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Monthly Archives: October 2011

The First *wheeze* Steps

The First *wheeze* Steps

Ever since we moved to our new rental house in a small town 30 minutes from Springfield, I’ve felt a little restless. I really come to life outdoors, it’s where I find my peace – and while I could get my needed doses of the outdoors in our old house (where we had a backyard of large trees, a little garden, and also a large park within blocks) I don’t have any of that at our new diggs. To the left of our house, a bank parking lot. The right, an alley street, and behind it is the fence of our neighbor’s yard with enough room for us to put our trash can next to the alley. It’s hard to get fresh air next to a trash can, or on our front porch where the traffic is surprisingly robust for such a small town. I’m not writing this to complain, but to illustrate a point: I feel like a caged lion!

I work from home, so if I don’t do something about this, I can easily go several days without leaving the house. I may be an introvert, but I’m not a hermit – so the answer came to me over several weeks of finding myself doing laps around the house like dogs do sometimes when they get a random burst of…manic insanity.

So, I decided to run. Not for any of the same reasons I’ve decided to in the past, like weight control or physical health, but for my mental sanity. And somehow, my mind takes better to preserving itself than it does my body – so this time I didn’t let the normal excuses stop me. Yesterday I got fitted for the right running shoes for my feet, and purchased them along with a pair of running pants and a wicking base shirt. We don’t have the budget for all the running gear under the sun, but I got enough to get me started. (I’m writing a post later this week on figuring out that I needed more than motivation to run).

So today, in the wind-advisory, chilly, rainy weather, I went on my first run. I used the Couch 2 5K app on my iPhone – it interrupts your music to tell you when to run and walk, gradually increasing the proportion of running to walking over 9 weeks.

And here’s the part where I tell you that it felt great achieving my goal; except, I’m going to tell you the truth instead. I did not feel great, and I did not exactly achieve my goal. Let me explain:

If I’m going to be honest, the things I thought would bother me did not; my knees and feet did not hurt, the cold and rain didn’t get to me. Some things somewhat bothered me; the self-consciousness as small town drivers unaccustomed to seeing runners (especially in the rain) slowed down as they drive past me. That self-consciousness is something I’ve got to get over and one of the reasons I want to do this. Then there were the things that did bother me; my teeth and inner ears throbbing in pain (that caught me by surprise), my earbuds falling out, and the worst of it was the burning lungs. I expected coming home rejuvenated and pumped up, but instead I stumbled into my house after ignoring the lady telling me to run three times in a row, wheezing and trying not to throw up.

Sure, I did it, and I’m glad I did. I’m not going to stop. The reasons for doing it far outweigh any excuses not to. But it’s not easy to start a new habit. I’m 23 years old with average weight and no major health problems. And the easiest running course kicked my ass. So if you’re older or perhaps overweight, take comfort in knowing that no, it would not necessarily be easy if you are younger or thinner. Those things don’t equate to fitness any more than being rich equates to true happiness. We all have to start where we are, realizing that the size of the obstacles we allow to stop us is our choice. Someday I won’t be wheezing the whole way, and I look forward to that, but for now I’m satisfied knowing I tried. Even if I didn’t make my goal or feel like superwoman, this is the reality of running for now, and doing a crappy run is better than no run at all.

My Produce Obsession: Red-Skinned Potatoes

I don’t know what my deal is with red-skinned produce lately; I think it’s a mixture of my perception that more pigment = more vitamins, and perhaps a little bit of color-love because of the fall season. Either way, I’m in love with these potatoes for their ability to rescue me from running out to buy lunch. Their super powers allow me to enjoy a hearty, tasty, and relatively healthy hot lunch in about 5 minutes. in  I’m talking about baked potatoes, folks.

Go to any restaurant and ask for a baked potato, and you’ll probably get a russet. Red-skinned potatoes are usually destined for the “smashed” variety. Poor little guys.

However, I think red-skinned (and yukon gold) potatoes are superior for baked potatoes in the microwave. If you throw a russet in there, it comes out pretty dry and you’ve got to load it up with all sorts of sinful things to keep it from clogging your throat on the way down. Not so with these babies. They’re naturally buttery and moist, so all they need is tiny pat of butter, a sprinkling of cheese, and I’ve even had delicious success with low-fat cream cheese.

To heat them up to perfection, I make use of this baked potato bag my grandma made for me. Just plop the potato in there, stick it in the microwave for 5 minutes, and the resulting potato is…perfection. I’m sure you can purchase these bags, but they are apparently really easy to make. If you’re the do-it-yourself type, here’s a link to a super-easy tutorial on how to sew one. It’s very beginner-friendly.

I’m not a beginner. I’m whatever comes before that. I’m a haven’t even considered doing it myself because my grandma made it for me….-er. Maybe I should fix that.

Anywho, this is an awesome, in-season idea for having a hot, tasty lunch food in just 5 minutes. Try it!

Love,

A spudtastic Twentysomething

I’m a little teacup…

I came across this old story today and it never ceases to put things in perspective. What on earth causes my perspective to derail is beyond me, but I’m glad when I can read a story like this one and remember that I’m a little teacup, and so is everyone else. You hear that? You’re all a bunch of teacups. (I couldn’t resist—it sounded like an insult…ya teacup!) Before you throw something at me, read on… 

There was a couple who used to go to England to shop in the beautiful stores. They both liked antiques and pottery and especially teacups. This was their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. One day in this beautiful shop they saw a beautiful teacup. They said, “May we see that? We’ve never seen one quite so beautiful.”

As the lady handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke. “You don’t understand,” it said. “I haven’t always been a teacup. There was a time when I was red and I was clay. My master took me and rolled me and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Let me alone’, but he only smiled, ‘Not yet.'”

“Then I was placed on a spinning wheel,” the teacup said, “and suddenly I was spun around and around and around. ‘Stop it! I’m getting dizzy!’ I screamed. But the master only nodded and said, ‘Not yet.'”

“Then he put me in the oven. I never felt such heat. I wondered why he wanted to burn me, and I yelled and knocked at the door. I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head, ‘Not yet.'”

“Finally the door opened, he put me on the shelf, and I began to cool. ‘There, that’s better’, I said. And he brushed and painted me all over. The fumes were horrible. I thought I would gag. ‘Stop it, stop it!’ I cried. He only nodded, ‘Not yet.'”

“Then suddenly he put me back into the oven, not like the first one. This was twice as hot and I knew I would suffocate. I begged. I pleaded. I screamed. I cried. All the time I could see him through the opening nodding his head saying, ‘Not yet.'”

Then I knew there wasn’t any hope. I would never make it. I was ready to give up. But the door opened and he took me out and placed me on the shelf. One hour later he handed me a mirror and I couldn’t believe it was me. ‘It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful.'”

“‘I want you to remember, then,’ he said, ‘I know it hurts to be rolled and patted, but if I had left you alone, you would have dried up. I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled. I knew it hurt and was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked. I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened; you would not have had any color in your life. And if I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t survive for very long because the hardness would not have held. Now you are a finished product. You are what I had in mind when I first began with you.'”

When you are going through adversity, and searching for reasons and answers, remember that it may not be punishment, it may not be your fault or anyone’s fault. Adversity is here for a reason, for it is only through struggles, pain and suffering that we grow stronger and wiser.
-Author Unknown

My Produce Obsession – Red Anjou Pears

Red Anjou Pear

You think you're seeing overexposure, but it's actually a light from heaven.

I love buying in-season fruits and vegetables, and fall is my favorite season, so naturally I’ve been getting a little giddy in the supermarket produce section. (Naturally? How punny am I?)

Anyway, I follow my mom’s advice and let my nose lead me to the best fruit (if you can smell the fruit without holding it up to your nose, it’s ripe and ready to eat). My nose led me to these Red Anjou Pears, and I’ve been stocking up (my stomach) with the delicious orbs of goodness ever since.

Just listen to this heavenly description by usapears.org:

“Sweet and succulent when ripe, red Anjou pears have a refreshingly sweet flavor and moist texture similar to their green counterparts. Their gorgeous maroon red skin adds a burst of color to salads, desserts, and entrees.”

I’ll give you a moment to gather yourself. (Is it getting hot in here?) 

Interestingly enough, up until this season, I have shunned pears in all forms. It’s one of those I-don’t-want-to-divulge-the-details-but-it-involves-canned-pears-and-the-stomach-flu stories that I don’t fancy sharing. Just suffice it to say that Red Anjou Pears (or any color, for that matter) have converted me, and I am now a believer in this succulent fruit from heaven.

Amen.

Love, a pear-obsessed twenty something

How to Get Great Jeans

Levi's from Macy's

Around here, jeans have a short life cycle. They go from fabulous to faded (and not in a good way) in just a few months, which has always been a source of frustration for me. Not only do they lose that sophisticated-looking, slimming dark color I love so much (especially in the winter months), but they shrink. My husband laughs when I say this, but I’m telling you dangit, they get tighter and tighter with each wash (it’s the jeans that are changing size, I tell you!)! Even though I have no kids and a full time job, there’s no way I can afford to completely re-stock my jeans every season. It’s not happening. So, upon realizing for the umteenth time that, yep, I have officially worn out ALL of my jeans again, I decided to do something about it.

I took to the internet and did some research. That, coupled with some common sense I had been storing away in some obscure corner of my brain, gave me four revelations about having GREAT jeans:

1. Brand Matters

I’ve gotten into the habit of looking up reviews for nearly every purchase I make. Why I waited until now to apply that to jeans is beyond me. I use them more than most other products I buy, so why shouldn’t they be well-reviewed? I surfed until I got a consensus, and found that some brands definitely hold together better than others. After stupidly buying the same cheap Kohl’s brand of jeans several times, I finally stopped because their loose-fitting, floor-dragging jeans are butt-crunching high-waters in just a few washes. As far as brands, the recommendations I read (and am not giving, because I haven’t tested them myself) are Levi’s, Lucky Brand, and True Religion (the last of which…you will shoot your coffee at your screen when you see the prices). So yes, brand matters.

2. The Store Matters

Going in hand with the brand *chuckles at my inherent rhyming skills* is the store. To prove this point to myself (because I’m the hardest one to convince apparently) I went to Gordman’s, a discount retail chain that sells mostly cheap clothing with a few random high-end brands sprinkled around. And let me tell you…I walked around their enormous Junior’s jeans section squinting my eyes in disgust at the ridiculous things companies do to their jeans. Seriously, are we not over the holes thing yet? Are we STILL doing this? I found one pair of jeans I loved, and it was $80, apparently on sale from $160. The quality seemed great, but I had another store to check out first. And what a difference it made! I went to Macy’s, having never shopped there before because in passing I had seen a few $200 dresses and subsequently marked the store off as “above my price range.” When I walked into Macy’s Junior’s denim section, I finally felt like someone understood me. Classy, sophisticated jeans! Apparently the store matters too.

3. Price Matters, but Not as Much as You Think

I fully expected to pay a minimum of $50 for jeans at Macy’s, but was surprised to find that most jeans were under $35. This was a pleasant surprise, as I had been foolishly paying $25 for each pair of crappy store-brand jeans in my wardrobe. They all seemed to be higher-quality jeans, and I felt good when I finally made my purchase. The secret is to shop the sales, and though I had done this unintentionally, if you time it right you can get better-brand jeans for crappy-store-brand prices if you just get past that $600 pair of shoes at the front entrance.

4. Now..Get Dirty!

This is the part I will undoubtedly have the most trouble with, because it’s a foreign concept to me. Here goes: do NOT wash your jeans after every wear. In fact, wait for as many wears as you can—I’ve heard people say to throw them in the dryer to “freshen” them rather than wash them. I don’t know if I’m the only one, but I would only re-wear a pair of jeans if it was an emergency and I had no other option. No wonder they wore out so fast! Detergent is the enemy of a pair of great jeans, and should be used relatively sparingly (that’s relative to once every wear, as I did). I’ve already tried getting in this practice with my old jeans, and I must say…the only difference I’ve noticed between a newly washed pair and a worn-a-few-times pair is the latter pair fits a lot more comfortably. It kind of makes me feel skinnier. Which falls in the “win” category. If this grosses you out, like it did me, just try it. Unless you’re sweating, standing in front of bonfires, or splashing in mud puddles (or other obviously sludgy things), the jeans can take a lot before they need more than an airing out. All in a days work of getting great jeans!

Love, a decidedly more sophisticated-looking (but probably not) Twentysomething

Fall + Apples = Awesome

I don’t know if you knew, but fall is the best season ever. What’s not to love? Beautiful colors, crisp air, hoodies, comfort food…

And apples. They’re really not that exciting, but somehow fall makes apples seem like the most novel food. Suddenly, the neglected fruit bowl occupant becomes a vehicle for caramel, a filling for pies, and my new favorite: a topping for salads.

Oh, yes. What you see here is a lovely combination of toasted pecans, dried cranberries, and crisp romaine lettuce, but that’s not what makes this salad awesome.

The real star of this show is the apple cider vinaigrette. It’s light, and flavorful, and perfect on fall salads. Plus, it’s super easy to make. There is one small saucepan involved, but don’t let that scare you away-I promise the effort is minimal and the rewards are great. Give it a try!

(…and don’t forget the feta cheese!)

Apple Cider Vinaigrette:

  • 2 cups apple cider
  • 3T apple cider vinegar
  • 2T olive oil
  • 1 T maple syrup (honey works fine too)
  • 1 T minced shallot
  • 1 t dijon course ground mustard
  • 1/2 t salt
  • 1/2 t pepper

Bring cider to a boil in a small saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer briskly for 25-35 minutes or until it has reduced to about 2/3 cup.

Transfer reduced cider to a bowl and refrigerate until cooled, about 15 minutes.

Wisk together with the other ingredients until well combined (to save time, you could pulse them in a food processor, I just haven’t tried that yet)

Drizzle over salad and toss to coat; Makes about 6 servings.

Stores well in the refrigerator for about a week; just stir the ingredients together before serving.

Salad toppings for a splendid autumn salad:

  • candied pecans or walnuts
  • dried cranberries
  • thinly sliced apples or pears
  • feta or fresh grated parmesan cheese
  • thinly sliced green onion tops (I’m sure red onions are more fall-y but I love the subtle flavor of the green ones)
Enjoy!
Love, a hoodie wearing, fall-loving twentysomething