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Photographs by Meadow Linn

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Gold Star Experiment


When I was a schoolteacher, I carpooled with a woman who went to the gym every day, rain or shine. Even if she had a cold, she’d workout on the treadmill.

I’m not like that.

Actually, I enjoy exercise, but it just takes a lot to motivate me. Justification for not doing it flows from me with the ease of water breaking through a poorly built dam. It’s too cold, too hot, too late, too early. I’m too hungry, too full, too busy, too tired.

I spend a lot of time at my computer. And when I’m not sitting at my desk, I’m usually in the kitchen tasting test batches of new dishes. Unfortunately, this is not the best recipe for optimum health and fitness. As a result, I’ve noticed that I’ve been a bit sluggish lately, and I’m getting pudgy around the middle. So, I decided to try an experiment.

When I was teaching French to elementary school-aged children, I used a reward system that worked incredibly well. Every student got a gold star for the day if they made an effort to speak French. It was remarkable to see how hard they worked for this seemingly small token.

The December Calendar on My Fridge
I wondered if I could apply this same tactic to my own life. So began my Gold Star Experiment.

On the first of this month I posted a calendar on my fridge. Each day contains the words “Exercise” and “Vitamins.” I made it simple because I knew if I set my expectations too high there would be a greater chance I wouldn’t follow through. The goal: take vitamins and do something active every day. Anything from a walk around the block to an intense gym workout counts as “exercise” in order to make it doable for me. 

Keeping track of each day is very helpful. Otherwise, I have a tendency to put things off until tomorrow. But then tomorrow becomes another tomorrow and so on. This way I’m accountable every single day.

To sweeten the deal, I’ve promised myself a special treat if I receive 31 gold stars this month. It’s been years since I’ve played in the snow, and I’ve been missing it. So, a trip to the mountains to ski might be just the extra motivation I need to keep going.

The last time I went skiing was nine years ago. Time flies!
There’s an unforeseen benefit to this experiment. It’s getting me out of the house. There are many benefits to working from home; however, one of the challenges is isolation. As long as I have food in the cupboards, I could go (and have gone) days without setting foot out the front door. I love the flexibility of setting my own hours and the luxury of working in my pajamas, but it can also be a solitary existence. In many ways, Facebook has replaced friendly chats with strangers at the market, and e-mail has supplanted Friday night drinks with friends. I’m not necessarily lonely, but I am alone most of the time.

Upon commencing this experiment and returning to the gym after my long hiatus, I was amazed by how many friendly faces there were. A trainer I didn’t think knew me asked how I’d been, and a man with a beautiful weathered face teased me for my lengthy absence. I didn’t realize that there was such a community I’d been missing.

Additionally, during these cold and dark winter evenings, it’s pretty easy for me to hunker down with a warm blanket and a good movie after dinner and while the time away, glued to the television. But, I’ve been taking many of my walks at night, which has improved my overall sense of wellbeing. The crisp air, the twinkling stars, and the smell of wood smoke are invigorating. And the quiet has given me time to reflect and ponder. I didn’t realize how bereft I’ve been of nature and the outdoors.

The sunset during one of my afternoon walks
The month isn’t yet finished, but so far, the experiment is a success. It seems…Gold stars aren’t just for children!

Do you need a little extra motivation? Do you get enough exercise? Do you eat the way you’d like to eat? What about the vitamins you’ve been meaning to take? What have you been putting off? Consider taking steps today to make it happen. They say it can take two weeks to form a habit. What healthy habit can you form today? Be sure to set reasonable goals and celebrate like crazy every time you accomplish something on your list, no matter how small. Here’s to making every day a gold star day!


Gold Star Gingerbread 
Thick and Chewy OR Thin and Crisp

(Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free, and Vegan)

Often I’m an “all-or-nothing” kinda gal. This month, however, has been a revelation. When I was first embarking on the Gold Star Experiment, I planned to include a host of other must-do activities, including making Green Juice daily and avoiding holiday treats. But then I realized that likely I was taking on too much, and my ambition would set me up for inevitable failure. So, instead, I’ve decided to take baby steps. It’s the holidays after all, and I want to take part in the festivities, which includes savoring occasional treats. For those of us with food sensitivities, however, this can sometimes be a challenge. So, I’ve created a delicious gingerbread recipe that can be enjoyed by those who do not eat gluten, dairy, or eggs. Happy holidays!

Note: This recipe contains almonds. Not suitable for those with tree nut allergies.  

Makes 2 or more dozen (depending on thickness and size)

1¼ cup almond meal
1 cup brown rice flour
½ cup coconut flour
¼ cup sweet rice flour
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. sea salt
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 Tbsp. ground ginger
½ tsp. ground cloves
½ cup coconut sugar
¾ cup all vegetable shortening (such as Spectrum Organic)
¾ cup molasses
¼ cup almond milk

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the almond meal, brown rice flour, coconut flour, and sweet rice flour until fully combined. Sprinkle in the baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and coconut sugar and mix again. Add the the vegetable shortening and mix until fully incorporated. Pour the molasses and almond milk into the bowl and process until dough is formed.Pour the molasses and almond milk into the bowl and process until dough is formed. This dough will be quite wet; however, this is necessary because coconut flour is very absorbent. Otherwise, the cookies would be too dry. Divide the dough in two and as best you can, knead each half between your palms. Form a flat disc with each half and wrap them with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight (or even longer if you can). It will be too sticky to work with otherwise.

For thick and chewy cookies, roll the dough between wax paper to approximately ¼ inch thick (though I like to go just a bit thicker than that). Use your favorite cookie cutters to make shapes and use a thin, wide spatula to transfer them to a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Bake in an oven preheated to 350ºF for approximately 8-15 minutes. Remove when the centers are set and your finger only makes a slight impression. The thick and chewy cookies may crack a bit in the oven, but hopefully you'll agree that this adds to their charm. Cool the cookies on a rack.

For thin and crisp, follow the directions above; however, roll the dough to approximately 1/8 inch thick and bake at 325ºF for 15-20 minutes. Remove when the centers are firm.

Once the cookies are completely cool, frost with your favorite icing.