Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Love Love Love ♥

Love. I'm a very lucky girl because I have a lot of it in my life, and with this past weekend being Valentine's Day, it gave me a chance to reflect on that. I personally have always liked Valentine's Day. When I was a little kid, I always liked the Valentine's day party that we would have in class (probably because there was so much candy!)...well not much has changed, I still love the fact that V-day is a holiday closely tied with candy, but I really enjoy all the cards, flowers, and all the pretty red & pink heart decorations. Some would say that Valentine's day is just a construct of the greeting card industry, meant to get people to spend money without any real feeling. Although I do love all the trimmings that go with the holiday, I think that it really is a meaningful day, provided that your heart is in the right place.

This was Cameron & I's third Valentine's Day together, but our first as husband and wife, and it was really a wonderful weekend. On Friday, I took the day off work because I had a doctor's appointment in the morning out in Birmingham. When Cam came to pick me up from the appointment, there was a big bouquet of pink roses (my favorite) on the front seat of the car...I love getting flowers (Cameron knows this!) and it was a really nice way to start of our weekend together. We had a great breakfast at The Original Pancake House in downtown Birmingham, then we headed up to my parents house in Lake Orion on Friday afternoon, which was nice because I hadn't been home since before the holidays! Then Friday evening, Cam and I went to the John Mayer concert at the Palace, which was our Valentine's Day gift to each other. This was the second time that we had seen John Mayer in concert together, and again I was totally blown away at how amazing he is live. Saturday afternoon we were able to spend time with my grandparents, which is always a blessing, and then after visiting with them I took Cameron to my favorite chocolate shop in downtown Oxford, Choo Choo's Chocolates! The place was packed for Valentine's day, and we decided to indulge in some chocolates and a cupcake, a very wise decision! Then Saturday evening, my parents had a bunch of friends over for a Wild Game Dinner (my dad's idea). The dinner included many of the friends my dad hunts and fishes with, along with their wives, and everyone brought a dish to share. There were 3 different kinds of venison, goose, pheasant, turkey, and walleye, along with a multitude of desserts, and everything was delicious! After the dinner, Cam took me to see the movie Valentine's Day, and I really appreciated him sitting through a click-flick for me! On Valentine's Day, we were able to have a nice, relaxing afternoon with my parents watching the Olympics, then it was time to start getting ready for our date!

Cam had made reservations for us at a restaurant in Birmingham that we had been wanting to try called Cameron's Steakhouse...ok, so we had been wanting to try it largely because of the name, but we both love getting dressed up and going out to eat, so we figured Valentine's Day was the perfect opportunity. Cameron's definitely met our expectations--we got a seated in a cozy leather booth, and all the food was amazing! We had champagne, lobster bisque, housemade fries, lobster macaroni & cheese, filet mignon, and then to top it off we got chocolate lava cake for dessert, which was probably the most delicious thing I've ever eaten. Ever. At all these different restaurants we go to, Cam and I always order the molten chocolate cake for dessert, and usually it's just a disappointing little piece of chocolate cake w/ a warm center. Not at Cameron's. They served us a fairly large serving of cake that was baked in a ramekin and topped with powdered sugar. Our waitress then cut out the center of the cake and poured in a gravy boat filled with rich hot fudge (amazing!), and on top of all this, the dessert was served with a big martini glass filled with homemade vanilla bean ice cream (I'm seriously getting hungry just thinking about this dessert haha). It was divine, words cannot even describe how decadent and delicious it was. The only problem was that by the time we got dessert, Cam and I were both SO full from dinner that we could barely even eat any of it! I was literally in physical pain I was so stuffed, but I couldn't help from eating more and more of this cake because it was that amazing!

All in all, Cameron and I had a great time together for our first Valentine's Day as a married couple. Over the weekend, I was reminded how fortunate I am to be surrounded by so much love from wonderfully supportive family and friends. It's definitely going to be hard to leave them when we move out of Michigan this summer, and I think as the time draws closer, that fact is becoming more real, both for them and for me. The weekend also gave me a chance to focus on the love that God has blessed Cam and I with for one another, because it truly is a gift. I feel so fortunate that I found my soulmate so early in life, and I'm so excited that we have our whole lives full of possibility ahead of us and that we're going to get to spend them together. While Cameron and I always tell each other we love each other every single day, it's nice to slow down and take a day just to focus on how wonderful that fact is. I think that one of the greatest gifts that my relationship with Cam has given me is that it's painted a much clearer picture in my mind of just how much God loves us. I can remember one day in the spring after Cameron and I had been dating a few months, I was out for a run and I decided to stop and go swing on the swings of a playground that I was passing by (go figure!). While I was swinging, the weather was just perfect, the sky was pure blue, and I just felt so joyful. It was at that point where my love for Cam was still so fresh and new, where you're just falling head over heels and can't seem to think about anything else but that person. While I was swinging and staring into the blue sky, I just really felt the Lord speak to me and say "All the love in your heart that you have for Cam doesn't even compare to how much that I love you." It was like all the sudden everything just clicked, and I was completely struck by this powerful revelation. All my life, I grew up in church, and would sing "Jesus Loves Me" in Sunday school, and there was no doubt in my mind that I was a God loved me...I just had never been in love, a deep romantic love, so I didn't really understand what that meant. Up until I met Cam, my romantic involvements with people had only been mere infatuations, and it wasn't until we started dating that I really felt and started to understand what true love is, because it was unlike nothing that I had ever experienced. Being in love is so wonderfully powerful and all-consuming, and my heart is filled with that for Cam. However, it's made me realize that when God says he LOVES us, that's such an amazing thing, and my love for Cam has given me such a powerful glimpse of just how strong God's love is for us; because as much as I love Cam, it will never compare to the Father's heart towards us, his children. Not only that, but the Lord desires for us to love him in that way as well, to just be completely engrossed in wanting to get to know him more. So while to some people, Valentine's Day may be only about cards and candy, for me it's a day to remember all the love I have in my life, from my friends & family, my husband, and this amazing God who loves me even more than I'll ever be able to understand.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Healthy Hearts


I love cookies. I really do. Especially sugar cookie cutouts, with all the different cookie cutters and colorful frosting, they are just so festive! We always make them for Christmas, and then I try to make them every few months for other things--so far I've made maize and blue block "M" cutout cookies for football weekends, pumpkins for Halloween, and I always like to make hearts for Valentine's Day. Earlier this month, I was having lunch at Panera Bread and I decided to try one of their adorable pink frosted shortbread heart shaped cookies. Just out of curiosity, I decided to check Panera's website for the nutrition facts of that cookie and I was surprised to find out that just one little cookie is a whopping 380 calories! Now not that there's anything wrong with having one occasionally, but in the spirit of the healthful lifestyle Cam and I are trying to pursue this year, I decided that I wanted to try to make a healthier version of the cutout...here are the changes I made and why:
  • Organic whole wheat pastry flour instead of enriched all-purpose flour: Grains contain 3 parts--the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. When white flour is produced, the bran and the germ are stripped away, removing much of the grain's fiber and nutrients, which is why I chose to use whole wheat pastry flour for the cookies. Whole wheat pastry flour is a little different than normal whole wheat flour because that is made from hard wheat, while the whole wheat pastry flour is made from soft wheat, making it a little lighter, perfect for cookies and pastries. The substitution of the whole wheat flour for enriched white flour gives the cookies more protein, fiber, as well as nutrients like selenium, potassium, and magnesium.
  • Organic natural cane sugar instead of granulated white sugar: Most white sugar that Americans use comes from beets, and has been completely processed and stripped, turning the plant material into pure sucrose. In addition, cane sugar crops that are not grown organically require a lot of pesticides and are extremely harmful for the Earth. The good news is that there is a wide array of natural sweeteners available that are both better for the environment and provide more complex flavors, as white sugar is fairly one-dimensional. For these cookies, I used a organic natural cane sugar that was a little more processed then say a turbinado sugar, aka it was lighter in color, but it seemed to work out perfectly for these cookies.
  • Coconut oil instead of butter: This swap probably had the biggest impact on the finished product...hear me out, I don't think that butter is bad for you, organic butter is very delicious and so much better for you than margarine and many other hydrogenated oils. However, I had heard that coconut oil had a great deal of health benefits, and it's naturally warm, sweet essence lends itself to baking, which is why I chose to use it in these cookies. At room temperature, coconut oil isn't a liquid like olive oil, instead it's a white solid with the consistency of shortening, another reason it's great for baking. When baking with coconut oil, you don't need as much as it has a lower water content than butter, so if you're swapping it in a recipe, you should reduce the amount of coconut oil you use by 25%. Using coconut oil imparts a definite coconut overtone to your finished product, but not so much so that it's overpowering, rather it will give your baked goods more of a warm sweetness. It's important to use unrefined coconut oil, as opposed to a processed, hydrogenated version. One of the greatest health benefits that coconut oil boasts over butter is that it has no cholesterol! In addition, it's very rich in lauric acid, which boosts both the immune system and brain function.
  • Agave nectar instead of corn syrup: For sugar cookie icings that I have made in the past, I have typically used corn syrup, however, Cameron and I are starting to try to eat a diet that is a natural as possible, meaning that the foods we consume are as close to their natural state as possible with minimal processing. When you look at corn syrup (which generally comes from genetically modified corn), the end result is a product that is vastly different from the crop from which it was derived. Corn syrup goes through extreme chemical processing, and we don't really know the effects of consuming the high amounts of corn syrup that we do in this country, as corn syrup is a main ingredient in a large majority of processed foods. Agave nectar, on the other hand, is a wonderful, natural sweeter. It's made from the leaves of the agave plant aka the plant used to make tequila! What's great is that it's very low on the glycemic index, meaning it doesn't cause your blood sugar to spike like regular sugar, so even diabetics can eat it. Also, it's actually 1 1/2 times sweeter than normal sugar, so you're definitely not sacrificing any of the sweetness you would want in a frosting.
In the end, the cookies were delicious, a huge hit over Valentine's Day weekend!! And the great thing is, each cookie only had 160 calories vs. the 380 cals per cookie at Panera, making them that much sweeter :)

***Part of my inspiration for baking these cookies, as well as the information for this post, came from a great book that my sister-in-law gave to me called Super Natural Cooking. Written by Heidi Swanson, the book encourages you to step outside your comfort zone when cooking and choose natural ingredients that you might not have tried before. It also explains the benefits of using ingredients that are as minimally processed as possible. Not only does using a wider variety of grains, sweeteners, fats, spices, fruits and veggies give you more health benefits, but it also makes your cooking much more interesting and flavorful. The book is beautifully done, and contains a lot of great information, so if you're looking to make some healthy changes in your pantry, this book is a great place to start!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The big 2-0


"It's those years when you're in your 20s, when everything matters and nothing matters at exactly the same time. Now that is beautiful. Really beautiful." -RJ Shaughnessy

Earlier this week, my little sister Melissa turned 20!! While it's hard to believe that we're not kids anymore, I couldn't be more proud of the beautiful woman Melissa has become both inside and out, and I couldn't have asked for a better best friend. Now I know that 21 is the birthday that everyone usually makes a big deal about. However, I feel that turning from 20 is a huge milestone, and her birthday has made feel just a little reflective about what an awesome time in your life your twenties is. Sure, your teen years are fun, high school is great, but your twenties is the time that you really start to come into your own and really shape the identity of the person you want to be. In your twenties, you feel like your life is just beginning, and there is such an excitement of having the world at your finger tips, and the open road of life stretched out in front of you. During the years of your twenties is generally when you experience some huge milestones-graduating from college, starting your first real job, moving away from friends and family, getting married, and possibly even starting a family...that's a lot of excitement to pack in to ten years! Everyone takes different paths on the road life, and these years are filled different experiences for everyone, or the same experiences that may just happen at different times. For me, getting engaged, planning a wedding and being married has been something that I've gotten to experience a little bit earlier than my friends, as 22 is a little on the early side to get married by today's standards. However, that's the path that my twenties have taken and I wouldn't change a thing; marriage has been the biggest blessing and the most wonderful thing that I've ever experienced, and I am excited for my friends to get to see what it's like. My friends are all doing different things with their lives--some are still in school, some have moved across the country, many have started jobs, and everyone is growing and learning a lot about themselves. I think that really the process of self-discovery is the most significant thing that happens during your twenties--you learn how to survive on your own apart from your parents and your high school and college friends, you learn what you like and dislike whether that be in a mate, in a friend, in a boss, in a city, etc., and then you go about the process of arranging a life that is best suited to you. And while your twenties can be fairly stressful as there are so many new experience, I think that the quote I started this post of with perfectly highlights what's so great about this time in your life--you're still young. You're going to make mistakes, and that's OK. While you're twenties are a monumental decade, it's so important to not take yourself to seriously, keep your sense of humor, and have FUN! Now, Melissa is just starting her 20's and I am so excited for her as she's so adventurous, creative, and ambitious, I know that she has such a bright future ahead. She's got big plans to travel the world and make a difference, and I really admire her free-spirit and her "sky's the limit" attitude when looking towards her future. I know that we may not always have the luxury of living in the same state or even the same country like we do now, but the closeness we have now will never change, and I'm so excited for what lies ahead for her. So, in honor of her birthday, I have decided to make a little list of 20 things to do during you're 20's...I got this idea from another blog I stumbled across, and I though it was really great...the things on the list are things that I aspire to do, so feel free to use it as a jumping off point to set your own goals for this exciting time in your life!
  • Travel-Your 20's are the time to get as many stamps in your passport as possible, and to get out and see the world. Our parents always taught my sister and I that traveling was one of the best ways to learn, and as I've gotten older, I've realized just how true that is because it not only teaches you about other cultures, but it teaches you about yourself as well. There are so many places that I want to see, both in the United States, and all over the globe, that traveling is really going to be a big priority for Cam and I over the next few years.
  • Read-Once you graduate from college, you can actually start to read for enjoyment, so for me that means a mix of new novels, interesting non-fictions, classics I never read in HS/college, and recommendations from family and friends. My goal-read @ least 200 books during my 20's...that's only 20 books a year, so ideally I'd love to read more, but this is what I'm setting as jumping off point.
  • Learn-Along with reading, during your 20's, I think it's so important to have the attitude of being a life long learner. What's great about your twenties is you have the freedom to learn about things because you want to, not because you have to, so why not learn a language (I'm even thinking of brushing up on my Italian), learn a new skill, and take this time to learn about your finances! I'm beginning to realize just how important this is...
  • Budget-So I'll be the first to admit, I'm not the best person when it comes to money, I'm more of a words person, numbers kind of annoy me. But whether you're married or single, taking control of your finances when you're young is SO important. If you choose to stay ignorant and ignore your financial situation, you're only going to be hurting yourself in the long run. So a big part of taking control of your finances is creating a budget for yourself. Since your 20's is the first time for most people to be financially supporting themselves, it can definitely be a bit of a learning process. Now I have never liked the word budget. To me it was basically like a diet with money, where you'd have to restrict yourself and never get to enjoy life. However, that's so not true, a budget actually gives you greater financial freedom because it allows you the ability to see exactly where your money is going and the security to know that you're going to be able to cover all your expenses and not put yourself into debt (a HUGE pitfall many 20-somethings get caught up in that you want to avoid at all costs). Cam and I have actually been using a really cool website called Mint, which allows you to track all your spending and categorizes your purchases. Taking a little time now to better understand and plan for your finances will make a huge difference in the future!
  • Save-On that note, if you want to be financially secure, it's so important to start saving (and investing) now in your twenties as opposed to later down the road. Again, I am by now means an expert on this, but the numbers speak for themselves--if you were to save $100 every month from age 20 on that was earning 10% interest, by the time you were 65, you'd have over $1 million. However, if you wait until age 30 to start saving $100 a month, you'd only have less that $380,000 saved...quite the difference!! When you're in your 20's, talking about things like saving for your kids college education or retirement isn't exactly the sexiest of topics. However, you're only putting hurting yourself by waiting to save until you have more money, your married, or whatever excuse you might use. Money isn't meant to be a burden, it's meant to be a tool to help you accomplish the things you want out of life, whether it's vacations, h0mes, cars, etc...doing a little research about the importance of saving and building up a nest egg now in your 20's is one of the very best things you can do for yourself in the long run.
  • Create-Your 20's is a time to be inspired and express yourself, so I think that having a project to pour your creative energy into is a really great outlet to have. So whether it's a book, a blog, a piece of clothing (if you're like Melissa!), creating something is a wonderful process that everyone should get to experience.
  • Exercise-During your 20's, you have the blessing of having youth on your side, so this is a great time to get active and do things that you enjoy that will help keep you in shape. When you're young, the last thing you want to do is be overweight and unhealthy, so scheduling time for regular physical activity that you enjoy is such an important habit to develop during this time in your life.
  • Eat Healthy-On the same note, you can workout all you want, but if you're putting crap into your body, then it's all a waste of time. Your 20's can be a busy time, and that usually translates into eating foods that aren't healthy for us or resorting to things like crash diets that are terrible for you. Learning to eat the natural, unproccessed foods that your body craves will benefit you not only in your 20's but for the rest of your life, so that's why it's so important to get into the habit now, your body will thank you!
  • Sleep-This is a tough one for me, I am terrible at getting 8 hrs of sleep a night. If you start to do any reading on the subject, you realize how great getting a full restful night's sleep is and how bad being sleep deprived is, but still, I can't seem to get to bed on time. During your 20's you're trying to burn the candle at both ends, get up for work, go out at night, and basically do it all. But I'm slowly coming to the realization that I need to take advantage of the child-free years during my 20's to indulge in a good night's rest!
  • Volunteer-Channel the time, energy, passions you have available during your 20's to do some good for those in need. Everyone has different gifts and talents, and there are so many organizations in every community that would love the help. This goes back to your 20's being the time for you to figure out what kind of person you want to be. Sure no one is telling you have to volunteer, it's not required for Student Council or your sorority, volunteering in your 20's should be a habit that you want to get into because you start to realize that helping others feels good. Right now, you might not be at a point financially in your life where you can make a big donation to a charity, but could you donate a few hours of your time?
  • Set Goals-It's easy to come out of college like Pollyanna, very idealistic and bright-eyed...and then become discouraged and disillusioned once you get in to the working world. That's why it's so crucial to set goals for yourself--to see where you want to go in life, and then set the steps to get there. It's easy to sometimes feel like you are just wandering aimlessly through your 20's, especially when your career seems to be hitting a dead end. That's why staying focused and using your goals to motivate you is great for helping you reach your full potential. That's not to say that your goals aren't going to change over the course of your 20's, which is why you should keep constantly reevaluating them to make sure that you're moving in the direction you want to go.
  • Date-Although I may have already hung up my dating shoes at the ripe old age of 22, I do think that it's a exciting and important part of your 20's. Dating different people allows you to figure out things that you want and don't want in a partner, and it's definitely fun! Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that you should just date tons of random people who you know are wrong for you, I do think you should be dating with a purpose, which is to eventually find you're mate. However, all I'm saying is don't be close-minded to who Mr. Right may be because you can't always judge a book by it's cover, so don't be afraid to date someone that's not your type.
  • Cook-If there is one skill that you should develop during your 20's, in my opinion, it's cooking. My dad always used to say that once you get the hang of it, cooking a good meal is really easy and can be done very quickly, and it's true! Most people get takeout a lot during this time in their life because they claim they don't have the time to cook, however, with a little practice, you can very quickly put together a great meal, that will be cheaper and healthier than dining out. And if you can hone your cooking skills now, think about how much easier it will be when you actually have to cook for a family! Also, I'm not suggesting that everyone needs to become Julia Child, but if you can learn the basics, and even learn how to make just one dish really well, you'll be doing yourself a big favor.
  • Experiment with your look-Your 20's is the time to try new things, and how are you going to figure out what you like if you stay in a rut? So whether it's chopping your hair, playing around with trends, getting a neon manicure, wearing a crazy outfit, changing your hair color, use this time in your life figure out how you feel most confident, and don't be afraid to do something out of character!
  • Develop your style-That being said, by the time you get to your twenties, you start to realize what things you feel most comfortable in and so this is the time when you can really define your own style. Whether it's a signature scent that you love, a silhouette that flatters your shape, or a shoe that brings your look together, your 20's is the time to develop the message you're trying to send with your style.
  • Splurge-As you start to create your own signature style, you realize there are certain pieces that just define "you"--whether it's a great coat, an awesome bag, amazing boots, whatever it may be, I think that you're 20's are a great time to indulge a little and really spend some significant investment pieces that will help build your wardrobe. This may seem contradictory to my points about budgeting and saving your money, but really it's not. If you really love something, it's worth spending the money to buy quality, that way it will last you all through your 20's and you'll always look great and be confident, as opposed to buying cheaper knockoffs that will just fall apart and cause you to waste more money on replacing them anyway. And splurging doesn't have to just mean huge purchases, it can be little ways to treat yourself too. Granted you don't want to lose sight of your budget and saving, but occasionally something like a mani/pedi, a massage, or even a great dinner or bottle of wine is a necessary expenditure :)
  • Establish a circle of friends-Having good girlfriends who will be there for you is one of life's greatest gifts. During your 20's, you start to establish the circle of friends that you can really depend on, and who are going to be in your life for the long haul. As you leave college, you realize that some of your "friends" were more just friends of convenience, those relationships begin to fall by the wayside. Maintaining friendships can take more effort in your 20's because you actually have to take the time to get together, which can be much more difficult as people move apart. However, your true friends will always love you and be there for you, so it's worth putting in the time to nourish these relationships in your life.
  • Take a risk-Your 20's are a time to (*throwback reference* as Ms. Frizzle would say) take chances, make mistakes, get messy! This is such a great time in your life to find out what you're made of, face your fears, and create memories that you can look back on and smile in your 80's. So whether that's something big that genuinely frightens you like sky diving, or something small that makes you mildly uncomfortable like going out to dinner alone, your 20's is the time to do these things!
  • Laugh-Nothing feels better than having a good laugh, and in my 20's, I want to be doing as much laughing as possible. This means keeping a sense of humor, even when things are tough and appear to not be going my way. This also means surrounding yourself with people who are positive, make you laugh and build you up, as opposed to a bunch of negative Nancies.
  • Strengthen your faith-I put this as the last point, not because it's the least important, quite the opposite, I put this last so it would be the last thing you read in this post, so hopefully you'll remember it! Your 20's is the time when you start to build your identity as an adult seperate from your family, and when it comes to faith, I think this is huge. When your younger, it's easier to bank on the fact that your family goes to church or your parents are Christian, and not get all that serious about it yourself. Then you go to college, and you're surrounded by a great many influences that can cause you to put your relationship with the Lord on the back burner. But your 20's are the time that you really need to stop making excuses and realize that if faith is really something that's important to you, it's something you need to make your own, and that means putting time into developing your own personal relationship with the Lord. This is so crucial especially as you look towards marriage, because it's very difficult to get in to a committed relationship with another person and think it will work out when you're relationship with God isn't a priority. That's not at all to say that I'm perfect or I have everything figured out in my walk with the Lord, obviously it's a process that will continue, both after your married and for the rest of your life. However, what I am saying is that your 20's are a great time to build a strong foundation of faith on which you can build a good life :)

The Graybeals are going to Europe!


Woo hoo! Last night, we FINALLY booked our plane tickets for our European adventure this spring! Cam and I are SO excited!! We've been working on planning this trip for the last few months now, but we had yet to actually book our plane tickets. Now that we've finally done that, it feels so much more real, we're actually going! We're going to be leaving on May 5th and coming back June 12th; we're going to be gone a whole 5 1/2 weeks! We both figured this is the perfect time in our lives to take a trip like this-we're young, we don't have any kids/pets/major responsibilities, and we want to see the world! We saved a lot of the money we got from our wedding to go towards this trip, and I'm so excited that it's getting closer! We have a lot to celebrate on this vacation as Cam will be graduating from his Master's program at U of M the weekend before we leave, and then we'll actually be celebrating our first wedding anniversary while we're on the trip!! (It's crazy how fast the time has gone!) Once we get back from our trip, Cam will be starting his job with GE and we'll be moving across the country (although we don't know exactly where yet...), so we figure that this may be our only chance for awhile to take a nice long extended vacation, which is why we're going for so long! Cam has never been to Europe, and I've only been to Italy, so we're both really looking forward to being able to experience a great deal of what Europe has to offer during the 39 days we'll be there. We are going to be (attempting) to travel very light as we're going for the whole cliche but hopefully amazing "backpacking" across Europe post college experience. I know this is going to be a challenge for me as I easily fill up my huge suitcase when we go somewhere for the weekend! But I'm hoping that over the next few months I'll be able to figure out exactly what I need, and hopefully it will all fit in my backpack! We've already planned out our tentative itinerary using a really cool site called Eurotrip, and now that our plane tickets are booked, we're going to start making all of our hotel/hostel reservations. I am planning on using this blog while we're in Europe to chronicle our experience, so get excited for our adventures in Europe in less than 3 months!! Also, feel free to comment on our proposed itinerary if you have any suggestions!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Shoutout to Sweet Potatoes


As Cameron and I continue on our quest to lead a more healthful lifestyle, we're incorporating a lot more whole, unprocessed foods into our diet aka eating a TON of fruits and vegetables. The more I delve into the interesting world of how nutrition affects our health, the more I get excited by discovering an increasingly wide variety of foods found in nature that are SO good for us! One such food is the sweet potato, and this veggie has tons of stats worth singing praises about. Most American's only eat sweet potatoes once a year, and when they do, they're covered in marshmallows, a mere opening act to the Thanksgiving turkey. However, the sweet potato has been ranked by food scientists as the most nutritious of all vegetables, and can be prepared in a multitude of tasty ways.

Last week, we made a delicious dinner featuring rosemary chicken and shallots, along with mashed sweet potatoes from a recipe in this month's Real Simple magazine. All we did was peel and cube the sweet potatoes, boil them for about 15 minutes, and when we drained them, we reserved 1/4 cup of the water the potatoes cooked in, and mixed this water back into the potatoes when we mashed them. The result was incredible--the potatoes were so smooth, rich, and creamy, it tasted like we had added tons of butter and cream during the mashing process, and all we had mixed in was a 1/4 of water! Also, they were BRIGHT orange in color, and nature tells us that fruits and veggies that are very pigmented also contain lots of nutrients (example: white iceberg lettuce vs. dark green spinach). So if you're looking for a healthy side dish to your weekly dinner, I'd highly encourage trying out mashed sweet potatoes!

Last night, we went out to dinner in downtown Northville, and as an appetizer, we ordered sweet potato wedges...granted "wedges" is really just a fancy name for thick cut french fries. While making fries out of sweet potatoes definitely isn't the most healthful way to eat them, you're still going to be receiving a lot more nutrients than you would be with normal french fries, making them an indulgence that you can feel good about. Sweet potatoes are such a great food for the winter time because they are so hearty and make great comfort food, because after all when it's freezing out, you're not always in the mood for salads. I'm going to try making my own more healthful sweet potato fries in the next few weeks, as well as experimenting with more ways I can use this versatile veggie. For more information about the benefits of sweet potatoes, check out this website and happy cooking!!

Zumba Zumba Zumba!


If you ever look at my Facebook/Twitter, you might know from my updates that I am mildly obsessed with Zumba. I love it. I'd heard about it for the last few years, but had never tried it until I joined the Ann Arbor YMCA this fall. For those of you unfamiliar with the greatness that is Zumba, it's a one hour class that blends Latin music with easy-to-follow dance moves. During the course of the class, you'll do intervals of fast and slow rhythms, as interval training has been shown to be extremely effective at burning fat, and the dance moves you do are designed to tone and sculpt your body. Celebrity fitness trainer "Beto" Perez created Zumba in the mid-90's and today over 5 million people worldwide do Zumba each week. The main reason that Zumba is so successful (and that I love it so much) is that it's just plain fun! Consequently, if you enjoy a workout, you're more likely to keep doing it, which is why it's a great way to get in shape. Zumba's tagline is "Ditch the workout, join the party!", and it's so true! We've all had that feeling of dragging ourselves to the gym, and then just absolutely dreading running on the treadmill (at least I know I've had this feeling, I'm hoping I'm not alone!), but I can honestly say, I never feel this way about Zumba; quite the opposite, I truly look forward to and get excited about going each and every week. And let me say, I am by NO means a dancer, I've actually never taken a dance class, and am pretty much the most uncoordinated person every when it comes to anything remotely involving dancing, and even I can do Zumba! The great thing about the class is that the focus isn't on getting all the steps right, it's about keeping your body moving for an entire hour and having a great time! I think that's why I feel so joyful and exuberant when I'm in class, it's my chance to just be totally free and dance my little heart out, and even though I probably look like a fool and don't get all the moves exactly right, it's ok! In the class I take at the YMCA, there is a wide age range of women from people my age, to women in their 50's and 60's, which I think is great, because everyone just tries their best to do the moves, and sure we all look silly, but we're moving around and getting a great workout! My class includes a lot of Latin songs, but my teacher also mixes in things like hip-hop, world music, and even belly dancing! After my constant ravings about how great Zumba is, I got my sister, my cousin, and even my boss to start going, and they all love it! Zumba classes are offered all over the world, so I highly encourage everyone to find a class in their area and give it a try! You'll be SO glad you did!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

And the Oscar goes to...

One of my favorite things about the beginning of the year is the awards season in Hollywood...from the Golden Globes to the SAG Awards to the Grammys, they are all fun to watch, and I love to see what everyone's wearing! However, the Oscars are the grand daddy of them all, and although they won't take place until the beginning of March, the nominees were announced this morning. Here are my personal picks for the major categories, these aren't necessarily who I think will win, but who I think should win:

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart”
  • George Clooney in “Up in the Air”
  • Colin Firth in “A Single Man”
  • Morgan Freeman in “Invictus”
  • Jeremy Renner in “The Hurt Locker”

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Matt Damon in “Invictus”
  • Woody Harrelson in “The Messenger”
  • Christopher Plummer in “The Last Station”
  • Stanley Tucci in “The Lovely Bones”
  • Christoph Waltz in “Inglourious Basterds”

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Sandra Bullock in “The Blind Side”
  • Helen Mirren in “The Last Station”
  • Carey Mulligan in “An Education”
  • Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
  • Meryl Streep in “Julie & Julia”

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Penélope Cruz in “Nine”
  • Vera Farmiga in “Up in the Air”
  • Maggie Gyllenhaal in “Crazy Heart”
  • Anna Kendrick in “Up in the Air”
  • Mo’Nique in “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”

Animated Feature Film

  • Coraline” Henry Selick
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox” Wes Anderson
  • The Princess and the Frog” John Musker and Ron Clements
  • The Secret of Kells” Tomm Moore
  • Up” Pete Docter

Art Direction

  • Avatar” Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith
  • Nine” Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim
  • Sherlock Holmes” Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer
  • The Young Victoria” Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray

Cinematography

  • Avatar” Mauro Fiore
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” Bruno Delbonnel
  • The Hurt Locker” Barry Ackroyd
  • Inglourious Basterds” Robert Richardson
  • The White Ribbon” Christian Berger

Costume Design

  • Bright Star” Janet Patterson
  • Coco before Chanel” Catherine Leterrier
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus” Monique Prudhomme
  • Nine” Colleen Atwood
  • The Young Victoria” Sandy Powell

Music (Original Song)

  • Almost There” from “The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • Down in New Orleans” from “The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman
  • Loin de Paname” from “Paris 36” Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas
  • Take It All” from “Nine” Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston
  • The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from “Crazy Heart” Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Directing

  • Avatar” James Cameron
  • The Hurt Locker” Kathryn Bigelow
  • Inglourious Basterds” Quentin Tarantino
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Lee Daniels
  • Up in the Air” Jason Reitman

Best Picture

  • Avatar” James Cameron and Jon Landau, Producers
  • The Blind Side” Nominees to be determined
  • District 9” Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham, Producers
  • An Education” Finola Dwyer and Amanda Posey, Producers
  • The Hurt Locker” Nominees to be determined
  • Inglourious Basterds” Lawrence Bender, Producer
  • Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” Lee Daniels, Sarah Siegel-Magness and Gary Magness, Producers
  • A Serious Man” Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, Producers
  • Up” Jonas Rivera, Producer
  • Up in the Air” Daniel Dubiecki, Ivan Reitman and Jason Reitman, Producers

It's getting hot in here...


Happy February! Since yesterday was the first day of a new month, I wanted to change up my normal gym routine a bit, so I decided to go to a Bikram Yoga class at Ann Arbor Bikram Yoga. For those of you not familiar with Bikram, it's also known as hot yoga, and it's a 90 minute class that's done in a room that's heated to 105 degrees...when you're describing it, it sounds crazy, but it actually has many (supposed) benefits. The class consists of going through a series of 26 Asanas, or poses, and they are designed to bring wellness to your whole body. The website for the Bikram studio here in Ann Arbor says that "the warm room allows for greater flexibility, it minimises muscle strain, lactic acid build up and reduces the chance of injury, allows for greater cleansing of the body and helps build tremendous stamina and endurance." This actually wasn't my first time trying Bikram Yoga, as I tried it in college a few years back, and really enjoyed it. However, upon going to my first class yesterday, I was quickly reminded of just how much Bikram Yoga makes you sweat...I'm someone who doesn't sweat very easily, and even when I'm running, I generally create only minimal perspiration. Bikram Yoga is an entirely different animal, as you perspire to the point that any clothing you're wearing (which should be very minimal given the temp in the room) will be completely soaked. (This also causes the studio to smell...well let's just say, less than pleasant...) In the beginning of the class, I felt a little overwhelmed just because the heat is so intense, and it was very crowded (Bikram Yoga has really grown in popularity over the last few years). You do a series of standing poses first, which are fairly challenging as your body is still acclimating to the heat. Then you progress to the poses on the ground, which seemed a little easier, but maybe I was just more adjusted to the heat. By the end of the class, you feel so accomplished and refreshed, like you have sweated out all your impurities. The Ann Arbor Bikram Yoga website features a laundry list of Bikram benefits, touting that regular practice reduces stress, improves muscle strength and flexibility, promotes a sense of well being, eliminates toxins, and promotes weight loss. Bikram is said to burn tons of calories in one class (one website I consulted claimed that I would burn 1170 calories in one 90 minute Bikram Yoga class!), and I would imagine this is part of the reason behind it's surge in popularity. However, I feel that the workout it self can be a little misleading. By simply being in the studio, you're going to sweat a ton, however, if you're not really trying to push yourself doing each pose, you're not going to burn the calories and reap the benefits. I say this only because there were a definitely a mix of body types in my class yesterday, and it appeared that some of the other participants were there simply to sit in the heat, as they weren't really doing any of the poses? Bottom line is that Bikram Yoga can be a great addition to your normal workout routine, and if you don't mind heat/profusely sweating, then you'll probably really enjoy it, however, don't let the heat fool you--you can't expect to go to this class, not try to do the poses, eat an unhealthy diet, and expect to lose weight. As for me, I am going to continue going, but this isn't something I'll be doing every single day; I prefer variety in my workouts and still enjoy other things like running, weight lifting, and Zumba. Although, who knows, it's only been one day, maybe by next week, I'll be a more devoted yogi...till then, namaste!

Monday, February 1, 2010

A healthy alternative to Facebook

I'm always on the lookout for new websites to play around on besides beloved Facebook, so I just had to share a little bit about a site that's become a personal favorite of both Cam and I over the last few weeks. It's called My Fitness Pal, and it's a really cool free online resources that allows you to track your daily food and exercise. The website was recommended to me by a friend of mine after I told her Cam & I were really making an effort to lead a more healthful lifestyle this year. I had decided that I wanted to keep a food journal to keep track of what I was eating, but I had started doing it in an actual journal, which was really tedious. Now hear me out, I don't think that counting calories and writing down everything you eat all the time is a good idea, as it can develop into a very neurotic, confining way to go through life. However, I do think that it can be a good thing to do for awhile if you're trying to make changes in your diet because it allows you to figure out troublesome areas in your eating habits that you might need to change. That's why my Fitness Pal is such an awesome resource-it allows you to easily input the foods you eat each day, and then it shows you all the nutritional information as well. This is great because it allows you to track not only your calories, but all the nutrients in your food, so you know if you're lacking in things like protein or fiber as well. When you make a profile on the site, you input your height and weight and other information and it gives you an idea of about how many calories you should be consuming each day. When you finish logging in your food at the end of the day, it shows you your total calories (along with totals of all your other nutrients as well), and then it tells you if everyday was like today, you'd weigh X lbs in 5 weeks. I think this is one of the most helpful parts of the site as it shows you how big of an impact each day makes on your overall health. That's not to say you can indulge every now and then, I love food (desserts in particular!) and can't imagine not having them, but this just helps to give you a little bit of a reality check in that it shows you that if you indulged every single day, you will gain weight. What's nice is that the site allows users submit different foods, so the nutritional information for the majority of foods/restaurants is already in the system. Another great thing is that it saves a list of your recently used foods, so if you're like me, you probably have the same thing for breakfast and lunch most of the time. So the site makes it really easy for you to fill out your daily food log as what you're eating is already stored in your list of recent foods. It also allows you to save whole meals as well to easily put them back in your food log at another time. Another feature of My Fitness Pal is that it allows you to input exercise, which is a wonderful way to keep track of your workouts, along with showing you the additional calories burned that you gain from working out. The site has a large community of users, who you can communicate with through message boards or by "friending" them (like on FB!). It also allows you to see graphs of your data, so for example it can show you a chart of your net calories consumed over the past week or the average minutes you've worked out over the last month. The site is well-designed, very easy to use, and an extremely helpful tool if you're trying to eat healthier. I love to use it, but the person who really loves it is Cameron! He is such an engineer--his mind is very numbers based, and information really makes sense to him when it's laid out in tables and graphs. For him, this site is a great way to asses his nutritional habits in a way that speaks to his style of learning. So will we use this site forever? Probably not. But right now, it's really been a helpful tool in our effort to eat healthier and eliminate "junk" from our diet!

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