Friday, October 24, 2014

Ellen Barrett: Grace and Gusto (Review)

I loved Ellen Barrett's Crunch videos back in the day (those are ten years old now!) so it was exciting to see that she recently released some new videos.  I received Grace and Gusto for my birthday.


Like her older Crunch videos, Ellen sticks to low-impact moves.  You move in many directions but never vigorously.  This workout is live and is done on a mat and barefoot. 

Many of Ellen's moves are recycled from her previous workouts: side arm/leg lifts, plies, ballet legs and feet...  One new move in the workout is an arm twist that Ellen does several times throughout - and though it isn't difficult, you begin to feel it after a while! 

This fusion flow workout barely made me break a sweat but it was a lovely alternative to the more rigorouls fusion/barre workouts in my rotation.  Ellen's style is truly unique and can be done by women of all ages. 


Bottom Line: If you're a beginner or have trouble with high-impact moves, Ellen is for you.  She's also great for those recovery days when you just need a break.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

That Time Again

Another year down, another year to ponder life's lessons.  Today marks my 33rd year of being in this world.  

Last year was a big year.  I finally found a new job, a real career, and learned about happiness and fulfillment in the workplace.  This was incredible!  At this time last year, I was interviewing for that job, not knowing what would happen.  I'm so thankful my boss decided to choose me over the other candidates.

And it's interesting to reflect on last year when I had my first real health issue.  Thankfully, my new, wonderful co-workers supported me when I had to stay home for a week because I was radioactive.  But that entire process reminded me of just how fragile our place truly is in this world.  

But looking at 33 from a different angle, Mr. Higgins was this age when we met.  Ha!  That's too funny!  I am so grateful that we found each other and no matter what the next year brings, I know he will make me happy, as always.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Week Six: Peak 10 Challenge #2

I'm back into my challenge - no more health restrictions! 

There's going to be a change this week, though.  Instead of the Pure Strength workouts, I'm going to utilize my free time with a trainer at the rec center.  This should be interesting!  I don't like working out in public but a co-worker has volunteered to go with me.  We'll see how this goes!


I'm still trying to keep my protein up as well!

Monday:  Ilyse Baker's Dance Intervals 101 + Michelle's HIIT - Breathless and Energized


I was excited to do something different this morning.  I started off with the lighter of the workouts, Ilyse's dance workout (30 minutes).  Last week was my first attempt at this one and it's fun - definitely more cardio than dance.  I like it!  I then went on to Michelle's short, 15 minute HIIT workout.  I like this kind of HIIT...  Two moves put together rather than one move over and over.  I finished off my 50 minutes with some lunges and a stretch.

32% protein - wow!

Tuesday: Ellen Barrett's Grace and Gusto + weights

A dear friend of mine just gave me Ellen Barrett's Grace and Gusto DVD and I couldn't wait to try it!  Today seemed the perfect day since I knew that weights were in my future at lunch.  Ellen's style hasn't changed much since her earlier Crunch DVDs but that's alright.  Her workouts are always unique and light for days when you need a break.  I'll post a review of her DVD soon.  At lunch, I met with the trainer to learn how to do all these fancy weight machines.  We didn't get through them all but my arms and legs were shaking after 35 minutes.  Wow!  I'll go back for more torture on Thursday.

27% protein

Wednesday: Pure Cardio + yoga

I was ready to get in some good cardio this morning and also ready to get back into my Peak 10 Challenge schedule.  Pure Cardio was so nice and familiar - especially welcome since I hardly slept last night.  Yoga at lunch was fun after a two week break.  I always enjoy the Mon/Wed class - which is lighter - and the friendly teacher.

27% protein

Thursday:  Alex McLean's HIIT - Bodyweight Circuits + weights

I'm finding myself faced with a dilemma on days I do weights at lunch, like today....  I can't do weights any other time during that week at home, if I'm doing them at work, so that means more cardio at home.  Yay, in a way, but I also miss my weighted work outs.  Sigh.  I also, amazingly, miss all the Pure Strengths.  This was my third time through McLean's HIIT workout and it's not any easier.  Thirty mintues of HIIT + tabata, a cool down, some low-impact moves, and some core work finish out my 50 minute workout.  Whew!  I added more machines to my weight circuit at lunch.  Ouch!  35 minutes of torture!  Even more to come next week.

27% protein

Friday:  McLean's Unless Your Inner Strength + Dixon's Skills and Drills + yoga

Once again in search of cardio, I wanted something not quite so intense this morning, after three mornings this week of high impact work.  I settled on two workouts which I did for 23  minutes (each ran for 30) each and finished with my own cool downs and stretch.  Both workouts were a level 2 (out of 3) - but I still sweated and worked hard.  McLean is always tough, even in a level 2 which consisted of burpies and lots of running.  Dixon's workout was a kickboxing one, but between kicks and punches, she had jumping rope and jack intervals to keep up the heart rate.  These two were a great combo and I'll probably do them again!  At lunch, I went to the rec center for hard yoga.  Wow.  The one thing I love about it is the great stretch, which always feels good after a long week of hard workouts.

Saturday: Peak 10 Cardio Strength

This was my very first Peak 10 workout so I know it well.  But it still kicks my rear-end every time!  Whew!

Sunday:  Peak 10 More Cardio Interval Burn


Every time I do this CIB, I really enjoy it.  It's one of the tougher ones as far as non-stop high-impact moves, but it feels great.  

Calorie Counts:

Monday - 1398
Tuesday - 1345
Wednesday - 1365
Thursday - 1345

Friday - bad
Saturday - bad!
Sunday - bad!

We celebrated my birthday with my parents over the weekend - and also celebrated my dad's belated birthday.  So there wasn't much healthy at all this weekend - but at least I got in some good workouts.  That's something, at least!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Skinny Pumpkin Spice Bars (2014:35)

Fall is finally - finally - in the air here in Texas. What that means is that the highs are now in the upper 80s most days. Ha! Gotta love the Lone Star State.

I've been yearning to make all things pumpkin and when Boss' Day came around, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try a new pumpkin recipe! When I was browsing Sally's Baking Addiction, I noticed her Skinny Pumpkin Spice Bars and pinned the recipe. Since it was easy, it was perfect to make on a weekday to take to work - for Boss' Day!

I made the recipe as is, though I used egg substitute instead of real eggs. Alarmingly, I almost forgot the brown sugar since I was so enthralled with the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Ha! But I got the sugar in on time and spread the mixture into the pan.

Once in the oven, I set the timer for 25 minutes. At the halfway mark, I turned on the oven light and was distressed to see no change in the batter. I tried not to panic. By the 25 minute mark, the cake was looking good but needed a bit longer. Next time, I will bake these for 30 minutes. I let them cool and cut them into 12 squares. That makes them 133 calories each.

I split one of the bars with Mr. Higgins - wanting to make sure they were good for work. And they were delicious - spicy, moist, and full of pumpkiny goodness! Mr. Higgins promptly wanted to know when we could have our own batch! Yay! Success!!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Thyroid Journey

I've mentioned some health issues recently.  Here's what's going on. 

There is very little online about what I went through - firsthand accounts anyway - and so I decided to tell my story so that others will know they are not alone.

My mother had thyroid issues. 

She had half of her thyroid taken out at age 22 when the doctor felt nodules on it.  The other half was taken out 14 years late, at age 36.  My mom was also diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in her late 30s.  This is very unusual and, apparently, genetic.  When I went for my annual physical, I was always on the lookout for blood sugar numbers when my labs came back.  I never, ever thought about my thyroid.

My labwork indicated a low (which means high) TSH number. 

Okaayyy....  TSH = .02.  Unofficially, I had hyperthyroidism.  I knew about hypo but I had to read up on hyper.  I requested a referral to an endocriniologist and off I went - for a $60 specialist fee.  The endocrinologist did a sonogram on the first visit and, thankfully, I had no nodules.  The surface of my thyroid was bumpy, however, so the doctor termed it pseudo-nodule.  She also ordered more complete bloodworm - more thyroid numbers - and an iodine uptake scan.

My T3 and T4 levels indicated hyperthyroidism and my TSH number was even lower (.01) than before.

At this point, I'm stressing out.  The doctor makes me an appointment at the hospital for my iodine uptake scan.  On a Wednesday, I show up at the hospital, am given a pregnancy test and, once that is clear (negative), I'm given a slightly radioactive dose of iodine.  No, I don't feel any different.  The next day, I go back to the same hospital for the scan.  It's super easy, except that there's a big block of x-ray equipment hovering above my nose for 20 minutes.  I close my eyes and take deep breaths. 

After the uptake, it's back to the endocrinologist....

....to talk treatment (for another $60 specialist fee).   
There are only three treatments: surgery, radioactive iodine, and a daily pill that has a set of possibly alarming side effects.  After debating taking the one and only pill option - every day, possibly multiple times per day - I was back to thinking radioactive iodine was the best option.  But I wanted it done quickly; we have a cruise in mid-November and then it's a non-stop flurry of activity through January.  We all agreed the radioactive pill was the best option.  We scheduled it for the next week.

Radioactive Iodine means you are radioactive.

On a dosage scale of 0 to 200, my doctor said I would get a radioactive iodine dose of 15.  That doesn't sound so bad, eh?  Well, there are still tons of precautions to take - you have to be in isolation for 7 days.  For the first 72 hours, you have to maintain a 6-foot distance from everyone, including pets.  Kids and pregnant women are a no-no until 10 days after treatment.  You cannot sleep with anyone for 7 days - and obviously cannot kiss (or anything else) for 7 days.  You must wash your clothes and dishes separately and use a separate bathroom.  And you cannot sweat, as that's another way the excess radiation leaves your body but in a very un-contained way.

So…how big is the radioactive pill?

When the doctor  said the pill is "about the size of a multi-vitamin," I tried hard not to panic.  I'm not a great swallower of pills, though I take a multi-vitamin.  What if it's bigger than my multi-vitamin?!  OMG!  I'll choke!  Finally, the day came to take the pill.  I drove myself because you can't be in a car with anyone for 7 days.  After saying some states allow patients to return to work after 72 hours and being completely flippant about some of the measures I'm required the take (sure, go out in public after three days, but stay away from people!), the doctor then led me into a room, handed me a bottle with tongs, and told me to empty the pill from the bottle directly into my mouth, swallow, and leave from the clinic out the back door.  Oy.  With shaking hands, I opened the bottle….and the pill was the size of a Tylenol.  Sigh.  I swallowed it, drinking all of the 2 dixie cups of water she provided (really?  nothing more?) and left, partially ecstatic that it was no big deal, and partially terrified that I was radioactive.

The next seven days….

Passed quietly.  I had no pain and my body didn't give me any clues as to being radioactive.  I did not glow.  I took the pill on a Wednesday.  On Sunday, I went through a drive-thru for different food.  On Tuesday, I walked into a Walgreens at an odd hour to pick up photos.  I returned to work on Thursday.  I enjoyed my time at home, even if it meant being physically separated from my husband and cats.  After the 72 hour mark, we both exhaled a bit.

After radiation?

The doctor monitors you to see when your thyroid, essentially, dies.  It doesn't happen immediately and that's why the treatment is painless.  It takes 3-6 months for the thyroid to "die."  And so, you need monthly blood tests to see when, exactly this happens and when you need to start meds for being hypo.  That's right, 80% of all hyperthyroid patients who receive the radioactive iodine treatment are then diagnosed with hypothyroidism, needing a thyroid hormone for the rest of their lives.  But that hormone is cheap and easy compared to the daily pill needed to suppress the thyroid if you have hyper.  And there are no side effects.

So that's my journey from diagnosis to treatment.  I go back to the doctor at the end of the month for my first blood test to see how less active my thyroid currently is.  I'll go back every month for quite a while.  All of these tests and radiation are not cheap.  

I'm sharing this so that anyone who is diagnosed with this, completely unexpectedly, like me, will know what the heck is going on.  This was my first big health issues ever….and I'm still not happy it happened.  These things are never easy.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Week Five: Peak 10 Challenge #2

This is my "off" week in the midst of this challenge.  I had 9.5 weeks before vacation, more than the 8 weeks needed for the challenge.  So, I get a light week in the midst of the high-intensity chaos.  This is good, because my no-sweating mandate (from the doctor) doesn't end until Thursday!  Eek!

In the meantime, I'm really enjoying exploring what FitnessGlo has to offer in terms of lower-impact workouts.  A fun discovery is Barre - something I've almost but not quite ever done.  It's a lot tougher than it seems.  Another fun find is Ilyse Baker on Glo.  I had done a few of her workouts before but after doing several more, I really like her!  For dance and barre (her core tracks are crazy hard!), she's amazing!  

I'm trying to keep my protein up between 25-30% again, so wish me luck!

Monday: Ilyse Baker's Just Dance + Baker's Barre Blast + Michelle's Hip & Thigh Toner + Michelle's Heart-Pumping Cardio

Oh, this was so much fun!  I started off with Ilyse Baker's dance workout which was a blast.  She didn't put together a routine, just varied the moves to make it less complex and more fun!  Her Barre Blast was tough, especially the floor work.  Ilyse doesn't kid around with her core work!  I did Michelle's Cardio number to get warm again and then finished off with her Hip &  Thigh toner - one I'd done before but liked.  It really gets your legs!  A total of 80 minutes!

25% protein

Tuesday: Michelle's Straight Forward Strength Training + Amy Dixon's Body Weight Training (both on Glo)

For some reason, I'm very motivated to do weights these days.  Michelle's Glo Strength Training is one of my new favorites and it was still fun today.  I was ready for some tougher cardio - with breaks to not sweat - so I tried one of Amy's workouts.  I still think she talks too much and I don't like the overall style of these kinds of workouts (do one move for 1 minute, 15 seconds recovery)….but it was a change, which is what I needed.  90 minutes of working out today!

25% protein

Wednesday: Amy Dixon's All Around Energy + Alex McLean's Barre Blend + Michelle's Tight & Toned Core

Last day of no sweating!  YAY!  I did 30 minutes (of 45) of Dixon's All Around Energy, which is a lower impact strength (body weight) and cardio blend.  This was my second time around with this one - it's not my favorite but it's different which is good.  It was my first time with McLean's Barre Blend which was tough…..  I got a little sweaty so I stopped after 30 minutes.   My main complaint with his stuff is that you do one move over and over and over.  Michelle tends to flow through moves more, which I like much more.  Speaking of, I did her Tight &  Toned Core for the second time….wow, that's a tough one!  I had to modify a few moves but was able to do some of the tough stuff.  Yay!

25% protein

Thursday:  Rockin' Boday Cardio by Michelle + walk

I can sweat today!  Yay!  I bet you haven't heard many people say that, huh?  Neither have I.  But it's nice to not have to worry anymore.  And this is such a fun workout with no dread factor - just nice cardio.  My co-workers and I walked to lunch today - about 20 minutes round-trip.  

26% protein

Friday: Michelle's Burn Calories, Release Stress + Jeffrey Scott's Waist Down Strength (both on Glo)

Since this is still my "off" week in the middle of this challenge, I decided to tone it down today, especially since I don't have a rest day this week.  Michelle's workout (30 minutes in length) is labeled as a level 2 (out of 3) but I would say it's a 1.  I added some extra jumping and jogging to get a bit more of a workout.  Scott's 15 minute leg workout is good without being too touch - lots of squats followed by some floor work.  A nice morning workout!

28% protein!

Saturday: Cardio Strength 2 (Peak Fit)

I thought this workout would kill me, since I've been doing lighter workouts for 1.5 weeks….but it didn't!  Amazing!  I got through it relatively painlessly!  Perhaps it's because I'm down to my goal weight…..  But it felt great!!  I finished off the workout with five minutes of planks and ab work.  

Sunday:  Peak 10 Cardio Interval Burn + walk

Once again, I was prepared to be bested by a longer, more intense workout…..  But that time never came.  Wow!  I got through this workout remarkably well.  Granted, it's the easiest of the CIBs but it's still tough.  Since it was such a pleasant day out, Mr. Higgins and I took a walk around the neighborhood, for about 30-40 minutes.

Calorie Counts:

Monday - 1277
Tuesday - 1267

Wednesday - 1301
Thursday - 1395
Friday - BAD!
Saturday - 1408
Sunday - 1394

Since I was dealing with health stuff Monday - Wednesday, I was glad to be able to skim a few calories off my norm.  When I weighed on Wednesday morning, I was back down my lowest (in recent memory) weight.  I would call it my goal weight and it felt SO good!

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Scarlet Contessa

One of my favorite authors of historical fiction is Jeanne Kalogridis, who has made Renaissance Italy her specialty.  I recently finished her latest novel, The Scarlet Contessa, about Caterina Sforza from 15th century Milan.  

My Goodreads review:

So many historical figures dominate 15th century Italy - the Borgias, the della Roveres, the Medici, Machiavelli, da Vinci - that it's easy to forget that powerful family in Milan, the Sforzas.  Before reading this novel, I knew very little about Caterina Sforza, which is unbelievable!

At the start of Kalogridis' portrayal, Caterina is easy to dislike.  We come to know her through a fictional character, her half-sister and lady-in-waiting, Dea.  Caterina is spoiled and foolish in her youth, but then she must grow up early, as all women had to in the Middle Ages.  She was a mother at 15 and by 25, she was a military commander.  For a woman to go up against the Borgias is remarkable and her tale is a grand one filled with scandal, religion, mysticism, and love.

I very much enjoyed reading this portrayal of such a remarkable woman.