Look Before You Cook (or Bake)

Over the past year Jason and I have greatly reduced the amount of food we let go to waste.  We didn’t set out to make this an intentional goal.  I’d like to say it came from our desire to help the environment, but in reality it stemmed from the fact that I hate cooking dinner.

Despite my disdain for being in the kitchen I was regularly cooking Sun. through Thurs. with Friday being a “whatever” day (typically grilled cheese) and Sat. being another “whatever” day or going out to eat.  I started to realize that quite often on Fridays we would have several containers of leftovers from the week that usually ended up being thrown out.  I began to stop cooking on Thurs. evenings and told Jason that Fridays would be our day to eat up the leftovers.  It has worked very well and only once in a great while do we end up not having leftovers on Friday to eat and have to rely on sandwiches or takeout.

When I arrived home from track practice today (I was actually able to run as we did a hill workout and I joined the kids!) I saw there were three bananas starting to go bad in our basket.  Randomly motivated to bake, I decided to put them to use and make banana bread.  Jason’s had a rough two weeks at work with computer issues making him stay late and banana bread is one of his favorites, so I figured it’d make a nice surprise for after work.

I learned from past mistakes (or so I thought) to always check that I have ingredients on hand prior to starting a recipe.  Shortening was the only item I had to confirm I had.  Seeing that I had more than the needed one cup I felt good to go.

Once I reached the step that involved mixing flour, salt and baking powder my trouble began.  I normally have two types of flour on hand – white unbleached flour for baking and white whole wheat flour for pancakes.  I realized the flour used for baking definitely didn’t have 2.5 cups in it.  Unsure if I was fine to use the white whole wheat flour, I figured I might as well try since I had a whole unopened bag in the cupboard.  The best by date read Jan. 19, 2018.

“Good thing I decided to use this today” I thought.  I then opened the bag to find three tiny bugs sitting on top of the flour.  Keep in mind I’m someone who rarely relies on package dates to determine whether or not to eat something; I typically rely on the “If it looks fine and smells fine then it’s fine to eat” rule.  For a fraction of a second I wondered if the bugs could be spooned out before I just became utterly disgusted by the fact that they were in there and threw the entire bag in the garbage.  So much for not wasting food right?

I have since pulled up Google images of weevils to confirm that indeed those were the bugs in my flour.  How they got into a sealed bag is beyond me and it likely would gross me out further to know.

In any case there I was in the kitchen with a bowl of mixed mashed bananas and eggs and another of beaten shortening and sugar and no flour to use.  I put the banana/egg mixture in the fridge, turned off the preheated oven and headed down the road to Nells.  My annoyance at having to go out for one item was alleviated when a nice gentleman in line ahead of me asked if I just had just the flour and let me go ahead of him.  It’s nice to be reminded there are some decent people in the world.

My banana bread is now cooling on the counter after sampling an end piece (my favorite part) and I hope Jason is surprised when he comes home.  I am now motivated to go through my cupboards and pantry to scope out what little used items may have long since expired.  I did that task recently with my spice rack as I had some that were best by 2016.  While I realize old spices can’t make me sick I know the flavor in them wouldn’t be anywhere close to as good 2 years later.  My lesson is learned yet again as I will not only be checking in advance to ensure I have ingredients on hand but that they are all usable ingredients!

Here is the recipe for the banana bread if you’re interested.  I normally use three bananas instead of five as I find the banana taste is super strong with more than three.

Have you ever had a similar experience while cooking or baking?  Do you use different types of flour depending on what you’re making?  Do you like banana bread?  Feel free to leave your thoughts below!

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Sickness Slump

I very rarely get sick.  If I do it tends to be a stomach bug that lasts less than a day.  Once in a blue moon I’ll develop some very mild seasonal allergies for a few days.  Even headaches are a rarity for me as I can normally attribute them to hunger, dehydration or hormones.  Prior to last week I can’t even recall the last true cold that I had.

The first week of January I woke up with a slight sore throat every morning.  It typically went away after breakfast so I chalked it up to the dry air.  Then on Sunday it stuck around all day.  And the next day.  And the day after that.  As it seemed like it was finally beginning to improve (and I had polished off half a bag of doTERRA’s OnGuard cough drops) I developed full cold symptoms of head and nasal congestion.

Despite my increasingly stuffy head and depletion of energy I decided to go running with my usual group Wed. evening.  I am a firm believer in the “symptoms from the neck up it’s ok to exercise and symptoms from the neck down don’t exercise”.  Not to mention I had a race scheduled for Sat. morning and I had only ran the previous Wed.  I was still doing regular DailyBurn workouts but to me they don’t equate to logging the miles needed to be racing.  With temperatures listed in the 40s I thought I could get away with wearing running tights and a long sleeved t, but upon arriving at the meeting spot I realized it felt a lot colder so I added my hoodie, gloves and headband.

Maybe I was actually slower than usual or maybe my group was truly running faster than me, but by the time we started crossing the Columbia-Wrightsville bridge I was falling behind.  The bridge still had some snow/slush spots that made me leery to run over so I baby stepped some of them which slowed me down.  My group waited for me at the end of the bridge, and my dad asked me if I was going to continue on or run back.  My response was “Well my head’s going to keep feeling like shit no matter what I do so I might as well keep going”.  My legs actually felt really good which is a reason I decided to continue.  My mental state left something to be desired though as I was feeling discouraged being so far behind the others.  Fortunately my dad dropped back to run with me realizing I had never ran their usual route through Columbia.  It boosted my spirits and talking with him distracted me from my pounding head.  We completed around 6 miles, bringing my 2 week total to 11 miles going into Saturday’s race.

Around 1am on Thursday morning Jason kept nudging me to the point that I got irritated and asked why he was doing that.  Apparently I was snoring.  Loudly.  I grabbed my pillow and some blankets and relocated to the couch where I slept better than I expected.

That evening I went to Rite Aid, finally resorting to taking cold medicine.  I hate medicine and tend to let most ailments run their course if possible.  Another reason I hate medicine, particularly for colds, is the endless array of choices.  I think I spent close to 10 minutes comparing descriptions of symptoms and ingredients before settling on Rite Aid’s brand of daytime cold/flu medicine.  I find the daytime vs nighttime medicine thing to be a bit of a joke.  I’m guessing the nighttime version (because it does have slightly increased dosages of two of the medicines) helps people sleep, but given I sleep without issue most nights I figured the daytime version would be most practical.

After my trip to Rite Aid I went to my massage therapy appointment.  I was long overdue for one as the last one was in September and I try to go about every three months.  My usual therapist had left or been let go a week before my half marathon (I had plans to get a post run massage two days after) so I saw a new therapist.  While the appointment definitely loosened up my tightened back, neck and legs, it probably wasn’t the smartest idea to fill my body with more toxins as it was already battling a cold.

To me the true annoyance of head colds is that I never feel sick enough to stop going about my regular routine, but I still feel crummy in general.  I wasn’t looking forward to the Indian Rock 10k scheduled for Saturday morning but planned on running as best as I could.  When the forecast began to show snow and ice accumulations overnight Friday into Saturday though I began slightly hoping for the race to be canceled so I could get out of running it without having any guilt.  My parents visited that evening, and my dad said that he and Todd already decided they weren’t going to run the race as the temps were predicted to be in the 20s with 20-30 mph winds.  I said given my still sick status I might as well skip it as well, feeling a twinge of guilt and a bit of relief.

The race was actually held, but I was glad I didn’t go.  Jason and I ran a lot of errands including finding a new couch with chaise to replace our peeling love seat (I guess if you don’t get genuine leather that’s common) and we tried a new diner for lunch.  The entire day I felt head congestion right between my eyes despite taking the cold medicine every few hours.  Sunday the congestion moved to the right side of my head and yesterday it finally seemed to be gone.

I had been sleeping on an air mattress in our spare room/my office so that Jason could get some sleep.  Apparently he could even hear me snoring through the wall sometimes because the nasal congestion was that bad.  This morning he said he didn’t hear anything, so I’ll be happily returning to the bed tonight.

Anyone else battle illness so far this winter?  Do you take medicine right away or try to hold off until it’s unbearable?  Do you continue workouts while sick?

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Re-Reading Old Writings

Jason and I were watching Family Guy last night when a particular scene resonated with me.  Brian was rereading texts he had sent his new love interest and Stewie proceeded to make fun of him saying that no one rereads sent texts.  While I’m not one to regularly reread text messages (unless someone has taken a long time to respond and I’ve actually forgotten what my initial message to that person was) I do enjoy rereading my writings.

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry Saving Your History.  It got me thinking about all the writings I had done throughout my lifetime that I never kept.  From short stories in high school to 10+ page papers in college, part of me wishes I had kept documentation of everything I had ever written.  While not all of it may have been of the highest caliber it all came from me and that in itself has meaning.

I do actually have every physical diary/journal I have ever used beginning with the Lisa Frank diary I received for my birthday in 3rd grade.  Believe me when I say it is comical to read the woes of an elementary school girl.  Those were the days of being best friends with someone one day and not the next, wanting my own bedroom and being nervous about holding hands with my first “boyfriend” at a roller skating party.

Over the years my journal entries transitioned from just day to day documentation of life.  By high school they were most often about the high points (my first Homecoming dance) and low points (losing best friends due to graduation, a new girlfriend and unknown reasons).  My journal was as much a memory documenter as it was an emotional keeper.

My freshman year of college, fall 2005, was the first I discovered the world of blogging thanks to Xanga.  Granted I treated it more like an actual online diary than a blog with thematic posts, but it was still the first time my personal writing was actually shared with others.  Facebook was still relatively new at that point and only available to people with a college email address.  Myself and a lot of my friends still relied on MySpace for posting pics, but Xanga became our way of actually keeping up with one another’s lives.  More than just a status update or handful of characters and hashtags, we actually wrote paragraphs about what was going on in our lives.  We didn’t just “like” each other’s writings, we actually commented on it or picked up the phone and called each other to discuss.

I was devastated when Facebook became the new norm.  It just wasn’t the same or equally as good to me.  Slowly but surely everyone I knew abandoned their Xanga accounts.  I was likely one of the last, if not the last, among my friends to give it up for good.

On a whim a few months ago I went to Xanga’s website to see if it was even possible to still access my old account.  I had assumed those writings were gone forever and had cursed myself for not physically writing in my journal more during those college years.  After logging in I discovered that users who hadn’t accessed Xanga within a certain number of years had their posts archived and could download them.  It was like discovering old family photos nearly forgotten in a shoe box in the closet.

If my elementary school diaries are comical to read then my Xanga entires are certainly cringe worthy at times.  The teenage angst and drama is so overtly apparent that it’s near embarrassing.  The stress and sometimes hatred of college, loneliness of having friends in other states and struggles of a first real relationship are mixed with philosophical wondering and excitement of new life experiences.

I haven’t reread all the entries as there are a lot more than I expected.  I used Xanga habitually to document nearly everything, big and small, it seems.  Some of the entries hurt when I read them as I’m taken back to some really rough periods in life and reminded of some stupid decisions I made.  Other entries make me literally laugh out loud as they retell memories I had long forgotten.

I am grateful to have recovered these writings as they are part of my story.  I think that’s one of the main reasons I enjoy rereading past writings, good and bad.  They reflect who I am and how I’ve grown both as a person and a writer throughout the years.  While I may not still have all my more “academic writings” I am glad to have all my personal writings.  They may never be read by anyone else, but they’ll always be there for me to reread.

 

 

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Save Green While Being Green in 2018

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to save more money.  What if I told you there were several ways to do this while combating global warming at the same time?  Here are 5 easy goals to implement in 2018 that will benefit both your wallet and the planet:

1 – Buy a reusable water bottle.  Instead of throwing away money, as well as plastic, all year long, invest in a high quality water bottle.  Keep it near your lunch box or purse as a reminder to take it to work, to the gym or on long car rides.

2 – Shop big box stores.  Buying in bulk at Sams Club or BJs is nearly always more cost effective particularly on non perishable items such as toilet paper.  The reduced amount of packaging means less material is used in production and less ends up in the garbage.

3 – Implement “Meatless Mondays”.  Or Tuesdays.  Or Fridays.  Whatever day you choose just pick one and make it a habit to not consume any meat.  The other days try to restrict consumption of red meat by choosing chicken, fish, turkey or pork.  This helps reduce the amount of methane emissions released by cattle.  These options can often be cheaper than beef as well.

4 – Group errands together.  If you’re like me and live in an area where biking instead of driving a car isn’t very practical, then limit your transportation emissions by planning out your errands.  Instead of making multiple trips all over town over the course of the week, choose one day to be your errand day.  This will help save gas which in turn saves money.

5 – Watch the thermostat.  I realize right now with the east coast in a deep freeze for the weekend no one is wanting to turn the heat down.  However, layering up and turning the thermostat down even 2 degrees (or up 2 degrees in the summer) will cut down on heating and cooling expenses.  This will also help scale back fossil fuel emissions.

I hope these tips are useful in the new year.  Here’s to bigger bank accounts and saving the planet!

 

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Holiday Brain Freeze

As I’m reading so many other blogs about wrapping up the holidays and plans for 2018, I can’t help but feel a bit jealous.  While I had a very nice and relaxing holiday season, I feel as if it has put me into a mental slump.  Add onto that the below freezing temperatures affecting this area and I’m a downright winter zombie lately.

The week leading up to Christmas was busy with track practices, two group runs and creating a personal climate action plan for my Coursera class.  I’m normally busier on Fridays at work, but the 22nd I was pushing more than usual to get time cards checked in anticipation of payroll submission on the 26th.  The only downfall to having a 3 day weekend is that it results in making 5 days’ worth of work need to be completed in 4.

Needless to say I was looking very much forward to 3 days in a row of sleeping in followed by a week of no track practices, wrapping up my Coursera class and another 3 day weekend.  Christmas was nice and low key.  I received more gifts than I needed or asked for, but my parents seem to never want to reign in their holiday spending.  I used the holidays as an excuse to indulge in more sweets than usual figuring I had been keeping up with my running and workouts consistently enough to merit it.

I ran with my usual group on the 27th and put to use some of the new cold weather running clothes my parents bought me.  I was psyched for the next York Winter Series race scheduled for the 30th, the John Rudy 5 Miler.  After 3 challenging courses I was looking forward to racing on the much flatter rail trail despite the colder weather.  The forecast called for some light snow to begin early Saturday morning, but it hadn’t sounded like anything that would be an issue.  I set my alarm, laid out my running clothes and went to bed on Fri. looking forward to the race.

My alarm went off at 7:40am on Sat. and I looked out the living room window to see more snow on the road than I had expected.  I was starting to contemplate whether or not I should risk driving to the race when I received a text message from my friend and the race director, Todd, informing me that they were canceling the race.  To say I was bummed would be an understatement.  I’m not even sure if the park opened that day (they don’t have weekend maintenance staff available to plow parking lots), and I know it was the right call to keep people safe at home.  I just really wanted to run that race.

I think the race’s cancellation, coupled with the ridiculously cold temps and wind chills that arrived on Sun. kicked off my new year brain freeze.  I spent New Year’s Eve and Day at home with Jason which was very relaxing.  We watched the X Files (his favorite Christmas gift) and played Wii and watched the ball drop on Sun. and had more TV binging on Mon.  However,  I think the overindulgence in holiday foods (we went to Christmas at my aunt’s house Sat. evening with my dad’s side of the family), the continued unhealthy eating (pizza and leftover rum balls) and the multiple days of sleeping in took its toll on my well being.

I feel as if I’m mentally slogging through this week with the only hope of feeling normal again based on the anticipated return to “normal winter temperatures” next week.  I did succeed in running 5 miles this evening with my dad which I believe is now my coldest run to date.  It took close to 2 miles for my fingers and toes to stop feeling so cold.  We ran it in 49 minutes which wasn’t too bad all things considered.  With possible snow overnight and a weekend set to have negative wind chill temps though, I think it’s safe to say that was my biggest accomplishment of the week and all my workouts will remain indoors until next week.

I had been doing so well tolerating winter until last week.  I was beginning to even have some slight appreciation for the challenges it posed to me as a runner.  Then Mother Nature decided to push my limits and force me to say once more, I HATE WINTER.  Here’s hoping for some warmer temps to unfreeze my brain and a return to healthier eating to energize me for the new year!

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2017 – A Year of Personal Enrichment

I really dislike most cliche traditions but reflecting on the past year is something I thoroughly enjoy provided the year was a good one which 2017 certainly was.  Looking back I realize that while I created a lot of fun memories I also enriched my life in more ways without intentionally trying it.  Here is a breakdown of the categories that have helped enhance my well being as a person:

Writing – My sometimes stated but always underlying New Year’s resolution is to write more.  I can say that I have actually done that in 2017.  I would have to review my stats, but I am fairly certain I wrote more blogs this past year than any other year since I had my blog.  I believe I am also developing my own “voice” in the blog as well and try to really put effort behind each post to make it worth reading.  Although somewhat boring at times I actually wrote more in 2017 for work as well as I have become the unofficial “procedure and help guide creator” on my team.  I also had two letters to the editor published in the York Dispatch.  I have often said it’s an unofficial life goal to write a book, but at this stage in my life I am finding that short excerpts such as blogs and essays really are more of my forte.  In 2018 I intend to keep this writing momentum going and hopefully branch into writing some op-eds for the newspaper.

Running – Much like writing, running tends to go without saying that it has enhanced my life each year.  Running actually fueled more of my writing as I documented my 2nd half marathon training and am currently writing about the The York Winter Series.  I am forever grateful to the orthopedic doctor and the physical therapists who put me back on track after years of struggling with knee pain.  I haven’t committed to any specific running goals as of late other than surviving the winter, but there could possibly be another half marathon to come in 2018.

Working Out – While running will always have my heart, I have also gained an appreciation for mobility work this year.  It has helped me feel more in tune with my body and to grow stronger.  I love my foam roller and would’ve never guessed such a cheap investment could help repair sore muscles so well.  I also love my DailyBurn app.  For years I hated workout dvds as I often found them too long, hard and/or boring.  DailyBurn is none of those and for $10 a month it’s cheaper than most gyms.

Reading – I have and probably always will read nearly anything.  I was the child who read the back of the shampoo bottle in the bathtub.  It’s just in my nature and is probably why I can recall a lot of random facts.  While I certainly didn’t read as many books in 2017 as I have in past years the ones I did read certainly were thought provoking.  1984 is one that I heard so much about but despite reading Animal Farm in high school, just never picked up.  I received it for Christmas last year and finally read it and understood why I heard so much about it given recent political events.  The Road was the most beautifully heart breaking writing I have ever read.  While somewhat slow at times, I found that the detail in the descriptions of the environment made me want to keep reading.  I just finished A Christmas Carol.  I have always loved Dickens so why it took me so long to read it I’ll never know.  The story was familiar of course, but reading it in its original version as opposed to just watching movie versions of it truly added to the Christmas season.

Coaching – I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity I had this year to join the Wildcats’ coaching staff.  I hadn’t coached track since I was in college and it was a great to have My First Season Coaching the Wildcats.  The ability to learn from seasoned coaches and bond with some really great student athletes has been great experience.  We started off season training 3 days a week earlier this month and I’m already looking forward to the spring when I can see my athletes compete again.

Climate Change Advocating – Not long after the 2016 election, particularly with the appointment of Scott Pruitt to the EPA, I felt compelled to do more to help the environment.  It was no longer enough for me to recycle and watch documentaries; I had to find a way to try to stop the madness.  In my searching I came across Citizens’ Climate Lobby.  The local chapter meets once a month at a location not far from my house, and I always look forward to the meetings.  Conversing with similar minded people who are as passionate about climate change as I am just brings about such a connection for me.  I am wrapping up a climate change course via Coursera this week and am looking forward to integrating some of the things I learned with my CCL chapter and helping to advance our cause even further in 2018.

2017 was very much a personally enriching year while containing a lot of special memories as well.  Here’s to even more growth and fun in 2018!

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Presence over Presents

Cause it’s not the presents under my tree
It’s your presence right here next to me

The Christmas season is always such a whirlwind of decorating, shopping, baking, eating and comings and goings that it often feels much shorter than it is.  Too often I think people allow the stresses of the season to take away the joy that Christmas is meant to be.  Whether it’s trying to find the perfect gift or cooking the perfect ham, people can easily lose sight of the truly special moments.

I used to really enjoy gift giving.  I found it fun to shop for others as I never honestly enjoyed shopping much for myself.  Wrapping the gifts brought enjoyment as well.  The best was seeing the expressions on the faces of those to whom I gave the gifts.

This year, however, was the biggest struggle when it came to gift giving – both in telling others what to get me as well as deciding what to get them.  It frustrated me at times and made me question why we even needed to exchange gifts.  I just wanted to enjoy time with people.

Looking back over the past two weeks I see that I actually got to enjoy more people’s company this holiday season than I realized.

I attended my monthly Citizen’s Climate Lobby meeting and provided eggnog and cookies from two new recipes Jason and I tried out this year.  The snack was well appreciated and it felt good to spend some of the holiday with like-minded climate change advocates.

I had been greatly missing my friend, Alecia, who lives in Chicago, despite having gone on a cruise with her and her husband in September.  I texted her and was pleasantly surprised when she was able to arrange a phone date for us.  In general I am not a phone person having worked nearly 5 years in call centers.  Talking with a best friend on the phone though brings about a feeling of closeness that texting simply cannot match.

Last week my Wed. night running group ran both Wed. night as usual and then joined several other local runners for a Christmas light run on Thurs.  Looking at Christmas lights has always topped my list of favorite holiday activities so combining that with running and good company made for a very enjoyable evening.  Unfortunately, our plans to enjoy dinner at Mexitaly after the run were sidelined by an enormous crowd within the restaurant.  We chose to pop over to Perkins instead which was very slow both in terms of customers and service.  I still enjoyed the opportunity to dine out with friends after the run though.

Fri. after work I visited my friend, Angel, and her 4 month old son, Lucas.  I will give Angel props in that I know a lot of people tend to “back burner” their friends when they have a new baby, but she is not one of them.  I understand why many people do this as having a baby is a big stressful life change.  The fact that she always kept regularly in touch even while on maternity leave and respects that while I enjoy hearing about Lucas (I am not a baby person) our conversations are best when they have varied topics.  We enjoyed frozen pizza and watching the animated How the Grinch Stole Christmas (a movie I watch every year) and bonding deeper than what our daily Skype messages during work can provide.

Jason and I exchanged presents on Christmas Eve; 3 items each totaling under $50 because we enjoy gift giving but don’t see the sense in spending tons of money on it.  I’m looking forward to reading the two books he got me as well as watching Logan again, having seen it in theaters earlier this year.  The best part of the Christmas weekend though wasn’t the gift exchange.  It was the quality time spent together.  On Saturday we enjoyed a late lunch at Great American Saloon and came home to make more rum balls for my aunt’s party as well as watch The Night Before (another movie that requires yearly watching due to its hilarity and my fascination with Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

The “tidings of comfort and joy” in those seemingly simple activities are what I truly enjoyed most during the Christmas season.  I hope everyone got to enjoy the presence of family and friends and not stress about the actual presents.  For that is truly what makes it the “most wonderful time of the year”.

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