Thursday, February 28, 2013

Designed to Move

  It's become that obvious.

  Not to be overly dramatic, but our youngest generation is in a little trouble. 

  Why else has seemingly every organization formed, or sponsored, their own 'let's get kids moving' program?

  Thankfully, it's never too late to start chipping away at the problem, and inspire a change in culture.

  From the NFL's Play 60, President Clinton's Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the NBA's Get Fit, to First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move program (and so on), powerful organizations and companies around the country (and world) have seen the writing on the wall.

  Our children need an extra nudge to get moving.

  And today (Thursday, Feb. 28th), Nike threw their hat into the ring by joining forces with the First Lady, and others, to back and promote Let's Move! Active Schools. 

 Five Extra Years

Generation of Sitters to Generation of Movers?
  Schools are cutting PE classes. After school sports and activities are becoming less-attended, and less-occurring. Only 4% of elementary schools, 8% of middle schools and 2% of high schools currently offer daily PE, and only nine states require recess in elementary schools.

  Their play time isn't organized (at school). And their play time isn't spontaneous either ('pick-up').

  Their 'play' time has become sitting. Studies show that kids are spending an average of seven-plus hours a day in front of one screen or another. And even though it's been shown that children need 60 minutes of physical activity per day to stay healthy, only one in three kids are active on a daily basis.

  Kids' days are spent playing more and more video games, on the computer, and watching TV. Getting them moving has become a chore.

  What has resulted is a generation expected to have a shorter lifespan than their parents, record high obesity rates among children, and a generally unhealthy lifestyle.

  Food and nutrition is one thing (as you know, I strongly believe that our food supply/system has been just as harmful as inactivity). But depending on economic, and other factors, each child's access to high quality foods can vary a great deal.

Encouraging Activity = Encouraging Success
  There's one thing, however, that does not discriminate: playing. Moving. Being active.

  In addition to the health benefits of an active lifestyle, research indicates that regular physical activity can improve test scores, classroom behavior and attendance.

  'Physical activity does more than create good health. It contributes to leadership, productivity and innovation. It lowers depression and crime, increases education and income levels, and generates return to businesses. It unleashes human potential, and this is what drives economies forward.'

  Given those potential widespread effects, Nike is making an investment in the future. In our future. Over the next five years, Nike will invest $50 million to help create active schools and physically active communities around the US.

  The First Lady and Nike are joining forces with a few of those previously mentioned organizations, and others (a total of 70 'experts'), to spearhead an agenda to get this generation their five years back.

Michelle Obama & Nike kicking off Let's Move! Active Schools.
  The program is aimed at providing simple steps and tools to help schools create an environment to get students moving again. Resources will be provided to parents, teachers and administrators that will enable communities to organize activities that will get kids moving before, during and after the school day.

  This isn't about working out, or forcing kids to spend time in the gym. It's showing them, or reminding them, that moving, and playing, is fun.

  AND healthy. 

  Not every child is destined to be a competitive athlete. But they can be active, and they can be healthy. And active, healthy children grow up to be active, healthy adults.

  The Designed to Move/Let's Move! Active Schools agenda is focused on maximizing human potential. And shouldn't that start with kids?



Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Horsemeat Controversy

Easy to make jokes about horsemeat in the food supply.

  Today's entry is short and to the point. And basically me just tossing out an idea.

  I'm sure you all have heard about the horsemeat scandal that is spreading throughout Europe. It's made its way from Iceland and Ireland, to the UK, to Spain, Italy and France, and most recently, to the Czech Republic.

  It's hit the newsstands worldwide. And I get it, it's big news. You want to get what you pay for (truth in advertising). If you think you are buying beef, you want it to be beef. And definitely not beef, with traces of other types of meat mixed in.

  Pardon my ignorance for a moment, but humans basically eat every sort of meat in the world, right? So what's the big deal about horsemeat? Not that I really want to eat it, but is it because they didn't know they were eating horsemeat?

  That's the one aspect of this hubbub I don't understand. I think it has made such big waves because it's also about people not knowing what they're eating. And to me, that brings up an all too familiar topic: GMOs and GMO labeling.

Eating 'blindfolded' is nothing new.
  I for one, don't want to knowingly, or unknowingly, eat horse (though I'm betting I have). Just the same, I don't want to knowingly, or unknowingly, eat genetically modified or chemical-covered foods.

  My point is, we don't know what we eat ALL the time!

  Maybe this is me making too big of a jump. That it's not the same thing. But to me it is.

  Being in the dark about what we're eating is the same. No matter if it's a type of meat, or a chemical or a genetically modified food. Eating with a blindfold on, is eating with a blindfold on.

  This illustrates the bigger issue: food safety and the food supply.

  Tell me if I'm off-base.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

International Game Appreciation

**Originally appeared on SLAM Online February 26th, 2013**
  If you're a basketball fan, it's safe to say you've seen an NBA game, an NCAA game, and a FIBA game (the Olympics, or maybe a EuroLeague game?).

  And while you may know the ins and outs of your league, the foreign game may remain somewhat of a mystery. Maybe it frustrates you to watch, or you don't understand the intricacies or strategies of the game.

  That's perfectly normal because basketball played internationally (FIBA), and basketball played in the US are drastically different. Sometimes the differences lie in the rules. While other times, differences are a reflection of the way the game is taught.

  Rule differences are the easiest to point out. They're obvious, and can be seen across the board. These rules are not up for discussion, or up to a referee, or coach's opinion.

Time outs
  In the international game, players and coaches cannot call a timeout while the ball is in live play. Only when the ball is dead (out of bounds, made basket, foul call, travel call, etc), can the coach, and only the coach, ask for a timeout.

  A player can never call a timeout in FIBA. This removes the bail out/emergency timeout we see so frequently in the US.
Team Fouls/Bonus
  Team foul rules are the same in the NBA as they are in FIBA: teams are in the bonus, and awarded two foul shots, on the fifth team foul of each quarter.

  It differs in the NCAA, where teams are in the 'one-and-one' (and awarded one foul shot, and if the shooter makes it, they receive a second free throw) on the seventh team foul of each half. Teams are then finally awarded two shots on the tenth team foul of the half.

Quarter/Game length
  Four 10-minute quarters in FIBA (and the WNBA). Two 20-minute halves in the NCAA. Four 12-minute quarters in the NBA.

  This is where the two games are most divergent, in my opinion. And where the misunderstanding can come into play. It can make the American fan frustrated watching the FIBA game, and the international fan frustrated watching the American game.

  Some rules are subjective, and dependent upon, either the points of view of each referee, or the points of emphasis of the leagues. 

  Across the board, the travel call is the biggest point of discussion. Americans think Europeans travel all the time. And Europeans think Americans travel all the time.

  Why, you ask? There are two very different points of emphasis in the international game versus the game in the US.

  In the NBA and NCAA, the focus is on the number of steps taken after the dribble is picked up. Whereas in FIBA, the focus is on whether the ball was put down immediately before taking a step.

  During the Olympics, one of the most overwhelming things you will hear from international fans is how much LeBron James travels. They see him take two steps (or sometimes more!) before he puts the ball down in transition, and think it's obvious. Yet Americans don't really get why they're complaining.

  What happens when Americans go abroad? They are called for countless travels because they don't put the ball down fast enough before taking their first step (something I can attest to).

  It took me half of my rookie year in Italy to figure out how to not get called for traveling on drives to the basket. And the first time I did it, I almost stopped for celebration. There are still occasions when I get caught (actually happened in my most recent game), but it doesn't happen nearly as often as it used to!

  And what about when Europeans go to play in the US? They're called for travels as they finish a drive with too many steps (I think this is seen more often in college than in the NBA). Just as I had difficulty adjusting, many Europeans who play collegiately have a difficult time adjusting to the new emphasis. 

  Another cause for this travel deviation is the way we are coached as kids. Americans are taught to have a big first step. It's stressed over and over. Have a quick, as-big-as-you-can-make-it, first step.

  You can't have a big first step in Europe. When you lunge out as far as you can, you're essentially dragging your pivot foot, and you haven't put the ball down to dribble. They call that a travel every time.

Foul calls
  Over the course of my 10 years in Europe, I've learned a few things about what referees will, and will not call.

  Defensively, if you slap down on the ball, it's always a foul. No matter if you touch your opponent or not. If you want to go for a steal, slap upward.

  Similarly, referees will rarely call a hook, or an offensive foul, for clearing the defender out -- no matter how obvious it is. I can't tell you how many times I've thought they were going to call it, only to have the foul go against the me (the defender).
  Again, over the course of my 10 years in Europe, some things have stood out to me, strategically speaking, as well.

  In my opinion, running a fast break in Europe resembles soccer strategy more often than not. Coaches stress getting the ball to one side of the floor immediately, and then attacking. Whereas in the US, players are taught to get the ball to the middle of the floor.

  I don't find the European strategy to be very effective. Moving the ball to one side of the floor too early, lets the defense off the hook far too quickly. 

  The International game is more guard/perimeter oriented. This is the one case where I think the US/NBA is becoming more like the European game. Gone are the days of dominant big men controlling the game. In today's NBA, just as in Europe, guards and perimeter players are the game's best players, and dominate the ball offensively.

  In certain areas, the International and American games are becoming more and more similar. There used to be physical differences on the court (trapezoid lanes versus rectangle lanes), but FIBA recently made the change to rectangular lanes to match the American game.

  FIBA has also recently implemented advancing the ball to half court after timeouts in end of game situations. This allows finishes to be a little more exciting, and buzzer-beaters to occur more frequently.

  I can't go into every single detail, but various other rule changes have been made that make the FIBA and American games more similar (shot clocks, jump balls, restricted area/arc).

  While basketball is basketball no matter where it's played, differences still, have to be expected. Especially when there are different governing bodies.

  Frustration may remain (I never get less frustrated with getting called, for what I still see as a non-travel), but understanding game differences at least allows for a broader perspective. So the next time you find yourself hollering about a LeBron or Ginobli travel, keep in mind where they grew up playing the game (and what's written across their jerseys -- USA/Cavs or Argentina/Spurs)!

Monday, February 25, 2013

A Delayed Debut

A fun graphic I put together.

  A glance at the calendar tells me it's a little late in the year to be making debuts. But Saturday marked my 2013 basketball debut.

  Going into the game, I wasn't sure if it was going to happen. And if I did get into the game, I was even more unsure of how it was going to go. After missing my team's previous four games (because of a back injury) since the flip of the calendar year, I finally put on my uniform, and was able to compete with my teammates.

  All day Saturday, and leading up to tip-off, I was a question mark. I hadn't been in practice the two days prior, and the two practices I had participated in during the week, were touch and go.

  I thought I'd be okay to play. But your mind and your body are two very different things. Often times, your mind is willing while your body says otherwise.

  I just wanted to be smart, and do the right thing for my team and myself.

Differing Mindsets: Before, During, and After the Game
  It's interesting how different your approach, and mindset, is going into a game you are unsure you will be able to play in. When healthy/normal, you're focused on your performance and particulars about your opponent.

Team huddle, earlier in the season.
  When your 'form' is up in the air, your focus is solely on yourself. Will I be able to play? What will my body allow me to do? There are so many uncertainties that you hardly think of the people you are playing against.

  Will I be able to help my team, or will I hurt it? You always have to put the good of the team first (along with your own personal health, of course). If, when going through warm ups, I wasn't comfortable with my ability to move and play, I would have shut it down.

  Even after the game, my feelings were different than normal. We lost, and I was upset about that. But when your main concern is surviving the game uninjured, it gives you a slightly different perspective. Usually I'm very critical of my own play. When you've been on the sidelines for six weeks, and only practiced a handful of times in that time frame, you give yourself a little more leeway. 
Game action from earlier in the season.

Confident but Rusty
  I was able to play freely. But it was never far from my mind, that it was my first game in over six weeks, and first time playing an extended period of time.

  I wasn't as rusty as I thought I would be. But I was playing with no legs, and even less explosion than I'm used to, so that was a tough adjustment. It was a start, and I'm glad I got the first game back under my belt.

  As I've written before, you have to trust in your body, and have confidence that it won't fail when going up for a rebound, or driving to the basket. For the most part, I had that on Saturday. And as long as I continue to feel comfortable and confident, I'll be out on the court, doing my best to help my team win!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Health(ier) Baking Substitutes

Mom's birthday cake!

  I don't know about you, but I'm always afraid to tinker with a tried and tested recipe. Why mess with perfection, right?

  Sometimes, however, we make things that could stand to be a little healthier. You know that chocolate cake that's to die for? Yes, it's delicious. But it'll also do some damage, nutritionally-speaking, if you have too much of it, too often.

  I know, you're probably skeptical. That it'll make your treat taste like cardboard. But there are countless ways to 'healthen-up' your favorite recipe, and I'm willing to bet no one will notice!

  Sure, there are occasions where you might not want to test these substitutes out. If it's just for myself, I have no problem testing out recipe tricks. I don't care if I mess it up just for me! But how many times do you bake a cake, or a couple dozen cookies, for yourself? So sometimes you have to take a few chances. (Try it on your parents!)

  On a few occasions, I've tinkered.

  Once, when I was baking my mom's from scratch layered chocolate cake for her birthday. Instead of all the butter, I halved the butter that the recipe called for, and used unsweetened applesauce to make up the other half.

Nothing better than chocolate chip cookies.
  It baked faster than it usually does, so I had to keep a close eye on it. If I had left it in for the called-upon bake time, it would have burned. Badly.

  So that's one caveat with using baking substitutes: you may have to alter the bake time since the consistency of the batter might be slightly different. But the cake turned out delicious, and no one was the wiser!

  Another time, I baked oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Instead of substituting applesauce for butter, I used nonfat plain yogurt. And I even tossed in some whole wheat flour in place of white flour. I found that the wheat flour made the cookies denser than normal. But other than that, I thought they tasted great!

  Here's the lowdown on the substitute tricks:

The Substitutes
  Butter: Use half the amount of butter the recipe calls for, and use applesauce, avocado, mashed banana or Greek/plain yogurt, to make up the other half. There are a lot of other flavors (chocolate, hello?!?) in the recipe that overpower any 'missing' butter. But again, pay attention to bake time!

  Eggs: Use half of a mashed ripe banana with ¼ teaspoon of baking powder in place of one egg. To lessen cholesterol, replace one egg with two egg whites.

  In Brownie Mixes: Use one can of black beans with one package brownie mix to replace the usual egg and oil requirements. Or replace flour requirements with black beans in a homemade recipe (cup for a cup).

  White Flour: Use whole wheat flour to add more fiber, or almond flour to add omega 3 fats and protein. (Almond flour is a heavier flour, so reduce requirement by ¼ cup.)

  Cream: Use evaporated skim milk which provides the same consistency.

  Sugar: Replace one cup of sugar with one ripe banana, or two tbsp of Stevia (a naturally occurring sugar substitute). When you us banana, reduce the other liquids in your recipe to maintain the right consistency.

What can we swap out?
  I don't know if I'd recommend using substitutes for everything in the same thing-- that could be recipe for disaster!

  Of course these substitutes don't make the cakes, brownies, cookies, pancakes, etc..healthy (I'm sure you already knew that, but just a reminder!) Just because there's less butter or sugar, you're not given free rein to eat as much as you want. The substitutes just make them a bit healthier!

  I know, some people, when they have sweets or treats, want to go all out. They want to splurge, and they don't care if it's healthy or not. If that's you, maybe baking substitutes aren't for you. But if you're willing to experiment, and are looking for a few ways to make those desserts a little healthier, try a substitute or two!

  See if you can tell the difference -- it'll be like a little game. And if no one likes your 'healthier' treats, feel free to blame it on me!

  What have you tried? What works, what doesn't?


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Dunkerque Carnival 2013

Awaiting the bande on Sunday.

  Carnival season was different for me this year than it was last. Not that both weren't filled with large boisterous crowds, music, singing, colors, fun, and friends, but they were two very distinct experiences.

  Last year was my first Carnival experience in Dunkerque, so I had no idea what to expect. I participated in two events spread out over the course of three weeks: one ball, which was the first event of the long Carnival season, and one bande, or parade through the streets, on the biggest Carnival weekend in Dunkerque.

  After having a blast at both events, and once I'd signed my return trip to Dunkerque, I looked forward to celebrating another Carnaval de Dunkerque.

  This year, I fully knew what to expect. And while I participated in two events again (of the six-week Dunkerque Carnival season), instead of being spaced out by three weeks, they were on back-to-back days. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the finish line!

Inside the ball.
Bal des Gigolos et Gigolettes
  Each Saturday evening, from January 19th through March 2nd, the Dunkerque Kursaal (convention center) hosts a Carnival ball. My teammates and I would attend the Bal des Gigolos et Gigolettes (I have no idea why the balls are named what they are -- last year I went to the Bal du Chat Noir).

  Since we had no game to play on this particular Saturday, we gathered early in the evening to get our costumes ready, eat, and get prepared for a long night at the ball.

  Last year, I was a cross between the Jolly Green Giant and a leprechaun. Unsure if I wanted a repeat performance, I sifted through other costume options (usually, Carnival-goers have the same costume year after year, but I didn't mind changing). My teammates who were from Dunkerque, brought bags of Carnival clothes for us out-of-towners to choose from. Bags filled with colorful boas, gloves, tights, hats, and glasses. I guess after a while, you accumulate quite a collection!

Val, V, and Seb.
  We had a fairly late arrival to the ball (10-plus girls getting ready can take a while, you know!), but once we arrived to the Kursaal the sights were familiar: a large ballroom packed with colorful, costumed, party-goers.

  The ballroom had a circular 'safezone' -- with gates enclosing it -- in the center, and a band playing music on stage in the back. There also were bar-areas scattered throughout the ballroom.

  Surrounding the safe-zone was the action-filled part of the ball, and Carnival: the constant parade around the Kursaal ballroom. This is the area I avoided. The 'first line' braces themselves while trying to hold the rest of the crowd from advancing. You can imagine it gets a little rough. So that is why I steer clear. No need to roll an ankle or twist a knee at Carnival!

Video of the 'first line'...

  Every hour or so, the band alternates between playing Carnival music and 'regular' music. It's during the times of Carnival music that the parade around the ballroom occurs. And every person is singing. I definitely learned some of the tunes, but not many of the words!

  While the band plays regular music, the ball resembles any ol' party. But once the music changes, it's back to Carnival! This was the pattern for the entire night, and lasted well into the morning.

Group picture from Saturday's ball.
  After several hours (I won't tell you what time I got home Sunday morning), my legs were almost numb, and my back throbbing. I had had enough, so it was time go home, and get some rest. I knew I had a second day of Carnival ahead of me, so I needed to pace myself!

Bande de Malo-les-Bains
  Unlike the balls, the bandes (bands) are in a different location each weekend during Carnival. Each neighborhood in Dunkerque hosts a bande (usually on a Sunday), and February 17th, was my neighborhood's turn.

  I live along the beach in Malo-les-Bains, so on this particular Sunday, I would have an bird's eye view of the bande.

  The bande is essentially a parade through the streets. This is a tamer sort of parade, however (versus the ones at the balls). A marching band is at the front of the line, of course playing the same Carnival songs as always, while a huge crowd of people follow behind.

This is what the digue looked like most the day Sunday.
  As I went to sleep early Sunday morning after the ball, my ears were ringing. The sounds and music from the party still making their presence felt. Unfortunately, that would be what I woke up to as well. My ears were no longer ringing, but the sound of music blasting woke me far-earlier than I expected.

  You see, I live above a bar in Malo. And usually that bar is pretty tame. Though, not on this Sunday morning! Only five hours after going to sleep, I was up, and reluctantly ready to go. The party for the Bande de Malo-les-Bains was already underway, and apparently the bar below me was one of the hot spots. Lucky me. 

Here it come the bande!
  By 12:30 I was back next door at my teammate's apartment, getting ready for our second consecutive day of Carnival. No rest for the weary, huh?

  We spent most of the afternoon outside. It was a nice day (for mid-February), so spending the day outdoors was manageable. We walked the streets, people-watching and seeing the sights of Carnival in Malo. That's what everyone else was doing too.

  The bande would come through the digue (boardwalk) around five o'clock. We wanted to be back upstairs in our apartments by then to see the parade of colors from above. Even though I lived in the same apartment last year, I didn't get to see the Bande de Malo. I had been out of town, so I was really looking forward to seeing the parade pass by my window!

  You could see the bande approaching in the distance along the digue. The music got louder, the colors became more-vibrant, and the umbrellas grew bigger and bigger. The huge wave of people was on its way!

  We all readied our cameras, and took as many pictures and videos as we could. Quite a sight!

The bande passing by...

  Soon after the bande passed, a few of my teammates and friends headed back outside to finish their Carnival day. But I was done. Unfortunately, the bar below wasn't done. Their music thumped from below til about 9:30 that evening.
Group picture Sunday.
My ears and my nerves were thrilled when it stopped -- finally some peace and quiet!

  It was a long and tiring weekend. But it was also a lot of fun! The Carnival in Dunkerque isn't something I'll soon forget.

  You're never sure when you'll get to experience something like that again, so I wanted to make sure to take advantage!

Getting costumes and makeup ready Saturday!
Just about ready.
Melissa finishing her joker look.
No Jolly Green Giant this year.
Finally ready to go!
The ball.

Bal des Gigolos et Gigolettes.
Friends having fun.
The first line holding the crowd back.
Guilb and Cyrille.
I found a heart on the ground!
Sunday on the beach.
Carnival is rough of some people.
The digue, from the beach.
Awaiting the bande.
V and Lily.
Waiting for the bande to arrive.
Me in Malo.
A professional picture from Bande de Malo.
Video of the scene below my apartment for most of the day Sunday...
The band is in all yellow.
Passing by.

Friday, February 15, 2013

No Fuel, No Burn

About to tackle a workout at Red Rocks Amphitheater.

  We're tackling two workout myths today.

  One: There is no right time to workout.

  Whenever you can fit it in, is the right time.

Early Bird or Night Owl?
  There is, however, an ideal time to exercise. No, it's not a magic hour where you get a better workout, or see better results. It's actually just common sense: try to schedule your workout for roughly the same time every day.

  As with many things, our bodies adapt, they get conditioned. They get used to the exercise day after day, and will start releasing endorphins and hormones at that time, workout or not. It's during these times, you might see peak performances. So if you can, hit the gym at the same time each time you exercise.

  I've even noticed that with myself. I always find myself fitting in my workout at roughly the same time day after day. For a long time, I just thought it was my need for a routine. But boom, when the clock hits 11:30am, I feel I need to get moving.

  I've never been much of a morning person, and definitely have never been fond of morning workouts (I think I had one-too-many of those in my college days). If I have to (as in, there's no other time during the day), I will. But I don't really think I'm at my best during those early morning workouts. To go along with this thought however, maybe if I did it on a consistent basis, I would feel differently.

  Don't worry night owls, people who workout before 7am don't necessarily get bonus points, or any extra burn for their workouts.

  Whatever your magic hour is, try to keep it consistent. And of course, something is better than nothing! So do what your schedule allows, and get it done!

Red Rocks Boot Camp: I'm betting these people had breakfast!
Empty Stomach Workout?
  Two: exercising on an empty stomach is not beneficial. It does not lead to burning more fat.

  People who regularly practice this, rationalize it by saying, our bodies will move directly into burning fat for fuel since there's no blood sugar available. So naturally, we will end up burning more fat.

  In fact, not eating before a workout, or not having sufficient fuel in your body before you workout, often times leads to a less-intense session.

  Since your body doesn't have the necessary fuel, you're weak during your workout. And with a weaker, energy-deficient body, your workout might lack intensity and power. And a during a less-intense workout, you won't burn as many calories, both during your workout, AND after your workout (after-burn, or EPOC -- Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).

  So ultimately, your calorie burn is less.

  Also, your body burns a percentage of sugar and fat no matter what. So, if your body has NO blood sugar available, it will turn to muscle for fuel, and burn muscle tissue. Essentially cannibalizing your muscle, and that's not good! Keep in mind, our bodies can't convert fat into sugar.

  Long story, short: make sure your body is fueled with, at least, a decent snack before working out!

  Hope these two bits of information help! Have a great weekend!

Exercise on an Empty Stomach 
Jillian Michaels Podcast 12/28/2012