Category Archives: Movies/DVD

Fitness Review: Emergency Workout

Current, 2001

Instructor: Minna Lessig (Ms. Fitness USA 1997), with two background girls
Formats: DVD and VHS. No longer in print, so you must buy from independent sellers such as those on Amazon Marketplace. A new copy goes for nearly 40 dollars and used copies start at almost 10 – Minna is well-liked!
The Big Draw: The claim is that you can slim down and get in better shape within 6 weeks, just in time for your wedding/vacation/whatever. You get two workouts which you can use together or separately: one cardio program and one toning program.
Bonus DVD Extras: Minna’s bio, success and nutrition tips, link to the Emergency Workout website (no longer online)
Special Extra: Includes a diet planner pamphlet with fit tips, menu plan, sample workout schedule for the Emergency Workout program, and problems and solutions. The same success and nutrition tips that are on the DVD are also in there.

Pros: Let’s start with Minna! She’s one of my favorite DVD instructors ever – upbeat and friendly but not overly perky. She is easy to understand, gives you a little extra time to get moves down, and performs perfectly cued with the music. The Toning program (which suggests “light weights” but I use 8 pounders) is a nice strenuous strength training workout for your whole body, and you can tell it’s doing what it’s supposed to. The diet planner includes delicious-sounding recipes. In fact, I’m going to make some!

Cons: The Cardio program, while fun, didn’t pose much of a challenge to me at all. Sure, I’m hardly a beginner, but I’m not Miss Superfly Fitness either! I didn’t break much of a sweat or feel like I was blasting major fat grams. I would recommend the Cardio segment only if you are entirely new to aerobics or haven’t worked out in eons. I do think anything that gets somebody moving is great, but I don’t see how the Cardio is conducive to helping you burn major calories for “emergency” purposes. Now on to a MAJOR flaw in this program. I checked out the recipes in the diet planner: it says each breakfast and lunch is no more than 250 calories; each dinner, no more than 350; each snack, no more than 200. I have been tracking calories and serving sizes long enough to know there is NO WAY this is accurate for these recipes! In my opinion, these are awfully low counts for meals anyway. But for example, one of the breakfast options is the following:

2-Garden Omlette (sic)
2 Eggs or 4 egg whites or Egg Beaters equiv. to 2 eggs, scrambled with 1/2 C sliced fresh mushrooms, 1/2 cup chopped red or green peppers, 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes.
1 Bialy toasted, with 2 tbsp. cream cheese. 1/4 Cantalope (sic) crushed.

Wow! If that amounts to 250 calories or less, I’m thrilled! Because a Bialy (a New York style bagel) most definitely has more than 150 calories, probably closer to 200. The cream cheese is about 50 calories. And there isn’t any size guidance on the eggs, but let’s say you get two of the smallest eggs you can find – still 50 calories an egg! The veggies and fruit don’t add many calories, but without even taking them into account, we’re still already up to 350! I think somebody messed up somewhere. Some of these other recipes are much closer to the counts claimed in the pamphlet, but many are definitely NOT. For example, one of your >200 calorie snacks includes 2 small biscotti (a regular biscotti is nearly 150 calories, and I have never seen a “small” one, but assuming it’s half the size of a regular = bam! 150 calories), and a carton of low fat (not nonfat) vanilla yogurt (which is 150-200 calories, or maybe 100 if you get the smallest size possible). That’s already well over – and there are three ingredients to this snack left. With that said, these are still mostly healthful recipes – but do not rely on your being able to put together an 1100-1200 calorie day with these as the pamphlet claims.

Verdict: Despite the caveats, the Toning workout is great and so is Minna, so this is not one I will be getting rid of.

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Christmas Countdown: Holiday Movie Guide

It’s so cold! Sounds like the perfect excuse to me to stay indoors with a good movie, my baby and our two fat warm kitties, and some hot coffee! (Put a dollop of Peppermint Mocha Coffee-Mate in it – tastes good in hot cocoa too!) Here are my recommendations, as well as some I’d recommend against!

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Lovable Charlie Brown becomes frustrated with the over-commercialism of Christmas and goes looking for its real meaning. Leave it to Linus to weigh in with a timely speech like he always does. If you didn’t catch this one on TV, pick it up on DVD or Blu-ray. I bought mine in a three pack of Charlie Brown holiday DVDs (with six TV specials total – two on each disc).
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A Garfield Christmas

Back in the good old days, this special came on right after Charlie Brown’s. Garfield, Jon, and Odie pack up to visit Jon’s family on the farm and hang with Grandma and crew. I love old school Garfield so much. I don’t think you can watch this on TV anymore, but currently, this is found as one of three specials on the Garfield Holiday Celebrations DVD.
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The Muppet Christmas Carol

Gonzo pretends to be Charles Dickens long enough to take viewers through a fabulous musical version of the classic story. Michael Caine is one of my favorite Scrooges ever, and Kermit the Frog plays the perfectly affable Bob Cratchit! And in what other movie can you find a cart of vegetables singing about how terrible Scrooge is?
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Christmas Eve on Sesame Street

Why do I not own this? Make fun of me all you want; I ADORE this special! Big Bird worries over Santa Claus in his typical neurotic fashion, Bert and Ernie unintentionally re-enact The Gift of the Magi, Oscar gleefully wrecks people’s Christmases and Cookie Monster eats everything in sight.
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How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Well, I couldn’t not put this brief special in here. It’s not one of my absolute favorites, but I enjoy it nonetheless. I’m talking about the original, not the remake with Jim Carrey, which looks horrendous. (I think I might’ve actually watched it at some point and blocked it out of my memory because it was too painful to retain)
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Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer

This is one of my absolute favorites – the Rudolph story in stop-motion animation complete with an abominable snow monster! But watching this movie as an adult does make one take notice of some things. For starters, gee, thanks Donner for saying searching for your son is “man’s work”. Secondly, don’t you think it’s a little messed up to introduce a “misfit” bird who can’t fly, and THEN show us a scene of Santa tossing him out of his sleigh from 10,000 feet? And WOW – the reindeer (including Rudolph’s parents and coach), Santa, and all the elves are SO MEAN! The adults even encourage the kids to make fun of Rudolph and ostracize him! OHHH but what’s that, his nose can help guide a sleigh? Guess those who are different are only acceptable when you can use ’em for something, huh Santa? You don’t fool me, you jolly old oaf!
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Will Vinton's Claymation Christmas

I doubt this one comes on TV any more, but please try to catch this cute comedy if you can! Dinosaurs Rex and Herb take you through a selection of favorite Christmas carols; Rex gives you the history while Herb wanders off eating everything. The California Raisins even make an appearance!
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Frosty the Snowman

Okay, so I had never seen this Rankin/Bass classic until a few years ago and Eric and I just about died laughing. A big doofy snowman runs around talking in a dopey voice while some equally dopey kids chase him around …. what more do you want? HEY HEY KIDS! Man, Rankin/Bass specials are so weird. I grew up thinking they were fabulous when I’d only seen Rudolph. Now I start watching more of them and find that many of the others seem to be awful. I’ll let you know for sure when I’ve seen them all. The Cricket on the Hearth was the most recent one I saw, and I wouldn’t wish that one on my worst enemy, if I had a worst enemy, which thankfully I do not (and I’m not taking any applications either). I wouldn’t show it to any kids who are of course the intended audience. I think they’d be bored by the storyline and terrible songs, and then probably traumatized when someone pulls a gun and shoots two of the animal characters out of nowhere FOR NO REASON. The utter butchering of this Charles Dickens Christmas story annoys me to no end, but for the sake of both your sanity and my own I’m going to stop thinking about it now.
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Elf

This is such a funny and cute Christmas movie; I was surprised by how much I liked it when I first saw it. It parodies other Christmas specials while introducing Buddy, a man raised as an elf and sent off to New York City to find his real dad – a workaholic who has no clue Buddy exists. I thought it was going to be dumb, but it made me laugh and yes, warmed my heart.
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A Christmas Carol

There are tons and tons of Christmas Carol movies out there, but this one is my personal favorite (aside from the Muppet one)! George C. Scott is a most excellent Scrooge and does Dickens justice! So if you’re going to rent a Carol, make it this one!
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White Christmas

This is a very well-made musical from 1954 starring Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney. Out of the Army and enjoying post-World War II life, a pair of professional entertainer friends find a way to save the inn run by their beloved former general. And although it does make an appearance, the song “White Christmas” is not actually from this movie – Bing Crosby sang it in a prior movie, 1942’s Holiday Inn.
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Little Women

I love this movie version of the Louisa May Alcott novel with its all-star cast, including one of my favorites, Winona Ryder. My sister and I make it a point to watch this together every year.
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It's a Wonderful Life

Guess what? I somehow managed to not see this classic until I was in my early 20s. Frank Capra is a down-on-his-luck businessman ready to off himself on Christmas Eve, when an angel appears to show him how much better the world is with him in it. It made me bawl, which is probably why I haven’t watched it again since, but it’s a good film!
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Bad Santa

If you are looking for something a little less feel-good but a lot more hysterical, have a good laugh at this Billy Bob Thornton film that is decidedly not for kids. Thornton stars as the worst low-down alcoholic mall Santa Claus you have ever seen … it’s a classic all right.
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Scrooged

If you want a more modern take on Carol you can’t go wrong with this Bill Murray hilarity. It’s been far too long since I took the time to watch this. Murray is a modern-day Scrooge-ish executive who is the biggest jerk imaginable, but don’t worry, the three ghosts we all know and love aren’t going to let him get away with that!
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Black Christmas (remake)

Would you rather scream than laugh or cry this Christmas? Try Black Christmas (the original or the remake). Personally speaking, the remake makes me laugh rather than scream (despite some disgusting moments) but I’m weird like that. Enjoyable either way!
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Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

I could never leave out the Home Alone movies about Kevin McAllister battling some bumbling robbers! They are both great if you ask me, with all kinds of silly slapstick humor. You get a creepy tarantula in the first one, a perfect Tim Curry in the second, and a parody of old gangster films in both! Now I hope I don’t have to tell anyone this, but do yourself a favor and stay away from any other sequels if you can help it because they’re awful and a cheap attempt to cash in on the success of the originals. They’ll try to fool you into buying a set of all four movies together – take it from me, RUN FOREST, RUN and just buy the set of the first two!

Those are some of my recommendations! I have plenty more, like The Hebrew Hammer (Jewish superhero saves Hanukkah from Santa’s evil son) and Nothing Like the Holidays (Puerto Rican family reunites for Christmas) and of course my recently re-discovered She-Ra & He-Man Christmas special! But I’m tired of writing already. Haha! What are your favorites?

The Halloween Countdown: Spooky Movies

Eric and I always watch lots of Halloween specials and scary movies to help celebrate the season. I have my favorites, and Eric grew up watching monster movie specials on television. Combined with Netflix, we’re left with no shortage of things to watch. But some of our choices have been better than others. Here is a small sampling.

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Come on, it’s a classic. You can’t watch Halloween specials without watching this. As an adult I find myself picking out all kinds of things in this Peanuts special that I’m sure I didn’t notice when I was younger. For example, when Linus takes one bite of his apple in the opening sequence, only to then toss it right into a trashcan, I thought, “How wasteful!” How … grown-up of me, tee hee. But some things don’t change. I still think Violet’s mean girl laugh at Linus as he waits in the pumpkin patch is hysterical, and I still find the extended sequence of Snoopy flying around as the Red Baron the perfect time to get up and make some popcorn – as long as I can make it back in time to see him creep across the deserted country after he crash-lands, because that part’s cool.

Garfield’s Halloween Adventure: Originally titled Garfield in Disguise. This classic is rarely played anymore, which I think is bunk. Come on, it’s awesome. It used to air right after the Peanuts special and I loved watching them back-to-back. Now you’re reduced to watching the Peanuts special with parts of it cut out for times sake while those stupid pop-up ads appear in the bottom of your screen. (I HATE those.) Anyway, this special is not-to-be-missed. Garfield the cat enlists Odie to help him trick-or-treat so that he can have double the candy, but then they wind up fending off a band of pirate ghosts. It’s highly amusing and the songs are gold. I will never tire of this one.

Hell House: This documentary by George Ratliff shows us the inside of a Dallas megachurch that puts on a giant evangelical “haunted house” operation every Halloween. I say “haunted house” loosely because that’s not really what it is. You don’t see any ghosts or ghouls but rather a tour of “real life” situations, played by actors representing hell-bound people. At the end of the tour, guests are encouraged to repent so that they, too, do not wind up in hell like the poor unfortunate Hell House characters. Now, my own church put on a haunted house every year, too, but we had stuff like zombies crawling out of the ground, a mummy popping out of his tomb, and a man with a knife chasing us down the hall. One year I even got to play a crazy woman in the insane asylum and freaked everyone out, hehe. So the concept of using Halloween as an excuse to scare people into becoming Christian is alien to me. I think that Ratliff did an excellent job of showing the work that goes into putting the production together, exposing a couple mistakes made along the way – you guys, the Star of David and a pentagram are not the same thing – and introducing us to the people behind the Hell House, including a family man, a charming teenage girl with acting ambitions, and a kid trying to impress people with his “knowledge” of the underground rave scene. (The last one highly amused me, which I’m quite sure was not his intention). I do want to note that the first three times Eric and I tried to rent this from Netflix, each disc we received had been mysteriously sabotaged with some type of chemical. It wasn’t until we got a Wii and streamed the movie from the Netflix channel that we were able to watch the whole thing!

The Crazies: What happens when there really is “something in the water”? Well, in this remake of a 1973 Romero flick, everyone starts to turn into a homicidal maniac. The “good guys” who are lucky enough to survive are left to fight their way out of dodge – and the “crazies” aren’t always the ones they’re running from. Timothy Olyphant, who also stars in FX’s excellent modern day Western, Justified, plays the sheriff. (He was also in Scream 2!) Radha Mitchell is the town doctor/his pregnant wife.
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The Nightmare Before Christmas: A musical Tim Burton classic with amazing visuals tells the story of Jack Skellington as he tires of being the “Pumpkin King” of Halloween … and becomes infatuated with the Christmas spirit instead. A very clever way of saying “Just be yourself.” We watch this every Halloween and Christmas.
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Creepshow and Creepshow 2: Several different horror stories in each one! Creepshow director George Romero has said that Tales from the Dark Side is the unofficial “Creepshow 3” – not the actual movie of the same name – so I’m going to watch that one next.
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Halloween series: These movies are hit-or-miss. Nothing compares to the first creepy tale of Michael Myers stalking his estranged sister, but the second one makes a good attempt! Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there. The character of Michael Myers was supposed to be retired following Halloween II; from that point on, the Halloween series would devote itself to an entirely new spooky story, separate from all the rest, with each flick released. I would’ve loved to see this idea come to full fruition, but it never did. You can thank the third movie, Season of the Witch for that, I’m sure, because it was laughably bad (and rotated around an incredibly irksome commercial jangle). So Michael Myers returned for Halloween 4 and every Halloween sequel after that brought him back over and over again to shuffle toward another set of screaming teenagers. Just kill him already!
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Tremors: I had somehow never seen this. It’s more funny than scary. Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, and Finn Carter are part of a crew of small town residents fighting off man-eating worms that stalk them from under the ground. Look for Reba McEntire as one-half of a couple of gun enthusiasts.
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The Descent: I’ve been spelunking (caving) twice in my life, and I am SO thankful this movie came out years afterwards! A group of six women explore a North Carolina cave system in this superb British film and find themselves stalked by man-hunting creatures that live there. Excellent acting, characterization, and a well-done terror buildup. But if you are prone to nightmares, this is the last movie I would recommend you view. There is a sequel which I haven’t seen.
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WordGirl: Tricks and Treats: Looking for silly things to watch on the Wii Netflix channel while we waited for our next Netflix disc to come in, Eric and I came across this Halloween episode of a PBS Kids series called WordGirl. The series revolves around a vocabulary expert and her alter-ego, WordGirl, solving crimes; in this case, she battles evil candy-stealing robots. I was pleasantly surprised; it’s clever.
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The Blob: This 1988 remake makes a team out of an unlikely set of teenagers – a popular cheerleader and a delinquent with mostly good intentions – as they fight to defeat a giant blob that’s devouring and dissolving almost everyone. I dug it.
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The Monster Squad: A childhood favorite of Eric’s. A 12-year-old kid and his monster club fight off an invasion by Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s Monster, Wolfman, and “Gill Man” (read: the Creature from the Black Lagoon). Cute and funny 80s movie gold.
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They Live: A John Carpenter classic about a construction worker who discovers a pair of sunglasses that show him the horrifying truth about who really controls Planet Earth.
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Night of the Lepus: I am so glad that Eric told me about this hilarious 1972 film (starring Janet Leigh) about a pack of giant man-eating rabbits, breeding like crazy and terrorizing mankind! Basically, the filmmakers just found a bunch of cute rabbits, blew up their images and then filmed the actors screaming and running away as the rabbits hop after them, twitching their noses. Awwww.
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Monster Island: We rented this in part because we were hoping to get a modern day utterly cheesy giant monster movie a la the Sci-Fi Channel (oh, excuse me, SY FY Channel), and in part because Adam West (of Batman TV show fame) was in it. We should’ve known MTV wouldn’t be able to produce anything that glorious. This movie was so stupid we couldn’t even watch it all the way through. Any fan of monster movies knows that the best part about the movie is THE MONSTER. Here the giant flying insects of Monster Island get precious little screen time next to a slew of horribly bad actors with way too much dialogue. Half the point of a monster movie is to laugh at bad actors as they get eaten left and right, but that’s just not happening here. It’s not cheesy, it’s not fun, it’s just … bad.
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Ice Spiders: Speaking of SyFy movies, make sure you catch this one. Giant spiders terrorize innocent skiiers! Hehehe! Other recommended Sy Fy flicks are Mega Piranha, Sharktopus, and Mansquito. Hilarious! Now that’s how you should be doing a monster movie.
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Trick ‘r Treat: An anthology of stories that all take place on Halloween and all fit together somehow. If you wish there was a horror/Halloween-based Love Actually, you’ll probably like this. True Blood star Anna Paquin dominates one tale.
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National Geographic Kids: Creepy Creatures: Another kids’ special we came across on the Netflix channel. Clawdette the cat tells you all about some of nature’s creepiest creatures and sings a few really silly songs. Appropriate for very young children who are just learning about animals and won’t find the songs unbearable.
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National Geographic’s Is It Real?: Ghosts: I don’t know what it is with National Geo. I love their magazines, their web site, and their museum in D.C., but what’s up with their television series? Both Is It Real?, which explores ghosts, UFOs, Bigfoot, etc. and Taboo (which explores different cultural views of things like obesity and prostitution) use images and narration that are awfully redundant. Here, this episode of Is It Real? explored the belief in ghosts, but skimmed over many things that I wanted to hear more about while assaulting me with way too much flash and blur. Now it was interesting enough, but definitely not my first recommendation.
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Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead: You can’t go wrong with a classic Romero zombie film. And the remakes of both are awesome as well. (Caution: Not all Living Dead remakes are genuine Romero, as the movie’s rights are now in the public domain. The Dawn of the Dead remake shown here was directed by Zack Snyder, and to my knowledge Romero had nothing to do with it other than the fact it was adapted from his original screenplay, but it is excellent.)
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We have Rankin and Bass’s Mad Monster Party coming in the mail next! I can’t wait – after seeing numerous Rankin and Bass Christmas specials, I’ve been waiting on this one for a long time!
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What are your favorite scary things to watch, at Halloween or any time of year?

Random Thoughts

So I’m getting to the point where I really want a house. Not a condo or townhouse, a real house. Unfortunately, there are several things that stand in the way of this plan, namely the fact that I have almost no savings for a down payment at all. And I think I have to concentrate more on my 401K and a Roth IRA and making sure I can retire by the time I’m 70 right now anyway.

Eric has been playing the PlayStation 2 game, Shadow of the Colossus, which makes me think of the movie Reign Over Me which in turn makes me sad. It turns out the game is sad as well. Yet the music in it is gorgeous.

I am working on a post about Amsterdam and other cities I saw in Holland during my two trips there (or four, if you want to get really technical). My aunt is visiting Amsterdam sometime soon, so I thought she would appreciate it! 🙂

I saw a kid walking across the parking lot to our apartment building with his little brother. They had just gotten off of the school bus. The older kid was literally walking and reading a manga (Japanese graphic novel, many of which are aimed at children) at the same time. LOVE IT.

I am on a nutrition and exercise “kick” that I hope won’t just be a “kick” this time. I typically do 20 to 30 minutes of cardio each day followed by 30 to 40 minutes of strength training for a specific muscle group. I’m also trying to eat more fresh foods with less fat and carbs and more protein. The 12 boxes of Girl Scout cookies I purchased recently don’t help this goal, but getting a lot of healthier snacks and having those available to reach for instead does! (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with me eating two or three cookies each day, just not a whole box as I am prone to doing.) Today is my day to work my arms after a “rest day” yesterday. I am pleased to say I have some noticeable Brachialis muscle (or whatever the muscle on the side of the arm is called; that’s what my college health textbook says it is). I hope to get stronger and stronger until I can do a pull-up, which I can sheepishly admit I’ve never been able to do without help in my whole life. For now I’m having fun with planks and plank variations. Push-ups are still difficult. I remember when I could do a bunch with no problem (though my swim coach would always catch me cheating and make me do even more of them). Complicating the issue is pain in my left knee. I’ve got to get my knees stronger.

Let me get sappy and talk about how much I love my cat, Sumo. I had an awful headache today and while I was waiting for the Excedrin to work and whining pitifully at Eric (a favorite activity), he came over and hopped up in my lap to snuggle me. He will be nine on St. Patrick’s Day. I’m so glad I adopted him, nearly five years ago! I was thinking about getting him this heated cat pod for him to sleep in. Mommy’s angel deserves the best. Of course, that’s money that’s probably better spent going in a savings account 🙂 Maybe one of those self-heating cat mats would be a better, cheaper birthday present. Or maybe not. Warm weather is already here!