Mulan: Kickass Woman #1

Hua_Mulan_Goes_to_WarThis post is dedicated to my girls, who are gearing up
for a new school year. 

A little context: Kickass women are characters or actual people who do extraordinary things. They are the individuals I think of when I need a little something extra to motivate me to get out of bed, pop in the workout DVD, and push play. I’ve got a very subjective list of kickass women to feature on a semi-regular basis.

First up: Fa Mulan, the main character in the Disney animated film

Does This Uniform Make My Butt Look Fat?

The story isn’t exactly new: Young woman masquerades as a man and goes off to war. In fact, Disney apparently based Mulan in part on the legend of Hua Mulan*, who served as a soldier in place of her father in 1st-Century China.

In the Disney version, I like how Mulan fails miserably at being the dolled-up, marriage-eligible young woman she is expected to be to bring honor to her family. It’s just not who she is. I like that she excels when she is true to herself — smart, strong, collaborative, and compassionate — even though she is dressed like a man. She gets the man in the end, too, even though she wasn’t looking for one.

Did They Send Me Daughters When I Asked for Sons?

On the surface, the message of the girls’ fav song from the film (“I’ll Make a Man Out of You”) is not exactly a feminist treatise. (For a great critique of the movie, check out this blog from the The Body Pacifist.) I don’t care. I don’t even care that the song is sung by Donny Osmond. That’s because Mulan turns out to be the best man of the new recruits. She perseveres, blending brains with brawn. She saves the emperor with the help of her fellow soldiers.

When the song pops up on one of our MP3 players in the car, we turn up the volume and sing along. What woman does not want to be “Swift as a coursing river, with all the force of a great typhoon… With all the strength of a raging fire, mysterious as the dark side of the moon”?

The trick is becoming a swifter, stronger, mysterious you. Keep exercising, eating healthful foods, and accepting help from your friends to live your best life. I know… Just like the movie’s plot, this is an ancient message.

I’m going to try to do a better job heeding it. So I can be ready to take on whatever the world throws my way. Mulan-style.

*Hua Mulan image from Wikipedia — Artifact on loan courtesy of the Dwight Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum, Abilene, Kansas.

Food for Thought: Vegan Before 6

In true Masarech fashion, I like my steak rare, cool in the middle. I usually opt for the fattier ribeye over the cuts-like-butter filet mignon that my dad loved most. Hold the steak sauce. Just some salt and pepper, and I’m in heaven.

I know this is not the type of insight you expect from a blog dedicated to healthy lifestyles.

Relax. I keep my steak splurges in check. You should, too. There continue to be studies like this one that link health issues to red meat consumption.

I have another reason to skirt steak:  I’m married to a vegetarian. Jim is informed and eloquent on the subject, especially when it comes to the impact that the meat industry has on our environment. (Here’s his widely distributed article, “So You’re an Environmentalist … Why Are You Still Eating Meat?” and a 2004 speech he gave to the Vegetarian Society of Hawaii on the same topic.) While never a vegetarian, I kept a vegetarian kitchen for more than 10 years. Our New Year’s Day open houses continue to feature a vegetarian spread since we have so many veg friends. I don’t disagree with most of arguments for not eating animals. It’s just not my thing.

Eat Less Meat

Despitevb6 my love of cow, pig, chicken, fish, duck…. I do try to eat a diet that is primarily plant-based. One approach that intrigues me is Mark Bittman’s: Eat vegan before 6pm. In Food Matters, Bittman describes how he lost weight, lowered his cholesterol and blood sugar, and eliminated sleep apnea this way.  In VB6, he goes into more detail. (Both books contain recipes.)

You don’t have to keep to Bittman’s schedule (I don’t), but why not start to consciously add vegan meals to your day? (Reminder: vegan means no animal flesh, no dairy, no eggs.)

Ideas to Get You Started

  1. Summer is the perfect time to try this approach, as farmer’s markets are overflowing with local vegetables and fruits. Roast a variety of vegs with EVOO and S&P. Don’t leave out the tomatoes!
  2. Microwave just-picked corn on the cob. It doesn’t really need any butter! It’s sweet and crisp.

    Thai Cabbage Salad
    Thai Cabbage Salad
  3. Pick up one of those bowling-ball-sized cabbages and experiment with salads. No mayo required.  Try this cabbage salad with peanuts. Or one of our favorites: Shred cabbage, carrots, and onions. Then mix with lime, a sprinkle of sugar, sesame oil, cumin, siracha, lots of cilantro, S&P, and a splash of oil or coconut milk.
  4. Roast chick peas with EVOO, S&P, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Sprinkle with fresh lemon and parsley when done. Serve over pasta or brown rice or toss them into a salad.
  5. Try almond milk with your cereal. Or as August brings cooler mornings, make oatmeal with blueberries, which will soften and explode. Dust with cinnamon, sprinkle with walnuts. You won’t miss the milk.
  6. Explore some of the great sites that are dedicated to vegan cooking. I like Karma Chow and My New Roots these days.

Why Yoga? Reason #1

Sunday is yoga day. Why?

I Don’t Want to Turn into the Tin Man

I could easily become super stiff and even more creaky.

My exercise routine can be pretty intense. This week I completed the new Focus T25 workouts. Loved them. Great overall cardio. Intense leg and ab work. Not a whole lot of stretching.

My work can be pretty intense, too. I spend every day sitting at my desk. Typing. Talking on the phone.

Yoga with Cooper. He does a better downward dog.

I try to remember to stand up and put my arms above my head and stretch, but…. you know. This week I did a down-and-back trip to Princeton, which added 5 hours of drive time to that day. Sitting. Tightening up my shoulders and neck.

After hours I surf eBay for cheap designer clothes or pay bills. Sitting. Typing. Then there’s this blog and my independent Team BeachBody coach activities. More time online. Sitting. Typing. Throw in an occasional TV show. Sitting…. Get the picture?

An hour of yoga forces me to straighten up and elongate my body. It stretches my hamstrings. Opens up my back and shoulders. When I’m done, I swear I stand taller.

If you’ve never done yoga, take some classes before popping in a DVD. A teacher can help you learn how to do the poses correctly. Years ago I found Yoga for Everybody in Fairfield. The teachers there provided a great foundation.

So find a yoga studio or dust off your Rodney Yee DVD. Don’t let your joints freeze up.

How to Build More Vegies into Your Diet

You know that you should eat more vegetables. Stop making excuses.

Plant a Garden

Me — with a prize-winning tomato in 1963.

My dad was an organic gardener before it was in fashion. He was proud of the heat at the center of his compost, learned about companion planting, and made it impossible for me to eat a tasteless out-of-season tomato without wincing. Every summer we had tomatoes, peppers, and corn plus whatever vegetables and fruits captured his fancy. Cantaloupe was a big hit one year.

I used to have a vegetable garden. Organic of course. I would plant my tomatoes on Mother’s Day instead of Memorial Day (my dad’s approach). I would intersperse dill  and nasturtiums as decoy plants for cutworms and use marigolds to repel pests. There were always multiple varieties of basil. Lettuce, kale, cilantro too. By August, most years, the weeds would overtake the smaller plants, but everything tasted great (if I harvested it before it rotted.)

Join a CSA

Patti Popp of Sport Hill Farm with one of the hens who lays organic eggs.

Gardening took more work than I was willing to devote to it. Thanks to our friend Bob, we learned about Sport Hill Farm, an organic farm in Easton, CT. They offer a CSA program: Community Supported Agriculture. The idea: You share the risks and rewards with a local farmer. As a member you buy shares (providing money up front, which helps the farmer’s cash flow). Every week from early June through mid October, you pick up your share of the harvest. The CT NOFA site lists CSA programs. It’s too late to join one for this summer but not too early to get on a list for 2014.

With a CSA, you get what you get and don’t get upset. There are two tricks to eating seasonally like this: figuring out how to cook vegetables that you never encountered or never would buy on your own… and not wasting any food before the next pick up. I learned about garlic scapes, baby bok choy, and the different varieties of kale. I’m not a huge fan of eggplant, but I’ve learned to appreciate dark purple, light/striped purple, and even white varieties. Over the years I have perfected a ratatouille recipe based on  Melissa D’Arabian’s E-Z-P-O-T approach.

Visit Your Local Farmer’s Market

Farmer’s Markets remind me of malls — in a good way. They serve as a social meeting place, offer one-stop shopping, and usually have at least one vendor selling something that you can eat right away. Nearly every town and city in CT hosts a market at least once a week. Here’s CT NOFA’s list. Look for farmers who offer organic produce and try to skip the luscious sweet treats of local bakeries. Many farmers accept WIC and SNAP payments, making healthy food more accessible to lower-income customers.