Saturday, December 1, 2012

Stress Of Consciousness

I've recently become aware that I live in a near constant state of anxiety. From the time I wake up in the morning until I go to bed at night, I my mind is a constantly churning ocean of thoughts, worries and fears.

Take this morning, for example.

*Internal monologue*

"What.....huh....what is that awful music......oh God it's the alarm ALREADY? *looks at clock* I can go back to sleep for another hour and still get enough done today *zzzzzzz* DAMMIT REALLY? 60 minutes went by that fast? *looks at sunlight coming through window* damn, I'd better get moving, we have to leave the house by what time? oh yeah, in 4 hours....just enough time to do laundry have breakfast shower maybe write a blog -- not like I blog much at all these days since I can never seem to find time and when I do find time I have not motivation -- or maybe not looking at the size of that pile of laundry. And I really need to decide about travel plans for Christmas and WHAT ON EARTH I'm going to get my nephews that already have everything because I WILL NOT be the lame aunt that can't think of anything to get them but a gift card except I don't know what sizes they wear or what games they have or what they even think about besides baseball because I'm a lame aunt who hasn't seen them in a year so I'll probably end up getting gift cards anyway. Well I'd better get the laundry started because otherwise we won't have anything to wear wherever it is we're going today -- oh that's right, hockey game and visiting his sister -- do I even have a pair of jeans that are not only clean but actually fit right now and WHY WHY WHY can I not manage to lose weight when new elliptical is killing my feet (time for a new pair of sneakers?), could it be because the love of my life won't eat leftovers and I'm like a human garbage disposal because my mother taught me not to waste food and I can't find a recipe with a normal serving of anything that only feeds two people without still leaving a whole meal of leftovers? OKAY, time to tackle the laundry pile....and I want EVERYTHING to be clean so I'll head down the house in my house dress *hears noise down the hall* but SHIT the maintenance people are working on the apartment next door so someone else if probably moving in soon and they'll probably see me waiting for the elevator in my house dress with no bra on because it needs to go in the laundry AND THEY'LL TOTALLY BE ABLE TO TELL I'M NAKED UNDER THE HOUSE DRESS unless I can hold the detergent and fabric softener bottles just right so it's not that obvious.... OH JEEZ the maintenance guy with the paint cart is trying to talk to me while I'm trapped in the elevator PLEASE GET TO THE GROUND FLOOR and now there are MORE PEOPLE in the laundry room--can't I just have a moment to put in my laundry and escape? *Breathe just breathe.....*"

And I'm officially two hours into my day.

Does anyone else have this problem? Am I going crazy? Is it a December thing? And how can the love of my life sleep peacefully through all this?

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dermatology For Dummies: Six Months

This past April I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, the most mild form of skin cancer. The news changed the way I take care of my skin and marked the beginning of a life long relationship with a good dermatologist.

A topical treatment effectively erased the basal cell, but one of the facts I learned from my diagnosis is that my risk another basal cell occurrence within the first year is at least 80%. My doctor explained that because of this risk, a supplementary screening six months after the original diagnosis is recommended for the portion of your body affected -- either upper or lower. My basal cell was on my shoulder, so today I went in for a six month upper body check.

The first thing my doctor asked me was if I noticed any differences since my last visit. In fact, I had developed two new red spots on my face that concerned me. They looked like acne when they first popped up but have never healed even after a couple of months.

I won't lie. I was a little more than concerned. I was worried they were the start of more basal cells and I wasn't looking forward to having biopsy stitches on my face just in time for a holiday full of visits with family and friends. Luckily, my doctor confirmed they are only a form of acne, just a more stubborn one often seen in women and closely associated with hormone production. One more reason being a girl isn't always fun....

On the plus side, the spot where my basal cell was removed is looking better every day and I got a clean bill of dermatological health until my annual full body screening next April. Great news to start the week indeed!

Now if I can just get rid of my dry skin I'll be golden. Every time I itch I feel winter coming closer...

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Lost Art of Debate

On the eve of our country’s next election, there is no escaping the constant stream of political messages everywhere we turn. Print media, television, radio and the Internet are constantly screaming for our attention on issues from who should be President to whether our food should be labeled as genetically modified. If your mail box looks anything like mine, it’s probably filled with political messages too. This is just a sample of all the fliers I received in the last week alone.

Using mass media to communicate a point of view is nothing new in the world of politics. The growth of the Internet and social media, on the other hand, is a relatively new phenomenon. Politicians and their handlers are more savvy than ever about using social networks to get their message out but it isn’t just them communicating their point of view. It’s the very people we have invited into our lives through those networks that sometimes frustrate us the most when it comes to politics.  So why is that?

Before Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other online social networks, political debate among friends and relatives took place over coffee, by the water cooler, at the dinner table or at cocktail parties. Growing up, our kitchen table was the site of many arguments between my father and I over whatever political and social issue was important that day. While we disagreed more often than not, I always learned something from those conversations.

As he passionately espoused his position I learned about another side of the issue, and in responding to him I had to learn to articulate MY position with authority and credibility. Those conversations helped me solidify my own point of view by forcing me to understand how things looked from a different perspective . I could present my case MORE PERSUASIVELY because I understood the other side of the argument and could use those ideas to defend my position. And because those conversations took place face-to-face I learned to disagree with respect and advocate with dignity. If I chose not to participate in the current events discussion of the day, I would find a way to excuse myself from the dinner table and go work on homework -- or think more deeply about the issues raised and question my own position in the process.

In the online social world, this respectful process of debate is often sorely lacking. When  you don’t have to look another human being in the eye, it’s much easier to respond to disagreement with venom, accusation and name calling. Ann Coulter’s recent reference to President Obama as a “retard” based on his debate comments is a perfect example of everything that is lacking in contemporary political discussion. Even worse, you can ignore people altogether! I see examples every day of people online who “unfriend” someone on Facebook simply because of their politics. If you don’t respect and value them enough to hear them out, are they really a friend at all?

The digital world SHOULD make it easier than ever to exchange ideas and learn more about issues, yet more people seem less reluctant than ever to do so. The same tools that have the power to open our minds allow us to filter out information that doesn’t support our beliefs. It also allows us to ignore people who see the world differently than we do.

We live in a complex world with complex problems. With easy answers few and far between, the only way our society can make REAL progress on issues affecting us all is to collaborate and share ideas. We can’t get there when we fail to listen and consider other points of view, as well as thoughtfully questioning our own. Is it any wonder why the world is such a mess?

As you head to the polls tomorrow, I hope you remember two things. First, we are privileged to live in a society that encourages us to let our voices be heard. But that privilege comes with a responsibility -- to respect others voices just as you wish to receive respect for yours. Second, and perhaps most importantly, our debate cannot stop simply because of one election outcome. Our continuous progress as a nation requires hard work and tough conversations every day. That’s how problems get solved. Continue the debate and solutions will follow.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cleveland Eats

Cleveland, Ohio is no one’s idea of a tourist destination. It’s a middle class American business travel city, the kind where screenwriters place a character who is down on their luck or going through the motions in a dead end job dreaming of life somewhere better.

Since nothing about Cleveland jumps out and screams “interesting” or “different,” I imagine lots of people passing through fail to explore it. It’s a big mistake, because I’ve found Cleveland has a surprising variety of interesting and unique things to try, especially when it comes to dining. So the next time you’re in town on business, skip the  Red Lobster or Olive Garden and check out some of these great local food finds. The best part is that you will eat well and still keep your expense account in control. Here is a list of a few of my recent favorites.


Chef Michael Symon takes the basic burger upscale, complete with a variety of table side sauces that work as beautifully as dips for your fries as they do on the burger itself. The food is great and the atmosphere is hip and cool. There is only one caveat with B-Spot -- if you’re the kind of burger aficionado that likes to build your own burger, find one elsewhere. Mr. Symon is pretty adamant about how his combinations go together and they specifically note their policy of no substitutions on the menu. But if you like the combos as is, order a bacon infused cocktail and get down to business.

The concept at Paladar is attractive rum bar with Cuban-style food. Mojitos are a must to start (I highly recommended the pomegranate ginger variety), then order one of the homemade guacamole choices. If you’re feeling adventurous, get the chef’s choice and prepare to be surprised. You can’t go wrong with anything else on the menu -- the hardest part will be choosing just one entree.

Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse
It doesn’t look like anything special from the outside, but inside Hyde Park is a classic, elegant steak house filled with dark wood, banquettes and tuxedoed waiters. During regular dinner hours there is nothing innovative about the menu, but if you get there early your wallet will thank you. Hyde Park has an "Early Night" special that will get you a small Fillet Mignon, soup or salad and a side for under $30 -- suitable for even the stingiest expense limit. If you have a generous boss, go for broke and enjoy the full steak house experience.

Corky & Lenny’s
I love a good deli and there is none better in Cleveland than Corky & Lenny’s. The pastrami is an instant classic and the chicken noodle soup nursed me through a cold 17 years ago on my very first visit to Cleveland. Nothing has changed in their 55 years of doing business and it doesn’t need to -- everything is perfect as is.

Steak & Shake
Yeah, it’s a chain so it’s not unique to Cleveland, but since I tried my first Wisconsin butter burger there I’ll always think of it as a Cleveland joint. Add bacon and it’s a whole new level of fat and flavor.

What About Bob’s
Bob’s is a great little sandwich place in an old fashioned downtown strip of Willoughby, Ohio -- also know as America’s Most Polite City. If you’re craving a great lunch stop for burgers, melts and subs this is the place. I can personally recommend the turkey melt (pictured below). You won’t go back to work hungry.

I have never tried this place but it’s on the list for my next visit based on a rave review from a co-worker. According to their website, "Melt opened in September 2006 with one goal: To provide gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches and as many beers as possible in a cool and comfortable environment." What's NOT to like there? They just opened their fourth location so they must be doing something right.

Winking Lizard Tavern
Seventeen years ago I visited this iconic joint with a group of co-workers during a training assignment on my first big corporate job. The “newbie” right of passage at the time was eating the Lizard’s “911” hot wings and having your face survive to tell the tale. I only had one and tasted it for 3 days, although I did take a  menu home as a memento of the experience and still have it. If burning your lips off your face isn’t appealing there are plenty of other wing varieties to try -- and plenty of beers to wash them down.

Malley’s Chocolates
A friend that grew up in Cleveland introduced me to Malley-Ohs! years ago and my Malley’s addiction began. Now I pick up a box to take home on every trip, along with whatever other treats look tasty -- which is basically everything in the store. You can see the pink painted plant where they have been making all that chocolaty goodness since 1935 as you’re flying over the city, so stop at one of their retail stores and grab a sweet taste of Cleveland to remember your foodie adventures.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Riding Out The Storm

“Into each life, some rain must fall.”

I heard that expression from my mother a lot growing up. It was often coupled with “Life is not fair,” “This too shall pass,” and other words of tacit acceptance for the difficult events in life none of us can change.

I imagine many people in the Northeastern portions of the United States are saying these things right now, immediately followed by prayers for the rain to stop -- literally and figuratively.

The devastation from Superstorm Sandy left unprecedented changes in its wake. The physical landscapes of cities, towns and beaches were altered forever. The flow of commerce and transportation was interrupted. Above all, the storm left an indelible mark on millions of lives, each one as individual and unique as a fingerprint.

When we witness destruction and pain on such a massive scale, it is easy to think that such devastating losses are confined to huge events and large numbers of people at once.  We forget that life altering events and unimaginable loss happen in our lives every day.

  • The car that comes out of nowhere and causes a fatal accident.
  • The unanticipated health issue that suddenly puts an expiration date on someone’s  existence.
  • The electrical short circuit that burns a home to the ground, along with the life inside it.
  • The random act of violence that ends an innocent life.

If you look honestly at your own life, it won’t take you more than 5 minutes to remember an event that changed it forever. None of us are immune to tragedy and pain. Loss and suffering are not unique, whether they are caused by a natural disaster or something else.

What IS unique is how you choose to move forward, survive and rebuild your life.

  • Do you allow hope to buoy our spirits or get bogged down in despair over what you’ve lost?
  • Do you reach out to help others whose losses are greater than our own?
  • Are you grateful for what you still have?

In the coming days, everyone affected by Sandy will grapple with these questions. I have faith the stories of their responses will be even more memorable than the tales of their losses. Because the beauty of rain is that it doesn’t last forever -- and the sun always looks brighter after the storm passes.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Do You Know Your Numbers?

The first step in being in control of your health is understanding some basic numbers that indicate how well your body functions. One way to get this reading is participating in a biometric screening and it's something my company has been offering employees the opportunity to do for free.

What exactly is biometric screening? By my company's standards, it's a blood test combined with a blood pressure reading and waist circumference measurement. The results of these tests are combined to measure important medical factors that contribute to our overall health. Cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure levels are all important indicators of your risk for serious health issues like hypertension, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and others. Since every one of these diseases is represented in my family history, biometric testing is a great way to learn more about my risk at this point in my life.
The chart below lists the targets my company has set to be at a sufficient level of health to qualify for a discount.

If I meet at least three of these measures, I can receive a health insurance discount for each pay period. My company has pretty good benefits but I still contribute a portion of the cost every paycheck, so I'll take a discount anywhere I can get it.

I went for my test yesterday, which required 12 hours of fasting and LOTS of water. I learned the hard way with a prior test attempt that if I don't really load up on water it's really hard to get blood out of me. There was a screening set up at my office earlier this year that I attempted but scrapped when they couldn't get a blood draw. What a nightmare.

Anyway, the vendor that does the testing for my company has an office 5 minutes from my work so I went there. I had to pee like a racehorse most of the morning, but they were finally able to get a blood draw. I'll get those results in a couple of weeks. Two of the measures I got to see right away -- my blood pressure and waist circumference. Let's just politely say I knew I wasn't going to hit one of those two, but the other one surprised me.

It's never any fun when you have to sign a blood pressure warning before you leave the screening office....

The testing process is to take your blood pressure three times and use the lowest number. Two of my readings were in the Stage 1 Hypertension range. The final one was still Pre-hypertension. Definitely NOT good.

I'd like to tell myself the readings are all because I was nervous about the blood draw and my anxiety raised my blood pressure during the testing. But I also know I'm carrying too much weight, I have more stress in my life than I should and my diet could use improvement. If I'm honest, I'm not surprised -- now I need to do something about it.

Once I have my full test results, I'm scheduling an appointment with a doctor to figure out how to regain control of my health because it's not too late to do that. I have a whole lot of life in front of me and I intend to live it as well as possible.

If YOU don't know what your numbers are, find out. It's the first step in being healthier in a way that really matters.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Is There Such A Thing As A Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie?

In my ongoing quest to be eat better, I'm always looking for a great new recipe for something sweet that won't destroy my good snacking habits (that's what the occasional restaurant dessert is for...). So when I saw a post about healthy chocolate chip cookies in People magazine online authored by Harley Pasternak, I took notice.

Just who is Harley Pasternak and why should you care about his cookie recipe? Harley is a personal trainer who made Halle Berry into Catwoman. Not that I aspire to be Catwoman OR look like Halle Berry, but clearly the guy knows something about health and fitness. What did I have to lose but some extra pounds?

Harley Pasternak believes you can make a chocolate chip cookie using these ingredients -- and ONLY these ingredients.

Oh wait, I missed one. You need a little of THIS too....

I was skeptical. I get the concept. Oats are a healthier substitute for flour.  Egg whites take the place of whole eggs. The maple syrup, banana and  minimal amount of chips add sweetness. The peanut butter helps glue it all together. It all makes sense. But does it work?

Yes -- and no.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention I didn't follow the recipe to the letter. It called for steel cut oats, but the steel cut oats in my grocery store didn't look all that different than the tried and true Quaker Oats (which were cheaper). Is that little substitution the reason my batter seemed a little runny?

I personally don't think so, but feel free to tell me otherwise. Anyway, I thought maybe I just hadn't mixed it thoroughly enough, or allowed the oats to absorb enough of the liquid. So I let it rest for a bit, stirred again and then put in the chocolate chips. Still runny, although it did taste OK. But NO WAY was this going to form cookies that would keep from running amok on my cookie sheet.

Then I remembered a quote from the article that mentioned this basic batter could be used for muffins, breads, etc. So I pulled out my muffin tin and sprayed it with a little cooking oil before I loaded up the cups with my "cookie" mixture.

They actually turned out quite nicely this way and they honestly tasted good!  Do be sure you like peanut butter and banana a lot before you make these, because those flavors are pronounced in the final product.

I would definitely not make these often, but I'm going to whip up a batch before my next work trip because they would make an awesome and filling snack on the go while I'm running through airports with no time to eat. They will also keep for a few days in a plastic container, but don't wait too long to eat them. The banana starts to get a little funky if you wait too long.

My advice? If you really want a CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE, make it the old fashioned way and eat a smaller portion. Moderation is always a winning health strategy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

In Case Of Emergency

To comply with the laws of the great City of Los Angeles, my building holds emergency preparedness training once a year, along with a mandatory fire drill. I missed the training last year because of work travel but made a point to attend this year.

I'm sure glad I did because I learned A LOT.

Here are some cool things you should know about surviving a fire or earthquake if you're in a tall building.

  • My place is built with a firewall structure. It means fire could burn against the walls of my apartment for 30 minutes without penetrating through to the other side. That gives me at least 30 minutes to get the heck out of dodge in case of a fire -- good news! Especially since the closest fire station is a couple of blocks away and they can be here in 5 minutes.
  • When you evacuate your unit, close the door. It helps keep the fire from spreading.
  • Smoke is the enemy. I knew it could cause you breathing problems, but didn't think about the fact that it can blind you and disorient you as you're trying to get out. That's also why it's important to stay low to the ground where there is fresh air.
  • AVOID THE ELEVATOR AT ALL COSTS. When the building fire alarm goes off, the elevators are programmed to automatically descend to the ground floor. Don't die waiting for the elevator to arrive -- it isn't coming!
  • If you're in an elevator when the emergency happens, it won't suddenly fall down like it does in the movies. Elevators are counterbalanced with a weight to keep them from dropping. If they do anything, they're likely to rise to the roof. 
  • If your emergency is an earthquake, find a table or desk and get under it. Then hold on to the legs. If the furniture starts "traveling" around the room, you'll go with it and remain protected from falling debris.
  • Even though your first reaction might be to evacuate your building after an earthquake, you might be safer inside. Falling debris can injure or kill you, so if you do head outside get well clear of the building and any trees, utility poles, signs or other objects that could fall.
  • Having an earthquake kit is important in case you can't evacuate and it should last you at least 3 days. But what happens if you're stuck longer and start running out of water? Check out these creative sources for additional water!
    • Check your freezer for thawed ice, etc.
    • Fruits have lots of water. A banana has as much water as a full glass!
    • Canned foods are usually packed in water.
    • If all else fails, the TOILET TANK contains drinkable water -- as long as you don't use any kind of drop in cleaning tables.

In addition to all the great safety info, I also found out my building was built the same year I was born! That means it has lasted a long time already, so with a little additional preparation I'm feeling pretty good about avoiding disaster.

Now to stock up on water so I don't end up drinking from the toilet....

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Interpreting Pinterest Recipes

One of the reasons I joined Pinterest was to expand my recipe box. There are lots of other places to find recipes online, but I've found Pinterest is better for a few reasons.

First, I'm a visual person. I want to see what my food is going to look like and everything on Pinterest starts with a photo. Second, most of the recipes are posted by home cooks like me so they typically have few ingredients and minimal prep time. Nothing against Martha Stewart, but not all my food needs to look like it could be served in a restaurant, especially when I'm trying to manage it after a long work day. Third, Pinterest lets you see what your friends are trying and they will give you an honest review of a recipe.

As great as Pinterest is in many ways, it has some pitfalls. It's very easy for the average person to post a recipe from their blog. Unfortunately, not every blogger knows how to write a usable recipe. And in some cases, you need to read between the lines a bit to know what you're getting.

One of my first Pinterest "fails" was the 3 Meat Pizza Casserole recipe. The link makes it look pretty tasty and unassuming.

But if you follow the recipe to the letter, it looks more like this:

While it tasted great, It's seriously an ENORMOUS amount of food. It was a full inch taller than the casserole dish. It took over a week of eating it twice a day to get rid of the leftovers. What did I learn from my experience with this recipe? When the author says things like "this would make a great dish for a graduation party" and "My oldest boy took one look at it-it did not make the 5 minutes" you should ONLY be using the recipe if you are preparing to feed an entire hockey team. Last time I checked, there are two people in my house and while we both love our hockey, this was too much for us. Cut the ingredients in half and you'd have something workable for a normal family meal.

This evening's Pinterest adventure was Sweet And Spicy Bacon Chicken. The list of ingredients was pretty simple.

4 chicken breasts cut in thirds (12 pieces)
Bacon slices
salt and pepper to taste
garlic powder
chili powder
brown sugar
Unfortunately that's about ALL the recipe told you. No amounts on the garlic powder, chili powder or brown sugar. Not such a big deal in the case of the brown sugar since you're just using it to coat the chicken like a breading. BIG ISSUE with the garlic and chili powder since the taste of the dish is impacted by how much you use. 
Now some of you reading may be the kind of experienced cooks that intuitively can figure out how much of each you should use. I AM NOT. I'm all for tweaking a recipe to perfect it once you've tried it, but it's a little hard when you don't even know where to start, right?

I was using half the amount of chicken (lesson on portion control learned from the pizza casserole applied here!) so I used a tablespoon of garlic powder and a teaspoon of chili powder and hoped for the best. My two cut chicken breasts fit nicely in a 9x13 pan, but the the author of this recipe seems to think 4 breasts would fit and I couldn't see it happening. Is there some secret "Pack The Casserole Dish" contest out there I don't know about?

Anyway, the dish turned out just fine. It was much more sweet than spicy, so I may have needed more chili powder. Luckily everything tastes better with bacon. The funniest part of the evening was my boyfriend looking at his plate and saying "What is it?" In the romantic dining room lighting, he thought I was serving bacon wrapped hot dogs!

As you venture forth to search new recipes on Pinterest, be prepared for just about anything. Whatever you do, have fun in the kitchen -- and take lots of pictures!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kitchen Adevntures: Boyfriend Pizza

One of the true joys of sharing your life with someone is having help around the house -- especially in the kitchen. Cooking is always more fun when other people are involved and anyone who has a good recipe to share is more than welcome in my kitchen!

My boyfriend is part Italian and being a New Yorker he also loves good pizza. We don't have a sophisticated enough kitchen to make an authentic pie at home, but he shared a family recipe with me that puts all the goodness of the pizza you love right on top of an English muffin! It's now a house favorite.


2 6-packs of Thomas' English muffins
2 lbs mozzarella cheese
1 large can (28 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 large can (28 oz) tomato purée
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon red cooking wine
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (for the sauce mixture) then more to sprinkle on top
Salt and pepper to taste

  • Heat oven to 350 degrees. Toast English muffins on a greased baking tray for 15 minutes or until slightly browned at the edges. 

  • Mix together tomatoes, spices, cooking wine, sugar and Parmesan cheese in a large bowl to make the sauce.
  • Slice the mozzarella so you have at least one slice the size of each muffin half (If you make smaller slices, you can overlap them). 

  • To assemble the pizzas, spoon 1/4 cup of sauce onto each muffin half. Cover each muffin half with mozzarella. Then coat with a second layer of sauce and sprinkle more oregano and Parmesan cheese on top. 

  • Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes, a little longer if you like your pizza crispier.

This recipe is an easy one to do with kids. It also makes a fantastic starter at an informal party or barbecue. And because the English muffins get nice and crispy in the cooking process, these also reheat well in the microwave. The recipe makes way too much for two people, so I always look forward to leftovers for lunch the next day!

Now since the boyfriend did all the hard work cooking, I get to clean-up. I'll take that deal any day of the week!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Back In Training: Finding Balance

I had written earlier this spring about needing to get back in shape after a long absence from the good routine I had established a couple of years ago. With everything going on in my life the last few months, I hadn't made much progress. I needed a challenge to get me back in the game.

Luckily I work for a company that is very committed to the health and overall well-being of its employees. So when I read about a company wide six week wellness challenge I seized the opportunity to get back in the game and -- more importantly get back in BALANCE.

Each week of the challenge matches up two different sets of behaviors -- one is healthy and the other one isn't. You earn points for positive things and lose points for the negative. The goal is to have a positive balance at the end of the day. It's not about eliminating EVERYTHING that's not so great for you. We're all human beings and we're not perfect. The goal is making positive choices about good behaviors to offset the impact of less desirable ones. The most important part is YOU get to choose your behavior. There is no prescribed plan to follow or set of steps someone else has laid out for you. It requires you to THINK about the choices you're making and not mindlessly follow a plan someone else told you would work.

Week one started today and balances TV minutes with exercise minutes. You earn one point for every minute of exercise and deduct one point for every minute spent watching TV.

Hello, old friend...

I set a personal goal of 50 points per day, so this week I'm trying to get 60 minutes of exercise and virtually eliminate my TV viewing other than a few minutes of news. If I did want to watch some TV one day this week -- say, tune in to Big Brother with my boyfriend -- I would have to get an extra hour of exercise to compensate in order to reach my goal. Or I could just decide the show isn't worth an extra hour in the gym!

I got off to a solid start today with 35 minutes on the elliptical and another 15 minutes of circuit weight training, plus NO TV! So I met my 50 point goal for today. One day down, six more to go!

There is a different challenge each week to keep things interesting. Some of the challenges are focused on exercise and some involve healthier eating habits.

I have a lot of choices in front of me, but I'm confident each one will get me more balanced -- and healthier -- along the way.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dermatology For Dummies: In Treatment

If you've been following my blog you know that I was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma back in early May. When I last wrote about my encounter with skin cancer, my doctor had done a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and explained I had two treatment options -- cut out the affected area or use a topical treatment to erase the cancerous cells. At that point, I was waiting for the biopsy site to heal so we could make a final decision on a treatment plan.

I went back in early June and the doctor pronounced my lesion a good candidate for a topical cream treatment called Zyclara. So off to the pharmacy I went with hope that one application daily for 30 days would get the job done.

The good news with this treatment is that I could swim, sweat and do everything else I normally could. If it erased the basal cells, it would still leave a small amount of scarring but much less than I would have with surgical removal.

Here's what my lesion looked like when I started the treatment. This is typical basal cell carcinoma -- uneven shape, bumpy, inconsistent coloring, etc. If you ever see something like this on YOUR skin, get to a doctor ASAP.

This is the same spot after 30 days of treatment with Zyclara. The blistering and scabbing is normal and means the medicine is working. It itched a little but nothing I couldn't handle. At this stage, my doctor inspected the area and couldn't see any signs of the basal cells, so we stopped the treatment to give the scab time to heal and fall off.

This is what the area looked like when I had my last follow up with the doctor this past Friday. The pinkness will fade with time but the important part? NO MORE BASAL CELLS!

I'm far from done in the skin care department, because now that I've had a basal cell carcinoma I'll always be at risk for another. Since my diagnosis, sunscreen is a part of my daily routine, I wear hats and long sleeves to protect my skin if I'll be out in the sun for a while and I don't put the top on my convertible down much these days. I'll be back at the doctor in November for a six month upper body check and every April for the rest of my life I'll have a full body screen. If anything else does pop up, we'll know exactly how to handle it.

With any luck, I'll be getting those screenings for a very long time.

Saturday, August 11, 2012


"Lately it occurs to me: What a long, strange trip it's been." - Truckin' by The Grateful Dead

My 2012 has been far from what I'd call "stable," but up until June I had a nice routine going in my life. I had my work, I had my hockey, I had love and happiness. Then at the end of May, it's almost as if the volume on EVERYTHING in my life got turned up a thousand decibels -- and suddenly nothing about my carefully managed routines worked any more.

So what happened in June?

My beloved Los Angeles Kings defied logic and stunned critics by winning their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. I was there screaming and cheering and crying in the 11th row of Section 116 for every moment -- and the experience changed my life.

My work got incredibly busy with the kickoff of a project that will consume the next year and a half of my work life. The reality of needing to have a suitcase constantly packed became slightly daunting.

And then came the biggest change in my life in a very long time -- my long distance love came to LA and undid my world in the best possible way. I was the happiest I'd been in a very long time -- and completely unsettled at the same time.

Suddenly there were two people, two schedules and two sets of priorities in the space only I used to occupy. At first, I thought the best way to handle it would be to just power through and get everything settled as soon as possible -- move around the furniture, reorganize the closets and drawers, unpack the boxes. Once all that was "done" everything would be normal again.

Well, that didn't work.

That's because merging your life with someone you love is about much more than finding space in closets and drawers. It's about finding space in your heart and your mind. And if you fully embrace that idea, you soon realize that what looked like "normal" before doesn't work any more. "Normal" becomes something completely new -- and even better than your "old" life.

I realized I had to spend some time experiencing my "new" life in order to figure out how to make it work. So I took some time to step away from the laptop and just live.


What I learned about my "new life" is that very different things are important to me now. New ideas and interests motivate me. There are different ways I want to spend my time. Above all, I think less about "me" and more about "us." Because being part of "us" has changed my life for the better and I'm grateful for every moment of my new life.

Now back to blogging....

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Kitchen Adventures: Arancini

I love trying new recipes and for the most part I manage just fine working the kitchen alone. But occasionally I run across a recipe that, while tempting to try, looks a little too complicated to be a one person operation -- at least the first time. That's when you phone a friend.

I had a trip planned to Seattle a few weeks ago to visit my friend Leah, who I've mentioned in my blog before. She's one of the best cooks I know and there isn't a tool that can't be found in her kitchen, so I knew she was the right person to help me try a recipe I got from the fine folks at Cakebread Winery in Napa, CA.

Arancini is a fancy word for deep fried risotto balls with a dollop of soft cheese melting in the middle. Rather than type it out here, I'm including a link to the Cakebread website which includes the complete recipe and a very helpful instructional video.

The main reason I'd avoided trying this recipe on my own was twofold. First, I knew it would make too much food for one person and I wasn't sure how well it would keep. Second and perhaps most importantly, deep frying anything in a tiny studio apartment kitchen seemed to be a dicey proposition at best. Having a plan to safely dispose of the used oil requires space and an extra set of hands.

As Leah and I were deciding our menu for the weekend of my visit, she was game to help try the recipe and we had a large enough audience of people to feed to make it worth the time and effort. Turns out it was much easier than I thought, although we did learn a few important things as we went along.

First, the risotto recipe itself was super yummy on its own! If you're looking for a good risotto, give it a try. I got a little carried away with my taste testing.

The cheese mentioned in the recipe is specific to the Napa Valley. You likely won't be able to find it by name at your local market, but shop at a store with a large cheese department and ask them to recommend a good soft cows milk cheese to substitute and the recipe will turn out just fine.

We improvised a bit on the size of the balls (actually I was the one most guilty on that front) and they were a bit too large. The recipe calls for a dollop of risotto the size of of small ice cream scoop, but a tablespoon would work out just fine and leave you with a nice two-bite size ball.

Once you have the oil  heated, the balls fry VERY quickly so it helps to cook them in very small batches -- no more than 3 or 4 at a time -- so they don't get too done. Leah did an awesome job in that department since I was handling the panko crusting duties.

One of the things we learned watching the video is that the recipe can be made ahead of time and frozen. The video didn't specify the process to do that, but Leah and I were thinking you could roll the balls and freeze them ahead, bring them to room temperature and then bread and fry them right before serving. Otherwise we suspect the panko breading would get too soggy.

Above all, we learned this recipe is a crowd pleaser AND it's kid friendly! Leah's niece and nephew both liked it and the adults absolutely approved.

So the next time you're in the mood for some deep fried Italian yumminess, have a ball -- or two!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Even Four-Legged Heros Shouldn't Be Left Behind

Several months ago I was on a Southwest Airlines flight when I came across an article in their in-flight magazine about military working dogs. These unique and highly trained animals help US military efforts by detecting explosive devices, ammunition, narcotics and other threats and in the process help save the lives of their human handlers and countless other soldiers that could be injured otherwise.

As I read through the article, I teared up several times. I've always had a soft spot in my heart for animals but these dogs are special. They are American military heroes.

That made me even more sad to learn they have not always been treated as such. In fact, dogs in the Korean or Vietnam conflicts were left behind after as "property." This specific quote from the article gave me the most pause.

"Between 1971 and 1973, approximately 2,700 military working dogs were either turned over to the South Vietnamese Army or let go. They never came home."

Thankfully, some decent human beings realized this was no way to treat American heroes. In November 2000, President Bill Clinton signed legislation establishing retirement and adoption protocol for military working dogs.  

In addition, these animals have advocates in  the United States War Dog Association, "a nonprofit organization of Former and Current US Military Dog Handlers and supporting members committed to promoting the long history of the Military Service Dogs, establishing permanent War Dog Memorials, and educating the public about the invaluable service of these canines to our country." Check out their website link above or their Facebook group here.

This Memorial Day, show your support for ALL our American military heroes -- even the four-legged ones.

Cell Phones For Soldiers

I am very proud to work for a company that encourages its employees to be socially responsible and support charitable efforts in their communities. I am especially proud of the very generous group we have in California where I work. Every month, our volunteer committee looks for causes and organizations to help support and since May is Military appreciation month, we've been collecting used electronics for a group called Cell Phones for Soldiers.

Dubbed "Operation Old to New," the idea is simple. Collect used or outdated cell phones and batteries, old charging cords, phone cords and other electronic items and exchange them for calling cards with minutes for our troops to call home.

According to their website, Cell Phones for Soldiers is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing deployed and returning troops cost-free methods to communicate with family while serving in the United States military.  In 2011, 593,535 service men and women have been served thanks to the generosity of people like my co-workers.

I can't think of a better way to honor our active duty military members than to help keep them connected to their loved ones. There are plenty of other ways to be involved even if you don't have old electronics to recycle. For all the details, check out the Cell Phones for Soldier website here.

Thanks to all the members of our military for keeping us safe and sound this Memorial Day.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

New Places: Huntsville, AL

Back in March, I started a new blog feature highlighting places I was visiting in my work travels by telling you things I learned about Baton Rouge, LA. After a bit of a break, I got back on the road again this week and headed out to Huntsville, AL.

Huntsville is the fourth largest city in Alabama with a population just over 180,000 people. It is nicknamed "The Rocket City" because of its long history with United States space missions, starting in early 1956 as the Army Ballistic Missile Agency (ABMA). It is also home to US Space Camp, attended by my very own boyfriend in his youth! I found out first hand about Huntsville's "humid subtropical climate," with high average temperatures in the 89 degree range. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

But facts and figures can only tell you so much about a new place. Getting there and exploring is the real fun. So thanks to a little help from a friend and former resident of Huntsville, here are some of the things I learned trying to check out the city like a "local."

When I entered Alabama via the Huntsville airport, I knew right away the residents know how to have a good time.

When I picked up my rental car and hit the highway, I discovered that drivers in the state LOVE their gas pedals. The highway speed limit is 70 MPH and I almost got run over at least twice merging onto the freeway. Maybe its the influence of the aerospace industry, but it seems like the preferred method of transportation for some drivers should probably be a rocket. They have those here too.

I wanted try to some local restaurants while I was in town, so I started with a recommendation from a friend who used to live in Huntsville and stopped in at Bandito Southside. It features good Mexican food, awesome margaritas and conversation from Tess, the coolest bartender in Huntsville, and live music. Needless to say that was a big thumbs up and exactly what I needed after a long day at work.

Bandito is like the Mexican food version of Friends. Everyone there knew each other, and if they didn't Tess made sure they got acquainted. But this is also the kind of place where folks are friendly to a fault and interested in meeting new people, so I struck up quick conversations with some interesting folks.

The first guy was the dad/sound man/photographer of the singer playing that night. When he asked me where I was from and I said Los Angeles, he said "It's a good thing you didn't say LA." When I asked why, he explained that LA stands for "Lower Alabama" (aka the Redneck Riviera). I told him I guessed that meant I was from LSD ("Lower Slower Delaware"). We both got a laugh out of that.

My second bar buddy was a local beer distributor that hooked me up with some souvenirs to remember Huntsville's favorite local brew. I wish I'd had time to stick around for the brewery tour.

Beer is required when you're down South, but so is BBQ. All of my co-workers at the Huntsville office kept talking about Dreamland, and I found a location less than two miles from my hotel. The portions are HUGE, the prices were right and they're big local sports supporters -- including HOCKEY!

I can highly recommend the ribs and mac and cheese, plus some peach cobbler for dessert. Then prepare to put up your feet and let it digest, because you'll be FULL.

This is the HALF rack. My advice -- don't attempt the full without backup.

The folks at my office also told me that lots of people in the local area head south on the weekends to visit the Gulf Shores beaches. I decided to add a visit there to my bucket list when i learned about The Flora-Bama. It's a bar that straddles state line between AL and FL so when it's last call in one state you just cross the bar to the other side. I'll bet they have plenty of red cups there!

I was actually kind of sad to be leaving, but the heat and humidity at 4 AM made me realize one aspect of life in the South I wouldn't miss. But the airport won HUGE points with me for actually having food service at 4:30 AM, so I just might have to come back some day. But I think I'll skip the pig and cow poop...

Now I have a few days off until I head southeast again.

Next stop, Mississippi!