Saving Your History

There is a lot of controversy going on right now over the removal of Confederate statues.  With that comes the topic of history and culture and whether the removals are wrong.  My opinion is that if the statue is located at a government building then it should be relocated as the government should not be displaying anything that is symbolic to a particular group.  If the statue is part of a historical landmark or area such as the Gettysburg Battlefield then it should be left alone.

This entry is not about the current controversy though but rather its argument about preserving history.  In our modern age of social media I often wonder if people ever keep their own histories by writing anymore.  I’m talking paper to pen type of writing.  At minimum typing something up and printing it out.  Do they develop pictures and keep them in albums, scrapbooks or even old shoe boxes?  I’m certain members of older generations do.  Even some within my generation, myself included, do.

What about the younger generations though?  Those who have never known a world without cell phones or computers.  Those who will never know the fun of finding an old roll of film and having it developed to see what pictures were taken.  Those who will never experience the anguish of taking the “perfect” photo only to have it developed and turn out completely dark.  Those who likely have never had a pen pal to write letters to in elementary school.  What could become of their history?

We shouldn’t trust computers or the Internet to preserve our thoughts, our memories, our life.  I know it’s said that nothing deleted truly ever disappears from the Internet, but should we really take that risk?  Call me a doomdsay thinker if you will, but an EMP could easily wipe out our grid and with it the Internet.  In that pre-Industrial Revolution world wouldn’t it be nice to have journal entries to read and pictures to remind us of what our life was like before the blast?

Write down your thoughts.  Develop your pictures.  Anything that you have stored on social media or a computer that you would be devastated to lose forever have it in a hard copy.  While I realize disasters such as flood or fire or even simple “lost it in the move” situations can happen, you will find a greater satisfaction and deeper connection to your history if you have a physical copy of your treasured memories.  The government and the people may be the ones to decide what part of and where to preserve the country’s history, but you are in charge of preserving your own for years to come.

Random Reasons I run

I run for a lot of reasons.  Some are practical such as building strength and endurance and keeping my good cholesterol levels up.  Others are personal such as relieving stress and keeping balance in my life.  The following are just some of the more random reasons why I run:

1 – It’s cheap.  Running shoes?  Check.  Shorts?  Check.  Tshirt?  Check.  No other sport costs so little and gives you back so much.  Who needs a gym membership when you can buy a pair of running sneakers and be ready to go?

2 – Lifting weights is boring.  There’s plenty to be said about cross training and strength training no matter what sport you do.  But how much fun is it to lift weights?  Not as fun as finding a new trail to explore or racing a 5k.

3 – To escape the zombie apocalypse.  Until the walking dead can learn to pick up the pace those who run will always have an upper hand in a survival situation.

4 – Weird looks and comments.  Tell someone you run for fun and you’ll get a load of amusing responses.  Better yet, go for a run in the afternoon when the heat index is over 90 degrees and watch how many drivers stare at you in confusion.

5 – It’s tough stuff.  Automatic bragging rights are bestowed on anyone who says they run.  The farther the distance or faster the speed the more satisfying it is.

The Knee Bone’s Connected to the Hip Bone?

I have considered myself a runner since 7th grade when I first joined the track team.  At 30 years old I like to think all these years of running have made me fairly tuned into my body.  That being said it seems that there’s always something new to learn.

Winter 2012 I started to develop some knee pain while running.  I recall a run that resulted in me having to actually stop completely and walk the final 2 blocks home because the pain would shoot through my knee with every step.  That was usually a sign it was time to replace my running shoes.  Unfortunately getting new sneakers didn’t alleviate the problem so off to the family doctor I went.  I was lucky in that my doctor was also a runner and referred me to a physical therapist who was a runner as well.  I can’t speak for all runners, but I think most of us feel a lot more trusting of someone who actually does what we do as he or she is less likely to tell us to just stop running.

The physical therapist went through his normal protocol in analyzing my running style as well as my feet.  He stated that I was wearing too much of a motion controlled shoe and that because my arches were normal I should be in a more neutral shoe.  I found that quite interesting as I had been wearing Asics Adrenaline shoes for a few years without any issues.  Rather than put me through sessions physical therapy if it wasn’t needed, he recommended that I change my shoes first and see if that helped.  Luckily Scranton Running Company took back my recently purchased pair without issue to exchange them for Asics Glycerin instead.

That seemed to do the trick.  I was able to train for and run my first half marathon Sept. 2013 without knee pain.  I was glad to have such a simple fix.  Or so I thought.

Over the years the knee pain started again.  It never was bad enough to stop my runs, but it also made them a lot less enjoyable.  I knew there was no injury as sometimes my right knee would hurt and sometimes the left.  Sometimes it was along the outside of my knee, sometimes the inside and sometimes the kneecap.  Sometimes I could run 5 miles pain free while other times 2 miles would have them locking up.  It was a frustrating mystery that left me feeling as if I’d never be able to train for a half marathon again.  I tried telling myself there was no point in seeing a doctor unless I got to the point where I couldn’t run since there was no consistency in the pain.  I tried to be content with the fact that I was physically able to run at all and accept the fact that maybe just age and wear and tear on my body was causing it.

This winter I reached a breaking point.  Nearly every run, particularly if the weather was less than 50 degrees, was resulting in knee pain.  I was afraid to run fast and I was afraid to run more than 3-4 miles.  It wasn’t enough just to be able to run, I wanted to train again.

I finally caved and went to the family doctor who referred me to sports medicine.  When I scheduled the appointment I was told the doctor was a runner and that all his patients said nothing but good things about him.

I was partially concerned that I could have the start of osteoarthritis, but the xrays of my knees taken at my visit showed nothing of that nature.  I was diagnosed with squinted patellas (meaning my kneecaps turn inwards) which is fairly common among women given our hip structure as well as a slight leg length discrepancy, again something fairly common among most people.  Neither of these sound like anything major but when you start putting your legs through mile after mile they can make an impact.  The doctor recommended 2 sessions of physical therapy, one to include a thorough gait analysis, and said to follow up if I didn’t find improvement in my running.

I was extremely impressed by the physical therapy sessions.  The first one the physical therapist identified my hip flexibility as a likely source of my knee pain.  Having ran hurdles for years in track and done numerous hip flexibility drills I found this very surprising.  He said often when we have sit down jobs it leads to losing mobility in our hips.  He gave me various strengthening drills as well as foam rolling techniques to use to help improve this.

My second session was my gait analysis.  This consisted of running on a treadmill while a different physical therapist filmed from behind and alongside of me.  While my form and stride were very good, she pointed out that I was a hamstring dominant runner meaning I wasn’t engaging my quads or glutes as much as I should be.  By relying on my hamstrings to do the majority of the work  this was putting more stress on my knees.  She also pointed out that my hips were dropping more than they should be, again a sign of limited mobility in them.  She went over warmup drills and cooldown stretches to begin including before and after my runs.

My physical therapy sessions were right before the start of my first season coaching track for Dallastown.  As any coach will tell you it seems counterintuitive but you’re usually not as in shape during the season as you are the rest of the year.  This was certainly true for me as while I found time to workout, I was usually getting in just 1 run per week so it was quite challenging to figure out if my newfound strategies were helping much.

Once the season ended I began running more frequently and I’m happy to say that 90% of the knee pain is gone and I’m building up my mileage to hopefully run my 2nd half marathon this fall.  As long as I do a thorough warmup with my mobility drills and foam roll regularly I only get a twinge of knee pain here or there.  I have also tried to add more hills to my runs as it forces me to engage my glutes more and build strength.  The days I’m not running I do DailyBurn workouts and I give props to the trainers on there for incorporating a lot of mobility and stability moves that I believe complement the exercises the physical therapists gave me.  I had a follow up visit with sports medicine last week and the doctor was very happy with my progress.  He said that I had even decreased the slight leg length discrepancy from the hip exercises I had been completing.

I would have never guessed the pain I felt in my knees wasn’t from anything in my knees at all but rather in my hips.  Proof once again of just how connected our body really is and how much more there is to learn about it.

 

Mindfulness

The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis – Merriam-Webster

I have never been much for meditation.  I have tried it several times in the past few years and it’s never seemed to click for me.  I find I either am too mentally stirred up to quiet my thoughts or am too tired to focus and start to fall asleep.  The breathing portion of it I have found relaxing at times, but as far as an overall daily practice – not exactly my cup of green tea.

For me mindfulness is something entirely different.  While I’m sure those who regularly engage in meditation would consider the two interconnected, I don’t see mindfulness as something I need to practice but rather something that just happens naturally.  Sometimes I become so lost in it that I don’t actually realize that I’m being mindful at the time.

The most recent example was last evening while sitting on my zero gravity chair in the yard.  My husband pointed out several bumblebees flying to various flowers.  We have concerns about the declining bee population so we like to point out when we see them in the yard.  We sat there for several minutes just watching the bees.  At one point I said to him I wonder how many other people do similar activities, just sit in their yards and watch nature.

We weren’t attempting to be mindful; it just happened.

I would like to say that I’m blessed in having time to smell the roses, or in my case, watch the bees, when so many others are busy working overtime, raising children or going back to school.  In reality though I just make quiet time a priority in my life, and I believe that allows for more opportunities to be mindful.

Every evening through the week that I make dinner I sit at the table to eat.  My husband works 2nd shift so I’m alone, but I rarely turn on the TV or touch my phone.  Often I will find something to read such as a magazine.  The important thing though is that I don’t allow myself to be distracted by news, social media, etc.  It’s almost like a time out of sorts that allows me to reset for the evening.

When I go for a run I never wear headphones.  Safety is a primary reason, but even on the rail trail I choose not to.  Instead I tune into the world around me.  Nature.  The other people near me.  My body’s reactions to the temperature, terrain, intensity of the run.  I allow myself to get lost in my own thoughts.  It’s not uncommon for me to come back from a run and want to write; the increased blood flow seems to stir creativity within my mind.

I don’t believe true mindfulness can be scheduled.  While taking time out of each day to relax is certainly beneficial for people’s health, it doesn’t necessarily cause one to become aware.  I think the more often we choose to disconnect whether it be in the literal sense from our phones or TVs or the figurative sense, the more likely we are to become lost in the quiet moments of life.  The moments that may not seem overly important or special, but that bring us inner peace just by being part of them.  That to me is true mindfulness.

My First Season Coaching the Wildcats

I coached jr high cross country for my former school district for the 2008-2010 seasons.  It was very difficult for me to give up the position when I obtained a full time job; one whose hours would not allow me to be off work early enough to get to practice.  I was fortunate in that my dad actually took over my position and has been enjoying it ever since.

This past fall Jason came across a posting for an assistant varsity track and field coach at our local high school.  Having taken a position in the spring that afforded me flexibility in my work hours I made the decision to apply.  In Feb. I was hired to coach hurdlers both on the varsity and jr high teams.  The ability to float between the teams was both a fun challenge since I had hurdlers of all skill levels, and also a tad exhausting as it resulted in having more away meets to travel to.

From March through this past weekend I have not had much of a life outside of work and coaching.  There were many nights that until I got home from practice, completed my own workout, showered and made dinner, I was eating at 8pm.  Refusing to rely on concession stands for dinner every week, I fine tuned my meal planning ability and increased my list of crock pot recipes.  Jason’s chore list grew longer, the cat’s dinner time became erratic, and my parents likely felt that they only had 1 daughter instead of 2 most of the spring.  The extreme temperature changes throughout the early part of the season caused the worst chilblain breakouts I’ve ever had on my fingers.  Snow squalls, rain, wind, heat and humidity all made me feel that I was a postal worker at times.

Everyday I coached though was worth it.  For 2-2.5 hours a day at practice, all evening for meets and all day or night invites I forgot that coaching was a job.  To be part of a team, to have athletes who enjoy working with you and to see them succeed is something that completes me as a person.

Our varsity boys’ team went undefeated at 6-0 and our girls’ team had a winning season at 4-2.  I had 2 hurdlers medal in the county meet and one who continued onto compete in the District 3 championships.  I had 2 jr high hurdlers place in their year end invitational.  I saw improvement in every one of my athletes and their dedication grow with the season.

As a new coach at a new school it can be intimidating not knowing how the athletes will accept you.  After many years of bleeding blue and gold I wasn’t sure how blue and white would suit me.  Fortunately the majority of my hurdlers took to having me there very well, and I received plenty of hugs throughout the season and at our year end banquet.

I am grateful for the opportunity to continue coaching high school athletes; it has always been and will always be a passion of mine rather than a job.  I have a great group of kids returning again next year and can’t wait to see what the future holds.  I learn from them as much as they learn from me, and they remind me of what’s really important in life.

10 Tips for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Disclaimer – I am not a professional nutritionist, medical practitioner, personal trainer or anything else that would make me certified to recommend lifestyle changes.  I am simply someone who reads a whole lot about food/nutrition/wellness and am an avid runner.  I advocate for eating real food and am anti-GMOs.

I have recently been asked to provide someone with tips on how to eat healthier without spending a lot of money.  I’m sure if you do a Google search on this topic there are more than enough websites with responses that some may question why add another, but I figure if people value my thoughts enough to ask for advice then I’m surely going to give it.  Here are 10 tips and yes, I either regularly follow them or have tried them.

#1 – MEAL PLAN.  Honestly I don’t know how people grocery shop without knowing what meals they are going to make.  I have never even attempted it.  Every week I look at my planner for the week ahead and figure out what nights I have more time to cook and what nights may need a quick option.  I typically come up with 4 meal ideas as I tend to cook Sun. – Wed. and use Thurs. and Fri. to eat the leftovers.  Sat. is usually a free for all (ie pb&j, eggs, etc) or eating out.  Meal planning saves time (no more wondering what to make for dinner or rushing out to buy an ingredient) and money (no or fewer impulse buys) and results in healthier eating.

#2 – DRINK WATER.  Water is the cheapest and healthiest option available.  Too bland?  Try adding some lemon or look up how to make fruit infused water.  Soda and diet soda are the worst options in terms of your health.  If you truly need a caffeine fix stick to one cup of coffee that you make at home – Starbucks everyday does not save you money!

#3 – START SMALL.  Choose one area to improve such as finding healthier snack options or adding more fruits and veggies to your plate.  A few years ago I vowed to start making homemade pancakes to freeze and I haven’t bought a box of Eggo ones ever since.  You’ll never be perfect and that’s ok.  Every healthy decision you make is one better decision towards a healthier overall lifestyle.

#4 – BUY IN SEASON PRODUCE OR FROZEN VEGGIES.  Try to visit local farmers’ markets for better deals than the grocery store, but if you don’t have time at least buy what’s in season.  If you’re craving strawberries in January be prepared to pay a lot more than in June.  I will always recommend buying organic particularly when buying the “dirty dozen” and I realize that it is more expensive, but if you can afford even a few items that are organic then go for those.  Frozen veggies have just as much nutrition as fresh and you don’t have to worry about them going bad and wasting your money before you get to use them.

#5 – BUY WHOLE WHEAT PASTA, RICE AND BEANS.  Pasta is cheap, so choose the healthiest option and go with whole wheat.  I will admit the texture can take some getting used to and you may want to mix it with regular pasta to make the transition.  Rice is cheap as well and comes in a lot of varieties.  Beans are not something I eat (the texture bothers me) but they’re a great source of protein for not much money.

#6 – LIMIT RED MEAT.  Steak and ground beef are expensive.  Choose chicken or turkey to save yourself money.  It also helps the environment, but that’s another topic.  Use ground chicken for tacos, make meatballs with ground turkey… my dad is a hardcore meat and potatoes guy and even he admitted my recipe for turkey burgers had more flavor than he expected.

#7 – FIND YOUR WEAKNESS.  There is at least one or two foods that all of us crave that will cause us to gorge no matter how much willpower we have.  Don’t buy those foods; it’s as simple as that.  I adore Taskykakes, but you will only ever find them in my house once a year – in the fall when the spice cake krimpets are out for the season I will buy one box and indulge.

#8 – LIMIT FAST FOOD.  Burger King, McDonalds… their food is chemical garbage.  I can attest to it because if I eat it I literally am sick on the stomach the rest of the night.  If you can afford it choose places like Panera or Chipotle.  If you can’t then come up with a list of quick and easy meals that you can make on super busy nights so that you’re not tempted to go through a drive through.  I’ve had many late nights this spring with coaching track and rather than rely on concession stands or fast food for dinner I plan ahead and rely on crock pot meals.  To hold me over until I can eat late I pack a pb&j and healthy snacks.

#9 – MAKE CROCK POT MEALS.  Crock pots allow you to buy cheaper cuts of meat such as roasts and chicken thighs and still cook delicious meals.  Many recipes have short lists of ingredients which saves money as well.  Plus it saves a lot of time for those busier nights.

#10 – READ INGREDIENT LABELS.  Too often people focus on the nutrition labels on packages because they’re concerned about fat and calories.  For people who have legit medical concerns such as diabetes I would agree that is important.  For the average person with no major medical issues though, read the ingredient label instead.  If you can’t pronounce most of the ingredients it’s likely full of unhealthy chemicals.  Beware of “healthy” snacks that claim to be “all natural” – even organic gummy snacks can be chock full of sugar.  Avoid artificial flavors and colors whenever possible.

Feel free to comment with your thoughts, ideas or recipes that are both healthy and low cost!

The Highs and Lows of Cooking

I have mentioned before in a previous blog Eating – A Necessary Evil that I am not a fan of cooking because in short, I am not a fan of eating.  Today I told my sister and a friend that were it not for my health conscious lifestyle and desire to save money I would likely live off of frozen or microwavable meals and take out.  I do tend to cook 4, sometimes 5, nights a week.  The fact that I have a husband to feed ensures I can’t just make a big pot of pasta and eat it all week long.  I suppose this actually ranks me higher than most Americans when it comes to cooking homemade meals.

My disdain for cooking and my average skills in it results in me having a lot of ups and downs in the kitchen.  The first time I made Pan Seared Pork Chops Topped with Brown Sugar Apples and Bacon (recipe here) I was more excited than when I completed my first 5k.  Mind you I was in the kitchen for an hour and my husband, Jason, devoured the meal in less than half that time, but I was so proud of what came out looking like a restaurant quality meal.  I now refer to the recipe as “fancy pork chops” because it is the closest to gourmet cooking I have ever come.

I feel accomplished when I’m able to try out a new recipe and have it be successful enough to make again.  It gives me a boost of confidence that I can’t achieve from any other activity.  I suppose it comes from doubting my abilities and instead having impressed myself with my success.

I have had many failures in the kitchen as well.  This goes as far back to when I was a kid and made Kool-Aid for the first time.  My poor father had the displeasure of discovering that I had forgotten to add the sugar.  A few years ago I tried making a tortilla encrusted salmon that came out horribly wrong and caused me to cry.  Jason didn’t understand why I was so upset and said we could just get pizza.  To me though it was such a waste.  Of time.  Of food.  Of my efforts.

Then there are nights like tonight when a recipe just doesn’t turn out as good as it sounds.  I had planned to cook some penne and throw it in vodka sauce, but the back of the pasta box had a recipe for a creamy garlic cheese sauce.  As luck would have it I actually had all the ingredients on hand so I thought why not?  I followed the directions to the letter and every step was completed, but the sauce just did not impress me.  It was such a letdown given how wonderful the description of it sounded.  I’m sure a more advanced chef would know the best ways to tweak the recipe to enhance the sauce, but all my hours spent watching Food Network have not instilled in me those same skills.  Next time I’ll stick to the vodka sauce.

I have chosen to take on the challenge of hosting Easter brunch this year for my parents, sister and her husband and my in-laws.  This will be my first attempt at a holiday meal as well as cooking for that many people.  Truth be told I’m doing it as brunch because I have much more confidence with cooking breakfast foods than I do anything else, and my mother has already generously offered to make a ham to bring.  I wasn’t about to attempt that myself and homemade mashed potatoes are out of the question (a 5 year old could probably peel potatoes better than I can).  My ability to time multiple courses to finish cooking around the same time is still a weakness.  Eggs, pancakes and bacon are much more in line with what I can handle.  After all you have to crawl before you can walk right?  Wish me luck!