Have Fun (?) Skiing, Falling, and Getting Back Up

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I’m a big baby sometimes. I don’t like falling. I especially don’t like falling when I’ve got 2 heavy plastic planks strapped to my feet, what feels like Frankenstein boots strapped on top of those and so many layers of polar fleece and Gortex® I can barely turn my head. Add to that the feeling of skidding, mostly out of control, down a slippery hill, while people less than half my age are flying past me in bursts. In cases like that I REALLY don’t like falling.

Skiing is my new endeavor this winter. I realize I’m asking a lot of myself, given my age. I should have been learning something like this when my body was still young and rubbery enough to absorb tumbles with minimal damage. At this point, I anticipate hip and knee breakage every time the strange contraptions they call skis start to carry me too quickly down a hill. My ski instructor said that it’s me, not the skis, in control. I’m not so sure that’s true.

This Saturday I was skiing in Bristol, NY, with my sister, her fiancé and my boyfriend. The latter two were resolute in their conviction that Bristol Mountain was a fine, friendly Saturday evening adventure. That the mountain would treat us with the respect it was treated with. That powdery, fresh snowfall would add to the wonder and whimsy. That none of us would need to be carted down the hill by Ski Patrol. And finally, that no bones would be broken.

Only one of those things ended up being true.

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I began my Saturday at 4 p.m. with a few trips down the bunny hill with my sister. I’d only been skiing once before, at a resort with runs that were slightly taller than snowdrifts at the edges of parking lots. I had done well and was ready to tackle bigger and better things! The bunny hill at Bristol was soon my dupe. Nothing could stop me.

At 5 p.m. we took a lesson. We were easily the best students in the class. Some could barely stand. We whistled down the bunny hill, whizzing past toddlers and pre-teens. The instructor gave us an extra half an hour and assured us we were ready to take the easiest hill level, a “green.” He told us the one to start with: the lift right next to the bunny hill. “Ok!” we said. “Thanks for the tip!”

The boys met up with us after the lesson. “These runs take easily 30 minutes,” they said, with wind- burned cheeks. “They’ll probably take you girls an hour.” Say what? I kicked that bunny hill’s butt and took its name (bunny hill) and no one was going to tell me how long it would take me to learn what I already knew: I was a skiing star, a natural. Still, the elevations at Bristol Mountain were significantly higher than the previous resort I’d skied.

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We skipped the lift the instructor had suggested (pah!) and went towards the central lift that whisked us to the mountaintop in a mere eight minutes! As if on a magic carpet, we soon arrived at our destination. Dismount from the chair lift proved simple. We were ready!

And then suddenly it all went horribly wrong in four very annoying ways.

First, there was no new snow falling, despite promises from the weather channel. That meant no new, soft powder for falling purposes, but instead, a hard, packed-down, bruise-delivering surface.

Second, the “green” run we had chosen, one of the easiest in the park, wasn’t all that easy. It started out fairly flat but quickly got steeper.

Third, big chunks of snow were missing in patches carved by the day’s traffic. The hill was bumpy, with mogul-y mounds jumping up in front of me.

Fourth, other skiers and snowboarders were moving quickly past me, almost as if irritated by a large, moving obstacle.

It was hard to control my speed. I tried the techniques the instructor had showed me to slow down, but on an actual hill, they required much more muscle. “Funny,” I thought. “The bunny hill was nothing like this. Why didn’t he warn me?”

My sister shrieked somewhere behind me, out of fear but most likely out of frustration, and fell.

I lost track of where our boys were. There were so many people on that hill, almost as if every person in the park had decided to exit the lift and begin their descent at the exact time, in the exact same place. We were like a thousand ants swarming on top of a cookie crumb. Except this ant had very little control over her limbs and the cookie crumb was cold, icy and tasted nothing like cookie.

I fell. Then I got a face full of powder as three guys on snowboards slashed the snow next to me, one after the next. It tasted exactly like snow, testosterone and my own bruised pride.

After both of their women were reduced to piles of debris on the side of the trail, our boys magically re- appeared. Had they been hiding in the trees watching the disaster develop? “How much longer to the bottom?” I asked. They looked at each other, then back at me. “Um. Get up. Let’s just keep moving.”

The bottom, it turned out, took about 45 more minutes to reach. Damn those boys and their impeccable estimation of my skills!

The rest of my journey was a lot like the beginning of my journey: ski, try to slow down, fail, fall, face full of snow. Rinse and repeat. My sister gave up when we arrived at a mid-hill lift. Ski Patrol was contacted and she was taken down in a sled. I continued.

By the time we got to the bottom, it was time for a break. I was bruised, frustrated and uncomfortably aware of my rank as a beginner. I had an overwhelming feeling that having survived my first real run should have been met more with a feeling of accomplishment than a huge sigh of relief. My visions of Olympic gold and weekend trips to quaint Vermont villages seemed like half-pipe dreams.

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We snacked on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in an attempt to refuel. My sister announced that she was done. The boys announced that they wanted beer. I silently wished that I could just be an expert skier with minimal effort spent learning how.

Bristol Mountain was beautiful, but unkind. It didn’t care how slippery the slopes were for me. If I fell, it had no effect the mountain at all. Given that, I didn’t feel bad that I chose, after a total of ten runs (three “real” and seven “bunny hill”) to spend the rest of the evening in the lodge drinking wine with my sister. I wasn’t hurting the mountain’s feelings. Rome, as they say, was not built in a day. I wanted to end the evening on a good note, without broken bones and without the feeling that skiing was totally and completely out of my reach. I may never conquer a “black diamond” (the hardest of all the slope levels) but if I can show a “green” who’s boss, that’s fine with me. Next time, Bristol. Next time.

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Have Fun: 8 Ways to Succeed at Spinning Class (Even if You’ve Never Spun Before)

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I just got back from my early morning spinning class, which wakes up my body and brain and gets me ready for the workday! Spinning is my favorite because it’s rewarding and fun, though it’s a tough workout. Since there was a time in my life when I wasn’t able to spin, I feel especially thankful these days when I get through a class with flying colors. You can, too, and here’s how:

1. Get a good night’s sleep. How much sleep do you need to feel energized the next day? Most people need between 6-8 hours of sleep per night. Make sure you get enough, or spin class could be difficult and painful to accomplish. And we don’t want that!

2. Be hydrated and stay that way. Drink plenty of water the evening before and the day of your spin. Have a full water bottle with you and drink a few sips in between every song. When you start to dehydrate, your muscles start to get tired.

3. Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers. When you spin, you’re going to sweat, there’s no way around it. Most spinning studios are equipped with air conditioning and fans to keep everyone cool, but as a result spin class can start out on the chilly side, before your body is warmed up. The best clothes are ones that keep you cool but let your body move on the bike with little restriction….yes, I am referring to biking shorts, AKA spandex. I usually wear knee length spandex shorts with a sports tank top and a hoodie, which comes off after I’m warmed up. This ensemble seems to work pretty well.

4. Make sure your bike is adjusted appropriately for your height. If you don’t know how to adjust the settings on your bike, check with the instructor before class begins. If your bike is set up incorrectly, the class will be harder and you won’t be as comfortable as you could be; also, you’ll risk injury.

5. Take the first 15 minutes of class in the lower gears. I find that if I push myself too hard in the first 15 minutes of class, I tend to hit the wall long before class is over, but when I let myself slowly warm up, I tap into my glycogen stores and can push myself hard through the remaining 30-45 minutes of class without overexertion. Since the bike’s settings range from 1-10, in the first 15 minutes I tend to hover in the bike’s lower settings, no higher than a 5. Some instructors will try to push spinners into the higher gears at the very beginning of class, but I don’t usually follow until after I’ve hit that 15-minute point. It’s the instructor’s job to inspire and motivate you, and remember that many instructors spin every day, so they may lose sight of what it’s like to be on the bike as a first-timer.

6. Always have a towel at your bike. As stated previously, you’re going to sweat during spinning class. If you can towel yourself off at regular intervals, class will be much more comfortable. Many gyms have hand towels available, but you may want to bring your own, just in case.

7. Challenge yourself, but don’t kill yourself. Listen to your body when you spin. The instructor will give you a suggested routine, but you should take it at your own pace. Most classes are between 45-60 minutes long, including a 5-minute warm up and 5-minute cool down. Find out how long yours is, and pace yourself so you can last throughout the entire time period.

8. Don’t spin if you don’t feel well. I think this goes without saying for most people, but there are those hard-core gym-goers who will try to push through a workout regardless of what their body is telling them. If you feel run down or more tired than usual, a tough spin class could be enough to push your body into a cold. Rest up and try again another day.

I am convinced that anyone can accomplish what they want to if they set their mind to it, and spinning class is no exception. Follow these tips and spin your way to success. Good luck!

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Have Fun: How Cool is Actual Mail?

When is the last time you sent someone a hand-written letter?

Don’t get me wrong, email and the internet are a fantastic invention. You can communicate with anyone in the world in a few seconds.

But what about how impersonal email is? Everyone’s words look the same because they’re all crammed into the same email formatting. And you only get a slight feel for the person’s personality.

Do you remember getting letters and postcards? I feel like this is a dead art but maybe one that should be re-kindled. Getting a hand-written piece of mail can really brighten someone’s day.

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I remember the summer when I was 17. My friend was away for the summer with her family in Cape Cod. Our parents didn’t want us running up the long-distance phone bill, so we decided to write each other letters all summer. Letters from my friend always came in pink or purple ink, with her familiar, scrawly handwriting. She would draw pictures in the margins of the paper, usually of Kurt Cobain. When I got a letter, I knew it had been touched by her hand as it rested on the page and the paper and envelope had actually been in the location the letter originated from. I had pieces to patch together my friend’s personality: the brightly colored ink, the doodles, and especially the style of her handwriting. These things transcended the mere words on the page. It felt more personal and more special. What made it even better was that I never knew exactly when a letter would arrive and when it did, it was always a cool surprise. True, this method lacked efficiency. But it made up for it in every other way.

Today I’m going to send a random letter to one of my friends. Really just to let her know that I’m thinking of her on the other side of the country. But also because sending her an email just feels like cheating. Mostly because it only takes 2 seconds rather than the labor (gasp!) of writing out words in ink, words that can’t be erased once they’re there! No spell check or grammar check! She will get a heartfelt written one-sided conversation, complete with imperfections and possibly more beautiful and special because of them.

Take 30 minutes this week and write someone a letter. Because, seriously, how cool is actual mail?

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Be Well: Don’t Age Gracefully

Recently I had a birthday. I turned older than I’d like to admit, especially for someone who has issues with aging. Or is it with maturing? During college, when most of the kids in my classes decided it was time to begin feeling (and dressing) more professional, I was waltzing to class in overalls, Elmo t-shirts or even my pajamas. Post college, going to work was always a struggle…the nose ring had to be removed and I had to wear “work clothes”…my Doc Martens became a workday staple just to feel like my personality wasn’t being squelched too much. My mom told me once, as I complained about wrinkles and grey hair and cellulite, “My, you’re going to have a tough time as you get older.” And she was right. Every sign that I am getting older is met with a new challenge to myself, because I am my own worst critic. Another year older? Great. We’ll start a new class at the gym. Another grey hair? Wonderful…let’s become vegetarian.

This year has been particularly difficult for me because my age feels like a milestone, a line drawn in the sand, a mark of “this is the first day of the rest of your life,” a before-and-after sort of number. I don’t like it–not one little bit–but there’s not much I can do about it; it is, after all, better than the alternative. So…what have I done to deal?

Every time I feel like it’s a milestone moment, I reinvent. I’m not talking about a complete mental or physical or spiritual overhaul. I’m talking about small changes that at first seem fairly insignificant but eventually amount to significant undertakings that can make a relatively big impact on my life.

First: I decided to undo my well-known mantra, the belief that I cannot run. My sister the runner convinced me that maybe I can and we went out a few times together. And, who-woulda-thunk-it, I can run. It hurts sometimes, but I still do it because after I’m done it feels like I can accomplish anything. I started out running only a mile or so at a time and have progressed to a few miles here, a few there. On the morning of my birthday I invented a new event, the Birthday 5k. This is just about as far as I can run right now. It was cold outside so I went to the gym, got onto the treadmill and decided that I would accomplish the task at hand or die in the attempt; I lived, and it wasn’t actually that bad. This spring, I look forward to running actual 5ks, outside with other people.

Second: I started eating vegetarian. Now, I admit, I am a part-time vegetarian. Partially because I’m afraid of becoming malnourished and partially because I feel rude turning down the food that my family and friends offer me. But at my own house, it’s strictly vegetarian. I have found a bunch of cookbooks and recipes that I like and I’m always looking for more. Every weekend is a cooking adventure, surrounded by eggplants, lentils, tofu, carrots, peppers, fresh herbs…you name it. I have to admit, I feel better than I did when I was eating more meat. Plus, the American Dietetic Association noted that vegetarians tend to weigh less than people who eat meat. We shall see.

Someone told me once to let fate have its way and just let myself be the way I’m going to be, the way I’m “supposed to” be. That has gone down as the worst advice I have ever received. If I have to fight every year to stay fit and constantly challenge myself to achieve all the things I know I can and some things I think I can’t, so be it. From today until the day I’m lowered into the ground (or sprinkled over the sea) it will be a fight to the finish, a knock-down, drag-out rumble to determine who’s the boss of me: fate or myself. Only one time will it be fate.

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Be Well: Thinner, Richer and More Creative

The Best Reasons to Become Vegetarian

Becoming a vegetarian offers multiple advantages to those who opt to consume that with leaves rather than those with a face. Yes, of course it gives you the warm and fuzzy to know that in your old little way you’re making the world a less violent place (assuming plants don’t have feelings). However, vegetarianism (and its cousin, veganism) also helps the old finances, and I personally find it helps the old creativity mill, as well. Check out the following five ways going green and leafy can make you thinner, richer and more creative:

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Have Fun: 30 Ways to Enjoy a Warm, Sunny Day

By Laura, who loves to wear flip flops and drink iced coffee.

  1. Wear flip flops and enjoy the freedom of bare toes.

2. Drink iced coffee full of cream and sugar and enjoy the bitterness, creaminess and sweetness all rolled into one. Perfection.

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The Accidental Workout

Ways to get exercise without going to the gym

It’s not always easy to get to the gym. In fact, some people detest the very thought of changing, moving and sweating around other people. Sometimes you’re part of the pack, sometimes you’re a one-person wolf pack, that’s just life. Keep reading for ways to get plenty of exercise doing things you do every day or using things you can find in your home.

Remember that there are roughly 3500 calories in one pound of body fat. If you can expend 500 calories per day, you can–theoretically–lose one pound in a week’s time. Everyone’s body (read: metabolism) is different and this won’t work perfectly if your extra exercising causes you to increase your food intake. But if you keep your food intake the same and burn off 500 calories per day, one pound per week is roughly what you’ll lose. Sounds pretty do-able, right?

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