Sunday, October 30, 2011

Adventures in Crossfit

My workout journey started with squadron spouse socializing. Apparently, a bunch of the ladies go to this class on base that is amazing and fun and the best workout ever. In the words of one spouse it’s “horribly awesome.” So I tried it.

As advertised.

But I kept going for the social aspect. Then, I started going three times a week when I realized how much Rob’s workouts were getting him in shape. I imagined how fun it would be if my husband and I could workout together and this class seemed to have elements that we both could do.

I learned it was crossfit.

After a month, I was hooked. The workouts have the ability to be exhausting and fun at the same time and I adore the variety. I get a challenge and a success every time; and it’s very rewarding to see oneself progress and then to see my body get more toned and to notice heavy things are not so heavy anymore.

So I kept going.

I wanted to keep up my workouts while in College Station, so I contacted one of the crossfit gyms in town. It turns out, it is owned by a high school friend of mine. He is also an ex-Marine and looks and talks like one, which made me a little intimidated… and also made me want to make fun of the fact he was SO Marine-ish.

Anyway, one of my first workouts gave me a nice dose of humility. We were doing one of the weight-lifting moves where you take the bar all the way from the ground to above your head in one big heave.

Well, I knew from my previous crossfit experience, that I am not capable of doing this lift without grace. Years of dance, yoga, and a natural tendency to move smoothly are deeply ingrained in my muscle memory. Graceful movement is completely unnecessary for lifting heavy weight… in case you didn’t know. The trainer kept looking at me practicing with the PVC pipe saying, “more thrust” or “more jump” or “really get under it.” Finally, I started to get better and we moved over to the barbells.

She passes me a barbell with tires on the ends of it… TIRES. Umm, yes, I am intimidated. I begin my lifts. This weight seems really heavy. I mention that this might be on the upper end of what I typically lift. The tiny little trainer who brought the weight over with one hand replies, “it’s 35.” Which, by the way, is the lightest weight they have…. AND yes, in fact, it is the MOST WEIGHT I HAVE EVER LIFTED. Oh. My. The lightest bar is the most I’ve ever lifted. Humility, anyone? Yes, I’ve got some right here…

The last workout I did there was on their outdoor obstacle course, which is done in the military style. You run and jump over logs, roll under some, climb over many, climb a rope, run over tires and across the finish line. The first guy who did it (an Army guy) made it look SO easy. He was amazing. I found out just how amazing when I attempted it next.

Jumping over logs – oo, kinda fun. Rolling under, climbing over – also fun. Running up the tire – like a playground. Climbing the rope – ….. climbing the rope – ….  Umm, yea. I haven’t attempted climbing a rope since middle school PE and even then, I was not at all successful. The trainers gave me some good techniques, but even with those, I could not manage more than one pull up. So… I had to do burpees instead of climb the rope. Poo.

Moving on. The next series of logs was the biggest challenge. You had to go over and touch down from each of five logs, the highest at 7 feet. I was simply thrilled to find that I was capable of doing it!! Of course, my method was a little unconventional. Lacking the upper arm strength to launch my body onto the highest log, I stretched my leg over from the next highest log, almost doing the splits until I could grip the next log with my leg. Effective, but the trainers said they hadn’t seen it done that way before. I’ll just take that as a compliment…

Then, running across the tires to the finish line. Yay!! I did it!! Some perspective: the Army guy did it in 57 seconds. I did it in 2 min, 17 seconds. Yea, I’m that awesome.

The chunk of the workout had us going through the course taking the first obstacle, then running back to the beginning; first and second, beginning; first second third, beginning, and so on.

It was long. And hard. sts. But I completed it!

And that kind of sums up why I like crossfit. Whether you’re fit or not, each workout is challenging (that Army guy was still challenged). And since each person is in a different place – maybe you’re lifting different weights, maybe you started at different times, the competition is indirect – just enough to make you want to push a little harder and friendly enough that everyone is rooting for you to beat your personal best. I really like it.

If you’re thinking of starting crossfit, be prepared to be intimidated. The weights look heavy and everyone looks like they’re working really hard (as opposed to holding fabulous yoga poses with looks of tranquility in super cute outfits).

But if you look closer, you’ll probably also notice that everyone is really friendly, helpful, and encouraging. If you’re lost, ask for directions. If you notice someone is especially good at that warm-up footwork, ask them for some tips. And you won’t have to ask before people are dishing out the encouragement. Sometimes rather loudly…

So have fun and remember to stretch… and do yoga… ‘cause it’s the best.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Finding the Best Chocolate Cake in Houston


I came to Texas for my brother’s wedding (last weekend – Congratulations!) and while I was here, my other brother and his wife Ashley planned a cake sampling of the great cakes of Houston. Can you say YUM?

They used the chocolate cake from Cheddar’s as a constant – because let’s face it, Cheddar’s chocolate cake is Goood.

Also sampled was the Chocolate Bar, the Palm, and Taste of Texas.

Ashley make scoring sheets and everything. As this was a worthy quest (finding the best chocolate cake in Houston is no trivial matter), we decided to take it seriously. She cut slices of each piece and we scored them on overall taste, depth of chocolate, texture, icing consistency, icing flavor, and icing to cake ratio. Yes, we are super awesome.

There was some debate about whether or not to serve said cake slices cold or at room temperature. I prefer room temperature as I like my icing soft and gooey. Someone else preferred cold, but that person is just wrong. ;-)

We’ll start with Cheddar’s: taste – 4, depth of chocolate – 3 (light but good, more like duncan hines, comfortable and happy), texture – 5 (seriously, this is one good cake and so cheap too!), icing consistency – 4, icing flavor – 5, icing to cake ratio – 5. Final score: 26.

Chocolate Bar: taste – 3, depth of chocolate – 4, texture – 2 (very very dense, too much so), icing consistency – 2 (again too dense), icing flavor – 4 (very chocolatey), icing to cake ratio – 4 (needs more icing). Final score: 19

We were all quite surprised at how poorly the Chocolate Bar cake showed against the others. It was a dry, dense, and although it was very chocolatey, Ashley summed it up best, “I was left wanting more from the cake… not more bites of cake.”

The Palm: taste – 4, depth of chocolate – 4 (very cocoa-heavy in a good way), texture – 3, icing consistency – 4, icing flavor – 4 (deeeep chocolate), icing to cake ratio – 2 (as the cake is very very tall, it is impossible to get a good icing to cake ratio unless taking some icing from the top with each bite and I just want a little more from my cake than that…). Final score: 21

Taste of Texas: taste – 4, depth of chocolate – 5 (I needed fewer bites there was so much chocolate flavor!), texture – 5, icing consistency – 4 (smoooooth!), icing flavor – 5, icing to cake ratio – 5. Seriously, I had a hard time finding anything about this cake to count off for! Quite simply, it is amazing. Final score: 28

The two standouts were definitely the Palm and Taste of Texas. If you love cocoa and more cake than icing, I would refer you to the Palm. But, if you love the perfect balance of cocoa, cake, icing, comfort, and sweet, then you definitely must try the Taste of Texas the next time you’re in Houston.

I highly suggest chocolate cake testing for your next dessert. We ate a small yet substantial meal beforehand just so our blood sugar wouldn’t jump off the charts; and even with no whole pieces of cake, we all felt a little woozy from chocolate overload. Okay, a lot woozy. But so worth it.