Tag Archive | Jen Ashenfelter

5K… Hurray!


Running in a 5K is an awesome experience!

By Jen Ashenfelter

It’s really difficult to maintain healthy habits and an exercise program when there’s so much else to get done. Why is it that the first things we take out of our daily routine are the very things that keep us going? I’m guilty as charged.

I know I should get more exercise, but I don’t. I know I should drink more water, but I don’t. Carbs are bad, but just try to take away my bagel. I watch Biggest Loser. I see the Facebook posts and pictures from friends who are logging miles with Nike, checking in at the gym, eating vegan meals, participating in Tough Mudder events or biking a distance I wouldn’t dream of going without a car and scheduled rest stops, but I do nothing.

After a hectic week at work or a never-ending string of school events and evening activities for the boys, before you know it, I started substituting Coke Zero for my water and instead of taking 20-minute walks or jogs I began punching the snooze button for the same amount of time on my alarm.

In the long run, bad habits and the inability to put ourselves first catch up. Taking care of yourself and exercising doesn’t require hours at the gym. In fact, working out for a few minutes throughout the day is just as effective according to The Benefits of Physical Activity published by the Harvard School of Public Health. (Very helpful article!)

The lesson I learned? You don’t have to be a perfect runner. You don’t have to give up eating carbs. And you don’t necessarily have to go jogging at 4:30am—there’s something to be said for getting enough sleep—unless you want to do all those things. All you really need is motivation, the ability to start in small increments and build momentum, and the willingness to forgive yourself when the going gets rough so you can start again.

Getting into the 5K craze 

With all that said, my husband and I started walking early in the morning late in the summer. When cooler mornings moved in, we added jogging to our routine. So we set our sights on running a 5K together in late September. Setting a goal with a deadline is good motivation, but there’s a better chance of success with a solid plan. If you’re not a runner or have never participated in a 5K (3.1 miles), then you really should choose a Couch to 5K plan—there are a plethora of apps and you can usually find a class at the local Y or health club—which breaks training into a manageable daily schedule of walking, jogging, and cross-training options over four to eight weeks.

I have trained twice before as part of a program—the last one being with the Y running outside during February. (Nothing improves your run time at the end of eight weeks like shedding 20lbs of winter clothing!) In 20 – 60 minutes a day, you’ll be ready for the race.

It wasn’t easy training for the September race. Life got in the way, again, and our training was rather inconsistent…okay it was basically nonexistent, but that didn’t stop us. Knowing the race course was flat and being motivated to raise money for a planned veteran’s park, we showed up.

Three days before the race I jogged a hilly 1.7 miles in roughly 20 minutes. I’m not great at math, but to me, that calculated into a respectable finish time of less than 45 minutes. I was thinking about the picture I would post on Facebook!

Race day was beautiful—not too warm, not too cold. My new sneakers felt good. We walked, we stretched, and then we were off. I was off alright—off my rocker. During the first mile I couldn’t catch my breath. During the second mile, my bladder screamed at me. During the third mile, my head was pounding, my feet hurt and I almost quit…3 times. During that final stretch, however, I was breathing like a champ, I didn’t have to pee and my feet were light as feathers as I crossed the Veterans Park 5K finish line at 36:40. It felt great! I was ready for the next race…

On a runner's high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

On a runner’s high at the finish of my fall race! And yes, I posted this on Facebook too!

New habits die fast

With my goal of running a 5K for the first time in years accomplished, sadly, the high didn’t last long. This fall, exercise and “me time” were replaced with more hours at work and a busy family schedule. In a recent moment of mental disarray—okay, probably more like a hormonal imbalance with a lack of Starbucks and absence of downtime—I  realized it was time to take a step back and breathe deeply to regain some perspective and natural energy to keep moving forward.

A power walk or leisurely jog around the neighborhood and eating healthy really do make a difference! Since taking that step back and returning to a few minutes of fresh air and shocking the cardio system back to life, I feel more energized to tackle each day with less stress and a more positive outlook.

I’m motivated to keep exercising because it feels really good, the holiday party season is fast approaching, and I’m going to a family wedding in January where probably 99.9% of those under 30 are Cross Fit fabulous. Yeah, I’m really motivated to keep moving. But I’m not kidding myself. The first thing to go when the going gets tough will be exercising and eating well. No worries though, I’ll dust off my weights and running shoes to begin—again. Hey, the 5K season ramps up in March.

Do you exercise regularly or set aside time in your busy schedule just for yourself? What motivates you? Finish a race or reach a personal goal? Friend us on Facebook and share a photo of you doing something you enjoy just for yourself!

Karate is More Than Self Defensive

Nick received his First Degree Black Belt last spring.

Nick received his First Degree Black Belt last spring.

By Jen Ashenfelter

Karate may not be the right sport for every child but it was the perfect activity for my oldest son. Now training for his second degree Black Belt, this story began 7 years ago at Action Karate in New Britain, PA.

Nick had played intramural soccer and t-ball but didn’t really enjoy either. As an active young boy, he had plenty of skill in running, kicking and throwing, but team sports did not appeal to him. Even today, he’s not the least bit interested in watching sports on television or attending a sporting event.

In third grade, Nick was a smart, well-behaved student. However, focus in the classroom was a challenge, as was socializing with the other kids. He was never diagnosed with autism; he just had a different idea of how he wanted to spend the day.

When a winter after-school club program offered karate lessons, Nick expressed an interest so I jumped at the chance to sign him up. He really enjoyed going to classes twice a week and in less than two months, he was officially a martial arts student learning much more than just Kenpo karate.

The curriculum at the Action Karate schools centers on teaching students focus and control, discipline, self-confidence, goal setting, self-defense and leadership with an emphasis on good grades, good deeds and respect in a supportive atmosphere.

Involvement with martial arts is not just an activity; it’s a lifestyle, a way of thinking. Nick embraced the journey with commitment and has worked through expectations and challenges with complete determination, grace, and even a little prodding. The program helped Nick develop better focus in the classroom and hopefully has given him the confidence and resources to handle the pressures he’ll likely face during his teen and young adult years. Oh, and then there’s that Chuck Norris thing—no doubt he can defend himself with swift moves to serve up a serious punishment to the offender. Go ahead and give him a surprise bear hug from behind and see where you land.

In the process, I’ve learned more about managing expectations and reaching goals. As we encourage, and sometimes push, our children to do better, it’s difficult not to be inspired by their determination and achievements. How can I put expectations on my children for their best effort if I don’t expect the same from myself? Learning is a two-way street: our children learn from us and often what they give back is greater.

Three years into the program, Nick received his Junior Black Belt during an action-packed and moving ceremony. My eyes filled with tears of pride at his accomplishments. And three years later, he was awarded his First Degree Black Belt. It was a six-year journey of growth, learning and facing challenges for a lifetime of skills and tools to accomplish anything he puts his mind to.

Nothing puts a smile to my face faster and brings back sweet memories than watching a class of younger students and then watching Nick’s masters class to realize how far we’ve come. My wish for the parents of the new students: the same awesome feelings seven years from now.

It doesn’t matter what sport or activity your son or daughter participates in just as long as they are having fun and learning valuable life skills. Whether it’s karate or baseball or playing an instrument, encourage them to find a passion, stick with it during challenging times and celebrate the accomplishments great and small.

Has your child’s life been transformed through the study of karate? Feel free to share your stories and/or advice, by clicking “leave a comment” below:

Discovering Hidden Opportunities, Every Day in 2013

By Jen Ashenfelter

Happy 2013 everyone! How are those resolutions going so far? How many have you broken already?

Jimmy Choo

oooo… Jimmy Choo’s might be in my future for 2013! (Credit: OhJimmyChoos.net)

Don’t fret, just laugh. It’s a quirky tradition so why not have some fun with it. After discovering my favorite shoe store didn’t close but simply moved to another location, I gleefully announced to my husband, with a chuckle, that I resolve to buy more shoes in 2013. I only bought new flip flops and one pair of shoes in 2012, so I think buying more shoes in 2013 is a pretty good resolution!

Regardless of your thoughts on resolutions, I think they are a good idea if not taken too seriously. I really like my friend and fellow blogger Jenna Schuler’s recent post about creating “value principles” so if you haven’t read it, please do. The only way to move forward is to reflect—not dwell—on the past and make plans for the future. Celebrate the accomplishments—both great and small—and learn from the challenges and mistakes. Writing down desires, goals or value principles should motivate you to start the year off on a positive note. Think of things that excite you rather than creating a laundry list of things to change; however, don’t be afraid to challenge yourself.

While reflecting on 2012 and thinking about 2013, I  came across this quote on Facebook and decided this is really the only resolution needed: Approach the New Year with resolve to find the opportunities hidden in each new day. ~Michael Josephson

One resolution…that’s it, you say? I know, where’s the fun in that? In theory, it’s a great resolution but a bit vague. It gives nothing to be excited about or work on. How do you hold yourself accountable to succeed—or not—without any details? So for the sake of a few giggles and something to work toward, here’s my list.

Write – Possibly the most important item on this list since I’m writing content for 3 blogs—this one included. Past resolution lists have included steps to reach my goal of writing more—personally and professionally. I recently landed a job as a marketing coordinator for an animal hospital and lodging facility where my primary responsibility is writing—yay me! Now the focus is to improve my writing and learn more about content marketing and social media.

Read – Good writers spend a lot of time reading too. 2012 was a good year. I read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, definitely did not ride the 50 Shades bandwagon but did enjoy a romance novel written by a good friend, and finally bought a Kindle where Gone Girl is waiting to be finished.  Reading for pleasure might prove more challenging in 2013 now that I’m working, but I have a healthy reading list to work on.

In 2012 I read my friend Kelly Jameson's novel To Tame A Rogue. And her novel What Remained of Katrina, is on my list for 2013.

In 2012 I read my friend Kelly Jameson’s novel To Tame A Rogue. And her novel What Remained of Katrina, is on my list for 2013.

Eat – This one is easy; I love to eat! Ok, too easy…let’s call this resolution Healthy Eating. Listing “lose weight” is pointless because I automatically get defensive. I will not give up bagels! I prefer to continue with my quest to eat better and provide healthier meals for my family. I believe in the real food approach and reducing the amount of foods with a long list of ingredients and preservatives in our pantry. I plan dinners before my bi-monthly trips to the grocery store, so creating Meatless Mondays and Seafood Saturdays will be fun. Besides creative menus, 2013 will be the year of the vegetable. My youngest actually announced his new-found love of brussels sprouts and asked that I make them more often—wow!

Pray – And let’s call this resolution Wellness—in mind, body and spirit. I thought maybe I’d join a 5K training class at the YMCA and blog about the experience. I have completed the training and 5K race in the past; it’s definitely a good way to jumpstart an exercise program. However, it requires training outside in extreme winter weather conditions from January to March. Been there, done that—I don’t live in Florida. I’m quickly changing this to a focus on yoga—easily done in a warm, dry setting without having to wear 20 lbs of clothing. Remember, resolutions should be motivating and not include “crazy.”

I’ve taken restorative yoga classes and loved the experience. I’ve tried aerial yoga—hanging upside down from a silk suspended from a ceiling is definitely challenging but exhilarating once you get the “hang” of it. But what I’d like to spend more time on in 2013 is learning and practicing more traditional yoga poses as a form of exercise and meditation. This one will be tough since committing to time for exercise and quiet prayer always seems to be at the bottom of my To Do list. But I’m excited to try a basic exercise plan I found in a recent issue of Prevention which combines yoga exercises with journaling—two resolutions with one stone. If all else fails, I’ll sign up for another round of restorative or aerial yoga classes. Namaste.

Love – Of course my first priority is to my family. I’m extremely lucky to have a loving family as well as wonderful friends. As the saying goes, anything worth having is worth working for. So this resolution is my commitment to continue working on being my best so I can give back to the family and friends who mean the most to me. Whether it’s achieving milestones with my husband, celebrating the accomplishments of our sons, sharing special weekends with girlfriends, or simply telling family and friends how they’ve touched my life, I resolve to live each day with no regrets or words of love and appreciation left unsaid.

Committing to resolutions—or whatever you decide to call them—is like reviewing that class syllabus at the beginning of the year—a bit overwhelming at first, but if you take it day-by-day, step-by-step, while diligently working through challenges and celebrating the accomplishments, reaching the end is not so difficult. Maybe some resolutions will fall by the wayside quickly but if you find the positive lesson and the joy in each, then nothing is lost.

Maybe I’ll only read one book in 2013, but I will enjoy every chapter of the adventure. Maybe Seafood Saturdays won’t last past February because the family absolutely hates it, but hopefully they will appreciate trying something new for a few weeks. Maybe you won’t lose 10 lbs, run a marathon, or mend a broken relationship but consider the hidden opportunities to be discovered in simply trying.

Whether it’s a resolution or a value principle…or maybe just one thing you want in 2013, I encourage you to write it down. Yeah, post it on the refrigerator or share with your social peeps, just keep it handy and see how far you go. If you find a dead end, then create a new path to whatever makes you happy and brings health, happiness and harmony to you in 2013.

Christmas Cookies–without Eggs and Nuts

By Jen Ashenfelter

It is “that” time of the holiday season. Do or die.  Make or break. Crunch time. Not exactly D Day, but B Day. Yes, I’m talking about Baking Day and filling the cookie jars. If you haven’t spent a few hours baking Christmas cookies yet, you definitely need to make the time, now!  And I have to confess, I just found time this week.  Whew.  Good thing–I needed a cookie fix!

My last post was about having a child with food allergies. Depending on what food the child is allergic or sensitive to, this can present challenges during special holidays. A peanut or tree nut allergy is always a concern but it can be a bit more tricky at Halloween and Easter. Try taking half of a 5 year old’s candy away from him after an hour of trick-or-treating. And then there are the trays of beautiful Christmas cookies–next to a pillowcase full of candy, what child can resist? Nearly every cookie recipe calls for an egg and most are chocked full of nuts. So what does a mother do? She sets out on a quest to find sweet treats and holiday traditions that will leave no family member feeling left out of the eating frenzy.

Luckily, there are two cookie recipes from my childhood that keep the baked Christmas tradition alive: Spiced Shortbreads and Little Raisin Logs. Neither use eggs or nuts and both are delicious. If your child has a dairy allergy, then you might try making them with alternatives to butter and milk chocolate.

Spiced Shortbreadchristmas-cookies-1
Preheat oven to 300.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

3 tbsp brown sugar (For regular shortbread, use regular sugar and omit the spices.)

1/2 cup butter

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground ginger

1/8 tsp ground cloves

* In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and spices. Using a pastry cutter (or a food processor), cut in butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling. Form the mixture into a ball and knead until smooth.

* To make shortbread rounds, on a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to 1/2″ thick. Use a cookie cutter (or the top of a small glass) to cut rounds. Place them 1″ apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Knead the remaining dough and repeat until there’s not enough dough left. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with colored sugar immediately after removing from the oven.

If you’ve never made shortbread cookies or, like me, you’re the farthest thing from a Martha Stewart baking champ,  consider yourself warned…a lot more work goes into them compared to making chocolate chip cookies. But to me, it’s worth the effort to make my little guy happy with a special Christmastime treat.

Little Raisin Logs

Preheat oven to 325.

1 cup raisinsraisin log cookies

(1 cup pecans – obviously I omit these but if you don’t have a nut allergy, then you may want to add these in.)

1 cup butter or soft margarine

1/3 cup sugar

2 tsp brandy

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 pkg (6oz) semi-sweet chocolate pieces

3 tbsp shortening

* Finely chop raisins (and pecans). In a large bowl, thoroughly blend butter and sugar. Beat in brandy, vanilla and salt. Stir in raisins, nuts and flour.

* On a lightly floured board, take a small spoonful of dough and roll into a log shape about 1/2″ in diameter and 2 1/2″ long. Bake on an ungreased pan/sheet for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool.

* Meanwhile, melt chocolate and shortening in a bowl over boiling water. (I set one of my metal mixing bowls over a medium saucepan.) Blend thoroughly. When the cookies have cooled, dip one end into the melted chocolate. Place on a wire rack to set. Depending on the size of the logs, makes 4 or 5 dozen.

I also have a few recipes for layered magic bars that don’t use eggs or nuts either. I’m happy to share those recipes too–leave a note asking for the recipe and I’ll gladly post or send you an email. If you decide to try these recipes, I’d love to hear your feedback. And if you have a favorite Christmas cookie recipe that doesn’t use eggs or nuts, please share! Enjoy…