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Healthier Travelers

A big trip looms on the horizon…distant by just a few months.  Along with finalizing hotel and flight bookings, I’ve got time to ramp up my workout routine. 

Trips motivate me to exercise harder for several reasons:  I would prefer not to pose alongside my belly in photos, my body has more energy to explore, and I’m less likely to get sick when eating right and getting stronger.  Today I’m making a list of stuff I do to push myself physically.  There are a few thing’s I’d never do, too.  The key word is balance here; I want to exist in a peaceful, stable harmony.  Not too extreme.  I don’t join hands with myself and sing Kumbaya.  If that’s even possible.


Ok, some people pump iron and some people chew it.  I do a little of both because vitamins really push my energy level up.  I’m told they do amazing things like help muscles recover after working out and boost the immune system.  They may help joints and bones.  Hopefully some vitamin claims are true but either way several are going down the hatch every day.  I feel better when they do.

At our house, we swallow a couple of multivitamins, two fish oil capsules, a probiotic and extra vitamin C everyday.  I’m on and off with protein drinks and flax oil simply because I don’t detect a big change in how I feel when taking them.  As the weather gets warmer, I’ll add a glass of aloe juice to the mix (though the taste gags me without a squeeze of lemon juice).

During my actual workouts I always drink apple cider vinegar water.  The Braggs brand with the mother in it.  Just a cap full in a large glass of water is refreshing.  I don’t tire as quickly.

Running Indoors

Hitting the pavement just isn’t my thing.  I step onto the elliptical machine in my relatively climate-controlled basement.  As a bonus, my blaring iPod keeps me from slowing to a stop.  The hubs and I will jog anywhere between a mile and a half and three miles. 

The downside to this option is that it’s a bit boring.  Redundant.  I begin to sympathize with the goldfish eternally circling the bowl.  Not even Michael Jackson or No Doubt can counteract the feeling.  And that’s saying something.

Workout Videos

I sincerely hope this doesn’t sound too ‘late eighties housewifey’, because I like workout videos.  Maybe that needs rephrasing: I don’t enjoy working out at the gym.  How can I put this delicately?  It is just plain gross to sit on a bench where some guy just plopped his sweaty such-and-suches.  Even normal people should turn into germaphobes when they enter gyms or playgrounds.  In my mind, that’s an Austenian “truth commonly acknowledged.”  Right?

Since mid-December I’ve worked through Denise Austin’s Sculpt & Burn Body Blitz.  It is a nice 50-minute workout, broken into four 10-minute segments plus a warm up and cool down.  Some concepts were new for me: kettlebell-inspired weight work and parts of the mixed martial arts segment.  It is similar to her television programs with cardio followed by weight resistance. 

Finishing a month of Denise Austin, I ordered the much talked about P90X dvds from Beachbody.  Tony Horton is down to earth and humorous.  To me, the hour-long workouts really fly by.  Make no mistake, they’re hard though.  So far, the AbRipper dvd hasn’t killed me.  Although if you don’t see another post from me, you might double-check with my husband.  I’m only into week 2 of the 12-week program, so I’m anxious to hear if anyone out there has finished the whole enchilada.  My favorites are the Kenpo and Shoulder & Arms workouts. 


At home we eat entirely vegetarian, for several reasons.  That’s a blog post or twenty on its own.  The term vegetarian is not automatically synonymous with healthy.  It’s easy to rake up some calories without meat, too.  And I swear anything can be fried. 

The new clean eating trend is appealing to me.  No cokes, no sugar, no processed “foods”.  To keep things simple, I’m trying to eat more raw fruits and veggies and more whole grains.  That works for me about 70% of the time, leaving me space in my diet to eat out occasionally.  Or indulge just a bit.  I love the French idea of enjoying decadent foods in small portions.  We Americans love to overdo anything.  So I have to remind myself that sometimes a little treat keeps it a treat.  Not gluttony. 

That said, last night we ordered a cheese pizza for dinner.  It was just part of the other 30 percent.  I did workout for an hour afterward. 

But I Won’t Do That

My personal road to health will never include a few pop-culture things.  Such as cosmetic nips & tucks.  Generic vitamins (they’re not monitored by the FDA, so make sure to buy from a brand that has earned trust in the health community).  Biker shorts or leggings (say it with me: U-G-L-Y, they ain’t got no alibi, they’re ugly).  Artificial food – for instance, I’ll always pick butter over margarine.  Expensive exercise equipment…it’s just me, my weights and a yoga mat.

Alright.  I opened this topic because I think weight and self-confidence issues plague many of us.  Taking a trip provides me with a solid goal, and it’s always better to work with a goal in mind. 

What motivates you to take healthier steps?  Do you find working out helps you achieve more on those dream vacations?


Image Credits: Weird Yoga Girl, Vitamins, Denise Austin, P90X, Good Food

See America First: America’s National Parks

Ken Burns’ documentaries are always phenomenal.  Always.  This week I’ve been savoring a few of the twelve (twelve!) hours of Burns’ six-part National Parks documentary. 

Burns explores the politics in play at each park’s inception, from Lincoln protecting the first little tracts of land in California to John Muir’s tenacious efforts to maintain the pristine landscape of Yosemite and the petrified forest. 

It’s hard to imagine America without her protected landscapes.  Teddy Roosevelt worked hard to increase the number of national parks during his presidency.  He staved off the ever-expanding industrial revolution from delicate areas and kept big words like progress and change from forever marring our globally unique sights.  I am amazed how the railroad system and a selfless millionaire named Stephen Mather marketed the parks. 

Above all, the cinematography of each episode is stunning. 

The U.S. National Park System now protects both natural landforms and historically significant locations.  We have been fortunate to visit several of both.  Among my favorites are Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Cost: $20 per car per week to enter the park

Cabins are available within the park, though we opted for a hotel in Estes Park.

The last time our family went to Colorado, we traveled like those old timers who packed across the land dozens at a time.  Our party of nine crammed into two vehicles and crept up the great Rocky Mountains from Estes Park, through Glacier Basin, driving all the way up to Bear Lake.  Jackets were necessary at such high elevations even in the dead of summer.  The kids had a snowball fight. 

I don’t care how advanced we believe we come as a people, it will always seem rickety and dangerous to drive up a narrow mountain road.

Speaking of dangerous, here’s the word-for-word advice from the park ranger flyer:

  1. Travel in groups and make noise as you hike.  Keep your group, especially children, close together.
  2. Do not approach a mountain lion or bear.
  3. Stay calm when you see a mountain lion or bear.
  4. Stop; back away slowly.  Never turn your back and run.
  5. Stand tall and look large.  Raise your arms.  Protect small children by picking them up.
  6. If approached, make loud noises, shout, clap hands, clang pots and pans.
  7. If attacked by a mountain lion or bear, fight back!

I think this is sound advice.  Really, it just freaked me out.

Now I’ve shared how all-out terrified I became.  That this park remains my all time favorite should convince you of it’s simple magnificence.  I think it’s worth looking past the unlikely dangers to experience the purple, hazy grandeur.

The sounds of rushing water, clapping aspen leaves and wild animals carry forever in the crisp air.  We spotted herds of elk and beautiful birds.  No bears!  Deer walk right up to the picnic sights, bold as brass.  As a child, a deer ran off with our entire bag of Oreos.  I remember dad playing a brief game of tug of war with the determined critter before giving up altogether. 

Whatever my age, Rocky Mountain National Park has been a lively experience. 

Yellowstone National Park

If you like feeling remote and completely out of touch from the remainder of humanity, try visiting Yellowstone in the winter season.  Snow vehicles pull guests into the park (there will be no late night convenience store run).  Ours stopped for twenty minutes at a time as herds of wild buffalo crossed the road.  They were snowy and enormous; the snowmobile seemed tiny and insignificant next to dozens of the large animals.

Old Faithful Snow Lodge & Cabins

The Old Faithful Snow Lodge is located a brisk winter walk from Old Faithful (which errupts every 60 to 65 minutes).  Lodge rates run about $200/night in the winter months.  Meals are nice, as is the cafe and gift shop.  Other than the lodge and geyser, snow mobiles are available for rental. 

Old Faithful itself is an impressive spray of vertical water.  The sulfuric smell meets a visitor before the geyser comes into view.  It is surrounded by pools of steamy, stinky water so colorful from collected minerals.  Stepping into the visitor center, it becomes apparent that science is constantly interested in Faithful’s seismic activity, too.  Displays speak of mega-volcanoes; the potential for an eruption so substantial it would cover a vast amount of this country.  Try to stand calmly as the seismograph needles ping up and down in endless waves.

Nothing really prepares a person the first time they view Old Faithful. 

Yellowstone is a nice place to slow down and step away from life. 

All told, I agree with Burns: stepping into a protected environment that looks as if it predates the impressions of man is a transcendental experience.  It puts us all on common ground, relying on basic needs and enjoying the spectacular display of nature.  I can’t imagine what our country would be like without the existence of its beautiful national parks. 

Which parks are your favorite?  Have you seen the Burns documentary?  Which people do you think made the biggest positive impact on our park system?

Image Credits:  See America, Bear, MountainsMilky WayYellowstone Poster, Yellowstone Lodge, Old Faithful, See America Patch

Chicago Pizza: Giordano’s vs. Lou Malnati’s

Sitting at the salon, our stylist asks my daughter what she did in Chicago.

Her sole answer: Oh, we ate pizza.

Yes, the quest to select our favorite Chicago-style pizza begins.  We try both Giordano’s and Lou Malnati’s.  I list them in alphabetical order because the family remains split to this day.  We still aren’t sure which one deserves top billing.

Admittedly the restaurants have some things in common: copious amounts of cheese, delicious sauces, unique atmospheres, pizza shipped from Chicago to your hometown.  To my eye, they’re both deep dish pizzas, though Giordano’s labels theirs a stuffed pizza.  I’m sure someone can set me straight as to the differences; it’s just both possess a beautiful combination of crust and cheese and tomato.  Next to the greasy nationwide chains of which we’re so accustomed, both pies read as edible works of art.  Or maybe beautiful orchestrations.

Things begin to differ in the crust department.  Malnati’s has this delicious thin crust that really reminds me of a pie crust.  A really flavorful pie crust.  I believe there must be more oil in it?  Amateur guess.  Their pizza is sloppy; it must be enjoyed with a fork and knife.  Adults love this.  The kiddos have a hard time with it.

The stuffed pizza at Giordano’s is filled up like a pie.  Historically, it is a newer pizza (dating to the 1970’s) than Malnati’s (dating to the mid 1940’s).  Giordano’s website insists, “We alter our pizzas as time passes, as the necessity arises…The thing about pizza is that like everything good, it has to have an evolution. To stay the same means to go backward.”  I get the philosophy, but I’m not sure there’s any need to reinvent the wheel.  Over and over.  My kids, revisiting the restaurant in 20 years, might have a completely different food experience than they did that time the family drove up to Chicago in 2011.  Part of what makes pizza great is the history behind those fiercely protected family sauce recipes.  Great things stay great.

Both pizzas are delish.  The sides are tasty.  Malnati’s salad wins my pick for favorite appetizer, though the kids almost shed tears over Giordano’s mozzarella sticks.  Yes, mozzarella sticks.  Because they weren’t getting enough cheese in the deep-dish pizzas.  I didn’t say our quest to find the best pizza was a strictly healthy one.

All told, the staff seemed a tad friendlier at Lou Malnati’s.  The kids had more to entertain them while waiting for dinner (including the atmosphere around them – the interior was something like a cabin stuffed to the brim with knick knacks).  Giordano’s seated us quickly, so I really have no complaints.  Plus, the kids got a kick out of watching the crusts toss into the air and shoot down some sort of rolling machine.

Remembering either location, we can look back and say in Chicago we ate the best pizza.  Really tasty pizza.  Nothing at home holds a candle to that deep dish goodness.

Has anyone ever ordered a pizza from either chain and had it shipped to your house?  Is it the same?

Photo sources: Tomato sauceMozzarellaMalnati’s pizza, Giordano’s pizza,  appetizers,

The City of the Big Shoulders

Chicago.  Who doesn’t love Chicago?

Hog Butcher of the World
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders

(taken from Carl Sandburg’s poem: Chicago)

I like how Sandburg depicts a proud, working-class city.

Though Chi-town is also refined.  It is a shiny jewel in the dusty midwest.  What makes it one of our favorite road trip destinations?

A Great Great Lake

We midwesterners live as far from an ocean as geographically possible in the contiguous United States.  Half of America lies on either side of us, so seeing a big lake with real waves is a big deal.

The kids are amazed by the boats dotting the horizon.  From the Navy Pier, they spot a lighthouse (the first they’ve ever seen).  Savoring ice cream or sitting on the grass by Adler Planetarium, everyone falls in love with the deep blue expanse.

Then we turn around and marvel at the famous Chicago skyline.

Grabbing a taxi boat from the Navy Pier to the planetarium provides a fun way to get out on the water.


Most cities have admirably cultivated their local culture and possess at least a few modern attractions.  But Chicago’s are on steroids.

Taste of Chicago is the world’s biggest food festival.  Located smack in the heart of Grant Park, food and drink booths stretch across the park’s expanse.  Local bands and the sounds of a bustling city round out the experience.  We’ve only been once, though just typing about it has me thinking it’s time to head back.

China Town is a fun area.  It’s intriguing how some U.S. cities have perfectly preserved subcultures stuck right in the center of the daily grind.  You’ll know you’re there when you pass under the Chinatown gate.  Enjoy some dim sum over the lunch hour, shop for herbs or step into the Chinese import stores.  This area is probably just a quick stop – maybe an hour or two.

Anytime art creates controversy it is guaranteed to stand the test of time.  It’s hard to believe now that the Chicago Picasso was met with disdain.  Picasso designed his untitled statue at a time when most sculptures were tame and historical.  His creation shocked the landscape.  Today it has become an unusual playground in Daley plaza.  Children love to climb and hang and slide down this steel critter.  Climbing on a Picasso.  How often can one say that?

Walking through the city, one is nearly blown over by the savoir-faire.  Chicago knows how to do it up right.


I could spend a week meandering through the Art Institute of Chicago.  Maybe more.  The building is itself architecturally inspiring.  The art collection can literally change your day-to-day perception of the world around you.  It is history.  A gathering of impressions, tools and crafts.    Pure white statues.  Indomitable spirit.  Gleaming light and stark realism.  So much beauty for the senses.  I could keep talking in fragmented sentences, trying to conjure up the emotion one feels as the eyes read and interpret.

But I’d rather just show you some of the highlights.


The Windy City goes beyond historical markers.  The buildings themselves are a standing history.  We love to see them on a river boat cruise.

Buildings reflect onto the glistening water; it is a stunning way to experience history.  Explore how the devastation of the Great Chicago Fire pushed the city to rebuild.  Learn about the 1893 world’s fair and appreciate how the city bustled and grew in its anticipation.  Hear fantastic tales about mob bosses and elevators large enough to transport entire automobiles up to rooftops.   Buy a cheesy photo when disembarking.  How often does every member of your party really make it into one photo?

Chicago just can’t be crammed into a series of blog posts.  It’s too real.  For family travel, it’s not a place to sit quietly and just simply exist.  It is an opportunity to grasp at Epicurean ideals.  Embrace the energy and joie de vivre.

This week I’ll be highlighting some of our family’s Illinois favorites: the food, hotels, recipes. What’s your favorite part of the City of the Big Shoulders?

Photo credits: WorkersSkyline, Lake MichiganPicasso, Art Institute, Seurat, American Gothic, Lautrec, Van Gogh, Boom Towers, Buckingham Fountain

Uh, What Do You Wear to a Foreign Country?

Ok, there are the normal questions to consider when heading across the ocean.  What’s the climate like?  Are we packing for business or pleasure?  Will we marathon walk for miles and miles?

Then there are cultural questions.  Will I look goofy to Europeans in my loose-fit, flared jeans?  Are any sneakers ok?  Will I look like Magoo?  We’re not Keeping Up Appearances, right?

I’m not worried about looking like the Buckets, just making the tacky tourist point.

I feel better telling you that.

I mentioned the other day our family’s planning a trip to Paris.

Google the terms ‘fashion’ and ‘Paris’ together and tell me if you don’t feel a little inadequate.  As though all snobbish yet superior French fashion geniuses will immediately disregard any attempt I make to appear culturally normal.  I have this (irrational) concern that our Americanness will somehow seep out and cause offenses to the locals.

We even have good friends who are French.  Living in Paris.  They have never reacted to us judgmentally.  So where does the nail-biting conundrum of travel clothing come from?

1261406296 audrey tautou 20061108 177082 Audrey Tautou Pictures

I have a few theories.

I, for one, grew up with parents who believed we should dress up to travel.  We changed clothes before going to dinner.  Even as a young girl I packed a little roll of accessories coordinating with each outfit.  Play clothes were not part of our travel vocabulary.

Today I still feel more confident if I’m putting my best fashion foot forward.  I don’t want to look like a schlub out there.

Another reason putting together a wardrobe becomes daunting is really due to all the other travelers out there.  The Fodor’s forums are full of incredibly opinionated and unquestionably authoritative fellow journeyers.  They will tell you that tennis shoes are so passe.  Wearing a colored shirt is suddenly an international scandal (because all Parisians have always worn solid black all day, every day).  I think they forget about the bright red caps of liberty from the French Revolution, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Finally, I think we can step out of our comfort zones a little when visiting someplace new.  Who cares if I try out a color combination that’s really daring?  I don’t know anybody.  Besides, it might seem cool and eccentric (or, admittedly, a tad misguided).

It’s a fun challenge to piece together new looks.  But it’s still a challenge.  Challenges can stress a girl out.

So here’s my middle of the road compromise.  Ragamuffin free, but comfortable.

I refuse to buy a whole new wardrobe just to feel fashion adequate.  Every piece isn’t going to be current season couture.  I try to pick classic cuts that will not go out of style between spring and winter (or between 2009 and 2012 and I’m not afraid to admit it).  I like that word: classic.  Trendy is out.  Navy blue, black, creamy white and all matters of grey are among my favorites.  I like pops of color, too.

We are homeschoolers and I spend plenty of afternoons wearing an Old Navy hoodie around the house.  I absolutely forbid that fuzzy sweatshirt-upgrade to become my travel companion.  It’s worth a few bucks to find a well cut blazer to take its place.  Plus I won’t be as embarrassed in twenty years when the kids pull out the photo books from some vacation in ’06.  Not nearly as bad as my generation’s collectively horrible foray into 90’s grunge.  Good times.

New accessories are ok.  They’ll keep a simple black top and jeans fresh and current.  For just a few bucks.  Earrings don’t take up much luggage real estate.  That’s an undeniable bonus.  I also have this thing about picking up a new handbag.  There’s probably a 12-step program for that.

Layers, not diamonds, are a girl’s best friend.  Marilyn was crazy.  I can wear a ‘special dinner appropriate’ sequined blouse under a casual blazer and scarf to tour all day long.  All I have to do before claiming our reservation is reapply mascara (upper lashes only, the French wouldn’t have it any other way) and lip plumper.  I might make my eye shadow more dramatic…but that’s just me.  Layering diamonds would never pay off this way.  I’m no Elizabeth Taylor.

Shoes.  Those are tricky.  They’re heavy additions to the suitcase, so I will usually pick one pair to wear and another to stow away.  If we’re walking a billion miles, one pair has got to be comfortable.  My favorites are Merrell barefoot sneaks.  The kids like the extra give from a pair of Crocs, although they definitely have limited appeal.  Kiddos can get away with them; the oversized toes look cute on itty bitty feet.  Joseph Seibel shoes are my pick for day-to-day wear.  They take some breaking in, but I can’t imagine us ever parting.  None of these companies are paying me kick backs in exchange for giving them a shout out.  I have sensitive, small feet that easily blister and cramp up.  When I find shoes that work for me, I want to tell the whole world.

I’m alright with looking like a tourist every once in awhile.  Most people recognize the tourism industry and how it helps keep their economies going.  It’s more about respecting the culture you visit than it is trying to assimilate.  Making a courteous effort to communicate is more important than trying to look like a genuine French woman (or New Yorker or Dallas debutante, for that matter).

I get the “When in Rome” argument, and appreciate the idea in many ways.  Ultimately, though, being ourselves is really the best way to go.  The climate-appropriate confidently dressed version of ourselves.

Photos: Vintage TravelerKeeping Up Appearances, Inès de la FressangeAudrey Tautou, Vintage VoguePhrygian Cap, Pretty Neutral Wardrobe, Grunge, LizSeibel Shoes, Vogue Caller

Making Muffaletta

In New Orleans, the gargantuan muffaletta sandwich reigns supreme.  This enormous, round sandwich is spread with a generous helping of olive relish.  Deli meats & cheese complete one of the easiest Big Easy-inspired recipes around.

When we return from a memorable trip, I usually set out to recreate the memories in my kitchen.  It’s fun to sit around the table and recall great experiences together.

Start with the relish:

1/2 c. stuffed green olives

1/2 c. black olives

1/2 medium onion

1 clove garlic

1 T. balsalmic vinegar

dash of salt, black pepper, dried oregano and dried parsley

1/3 c. olive oil

1 stalk celery

1/2 c. cauliflower


Chop all ingredients, mixing with vinegar and oil.

(Or just buy the stuff while you’re visiting.  Go back when you run out.  Repeat as necessary)

Slap the thing together:

Grab some French bread – a round loaf for a small party, or a long loaf for more people.

Slather the sides with mayo and mustard and the olive relish.

Slice some red onions.  Get those on the bread.

Layer on Swiss cheese, Salami, ham, provolone, turkey, mortadella, beef (whatever you like, whatever you’ve got on hand, whatever your deli keeps in stock).

Sneak some lettuce in, too.  If the kids don’t mind.

Spelling test: ok, I’ve seen this sandwich spelled different ways.  Muffaletta, mufaletta, muffuletta.  It’s good however you label it.

Have vegan friends?  There’s a good recipe for veggie muffaletta over at La Pure Mama.  The pictures look tasty.  And who doesn’t love bread with lots of stuff in it?!  Vegetarians would, too.  I promise.

Do you ever cook up your trip food, to recreate memories?  I’m not the only one to scour the internet for recipes that recall moments in time, right?

Photo Credits: sandwich, tapenade