Happiest of Holidays to You!

Tree2Wow, it’s Christmas Eve already. My daughter has been home from college since the 15th and I’m enjoying every minute with her (when she’s not out with her friends!) I didn’t realize how much I’d miss her…she’s matured so much since August. Home for the holidays – what could be better than that!

Last minute shopping, LOTS of baking and cookie decorating and a little more cleaning and I’ll be finished – all ready for Santa to come. Visiting family tomorrow will be wonderful. Brothers and sisters and their families I haven’t seen in a long time will be there too! How blessed I am to have such a large and loving family!

Since the tragedy in Connecticut on December 14th, I haven’t felt much like writing. Too many thoughts were going through my mind and I couldn’t decide whether to write about the holiday season or just wait and treasure the quiet moments shared with my loved ones. Although school is finally over, I have much planning to do for the future. Sometimes, the thoughts of it can be overwhelming.

I did receive a surprise package in the mail this afternoon from my niece andGhost Hunters Book (2) goddaughter who lives in California. She, like me, enjoys reading about the paranormal; however she is also a paranormal investigator. It’s ironic that I never realized this until a few years ago. This afternoon, I received an autographed book in the mail by the author of “Ghosthunting Southern California.” Sally Richards is a friend and member of their “ghost group,” Roadside Paranormal.

Okay, so this gift may not be what you would consider bedside reading during the Christmas holidays, but it’s great if you enjoy reading about ghosts and everything paranormal by the fire on a cold, dark night. I’m looking forward to reading it as soon as I find some quiet time when I’m not too exhausted from the holiday bustle.

To energize myself after the holidays, I have Chalene Johnson’s TurboFire workout to begin. That was a gift from my oldest brother who had great results from following the Beachbody workouts with Tony Horton. He’s 16 years my senior and in better physical condition than I am. That doesn’t say a lot for me and my exercise regime to date! However, what’s better than the New Year to begin a new routine?

My low-cholesterol eating plan has been working out pretty well. I’ve maintained a 4-lb. weight loss…not really too concerned about losing more until after the holidays. I just can’t resist the treats that are abundant this time of year. Moderation is the key and I’m permitting limited amounts of sweets while I continue eating lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in place of sugary foods.

White chocolate Cranberry cookiesI have to say I’ve made Teresa (Can’t Keep Out of the Kitehcn)’s White Chocolate and Cranberry cookies…and they’re delicious. Bringing them tomorrow along with a couple of others. My camera is so bad; can’t post too many pictures…but rest assured, dessert will be delicious!White chocolate Cranberry cookies1

 

 

My daughter, as tradition, opened one of her gifts tonight and loved the Vera Bradley travel case we bought her. It’s perfect for her little lotions and make up things and matches her purse. She was thrilled! Santa was good and we can’t wait till tomorrow.vera bradley

As long as we’re healthy and happy, what more could we ask? I hope everyone who reads this has a wonderful and peaceful holiday. My best wishes for a healthy and happy New Year! Thanks for reading!

Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmas-time.  ~Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Beat the Holiday Bulge!

Holiday weight It seems to happen every holiday season.

You attend parties and office gatherings to share a few festive moments with family, friends, colleagues and lots and lots of food. But when the holiday season is finally over, the bathroom scale reveals that you’ve gained some weight again, much to your chagrin.

Research studies show most adults gain some weight over the holidays. But don’t despair because this year can be different.holiday fat (2)

“I recommend to my patients that they just try to keep their current weight, as opposed to focusing on losing weight,” says Julia Renee Zumpano, RD, LD, registered dietitian, Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation. “Even though it’s hard to resist temptations all around you, there are simple steps you can take that can keep the extra holiday pounds off.”

How can you try to maintain your weight and heart-health during such a tempting time? Thanks to the Cleveland Clinic, these guidelines will help you survive the holiday hoop-la – this season and in the future ones to come.  

1. Get moving

One of the most effective ways to maintain or lose body weight is to engage in regular, sustained aerobic activity (*).To burn off those extra calories, kick up your exercise. If you exercise for 30 minutes a day, increase it to 45 minutes. If you exercise three times a week, move it up to five times a week.

Exercise is a great way to burn those extra calories you may be taking in this time of year (remember those iced reindeer cookies you had with lunch?). Here are some ideas to get you moving:

  • If you have a stationery bicycle or treadmill at home, dust it off and put it in front of the television or radio for some background entertainment while you’re exercising. Why not watch your favorite television show and exercise at the same time?
  • Go to the library and get a book on tape or CD, listen to it and read (so-to-speak) as you exercise.
  • Haven’t used your gym-pass in awhile? Hire a personal trainer to teach you effective calorie-burning techniques, or join that kick boxing class you’ve always wanted to try.
  • Go for a morning or evening walk alone or with a friend.
  • Put a little kick in your cleaning technique. Fire up some music and dance while you clean. Who ever knew cleaning could be so fun?
  • Have bad knees or other joints? Don’t worry – water aerobics or swimming is your answer! The water prevents your weight bearing down on the joints and is an effective way to burn calories.

(*) If you haven’t exercised in at least 6-months, check with your doctor first before starting.

2. Aim for seven-a-day healthy holiday food (2)

Making sure you eat seven or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day is a great way to help fill-up your stomach but not your calorie level. When compared to other snack foods like chips, crackers and cookies, gram for gram, fruits and vegetables contain fewer calories and tons more nutrients. What’s more – the fiber in fruits and vegetables fill you up faster than traditional snack foods. Pack your refrigerator with bags of cut-up vegetables and whole or cut-up fruits. Grab a bag while on the go or at work. Make a pact with yourself that you’ll eat your five-a-day before you snack on any cookies or other holiday treats. You’re sure to take in fewer calories overall.

3. Control the risk for temptation

Controlling even the slightest chance of coming in contact with ‘tempting’ foods is one way to effectively reduce your intake. While you won’t be able to control all situations, focus on the many ones you can. For example, do you keep candy or cookies at your desk or workspace? Do you frequent the dining room table or pantry where you store all your holiday goodies? Make a mental note of tempting places and try to control them. For example, make a pact with co-workers that goodies will be kept solely in the break room, not at the front desk or in various offices. Mentally plan out how you will avoid tempting situations. If you can’t avoid them entirely, see number 4.

4. Limit to one-a-day

While you can’t control every situation, you can control how much food goes into your mouth. If you are constantly bombarded with holiday parties and displays of desserts or candies you can still effectively help prevent overeating and weight gain. One way is the one-a-day method. Allow yourself one small serving of a cookie or piece of candy each day during the holiday season. Remember that you may have to compensate for it later in the day by reducing your total caloric intake or by burning a few extra calories while exercising. If you aren’t confronted with holiday foods that day, just skip your one-a-day – but don’t compensate and double-up on your serving the next day.

5. Always plan ahead – Never go to a party hungry

Before you go to a holiday party, eat a healthy snack such as a serving of your favorite fruit, fat-free yogurt or a low-fat, whole grain granola bar. When you arrive at the party, you won’t be craving hors d’oeuvres.

“If you’re going to a potluck dinner, bring a healthy dish to share such as a salad, veggie or fruit tray, or a low-fat pudding, Jell-O or fruit dessert,” says Zumpano. “That way, you’ll know you have at least one healthy item on the table spread.”

6. Be in charge of your party choices:

  • Small plate, please
    Be wise when choosing appetizers – a small portion of some appetizers may help you from overeating at dinner.
    “Pick up a small plate, and stick with vegetables, but limit or avoid the creamy dips,” advises Zumpano. “Restrict your intake of butter crackers, chips, cheese and meats. If you must have a deep-fried appetizer, eat only one small serving. Never go back for seconds. For dinner, fill half of your plate with salad and vegetables, one quarter with meat, and the final quarter with starch,” Zumpano says.
  • Avoid the sauce
    Avoid sauces made from cream, half-and-half or meat drippings. For salads, use oil and vinegar, vinaigrette or low-fat dressings. Broth -based or vegetable sauces are fine.
  • What about desserts?
    The best low-calorie choices are fruit, Jell-O, pudding, an unfrosted mini muffin, shortbread cookies, ginger snaps or angel food cake. If you must have a dessert with frosting, butter cream, cream cheese, or chocolate chips, limit yourself to one small cookie or one thin slice of cake.
  • Watch the drinks
    “Besides restricting your alcohol to one or two servings, you also need to restrict the type of alcohol,” says Zumpano. “For example, instead of high-fat eggnog, have a light beer or wine. After that, stick with calorie-free drinks such as water, unsweetened ice tea, hot tea or coffee.”

7. Say No Politely

Many times you feel forced to eat foods because people keep putting it in front of you. Learn to say no politely, such as “No thank you, I’ve had enough. Everything was delicious”, or “I couldn’t eat another bite. Everything tasted wonderful”. You’ll find saying no isn’t so hard to do after all.

8. Focus on socializing

Don’t stand around the food table when you are at a party – focus your energies on making conversation with others instead of focusing on foods. Conversation is calorie-free.

*9. Take a healthy snack with you while shopping

If you spend a lot of time shopping, away from home, you’re sure to encounter hunger pangs during the day.  Bring a water bottle and healthy snacks with you while you shop such as walnuts, almonds, dried sugar-free fruit, veggie sticks, etc.  With something to nibble on while shopping, you might find it easier to avoid fast-food temptations at the food courts or elsewhere.

*my own personal recommendation!  Helps me pass by my two mall  favorites…Starbucks and Cinnabon!

holiday bulge (2)Remember, the holidays are meant to celebrate good times with family and friends. Enjoy the holidays and plan effective strategies to help you achieve your weight loss goals. Achieving what you sought out for will give you one more good reason for holiday cheer! Happy Holidays!

Courtesy: Cleveland Clinic 2009

Where the Heck Did I Hide Those Presents?

hmmmOkay, let’s face it.  Many of us (let’s be honest now) have a bought holiday gift, possibly even wrapped it, and when the time came to put it under the tree, we couldn’t find it!  Maybe we bought it a tad bit early, catching a great sale.  We stashed it in the perfect “hiding place” so the recipient wouldn’t find it until that “special moment.”

 Time for the unveiling.  Christmas Eve or morning…everyone eagerly unwrapping their beautifully decorated packages and… what the heck?  Where are the leather gloves I bought after Thanksgiving?  What happened to the monogrammed ornament?  Damn, I could have sworn I bought a new crossword dictionary, DVD, pair of earrings, state-of-the-art gizmo, body lotion set, sweater, cashmere scarf and on and on!

 I used to be the “Queen of the Hidden Gifts” and “Master of the Stash,” hiding gifts in the attic, in storage crates, in the garage, out in the shed, anywhere I knew prying eyes wouldn’t either think of looking or couldn’t easily get to.  For the more common placeshiding gifts like under the bed or in the closet, the gifts were so meticulously wrapped, I would know in an instant if that sneaky someone tried to sneak a peek.  I was a kid once too!

 Alas, it never fails.  There is usually ONE gift that gets lost in the shuffle.  Last year it was a pair of jeans for my daughter.  I hid the wrapped box under the bed in the spare room; I had other gifts under there too which I remembered to put under the tree.  But this box somehow got shoved behind an “under the bed storage bin” and escaped my vision.

While putting away a blanket in March, I discovered the package.  OMG, what is this?  I didn’t care that it was wrapped; I impatiently ripped off the ribbons and tore open jeansthe paper.  There in the box, so carefully covered with sparkly holiday tissue, was a pair of designer jeans I bought for my daughter.  Ah, now I remember…I bought them online in November after receiving her Christmas list, swearing it was the last time I’d ever pay that much for jeans again.  They arrived early so I wrapped them up in a hurry and carefully hid them w—a—y  under the bed so she wouldn’t find them.

A light bulb went off in my head.  Easter was around the corner, so why waste the gift by giving it to her now?  I’d wait until Easter and put the re-wrapped gift with her Easter basket.  Yes, I still give my teenage daughter an Easter basket, usually filled with “girly” things, maybe a CD or DVD, a gift card and, of course, a delicious chocolate bunny.

Sure enough, Easter morning, my daughter wakes and with bright eyes dashes into the den to discover the basket…and a box?  Of course, she ripped open the now pale yellow and green wrapped box first.  “What’s this?” she asked quizzically.   I confessed.  My daughter just gave me a look and then laughed.  “It figures” was her comment.  I asked her to try them on after breakfast.  A week later, she still hadn’t tried them on.  “I don’t really like these, please don’t be angry.”  Are you kidding me?  My sharp comment was “They were on your list; you asked for them!”  Stupid me; didn’t I realize by now teen girls are fickle and change their mind like we change our underwear?forgetful cat

Fast forward six months.  Now it’s autumn.  The jeans, with the tags, are still in her closet, unworn.  My daughter is in college.  I’m ticked.  That pair of jeans was expensive but I knew by this time they would never be seen on my daughter’s bottom.  I halfheartedly folded the pair and gently laid it on top of the rest of the clothes I had in a bag set aside for charity.  Normally I donate to a different charity each year and unfortunately have witnessed some less than charitable behavior by staff members.  On three occasions, I’ve seen my bags of clean, carefully folded garments being torn open and rifled through, with the individuals removing what they want for themselves before putting the other items on the table for distribution or sale.

 Well, I couldn’t worry about it now.  Did it really matter?  It was my fault I misplaced the gift.  I can’t blame my daughter for changing her mind and I couldn’t find the receipt.  Hopefully, some young girl is now happily dancing around in those beautiful blue designer jeans, feeling like she’s “all that.” 

giftsThis series of events taught me two important lessons:  First, learn by my mistakes; second, giving should come from the heart, not the wallet.  Would I really have minded if the jeans cost $10 rather than the ridiculous price I paid for them?  This year, I’ve made a decision.  ALL presents will be kept in my bedroom, wrapped or unwrapped.  If the recipient wants to sneak around, find it and not be surprised on Christmas morning, so be it.  I’m also keeping a list of every gift I buy so I’ll be able to keep track.  Funds are limited this year so there won’t be as many gifts anyway.

 More importantly, from now on, I’m buying a couple of extra gifts to donate to charity.  They’ll be wrapped in brightly colored paper with beautiful ribbons and given to those in need, wherever they may be.   After all, this is the season of giving.

 “For it is in giving that we receive.”  ~ St. Francis of Assisi

The Season of Giving

 “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love.” ~ Hamilton Wright Mabievanessa xmas baby

What is it about the words HOME and HOLIDAYS that bring a sense of warmth and comfort?  Or do these words represent something sad and painful.  Is your family intact or splintered?  Do you live by yourself but visit your family on the holidays or are your loved ones far away? 

There’s no escaping the Holiday Season.  It’s everywhere you look.  Sadly, it has become overly commercial; lacking the true meaning of the season.  But there is a bright side…for everyone, no matter your religion or lack thereof, age, gender or race.

H earth  O rnaments  L ove  I cicles  D ecorations  A ngels  Y ule

S nowflakes  E ggnog  A tmosphere  S tar  O rchestra  N ew Year

vanessa xmas youngMy baby (she’s 18 already!) won’t be returning home from college until mid-December.  She always helped decorate and I miss her greatly.  My DH?  Not exactly the decorating type (but he’s good for lugging the decorations down from the attic!)

All the outside decorations are up and I’ve begun the inside, but something tells me to wait until my daughter returns to complete the task.  On the other hand, I’d like to have it fully decorated, with the exception of the tree (which we always do TOGETHER), so when she walks in the door, she’ll see our home in all it’s fine holiday glory.

 Decisions, decisions.  There are still the tasks of mailing holiday cards, purchasing and wrapping presents, making and decorating food gifts, last minute cleaning, visiting friends and attending a holiday party.  But that’s not what’s important.

NYC Soup Kitchen Christmas I’d like to visit a shelter, hospital, soup kitchen or food bank and give something to those who don’t have all the blessings of the holiday season that I do.  It’s a time of new hope and love.  It’s a time of giving and sharing.  Life is too short to rush through the season.  Others less fortunate need some holiday spirit too.

 V & Mom XmasI think everyone can find a little time and bring cheer to someone who is without hope, who is sad or lonely during the holidays.  Santa may not be real (I didn’t really say that) but I believe in angels.  Will you be an angel this year for someone who needs one?  I pray you will.

 “At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.” ~ Mother Teresa

Traditions and Customs: Do They Impact Our Lives?

With the holiday season upon us, I like to ponder the many traditions and customs our family has passed down through the generations.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Years are among the most popular of the many holidays celebrated with great joy at this time of year.  Celebrations of family, home, community, spirituality, good bounty, gift-giving, and revelry are prevalent.  Even those who live by themselves, without family members or other loved ones nearby can find love, comfort and happiness during the traditional festivals. 

We may consider traditions and customs similar; however, according to Merriam-Webster, “a custom is a practice common to many or to a particular place or class.”  On the other hand, “a tradition as an inherited, established or customary pattern of thought, action or behavior, such as a religious practice or a social custom.  Traditions are representative of a person’s culture.”When I was a child, our home barely accommodated six children and two parents, yet we always found room for relatives to celebrate the holidays with us.  This meant not only setting up several large tables in the dining room and living room but in the basement as well, to serve our many guests.  I recall my brother and I having to surrender our bedrooms, as several distant relatives chose to stay on with our family for several days or longer.  Looking back, I find it amazing how we accommodated all those people with only one bathroom!

As my older brothers and sisters started having families of their own, the celebrations grew more contemporary; however we still preserved the traditions and customs of the previous generations.  A favorite tradition is the Easter egg-roll and hunt which began when my nieces and nephews were old enough to maneuver the egg on a spoon; a generation later, their children were doing the same and soon, another generation may begin.

Of course, most who celebrate the more common American holidays still have the traditional turkey feast on Thanksgiving, complete with a vast assortment of autumn vegetables and fruit pies, not to mention stuffing and gravy.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has countless photos of family members with puffed cheeks as they blow out their birthday candles; always an attractive photo.  We generally eat similar food on the same holidays too; Lamb on Easter, Fresh Ham on New Year’s Day, Corned Beef and Cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day, and Turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  There are rituals surrounding religious services, and customs of opening or exchanging gifts, stringing popcorn, decorating wreaths and trees, sending cards, putting up lights and so forth, which make the holidays so enjoyable.

Traditions, customs, rituals and habits all have their place in our society.  Even if you don’t celebrate any of them, you’ll find yourself entangled in the labyrinth of holiday madness no matter where you go.  From crowded airports and rail stations, to post offices and banks, garden centers, grocery stores and malls; the masses are in full swing when the holidays come around.

It’s nice to take time and reminisce about the holiday traditions and customs we hold near to our hearts.  Having a large family is wonderful at this time of year however even if I found myself away from home, I would still be able to enjoy the memories and continue the family practices of my past.  To me, traditions ignite the embers in a dormant soul which brilliantly surge with the first spark. 

Dropping supplies off at our parish food bank followed by church services is the prelude to Thanksgiving morning.  I’m looking forward to watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television this week, as I’ve done for many years, as I prepare an assortment of baked desserts and side dishes to bring to the celebration at my sister’s house.  I hope to enjoy a day of gratitude, hope and customarily traditional activity with many family members as we pray for blessings on all.

“A love for tradition has never weakened a nation; indeed it has strengthened nations in their hour of peril.” ~ Winston Churchill

“There is no rest for the weary .” Prov

Another of my father’s favorite quotes…

It’s November; the weather was unusually mild and Thanksgiving is only 11 days away.  What happened to August?  It seems as though yesterday we were driving our daughter to college and now I’m scheduling her trip home for the winter holidays.  Did the days always fly by this quickly or am I only beginning to notice it as I grow older?

The phrase “grow older” doesn’t agree with me.  As far as I’m concerned, I’m still in my early thirties raring to go.  Actually, when I was about 42, I was in the best shape of my life; lean and mean.  I am trying to stay on the right path as far as nutrition and physical exercise are concerned but now it seems like such a chore.  What happened to all the fun I used to have raking leaves, shoveling show, trimming shrubs and bushes, painting, decorating and cleaning?  I suppose I’m in a new life cycle, or so I’ve heard.

Today was a busy one for me, which is always a good thing.  While my husband was cleaning up debris from the yard and blowing leaves, I helped by clearing out our pond, trimming bushes and cleaning up the flower beds.  When I paused to prepare lunch, I decided I’d bring all the Halloween storage bins that had yet to be put away, back up into the attic by myself.  It wasn’t that I minded so much, lifting all the boxes up the narrow stairs to the attic, what concerned me was I felt I had no arm strength.  This was the first time I ever felt weak and I didn’t like it.

I can still lift the 42 lb. package of cat litter fairly easily.  I carried the heavy Halloween props in and out of the house and onto the lawn by myself.  Yet I had trouble lifting the boxes up into the attic.  It occurred to me that I need to incorporate a lot more strength training in my workout routine.

After the boxes were stacked in the attic, I figured, since I was already up there, I may as well bring down some Christmas lighting.  The weather was calm and my Christmas decorating usually begins in a couple of weeks anyway, so what the heck.  I managed to put up several strands of lights around our garage and a couple of trees as well as assemble our outdoor music light show.  All the lights worked however I won’t be turning any of them on until the weekend after Thanksgiving.  It felt good to get some of them up before the colder weather sets in.

Between doing yard work, decorating and cleaning, I feel I got a lot accomplished today.  The first day of my Low Cholesterol meal plan is going well:  ½ Grapefruit, ½ English muffin with lowfat spread and tea for breakfast, lowfat yogurt, banana and walnuts for lunch and a large salad with 2 hardboiled egg whites and lowfat dressing for dinner was pretty satisfying.  My husband had somewhat more substantial meals today: Oatmeal w/skim milk, yogurt, melon, turkey sandwich, baked flounder with LF/LC dressing, brown rice and green beans were on his menu.  Not too bad for the first day. 

The box-lifting incident motivated me and I think I’ll change up my exercise routine tomorrow.  I still can’t believe Thanksgiving is around the corner and Christmas right on its tail.  There is still so much work I would like to finish before mid-December including the traditional decorating, baking, shopping, gift wrapping and writing cards.  I’d really like to have the foyer painted before my daughter comes home to make it more welcoming.  I just wish sometimes, there were more than 24 hours in a day. 

I have to say that I am satisfied with what I accomplished today.  It’s now time to relax for the remainder of the evening.  Fuzzy slippers, green tea and two soft furballs on my lap sounds like a plan.  I am surely blessed.

“Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.” ~ Ovid