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Inspired by Beauty… Find it where YOU are!

Its easy for me to say ‘go out and find nature’, or ‘experience the beauty of the outdoors’. I live in Colorado, and the beauty of nature is out my front doorstep – not that I want to brag. I’ve lived in California and Texas as well. While California is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse land in the US, Texas isn’t exactly known for its stunning beauty. BUT, its there! Living in San Antonio, I was amazed at how beautiful the cobblestoned downtown was, or the riverwalk. Heading to Northeastern Texas, the land is more rugged, filled with crystal clear streams and interesting jagged hills. Go where its beautiful, and your daily exercise will simply feel like exploring. Maybe your idea of beautiful is an air conditioned mall — so, speedwalk while you window shop. Walk vigorously the length of the pool instead of soaking. Scale the nearest mountain – don’t be ashamed, and do what floats your boat! Sure, you might still be huffing and puffing, but when your journey ends with beautiful photographs and a great story, one can accomplish anything.

Below I’m sharing photos from my latest hike – to Hanging Lake. For non-Coloradoans, this is a limestone lake nestled into the side of a cliff in Glenwood Canyon, just a hop-skip-and-jump from Glenwood Springs. Let me assure you – its a difficult hike. Just short of 1100 feet of elevation gain is seen in a 1 mile hike. Yet, thousands of people flock to the spot every year to see this stunning lake – people in every sort of shape, size, age, and fitness level. People are willing to put forth the extra effort because we just LOVE beautiful things!

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Hidden Veggie Broccoli-Cheese Soup! No heavy cream, No butter, No guilt!

DSC_0326A no guilt indulgence – this recipe contains only 1/2 cup cheese, no heavy cream, and no milk (instead, using a small amount of sour cream to add creaminess without vast amounts of dairy or fat). For each pot, there is a hidden 12 ounces of carrot, complimenting the broccoli and adding flavor without adding cheese. Please note: this is my recipe. You won’t find anything like this on Food Network. While I’m happy to share, please do reference me if you do so. Thank you!

Weight Watchers points value: 3 points per 10 oz serving. Recipe yields approximately 5 servings.

You will need:

1/2 medium sized white onion
1/4 cup white all-purpose flour
12 oz baby carrots, or chopped full-sized
1 tbsp olive oil
16 oz broccoli
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (part-skim, but not reduced fat)
2 tbsp white vinegar
Season salt to taste
Ground black pepper
Water
Paprika (garnish)

Tools:
A blender
Emulsion blender (if you don’t have one, chop the broccoli more finely)

1. Immerse carrots in water and boil until fully softened (at least 1/2 hour). After softening, drain off the majority of the boiling water. Add carrots and small amount of water into the blender. Blend until smooth. Add 4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) sour cream into the carrot puree, and blend once more. Set aside.

2. Heat the stock pot well. Add olive oil. Finely chop 1/2 white onion and add to the stock pot. Sautee until softened and fragrant.

3. Add flour to stock pot. Stir immediately, mixing into the onion. The mixture will be very dry – watch that it doesn’t burn. Continue mixing until onion is well coated. Add water a small bit at a time until you reach the desired consistency of your soup. Add 2 cups at a time, stiring vigorously and watching as it re-thickens. Wait until the mixture thickens to its maximum, then add more water if needed. You should need 4 – 6 cups of water, depending on how thick you prefer your soup.

4. Once the soup has reached its desired consistency, add the carrot mixture. Stir well until incorporated. If the mixture is too thick, add a bit of water. Season with season salt and pepper to taste. Add 2 tbsp white vinegar (adding the acid will bring interest to the dish without over-complicating it with seasoning. It is extremely subtle) Allow ingredients to cook together for at least 15 minutes before adding any more salt or pepper. Once properly seasoned, add additional 1/4 cup sour cream into the soup base.

5. While the base of your soup is cooking, prepare your broccoli, however you prefer to. I prefer to steam mine in the microwave. With a steaming bag, my broccoli is ready to add in 3 minutes, as opposed to the 15 it would take me to make it stove-top. And its light and delicious.

6. Re-taste the soup base. Add seasoning if necessary. Add 1/2 cup mozzarella. Mozarrella doesn’t always melt well into soups. After stirring well, you may still see stringy remnants in the soup base. Its ok – you’ll need to run it through the blender anyhow.

7. Don’t add the broccoli yet! Pour entire contents of the stock pot into the blender (or batch it if your blender isn’t large enough). Blend well (this will take care of any cheese that didn’t perfectly mix in. No need to strain after blending – just return directly to the stock pot.

8. Continue over medium-low heat. Add broccoli. Once broccoli is added, I prefer to go over the soup with an emulsion blender. It helps break the broccoli down in an appealing way, without pulverizing it. As I said above, if you don’t have an emulsion blender, just chop the broccolli more finely. Allow broccoli and soup base to marry together over 10 minutes or so, then you’re ready to serve! Voila! Garnish with paprika and a little more ground pepper if you like. Also, chopped, fresh tomatoes taste fab as a garnish.

Hope you enjoy! Let me know how it goes!

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The down-hill battle against Diabetes…

Working in a pharmacy setting, I’m confronted with an overwhelming number of popular questions. Please know that if you have to ask about it, someone else has asked before you (Please don’t be embarrassed to approach your Pharmacist with your concerns). Three of the most common questions: How can I avoid Diabetes? How can I maintain a healthy blood pressure? How can I lower my cholesterol levels? There’s one simple answer to all three – Diet and exercise. But, what else is new? Sometimes, it seems the only thing the doctor can tell you is, “Well, you’d be perfect if you dieted and exercised more”.

While I probably can’t tell you anything new, I can tell you something surprising. Any exercise can lower blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol. However, specific sorts of exercises can help approach each differently. According to medicalnewstoday.com, walking downhill can specifically target blood glucose levels, while walking uphill can improve Triglycerides and overall cholesterol levels. This news came from an Austrian study conducted in 2004, observing the vitals of 45 healthy adults as they walked through the Austrian Alps 3 to 5 days per week. Those who rode a gondola to the top and walked downhill experienced improvement in blood glucose levels, with evidence that the body was metabolising and using sugar more efficiently. Meanwhile, those who walked uphill all lowered both LDL and Triglycerides significantly. All participants in the study lowered their risks of Diabetes and high cholesterol across the board.

Moving from a sedentary lifestyle toward an active one is never easy. There are weaknesses in the body that must be contended with. However, the addition of any physical activity works to lower blood pressure. If walking downhill can lower the risk of Diabetes, what’s to lose? The simple act of walking out the door is a betterment that won’t be regretted.

My endeavor to improve my health for the last time began about four months ago. 20 pounds and 16 inches later, I can safely say that exercise is an investment in my future – one which, through some pain and difficulty, I do not regret. The last 5 years or so, I’ve developed an interest in running. Having a treadmill, however, I never trained outside. Taking the plunge this year and selling my treadmill, I’ve gone from running to exhaustion in less than 1 minute to sustaining a healthy pace outside for up to 1 hour. I encourage everyone to get outside and experience what you may have been missing – at any fitness level. Walk as long as you’re able to comfortably — you’ll get where you want to be with a little bit of patience. A word of warning, though — Walking downhill is tough on the knees. If you have weak knees or are significantly obese, please consider investing in a knee brace. Safety first!

(All exercise programs should be overseen by a physician. They like to hear about your successes, too!)

My beautiful home!

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God does NOT control the scale…

I know – strange title for a first post. However, some thoughts have been brewing in the back of my mind as I move about my daily existence. As I talk to friends about my new life choices, it occurs to me that everyone is looking for something different in a diet. Some feel the need to make it too difficult and quit out of pure spite. Some make it too easy and wonder why their efforts haven’t paid off. But what about God? Sure, as a church-goer, many a time I’ve laid in bed, sorting out my thoughts, and asked God to give me the strength to find my new path, or even just to get me through the day. But here’s some food for thought: God has nothing to do with your scale. I know — mind blowing, right?

God is a constant companion. He’s the friend who will egg you on, hold you when you’re hurt, pick you up when you’re beyond hope. God is immeasurably good. While God may very well have a plan for me and everyone else, some work has to be left for the human race. I have my talents and weaknesses, and how I approach them is all of my own doing. Here’s how I see it: God hands us the building blocks. Life is not a flat surface — its OUR job to modify those building blocks for our world, and use them to rise in our chosen endeavor. I am responsible for my own level of passion. I am responsible for making myself happy. I am responsible for nurturing my own relationships. Its my job to care about others. Its my wish to have a healthy body. I need to know when to ask God for help.

Bottom line? God won’t get me out of bed at 6 am to do something I hate.

You’ve heard it a million times. Literally, a million: find something you enjoy and incorporate it into your new lifestyle. Find that one bit of exercise that you’re crazy about. Find a diet you can tolerate for the rest of your life. Those are daunting tasks. How do I know what I can live with for the rest of my life if I’m 27 years old? How do I know what exercise I LOVE if I’ve had a sedintary lifestyle? Its a process of trial and error. No crash diet or pill will change your life forever. Here’s where God comes in: Pray for the patience needed to find a new diet and stick to it. I use Weight Watchers — but what works for me may be completely wrong for the next person. I’ll extol its particular virtues in a later post.

As far as that 6 am work-out goes, don’t go whole-hog too soon. First, learn how to wake up earlier or incorporate your work-out into a different part of the day. Remember, these are choices you want to sustain forever. And while God won’t be there with a fog horn to get you out of bed, he did make us social creatures for a reason: don’t be ashamed to lean on your friends for help! I guarantee that you know someone who’s willing to be your cheerleader.

The REAL bottom line? Friends are the greatest things in the world.

Go in peace!