Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Winter Skin & Family Travel

Sunscreen is not just for summer. Whether your family vacation is taking you to the Caribbean or Hawaii (lucky you) or the ski slopes, your skin still needs protection. MDSolarSciences provides broad spectrum UVA-UVB protection in non-greasy, non-comedogenic, water-resistant formulas. The Natural Mineral Screen Stick SPF 40 is great for travel; stash it in our bag or ski jacket. And kids can use it to easily apply sunscreen to their face and lips. If your kids, like mine, prefer a spray, the organic Quick Dry Spray SPF 40 offers great sun protection.
For travel Another handy sunscreen to stick in your jacket pocket, or carry on an airplane, is Adventuress sunscreen swipes. These individually wrapped wipes are fragrance and paraben free, so they are perfect for sensitive skin. And you don’t even have to remove your gloves to apply the SPF 30 sunscreen. Each packet has a finger pocket so there is no muss, no fuss – just great UVA and UVB protection. The swipes have aloe vera and vitamin E to soothe skin while they protect. The cold weather can dry skin out, so restore it with Udderly Smooth moisture rich creams. These were developed to soothe cow’s udders, but you might want to focus on how the cream moisturizes chapped skin. Giveaway! One reader will win a one12-ounce jar of Udderly Smooth Body Cream, one 4-ounce tube of Udderly Smooth Udder Cream, and one 8-oz. jar of Udderly Smooth Shea Butter Foot Cream. To enter, comment below on how you keep your skin moisturized in winter. Note: I received samples of these products free of charge but received no compensation for this post.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Pura Vida Urban Fitness

Pura Vida Urban Fitness, a storefront gym in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, has a large variety of classes, from boot camp to Zumba. The hour long boot camp I took on a recent evening had just 3 participants, so we all got plenty of personal attention. Our young trainer made sure we ran with weights straight overhead, pushed ourselves on sprints and kept our butts low on squats. The class had a few innovative exercise, like combining balancing on one leg with a row, and squat jacks, where you squat to the floor and explode into a jumping jack. My heart rate was elevated throughout the class and we were all pushed to the limit. TRX Training here includes cardio intervals or jumping rope, both of which will also keep your heart pumping.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Annie – back on Broadway

When you raise a curly headed moppet who sings and dances, her dream role is Annie. And when my youngest daughter was growing up, she played Annie in every theater camp or class she took. But then she hit puberty, got self-conscious, and stopped performing. She still loves attending theater, and the new Broadway production of Annie was high on our list. Sadly, the floodwaters were also high, and Hurricane Sandy delayed our date with the mutt Sandy. But when we finally got to see the show, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Ok, the lead has a questionable accent and mediocre pipes, but she sure is adorable. And the supporting cast all have strong voices and great comic appeal. And when you have a teen who idolizes Tyra Banks, Lady Gaga and Taylor Lautner’s abs, a little G–rated fun is most welcome. I also thought the staging was excellent, the sets were gorgeous and I've been waking up humming "Tomorrow" for almost a week.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Tale of 2 Skivvies

Ok, panties. I exercise almost daily, usually in old, cruddy underwear that would embarrass me in a car accident (thanks, mom). But recently, I decided to pimp my panties and try a pair of Lululemon underpants. These are made from a moisture wicking material called Transluxent, that keeps you dry no matter how much you sweat. When I bike and wear bike shorts, things can get pretty hot and bothered, but not with these. They are also seamless, which reduces chafing. Dear Kate, on the other hand, is for preventing accidents. These leak-proof lightly lined panties (available as bikinis, thongs and hipsters) are an extra, ecologically correct protection when you are wearing a tampon – no need to wear a panty liner. In fact, you can’t wear a liner with wings– the adhesive can wreck the absorbency. Dear Kates also uses a moisture-wicking fabric to keep you dry. Disclosure: while I received no compensation from Lululemon and purchased my own panties, I did receive a sample pair of Dear Kate underwear.

Say thank you – for free

Intensely flavored European chocolates are a way to indulge a craving without spending too many calories. And Merci chocolates (made in Germany, not France) are a fine example of this kind of chocolate. An assorted box comes with dark or milk chocolates, filled with coffee, hazelnut, praline or chocolate mousse. These chocolates would be great as a thank you to a special teacher, or as a gift to your family this holiday season. One reader will win a box of Merci chocolates. To enter the giveawy, leave your email and who you’d like to thank below.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fitness Challenge: The Sports Club/LA

The Sports Club/LA is one of the most awesome gyms in New York City. But in a rather remote location. I passed it on the way to puppy class for the guide dog I'm raising; it's on 61st Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues, right near an entrance & exit to the FDR. So not the most bucolic. But once you get inside: huge pool and hot tub. Gigantic rock climbing wall. Pilates machines. Acres of state of the art cardio equipment. Basketball, squash. Classes galore. The attended locker rooms are quite nice, with gels and lotions and newly tiled showers. There are even more exclusive private locker rooms, with fruit and a Keurig coffee machine. There is a rooftop lounge where movies are shown in summer. Childcare, a cafe and juice bar. A spa. The challenge may be comparing every other NYC gym to this one.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Hamilton College

If you send your child to an elite college, he or she usually has access to great sports facilities. And when you drop off your kid, pick him up, or visit for family weekend, you can often work out in the fitness center. Hamilton College reminds many of a country club. The Blood Fitness and Dance Center features state of the art cardio equipment, overlooking the gorgeous athletic fields. There is a huge pool, ice skating rinks and a rock wall, so you can exercise different muscle groups every day.
There are also plenty of free weights, stability and bosu balls, and a large stretch area. Faculty and students use the facilities regularly, so you don't feel like an out of place old person.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Magnolia Hotel Dallas

The Magnolia Hotel Dallas, a boutique hotel downtown, is next door to the flagship Neiman Marcus. If shopping isn't enough sport for you, there is a small fitness center. While the fitness room is bathed in sunlight, it has fairly creaky cardio machines, with only an overhead television. The free weights weren't much better - a limited range, in bad shape.
The rest of the hotel is fine, though, and I love that the included breakfast is so laid back - you can stop in for coffee and some fruit before you exercise, then eat more after, and no one is checking your room number. The hotel also offers a nightly evening reception with beer and wine, and room delivery of milk and cookies. So they really want you to work out. The hotel is a creative use of a historic building, the former headquarters of the Magnolia Petroleum Co. It has coffered ceilings and antique chandeliers in the lobby and the 24th floor has original glass transoms, ventilation grates, wood floors, paneling and marble.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hotel at home

If your family travels to you during the holidays, you need extra linens. One place to get sheets and towels is PeachSuite Hotel Supply, where you can get simple solid sheets. And if you encounter sheets on your travels that you like, you can find them here. Chains like Holiday Inn and Holiday Express get their Hotel Supplies here, so you can buy the sheets you like. Peachtree is also a Hotel Amenities Supplier to chains like Country Inn and Suites and Comfort Inn so you can get their soaps and lotions. This is also the place to stock up on dinnerware, glassware and flatware for extra guests at holiday meals.

Fitness Challenge: Dallas Omni

In Dallas, everything is large: the hair, the portion size, the gym at the Omni Dallas Hotel. To counteract the oversized margaritas and slabs of dessert on my recent trip to Dallas, I spent some serious time at the fitness center.
One of the nicest aspects (besides the shiny new equipment - the hotel is just a year old) of the gym is the view from the cardio machines. Ellipticals, stationary bikes and treadmills all faced the floor to ceiling windows. No dark, dank workout area here. There were also free weights, weighted balls, stability balls and strength machines. I thought about taking one of the cushy mats out to the pool deck, since I was inside most of the weekend for a convention. But the women next to me were telling a juicy story involving betrayal, drinking and lawsuits. And they weren't even discussing the new Dallas season. These were their actual lives. I turned down the volume on my iPod and eavesdropped.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fitness Challenge: the flu

When you have kids, you are prone to colds and other ailments (lice, anyone?) This time of year, I start thinking about the flu. Getting this sick poses a real workout challenge; who wants to exercise when you can barely get out of bed? So I am hedging my bets and getting my annual flu vaccine. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older. The 2012-2013 flu vaccines is available now and should be To find a flu vaccination clinic go to VaccineFinder. Maybe with all the exercising and kickboxing I’ve been doing I can kick flu’s butt.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Boston Travel

Getting in a good workout when you travel is easy at the InterContinental Boston. This waterfront luxury hotel has a huge state-of-the-art fitness center with treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical machines, all with their own screens.
There are lots of free weights and strength machines, an indoor pool and plenty of space to stretch. Best of all, the gym is open 24 hours for guests, so if you are jet lagged and up at 3am, you can work out instead of gorging on candy. There is also a spa for those who like to relax on vacation.

Cambodian Food in Boston

Ethnic cuisine is often a great bet for vegetarians who are traveling, and Elephant Walk, with 3 Boston area restaurants, is no exception.
Elephant Walk separates out Cambodian, French and vegetarian entrees, and even has gluten-free offerings. In its prix-fixe menu, it offers to make some dishes vegan or vegetarian. We were in faux-hog heaven. Spring rolls are an excellent way for kids to eat their veggies. The spring rolls at Elephant Walk had greens, shiitake mushrooms, carrots and bean sprouts, with a peanut dipping sauce. We had 2 different vegetarian curries, one redolent of ginger; both were spicy and filled with vegetables and tofu. The restaurant also made creative cocktails, and had a local IPA from Mayflower Brewing Company on tap.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Plank Pilates

Many gyms have classes they label Pilates, but few have the Pilates set up that a boutiques gym like Plank Pilates offers. This small storefront, around the corner from the Whole Foods Bowery, has space for 5 in its personalized classes, with padded stations, springs and bars.
I tried the Plank360 class, incorporating classic Pilates 9the 'Pilates 100,' a soft ball squeezed between your thighs and resistance work using the bars and springs, with cardio bursts. Throughout the workout, we did jumping jacks, suat jumps and running step ups to get our heartbeat up - then moved into planks, push ups and crunches. The gym also has tower classes, of just Pilates. The subterranean lounge has a light well in the staircase, and organic products in the rest room. You can take a jar of cucumber and lemon infused water to hydrate during your workout, and make tea and read magazine after. The tiny gym offers a great intro to Pilates, and is an antidote to crowded NYC mega-gyms.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Fitness Challenge, Day 96

CrossFit is a strength and conditioning program, and many gyms around New York are affiliated with it. CrossFit718 has one hour small group training sessions, with a coach and up to 10 participants in each class. The classes, which vary each time, include short bursts of intense activity, like using a medicine ball to squat, throw and catch. Do this enough times and your quads will be screaming. At the intro class I took, we were encouraged to reach a goal, and record our times or reps. This way, you can track improvement over time. My class included a 3-5 minute run (depending on your speed) with that same medicine ball, and a punishing routine of pushups, squats and sit ups. The bare bones gym is stocked with towels and a water cooler, and you might even be offered a banana at the end of your workout. Advanced athletes can try kettle bells, Olympic lifting and endurance training.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Fitness Challenge, Day 95

Yoga on the beach is a wonderful vacation treat, but if you are traveling to a city, you can find outdoor yoga when it is warm out.
In New York City, Bryant Park has outdoor yoga in late spring through summer. And Prospect Park, in Brooklyn offers yoga on summer evenings. Even better than enjoying the opportunity to exercise in a park is that these yoga classes are free. Exhale Spa in the Gansevoort Hotel recently had a free yoga day that was not quite as relaxing; we were in an outdoor plaza, surrounded by traffic, trucks unloading and tourists snapping photos. I am looking forward to my upcoming trip to Dallas, for the Family Travel Conference, where the new Klyde Warren Park will have free yoga classes by The Dallas Yoga Center. Sun salutations to the actual sun. It doesn't get much better than that.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 94

One nice thing about trying out different gyms and boutique fitness studios is that you can sample places that specialize in different types of exercise. At the large gym I formerly belonged to, yoga classes were taught to large groups and unless you were an experienced yogini, you were left in the cold. Pilates was even worse. I recently joined Whole Foods Wellness Club, which offers Pilates, yoga, Zumba and other fitness classes. Pilates is taught by an instructor from Plank Pilates Studio, which limits classes to 5. Our instructor was able to help each person frequently, making small adjustments that could be the difference between correctly exercising, say, your lower abdominals and injuring your back. The class incorporated a few yoga poses: planks, or course, plus child's pose, cobra and down dog. It was also almost an hour of core work without any neck or back strain. The boutique Plank Pilates Studio offers a relaxation lounge with scented cold or hot towels and flavored water or tea. Whole Foods doesn't have these amenities, but it does have a huge selection of healthy food for lunch after class.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 93

If you are an athlete, or just want to build strength, endurance and agility, check out As One, a high intensity program on the Upper West Side. The friendly trainers motivate small group work outs, with an hour long class called As One. Each class is different, though all start with a warm up, stretching and a series of movements. Our class had 3 components: a floor part, where we did 30 second intervals of burpees, planks, squat jumps, lunges, and other instruments of torture. Two other groups used the stair climber, or a stationary bike that also incorporated arms (think elliptical on wheels).
We did this in 4 minute rotations, then 8 minute rotations. Just for fun, we did pull ups and weighted rope slaps before our final stretches. The gym has plenty of foam rollers, which we used to stretch our muscles at the end' this is particularly helped for the IT band. As One also offers strength and mobility classes, and a once a week 2 hour class that could easily get you ready for a marathon or triathlon. The boutique gym does something few other small gyms do: it lets you take your first class free. Once you see how intensely you can work out - and still have fun - you will want to come back. The gym has men's and women's bathrooms, each with a shower, and provides towels and a water cooler. The women's room had tampons and hair products, nice touches in an otherwise bare bones place

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fitness Challenge: What to Wear

You are what you wear and what you wear to the gym can help you tone or lose even more weight. Delfin Spa has a new line of workout gear that uses bio ceramic fechnology to help you improve your look. The neoprene clothes, which are like wet suit material, include shorts, capris and tummy tighteners. The technology in the clothes uses body heat to increase metabolism – but you don’t feel hot when you are exercising. You can also wear the clothes under regular clothes to increase metabolism as you go about your day, though this probably doesn’t mean sitting on your couch eating M & M’s. The shorts and capris help break up cellulite, and if you use a cellulite cream, the cream will penetrate more deeply.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 92

If you are looking for a cheap, amenity-free gym with a variety of classes, JKM Fitness, Just Keep Moving fits the bill, This basement room, which retains the odor of those intensely working out, has kickbocking, boot camp, yoga and Zumba.

The floor has a thick rubber covering, so you don't even need sneakers. But bring your own water and a towel - they both cost $1 (the towel is just a rental).

My kickboxing boot camp with Javar Lee was an intense hour of interval training, plus punching and kicking. Boxing gloves and MMA are provided. Most of the class consisted of strength and cardio - burpees, pushups, mountain climbers, sit ups and jumping jacks.

JKM also offers personal training.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 91

Shopping is a sport, though in New York, it can be more of a blood sport. If you want to work out, and shop, the Westin Galleria Dallas is close to the huge mall, and has a the signature Westin WORKOUT gym.

The hotel is actually considered part of the Galleria complex, though it is nearly impossible to walk from one to the other. We tried, but not only was it over 100 degrees, there was also nowhere towalk.

So we confined our aerobic exercise to the air conditioned gym. The smallish gym, overlooking the outdoor pool, had state of the art cardio machines, a bosu ball and stability ball and free weights.

I forgot my headphones, but a Westin employee offered to go the front desk and returned with headphones for me.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 90

Lance Armstrong may not be the best role model for children, but he has created a cool community in Austin at his bike store, Mellow Johnny's. You can buy bicycles and accessories here, fuel up at the Juan Pelota Café, and rent bikes if you are vacationing in Austin.

Although the temperature topped 100 on our recent family vacation to Austin, we spent a few hours biking the mostly shaded Barton Creek Greenbelt, a flat trail which had hard packed soil and rocky parts. We biked around Zilker park, with a public pool, Barton Springs. We didn't have bathing suits, so we stayed in the free creek area, where locals and their dogs frolicked in the water.

Mellow Johnny's provides free water bottle with rentals, and a water fountain in the store has a drinking fountain (there are also showers for commuters, a nice touch). But the trail also had frequent drinking fountains, and coolers filled with ice water.

Still, it was so hot that we returned our bikes and headed to the rooftop pool at the Omni.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 89

Every night, bats gather and swoop from the Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, TX. Hundreds of onlookers crowd the bridges and the shores of Lady Bird Lake to witness their flight.

But a few hardy souls kayak on Lady Bird Lake to watch the bats. We took a kayaking tour with Live Love Paddle, which provides single or tandem kayaks, cold water and a light for the return trip.

This was no cakewalk in the summer heat. Though the temperature had dropped for the days high of 99, it was still steamy when we set off for our mile and a half trip. I took a tandem kayak with my 14 year old and she did not pull her weight, alternately resting or actively paddling against me.

But the view was spectacular and the work out was a welcome antidote to days of indoor exercise. We 'raced' against crew teams from UT Austin and no one was anointed with bat poop.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 88

Omni Hotels really go the extra mile. If you sign up for their loyalty program, you reap immediate rewards. On just your first stay, you get a free morning drink, delivered to your room. You also get free WiFi and a shoeshine, neither of which I used.

But the free coffee was a great perk (literally). I had my banana and caffeine and headed to the Omni Austin’s large fitness center.

The fitness center, through the lobby, has state of the art cardio equipment, a bosu ball and a stability ball, plus mats, free weights and space to stretch.

The cardio machines don’t have individual screens, but there are flat screen televisions that you can use.

The only problem we had was we didn’t have a TV guide. When you are traveling, you don’t know where Comedy Central or E! are, and in the fitness center, the channels didn’t even match the ones in the room.

But during our work out, a hotel employee came in to refresh the towels. I asked her about the stations, and she went and got someone who knew.

Truly above and beyond.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 87

In the 10 years I was a member of Body Reserve, I never once visited the locker room. the gym, in a bank at the corner of 5th Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was on my block, so I exercised, then went home.

I recently tried the gym out again. Body Reserve is now 16 blocks from my house, so I finally saw the locker room, along with an exercise studio for spin classes, boot camp, Zumba and other fitness classes.

The locker room has extremely narrow, old metal lockers and showers with empty soap and shampoo dispensers. Postage stamp size towels are only available at the front desk. So I was not missing much.

But the gym has a great stretch room, with stability and bosu balls, a variety of hand weights, mats and plenty of room to do your own exercise routine. The room is also quiet; the music that plays on the main floor does not penetrate here.

Body Reserve has 2 loft areas, one with treadmills looking out over the street and one with recumbent bikes, elliptical trainers and step machines, overlooking the main gym area. Cardio machines are on the older side, with tiny screens, but a selection of magazines nearby.

The gym, an independent facility, has a friendly neighborhood feel. And while there are few amenities (the mints at check-in desk are a nice touch) it is a warm, welcoming gym. Just bring your own shampoo and towel.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 86

Travelers often say these want to meet REAL people, not other tourists. When you are sightseeing, this can be challenging. But one way to find the real people in another city is to work out in a gym there, or go for a run.

On a recent day in Philadelphia, I took advantage of a free trial at a downtown gym to work out. Weston Fitness is undergoing a huge renovation, adding several new classroom studios. i t already has a large studio where spin, Zumba and strength classes are held, and a temporary studio for kettlebells.

Although Philadelphia is quite close to NY, the city has a very different feel. But the gym attracted the same mix of casual exercisers and hard core gym rats that you find in NY.

Cardio machines were positioned to look out over the street, and weights, stability balls and bosu balls were plentiful.

But the women's locker room had an odd smell (it is not scheduled for a make over) with no or even hooks soap in the showers and old lockers.

The gym did have an interesting fitness program, M.A.P.P. (Metabolic. Analysis, Program, Planning) which calculates metabolic rate and fat in each person, and sets up an individualized fitness plan.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 85

A rose is a rose is a rose. But SoulCycle studios are not all alike.

I took a class at Soul Tribeca, which was no easy feat. With construction closing streets everywhere, I had to walk about 15 minutes out of my way just to reach the studio, which is in the same building as a Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble and Bed, Bath & Beyond. You can feed body and soul all in one location.

Unlike the Union Square SoulCycle, this one was not crowded; in fact, the class I took had mostly empty bikes. And while the bikes were crammed in, they weren't quite as claustrophobic.

The class featured the same full-body, high intensity cardio workout, but the music was not ear-splittingly loud. The changing room had the same amenities, plus face wash and organic body lotion, nice touches (and probably purchased from the adjacent Whole Foods). And there were 4 flavors of gum for getting rid of that post work out dry mouth.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Fitness Challenge: Day 84

Having been a spin devotee for years, I finally reached the Holy Grail, SoulCycle. I had won a few free rides a long time ago, then lost my voucher, so I held it against the place.

I can see why people are addicted to SoulCycle. The high energy boutique studio gives you a full body workout in 45 minutes. I usually think the crunches on a bike are pointless, but when you do them for most of the class, followed by weights, you feel exhausted everywhere. In a good way.

SoulCycle requires you to wear bike shoes (free for the first class, $3 rental after). The advantage is you don't have to lug sneakers. But the disadvantage is it reminds you of bowling.

The place is definitely quirky. Hair bands and earplugs are thoughtfully provided. But lowering the music would actually be better for your ears.

The women's changing room had lots of amenities, from 2 kinds of tampons to razors and deodorant. But the studio is so crowded that it is impossible to actually use anything after a class. There was a huge line for the showers, and nowhere to change. Lockers are co-ed, so floor space in the tiny changing room is at a premium.

Just like in the class. More bikes than you would think possible are wedged in. When I crunched, my elbows knocked into the women next to me. When we put the weights behind us, I hit the bike behind me.

Yet an assistant came over to me before class to set my bike up, then emailed me the specs for my next class. As soon as class ended, cleaners returned the studio to its spotless state.

In the end, SoulCycle is a bit like working out on a rush hour subway. You complain about it, but you do it anyway.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Family Travel Down Under

One of the most daunting aspects of taking a family vacation to Australia is the flight. Both the cost, and the length of the trip, can be overwhelming.

Travel.com.au, based in Australia, offers a wealth of cheap flights www.travel.com.au/flights.html, form the United States and worldwide, to Australia.

And you are not working with no-name airlines. They have relationships with Qantas, United Airlines, and Singapore Airlines.

Flying a major airline means you can get frequent flier miles towards your next trip.

Travel.com.au also has deals on hotels and car rentals (car hire in Aussie speak) all through Australia, making it a one-stop website.

Now I just have to figure out how to entertain the kids the long flight.

Fitness Challenge: Day 83

The Gansevoort Park Avenue Hotel didn't hide its gym away in the basement. The decent sized gym, ith an Exhale Spa studio down the hall, has large windows overlooking the street. You can even keep an eye on the corner Starbucks and time your workout to end when the line winds down.

The well-appointed, impeccably clean gym offers free weights, cardio machines and weight benches, plus mats and room to use them. Amenities are limited to soft towels and cold filtered water, but if you use the bathroom in the attached spa, you can help yourself to hair spray, or a rain head shower.

The bold face names who frequent the hotel generally head all the way upstairs, to the rooftop pool, but the day I was at the gym, a few well-toned people made good use of the space.