Monthly Archives: January 2012

Use it or lose it

If you happened to read my post the other day “23 1/2” and saw how exercise can prevent muscle loss as you age, Alex Hutchinson over at Sweat Science just posted a follow up: the benefit of exercise to prevent muscle loss only works for the muscles you actually use. So, an aging runner (or cyclist — sorry, honey) can maintain their leg muscles, but they’ll still lose muscle mass for the muscles they don’t use. In other words, you need to exercise all the parts of the body you want to maintain. Of course, right? Because it’s never easy….



Filed under Fit By Fifty

23 1/2

I’ve struggled with my weight and fitness my whole life, but recently the whole battle has taken on a more urgent note as I’ve added a new variable — aging — to the mix. What was hard before sometimes seems impossible now.

Recently, I saw a video that was really powerful and totally changed the way I saw the problem:

The video is great because it’s based on science and because  Dr. Evans does the work for you — he’s read the research and he distills it all down to the most important element.

But that’s  not why it changed my view.

I’m a scientist after all and I’ve read a fair amount of articles and papers on obesity and fitness. I even knew that 30 minutes of exercise a day gave many health benefits.

The difference for me with this video was how Dr. Evans framed the problem. Instead of saying essentially “It’s only 30 minutes a day! You can find 30 minutes!” He said something like “All you have to do is limit your sedentary time to 23.5 hours out of 24 per day.” I don’t know why, but that makes a huge difference to my state of mind.

You see, I’ve been trying to find that elusive 30 minutes a day for years. I’ve joined gyms, tried walking around my neighborhood, tried getting to the pool, or going for a bike ride. But my reality for the past few years has been that of a working mom — I work all day, then come home to my kids and home where there’s dinner to make, laundry to do, and rides to give so my kids can get to their sports and activities. Plus, because I’m a teacher and a writer, I’m always bringing work home. So, somehow, finding “just 30 minutes” to exercise always falls by the wayside. If I have 30 minutes to spare, I’d much rather spend it reading a book or checking facebook or my favorite blogs. 30 minutes for exercise was just one thing too many.

But when I flip the number over, and think about only 23 1/2 hours of everything else, I feel more motivated to exercise. It’s like, I have 23 1/2 hours out of 24 for all that other stuff. That’s almost the entire day. If I have almost the entire day of every day to get everything done, then 30 minutes, or 1/48th of a day doesn’t seem like so much.

Maybe that’s just me. And maybe you’re thinking about sleep and drive time (if I were to try to go to a gym, it wouldn’t be “just 30 minutes”). And that’s true. So, then I had to think about the best/easiest/most reliable way to get my 30 minutes in.

Enter this baby:


FitDesk -- A compact exercise bike with a support for your laptop

This was my Christmas present from Dan. (BTW, I don’t have anything to do with the FitDesk company so this isn’t an ad.) I asked for the bike because I was trying to figure out how to incorporate exercise into the life I already lead, rather than adding another thing. I already like to spend time on the Internet so… I’ll pedal while I do it!

Working exercise into my existing routine is the only thing that’s worked for me in the past. When I look back at the times I got fit, it’s because I did things like commute by walking or biking (walking up and down Comm. Ave in Boston as I went to and from the dorms to classes at Boston University, or bicycle commuting to UMass Amherst, NAU, and the UW). Working exercise into my commute meant I did it every day.

These days, my schedule is so tight with parenting responsibilities that I keep my commute as short as possible, which rules out biking. Plus my fitness has slipped so badly that even the 3 mile commute from the Everett train station to EvCC seems daunting. Maybe someday. The kids do keep getting older and more independent. Plus biking at home will help me get in shape so that I’m not afraid to try that again.

I have other fitness goals besides just biking 30 minutes a day. I’d like to get back to yoga because aging brings a lot of stiffness (and how is that fair? that you get stiff in some places and sag in others?!). I’d also like to pick up my weights again to get some muscle mass back. (Have you ever seen what happens to unused muscle as you age? If not, check this out:

Muscle Loss due to aging can be resisted by exercise

I copied this picture from the blog Sweat Science .) Basically, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Add to that the fact that muscle tissue has a higher resting metabolism than fat, and you start to realize  at least one reason why it’s harder and harder to lose weight as you age.

But I know myself — it’s easy to be ambitious, and even easier to get overwhelmed. So, for this year I’m going to focus on eating healthy and limiting my sedentary time to 23 1/2 hours per day.

Will it work? I’ll let you know if you’re interested. For now, I can tell you that I pedaled 35 minutes and burned 435 calories while I finished this blog post. 🙂

Blogging and pedaling

Blogging and pedaling (in my pj's!)


Filed under Fit By Fifty

Fun with Sushi

Sushi is totally fun to make and to eat. And it’s really good for you: it’s low-fat, high in fiber (especially if you use brown rice), provides omega-3 fatty acids and protein (if you use fish), and lots of iron and other minerals (from the seaweed). If you make California rolls, you get more good fats (monounsaturated fatty acids) from the avocado.

Homemade California Roll

Homemade California Roll

Sushi is also a great idea for a party. When I was in grad school, my BFF Rebbie taught me how to make sushi. Then we had a party where we made a bunch of rice, and provided  the nori wrappers and several of the bamboo rolling mats. (You might need to visit an Asian grocery store to find these mats. If you live in the Seattle area, this is a good excuse to visit Uwajimaya, which is a fun destination all on its own.) On our visit to Uwajimaya, Rebbie and I picked up an assortment of fish and veggies.  We asked our friends to bring their favorites over too, and we had a great roll-your-own sushi fest. We made lots of interesting combinations and best of all we got to eat the proceeds (which made it a feast as well as a fest!). I think saki was also involved…

Another great thing about sushi is that it’s kid friendly to make — kids get to make choices about what fillings they’d like and they get to put their hands right in the food while they’re making it. (If your kid isn’t a very adventurous eater, you might not want to tell them that nori is seaweed.)

Hands on recipe

Sushi is hands-on fun for kids

My younger son loves California rolls. When we go to Safeway, he often asks me to buy him a package from the deli. I’d rather get him that than a crappy cookie or doughnut, but sushi is so expensive! (Why are the crappy choices always cheaper?)

So, I told my son that he’d have to learn to make his own sushi if he wants to eat it all the time. He got very excited about the idea — those of you that know him know how he pours his energy into things that fire his imagination. Lately, he’s been showing some interest in cooking and imagines himself to be quite the chef.

Sushi Chef

Our new sushi chef reads the recipe. (Dorky glasses are from The Adventures of TinTin 3D, which was really good!)

So for Christmas, I gave him an apron that says “master chef” and a sushi making kit (that I scored from when their holiday gift sets dropped to 50% off).

Sushi kit from Sushi Chef

Just add seafood and vegetables!

I thought sushi would make a fun New Year’s Eve dinner, so I offered to give my son his first lesson. Making the rice is longest and most boring part of the process, so I kept an eye on all the timing for that and just called him into the kitchen when something needed to be done.

Printable Recipe for Sushi Rice

To make sushi rice, you need short-grained rice, a good rice pan with a tight fitting lid (or a rice maker), sushi vinegar, and a wooden spoon or paddle. You want the rice to end up sticky, so the first thing you have to do is rinse the rice thoroughly to remove the loose starch.

We followed the directions that came in my son’s kit and placed 2 cups of short-grained white rice in our rice pan.

Measuring the rice

Measuring the rice

Then, we covered the rice with with water and swirled the rice around to loosen up the starch. We poured off the cloudy water, being careful not to pour out our rice.

Pouring off the cloudy water

Pouring off the cloudy water

We covered the rice with fresh water, swirled again, then  poured off again. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the water pours off clear (takes about 5 minutes total).

All clear!

All clear!

Once the water was clear, we drained off as much of the excess water as we could. Then we added 2 cups plus 6 teaspoons of cold water for cooking. We placed our tight-fitting lid on the pot, then placed the rice on the stove on med-high heat until the rice started to steam (about 10 minutes).

We're cooking now!

We're cooking now!

Once the rice was steaming, we turned it up to high and let it cook hard for 2 minutes. During the hard cook, some foam appeared around the rim of the pot, which is normal. After the two minutes, we turned the heat to medium and let the rice simmer for 5 minutes. At that point, we took the rice off the heat and let it just sit and steam for 15 minutes more.

Our instructions told us it was now time to fluff the rice. So my son grabbed his bamboo paddle and pushed the rice around to fluff it up.

Fluffing the rice

Fluffing the rice

After this, we covered the rice with a clean cloth and the pot lid and let it stand for another 15 minutes (I told you the rice was the most painstaking and boring part of this, right? It gets better, I promise.)

Resting again

Resting again

Finally, it was time to season the rice. My son measured 1/2 cup of sushi vinegar.

Measuring 1/2 cup (cooking is good practice with fractions!)

Measuring 1/2 cup (cooking is good practice with fractions!)

We spread the rice onto a shallow plastic platter, then sprinkled it with the vinegar while mixing the rice around. We fanned the rice to cool it, then covered it with a damp clean towel. The rice was ready and it was time to move onto making some California rolls!

Getting ready to roll some sushi

Getting ready to roll some sushi

Printable Recipe for California Rolls

Traditional California rolls contain cucumber, crab meat (or imitation crab) and avocado. But we didn’t have any cucumber on hand so I substituted carrot and green onion instead. To me, the avocado and the crab meat (imitation in our case) is what makes the California roll unique — exact veggies are flexible. California rolls are often rolled “inside-out” with the rice on the outside, but that’s trickier to do, so we went with “inside-in” rolls (nori on the outside).

To get your fillings ready for sushi, you basically have to prep everything to be long and thin. I sliced the logs of imitation crab into thinner pieces. Then I peeled a carrot and cut into long thin julienne-style pieces. I peeled and pitted an avocado and cut into thin strips as well. And then, because I like onion, I cut the green tops off some green onions to include in half the rolls.

Also, in a small bowl I mixed 6 tablespoons of water and 2 teaspoons of sushi vinegar. This solution is used for dipping your fingers and knife to keep the sushi rice from sticking to you or your tools.

My son put a piece of nori on his sushi mat, so the long side of the nori went to left to right. Then he grabbed a hand-full (about a half cup) of sushi rice and I showed him the picture of how he was going to spread the rice over the surface of the sushi.

Making a layer of rice

Rice is the first layer

He used his fingers to spread and push the rice until he had a thin layer that covered the rectangle of nori — except for a narrow strip (about a 1/2 inch) along the top. (He needed another scoop of rice to cover the whole thing, so I think we used about 3/4 c to 1c cooked rice total per roll). The blank piece of nori is used to seal the roll. You can see the blank strip at the top of the nori in this picture.

Adding some fillings

Adding some fillings

Once the rice was spread over the nori, I had my son use his finger to dig a slight trench from left to right in the middle of the rice. This was our spot for fillings. He chose to put crab, carrot, and avocado in his first roll. First, he made a line of crab by placing the long pieces in his trench, slightly overlapping the ends so he had a continuous line. Then, he laid carrot next to his crab. Finally he added a line of avocado.

For the first roll, I demonstrated how to roll it up. I turned the sushi mat so the bamboo sticks and the the fillings were both running left to right. Then I picked up the edge of the mat closest to me and used it to raise the edge of the nori up and over the fillings. I told my son to think of it like the seaweed was the edge of a tidal wave that was curling over the fillings and was going to pull them out to see (toward me).

Rolling the sushi

Rolling the sushi (tidal wave of nori crashing over the fillings). I put the mat down so you could see the edge of the seaweed clearly.

As you roll, it’s important to keep the fillings as tight as possible. So, as I rolled, I used the mat to tighten the roll, always sort of pulling the fillings toward the center with my fingertips. (My thumbs are on the backside of the mat.)

Using the mat to keep the roll tight

Using the mat to keep the roll tight

If you don’t keep your fillings tight, they may fall out when you slice the roll. That’s OK, you just eat the scraps and try again.

When I got to the end of the roll, I dipped my fingers in the water/vinegar solution and used my finger to paint a line of moisture along the bare edge of the nori. This helped the nori on the edge stick the rolled up nori, sealing my California roll.

Almost finished

Almost finished

Once the roll was sealed, I used a serrated knife to cut the slices. I repeatedly dipped the knife in the vinegar/water to that it wouldn’t get stuck to the rice inside the roll.

Slicing the roll

Slicing the roll

The slices from the two ends don’t look pretty because they’re ragged on one side. You can either flip them ragged-side-down, or, if you’re like me & my son, you can argue over who gets to eat them.

This was a pretty one:

Homemade California Roll

Homemade California Roll

After watching my demo, my son graduated to rolling his own:

My son rolls his own

My son rolls his own with a little help from me

We made four rolls, half with onion and half without:

The fruits of our labors

The fruits of our labors

I served them with miso soup and salad for a fun New Year’s Dinner.

The chef enjoys his work

The chef enjoys his work

Me too!

Me too!

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Filed under What's Cooking?

Fixing up the homestead

Dan and I recently considered moving. We have two kids, two dogs, chickens, bees, a student from Kenya, a hamster and a snake all sharing a 3 bedroom rambler with a modest-sized yard. Sometimes it feels like we’re popping at the seams. Our Kenyan student is about to move on, but my niece is coming to live with us this summer, so I started thinking we needed just a little more room.

We’ve thought this before, and I go back and forth on it. When I take the global perspective, I realize that we have much more living space than most people in the world. (When our Kenyan student moved in, it was the first time in her life she’d had her own room.) So, from that perspective, we “should” be able to make it work. And, although I’m the most haphazard of gardeners, I ‘ve managed to get an apple tree, a plum tree, rhubarb, some blueberry bushes and various other food-bearing plants to establish themselves in the yard. Moving would mean starting over on my plan to transform our yard to edible landscaping. (More on that in a future post.) I also think about the fact the space crunch we feel right now is temporary — the children will move on eventually, and then Dan and I won’t need a big house.

But the crunched feeling got overwhelming recently, and we actually got out there and started looking for a new home. After looking a few houses, we found one that I thought was perfect. It was near where we live, so no great upset to anyone’s routine — in fact, it was closer to the high school where my older son will go next year. It was just a little bit larger and had a slightly bigger back yard (more room for the bees! and maybe we could get some goats!). I was already imagining how we would organize the house and what I would do with the yard. Well, as these things happen (sellers not motivated, we did some hard thinking about finances and the reality that we’ll have a son in college in –gulp! — 3.5 years), the deal didn’t go through.  I moved through the stages of grief fairly rapidly and then declared, “That’s it. We’re not moving. Let’s fix this place up and figure out how to make it all work right here.”

Dan accepted my decree (at least for now) and we agreed that we’re going to go through the house with paper in hand and make a list of everything we’d like to do, then prioritize the list, then figure out how much we can actually spend. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do at least one thing on the list.

We haven’t done the formal inventory yet, but I decided to tackle something in the boys’ bathroom that’s been bugging me for a while — rust! Their mirror, which is nice and large and would be fairly expensive to replace, is showing wear and rust around the edges.

Rust along the edge of the mirror

This rust must go!

I’ve been thinking for a while that it would be cool to put some tiles or pieces of glass around the edges of the mirror to make a sort of mosaic frame. Then recently, on Pinterest, I saw a post from the SITS girls  about how to use clear silicone to attach tiles to a mirror (you can link to the original post from my Pinterest board here, or go directly to the original blog here).

Perfect! The boys bathroom has a beach theme, so instead of tiles, I decided to use beach glass. I searched around on amazon and found some large pieces of beach glass for a reasonable price here from LifeForce Glass ($7.50 for 2.5 lbs; I bought two bags).

Bag of sea glass

Two bags of sea glass pebbles

Dan had some clear-drying silicone left over from the recent bathroom remodel, so I was set to go.

silicone and glass

Clear-drying silicone adhesive and glass pebbles

I spread a little silicone on the flat surface of a glass pebble.

Silicone on pebble

Spreading some silicone

Then pressed the pebble into place along the edge of the mirror.

Pebble pressed on glass

Pressing the first pebble into place

I held it for about 10 seconds then let go.

Pebble in place


OK, so at first I tried to defy the law of gravity and work on the mirror in place on the wall. The mirror is big and taking it off the wall seemed like it would be too hard. But the pebbles are fairly heavy and gravity would not be denied. Even though I tried waiting a minute to let the silicone get tacky, and then pressed for 10 seconds, the pebbles were slipping a little from where I placed them.

So, I called for the cavalry and Dan lifted the mirror off the wall like it was nothing while my younger son scrambled to clean his legos off the dining room table. Dan laid the mirror down flat, and I continued working on my border. I placed the pebble colors randomly, with the only rule being that I wouldn’t put two of the same color right next to each other. The pebbles had different contours, but they were mostly generally oval or rectangular in shape. I tried not to rigidly line them up, but tilt them in slightly different ways.

Making the border

Our Kenyan student couldn't resist joining in when she saw me playing with glass

I left the mirror on the dining room table to dry overnight. Dan came by and made a slight adjustment to the pebbles that were in the locations where the mirror clips would attach to the mirror. (He measured the position of the clips on the wall, then measured in from the edge of the mirror, and nudged a couple of the pebbles away from the edge of the mirror a little bit to make room for the clips.)

The next morning, Dan hung the mirror back up for me.

Mirror with seaglass frame

Pretty mirror with seaglass border!

The silicone dried clear so it’s hardly visible.

Closeup on seaglass

Pretty glass instead of yucky rust!

Here’s a picture of the edge where the rust was most visible.

Rusty edge hidden by seaglass

You really have to look to see the rust (so don't look) 😉

I love the new look and final cost was $15!


Filed under Getting Crafty