Winter Wonders

One of the things I miss about the summer, aside from the weather, of course, is the fiery sunsets. The tones in the cooler months tend to be more muted, giving way to light pinks and pale oranges. Quite a contrast from some of the more dramatic palettes I captured months earlier. But I am learning to love a different kind of beauty found in cloud formations, snow blanketing the ground, cold morning fog on the water and the reflection of sun glistening through naked trees.

Happy Friday!

Fog in Port Jefferson Harbor - Danfords Hotel and Marina

{Morning fog in Port Jefferson Harbor}

Traveling to Lake Placid, New York

{En route to Lake Placid, New York}

Connetquot State Park

{A quiet trail in Connetquot State Park}

Heckscher Park - Huntington, New York

{Late afternoon stroll through Heckscher Park}

Winter Sunset

{Winter Sunset}

How to Get Organized

How to Get Organized

Being organized was not something I thought I struggled with…until the other night. After losing track of the days and suddenly remembering that my car payment was due, I took inventory of other things I may have forgotten (or almost forgotten!) to manage. Good thing I did, because soon after I went rummaging through a stack of papers, I found two unopened and yes, unpaid bills! How I managed to forget about them – who knows! Clearly, I am not putting my organizational skills to good use in 2015. I guess my tried-and-true tactic of writing due dates on calendars (you remember those old things, right?) could use an update.

So, in an effort to remedy the organizational mess I have created for myself, I am going to implement a few tactics.

1. Put all bills in a central spot. I tend to lose track of where I put important papers, hence how I found two unopened bills in the last possible spot one would ever think to look. Moving forward, my bills will have a designated place that I check weekly.

2. Use my iPhone calendar and set reminders. I do use the calendar feature, but rarely pay attention to reminders. I’m going to start putting due dates in and set the reminder for one week prior to the day before it is due. This should help me — I hope!

3. Take advantage of automatic payments. I always believed that making the payments myself kept me on track. Obviously, I was mistaken.

4. Utilize Evernote and Wunderlist (and other organizational apps). I downloaded Evernote and I love that it syncs across all of my Apple devices. I just came across Wunderlist, and like Evernote, it’s a great way to make to-do lists and stay on track.

Since 2015 is my year of self-imposed self-improvement (sugar detox=check!, going to the gym/yoga= check!, waking-up earlier=…check minus?) why not make my life easier and get a good organizational system in place?

I’d love to hear how you keep on top of everything. What organizational system works for you?

I am grateful to Kristin of Not Intent on Arriving for featuring me as part of her Writer Wednesday series. Head over to her blog to read my thoughts on writing, travel and where I draw inspiration from!

Embracing Imperfections

Embracing Imperfections

Since turning 28 a few months back, I feel as though a lightbulb went off in my head. For years, I’ve been putting off really taking care of myself — even after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer. I’ve gone through phases where this notion of self-preservation has come upon me and I’d take an interest in cooking, grocery shopping and so on. But those times were few and far between and certainly didn’t last.

These past months I’ve given some thought to what it means to be healthy and how I can reach my goals. Aside from my sugar detox (Day #15 already! Can you believe it?), I’ve realized that I’ve been ignoring my skin. I’ve always had sensitive skin (if you’ve been following along you know that Stila’s products have been a game-changer for me!), but I’ve spent little time trying to improve my skin from the inside out. For years I bought every available product to cover and conceal my blemishes, scarring and uneven skin tone, but never gave a thought to the root of the problem.

Only in the past couple of years have I felt comfortable going makeup-free at home — let alone out to run errands! But as I get older the excitement that comes with being made-up has faded. Don’t get me wrong, I like to look my best when I am out and about or at work, but there is something very freeing about going au-naturel when you get the chance. For starters, I have noticed a big improvement in the texture of my skin by skipping makeup. It feels smoother, less irritated and prone to fewer breakouts. Next, reducing my sugar intake has done wonders for my skin. My once dull complexion has been replaced by a glow.

Embracing your imperfections is tough. My skin has always been something that I was self-conscious about. But slowly I’ve learned that small improvements to my diet or my stress level have benefited my overall well-being and skin. It has come along way from where it was five years ago, and so have I. I’m proud to embrace my not-so-flawless skin and keep working to improve it rather than smother it.

Sensible Snacking

Healthy Snacks

Day twelve and I am still going strong with my sugar detox! When I make it to Trader Joe’s before work, and decline an afternoon Starbucks run with colleagues, you know I am serious. This time around I feel much better about banishing sugar from my lifestyle — it feels attainable!

I am so grateful to everyone who commented on my last post and offered support and encouragement. I thought I would share which snacks have been helping me beat the sugar cravings.

Trader Joe’s Rolled Oats & Peanut Butter Fiberful Granola Bars: These taste more like a candy bar than a granola bar and contain 9 grams of fiber and 6 grams of sugar. They are a great way to satisfy my afternoon cravings for something sweet without derailing my detox. They come in a variety of different flavors, but the peanut butter and chocolate combination is my favorite.

Walnuts: I’ve been making oatmeal daily for breakfast, and since the only way I can eat it is with walnuts, I keep them on hand for snacks throughout the day.

Frozen Peanut Butter Bananas: Bananas have never appealed (no pun intended) to me, but thanks to Elana over at The Preppy Post Grad, frozen bananas and peanut butter have become my go-to morning snack. I made a few the other night, and after I covered them in peanut butter, I rolled them in chopped walnuts and then froze them. Chocolate or Nutella covered bananas are another great option. The best part is that by the time I get to work they have defrosted enough and are ready to be enjoyed.

Tangerines: I might have to do a tangerine detox next (kidding, of course!), but seriously, I could eat these all day long. They are portable and convenient when you need just a little sugar pick-me-up. Unlike with processed sugar snacks, the fiber in fruit will let your body absorb the fructose in a more regulated way.

Trader Joe’s Organic Popcorn: This popcorn with olive oil is delicious! It’s not too salty and ideal for when those late night hunger pains come calling.

Here’s to a happy and healthy Friday!

Sayonara Sugar!

Trader Joe's Very Green Smoothie

Hello! My name is Vanessa and I am addicted to sugar.

I’ve always had a sweet tooth – but in recent years, especially after thyroid cancer, I realized this was a habit that I needed to kick. Just to give you some perspective: I’ve been known to eat an entire bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups in one sitting, a chocolate croissant constituted breakfast, and I often skipped meals. My morning routine consisted of a trip to Starbucks and a tall White Chocolate Mocha to start my day. Most days I opted for a breakfast sandwich, but often a croissant or doughnut made the menu.

I realized the magnitude of the problem when I began to acknowledge that every day I was consuming junk food — lots of it – and I never felt well. I did not control my sweet tooth; it controlled me. If I saw cookies, I HAD to have them, even if I wasn’t hungry, at the expense of replacing good calories with bad. This may not sound serious, but my lack of willpower is. I could not eat just one, or two cookies — I would eat however many were available, and like the bag of Reese’s, packages of Oreo’s have suffered the same fate.

A few months ago I saw a nutritionist, but her approach was not for me. Over the years, plenty of concerned friends and family have attempted to instill good nutritional habits in me, but I brushed them off and downplayed my sugar consumption. Last fall I tried to swear off sweets, but after three weeks of feeling like I was starving and suffering a dull headache daily I caved in.

This time around I want to make the change to a healthy lifestyle and take better care of myself. I’ve tried to eliminate any temptation to cheat and have a cookie and I have been reading about others who have broken the sugar curse. I mentioned in a previous post that having a plan is instrumental for success, so here is what I’m doing to succeed:

Stock the kitchen with healthy snacks. I love Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Fiber Bars and make sure there are a couple of boxes in the house (and my office). When I feel like I want something sweet, these are my go-to snacks — and they only have six grams of sugar!

Start making green smoothies. Trader Joe’s has delicious smoothies, but sites like Greatist have a plethora of healthy smoothie recipes to choose from, which get sent right to my inbox.

Avoid sweets at all cost. I know nutritionists say that if you want a cookie, you should have one. But that model does not work for me. I am much better off avoiding it all together.

Stick to a fitness plan. The gym and an exercise routine are important when you are trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and they have really helped me stay motivated and watch what I eat.

Learn more about nutrition. I want to order Sarah Wilson’s book, I Quit Sugar. In it, she has an eight-week detox program along with healthy recipes that will help me create daily menus to keep me on track.

I have now gone a little more than a week (10 days to be exact) without sugar or caffeine. I have been plagued with dull headaches almost daily and haven’t noticed any increase in my energy levels yet, but I am determined to make 2015 the start of a lifestyle that does not involve sugar.

Do you have any tips for kicking sugar to the curb? How do you avoid temptation?

Leather & Leopard

Madden Girl - DSW

What would a New Year be without a new pair of shoes (or two!)? I love a simple patent leather heel for the office. It’s classic and goes with everything. When I spotted these Madden Girls on a lunchtime run to DSW, I knew they were too good to pass up…especially since they were only $20!

Adrienne Vittadini Leopard Flats - DSW

And with my new leopard obsession, I searched for a pair that would roar casually but be tame enough in a professional setting. The Adrienne Vittadini flats met both requirements and are as comfortable as they are stylish. Another great find at DSW!

New Year, New Looks

New Year, New Looks

Happy Friday and first full week of the New Year! I hope your 2015 is off to a good start.

The past couple of weeks I did some serious damage in the shopping department. I guess I should be glad I didn’t swear that off as part of my New Year’s Resolutions! Cozy oversized sweaters and, of course, sweaters adorned with bling had to be welcomed into my closet to ring in the New Year. Not to worry, my purchases will appear on the blog soon enough.

In the meantime, I am going to take a shopping hiatus. Well, at least until this month’s credit card bill gets paid. But there are a few items that I am loving for 2015.

I purchased the J. Crew pavé link bracelet as a Chirstmas gift to myself, and the matching pavé link necklace has now made it onto my wish list. Fortunately for my wallet, it is sold out online! But some items are more needs than wants. I have been wearing the same black winter coat (which has served me well!) for longer than I would like to admit. It is time for an upgrade this winter. I’m gravitating toward a neutral coat that will go with anything and be a staple for many winters to come. The Karen Miller belted coat is the perfect choice, as it is elegant and has a nice shape to it. Also, I am in desperate need of a cute beanie and a pair of driving gloves; having a heated steering wheel can only get you so far. And while we are on the subject, a pair of over-the-knee boots (those grey suede Stuart Weitzman’s fit the bill!) would help get me through the long, cold days ahead, too!

Reviewing Resolutions

Blizzard Butter - Peanut Butter

{Trying New Peanut Butter in the New Year}

Are you all enjoying the cold weather and snow we have been graced with this week? I’m jealous if you live in warmer climates. This is my first week at work after a nice break (Happy Wednesday!). And while it has been a bit rough setting the alarm each morning, it feels good to get back into a routine.

Since we are almost a full week into the New Year, I thought I would reflect on those resolutions I made. If you remember, one of my goals for the New Year was to eat better. Recently, I met a friend for dinner and was discussing my healthy eating resolution with her, when she noted one fatal flaw in its execution. That I lacked an actual plan. As in, how was I going to eat better? What recipes was I going to try? Perhaps the reason why this goal had failed so many times before was not that I didn’t have the willpower to control my sweet tooth, but rather I had no set agenda. Fortunately, after a brief Internet search, I found a plan to get and keep me on track. Insert Blue Apron. I’m not sure why I never considered a service like this before, where healthy meals and recipes could be delivered right to my door, and all I needed to do was prepare them. I think this is a great way to learn recipes, try new dishes and take the guesswork out of the dreaded question, what’s for dinner? I am happy to report that on my latest Trader Joe’s run I managed to emerge from the store without buying a single sweet item. We are making progress, people!

Next on my list was to return to the gym and my beloved yoga classes. This goal seems to be off to a good start. I began my week with a yoga class, and, although not in my initial resolution, I went ice skating. Tonight I will be trying my first SoulCycle class (wish me luck!).

Since I am a person who typically avoids New Year’s resolutions, I am glad that mine have lasted longer than 24 hours. And with the right plans in place, I think they are two goals I can accomplish!

Have you tried Blue Apron? How do you stay on track when it comes to healthy eating? If you made resolutions this year, how are they going?

Supporting ThyroidChange

ThyroidChange

{Image Courtesy of ThyroidChange}

In observance of Thyroid Awareness Month, I am pleased to introduce and support ThyroidChange, a nonprofit organization, which began in 2012 by a thyroid patient looking for answers and options amongst the medical community. As a thyroid patient for about two years now I’ve learned firsthand that you must advocate for yourself. You may trust your doctor, but as a patient, you know your body best. If something doesn’t feel right, you must speak up.

Ever since being diagnosed with subclinal hypothyroidism in 2013, and thyroid cancer shortly thereafter, I have spent the better part of two years educating myself on all things related to thyroid health. Looking back on it now, I was always fatigued and lethargic, yet never had any thyroid labs run. Even my diagnosis in 2013 was a fluke. I had gone to my gynecologist for my annual exam, with no particular symptoms, and happened to ask for blood work to be done. He took the extra few minutes to perform a neck check, and discovered a nodule on the right lobe of my thyroid.

Since then, I’ve undergone a thyroidectomy and have resigned myself to living the rest of my life on Synthroid. Through my blog and social media, I have met amazing thyroid advocates on Twitter who work tirelessly to spread knowledge to other undiagnosed and newly diagnosed thyroid patients. For them and their efforts, I am most grateful.

Recently I had the opportunity to learn more about ThyroidChange and their physician-patient centered approach. Their goals are simple and straightforward — to improve the lives of thyroid patients by providing access to information, and offering better testing and treatment options. Unfortunately, many endocrinologists rely solely on the numbers, and they base dosage decisions around where the patients’ Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) levels fall — instead of how the patient feels on a certain dose, or how they might see an improvement with a different form of thyroid replacement.

The primary mission of ThyroidChange is to create a standard of treatment for all thyroid patients, which includes a full thyroid panel (Free T3, Reverse T3, Free T4, TSH, and thyroid antibodies). ThyroidChange would like Free T3 and Free T4 values to play a greater role in the treatment process, while putting less emphasis on the TSH values, and advocates for more thyroid hormone replacement options to be available. This approach I wholeheartedly support, after my dosage was constantly being changed, irrespective of how I told my doctor I was feeling. His answer was always that my TSH levels were not quite low enough and my Synthroid dose needed to be increased. Despite my resistance, my dosage has been increased three times since my surgery, yet I detect no improvement in my energy levels. Doctors should look at the whole spectrum of thyroid indicators and take into consideration patients’ concerns and their overall condition. Offering more thyroid replacement options and allowing a patient to switch medicines more easily will enhance the relationship between patients and their endocrinologists.

ThyroidChange has created a petition entitled Endocrinologists: Patients with Thyroid Disfunction Demand Better Care, which to date has 28,520 supporters. (As an aside, within 24 hours of its introduction, it had already received over 200 signatures!) The thyroid community is clearly frustrated with the current status quo and wants change that will improve the lives of those living with a thyroid condition. It is a lifelong battle and the only hope for improvement is with daily medicine (in most cases) and the care of an endocrinologist. Only when the doctor-patient relationship is improved will patients see noticeable changes in their treatment — and a significant improvement in their health.

I urge anyone seeking information on general thyroid health, tests, and treatment to visit ThyroidChange and sign the petition. I am proud to support this worthy organization that has done so much to improve the lives of thyroid patients all around the world.

36 Hours in Lake Placid, New York

Whiteface Mountain - Lake Placid, NY

If your idea of a quick getaway involves skiing, ice skating, and an Olympic bobsled run, then Lake Placid is the place for you. Located in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in Essex County, Lake Placid was home to the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games.

Think Snow Bear - Lake Placid, New York

I had visited before during the summer to attend the Lake Placid Horse Show, but it looked entirely different in the December cold. The drive on Route 73 heading west from Interstate 87 has stunning scenery with frozen lakes. Once you reach the main part of town, Lake Placid resembles a cozy ski resort complete with shops, eateries, and of course, Olympic history. It’s a place you can easily explore on foot, get a good meal, and find some creative souvenirs.

Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid, New York

On my first day in Lake Placid, after the six-hour car ride, I was eager to get out and stretch my legs. Long Island had been enjoying a bit of unseasonably warm weather for December, so it was jarring to be greeted by the frigid cold upon arrival. But I packed well, and brought lots of layers. After a quick meal at a Howard Johnson’s, I suited up (and I do mean suited up!) for some outdoor ice skating on the Olympic Oval. I’ve mentioned before on the blog that prior to being an equestrian I was a figure skater and competed regularly, so I am comfortable on the ice. Since this is a speed skating oval, I felt it was only fair to try my luck on speed skates. Not having a pair of my own, I rented them from Lake Placid Skate Shop located conveniently across the street from the Oval. The co-owner, Christie, was very helpful and got me set up with a pair of speed skates in my size. A competitive figure skater herself, she manages the store and is a great resource if you are new to skating (thanks, Christie, for the tip about keeping your legs close together on the ice!). Within minutes I was on my way, laced up my skates, and tried to glide gently on the ice like the speed skaters were doing in their practice next to me. No pressure there! I was momentarily mesmerized by how effortless these speed skaters looked on the ice, and instantly reminded that these were not the figure skates to which I was accustomed. Feeling like a beginner all over again, I remained slow until I felt steady enough to gain some speed. It didn’t take long to get comfortable on speed skates, and once I was off, I spent the next hour trying to race the speed skaters (seriously!). It’s always a pleasure to get back out on the ice — and it was fun to try something new while getting a workout. As night fell, and the cold set in, it was time to trade my skates for snow boots and end my skating session. If you are considering skating in Lake Placid I highly recommend stopping at the Lake Placid Skate Shop. The owners were both wonderful and they will have you on your way in no time. Thanks again, Christie!

Speed Skating Oval - Lake Placid, New York

Speed Skating Oval - Lake Placid, New York

Speed Skating Oval - Lake Placid, New York

Speed Skating Oval - Lake Placid, New York

Naturally, after ice skating I found the nearest Starbucks and ordered a hot chocolate. It was the perfect way to warm up! The same evening Lake Placid held a fireworks show, so after skating and sipping my hot chocolate, I was off to the ski jump area to watch some fireworks. When I arrived, they were finishing up the jumping competition. It must be exhilarating to ski jump at night! The show was supposed to start at 7:30 p.m., but the fireworks didn’t begin until around 8 p.m. By then I was pretty cold, and tried to stay warm by some of the outdoor fire pits. Thankfully, the half-hour went by quickly and soon the night sky was lit with fireworks. I managed to get a few shots before it was over, and then I immediately ran to the car to warm up.

Ski Jump - Lake Placid, NY

Fireworks - Lake Placid, NY

By the time I got to the hotel I was exhausted and ready for a good night’s rest. The next day was the last day in Lake Placid so I knew it would be an action packed 12 hours.

I woke up early the next morning and layered up…again! On the agenda was the bobsled run, which did not take reservations. Lake Placid was very busy this week with tourists, so I wanted to make sure there was space available. The run is located at Mt. Van Hoevenberg, the venue used for bobsled, luge, and skeleton during the 1932 and 1980 games. From the look of the parking lot, it seemed to be a popular destination that morning. Luckily I was able to get tickets for the 11 a.m. run. For some reason, the thought of careening 55 mph down an icy track was more exhilarating than frightening. I waited (somewhat impatiently) as 11 soon became 11:30 a.m. Finally my provided pager went off and an SUV arrived to take me to the top of the run. Less then 15 minutes later, I was fitted with a helmet and introduced to the bobsled team. The bobsled seats four people, which includes a driver and brakeman. I still was not nervous as I snapped a quick selfie in my helmet and one of the track in front of me. As we took off down the track the bobsled gradually picked up speed. After about ten seconds I realized this was not for the faint-of-heart. Going at 55 mph and hitting those turns is not as easy as it looks on television. I was glad the ride was less than two minutes to the finish line, because I was starting to feel like a towel in the washing machine.

Bobsled Selfie - Lake Placid, NY

Bobsled Run - Lake Placid, NY

After the bobsled run, and regaining my land legs, I was off to the 120 meter ski jump observation tower to take in some views of Whiteface Mountain. Depending on which lot you park in, you can either take the elevator or the chairlift to the top. From there, take the glass enclosed elevator to the tower, or take another flight of stairs and find yourself amongst the ski jumpers. The views from up there were breathtaking, and I was lucky enough to be there as the final round of ski jumping was commencing. I watched as the ski jumpers climbed to the very top and sat perched awaiting their jump. It was an incredible sight — which would have been made better if my fully charged Iphone would have stopped dying from the cold!

Ski Jump Chair Lift - Lake Placid, New York

Ski Jumper - Lake Placid, NY

Ski Jump - Lake Placid, NY

By the time I took the chairlift back down, I was frozen and hungry. The Concierge at the hotel had mentioned a crêperie near by, and if you’ve learned anything from my posts, you know I love crêpes. I found my way to Big Mountain Deli and Crêperie on Main Street and was drawn to their sweet and savory menu. It was a small, crowded place with limited seating, but I was determined to try a Lake Placid crêpe. I ordered a Nutella and strawberry crêpe and an Avalanche, a vanilla latte that rivaled anything I’ve had at Starbucks. As I waited for my food, a table opened up, which I quickly snagged and sat at while I enjoyed my latte. Moments later, my crêpe was ready to be savored. The strawberries were warm and blended with the Nutella. It was a great late-afternoon meal.

Big Mountain Deli and Crêperie - Lake Placid, NY

Big Mountain Deli and Crêperie - Lake Placid, NY

After some sightseeing I browsed the shops in town. I thought about visiting the Oval for another speed skating session, but I was exhausted. By 4 p.m. I was back on the road heading home to Long Island. I was sad to say goodbye to Lake Placid, but eager to shed a few layers. I never thought I would look forward to 30 degree weather!

Mirror Lake - Lake Placid, NY

Main Street - Lake Placid, NY

Chocolate - Lake Placid, NY

Leaving Lake Placid, NY

So, if you are looking for a getaway, and don’t mind the cold, here’s what to do in 36 hours in Lake Placid.

Eat:
– Big Mountain Deli and Crêperie: Perfect for breakfast or lunch. Be prepared for a wait as it is a small establishment, but feels cozy and the food is good. Order one of their coffees for an extra treat.

– Delta Blue: Connected to Northwoods Inn, it’s a great pub-like place to grab a burger and shoot some pool.

See:
– Great views of Whiteface Mountain from almost anywhere in Lake Placid.

– Saranac Lake is a short drive and hosts a lot of activities.

– If you are interested in history, stop at John Brown’s Farm and Gravesite, the final resting place of the abolitionist John Brown.

Do:
– Figure or Speed Skate on the Olympic Oval: Even if you aren’t Eric Heiden, this is a lot of fun. Make sure you check their website to find out what times they offer public and speed skating sessions. And if you need to rent skates, visit Lake Placid Skate Shop.

– Mt. Van Hoevenberg Bobsled Run: Again, this is not for the faint-of-heart, those who do not like roller coasters, or those with motion sickness. If you are an adrenaline junkie then by all means, go for it. It’s a short ride and a bit pricey, but you can brag to your friends that you went down an Olympic bobsled run. Make sure you bring sunglasses, as snow and sun will be in your eyes. If you have back and/or neck issues, I would advise avoiding this as you will endure jostling at high speeds.

If bobsled doesn’t do it for you, try luge or skeleton. Let me know how that goes, because it is something I won’t be trying!

– Ski Jump Towers: It’s worth a trip to see the sky jump ramps and take a ride to the observation tower for terrific views of Lake Placid. Plan it right, and you could watch a competition!

– Skating on Mirror Lake: This beautiful lake is perfect for skating. Just check with the locals to make sure it is completely frozen first! I took a walk on it and watched skaters enjoying the vast open ice.

– Ski/Snowboard/Hike/Cross Country Skiing: This is the perfect place to give any of these sports a try.

Tips:
– Make sure you bring lots of layers! I practically lived in my hat, scarf and gloves for the whole trip.

– Buy an Olympic Sites Passport. It’s $32, but worth every penny. The passport gives you discounts on activities and allows you one-time admission to certain facilities for free!