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Throw a Mardi Gras Party

As they say in New Orleans, Laissez le bon temps rouler, Cajun for "Let the good times roll!"

Mardi Gras means fat Tuesday and is the final day of the season between Christmas and Lent. Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday - the first day of Lent a period that many cultures traditionally give up favorite foods and alcohol in preparation for Easter. Fat Tuesday is a last chance party excuse before a six-week period of abstinence.

Mardi Gras Party ideas:
Grab some decorations in Mardi Gras colors of gold, green and purple representing the virtues of power, faith and justice. Hang streamers wrapped with christmas lights. Buy bags of gold doubloons and plastic beaded necklaces and fill large bowls with the typical booty thrown from floats at Mardi Gras parades.

Food - Easy Recipes:
Creole and Cajun foods are favorites for Mardi Gras parties.


Boiled Shrimp or Crawfish
Seafood Gumbo
Loaves of French Bread
Red Beans and Rice
King Cake


Boiled Shrimp or Crawfish
* 12 pounds live crawfish
* 8 quarts water
* 1 package (1 pound) Zatarain's® Crawfish, Shrimp & Crab Boil
* 1 large onion, peeled
* 1 head garlic, halved crosswise
* 1 1/2 pounds small red potatoes
* 6 ears corn, shucked and halved crosswise

1. Pour live crawfish into a washtub or ice chest; cover with water. Drain. Repeat 3 to 4 times until crawfish are clean. Drain. Discard any dead crawfish and debris.

2. Mix 8 quarts water, Crab Boil, onion and garlic in large (20-quart) stockpot. Bring to boil on high heat; boil 5 minutes. Add potatoes; boil 5 minutes. Add crawfish and corn; return to boil. Cover and cook 2 minutes.

3. Turn off heat and let stand 20 minutes. Add about 6 to 8 cups ice to stockpot; let stand 20 minutes to cool. Drain and serve.

Seafood Gumbo
* 1 cup vegetable oil
* 1 cup flour
* 2 cups chopped onions
* 8 ribs celery, chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, minced
* 8 cups chicken broth, canned or from base
* 2 large cans (28 ounces each) tomatoes, diced
* 2 packages (10 ounces each) frozen okra, sliced, thawed
* 1 pound crab claws
* 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
* 1 tablespoon hot sauce
* 2 large dried bay leaves
* 1/2 cup fresh minced parsley
* 2 teaspoons dried leaf thyme
* 2 teaspoons dried leaf basil
* 2 teaspoons dried leaf oregano
* 1 teaspoon sage
* 1 teaspoon pepper
* 2 pounds shrimp, medium, unpeeled
* 1 quart oysters, undrained, optional
* 1 pound crab meat
* 1 pound fish fillets, such as catfish or other firm white fish, cut in 1-inch pieces
* hot cooked rice
* file powder, optional

Combine oil and flour in a heavy skillet; cook over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring constantly, until roux is dark. Be very careful to keep the roux from scorching. Stir in onion, celery, and garlic; cook 10 minutes, stirring often. Transfer mixture to a Dutch oven or large kettle. Add chicken broth, tomatoes, okra, crab claws, Worcestershire sauce, hot sauce, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, basil, oregano, sage, and pepper; simmer 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Peel and devein shrimp. Add shrimp, oysters, crab meat, and fish to the pot; simmer 10 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard bay leaves. Serve gumbo over hot cooked rice and, if desired, sprinkle with file.

* 1 broiler chicken, cut up, about 3 pounds
* paprika
* 3 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 cup chopped onion
* 1 cup chopped green bell pepper
* 2 ribs celery, chopped
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 1/2 cup diced cooked ham
* 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) stewed tomatoes
* 2 cups chicken broth
* 1 cup long-grain rice
* 2 teaspoons leaf thyme, crumbled
* 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
* 1/4 teaspoon pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (Tabasco)
* 1 pound shrimp, shelled and deveined

Wash chicken and pat dry; rub with the paprika. Heat olive oil in a large skillet; add chicken and brown on all sides. Remove chicken from skillet. Add onion, green bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Sauté over low heat until onion is tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in ham, tomatoes, chicken broth, rice, thyme, salt, pepper, and hot sauce. Add chicken and turn to coat with sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minute, or until chicken is tender. Stir in shrimp and cook about 3 minutes longer, or just until shrimp turns pink.

Red Beans and Rice
* 2 cups water
* 1 cup uncooked rice
* 1 (16 ounce) package turkey kielbasa, cut diagonally into 1/4 inch slices
* 1 onion, chopped
* 1 green bell pepper, chopped
* 1 clove chopped garlic
* 2 (15 ounce) cans canned kidney beans, drained
* 1 (16 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, chopped
* 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
* salt to taste
* 1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.

2. In a large skillet over low heat, cook sausage for 5 minutes. Stir in onion, green pepper and garlic; saute until tender. Pour in beans and tomatoes with juice. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Serve over rice.

King Cake history and tradition
No Mardi Gras celebration is complete without a King Cake. This cake is actually a sweetened yeast bread, usually baked in a ring shape. The cake is frosted with gold, green, and purple icing representing in order, power, faith, and justice. Although this cake is colorful and tasty, the real fun hides within the cake.

The maker of each King Cake hides a token in the cake. The tokens used are a dried red bean or a figurine of a baby, representing the Christ child. When the cake is cut and shared, the finder of the hidden treasure is said to enjoy good luck for the coming year. The lucky recipient may also be expected to bake the King Cake or throw the Mardi Gras party for the following year.

King Cake Recipe
* 1 envelope active dry yeast
* 1/4 cup warm water, about 105 to 115 degrees
* 2 tablespoons milk, scalded and cooled
* 4 to 5 cups flour
* 8 ounces butter
* 3/4 cup sugar
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 4 eggs
* 2 teaspoons melted butter
* very small plastic doll, a large bean, or coin
* light corn syrup for topping
* granulated sugar colored with food coloring pastes: green, purple, and yellow

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk and about 1/2 cup of flour. In a large bowl, blend butter, sugar, salt and eggs. Add yeast mixture and mix thoroughly. Gradually, add 2 1/2 cups flour to make a medium dough.

Place in a greased bowl and brush with melted butter. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise until double in volume, about 3 hours. Use 1 cup or more flour to knead dough and roll into a 4 to 5 foot long rope. Form into a oval on a 14 x 17" greased baking sheet, connecting ends of the rope with a few drops of water to make a good seal.

Press the doll, bean, or coin into the dough from bottom. Cover dough ring with a damp cloth and let rise until double in volume, about 1 hour. Bake at 325° for 35 to 45 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool. Brush top of cake with corn syrup and sprinkle with alternating bands of colored sugar. If desired, freeze cake.

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A Better Burger Bash

There’s nothing better than getting a group of friends together to grill up a bunch of burgers. Here are a few ideas to spark your inner chef. Get creative with a typical ground sirloin burger by using unusual ingredients and flavors. Or you can change it up with turkey burgers or crab cake burgers. Add a few easy-to-assemble or store-bought side dishes, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for your next get-together.

Stuffed Pesto Turkey Bacon Burgers

1 lb. lean ground white-meat turkey
¼ cup bottled basil pesto sauce (or choose your favorite)
4 oz. feta cheese
a dash (or more) of hot sauce like Tabasco™
12 precooked bacon slices
4 toasted Italian rolls
Shredded spinach leaves
Tomato slices
  1. Make 8 thin turkey burger patties.
  2. Combine next 3 ingredients in a large bowl until just blended.
  3. Spread cheese and pesto mixture on 4 of the turkey burger patties
  4. Top each with a remaining turkey burger patty and press edges together to seal in stuffing
  5. Wrap pre-cooked bacon slices in a single layer tin foil
  6. Grill turkey burgers and foil-wrapped bacon on a covered grill over medium-high heat (350° to 400°). Grill for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until done.
  7. Place turkey burgers on Italian roll and top evenly with spinach, tomato, and bacon slices, and cover with roll tops.
Make it a meal with easy side dishes and dessert:
  • Greek Salad
    Pre-packaged spinach salad topped with black olives, crumbled feta, chopped red onion, pine nuts, and dressed with bottled Greek dressing
  • Balsamic Berries
    Wash and top a pint of strawberries. Marinate them in balsamic vinegar and brown sugar in refrigerator 1 – 4 hours. Serve with ready-made whipped cream topping; over vanilla ice cream; or in the traditional style with sour cream.

Black and Blue Burgers

1 1⁄2 lb. ground sirloin
2 Tbsp. stone ground mustard
1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasonings
4 oz. blue or gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
4 Tbsp. (or to taste) ground peppercorn mix - preferably black, green and pink, though black peppercorns will do
Toppings: romaine lettuce, tomato slices
  1. Combine ground sirloin, mustard, blue cheese, and Italian seasonings; shape into 4 patties.
  2. Press burgers in peppercorns to coat
  3. Grill on a covered grill over medium-high heat (350° to 400°) for 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until no longer pink in center.
  4. Serve on buns with lettuce and tomato.
Make it a meal with easy side dishes and dessert:
  • Blue cheese potato chips
    Spread a bag of thick cut kettle style salt-and-vinegar potato chips on a piece of stick-resistant tin foil and top with crumbled blue cheese to taste. Heat on the grill until blue cheese bubbles. Add chopped garlic for a pungent twist.
  • Watermelon with a squeeze of lime.
    For an adults-only treat, drizzle with lemon vodka and a dash of salt.

Island Fever Crab Cake Burgers
PREP: 10 MIN., GRILL: 20 - 30 MIN.

4 frozen crab cakes
4 thick slices of Maui or Vidalia onions
1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
4 oz. of brie, rind removed
4 Tbsp. Earth & Vine™ Kiwi Pineapple Jalapeno Fruit Spread or other tropical fruit spread
4 oz. pre-packaged angel-hair coleslaw
2 tsp. (or more to taste) favorite bottle poppy seed dressing
4 Hawaiian rolls
  1. Place crab cakes on stick-resistant tin foil and grill over medium-high heat (350° to 400°) with grill lid closed for 10 – 12 minutes on each side.
  2. Brush Vidalia or Maui onions with EVOO and grill on grates, covered with stick-resistant tin foil for 3 -4 minutes, each side.
  3. Remove rind from brie (this is easiest if the brie has been placed in the freeze for 30 minutes or an hour in advance)
  4. Mix angel-hair coleslaw with poppy seed dressing and top bottom half of each Hawaiian roll with 1 ounce.
  5. Spread 1 ounce of Tropical Fruit Spread on inside top of each Hawaiian roll
  6. Place 1 ounce of brie on each crab cake during the last minute of cooking to soften and begin to melt.
  7. Place a brie-covered crab cake on top of each coleslaw-topped Hawaiian Roll and cover with roll tops.
Make it a meal with easy sides and dessert:
  • Quick Candied Island Yams
    Mash a can of yams (in syrup, but with most of the syrup poured off) with a really ripe banana, a small can of pineapple (drained), and brown sugar to taste. If it’s adults only, add a splash or more of Amaretto. Pour mixture into a glass ovenproof casserole dish, topped with dried coconut, and heat on grill along side crab cakes. Alternately, pop it into a microwave for 3-4 minutes, 1 minute at a time until heated through (time varies depending on microwave). If you must, you can also top with tiny marshmallows.
  • Grilled pineapple packets
    Brush pineapple with EVOO and a spoonful of the tropical jam used for the crab cakes. Grill pineapple on stick-resistant foil until pineapple is tender and the juices are caramelizing. Top with a sprinkling of Demerara sugar (or other coarse sugar) and, if you have it handy, candied ginger.

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Prepping for an Uphill Climb

If you have an uphill hike in your future, you may be worried about how your body is going to hold up over mile after mile of altitude gain. Whether you're joining friends on a mountain climb or you're taking the kids up a steep trail, there are a few things you can do to keep the experience from being a painful one. A little training, some stretching, and good planning, and you'll be leading the way on your uphill climb!

No matter what pace you do it at, uphill climbing requires hard work from your hamstrings. These powerful leg muscles work overtime when it comes to propelling you uphill. On the downhill leg, your toes and knees take more of the brunt. And if you'll be carrying a backpack, your upper body also plays a big part. Not only will you need the core muscles to carry your pack for hours, but you'll need arm and shoulder strength to get your pack on and off.

Depending on the length of the hike you're planning, you might beef up your training by adding some cardiovascular exercise to your fitness routine. This is the time to schedule that daily walk or jog, and to ramp up your activity from whatever you normally do. If your hike will be very steep, you might add some stair sets to your workout. You can do these at home or go to a facility like a stadium that has a lot of stairs for extended climbs. Alternately, many gyms have stair-step cardio machines that will help you get into climbing shape.

Add stretching to your routine. Stretching not only helps prevent injuries, it also helps tired muscles recover from a hard workout. After all, if Michael Jordan believed in stretching before and after basketball games, shouldn't you? Be sure to do toe-touch stretches that extend your hamstrings, quad stretches, and calf stretches (put your hands against the wall and extend one leg behind you, gently pressing your heel toward the floor until you feel a nice stretch).

Weight lifting will help you build new muscles. With a simple pair of dumbbells‚ or even heavy soup cans‚ you can do shoulder presses, bicep curls, triceps extensions, and one-arm rows. If you go to a gym, you can use the squat press machines to build stronger quad and hamstring muscles. At home, lunges and calf raises will help you be fit and strong. As an added bonus, each of these at-home exercises requires you to practice balance, a skill that will serve you well on the trail.

Now it's time to increase the difficulty of your daily walk or jog. If you've been jogging for twenty minutes, try alternating one day of longer jogging (building up to forty minutes) with a hilly hike while wearing a backpack. If you'll be wearing boots on your hike, wear those on your practice hikes as well. If you've been walking for your exercise, alternate longer walks with walks that include hills. You may find so invigorated by your workout that you don't want to quit when you reach the end, and that's a perfect time to turn around and do the hill one more time or to go just a little farther.

As with any workout program, the key is to keep at it. Even if you don't feel up to your full workout, make a promise to yourself that you'll at least get started. Odds are that once you get moving, you'll be more interested in keeping on until you finish. And if you find your motivation lagging, keep your goal in mind. One day in the near future, you'll be climbing up a wooded trail, heading toward gorgeous vistas and clear blue skies. You might even get above the treeline and see some amazing birds and wildlife. Keep that picture in your mind's eye and enjoy the process of getting in great shape!

Walk with a Purpose

Humans were made for walking. With our upright posture, agile joints, and strong leg muscles, our bodies were literally designed with walking in mind -- which is what makes it such perfect exercise. It's kind to our bodies and great for our waistlines. And best of all, it's a great way to see new things and meet new people!

This month, why not focus on walking with a purpose? Wherever you are, in the city or at the campground, you'll find plenty of walking going on. Studies have shown that taking a walk every day significantly reduces your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, and it even lowers stress levels. Recently, science has been uncovering a link between walking and a lower risk of dementia and Alzheimer's, proving that walking is even good for your brain. And as if you needed another reason to get out a walk, it's also a terrific way to get fit and to stay in great shape. Maybe you already love to walk, but you're getting tired of tracing your same old route day after day -- or maybe you're new to walking and aren't sure how to get started. Either way, it's time to embrace the idea of walking with a purpose.

To get started, sit down with a map and make a plan. Ask yourself, what do you want to get out of walking aside from the health benefits? Do you want to meet other people? See new places? Get out into the wilderness or explore a city? Knowing your priorities will help you decide on the type of walk you want to do.

If making friends and socializing is your goal, call up your friends and schedule walks with them. Ask your friends where they like to walk and go there, since this will introduce you to new places and trails. Go online and look up your local mall or shopping center. Many malls have groups that come every day, or every weekend, to "walk the mall." These groups are always happy to include one more walker!

By the same token, you might find open groups of dog walkers at your local park. Your RV park might conduct group walks and hikes or your campground personnel might know about fun local walking groups your can join. And be sure to stay on the lookout for charity walks. In cities large and small all over the country, walks are going on almost every weekend in support of cancer research, diabetes research, and other humanitarian causes.

If solitary walks are what you're after, ask about local hikes that get you out of town and into the wilderness or countryside. Folks who are touring in an RV or car can stop at the local ranger's station or tourist bureau to ask about scenic trails that will get them away from it all. This might be just the way to find that perfect trail, getting you off the beaten path. Many large cities have incredible gardens and parks that include groomed walking trails. There are meditation walks, where you can trace a labyrinth pattern, and arboretum trails, garden walks, and sculpture parks. Thanks to the Rails to Trails program, railways across the country are being transformed into scenic walking and biking paths that are a perfect way to explore new territory.

Headed to a new city? Then tie on your walking shoes and prepare to get to know the place from the ground up! Many of our great historic cities offer detailed and well-planned walking tours. You can follow the famous painted red stripe through Boston's historic landmarks or walk your way through the sites of Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. Nearly any city you can think of offers a walking tour with maps, provided by the tourist bureau. And small towns generally have a scenic route that will carry you past its best boutiques, shops, and cafes.

From the benefits to your heart to your overall happiness, walking is just plain good for you. This month, pick up a map and start walking. (Just don't forget the sunscreen, hat, second layer, and plenty of water.) It's a fabulous way to get to know a place, propelled by the power of your own two feet.

Tai Chi

The restorative martial art of Tai Chi is on the rise as more and more people discover the health benefits that come from regular practice. With its gentle movements and focus on forms, Tai Chi is more than just a sport. It's also a relaxing, meditative exercise that calms the mind while it energizes and strengthens the body.

Tai Chi's true name in Chinese is Tai chi chuan. "Chi" means energy, and it's the focus on energy that sets Tai Chi apart from other martial arts. Tai Chi practitioners believe that, in a struggle, meeting force with force only hurts both parties. If someone attacks and the victim fights back violently, both the attacker and the victim are sure to be injured. But if the victim reacts by diverting the attacker's energy away from their body, the attacker will fall while the victim remains unhurt.

Nearly all Tai Chi movements focus on deflecting oncoming energy. But if all this talk of fighting makes Tai Chi seem intimidating, don't let it. Tai Chi is usually practiced as a solo sport, with the student going through the motions of the forms, concentrating on their breathing and posture.

The philosophy of Tai Chi is that "the soft and the pliable will defeat the hard and strong." So it's the goal of Tai Chi students to learn motions that keep themselves soft and pliable. As a result, nearly all Tai Chi movements are done with bent knees, a straight back and torso, and fluid arm movements. Many Westerners love Tai Chi because it provides a low-impact work out that strengthens the abdominals and thigh muscles without putting any strain on the joints.

Most Tai Chi practice revolves around two forms, the solo form and the various methods of pushing hands. The second form is where the martial art of Tai Chi comes in, but if you're just looking for a healthful exercise, the first is what you're after. In this form, you'll keep a low center of gravity while you work on your posture and fluidly as you shift from pose to pose.

Tai Chi is quite easy to learn. Many recreation centers and community groups offer classes, sometimes in parks and other public places. Often these classes are free and open to anyone who shows up. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing when you go to class, and tennis shoes or shoes you don't mind standing and moving in.

One of the major benefits of Tai Chi is that it's a sport you can practice for life. In China, many elderly people continue to do Tai Chi well into their eighties and nineties, and the strengthening and balance moves are hugely beneficial to their continued mobility. Also, the slow pace of Tai Chi makes it a great stress-reliever. As you focus on your breathing and posture, your mind can clear itself of its worries, and that does your whole body good.

Best of all, Tai Chi can be performed anywhere. All you need is your own body and enough room to stand in. You can do Tai Chi on a mountaintop, in the desert, on an ocean beach, or in the middle of a forest. It's a perfect camping activity, and it's a lot of fun. So the next time you see someone doing Tai Chi, ask them about it. They just might offer to teach you the forms of this fascinating sport.

Exercise Bands

How can you get in a fabulous strength-training workout while you're camping or traveling in an RV? With exercise bands! These small, flexible bands are easy to pack, fit into a small space, and offer a surprisingly great workout. Exercise bands (sometimes called resistance bands) increase your coordination, balance, and stability. They're cheap, great for all fitness levels, and they give you plenty of variety. In other words, they're the perfect traveling home gym.

Before You Start
Before you buy an exercise band, you should know that working out with one will feel different than lifting weights in a gym. Regular weights react to gravity, so the dumbbell feels heavier when you lift it up then when you lower it. Resistance bands keep a constant tension, forcing your muscles to work during both parts of the exercise.

You can do all the same moves with bands that you would do with machines at the gym, but you have to know where to position the band. Get creative! You can use your own body (feet, for instance) to hold the band, or attach it to a door frame or heavy piece of furniture.

Bands come in three weights: light, medium, and heavy. For the most part, heavy bands are best for exercises done with the lower body, while light or medium bands work well for upper body exercises. When you're getting started, be sure to do the exercises slowly, concentrating on your form. Remember that you get better results from doing the moves slowly and perfectly, even if it means not doing as many repetitions.

Begin with one set of 8 to 10 repetitions and move up to two sets, and then three. You can also increase the number of repetitions you do in each set. To make an exercise harder, shorten the band by either spreading your feet (if they're anchoring the band) or by grasping the band in a different place with your hands.

Basic Exercises
Biceps Curls - Put the band underneath your feet and stand up straight. Hold one handle in each hand and slowly curl your biceps, just as your would with a dumbbell. You can make the move easier by standing on the band with only one foot, or harder by spacing your feet farther apart.

Overhead press - Stand on the band with one foot and press your arms overhead.

Squats - Stand on the band with both feet (set hip-width apart) and hold the handles near your shoulders, elbows bent. Straighten your legs to perform the squat, taking care to keep your back flat.

Chest Press - Run the band around a pole or rail behind you (at chest height) and grip one handle in each hand. Step far enough away from the pole to create constant tension. Hold your bent elbows at each side with your forearms parallel to the floor, upper arms in line with your body. Press forward and then return to the start position.

Seated Row - Use the same band position you had for the chest press, but turn around so that you're facing the pole or rail. In a seated position with your feet comfortably propped against something solid, stretch your arms out in front of you and grasp the bands. Pull back until your elbows are in line with your body, forearms parallel to the floor.

Leg Kicks - Wrap the middle of the band around your left foot and take the handles in each hand. Move onto your hands and knees, knees bent, back flat. With your left foot flexed, slowly straighten your leg back and up behind you, squeezing the glutes. To make this harder, wrap the band around your hands.


Whether you'd like to loosen tight muscles, become more flexible, or just keep yourself from getting injured when you exercise or play sports, stretching is crucial. With just a few minutes of gentle stretching, you can reduce the pain that comes from tight muscles, improve your posture, and increase your range of motion. Stretching also improves your balance and coordination. With all these benefits, why not give stretching a try?

There's one other side effect of stretching that makes it particularly worthwhile. It feels terrific. By putting gentle tension on your muscles, you'll find out where your body is tight, has knots, and needs further attention. If you've been sitting all day, you may be surprised to discover how cramped your neck, back, and shoulders are. Alternately, if you've had a day of strenuous hiking, biking, or other exercise, you'll need stretching to prevent injuries and help avoid next-day soreness.

Here are some basic stretches you can use to keep your body loose and limber. Be sure to never bounce into a stretch or try to hold anything that's painful. You should feel tension, but not pain. If you're feeling pain, you need to back off a little and choose a position that's gentler. Breathe as you stretch.

Hamstring (or Back-of-the-leg) Stretch
The hamstring muscle runs down the back of your upper leg. Tightness in this muscle can lead to serious back pain, so it's an important one to stretch. For a gentle stretch, lie on the floor near a doorway or wall corner. Working one leg at a time, lift your leg and rest the heel on the wall with your leg slightly bent. Gently straighten your leg until you feel a nice stretch. Pause there and wait. If you can go more deeply into the stretch, do so, otherwise stay in this position for half a minute. Then switch legs.

Calf Stretch
This muscle runs down the back of your lower leg. Tightness in the calf can lead to foot and heal pain. Stand about an arm's length away from a wall. Put your left foot behind your right foot. With your left leg straight (right leg bent), lean toward the wall until you feel a nice stretch in your calf. To make the stretch deeper, you can bend the right leg further or increase the distance between your feet.

Quadriceps Stretch
The quadriceps, or "quads" are the large muscles that run down the front of your thigh. Standing near a wall or chair for support, reach back and grasp your ankle. Gently pull the ankle toward you until you feel a nice stretch across the front of your thigh. Tighten your stomach muscles and pay attention to your posture as you do this stretch. Hold for half a minute, switch legs, and repeat.

Shoulder Stretch
Tight shoulder muscles can lead to neck and back pain as well as rotator cuff problems. To keep these muscles flexible, stretch by bringing your right arm across the front of your body and holding it there with your left arm or hand, somewhere near the elbow. Hold the stretch for half a minute, switch arms, and repeat.

You can also raise your right arm straight overhead, then bend the elbow so that your right hand falls behind your head. Using your left hand, gently pull your right elbow toward the centerline of your body. Ideally, you want your right forearm to be straight up and town. Be sure to keep your head and neck straight, and don't let your right arm force the head down or forward in any way. Switch arms and repeat.

Neck Stretch
This is very important for drivers! Stretch your neck one side at a time, beginning with the right. Tilt your head to the left and use your left hand to very gently pull your head toward the front of your left shoulder. Do not pull hard. The neck is fragile, so you must be gentle with this stretch. Repeat on the opposite side. You may also want to stretch the back of the neck by tipping the head directly forward.

Hip Stretch
Tight hips can cause all kinds of posture and walking problems. Keep yours flexible by lying on the floor and drawing one knee up toward your chest. You may feel the stretch in your lower back. Hold here for half a minute or up to one minute, then switch legs and repeat.

Cross-Country Skiing

This ancient sport is one of the best forms of exercise you'll ever find. The full body movements of cross-country skiing, working both arms and legs, will get your heart pumping without any of the impact that harms knees and other joints. Not only is cross-country skiing terrific exercise, it's also a great way to glide across a snow-covered landscape. On your long Nordic skis, you'll be the master of snowy fields and trails, no matter how deep the drifts.

How To
Cross-country, or Nordic, skiing is easy to pick up, but it does take a little getting used to. Nordic skis are longer than downhill skis, to better spread the skier's weight across the snow. This makes them effective as skis, but challenging for anyone trying to turn or pivot. The best way to use your cross-country skis, then, is to travel in a straight line whenever possible.

Your cross-country skis will be equipped with bindings that clip onto your ski boots, but unlike downhill skis, these don't pop free when you fall down. Also, they're only affixed at the toe, leaving your heel free to move. When you start skiing, begin by pushing one foot forward. Transfer your weight onto that foot and slide your other foot forward. This glide-and-slide motion is the basis of cross-country skiing. It's a little like shuffling around the house in slippers that are too big, and it can take some time before it feels comfortable. The good news is that you can make progress and move down the trail even while you're learning and perfecting your technique. Unlike downhill skiing, this really is a sport you can pick up within minutes.

Your ski gear will also come with poles. As you get used to your sliding foot motion, you'll soon see how you can use the poles to push yourself forward. They also help you keep your balance as you're learning. When you become a proficient skier, you can learn new techniques like skate-skiing that will let you fly across the snow.

Making a turn in cross-country skis can be tricky. For beginners, it's best to come to a full stop and angle your skis to the side, step by step, taking baby steps until you make a full turn. Try not to step on one ski with the other -- you're most likely to fall down if you get your skis tangled. As you progress in your skills, you'll learn to use your poles to make a jump turn that will spin your skis in one quick motion.

Going Uphill
How do you go uphill on skis? On cross-country skis, you have three options. First, you may have skis with 'fish-scale' type material on the bottom. With these skis, you can ski straight up small slopes easily. If you find yourself slipping, however, you'll need to use either the side-step or herringbone technique. The side-step is a beginner's move, but it comes in handy in a pinch. Pivot your skis and turn so that they're perpendicular to the slope you want to climb. Move your uphill ski up one step, then move your downhill ski up until it's next to the other ski. Keep 'stepping' until you climb the whole hill.

The herringbone technique is far more advanced. You'll see Nordic skiiers using this method in the Olympics and other races. To perform the herringbone, stand facing the hill. Lift your right ski and place it in front of you, turned out about 30 or 45 degrees. Shift your weight to this ski. Lift your left ski and bring it forward, turning it out 30 or 45 degrees. Keep moving like this, with your feet turned out like a duck's. The angle will keep you from slipping back down the hill. Use your poles to keep your balance and move as quickly as you can.

Cross-country skiing will give you an amazing work-out. But the beauty of it is that you can go at your own pace, resting whenever you like. It feels less intense than it is! Just remember to dress in layers, so you can cool down as you warm up.


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