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Jennifer Czepiel

Jenn is a writer and bellydance instructor in Phoenix, Arizona. Her passion and creativity have given her the unique opportunity to help women of all ages discover how fitness can be fun and words can be powerful.

Winter Workout Warnings

A Few Guidelines for Exercising in the Cold

Is it more difficult for the body to recover in the colder weather? Are exercises and exertions surprisingly more trying even though we are not sweating? For those who would rather wait until cooler temperatures to work on their workout, be aware of some of the issues that may arise even though we may not recognize them as easily as in the hotter months.

Dehydration is Still a Risk!
Taking a run in the brisk morning or even afternoon of winter may seem like a good way to avoid working up too much of a sweat and still feel refreshed after your adventure. Drier air though can cause as much dehydration and loss of bodily fluids as the boiling summer sun. Even if you choose not to wear much more than sweatpants, and a long sleeved shirt to take your run, be sure to drink plenty of liquids. You may not be peeling off soaking sweaty socks after a good hike, but you are still working hard. In the drier air we may not feel the sweat wicking away, and as our bodies work to retain heat we are not sweating to stay cool, but water is being used to be sure. If drinking cool water seems unappetizing after a chilly outing, try keeping water just above room temperature.

Dress Appropriately
When we go out for a run or a brisk hike we may still be thinking of how warm that will cause us to be. But that euphoria of inner warmth can be deceiving. In very cold climates frostbite is a very real concern. While the blood is pumping hard through the body we may fail to realize how numb ears, nose, fingers and toes have become. Layers of gloves and thicker socks will protect fragile digits. A good pair of earmuffs, a snug hat or a thick knit headband can save ears from turning pink and having painful cold damage. Keeping ears and throat covered can also guard against respiratory and sinus issues.

Don’t Over Do It
When we are not sweating up a storm we can feel as though our bodies are not really working. In the cold though, joints can be stiffer than in warmer weather, and the heart and respiratory system can be working twice as hard. Stretching and indoor warm up exercises can be doubly important during cold weather months to prevent sprains, and injuries. Keep in mind that the heart and lungs are under more stress in cold weather and while your muscles and mind may be feeling wide awake without the sluggishness of overheating, cardiac stress is a major issue in winter exertion.

No matter the time or the season, working our bodies is beneficial, but always be aware of the signs your body is giving you and see a doctor if anything seems out of the ordinary.

Christmas History Lessons

Books to Read and Learn About the Holidays

With so many differing opinions on how to celebrate the Christmas holiday, what do historians say? Here are a few books that cover the facts behind the fantasy and whimsy of one of the most popular holidays of the year. Unwrap some history before the gifts under the tree, and have some great conversation starters at the Christmas dinner table.

Christmas: A Candid History by Bruce David Forbes
This practical guide to some of the most common holiday traditions and where they derived from can be found in this candid look at the Christmas season. Bruce David Forbes offers readers of all ages a peek into the past and some of the more bizarre histories of the origins of Christmas. Great as a coffee table book for guests, or as something to read out loud by the fire while sipping cocoa. The whole family can learn something on the holiday school break.

The Battle for Christmas by Stephen Nissenbaum
Who were the first ones to wage a war on Christmas? Some may be shocked to learn it was the Puritans of colonial America. With traditions deeply rooted in Pagan practices, the deeply devout Puritans were outraged by the common celebrations of winter holidays. Learn how these early Christians felt there was no place for Christmas and its revelry. This surprising history will have readers questioning the history of Christmas’s coming to America.

Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide by Christian Ratsch
If you are looking for a history even further back than the Miracles on Thirty-Fourth Street or the Night Before Christmas’s of Clement C. Moore, check out this dive into the Pagan roots of some of our modern holiday traditions. Pagan Christmas reaches across time and oceans to bring out the stories of Yuletide logs, midnight rides over the sky by ancient gods, and how the festival of lights once looked more like Halloween trick or treat shenanigans.

Cozy up by the fire as you and your family enjoy some of these enlightening trips into history. As you read maybe you will also ask about some of the traditions built by the generations of your family.


Books: The Gift You Open Again and Again

Choosing and Caring for Used Books

On the topic of books and gift giving, what are some opinions of re-gifting books? Books are something that do not necessarily need to be new to be given as gifts. Some true bibliophiles on your list might readily prefer to have a vintage copy of their favorite story. The classic look of hard bound books and the smell of aged paper can be quite stimulating for some. Okay, enough about what I like. What are some rules to go by when re-gifting or giving used books.

Online Shoppers Bewary!

When shopping for used or out of print books online, even on sites as reputable as Amazon or Alibris, be certain to read carefully. The description of the book should clearly state any issues the used copy may have. Some things to watch out for are foxing, and spine twisting. These may be minimal but if not then they can severely damage the overall look of the book. Even an old book should be in good shape if given as a gift. Also, look for notes about writing in the pages. Not everyone reads a book casually. Some make copious margin notes and highlight favored lines. While this can be interesting to a fan of the work, it can also seriously diminish the value.

A Book in the Hand

If you are fortunate to live in a place with at least one good book seller the chances are they will have older books as well as like new materials. When looking for a like new book keep in mind that many of the stories published as Mass Market Paperbacks were not really made to last. These are those paperbacks we take with us everywhere because they fit so nicely in backpacks, purses and suitcases. This also means they have seen some action. Heavily creased spines, dog-eared pages, and bent covers are some of the common ailments of Mass Market Paperbacks. Check if pages seem loose or even missing.

Classic and Modern

With older books there is a magic to some gentle wear and tear. A classic hard bound novel that has aged gracefully can be a beautiful piece of nostalgia to a bibliophile. Books post the mid 1900’s though, and especially paperbacks, should probably look far less faded and dusty than their aging counterparts. There are some ways to clean up and choose better when it comes to these. Look for books with dust jackets. Even if this paper cover looks ratty and worn it has likely done its job and protected the hardcover from fading. Remove the dust jacket and viola! You have a like new book.

It’s Alive!

One last thing to be very aware of is mold! While older books do have that wonderful aroma of aging, mold is something else entirely! Even if the book seems to be in otherwise good condition check for dark black or green spots near the spine, as well as more earthy odors. Even a small amount of mold can destroy not only the book in question, but an entire collection.

Logging in Your Workout

How hunting for a Christmas Tree can be a great workout

Store bought trees are perfect. They are uniformly green. They are the perfect shape. There are no little gaps and bare spots. The trunk is perfectly straight, and there is always the perfect place at the top to place the star. The same can be said for the fake firs out there.

I am not knocking the perfection of the store bought tree, nor am I saying that if you have an allergy to plant life you should ignore it for the holidays. To the contrary, do what you need to do survive the season of the evergreen.

That said, what better way can you think of to get your workout in and have something to show for it and brag about through to the new year? When planning on cutting your own tree, there are some tips, tricks, and safety measures to keep in mind. Hunting the perfect tannenbaum is not for the faint of heart.

1. Make the trip a family or friends affair. Trekking out into the wilderness, no matter how well mapped out, is not a solo mission. Bringing friends and family on your adventure is not only safer, it is more fun. If you are in a climate that does get snow, this is a great opportunity for random snowball fights, or making your mark with a snowman or two.

2. Dress for the occasion. No matter if your winter weather is 50 degrees or 20 degrees, layered clothing is always the best option. Heavy boots and thick socks will not only keep the chill and frostbite at bay, it will also guard against blisters from walking on often uneven earth. While you may want to use work gloves when you finally find your perfect tree, mittens or thicker lined gloves should be worn while on the hunt. And don’t forget a proper hat. Most body heat is lost through the feet and the head, so keep those covered!

3. Sawing logs. No this does not mean it is time for a nap. If you decide to really get your workout with rustic style and hand saw that fir down, be prepared for a serious upper body training. While most of the trees you will find will have trunks manageable by just one person giving it a good go, some may require taking turns with an equally able bodied friend. This is not only a muscle focus workout, it is cardio as well, and can be even more trying on the heart in the cold.

Whether you decide to get your winter workout by hauling back a Yule log as in days of old. Or to take the easy way out, do take some time to enjoy the cold weather and play in the snow if possible.

Season's Readings

New Kindle Books with Holiday Themes

It is that chilly time of year when all we want to do is curl up with a good book and some hot cocoa. So while the fire is flickering in the hearth and our toes are snuggled in fuzzy socks, what will be tucked in our eReader?

Here are some of the top listed books on Amazon’s Holiday Kindle list from some Indie authors.

Christmas Reflections by: Joanne Jaytanie
If you are looking for a story about small town struggles and escaping the big city bustle, as well as the added bonus of a sweet holiday romance take a peek at Joanne Jaytanie’s Christmas Reflections. This holiday romance novel will have you cheering for the four heroines fighting to save the hundred year old Christmas tree farm, while one discovers love in an unexpected place. Published by Books to Go Now, this little romantic gem will certainly warm some chill nights.

The Fruitcake: A Christmas in the South tale by: Caren Rich
If romance is not your thing but you are looking for something for the young at heart, grab some hot cocoa and curl up for a rousing good time with The Fruitcake by Caren Rich. Fruitcake may be a tradition around the holidays but it is one most of us would rather avoid. In this story retired Robert enlists his grandson to deal appropriately with this unwanted gift of dried fruit and bland cake.

Starbird’s Special Gift by: Jim Shields
Going home for the holidays often means spending time with the smallest of family members. Spend some quality time rather than all of your Christmas money with the kids in your life with Starbird’s Special Gift. This sweet tale of a boy and a found bird will certainly warm the heart of any age. Maybe even read out loud by the fire, with everyone taking turns. Once again this is a Kindle edition read, so no one will be the wiser if you read it again by yourself.

The Santa Drag by: Liv Rancourt
On the topic of quick holiday reads; check out The Santa Drag. This quick read will snap you right out of your holiday blues and make you forget all the stress of shopping at the malls this season of giving. When a young actress takes on a role as a Mall Santa she never expects to meet up with her favorite actor! Hilarity and romance rule this Yuletide tale.

Holiday Food Gifts Made in the USA
This one may not be fiction, but it is full of interesting finds. Discover the horn of plenty when it comes to gifts of food for everyone on your list, and every treat is made right here in the states. If that doesn’t pique your holiday appetite I don’t know what will. Learn about some of the little known munchies that can be wrapped up for everyone on your list this year.

Season’s Readings to you and yours!

December Fitness Fun

Fun Ways to Keep Moving through the Holidays

Before the main event of feasting on Thanksgiving day, we offered some tips to stick to your diet on the big day. Or at least, how not to completely ruin a year of hard work. Now there are a few weeks before the next big chow down on Christmas week and the parties of New Year’s Eve. Before we get to these next big eating days, it is no time to slack off on your workout. But, during this time of year there are other parties, gatherings, family and friends visiting from out of town. So many things that can distract us from out fitness routine. There are just as many advantages and new opportunities to shake up your workout.

Instead of seeing this as a time to slack off, consider some of the many ways to increase your activity and try something a little different.

Walk the neighborhood see the lights. This time of year is wonderful for seeing new things in your daily walk, or run. You may not be as interested in getting outside if the weather is poor, but a good brisk walk just as the lights are coming on, can be a lot of fun. You may decide to do your walk indoors as well. The malls and shopping centers during the holiday season can be stressful for shoppers, but there is plenty of people watching, window decor and interesting sights where it is warmer indoors.

While we are out and about this year with family and friends, and maybe not in our own neighborhood. How about a game of pickup football in the warmer climates. Indoor games like ping pong can be great if it is too chilly out side. Think about bringing out those interactive gaming devices too like the Nintendo Wii. It is not just for the kids. If you are feeling guilty at a party move away from the buffet line and listen to the music. Dancing has kept generations slim through the holiday season.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a colder climate there are so many great things to do that cannot be done the rest of the year. Many of the winter activities also burn more calories because the body is not only working to keep moving, it is also trying to stay warm, and we are usually wearing more weight in clothes. While downhill skiing is great for balance and the core, cross country skiing is an unbeatable cardio! Even building a snowman will keep you from looking like a snowball by the end of the holiday season.

Happy Holidays! Enjoy those winter activities and stay warm!

Cyber Monday

Cyber Monday Book Ideas

Little Authors Big Savings

Happy Cyber Monday! For those of you who are not big into the shopping madness of the holiday season, Cyber Monday is the online shopping equivalent of Black Friday. It is also a really great day to stock those shelves and eReaders with some amazing new books! We are talking about shopping for the book lovers in your life, and yourself as well, of course. There can be even greater savings on Cyber Monday if you seek out the newest authors as well as the latest book releases. Indie authors are looking for readers with unique tastes so you will be sure to find something different that will be the talk around the tree on Christmas morning and through 2015.

So, what are some of the new ebook finds this season?

Angel Rising by Deena Remiel
How about checking out the latest in Romance fiction from Deena Remiel. These are no Christmas angels in the Angel Rising series, but they will warm you in the winter months ahead. Find Angel Rising and other Deena Remiel books on Amazon!

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Sure you could just watch the new television series based off of this epic by Diana Gabaldon, but why wait to see what happens to your favorite characters? Check out the books that started the newest television series crazy with Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

Hellion King of Faerel by Ted Fauster
Are you looking for something a little darker in this season of light? How about a journey into the depths and adventure that await in this next high fantasy novel by Ted Fauster. Continuing the trials of the characters introduced in Deomans of Faerel, Hellion King of Faerel will make your inner adventurer come alive.

Goats in Underpants by Mimi Foxmorton
If you are shopping for a younger reader on your holiday lists, prepare yourself for a wild time with Goats in Underpants! Mimi Foxmorton’s hilarious adventures are loosely based, with a wink and a nod, at the shenanigans of her own brood of goats.

This is just a handful of some of the amazing Indie authors and their stories available this holiday season. Remember, books are the gift you can open again and again. Check into Amazon’s Indie Books department for so much more! You may just be the one who discovers the next hot author that all of your friends will be talking about in 2015. Shop small, read small, and give big this Cyber Monday.

Books Thanksgiving

Books to Read on Thanksgiving Break

Titles to Make Them Look Twice

What to be caught reading this Thanksgiving break? Whether you are heading off to the airport to sit for hours waiting for your flight, or even longer on the flight itself, there will be time to read. Or maybe you are driving to your destination of choice and you are not one of those who gets car sick from reading while in the passenger seat. And, then there is the time spent at the homes of family or friends who may not have the same television viewing tastes you have, and you will need something to occupy your mind. Taking a book with you, whether it is a print paperback, or the latest download to your Ereader, can be a great way to fill some time.

When you do choose that piece of reading material though, there may be a few things to keep in mind, so here is a list of get books that will not only spark your interest but will also make a personal statement without your saying a word. Here are some great reads that may even spark a conversation that you never expected and really at some interesting personal stories to your Thanksgiving break.

Look Smart:

Animal Farm by: George Orwell
While mom is setting the table with something from, well, pretty much every one of the creatures characterized in this Orwell novel, you can be considering how similar some of the diplomacy, or lack there of, discussed in this classic can be applied to your family gathering. A fairly easy read by today’s standards, this book is a great conversation starter and will certainly keep things interesting around the dinner table.

Sex Appeal:

Fear of Flying by: Erica Jong
So you are sitting in the airport and there are endless singles flying home for family gatherings. Be honest, how many of them are wondering how to let mom and dad down easy that their last relationship did not pan out so well. Romance just may be on their minds as they consider making a better impression by the end of December. Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying is not only a sexy little read about escaping your boundaries, but it can also be a caveat to thinking about that fling during break.

Rebel, Rebel
The Wasp Factory by: Iain Banks
Want to make sure your entire family knows you have no interest in discussing your personal choices in life, love, economic security, or politics? Leave this little gem about a sane and collected seventeen year old who tells his story of how he killed three people. Yeah. That will keep them guessing when you say you would really like to carve the turkey this year.

Whatever you read on your break, reading something is always a great way to meet people, as equally as a means to avoid conversation.

Healthy Thanksgiving!

Choosing the Best Options at Any Table

Family is coming into town. They are staying with you. They are looking to connect, hang out, see the sights. And then there is that huge Thanksgiving meal! Is this the beginning of the end for your fitness routine and healthy eating habits?

It does not have to be. There are so many things about visits from family and the onset of the holiday festivities that can be a blessing instead of a curse. Think of the changes to your routine as a way to shake things up in your workout schedule rather than tossing it out the window.

Let’s start with the eating, since that is the biggest concern for many of us who are typically light eaters or restrict our diets to only the most healthy treats.

Number One: Look on the Light Side

Sure there will be plenty of turkey and stuffing, and starchy potatoes, and ladles full of gravy! The smell alone may break you, but look on the light side. When it comes down to it there are as many dishes to load up on as there are to avoid. Pass the mashed potatoes in favor of sweet potatoes, skipping the marshmallowy topping of course. Instead of heaping on the stuffing, opt for the greens on the table. Green bean casseroles and brussel sprouts are great sides to the main course.

Number Two: Flip the Bird

That brings us to that giant bird in the room. There is nothing wrong with some good turkey, unless it is drowning in gravy. White meat is a better choice because it is not as greasy as the darker meat, but the temptation to pour on the gravy and not choke on dry meat is there. That is where those tasty cranberry or orange relishes come in. While still higher in sugar than nothing at all they are a great alternative to the heavyweight gravy.

Number Three: Seconds and Slices

Worse than the types of food is the amount that we often consume on the big Thanksgiving feast day. No one says you have to eat it all! Think of the Thanksgiving table as the buffet at a restaurant. Take only what you know is the appropriate portion size for your diet and do not go back for seconds. There is always tomorrow to much on those left overs.

Dessert may be the real kicker. Avoiding it all together will only cause you to midnight snack it when no one is looking. Allow yourself a treat, but keep the slices small and avoid heavy toppings. Choosing a slice of apple or pumpkin pie and a nice cup of tea will be more satisfying than sulking in the corner while your family and friends enjoy theirs.

One of the tendencies is to binge out and wonder why we feel awful afterwards. Enjoy conversation, drink plenty of water, and listen to when your body says you are full. There is no reason to starve on a day that is about good food and abundance, but moderation is key.

Toni Morrison: Writer with Wit and Power

One Writer’s View of the Colbert Report Interview

Literary Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison graced the Colbert Report with her presence last week. There is always something to be said about writers and wit and Toni Morrison absolutely owns her ability to swap snark with comedian Stephen Colbert. When asked if she felt worthy of standing among the ranks as those as great as Ernest Hemmingway and Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison offered a both humble and witty response in that she felt her books are worthy.

It is something many writers in both poetry and prose consider. It is their words that make the mark on the hearts of men and women, not themselves. Writers are in many ways separate while simultaneously bound to the stories we offer to the world.

Toni Morrison did more than swap wit with Stephen Colbert, she also did what some modern writers fear to do publicly. She spoke on a hot button issue. It takes guts to write the truth in fiction, it takes even more to speak it on real issues without the veil of the page to hide behind.

Toni Morrison made it clear that labels and archetypes belong on the page not in real life. When asked if a white male could understand the struggle of an African-American woman, Toni Morrison shook the crowd yet again with her response. Toni clearly stated that she did not want to be considered an African-American woman, she wants to be known as an American writer, if she must be labeled at all.

Toni Morrison’s books are definitely heaped with the stories of the lives of black characters. From a young black girl’s desire to attain the beauty she feels can only be found in blue eyes and crowned with blonde hair, to the struggle of an American slave, there is little doubt that Toni Morrison’s stories are told to give voice to the particular struggle of African-Americans, but is it through this interview that we see that Toni Morrison’s real goal is to remove the labels and show that it is not as much about race – which she makes very clear is a societal construct – as it is about discovering your truth and strength.

I look forward to reading Toni Morrison’s books and as a writer, I feel a strong desire to live up to that label that she has set to a new standard.