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Kings Mountain, North Carolina, United States
"A mind lively and at ease" is a blog by a first-generation Russian-Ukrainian immigrant Maria K. (Maria Igorevna Kuroshchepova). An engineer by education, an analyst by trade, as well as a writer, photographer, artist and amateur model, Maria brings her talent for weaving an engaging narrative to stories of life, fashion and style advice, book and movie reviews, and common-sense and to-the-point essays on politics and economy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Mama Masha - a menu for the weekend of food and friendship

My husband and I love to entertain, but it's been a while since we had anyone over. So, when a friend of mine came to visit with her parents (they hosted us after the Warrior Dash, gave us hot showers, and steak!), we went a bit hedonistic with food. Still it was great fun, and good time was had by all.


- 3 kinds of pirozhki: potatoes, mushrooms, and scallions; red cabbage, red onion, smoked sausage; dates wrapped in mozzarella cheese and prosciutto. (You can find a recipe for the pirozhki dough here).

- Borshch (the hot, red version).

- Herring in a fur coat.

- Veggie platter: locally grown organic pink tomatoes, home-made sweet and tangy pickled cucumber spears; home-made savory pickled yellow squash with extra dill.

- Iced tea: a mix of white herbal tea and black Russian tea.

All of these, except the veggie platter were made a day in advance, so all we had to do was heat up the borshch.


This was fun - after dark on the porch, in candle light, with chimnea going for warmth and lovely, fragrant smoke.

- Whole-wheat pasta with browned beef and home-made, coconut-milk-based tomato pasta sauce.

- Caprese - tomato slices, mozzarella, fresh basil leaves on toothpicks, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

- Sauteed pickled squash, carrots, sugar peas, broccoli and portobello mushrooms on a bed of fresh spinach leaves.

- A choice of chablis or merlot.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

12-week fitness challenge

After trying a variety of things, adjusting, and moving things around, I have finally come up with a 12-week fitness schedule that's actually working for me. So, I finally gathered all my notes and put it into a summary that might be helpful to others. The easiest way to stick with it is print it out and cross off day after day, as you move through the schedule.

Considerations and challenges:

- I have a bad back - traditional ab challenges don't work for me, because most of them, with all those situps and crunches, are horrible for the back

- As part of my 2015 Warrior Dash prep, I had to devote approximately equal times to strength training and cardio - since the dash involves both.

- The extended version of the challenge includes regular visits to the gym for weight training. This version does not. This is for getting as much as possible out of very little time.

What this schedule WILL NOT do:

- Give you rock-hard abs, perfectly toned arms and legs and generally make you look like Cindy Crawford in that famous Pepsi commercial.

- Make it possible for you to fly and fight villains a la "Crouching tiger, hidden dragon".

- Be easy. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it, and I wouldn't need to write this down.

- Get rid of all your health problems. If you have allergies, asthma, ulcer, joint aches, arthritis, or any other chronic ailment - see your doctor. This is an exercise schedule - not a panacea. If in doubt - consult your doctor before getting into this.

What this schedule WILL do:

- Strengthen your core, back, arms and legs.

- Improve your balance.

- Improve your walking and jogging stamina.

- Tighten your middle.

- Boost your energy and - to some extent - your metabolism.

- Make you proud of yourself for doing something nice for your body and your general health.

What you will need:

- A mat or a carpeted surface somewhere in your home where you can stretch out comfortably

- A treadmill, access to a gym that has treadmills, or (preferred) access to some outdoor space where you can walk and run, if at all possible with varying terrain.

- A pedometer with time and distance tracking function (any pharmacy sells them.)

- An exercise wheel

- A set of light hand weights or one weight with exchangeable heads for 5, 8, and 10 pounds (you can beef up the poundage later, after you have established the routine.)

- Not mandatory but helpful - an inexpensive MP3 player with some good, uplifting, rhythmic music to help you get through the walks and runs.


- Ab bridge - yeah, it's a bit obscene looking, but a good exercise not just for your abs, but also your back and butt. Make sure your feet remain firmly on the floor throughout the exercise.

- Half-plank - a full plank can be difficult for some, especially if you are carrying a few extra around the middle (like I do) and have bad knees (ditto!). So, the half-plank is a good alternative. It allows you to gently strengthen your core without ending up with shaky arms and a sore back.

- Intervals - this is a transitional exercise between walking and running. Basically, once you have warmed up, start jogging - at whatever speed that is comfortable, as long as it's a step up from walking. Do this as far as you can, until you feel you have to switch to walking. Walk enough to restore your breath and get rid of the stitch in your side, then start jogging again.

- Overhead press - there are many versions of this exercise, including free weights and weight-lifting machines at the gym. This is the one I use. For an extra "oomph", I try to touch my weights above my head, but you don't have to.

- Rollout - this is what you need the exercise wheel for. Be careful - it only looks easy, but if you keep good form and really stretch out, it is quite a tough little exercise. You might want to put some extra padding under your knees or wear knee pads - it can get a little rough as you increase your reps.

- Suitcase squat - this one is tricky. It looks like a leg strengthening exercise, and it kind of is, but actually, it's mostly for strengthening your abs and improving your balance. Two things to remember: 1) your feet must stay flat on the floor, with your weight resting on your heels; 2) only lean and squat as far as your physique allows, don't try to go all the way to the floor only to fall over or get stuck there. When doing this exercise, imagine your weight is a suitcase sitting right up against your leg on the floor, and you are picking it up.

The schedule - part I

This part starts you off very gently and establishes the routine for you. The strength exercise, even at highest reps, take 15 minutes per day at most. As far as the cardio is concerned, if you plan to include it, then you have to find time for it. Explain to your family this is something you need to do for your health, so it would be really helpful if they would learn to survive without you for a couple of hours twice a week.

The red highlights when we change something within the routine - not just the reps or the time, but the weight, or the nature of the exercise. (Note: Click on the image of the schedule to see it full-size.)

The schedule - part II

Obviously, part II riffs off part I, but you'll notice it's much more like an established routine. In addition to increasing the strength training intensity, it also expands your cardio and makes it more challenging. Once you have mastered this, you can continue increasing the reps, the weight, the speed, and the duration of the exercise as you see fit, as long as you do it regularly.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Writer interview - Tara Weston-Isenor

Tara and I met at Jack Canfield's Breakthrough to Success seminar in August of 2014. Getting her book out was one of the core goals she had set for herself at the seminar - and boy, did she deliver! To celebrate Tara's brand-new publication, we sat down for a brief chat.


What is your favorite virtue? Compassion

Your favorite qualities in a man. Trust, honesty, faithfulness, courage, strength, spirituality

Your favorite qualities in a woman. Same as a man.

Your chief characteristic. Passionate

What do you appreciate the most about your friends? loyalty

Your main fault. Perfectionist

Your favorite occupation. healthcare

Your idea of happiness. Being with your best friend/soul mate sitting by the ocean.

Your idea of misery. loneliness

If not yourself, who would you be? No-one. I wouldn’t want to be anyone other than myself.

Your favorite heroes in fiction. Don’t have any.

Your favorite heroes in real life. Special needs children.

Your favorite food and drink. I love peanut butter & chocolate and coffee.

What is your present state of mind? Calm and focused.

Your personal motto. Stand up for what you believe in, even if it means you are standing alone!


You can find Tara's book A New Normal: Raising Special Needs Children & Keeping Your Sanity on Amazon and at the Outskirts Press web site. For more about Tara and her son Noah, visit Tara's blog Livin Special.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Big Little Change digest - October, 2014

Weekly small change challenges

Week 1 - stop slouching.

Sorry, I'm going to be your mother for a minute. Or grandmother. Or aunt. Whoever it was that told you to stop slouching.

First of all, it's bad for you physically. Slouching jeopardizes your lung capacity and limits the supply of oxygen to your body, including your brain. It also weakens your torso and shoulder muscles, putting too much burden on your spine, thus distorting it and leading to back pain.

Second, it forces you to look down, limiting your field of vision to mud, dust, asphalt, cracks in the sidewalk, and dog poop. If you go through the world seeing mostly those things, you might eventually come to believe it consists of nothing else.

Third, slouching communicates all the wrong things - to the world and to yourself. Slouching says "I don't care" or "I don't really want to be out here so I am going to try and hide inside myself" or "I am not at all proud of myself, I am ugly and should be kept in a broom closet under the stairs." Not good.

Lift your chin up, roll your shoulders back, and walk through the world like you own it.

Week 2 - prioritize your people.

You know that thing they say during the safety demonstration on an airplane - the one about putting on your own oxygen mask first and then assisting others? Too often people forget just how much this concept applies to the rest of our lives.

Many of us have someone we take care of - a spouse, a parent, a child (or multiple children), our pets, our coworkers, and so on and so forth. It's a long list. More often than not, somewhere in the middle of it all, we forget to put on our own oxygen mask, so to speak. We forget that in order to keep up this pace, it's kind of important we don't run ourselves into the ground by constantly attending to the needs of others instead of our own. The worst self-offenders are those, for whom the pace built up gradually - by taking on a little more, and a little more, "oh, no problem, sure I can do this", "it's not that bad, honestly", and so on.

Step back. Look at EVERYTHING you are doing. And I do mean everything. Split it into categories - what you absolutely must be doing and for whom, or else, in the words of Phantom of the Opera, "the disaster beyond your imagination will occur"; what you can stop doing without any serious consequences (I am sorry to say - but your kid whining "why can't I watch TV" is not a serious consequence, nor is "but that's our shoe shopping night!", or "do you expect me to reschedule my golf?"); what can you delegate.

Make yourself number one priority - not because you are mean or selfish, but because if you keel over from piling up too much on your shoulders, there will be no one left in your place, and everyone who depends on you will suffer. The next on the priority list should be people who are most helpless without you and well and truly cannot do what you do for them. And so on.

On with your oxygen mask - and off you go!

Week 3 - decide what you want to be known as.

While watching a documentary about the creation of the show "Fraggle Rock", I discovered Jim Henson was known as "The Great Appreciator". Even when someone was messing up, he somehow found something nice to say - and the best part about it was, it was always sincere and genuine. That's a great thing to be known as, isn't it?

Give some thought to what you would like to be known as. A Great Motivator? A Great Collaborator? A Great Facilitator? A Great Innovator? The possibilities are endless.

Week 4 - find wisdom in unexpected places.

There is a reason there's an entire book called "Tao of Pooh". ... Or that Dr. Seuss' "Oh, the places you'll go" is one of the top books on the reading list of many smart, successful people. Compassion, wisdom, inspiration, and answers to some of life's hardest question need not come from something written by a PhD. Sometimes, it might come from a child, a cartoon, or a book you last read when you were in kindergarten.

I leveraged one such source only recently, when desperately searching for a way to console a friend, whose life has been nothing short of hellish in the last two years. At a loss for words, I went to one of my own personal favorites - Jim Henson's "Fraggle Rock" - and posted a link to "The Friendship Song" on my friend's Facebook wall. It said everything I wanted to say and more - and so much better than I ever could. Most of all, it spoke love. Which was exactly what was needed.

Member contributions

A big little change I've made recently is to be consciously grateful whenever one of my sons interrupts me when I'm working. It's almost always because they want to share an important part of their day with me or gain comfort of some sort.

And having a little boy come running into my room to give me a picture he's drawn or get a kiss and a hug is a bajillion times better than the interruptions I used to have to deal with in the corporate world: "Emergency meeting in the board room - looks like another round of layoffs has happened."


So, SO grateful to be here and not there...

Talk about attracting the right ideas when you have the right mind set. This morning, my husband was reading a Target Training International training manual and stumble over this quote that directly relates to the power of small changes, "People stumble over pebbles - you've never heard of anyone stumbling over a mountain."


Vancouver does its best to take care of its homeless. It's sad that this is necessary, but at least it's something. Having some sort of roof makes a huge difference.


What you can do with a tiny plot of land if you garden smart.


An on-going Big Little Change initiative - help one of the members to get a better home.


More efforts to help the less fortunate.


A great "make a difference" story from NBC.

Public service announcements

A highly comprehensive and educational piece on bees.

New steps taken to prevent deforestation.

San Francisco kicks out plastic bottles.

Find your local garden swap.

Positive trends (they do exist) over the last 5 years.

California bans plastic bags.

Recommended reading

- What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter

- Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Doctor Seuss

- Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

- Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman