Valentine's Day: Blood Donation and LAS VEGAS

I’m not a big fan of holidays that society tells us we  HAVE to give a gift. I like giving gifts when I see something that reminds me of a loved one – out of the blue – but when Retail America tells me I have to go all out and buy gifts or get dressed up for a fancy dinner to celebrate a certain day, I’m not down with that. To me, it loses the specialness of that given gift.

But there’s one gift I love to give regularly and giving it on Valentine’s Day would not make it any less special: Donating blood.

One whole blood donation can help save and enhance the lives of up to 3 patients. (Source)

Unfortunately when I showed up for my appointment this morning, I found out I’m unable to donate. Due to my surgeries and having a cadaver graft in both knees (DeNovo is a cartilage graft from a juvenile cadaver donor), I’m black listed from donating for 1  year after my last surgery date (December 28).

Major bummer – I haven’t been able to donate since a few months before my first surgery. As a girl who donated every 8 weeks to the day, most of the time, I am pretty disappointed that I’m out for the next year.

So instead, I’ll celebrate this crazy day of love by hopping on a plane to the most romantic spot I can think of: Las Vegas. Seriously.

I’m headed to Vegas tonight for the Ragan 5th Annual Social Media Conferecen for PR And Corporate Communications. I’m really excited – the conference agenda is packed with great social media insight and trends for marketers and it’s my first time in Vegas!

As a first-timer in Las Vegas – what are you ‘must see/must do’ suggestions? Vegas regular, Diana, has sent me quite a few suggestions to get started but I’d like to hear from you too!

Beginner Swimmer

For the past year that my knee has been hurting, I’ve been meaning to make it to the pool. But I could never find the confidence to do so. I haven’t been in a pool to swim laps since high school. And that was a long, long time ago.

This weekend, I stepped up my game and conquered my fears. I found a YMCA nearby with a pool, printed off the schedule and committed to myself that I would go on Sunday.

And I did! 

(Athleta Iron Girl swim cap!)

I was petrified walking into the Y – like everyone knew I was a newbie swimmer and what the heck was I trying to do here? In fact, I almost talked myself out walking in the locker room. Butterflies in my stomach, self doubt in my mind.

I changed my clothes, put one foot in front of the other and walked out to the pool deck and found a lane with one person in it and asked if I could share. The swimmer obliged so I jumped in and swam.

I didn’t count my laps but I swam for about 40 minutes. I swam freestyle laps, used the kick board to give my legs a solid workout and used the leg buoy when my knees got sore. It felt AWESOME! After the first couple of laps, I got the hang of my rhythm and felt pretty good in my lane. I’m not speedy and my form needs a lot of help, but I did it! I already love swimming and am looking forward to getting back in the pool.

Today’s pool session did reaffirm what I already knew: I’ve lost all strength (duh – no muscle in my legs!) and endurance. I couldn’t swim more than 1 25-yard lap without taking a (very labored breathing) break. But everyone starts somewhere, right?

My arms and legs are exhausted. My head and heart are happy.

I’m very proud of myself for getting my butt to a new gym (scary), a pool (extra scary) and getting in and swimming. My fear was irrational: No one knew I didn’t know what I was doing – and even if they did, no one would have cared.

I need to remember that when I start doing something new – no one can tell and no one cares!

Happy 'GAL'entine's Day!

One of my favorite shows is Parks And Rec on NBC. Last week’s episode was about Valentine’s Day but opened with the main character, Leslie Knope, hosting her annual ‘Gal’entine’s brunch with her girlfriends.

(I made that from this and this.)

February 14th is a day to celebrate our significant others and loved ones but February 13th is a day to celebrate our girlfriends!

Today, let’s appreciate and celebrate the wonderful girlfriends in our lives - ladyfriends who make us laugh, console us when we cry, support us through the rough times and celebrate the great times.

Send an email, tweet, text, card or even a real life hug to your important ladyfriends and let them know you are thinking about them.

And if you want to host your own ‘Gal’entine’s Day shindig, Leslie Knope has a few pointers for you here.

Coincidentally, some fellow bloggers/Twitter girlfriends and I got together at Hapa Sushi on Friday. It wasn’t a ‘Gal’entine’s celebration but it was a very fun girls night! Social media friends FTW.

Heather, Courtney, Me, Tiffany, Lauren, Liz and Heidi

Happy ‘Gal’entines Day to all my ladies out there!

Cholesterol Scare and Heart Healthy Snacks

In honor of February being Heart Health Month, I’d like to share a little story about my cholesterol scare a few months ago to encourage you to get your numbers checked and incorporate heart healthy foods into your diet.

Each year to be eligible for the lower cost health insurance option through my company, I must have my blood tested to determine my cholesterol, triglycerides and other important health factors. Until last summer, I’d never had an abnormal reading.

While on a business trip last August, I’d donated blood with a hospital that tested cholesterol. I’d gotten a ‘high’ reading so a few months later, I had my doctor re-check me.

I was re-tested right after my first surgery in October and got the results on a day that I was feeling particularly down. I needed to work on my cholesterol, the nurse told me. I cried- I’m generally a very healthy eater and an active person – how the heck did I have high cholesterol?! I felt like a failure, like my body was betraying me. What was I doing wrong?!

After a few days of sulking and analyzing every product I ate (and finding no cholesterol is most), I did some research and consulted my physician. It turns out, the nurse had misread – my overall cholesterol was high but my HDL/LDLs were more than optimal:

Tested: October 11, 2011

Total cholesterol: 243 (optimal is below 200)

HDL (good) cholesterol: 88 (optimal is 60+)

LDL (bad) cholesterol: 119 (optimal is less than 100 / near optimal is 100-129)

I learned that if I have an above average HDL count that it’s okay if my total cholesterol is ‘high’.

My body may not have failed me but I knew there were things that I could do to help keep my cholesterol under control.

Once I’d gotten the high cholesterol scare, I made a list of the foods I should be eating to bring my cholesterol down and started incorporating these foods into my daily diet. Even after knowing I have acceptable cholesterol, I continue to eat these foods regularly to keep my heart healthy and cholesterol down.

Heart Health Foods (Scientific information found here and here)

  • Walnuts: polyunsaturated fatty acids help keep vessels healthy. Just a handful at a time for an afternoon snack.
  • Oatmeal: High in fiber.
  • Flaxseed/Salmon/Tuna/Fatty Fish: High in Omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce your blood pressure and risk of developing blood clots. I add 2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to smoothies, baked goods.
  • Spinach: Multiple phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals to help ward off heart (and other) diseases. Swapped my regular spring mix greens for spinach when possible and added spinach to smoothies.
  • Black beans, Broccoli: high in fiber. Incorporated more often as a side dish.
  • Olive oil: Contains a potent mix of antioxidants that can lower your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol but leave your “good” (HDL) cholesterol untouched. Instead of other oils or butter, I use olive oil to saute veggies, bake fish, etc.

These are just a few of the foods that I made sure to eat (or keep eating) initially. There are so many heart healthy foods that you can incorporate into your regular diet – a list of 25 foods from WebMD can be found here!

I learned that cholesterol comes from eating animal products so naturally, by reducing the high cholesterol meats and bulking up on the healthy veggies, I can keep my cholesterol in check. Exercise can also help reduce cholesterol.

High cholesterol shows no symptoms and the only way to find out your numbers is by a quick blood test. My health insurance requires that I am tested each year and maybe your local blood donation bank tests your cholesterol too. Beware though: it’s just as important to know your HDL & LDL numbers as it is to know your total cholesterol numbers.

Of course, if you’re experiencing high cholesterol, you should definitely check with your doctor to form a plan of attack. I’m not a doctor or nutritionist of any sort. Just a girl sharing her cholesterol experiences, hoping to inspire you to keep your heart healthy too.

Last Day on Crutches

It’s my last day on crutches! Hopefully for a VERY LONG time.

Today officially marks the end of the ‘surgery recovery’ phase of this Osteochondritis Dissecans ordeal. 2 surgeries (right knee, left knee) and 12 weeks on crutches in 4 months has been fun but I’m happy to put this phase behind me.

Because it’s my last day, I’m milking the ‘I’m on crutches’ excuse today – parking in a super close parking spot at work, not taking the dog out in the morning, asking Alex to take the garbage out, among other things.

In honor of it being the last day of using and wearing these things, here are my favorite crutches excuses:

  • Maybe we’ll get special seating at the concert because I’m on crutches? Alex reminded me that I’m not in a wheelchair and have proven that I’m very capable of getting around.
  • It’s snowy out, I’m working from home today. This is legit – I’ve crutched around on the snow and ice and have had near death slips 1 time too many to keep thinking that.
  • Alex can make, bring me and clean up dinner – I’m on crutches! Sad to see this one go :)
  • I have to buy my lunch – I can’t carry a lunch to the break room at work. This is a purely lazy excuse and one I plan to use today.

At 2 p.m. today, there will be no more excuses.

Really though, I’ve had butterflies in my stomach all week, waiting for today. I’m ready to have both and both feet back, to walk and carry things at the same time, to not have knee pain, to get my strength and endurance back.

Today, I get ME back.

Paleo Pros, Cons & Giveaway Winner

It’s been more than a month since I declared that I was eating paleo to try it out. I was looking for a way to get my body and food back on track and after some research, my fiance, Alex, and I jumped into the paleo lifestyle, head first. 

There are some things I really liked about paleo and some I didn’t (and photos of me because it was easier than looking for a thumbs up/thumbs down photo).

Pros:

  • My body feels great – ‘clean’, healthy. I wasn’t putting junk into it so I didn’t feel like crap.
  • Easier to make healthier choices when eating out – instead of eating a burger with a bun and fries, we chose bunless burgers and asparagus for a side.
  • Bulking up on eating veggies – I’ve always loved veggies but didn’t always make a concerted effort to eat as many as I should and would eat the same veggies all the time. Paleo helped me try new veggies and ensure I got a full serving (or more) of the good stuff with each meal.
  • Constant, steady energy levels – this was a HUGE plus for me. I’ve always been pretty awake in the mornings but come afternoon, I get that post-lunch coma feeling like most of us. When eating paleo, I have yet to experience this. I’m awake and with it the whole day.
  • No ‘dying of hunger’ pangs – you all know that OMG-I-NEED-FOOD-NOW feeling. Haven’t experienced that since we changed our diets. I get hungry, sure, but it’s more like a gentle reminder to eat some walnuts or grab an apple with peanut butter. Honestly, I experience hunger differently now.

Cons:

  • Limited options when dining out – while thinking paleo makes me choose healthier options (no ranch, no fried foods), it also makes it difficult sometimes to find something that ‘fits’. I tried to stick to paleo as much as possible, but sometimes, an exceptional beef tenderloin sandwich and truffle fries happened. And I’m okay with that.
  • Kitchen creativity – this is one part of my brain that lacks. Significantly. I have a hard time thinking of different ways to make the same foods. I think having a cookbook would have made this easier.
  • Sometimes, I just wanted a damn cookie! So I made some. And we ate them and lived to tell the tale.
  • Hard to bring my lunch when I’m on crutches – this is a symptom of my current situation and one that will be shortly squashed. It’s hard for me to get multiple Tupperware containers in my backpack, put in the office fridge, brought back to my desk, etc. Instead, it’s ‘easier’ (also, lazier) for me to hit up Chipotle for a salad. I know I COULD bring my lunch and make it happen but I’ve opted to take the lazy way out for the time being.

Overall, the pros outweigh the cons. And I feel so good when eating the paleo way.

The conclusion I’ve come to is this: I want to continue follow the general principles of paleo eating (mostly meats, veggies and fruits) with a few modifications. I’m going to eat as ‘whole’ as possible when I can’t or don’t want to eat paleo. If I want a sandwich, I’ll make my own bread. If I want a cookie or brownie, I’ll make it from my own ingredients and not a box.

I’ve also decided to add dairy back – yogurts and cheeses – in moderation. Again, as whole as possible is the goal for me here.

I’ve learned to look at the ingredients of canned/boxed/bagged food that we buy and the list is sometimes pretty long. Full of things that I don’t really know what they are! So when Alex and I shop for things that are not fresh produce, we’re analyzing the ingredients to find the best option. I’m no nutritionist or dietician but I do know that the cheese with fewer ingredients (and all recognizable) will be better for me than the cheese with a laundry list of unpronounceable ingredients.

And for me, the icing on the cake was last night. We had friends over for the Super Bowl and everyone brought a dish or two to share – the spread was pretty incredible. I threw paleo to the wind and had pita bread, chips, cookies, a cupcake, beer, etc, etc. It was so delicious! But shortly after everyone left, my stomach did NOT feel good – So much so that I woke up in the middle of the night, very uncomfortable. I don’t know if it was all the gluten (which my body hasn’t been eating), all the sweets or all the buffalo chicken dip but it wasn’t fun and something I hadn’t felt the past month.

So enough about paleo – let’s talk about the Sparkly Soul giveaway winner!

I used the random number generator at Random.org to decide the winner.

Congratulations to Heidi at Run Around Roo!

Snow Day!

Last night, a big snow storm moved into Colorado from the south. This means that the system picks up moisture from the south and rotates counter-clockwise, east to west, and backs itself into the mountains. There’s nowhere for the storm to go so it stays put and dumps snow. Overnight, we got about 12 inches of snow and it’s still snowing outside now (1130a). We’re ‘supposed to’ get 12 + more inches during the day today.

This is as close as I’m getting to the snow today.

My office called a snow day. Alex tried to get his car out to go to work for more than 45 minutes before he admitted defeat. We’re enjoying a work-from-home/snow day together with:

Bottomless cups of tea and work for me…

…video games and puppy time for Alex.

To find out what people who can go outside are doing on their snow day, check out Heather’s blog. She’s got some great photos of the many inches of snow on the ground!

Silk Almond Milk Chocolate Chip Cookies With Wheat Flour

I’ve been jonsin’ for a homemade chocolate chip cookie. Even though I haven’t eaten a cookie or (intentional) sugar for about 30 days, the only thing that sounds good to me right now is a chocolate chip cookie.

A long while ago, when I started drinking soy milk because I thought I was lactose intolerant, I found this recipe for chocolate chip cookies and it quckly became the only recipe I use. While following paleo, I bought Silk Almond Milk instead of soy and after a quick tweet confirmation from Silk (@lovemysilk) that I could make my recipe with Almond instead of Soy milk. I got started.

Unfortunately, I didn’t  check to make sure I had the REST of the ingredients before I started. (baking fail). I ran out of white flour and my brown sugar was dried into an unbreakable brick. …Uh oh. Instead, I improvised.

Silk Almond Milk Cookies

Ingredients (I ended up using)

  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup Silk (Almond) Vanilla
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 1/4 1 1/4 cups flour + 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips

I combined according to the recipe. As I was mixing, I thought, these were either going to be the best or worst cookies ever. They weren’t either but they ARE pretty tasty! They’re a bit ‘heartier’ than the normal cookies, which I attribute to the wheat flour (accurately or inaccurately). 

So unfortunately, I can’t gauge the difference in taste from soy to almond milk but I do know it works! Even with wheat flour subbed in.

Now, I have 24 cookies looking for a home. And an impending snow storm in Denver. So, actually, I’m glad these cookies haven’t found another home because I think this is what my night has in store:

 

Sparkly Soul Headbands & Giveaway!

***THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED AND WINNER WAS ANNOUNCED HERE***

Last week, I got some Sparkly Soul headbands to try out and I am in LOVE! See what they’re all about.

Wanna get your SPARKLE on? You’re in luck! I’m giving 2 headbands away! (1 thin, 1 thick).

2 easy ways to enter:

  1. (REQUIRED) Check out the Sparkly Soul website and leave a comment with which color headband you’d like! (Don’t worry, if you’re the lucky winner, you can change your mind)
  2. (OPTIONAL) Tweet about this giveaway and leave me a comment that you’ve Tweeted! (To make it really easy on ya: ‘I want to win @sparklysoul headbands from @lgsmash! http://wp.me/p1oGVP-vm

This giveaway is open until (Super Bowl) Sunday, February 5, 11:59 p.m. Winner will be selected from the comments at random using Random.org and announced on Monday, February 6.

If you just can’t wait to get your hands on these headbands, I don’t blame you. You can get 15% off when you order online at Sparkly Soul for the entire month of February. Just enter FITFLUENTIAL as your promo code once you get to the payment screen.

I already ordered mine!

**Disclaimer: Sparkly Soul sent me a sample of their product (seen in the video) to try for free but, as always, all opinions, videos and blog posts are my own.

Wedding Wednesday: Bridesmaids Cards

When I started thinking about bridesmaids, I knew I wanted to send them a personal card to ask them to be part of our wedding. I started perusing the internet for inspiration – from Etsy to wedding blogs.

I found Elise’s Envelope Pocket Love post and LOVED it! This is what I wanted to do! From the paper to the letters to the finished product, I lusted. I wanted to recreate the look and feel of her cards but I don’t have that crafty gene and wimped out.

Instead, I decided to DIY my own cards. I hit up a local card store, Card Blanche, and looked for individual paper pieces in our chosen colors. I found white and brown note cards, pink scalloped cards and brown envelopes. Forgive me, paper people, for not knowing the sizes of the paper!

The most involved this got was gluing the white note card to the pink scalloped card. I then wrote a note to each girl on the brown note card; asking her to be my bridesmaid, a bit about what I know about the wedding so far and who their fellow bridesmaids are.

Then, both pink/white card and brown note card went into the top folding envelope.

Once in the envelope, I tied a green string around the envelope to give it a classier touch. (tip: to keep the string in place, put a dot of glue on the back of the envelope)

Last step, slide into a green envelope (size A7 from Staples), address and mail!


Pretty easy! These definitely didn’t look as ‘professional’ as I’d imagined but they’re absolutely as personal as I wanted. We have a pretty sizeable wedding party and after decorating 2 bridesmaids cards, I kind of wished I’d drawn one, scanned it and printed it on the remaining cards. It took a lot of time (and spare paper!) to draw out exactly how I wanted each to look.

Overall, though, I’m satisfied with how they turned out and proud of myself for venturing into the world of REAL DIY.