Flexibility vs Mobility

I hate the word flexible! Almost everyday, I have a student tell me she’s not flexible. Here’s the problem, flexible is subjective. I am more flexible than many people but not at all flexible for a dancer.

Somewhere along the way, it became a reason to not try. If we let flexibility, or lack there of it, become a reason not to do something – we lose mobility. For example, if we don’t reach for our toes because we can’t touch them. We lose mobility in our hips that allow us to pick things up off the floor.

If we don’t work to extend our legs off the floor, we will shuffle our feet walking as we lose mobility in the hip flexors. The same is true for reaching up, to the side, etc. We need to work our joints, tendons and muscles in all directions to keep them fluid and functional.

I realized while teaching that any exercise perceived to require flexibility caused many to shut down and stop trying. Once I changed the focus to mobility and sometimes fluidity of movement, the effort changed.

I believe that one can gain mobility just as one can gain strength. There are many thoughts on stretching before or after exercising. I enjoy stretching so I often do it after a workout, but it doesn’t have to be a separate entity.

Many exercises require mobility. Of course yoga and pilates, but so do dead lifts, burpees, jump squats, shoulder press, chest fly, and lunges to name a few. Sometimes we just need to change our focus a little and the benefits of our fitness program increases greatly!

Do you consider yourself flexible? Has it stopped you in the past? What’s your favorite exercise that increases mobility and strength?

Simply Kid Chefs: Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells

It was our oldest’s turn to prepare dinner. Our youngest received a new cookbook, Twist It Up, for his birthday. It’s written by a little boy who has leukemia and part of the proceeds go to funding research. The boys have been excited to try a recipe.

Our youngest allowed his brother the opportunity to cook from it. Not surprisingly, he picked a yummy, comfort food, spinach and cheese stuffed shells. We trekked to the store with his younger brother as we were hoping to also see the parade of rescue vehicles bringing toy donations for Stuff a Bus, supporting Toys for Tots.

Here is the parade and the toys that were donated. This doesn’t include the thousands of toys donated over the whole weekend, just the ones dropped off to police and fire stations on Cape Cod. As we were waiting and saw the volunteers assembling to unload the vehicles, the oldest asked if we can help next year. The answer, of course!

Here is the 16,069 toys collected by the police and fire departments. The total for the weekend was 31,844!!

Our oldest is pretty much running the kitchen. I slice the garlic, the end of the onion, drain the pasta and put the food in and out of the oven. That’s it, he does the rest! Here he is hard at work…

Here is the recipe

Marinara Sauce:
2tablespoons olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans tomato sauce
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/2teaspoon dried basil
1/2teaspoon dried oregano
1tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2teaspoons sugar
1teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 (12-ounce) box jumbo pasta shells, cooked and drained
2tablespoons olive oil
1pound fresh spinach
1/4cup water
1 1/4cups shredded mozzarella cheese
3cups ricotta cheese
2large eggs, lightly beaten
2 garlic cloves, minced
1cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/8teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2teaspoon coarse salt
1/4teaspoon white pepper
1/4cup minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

To prepare marinara sauce, heat olive oil in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, bouillon cubes, basil, oregano, parsley and sugar. Stir well. Simmer over low heat 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Makes about 6 cups.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Toss cooked pasta with olive oil and set aside.
  3. Combine spinach with 1/4 cup water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, covered, until spinach is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well and squeeze spinach to remove excess moisture. Finely chop spinach.
  4. Combine mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, garlic, spinach 1/2 cup Parmesan, nutmeg and salt and pepper in a large bowl. Stir to blend. Generously stuff pasta shells with cheese mixture. Place stuffed shells in 2 (13 x 9-inch) baking dishes and cover with marinara sauce. Sprinkle evenly with remaining Parmesan cheese and parsley.
  5. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until cheese is melted and sauce is hot and bubbly.
  6. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving

We did not use an egg in the cheese mixture and it came out delicious! The chef was surprised at how much the spinach shrinks. He looked at me with each handful that went in and then was pleased to see how much it cooked down. :)

The sauce was delicious and the meal was a big hit!!

Does your town do Stuff a Bus? What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

Mixing up routine

It’s always a good idea to mix up fitness routines! Not only do our muscles need it, but our minds as well. It takes a lot of discipline to do the same movement repeatedly and not mentally check out.

Variation can come from the amount of weight, order of exercises or be more drastic by changing exercise style. When running or walking outside it’s a good idea to change the course or area you are walking/running.

I began meeting my friend to run once a week. Now we meet (or try to meet) three times a week. This has caused us to move our runs around. We’ve changed both location and distance. Even when you are talking and enjoying the conversation, it’s important to mix up the scenery and the road.

Some areas have more hills or longer distances. Occasionally, we reverse the run to mix it up. By changing routes, we have to be aware of objects in the road, different curves and corners. We also don’t feel overwhelmed by not being as far along as we think we are. It keeps our brains and muscles working hard :)

As for working out in the gym, I love different routines. I incorporate pilates, yoga and free weights in my schedule. Of course, I teach all of these styles which makes it much easier. Sometimes I take an exercise from one style and put it in another class. It keeps my students thinking and often stepping out of their comfort zone.

Picking a different area of focus also keeps it interesting. It might be the same exercise, but thinking about the legs or belly can change the dynamic of the exercise. Sometimes, thinking of the variations is enough exercise for the brain ;)

How do you mix up your routine? What’s your go-to exercise?

Simply Kid Chefs: Pork Tenderloin with Fried Okra and Pickled Watermelon

This week, our youngest turned 8 and made a special dinner to boot. We have been watching Master Chef Junior as a family and are really enjoying it! It has been amazing to see all of the dishes the kids have created. Another plus is the wonderful sportsmanship and camaraderie between the contestants. Both boys love the show; seeing what everyone creates and to their surprise without formal recipes.

Our youngest began pulling out cookbooks and came across this old Food and Wine cookbook

He immediately noticed Graham Elliot from Master Chef on the cover. We found his recipes in the book and he selected the pork tenderloin. I wasn’t sure how he would do with the different flavors but followed my rule of not discouraging based on my own perception.

We couldn’t find some of the ingredients, but substituted ground cardamon and ground coriander for the brine (about 1/8 teaspoon of each). Ground sumac also proved to be impossible to find for our timeline and we left it out.

The chef was able to do most of the preparations. I did the stove work, but he did put the okra in the oil.

The brine took longer to cool down than we anticipated. Here is the chef waiting for it to come to room temperature. Like a watched pot never boils, a watched brine doesn’t cool ;)

The meal was amazing!! I was a little nervous about the okra as I’ve never had it before. We could have eaten more! I would definitely increase the amount of okra when we make it again. The watermelon was delicious and really complimented the pork.

The recipe was a little intimidating at first, but really not difficult. Timing was the most complicated aspect. The chef wanted to keep moving and there was a lot of down time. Definitely allow enough time for the brine to cool when planning the meal. Everything else is relatively quick.

Do you watch Master Chef Junior? Have you made a brine before? What are your thoughts on okra?

Jolly Jaunt 5k ~ Wind, Family, Friends and lots of Santas!

Last year, the Jolly Jaunt was one of our favorite races! It was cold, but it was the first time the boys ran, and so many of our friends ran it felt warm (not really, but it was fun). This year, we were better prepared for the cold and were intrigued by the addition of the Santa suits.

How exactly would this work? Will it be comfortable? How many people will actually wear the suit? As you can see, they really did provide everyone with a suit, they were ok and clearly, many people wore them

The kids’ race changed a little bit and they did different age groups. Both boys were in the half mile race. They were happy it was longer than the dash last year. The kids received Santa hats and fun metals. Here we are

Shortly after we left the house, I realized I forgot my headphones. I had mixed feelings about this. I have been running without headphones with my friend, but we’ve been talking. I’ve never raced without music. Generally, I use it to distract me from hearing my breathing and aching legs.

I hadn’t felt bad running last week and didn’t notice my breathing as much. My goal was to hit a similar stride this race and see what happens. I started off feeling pretty good and not minding the lack of music.

My legs felt loose through the entire race. I was hoping to pick up the pace during the second mile, but that was the mile with hills and oh the wind. The wind was whipping at over 30 mph and running by the water increased the impact at certain points. Of course, it’s always windy by the water at this time of year and I felt pretty prepared for it.

I maintained for the second mile and was slightly faster in the third mile. Maintaining pace felt pretty good and I was psyched I could do it without music. Of course, no music meant constant running commentary in my head. Everything from hearing other runners talking on the course, to noticing the similarity of the footsteps falling on the pavement and breathing patterns. It was pretty rhythmical!

I contemplated the pros and cons of the Santa suits. It was really fun being surrounded by Santas. The beard, not so fun, I wound up turning mine backwards as I was eating it ;). The jackets were ok, but as you can see, they didn’t stay closed very well.

I finished with a time of 32:20 which far surpassed last year’s 37:37. We had a blast, everyone in our group finished strong and was happy with our times :)

Have you done a Santa run or walk? Do you exercise outside as the weather changes?

Using video and photos for assistance

I have been wanting to do a headstand in yoga for quite some time! There are many pins on my Pinterest boards showing the progression, I asked my yoga teachers to help me after class and I watched others do it.

Everyone said, just use a wall. I had two major issues with working on headstand. One being fear. I had tried in the past and for the most part it was fine. I even got all the way up with people helping get my feet overhead. Then I tried with a little too much momentum and took a pretty good fall. That did it for a while. I was all set!

My other issue was I couldn’t find the right feeling. I knew I had to get my hips over my shoulders, but I couldn’t feel how close or how far they were from being in the right place.

I decided to not let my fear hold me back. There’s also a slight chance an instructor told me I would need upper body and core strength. Nothing like a challenge to help me get over my fear ;)

A co-worker and I had talked about yoga and fitness photos on Instagram. She told me that she props her phone up, takes a video and then uses a screenshot from the video. I’ve read about other people doing the same thing.

I was early to class and had the space to myself. I decided why not? I got out a yoga block to prop up my phone and gave it a go. While watching the video. I could clearly see where my hips were and how much further I needed to lift them.

I re-set my phone and was able to go right up into headstand. Now, I’ve done it several times. I needed an aha moment and my video provided it. Unfortunately, I deleted the first video while still at the gym (bad blogger) and only have the final one.

I did save the “best” screen shot.  While I did get both feet off the ground, my hips are a little forward for being the top of the headstand.Working toward headstand

Here is the second video from that day…Headstand

I have also enjoyed seeing my yoga photos. In general, I don’t like yoga with mirrors and I think it should be about the feel and not the aesthetic. That being said, I’ve been able to correct little things in my planks, and warriors. I find it helpful to see the picture and correct my form.

Do you like video, pictures or mirrors to help with your form? Do you find going upside down scary?


Increased mileage in November

So much for consistency ;). November was the first month I wasn’t traveling and could keep all of my running dates. Add in longer runs and I ran 16 miles more than October.

As the pictures show, the weather has changed! There have been some “warm” days and plenty of colder days. This is my first time running consistently in cooler weather. Shockingly, I like it. There are few bigger cold weather wimps than myself! With the right gear, I’m pretty warm once we’re going. A hot, post run shower is definitely needed, yet seems to make the experience even better. Not to mention, we have seen some beautiful and dramatic skies as the weather has changed.

Unlike previous months where my mileage increased dramatically, my body felt pretty good. We were smart and mixed up our routes and mileage. A few times we ran 3 miles and once we did 6. The majority of our runs were 5 miles.

I have signed up for a fun run on New Year’s Day with my husband and friends. There is a 5.7 mile and a 3 mile option along with a polar plunge. I am crazy enough to sign up for the 5.7 miles but not the plunge ;)

With this in mind, it seemed time to pick up the mileage to 6. I was pleasantly surprised that our pace was the same for 6 miles as it is for 5 miles. Like everyone, the holidays provide a challenge.

We are working hard on keeping our routine. The mileage and days may be different, but we are going to do our best!!

Do you change your routine during the holidays? Does colder weather keep you from getting outside?