, not mushy. After they’re cool, store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve your veggie tray.

 Happy Memorial Day everyone. Have a wonderful weekend!!

Friday, May 20

The Happiest Place on Earth

I’m blogging to you live from Disney World this week. Michael’s family has converged on central Florida in celebration of his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary.

Between screaming my head off on the Space Mountain roller coaster in the Magic Kingdom, bouncing along on the Kilimanjaro Safari Tour at Animal Kingdom, and watching stunt drivers careen around a fictitious Parisian market square at Disney Studios, I’ve been contemplating Disney’s claim that this is “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

There are certainly signs of happiness all around: Disney employees greeting you with a smile and a wave; new brides strolling through the park wearing white sparkly Mickey Mouse ears attached to a veil; kids excitedly hugging Snow White, Donald Duck and Goofy; an audience of thousands staring up at the night sky in delight as fireworks light up Cinderella’s castle.

But there are also scenes of some very unhappy folks: over-stimulated and overtired toddlers melting down in every corner of the Magic Kingdom and frustrated parents shaking their heads, wagging their fingers and threatening to exit the park.

I think Disney might need to alter their slogan to: “The Happiest Place on Earth, Unless You’re a Toddler or the Parent of One, then it’s Happy for a Couple of Minutes, Maybe an Hour if You’re Lucky.”

And that’s the thing with happiness. You can feel it for a few moments in any given day, but making it last, well, that’s the real trick.

Achieving lasting happiness is not only good for us mentally, but it’s also good for our physical health. A recent study published in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being reviewed more than 160 studies on happiness and found that, “all else being equal, happy people tend to live longer and experience better health than their unhappy peers.”

For example, one study the authors reviewed followed 5,000 people for more than 40 years and found that the most pessimistic ones tended to die younger. Another study followed 180 Catholic nuns from early adulthood to old age and found that those who wrote positive autobiographies in their early 20s tended to outlive those who wrote more negative accounts of their young lives.

“Be an optimist.”

“Think positive.”

I hate it when perpetually perky people tell me to do this. But, according to the research, they’re on to something.

I could, if I chose to, dwell on the negative aspects of my week: feeling weak and nauseous after riding the Mission Space simulator at Epcot; the horribly over-priced and unappetizing food at the Coral Reef restaurant; or, here’s a good one, the total expense of taking three kids and two adults to Disney. (That’ll really depress you.)

But, to achieve lasting happiness, the research is telling me to, “think positive.”

So, I choose to remember the following instead: Amanda (my 13-year-old daughter) and I screaming like, well, like a couple of girls as we hurled down the tracks of the Expedition Everest roller coaster; Grant (my 10-year-old son) snuggling in to my shoulder and telling me he didn’t have the words to express his appreciation for taking him to Disney World; Janelle (my 8-year-old daughter) excitedly pointing out all the beautiful figures and scenery on the “It’s a Small World” boat ride; and most of all, joining up with Michael’s parents, siblings and their families for fun-filled days at Animal Kingdom and Epcot.

I feel healthier already!

The crew at Epcot. Our young married couple are in the
center. Happy 50th Grandma and Grandpa!
Michael and Grant on the "Spin and Barf."
I mean, the Mad Tea Cup ride.
Amanda, Janelle and I before the craziness begins.

All of us doing "jazz hands" as we plunge
50 feet down the slope of Splash Mountain.

Friday, May 13

Spice It Up for Weight Loss

My son Grant loves hot sauce. He drizzles Cholula (his favorite brand) over steak, chicken, eggs, vegetables, even spaghetti. His little sister dared him to put it in hot chocolate. Which he did. And then declared he loved it. (I’m not convinced. I think perhaps that was his ten-year-old bravado talking, not his taste buds.) Ah, boys, they’ll do anything if dared.

Yes, the orangey-red liquid is a permanent fixture at our dinner table. And breakfast. And lunch.

Interestingly, Grant’s on to something with his hot sauce obsession.

Researchers at Purdue University found that adding a half-teaspoon of ground red cayenne pepper on food can aid weight-loss.
The capsaicin in the pepper, which gives it its heat, reduces hunger and boosts the body’s metabolism.
“We found that consuming red pepper can help manage appetite and burn more calories after a meal, especially for individuals who do not consume the spice regularly,” says Richard Mattes, professor of foods and nutrition who collaborated with doctoral student Mary-Jon Ludy in the study.
The study looked at 13 people who liked spicy food and 12 who didn’t. Those who didn’t consume red pepper regularly experienced a decrease of hunger, especially for fatty, salty and sweet foods.

So if you don’t typically like spicy food, add a little red pepper to your plate and get a kick start on some weight loss.

Wednesday, May 11

The State of the Union Is …

Every year around our wedding anniversary Michael and I go out to dinner and have a lengthy discussion about our life together. We call it, “The State of the Union Dinner.”

Topics include: kids, careers, our marriage, friends, family, hopes and dreams for the future and anything else that pops into our heads.

To begin this conversation we like to pretend we’re the President of the U.S. addressing the American public. The speech starts like this, “I’m honored to report to the American people that the State of our Union is …. (Insert appropriate adjective or phrase here.)

Because we are who we are, we typically insert something like “weak,” “deplorable,” “in jeopardy” or “about to implode.”

After 30 minutes of laughter and tears, we settle down and begin the serious business of discussing our life together.

Tonight we’re celebrating our 15th anniversary. Quite a milestone in my mind and it got me thinking about things I’ve learned over the past decade and a half.

With respect to health, I have consistently talked to Michael about his reluctance to exercise. (I say “talked,” Michael would probably say, “nagged.”) I repeatedly urged him to do something, ANYTHING, for his health. Sometimes he’d begrudgingly say he’d try. Other times he’d promise he’d change. His answers varied but the result was always the same—he never did it.

I should tell you, he’s perfectly healthy. He’s one of those annoying individuals that can eat a bunch of crap, not work out and his cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. are excellent. He’s a medical mystery. His physician’s explanation for his good fortune is, “You can’t beat good genes.”

Exactly. He won the genetic lottery. (Insert expletive here.)

Michael, defending himself, pointed this out saying he didn’t need to exercise because he was already healthy. Which, I had to admit, was a fair point.

So, after a decade-long argument, I let it go. 

And peace once again fell over the land. No more nagging. No more broken promises.

Acceptance is a powerful thing.

Just like I’ve accepted that Michael won’t engage in structured exercise, I’ve come to accept that I won’t ever achieve my ideal weight.

Self Magazine promotes something called your “happy weight.” It’s a healthy weight that’s easy to maintain. And I know from experience that I’m at mine. It’s not the magic number I have in my head. You know, the one that lets me fit into my skinny jeans, but it’s a healthy weight for my height.

The problem with my “ideal” weight number is that to maintain it, I have to work out at least five days a week and count every calorie that enters my mouth. There’s no room for cheating. No room for taking a day off, indulging at a party, or splurging while on vacation. There’s no room for life. And that’s no way to live.

This year I’ve decided to accept my happy weight. To stop obsessing about an unrealistic goal. To be thankful for my health. To continue my current pattern of healthy eating and exercise.

Ahhhh, acceptance. It’s a beautiful thing.

To find your Happy Weight, check out this weight calculator from Self Magazine.

For more information on this topic click here.

Thursday, May 5

When Technology is Your Friend

First, a confession. I'm not that technologically savvy. I'm kind of a technology dinosaur.

I mean, I can Google with the best of them, I understand which of the three remotes I need to use to turn on the TV and I adore my iPhone. But I don't seek out technology solutions for help with daily problems.

This is in sharp contrast to my husband Michael, who thinks technology can solve everything. Not surprisingly he's downloaded a bazillion apps for his iPhone. For example, he's got GPS, games, an electronic personal assistant called Siri, weather information, traffic updates, and God help me, fart noises.

He joyfully loads all these onto my phone saying, "Di, look at this, it's so cool. You can ... (blah, blah blah)..."

I nod politely, take my phone, and continue to use it for its terribly old-fashioned purpose, to make phone calls.

However, (big pause) ...

I recently wrote an article for The Health Journal on health and nutrition apps for the iPhone and I gotta say, I'm coming over to Michael's point of view. These fitness and nutrition apps are really cool and having them available on my phone is paradise. I especially like the Restaurant Nutrition app, Fooducate, and LoseIt!

Check out the article here for the full write-up.

I might be slowly crossing over to Michael's side, but I'll still pass on the fart noises.