Our Way to Norway Day 4 – Goodbye Oslo

View of Oslo, Norway

On our fourth day in Norway, we decided to make it a walk in the park! On this fine, crisp morning, we walked from our Airbnb to Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, which was only about 3.4 km (~2.1 miles).

Pathway through Ekeberg Park

The pathway opened up to an amazing view of Oslo!

View of Oslo, Norway and small islands

The artwork in the park was interesting to say the least. AKA children who see them may start asking awkward questions. But, one piece in particular served to house and feed birds!

Sculpture in Ekeberg Park for the birds
Sculpture in Ekeberg Park for the birds!

We then took one last jaunt through the city, since we weren’t coming back the next day (heading out west to Flåm – pronounced “flow-m”).

Downtown of Oslo, Norway

Oslo National Theater

We ended our day at a pub called “The Scotsman.” We had some amazing black bean burgers, and Michael ordered a beer called Frydenlund. Now, I am NOT a beer gal. Heck, I hate alcohol, and it equally hates me on a biological level. BUT, this beer actually tasted really good. It was a light lager with a sweet undertone to it that helped to balance out the hoppiness. And that folks, culminates all of my beer lingo knowledge.

My final thoughts on Oslo is that it’s a fantastic city. The public transportation is top notch. It’s clean, fast, and fairly affordable (compared to driving a gas-powered vehicle yourself every day). The city is extremely environmentally friendly. I’ve seen more electric cars than I could count. Even some of their taxis were Teslas! TESLAS! C’mon America!

The people were friendly, but kept to themselves. My FAVORITE type of people – don’t talk to me unless I’ve had my coffee! In our experience, they were very open to foreigners and appreciated our efforts to speak Norwegian. And by “we” I mean Michael. I could really only remember how to say “thank you” and sometimes slipped into some Spanish just to confuse them more. It was more of a panic reflex. Don’t judge me! Michael was the real lingual wizard. I didn’t feel any “we hate tourists” vibes, which was nice. When we went into a wool clothing store, the woman at the front desk asked us about America. She had friends in Maine, but never had the chance to properly visit, and was curious about how different things were in different parts of the country.

If you ever get the chance to visit Norway, Oslo should be on your list of places to visit. It’s a rather large city with an interesting history and culture behind it. You could spend several days at museums or taking tours, or just meandering about like we did!

Oslo Statue

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Our Way to Norway Day 3 – Museums Galore!

Oseberg Viking Ship

On day 3 we were hellbent on seeing more than one museum. We were going to take on the dreaded three!! That’s right. THREE museums in a single day!? As adults!? Now, if you’ve ever been to a museum, you may have discovered that one can tire rather quickly standing around and pondering the past. 20 minutes at “some” museums can equal a 5 minute car ride for me… My superpower is that I can fall asleep in any moving vehicle at will. No joke. So, we set our alarms to wake up at a “normal” time (pre-eight-o-clock), put our big boy pants on and set out on an adventure!

Our first stop was the Viking Ship Museum! This was probably one of my favorite places. I mean don’t get me wrong, I loved that Stave Church, but there’s something about fancy boats that really floats MY boat.

The first ship was the Oseberg Viking Ship. It was found in a large burial mound at the Oseberg farm, and was highly decorated and contained the remains of two wealthy women. It was 21.58 meters (70.8 feet) long, 5.10 meters (16.7 feet) broad, had a mast of 9–10 meters (29.5-32.8 feet), and was built almost entirely out of oak. It had the potential the reach up to 10 knots.

The Gokstad Viking Ship was a 9th century ship also found in a burial mound, and is the largest ship in the museum, measuring at 23.80 meters (78.1 feet) long and 5.10 meters (16.7 feet) wide.

Gokstad Viking Ship
Gokstad Viking Ship

The Tune Viking Ship was also from the 9th century, and although it is fragmented, it may have been 22 meters (72 feet) long. It is 4.35 meters (14.3 feet) wide.

The Tune Viking Ship
The Tune Viking Ship

Aboard the Oseberg ship, two women were given an honorable burial. One was between 70 to 80 years old and may have died from cancer, and the other woman was in her 50’s, cause of death unknown. No one knows who they were in society, but they were of great importance to the community to be given such a burial.

The remains of one of the two wealthy women
The remains of one of the two wealthy women
Michael staring at one of the decorative pieces from the ship
Michael facing off with history

After we had our fill of Viking culture, we went to the Fram Museum (the Polar Ship Fram), which tells the history of Norwegian polar exploration. The ship was “designed and built by the Scottish-Norwegian shipwright Colin Archer for Fridtjof Nansen’s 1893 Arctic expedition in which the plan was to freeze Fram into the Arctic ice sheet and float with it over the North Pole.”1 Many thought him to be crazy, since the Arctic water temperatures claimed so many ships before the Fram.

Wide shot of the deck of the Fram
Michael exploring the (poop) deck! Heehee

For their exploration, they utilized dog sleds! Fun fact, they had to make sure that the material the harnesses were made out of tasted awful to the dogs. Otherwise, om nom noms would be initiated!

Dogsled used for exploration
A big puppy sled for winter pups!
Model of what an exploration mission looked like
Model of what an exploration mission looked like

Finally, we ended our museum tour at the Historical Museum. Entrance was FREE with the Viking Ship Museum tickets!

The Historical Museum warrior remains and weapons

The Historical Museum mummy remains

Afterwards, we took a walk towards the Royal Palace! And yes, it was all uphill! I guess you could say it was a…walk in the park! (Somewhere, Michael is cringing and he doesn’t know why!)

The Royal Palace in Oslo
The Royal Palace

Walk from the Royal Palace in Oslo

If you ever get the chance to visit Oslo, it’s definitely worth your time and energy to go to as many museums and historical landmarks as you can. It was a challenge to visit all three of these before they closed, but it was worth it. Norway has such a rich and fascinating history, we embraced our inner tourist!

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fram

Our Way to Norway Day 2 – Cultivating Culture

Stave church at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo

To start off day 2 in Oslo, we visited the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History! Our original plan was to wake up at 8 AM and take public transit to both this museum and the Viking Ship Museum, but we kinda sorta didn’t get up until a little later so we only had time for one… The “plane brain” is real, people. And frankly, the hours for most of the museums were only open between 10 AM to 3 PM or 11 AM to 4 PM. How do you expect me to learn history and be cultured if you don’t give me time!?

We mainly explored the outer exhibits, which included the Stave Church, the Countryside, and the Old Town. I buzzed right by any other exhibit and made a beeline for the Stave Church. Organized religion isn’t really my thing, but I do love me some historical churches. I mean, look at that architecture! I felt like I would burst into flames just by LOOKING at it, never mind actually going INSIDE!

Stave Church at Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway
The Stave Church in all its holy glory!
Inside of Stave Church at Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway
Inside of the Stave Church

Right next to the Stave Church was the Storehouse from Søndre Berdal! Here is a Michael for scale.

The Storehouse at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway
The Storehouse from Søndre Berdal

Next, we explored the Countryside! This included the Setesdal (a farm in 1739), Numedal (farm life from 1238), Trøndelag (farm life in 1959), and Hallingdal and Telemark.

The Countryside at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway
The Countryside farm
The Countryside farm houses
The Countryside farm houses with sod roofs and birch bark was used for water runoff

They were even growing kale in the garden. KALE! WHY!? You could have grown any other vegetable that didn’t taste like wet paper, but no! It had to be kale! Kale…

The Countryside farm with kale
You’re kale-ing me
Structure insulated with branches and twigs
Side of a structure insulated with branches and twigs

The inside of the farmhouses were also beautiful, yet haunting. There’s something about an ancient baby crib suspended from the rafters that makes one feel ill at ease…

Inside of a farmhouse with a table and crib
Inside of one of the farmhouses
Inside of a farmhouse - cooking area
Cooking area of a farmhouse

One of the best parts of this museum was…THE BUNNY!! He or she came right up to the fence and followed us back and forth! The temptation to pet was overwhelming, BUT sticking your hands through ANYTHING is how you die first in a horror movie, so we refrained.

Black bunny observing visitors
Black bunny passes judgement on visitors

Old Town included Enerhaugen (a view of working class life), the Grocery Store (back when kids could buy a pack of cigarettes without people huffing and puffing about it…probably), and apartment buildings (1879–2002)!

We learned that the houses were really small due to zoning regulations. For once in my life, I felt way too tall.

Old town at the Museum of Cultural History
Part of Old Town

Inside the museum, we learned about Norwegian textiles, crafting, and weaponry (pointy shooty things are my fave).

Weapons from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo
Mmmm sharp things…
Old text from the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo
There’s just something about old texts…

After our education jaunt through history, we found a small café called Hjemme Hos Svigers. The interior was a mix of antiques that dated all the way back to the 1880s. It had a very an eclectic yet cozy vibe.

Inside of Cafe Hjemme Hos Svigers
Inside of Café Hjemme Hos Svigers

One great thing about Oslo, is that you can walk just about anywhere. We explored the area around the Maritime Museum (which was closed unfortunately), and contemplated life while staring out into the sea.

Outside of the Maritime Museum
Outside of the Maritime Museum

We returned to the center of Oslo, and walked around (and on top of) the Oslo Opera House! What a view! Also, if you aren’t careful, you could slip and fall. Luckily, most of the “tiles” were textured and gripped easily. Honestly, people were bringing their baby strollers up there so we figured “if they can do it, we can do it.”

Outside of Oslo Opera House
The Oslo Opera House
Walking up the Oslo Opera House
Walking up the Oslo Opera House. The tiles are textured to avoid slippage, but watch for the bird poop…

As the night wore on, we found ourselves venturing down the “fancier” side of Oslo. You could smell the expensive. Since we wanted to avoid a hefty restaurant bill, we grabbed a few things to munch on from a small market inside of Central Station.

It was a beautiful day to spend outside and learn more about the culture, and we returned to our abode with sore, happy feet.

Evening in Oslo
Calm evening in Oslo

Our Way to Norway Day 1 – Flying, Fish and Forts!

Bridge at Fort Akershus

Fair warning, I started to write this blog in a sleep-deprived haze during an 8-hour layover in Dublin, Ireland, so my sass levels may be up a notch or two. Nothing says “vacation” like destroying one’s internal clock! This year, Michael and I decided to FINALLY take a trip to Norway! I swear the man has talked about it since the birth of this beard…so, since childhood I think.

We flew out of Providence to Dublin to Oslo via Norwegian Air. The flight from Providence to Dublin only took about 5 hours (and we arrived early). Then, we had the dreaded 8-hour layover. Yes, 8 glorious hours of waiting! That’s the equivalent of maybe 2 of “The Lord of the Rings” movies, extended editions! You know it’s bad when you start to use movies to measure time. The Dublin airport felt like half mall, half liquor store, with a sprinkle of cafés (not that that’s a bad thing). If I could drink without dying (thanks, Obama…I mean genetics), I would have gladly had a mimosa or two….or five. We stopped to eat at The Stanley Bar & Kitchen and watched the planes fly by.

Layover at airport in Dublin, Ireland

Finally, after what felt like 12 years in Azkaban, we were on our way to Oslo! Sweet, sweet, sky!

Landscape view on the flight to Norway

Once we arrived, we rented a car so we had the freedom to explore outside of the city. Oh, and the airline also lost Michael’s luggage back in Providence. Yeah… Luckily, we are the same sock and t-shirt size!

We  stayed in an Airbnb a few minutes away from the Brattlikollen T-station, which brings you into the heart of the city. Our host, Henning, was very welcoming and his place was amazing. He is also the owner of the best damn shower in the world, and the most comfortable of beds!

Airbnb in Oslo, Norway
Michael is giving me his infamous “side eye tired eye”

After a good long sleep, we took it easy and “lightly explored” Oslo without any planning. We walked to the Brattlikollen T-bane and bought a 24-hour ticket pass for 105 kr (~$13 USD) and took the train straight into Oslo. The city does really well when it comes to public transit. The ride into the city center only took about 15 minutes, and the train was fairly clean and the stops were quick.

Oslo Central Station in Norway at night
Oslo Central Station has several restaurants and convenient stores

For our first official Norway meal, we went to Café Cathedral. We both ordered their fish soup which consisted of mussels, shrimp, and a mix of veggies. It. Was. Amazing. MAGNIFIQUE! I’m a sucker for fish (#fishpun), and this hit the spot! Michael of course, was obsessed with the “airiness” of the bread…

Fish soup from Cafe Cathedral in Oslo, Norway
Fish soup, bread, and butter! Mmmmm…

We meandered around the city before stumbling upon the Akershus Fortress (Akershus Festning). The castle and fortress were built in the early 1300s, and had a strategical location near the sea, and was able to withstand several sieges throughout the era. Whoever controlled Akershus, controlled Norway.

Fort Akershus in Oslo, Norway

Tank at Fort Akershus

Cannons at Fort Akershus

We were losing daylight, so we returned to the center of Oslo in search of some much needed essentials for Michael. Let’s just say, “European traditional boxer” underwear is not what you’d expect, and yes it was hilarious.

Streets of Oslo, Norway

We ended our day in Oslo Central Station at a place called the “MELT – Grilled Cheese.” I all out stopped and stared when we first passed this place. I know “it’s only grilled cheese” but hellloooo!!!?? A whole restaurant dedicated to grilled cheese??? Yas queen! Michael ordered the Italiano, and I ordered the Korean pork grilled cheese, which had some kick to it.

We took the train back to Brattlikollen (which again, was very easy to do), and proceeded to heckle the airline about Michael’s missing luggage. If you are ever flying, pack your essentials in a carry-on, along with a change of clothes.

Tunnel at Fort Akershus
Tunnel at Fort Akershus

POP Pilates Instructor Training Review

POP Pilates training sassy group photo

2017 was a year of change for me, both physically and mentally. I decided to take control of my fitness and health through Cassey Ho’s blogilates and PIIT28, and I wanted to share that feeling of confidence and accomplishment with others. So, when I saw that a POP Pilates instructor training was coming to Massachusetts, I swallowed my self-doubt and took the leap and became certified.

“POP Pilates® is a total body, equipment-free workout that sculpts a rock solid core and a lean dancer’s body like nothing else can. A powerful fusion of music, strength, and choreography that takes classical Pilates to the next level. POP Pilates is a dance on the mat.” – http://www.poppilateslife.com

POP Pilates
Photo credit: http://www.poppilateslife.com

Prior to signing up I had an internal battle with myself. What if I wasn’t fit enough? What if I messed up? Would I be able to find a teaching job? What if I didn’t pass the evaluation? What if my future students hated me? All of these questions swirled around my brain like one big whirlpool. However, after talking with friends, family and the popster community (those within blogilates and PIIT28) I promptly told my brain to shut up, threw myself into the unknown, and signed up. I’m so glad I did.

The training

The instructor training was a single 8 to 9 hour session held in 1 day in a beautiful little gym called Elite Fitness for Women in Taunton, MA. It honestly looked more like a spa than a gym! If I lived closer I’d probably become a member.

Elite fitness for women gym in Taunton, MA

We were greeted by the very cheerful and welcoming POP Pilates Master Trainer, Maria, who took us through what made POP truly unique. There was a lot of emphasis on teaching safely, proper form, and cueing. We practiced with fellow classmates and each move was broken down for us with modifications. We got a chance to teach in front of one another and received feedback on the spot. It was an incredibly thorough class, and everyone bonded over their love for POP and the desire to bring that happiness to others! Everyone was so supportive of one another. I’ll never forget these wonderful ladies!

POP Pilates students in training

We even had a guest stop by! Mac is a POP Pilates instructor from the area who was actually IN the POP 10 choreography videos we were studying! He gave us some great advice and showed us how we could incorporate different pop music into the choreography. We were so happy (and surprised) he came!

Mac and Sam at POP Pilates training in Taunton, MA

Video evaluation

After the training, you have 60 days to submit a 30 minute video that showcases your teaching skills. Essentially, you record a mini class with a few volunteers (slash victims…). If you are taking the Online Workshop you have 12 weeks to submit your video after your initial registration, and you must pass a quiz. For more answers see the POP Pilates FAQ section. After you submit your video, you will receive notification of pass or fail, as well as specific feedback. When I found out that I passed I was ecstatic! I couldn’t believe I did it!

Teaching and beyond

I currently teach at a small yoga studio here in Coventry, RI called The Lighthouse Yoga Studio on Thursday evenings (until they close on April 12th). I’m also teaching at Coventry Group Fitness on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings (the latter starting April 15th). For both positions, I reached out to the owners and explained that I was a certified POP Pilates instructor looking to teach a class. After meeting in-person and discussing what POP was all about, I held a demo class for each. Both were a success! I’m still in semi-disbelief! A year ago I’d never thought this was possible! What’s even more insane is that I think I was the first instructor to bring an official POP class to RI (at least according to the class locator at the time.)

POP Pilates class at Coventry Group Fitness
Teaching a demo class at Coventry Group Fitness

How do I sign up (and get over my own fears)?

Becoming a certified POP Pilates instructor was one of the best decisions I’ve made. It may sound cliché, but it really was. I’ve found so much joy in teaching and spreading the POP love! I’ve had students of all fitness levels tell me with sweaty smiles on their faces that the class was a blast and that they’re “sore in all the right places” afterwards. That makes it worth it.

If you’re thinking about becoming certified, my advice to you is simply go for it. Don’t overthink it, and don’t hold yourself back. Don’t be afraid that you aren’t “fit enough” or “look fit.” Fit isn’t a size, and you can grow with your students. Teaching will also help build your confidence. It’s okay if you’re shy at first, but when you’re having fun, your students have fun. If you’re worried about finding a job afterwards, don’t be. Reach out to other instructors, studios, or gyms. You’ll be surprised by how interested they can be in POP because it’s so unique! So take the leap and sign up!

Sign up for an in-person POP Pilates training here

Sign up for the POP Pilates Online Workshop (international program) here

PIIT28 Review – From Sore to Soar, then back to Sore!

PIIT28 Cassey Ho

Towards the end of February I thought to myself, “Hey, I haven’t put my body through torturous physical pain in a while. Let’s change that!” While I had been doing Yoga with Adriene for 6 months, I felt like I needed a change. I wanted a challenge (not that yoga isn’t challenging because good god crow pose is tough). I needed to change things up and I wanted to get stronger. In the past, I was practically a “cardio bunny” and just did cardio without the strength training (which is no bueno). Then, I twisted my ankle and turned to yoga for rehabilitation, but over time, I felt like I needed more. That’s when I remembered blogilates AKA Cassey Ho! Before I moved to Rhode Island back in 2014, I used to do Cassey’s free monthly calendar workouts and they kicked my butt to the curb. I wanted to get back into Pop Pilates, and that’s when I discovered her PIIT28 program.

PIIT28 1.0 cover
Photo credit: PIIT28

What is PIIT28?

PIIT stands for Pilates Intense Interval Training. It combines the cardiovascular intensity of HIIT (high intensity interval training) with the strengthening elements of Pop Pilates. The main portion of the workout includes 7 moves that are 45 seconds long with 15 seconds of rest in between for a total of 28 minutes and 40 seconds. You then repeat that circuit for a total of 4 rounds. Each move alternates between a Pilates move like double leg lifts, and a HIIT cardio move like jump squats. The warm-up beforehand is about 5 to 6 minutes and the cool down afterwards is about 9 minutes, so the “total workout” is approximately 45 minutes from start to finish.

PIIT28 workout breakdown
PIIT28 workout breakdown from the program. Photo credit: PIIT28

There are 3 levels of PIIT28 – 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. You start off with 1.0 and then once those 28 days (or 56 days if you do a second round) are up, you can move on to 2.0, and so on and so forth. Each level helps you build your strength and endurance to move on to the next one. You can also purchase and download the Blogilates app for your Android or iPhone. There is a timer that you can use for your workouts if you don’t want to replay the videos.

What was it like?

When I first started 1.0, I struggled with doing things like mountain climbers for the full 45 seconds. It was beyond challenging, but it was so fulfilling once the timer was up! I had accomplished something difficult and stuck with it, regardless of whether or not I sounded like a dying seal while doing it. Might have scared the cats…

I felt like 1.0 had a nice mix of cardio and strengthening moves, and was a good foundation to prepare for the next two programs. 2.0 felt like it was a bit more focused on cardio, and 3.0 seemed geared towards strengthening and combo moves. Overall the program in its entirety is very well-rounded, and gets more and more challenging as you move forward.

Also, throughout the program you can participate in the PIITstagram challenge! If you complete it, you can earn a free PIIT28 t-shirt! It helps keep you involved in the community and is just plain fun to do!

PIIT28 PIITstagram t-shirt

Are there any cons to PIIT28?

Since PIIT28 has a lot of the HIIT moves involved jumping, I had to modify them due to my other ankle (ironically the non-sprained one). Some people may find it harder on the joints, however, Cassey gives you modifications for everything so no one feels left out and you still get a killer workout regardless!

PIIT28 will push you to your limits which is not a con, BUT you need to be aware of what your body is telling you. I went HAM on a particular leg workout that had a ton of lunge moves and ended up straining my hip flexor (which has taken months to heal). This was most likely due to user error, but like any workout you have to make sure you have good form. If you’re straining (and not in a good way) take a break. Don’t sweat it!

Why PIIT28 over something else?

I chose PIIT28 because I’ve followed Cassey’s workouts in the past and I love the community. I knew she would challenge me beyond what I thought possible, and the price was right. If you do your best and dedicate the time to improving yourself, you’ll be surprised at how far you can go. And like any fitness plan you have to stick with it to see change. There’s no miracle cure – just you and your determination to better yourself, for yourself.

Did you see results?

Definitely! But, it’s important to remember that every body is different. Some see changes “right away” and others don’t. My body is the sloth of bodies when it comes to change. It’s important to note that the PIIT28 program also recommends pairing the workout with the 28 day reset plan, which I did not do. The reset plan is not necessarily a diet. Its main goal is to help you figure out if you have any food sensitivities. You eliminate dairy, gluten, added sugar, processed food, and alcohol. Then, once the 28 days are up, you can slowly add that food back into your diet and make note of whether or not you feel a change.

While I did eat healthy throughout my experience and avoided processed foods and added sugars, I did occasionally indulge in YOLO meals like pizza, chicken tenders, etc. You know, because I’m human (I think). Life is about balance! I discoverd that my approach to food had changed. I no longer felt guilty about indulging in “the bad stuff” every once in a while. I knew I was taking care of my body and eating healthy most days of the week. Those YOLO meals were for my soul and helped me maintain a good mental balance.

After round 1 of 1.0 I didn’t see much of a difference, but I was determined to keep going. I felt so much better on the inside, and that’s where change truly happens. Once you feel it on the inside, it will make its way to the outside. Again, the trick with most exercise programs is that you have to stick with it. There is no quick fix. So I kept going. I did round 2 of 1.0, and then moved on to 2 rounds of 2.0 and 3.0.

By the end of my PIIT28 journey (about 6 months later) I saw a big difference and it surprised me! I lost a few pounds and went down a pant size. I really noticed that my posture improved greatly and I was so much stronger – and to me that’s what really matters.

PIIT28 results day 1 to day 168 side view
First day of 1.0 and the last day of 3.0 (round 2)
PIIT28 results day 1 to day 168 back view
I definitely noticed my back shaping up and slimming down.

What are you doing now post-PIIT28?

I still incorporate PIIT28 in my fitness routine and workout 6 days a week first thing in the morning. I now follow Cassey’s monthly workout calendar and will usually do 2 rounds of PIIT beforehand. Someone in the Official PIIT28 community on Facebook does something similar to this, and I’m giving it a try as well! For example, if the workout of the day was upper body focused, I would do 2 rounds of a PIIT workout that’s also focused on arms and back, and then follow her daily calendar. My workouts are now a bit longer (about an hour), but I love it. It keeps me happy and I feel like I have a good balance between “oh god I’m dying” cardio and “oh god I’m still dying” Pilates strengthening moves.

How do I get started with PIIT28?

If you want to try something that will challenge you and push yourself to your limits, give PIIT28 a try! I started out with just buying 1.0, and then bought 2.0 and 3.0 separately (before they offered the packages). You can purchase different packages of the program below! The choice is yours!

AND right now you can buy anything listed below for 30% off until Sept. 5 using the coupon code: “THANKYOU30″

And remember, you can also earn a free PIIT28 t-shirt by completely the PIITstagram challenge!

PIIT28 1.0

PIIT28 Power Pack (PIIT28 1.0, 2.0, & 3.0)

Vegan Transformation Pack (PIIT28 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and the 28 Day Reset)

Transformation Pack (PIIT28 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and the 28 Day Reset)

The 28 day reset plan

The 28 day reset plan (vegan)

If you’re not yet ready to pay for the program, you can start with some of Cassey’s videos on her blogilates YouTube channel. She has some free PIIT-like workouts so you can get a feel for it before committing. So what are you waiting for beautiful? Get out there! Be the best version of yourself every day!

Sam on beach in starfish pose

The Curious Case of Hansel the Cat

Hansel and Gretel sitting in their cat tree

For the past several months our little family has been wrestling with a medical mystery that feels like it came straight out of an episode of “House” only for cats. I felt it appropriate to share our ongoing story for anyone who may go through something similar. But first, happy backstory! Cue the “sounds-like-disney-but-isn’t-disney-to-avoid-getting-sued” music!

In December of 2015 Mike and I added two new additions to our family! No, not the tiny human kind. Even better! We adopted two adorable, mischievous kittens named Hansel and Gretel.

Hansel and Gretel as kittens
Gretel is “undecided” calico/tabby (left), and Hansel is a black and white tuxedo (right)

Their mother, Pancake, was abandoned and left outside after her previous owners moved [insert creative profanities here]. Luckily she was found and brought to the MSCPA in Boston, MA. Mike’s sister, Marissa, fostered her while she was pregnant and soon she gave birth to six beautiful kittens!

Pancake and her six kittens
“Look what I made! I made dis!”

We immediately fell in love with Hansel and Gretel before they could opened their beady little eyes. Gretel looked like she couldn’t decide whether or not she was going to be a tabby or a calico, and Hansel was the only black and white tuxedo kitten. He was the gentleman of his rambunctious siblings. Since all of the kittens were unique, we theorized that they may have had two different fathers. Oh nature. You crazy.

As they grew, their personalities evolved from shy, curious kittens, to unafraid yet still curious young cats. Gretel wants to know what you’re doing constantly and has a dainty strut (#typicalgirl) but still causes a ton of trouble, and Hansel is the most well-behaved (#knockonwood) laid-back cat I’ve ever encountered. He also has a weird obsession with my hair. Sorry Mike…

Hansel snuggles
“Give me your hair, hooman.”

The past several months however have been rough. This is where it gets “Pixar emotional,” so if you abandon ship now I wouldn’t blame you. In November of 2016 we began to notice that Hansel started acting strangely. He was more lethargic than usual, was losing weight, and he started licking plastic surfaces. However, it wasn’t until we caught him eating his own clay cat litter that we determined that something was really, really wrong.

We took him to the vet and found out that he was anemic (low red blood cell count), and that he tested positive for feline leukemia (FeLV). His red blood cell count was at 12%. Normally cats should be between 25% to 45%.

Scientific mumbles: Feline leukemia, despite the word “leukemia” in its name is not a cancer. It is a retrovirus similar to the AIDS virus in humans. It is the common cause of cancer and blood diseases in cats. It is a virus that is only transmittable between felines through saliva and other mucous membranes. Some cats can get the virus and fight it off, however, kittens with FeLV often do not survive past their first or second birthday. Cats with luck on their side can live with the virus for any number of years without symptoms, but they are seen as “ticking time bombs,” and can be struck other diseases at any time. Great. “Exploding Kittens” the game is now real life.

So, as you can imagine this news was as devastating as it was baffling. Before we adopted the kittens, the MSCPA tested both the mother and the kittens for FeLV and they all came up negative. This is standard procedure before adoption can be completed. Then, approximately six months later we had them tested again after being away from their mother and the rest of the litter. They came up negative again, which usually this means that they’re in the clear. However, Hansel, ever determined to defy medical convention, came up positive.

With the possible threat of Gretel having FeLV as well, we had her re-tested. Usually litter mates or cats who live together, share food and water, and clean one another are exposed to the virus since it’s transmitted through saliva. However, Gretel came up negative! We felt like we won the lottery and immediately had her vaccinated, which should protect her from infection. The vaccine is not 100% guaranteed, but it’s better than nothing.

Gretel up close and personal
“Oh, hai!”

Now, you’re probably wondering “Why didn’t you get them both vaccinated when they were kittens?” Since they all tested negative twice and they were not going to be exposed to other cats (AKA they were going to be indoor cats only), usual protocol doesn’t deem it necessary. You wouldn’t get a vaccine for Malaria unless you were going somewhere where you’d be at risk of exposure. The same concept applies here.

Usually if a cat has FeLV, vets advise that you keep them separated from non-infected cats. However, because Hansel and Gretel are a bonded pair, we were advised that it would be cruel to separate them now. If she was exposed to the virus it would have happened already. A life of solidarity was no life for these cats.

Hansel and Gretel cuddle together

We immediately started Hansel on a four-week treatment of steroids (Prednisolone) that would stimulate red blood cell production, and an antibiotic (Doxycycline). The latter was just in case he caught something from a mouse he had eaten a few weeks prior. The little monster caught the rodent in the house from the basement. He’s a killing machine!

After just a few days of being on steroids, his red blood cell count went up to 25%, which was a good sign. We had him re-tested for FeLV with both the “SNAP” test, as well as the IFA test. The SNAP test is a quick blood test that can be done in the clinic. While this test is accurate for the most part, it can give false positives or negatives. According to veterinarian articles and the vets themselves, any positives should be backed up with the IFA test. The latter is also a blood test that looks for the virus in the bone marrow without having to take actual bone marrow.

This is where the plot thickens on the worse episode of “Meouse.” Hansel’s SNAP test came back positive, but his IFA test came back negative. This could mean that either one of the tests is wrong, or that he doesn’t have the virus, or that he was recently exposed and should be re-tested again in 30 days.

Since Hansel’s case was becoming more and more complex, we were sent to Ocean State Veterinarian Hospital to get a more in-depth diagnosis and treatment. As of today, Hansel has had four positive SNAP tests, and four negative IFA tests, and because of this our Ocean State vet can’t say for sure if he does have FeLV. Even after testing an actual sample of his bone marrow, the IFA test came back negative. CURSE YOU MEOW-STERIOUS DISEASE!

Luckily, there was some good news. After an extensive bone marrow biopsy, it was determined that Hansel does not have cancer! It looks like the anemia stems from an autoimmune disease, which is the better of the two possibilities.

Hansel sitting in a pan like a boss
“No cancer? Pan-tastic!”

However, that doesn’t mean he couldn’t get cancer in the future, BUT one day at a time.

So far, the steroids seem to help him the most. However, these drugs are a double-edged sword since it can raise the glucose levels in the blood and cause diabetes. Our vet explained that ideally he’d be weened off of the steroids and become stable on another drug such as atopica, which is another immunosuppressant drug that does not come with the danger of diabetes. However, he did not seem to be reacting to the lower dosage of steroids plus atopica as much as we’d like, so he was recently switched to another drug combination.

Hansel stretched forward
“Moar drugs? C’mon, Mom!”

Now he is being treated with steroids and cyclophosphamide, which is a used as chemotherapy to suppress the immune system. Crazy right?? He doesn’t even have cancer and yet we’re using a chemo drug. We find out on Monday the 27th if the new drug is working well.

Please note that “chemotherapy” for cats and animals in general is very different from human treatment. The word “chemo” is often associated with a lot of pain and discomfort. However, this isn’t the case for animals. Most cats on this drug handle it well and have no side effects, and are completely comfortable. While chemotherapy for animals involves extending their life like it does in humans, it is not practiced at the cost of their comfort.

Since November, Hansel’s anemia has had its highs and lows. Sometimes his red blood cell count would be up to 40%, and at others it would go back down to 12%. On his good days he’d be bouncing around, chasing Gretel and being his normal self. On his bad days he’d be more lethargic and seek out closets or other hidey holes to sleep in.

We’re hoping for the best, and will continue to make him as comfortable as possible as we try to stabilize his anemia. But, no matter how he feels, he still has enough energy to judge you.

Hansel sitting on a table judging you
“Feed me more drugs, hooman, and I will end you.”

30 Days of Yoga – Bending, Bumbling, and Breathing

Hansel and Gretel are natural yogis

Winter is coming. Or rather, fall is in the air, and like the changing season I wanted to make a change in my life. When it comes to fitness, I try to stay active most days of the week. I take 2-mile walks at work during lunch time, and occasionally run when the weather permits (AKA when the temperature isn’t “oh god why,” or when Thor isn’t having a hissy fit). If I’m feeling really ambitious, I’ll head to the gym and “pick things up and put them down,” but I needed something more. I felt like an autumn leaf on the wind – moving, but not really going anywhere. #sodeep

I needed a change. I wanted to be excited about exercise. I wanted to find something that I could stick with and wouldn’t dread doing every other day. Running and I have had an on again, off again relationship that could rival any soap opera couple (damn you, Victor!). I liked it well enough, but I wasn’t IN love with it. #itsnotyouitsme

CVS Health Downtown 5K Race 2016
We may be smiling on the outside, but our insides are crying!

I had always wanted to incorporate yoga into my daily routine, so I decided to take the plunge. Luckily, I wasn’t a complete stranger to the practice so it wasn’t such a…stretch. #punished I used to do Pilates which incorporates a lot of fast yoga-like moves, and I even went to a yoga class at a brewery where beer was the reward! Now THAT’S motivation. However, I wanted to stick with it and see why so many people were becoming yogis.

I decided to try “Yoga with Adriene” on YouTube, and discovered her 30 days of yoga videos. This series is meant to ease you into the practice, and I was immediately hooked. They fall anywhere between 15 to 35 minutes in length, and I often added on one of her other videos to make my sessions at least 30 to 45 minutes long. If I had the time, I would aim for 50 minutes to an hour total. The difficulty of each video ranged from “easy breezy” to “I’m sweating so much that it’s raining me!” They have a nice balance of flexibility and strength with a focus on the importance of the breath. Adriene really tries to give you the tools to help you grow your own practice, and encourages viewers to not just become “yoga robots” as she likes to say.

I’ll confess that I missed several days during this 30-day challenge. Sometimes life happens and it’s okay. Yet, as the challenge progressed, I could slowly feel myself begin to change.

Day 1 to 5

The beginning was difficult. Period. “Wobbly” and “stiff” were my two main poses, and I was their master. I could barely even cross my legs to sit down (plus having weak ankles made it fun on the bun). However, by the end of day 5 I noticed that my downward-facing dogs and planks were getting just a teeny bit easier (although my flexibility range was more like a plank of wood…wood’nt you guess it). #punished

Gretel wants to do yoga
Gretel wants to do yoga, too. What a cat-astrophy.

Day 6 to 10

I could finally cross my legs like a kindergartener without ankle pain! Hallelujah! I found that my vinyasas were getting just a tad easier as well. We’d flow from chaturanga (think of it as a low push-up) to upward-facing dog to downward-facing dog. It’s a tough flow, but I wasn’t struggling as much like I did on day 1.

Day 10 to 20

I found myself craving the mat once I got home from work. I wanted to let go of the day and just let all of the stress melt away. I was looking forward to my yoga sessions with Adriene, even if she wasn’t technically in the room with me. Her quirky humor and “less-serious-but-still-serious” lessons really worked for me. I wasn’t just craving the physical exercise, but sought out the mental benefits that came with each session. I felt mentally and physically lighter.

Day 20 to 25

I could now miraculously do 4 full push ups! I know I know, it’s a tiny number compared to a lot of people. HOWEVER I haven’t been able to do proper push ups since high school, and you know what they say: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I could finally reach the low push ups to vinyasas as well! But, if I had to repeat them over and over during a practice, my arms would throw a full-scale rebellion and wouldn’t cooperate. #heavilyarmed

Day 26 to 30

I had moved my yoga practice to the mornings due to evening obligations, and found that I enjoyed starting my day off on the mat. Sure, I had to get up at the butt crack of dawn (“who dare disturb my slumber”), but I found myself becoming more mindful throughout the day. I was more aware of what I was eating and how my body was feeling. It was very subtle and almost an unnoticeable change, but I felt better because of it.

Beyond day 30

After the 30 day challenge was up, I reflected on where I started and why. I went from barely being able to touch my toes, to touching the floor while I was “cold” (as in, not exercising beforehand to warm up). My heels can almost touch the floor while in downward-facing dog, and I could hold my planks far longer than I thought I was capable of. But most importantly, I had found that thing I had been craving, and it wasn’t an apple cider donut! Mmmm…donuts.

Hansel and Gretel are natural yogis
Hansel and Gretel are naturals, and put me to shame.

Yoga doesn’t feel like a chore, and I look forward to the when I can practice. Have there been bad days? Of course. However, I know that I’ll come off of the mat feeling better than when I started. I’ll continue to make yoga a part of my life, and might even suck Mike into it while I’m at it. Muhahahaha!

What to Wear When Visiting Iceland in the Summer

So, you want to visit Iceland during the summer? Congratulations! You’ve chosen a great time of year that doesn’t involve heavy snow drifts, frost bite, or 20 hours of darkness! Great choice! Yes, yes, visiting Iceland during the winter comes with its own amazing experiences, but summer in Iceland is when you can really let loose and show some skin (and by “skin,” I mean your base layer of clothing underneath your parka). Summers in Iceland are still somewhat chilly compared to the typical American summer. For those of you who hate anything below 65 °F, you should probably grab a sweater before you continue reading if you haven’t already.

Iceland what to wear weather

Visiting another country is exciting and intimidating. You never know what you’ll experience, which is probably one of the reasons why you want to travel in the first place. However, it’s good to be prepared. I couldn’t tell you how many hours I spent Googling “what to wear to Iceland” before I even opened my suitcase. Hopefully this post will reassure you that you aren’t the only person searching for answers.

Mike and I recently returned from our trip in the beginning of August, and we’re already talking about going back. Mike wants to visit during the winter, but I think he forgets that I can’t grow my own beard for warmth (I have two factors working against me, people). If you are planning on visiting this beautiful country during the summer months, here are a few tips that I’ve gathered.

First off, what is an Icelandic summer like?

The summer months usually hover in the mid 50’s °F, but it can often reach into the 60’s and 70’s if you’re a lucky duck. It can also be very windy, and random rain showers can take you off guard. Think of it either like the beginning of Spring temperatures (minus the mud), or the beginning of Fall when you’ve brought out some of your winter gear, but you haven’t quite put away all of your summer clothes.

The country also experiences 20 hours of daylight. It doesn’t get dark until around midnight, and the sun rises around 3 or 4 AM. If you’re like me and have to have total darkness in order to sleep, blackout curtains and sleeping masks will be your best friend.

The sun is also lower in the sky throughout the day, so you don’t necessarily get that “high noon” heat, but you can sometimes get the “let’s make driving a pain in the ass” ray of sunlight that bypasses your car’s visor and strikes you in the face! The saying “if you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes” is true when it comes to Iceland. One minute it can be sunny, then it can downpour, and vice versa.

Iceland what to wear weather landscape

So what do I wear for an Icelandic summer?

The answer to this varies depending on what you want to do while you’re in the country. Are you planning on hiking the glaciers? Wandering the cities? Or just flying by the seat of your pants?

In general, check the weather in the places you plan to be before you go. This may sound like a “well, duh” statement, but it helped me plan what to pack, and I’m the type of person that will spend hours staring at my suitcase with a vacant expression. I get so caught up in what to bring or what not to bring, that I have to keep myself “tethered to the weather.” Do I really need to bring 80 sweaters? Probably not.

Iceland what to wear mammut rain shell
Me in my rain shell and hiking pants on a rainy day.

Also, “know thyself.” If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get cold very easily, maybe you don’t need to bring as many sweaters as the rest of us cold-blooded mammals. (Yes, I know that statement is all wrong science-wise, but you still understood what I meant). If you get cold even during hot summer days to the point where people look at you like you have two heads, pack warmer clothes.

Iceland summer what to wear
Notice how Mike is just fine in a button-down shirt and jogging jacket. The beard keeps him warm…

The key to dressing for Iceland is layers. This applies to both summer and winter months, but to varying…degrees! #pun-ished If you dress in layers, you have more control over how warm or cool you are. If you’re used to hot, muggy summers where being a human puddle is a way of life, forget about it! That will most likely not be the case when you get to Iceland.

For our trip, I had in my bag:

  • A Smartwool thermal wool sweater (keeps you warm, but doesn’t feel thick or heavy)
  • A fleece vest
  • A few “normal” sweaters and cardigans
  • A few long-sleeved cotton shirts
  • A t-shirt and some cotton tanks (to wear under the sweaters)
  • Jeans
  • Hiking pants (lightweight, yet wind and water-resistant)
  • Plether biker jacket (like the cool kids)
  • A Mammut rain jacket shell (wind and waterproof)
  • A light scarf
  • Light/medium wool socks (great for when you know you’ll be walking around a lot)
  • Hiking boots
  • Brown dress/casual boots
  • Bathing suit (for the Blue Lagoon Spa)
  • Fleece headband and light gloves (the just-in-case accessories)

When we ventured into the capital, Reykjavik, I usually wore jeans, a light shirt, my plether jacket, and my hiking boots. Since we were doing a lot of walking around, I could take the jacket off and cool down. If the wind picked up or the sun went away, the jacket was a nice layer to throw on. I decided to wear my hiking boots into the city because they offered the most support, and we walked around A LOT.

Some blogs or articles often talk about how to “not dress like a tourists” when you venture into the cities – especially during the nightlife. I just dressed for comfort, and you can too if you so choose (I’m not fashionista and have no idea why jeggings are so “in” right now). This is your trip. My advice is use logic, dress how you like, and don’t worry about what others think. If you know you’re going to be doing a lot of walking around, you may not want to wear those high-heeled boots even though they’re “totes adorbs.” Chances are, no one will notice and you and your feet will have a bad time. There are so many tourists in cities like Reykjavik, and most locals are very nice. I’m pretty sure they won’t give two licks about what you’re wearing, and even if they do then that’s their problem. #lookatmycareface

Iceland what to wear
Best. Hat. Ever.

We didn’t hike this time around so I don’t have an in-depth list for that, but when we decided to venture outside of the city to go sight-seeing I usually wore my hiking pants, thermal or long-sleeved shirt, and rain jacket. Them waterfalls can be misty. Plus, wind and rain can take you by surprise, too.

Iceland what to wear sunny day
Mike is wearing a button-down shirt, his jogging jacket, and hiking pants. He wore the wrong shoes for this particular outing though…

Overall, having a good rain jacket, boots, and water-resistant or wind resistant pants can go a long way, and they’re good investments. Also, don’t forget to carry a water bottle or two with you. Sunscreen is equally as important. “You may not feel it, but you’ll be peeling it” can become a reality, and sun burns are never fashionable. #un-appeeling

Iceland Day 6 – Homeward Bound

Iceland WOW airlines return to Boston

D-Day had finally come – the day of departure. It was hard to say goodbye to such a beautiful country, but we vowed to return some day.

Iceland drive to Keflavik Airport

The journey home from Iceland was probably the longest day of this vacation. Our flight was at 3:30 PM, but we wanted to get there earlier than normal since we were traveling outside of the country. We rose from our slumbers to checkout of our hotel, and said goodbye to the various wooden statues that were placed around the lobby.

Iceland hotel wooden sheep statues

Once we got to Keflavik International Airport, we headed straight for the tax refund desk. The nice thing about Iceland is if you’re a visitor (AKA you aren’t staying for more than 90 days), you can receive a tax refund on items you’ve bought if they’re over 6,000 ISK, or approximately $52 USD. The sales tax is a whopping 24.5%, and is included in the price of an item (so you don’t need to do a lot of math). If you decide to visit Iceland, don’t be surprised by the prices. If you buy anything that isn’t a meal at a restaurant and you’re asked if you want a tax-free receipt, go for it. It’ll take about 8 weeks to see the money returned to your account. Be forewarned, sometimes the tax refund associates will ask to see what you’ve bought to make sure it matches your receipt, so make sure to do this before you check any bags.

After we got our money back, we grabbed the elixir of life. Mama needs her fix.

Iceland Joe & The Juice coffee

Then, the Waiting Game began. First off, at least for WOW airlines at this particular airport, you cannot check in at the front desks even though they say “check in.” Those are only for baggage checks. Plus, they didn’t say when they opened so we stood there awkwardly for a while. Regardless, we didn’t have to wait in that particular line, and instead had to check in at the unmanned kiosks! #rage But, we were able to check our own bags since the kiosk printed out the tags so I guess that was nice…

Our journey through TSA was actually more cumbersome than the one in Boston. They didn’t have the full body scans, and instead, had you walk through a metal detector that was more sensitive than a hormonal-raging tween. I set the thing off about three times. I even took off my jewelry and it still went off. Maybe the government DID install those brain chips. I had to step aside and get frisked which was super fun, but the lady officer was nice about it. Ladies, please note that underwire bras can set off metal detectors.

After our TSA excursion, we headed to our terminal which was about a 15 minute walk away. Hurray. We grabbed some food and I had to have Icelandic yogurt one last time. It is now my favorite yogurt, and I can never go back to Chobani. Fage is good, but Skyr ran away with my taste buds on a romantic and fruity getaway. #toneitdown

Iceland yogurt Skyr

After lunch, we continued on our journey to the elusive terminal. We were blocked by a passport check and had to wait another hour for them to open. Again, Keflavik is a very nice airport, but they don’t announce when things open, or they do and I’m just blind. Yes you can ask someone, but that requires you to A.) find someone who works there in that particular department, and B.) general social interaction. And nobody wants that. Good thing I had the new “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” book to keep me occupied! #potterhead

Once we got through the passport check we finally reached our terminal, or rather, the door to our terminal. A woman observed out loud that “they don’t make this easy,” and it’s true. In retrospect, with the way this airport is designed there were no seats near certain gates to wait in. That may be a reason they shut us out. Or they just hate us.

Iceland Keflavik airport

After another hour or so, they finally let us in! We were slowly loaded onto a bus and taken to our plane. I’ve never been happier to sit in an airplane after all of that.

Iceland WOW airlines
WOW airplane next to ours. Ours was better.

The flight would take about 5 1/2 hours to reach Boston, so we had some time to kill. I convinced Mike to read the new Harry Potter book, and the guy sitting next to him also had the same idea! #nerds4life

Iceland airplane reading

I’m usually pretty good on airplanes (no screaming or crying from me that’s for sure), but I was getting a bit antsy. I felt slightly claustrophobic, but through sheer willpower and my “superpower” to fall asleep in any moving vehicle or mode of transportation, I fought through it.

Finally, we reached Boston! The city never looked so beautiful! Yeah, yeah, argue with me later, but I wanted LAND, people! LAND!

Iceland WOW airlines return to Boston

Once we were free from the giant metal bird, we made our way through U.S. Customs, which honestly was not as bad as I thought it would be (disclaimer – your experience may vary). We scanned our passports, got crappy photos taken of us, and gave the Customs officers said crappy photos. We were only asked three questions – where did you go, how long were you there, and did you bring back any food? We told them we brought back some chocolate, but they didn’t seem to care. As long as it’s not meat, fruit, or vegetables, it should be fine.

We finally made it home, and our cats, Hansel and Gretel, were quite happy to see us. They did give us the stink eye at first (maybe that’s just because they’ve never seen Mike wear a hat before), but after 5 minutes they warmed up to us. And yes, they loved the wool blanket. And yes, they chewed on it as I predicted and much to Mike’s horror.

Hansel and Gretel love the Icelandic wool blanket

Our trip to Iceland was amazing, and we plan to visit again in the future. Maybe we’ll even hike the glacier (and remember to bring water with us). We would definitely like to explore the northern part of the island, especially where they filmed scenes from “Game of Thrones.” Mike wants to go during the winter where 20 hours of darkness is the norm. We could cross-country ski, see the aurora borealis, and be cold all the time! Maybe the first two would outweigh the third. Regardless, if you’ve ever thought about visiting Iceland, I highly recommend it. It’s a beautiful country with a wonderful culture, and it’s always nice to get away from the usual hustle and bustle of life in the States once in a while. If you seek new landscapes, peace and quiet, and all the sheep and ponies you’d ever want to see, Iceland should be at the top of the list!