Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finished 26 Before 27

A few months ago I posted a picture of my unfinished 26 before 27 list. I have finally finished the list and am ready to share. And I'm proud to say that some things can even be checked off! (No worries, everything being checked off was already on the list prior to completing the activity. No cheating here.)

1. Go to Chicago (check! We went over Thanksgiving. Post coming soon!)
2. Find a church
3. Learn to sew
4. Run a 10k (check!)
5. Cook all the printed recipes in my recipe folder
6. Blog 30 days in a row
7. Read 10 books (I think I'm up to 3 so far)
8. Ride my bike more
9. Bake a pie from scratch
10. Pay off my Graduate School loans (final payment is in December!)
11. Begin half marathon training (check! I even ran the race)
12. Plant a full garden
13. Refinish the landscaping on the side of our house
14. Frame wedding posters
15. Make wedding album
16. Spend the afternoon at a winery (check! I've done this twice so far.)
17. Go someplace new
18. Bake bread from scratch
19. Make homemade ice cream
20. Go on the Boulevard Brewery Tour (scheduled for January)
21. Visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum
22. Take a day off, for no reason
23. Join a group/do more community service (I'm thinking Junior League or Big Brothers/Big Sisters)
24. Watch The Godfather (just something I've never seen but have wanted to)
25. Read a non-fiction book (looking for suggestions)
26. Take one week off from facebook

I have big plans for tackling some of these over the next few months. Winter is long, and cold, so baking and crafting seem like a great way to pass the time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Just keep running

I wish I looked this good running.

A little over a week ago, C and I ran our first half-marathon. It was wonderful and horrible, exhausting and energizing, cold and warm...okay, no, it was just cold. And if you ask C, he'll probably tell you it was just horrible, exhausting, and cold. Our opinions differ when it comes to running.

Running a half marathon is not easy, but I truly believe it's achievable for anyone. When we started training for this 13 weeks ago, we struggled to get through the first 3-mile run. The long run that week was a completely agonizing 4 miles. And then we had to do it again the next week. The longest distance either of us had ever run prior to training was 5 miles. And even that had only been done twice. The truth is, we are more "fitness runners" than true, bear-it-all-rain-snow-sun-sleet-hard-core-runners. Looking at the training schedule that first week was daunting. I was confident in our ability to work up to 6, maybe even 7 miles. But the thought of running 8+ miles was terrifying. I was afraid we would fail every day for those first few weeks. I was afraid to tell people we were doing this training in case we decided to back out in week 6. (We aren't always the best with follow through).

When it came down to it, the hardest part of the training was not the running. It wasn't even the mental aspect of running 13.1 miles. It was the dedication. It was planning your life and schedule around fitting that run in 4 days a week, along with a 5th day of cross training. It was getting up early, or staying up late to get everything done for the day while not sacrificing the goal. For 12 weeks, C and I pretty much worked, ran, ate, and slept. Yes we found time to do other things during the weekend, but it was always planned around the 1-2 hour run we had to get in that weekend. The runs got longer and harder and recovery was slower. And to top it all off, daylight saving time hit us about 2 weeks from the race date, forcing our weeknight runs to be completely in the dark. But we stuck with it and we achieved our goal. Our finish time was 2:18:18. Nobody said we were the fastest runners out there, but I felt like this was a respectable time.

*Please note that I am in no way a professional runner. This was proven when I completely faceplanted about 200 feet from the finish line of the half marathon. I'd like to say it was because I was completely exhausted and my legs just gave out, but it wasn't. In fact, I still had quite a bit of energy so I was in sprinting mode. This made it even harder to stop the fall when I tripped on a tree root because I decided to step off the trail. Super embarassing, but made it that much more memorable.
This is how I feel when I run

I have to give a huge shoutout to my cousins for serving as my inspiration for training. One of them just rocked the Portland Marathon in October. She was a huge motivator for C and I during our long runs. We just kept reminding ourselves that if she could run 18 miles, we could surely run 8! Another cousin invited me to run the KC Half Marathon with her (her first half as well), which I unfortunately was unable to do. But her invite is what got me searching for races at a later date and gave me the motivation I needed to start the training. If only she had actually run it with me!

With New Years coming up, maybe it's time for you to follow through with some of those lost resolutions or just hopeful goals you have set for yourself lately. Or if you are looking for a new goal, start training for a race. It doesn't have to be a half marathon. Couch to 5k has a great 5k training program for people with zero running ability (and I speak from experience; it's what I used 3 years ago to start working out and lose some weight). Following through with some of those goals is a great way to relieve stress and experience a little extra joy this holiday season.

C and I running our first 10k back in October

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving week

A lot of my friends have been doing their 30 days of Thankfulness posts on facebook. Frankly, I never got around to starting this on day 1, or 2, and now we're at day 21 so I probably am a little too late to "start". But since it's Thanksgiving week, here are some of the things I'm thankful for this year (not necessarily in any particular order):

1. My husband, C, just for being him. Even when it drives me crazy.
2. My family, for always being there
3. My in-laws, for all the help they've given us around the house this year
4. Having a house and bed to keep me warm at night
5. My job, in a time when so many are without, it's nice having a job that I don't mind getting up for in the morning
6. Our friends, both near and far
7. That today is November 21st and I made it through November 20th roughly unscathed. (more on that later)
8. For the safe travels we've been blessed with this year and hopefully more safe travels to come
9. Coffee on Monday mornings
10. My health
11. My faithful blog followers! Thank you for reading, even when it's not interesting, or funny, or entertaining.
12. Having food on the table each night, and not knowing what it means to be hungry.
13. Wine, because sometimes it's just really nice to sit down with a glass of wine and my favorite tv show, book, computer, etc. and unwind.
14. My nephew, because he brings me more joy than he could ever know.

Those are a few of the things I'm thankful for this year. I know there are more, but it's Monday and I might still need more coffee. I hope you all have time to reflect on the things you are thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Christmas cheer

I'm listening to Christmas music at work these days. We used to have a radio station in KC that played non-stop Christmas music from Halloween (a little early, I know) through New Years and it was amazing. However, that station got bought out last January and now I don't have my Star 102 Christmas. I feel like something is missing.

So I'm listening to Christmas stations on pandora to fill this void. And I'm thinking a lot about baking cookies and decorating the house. But mostly about baking cookies. I've kind of forgotten Thanksgiving is even coming up. My mind has been other places. My mind is on the 13.2 miles I have to run Sunday. After Sunday, I might think about Thanksgiving more. Or maybe since I'm not having a traditional Thanksgiving this year, I'll make some of my thanksgiving favorites for dinner next week.

Or maybe I'll just bake some cookies.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

A successful weekend

So far this weekend....
1. Ran 11 miles. (yes, 11. In one day. In 1 hour and 53 minutes to be exact. Next weekend, 13.1 miles. Woo hoo!)
2. Had lunch with dear friends. (Bonus: lunch was at a "new to us" restaurant)
3. Spent some quality time in the toy aisle at Target (my nephew turns 2 this week!)
4. Replaced my garage door battery (finally!)
5. Visited my grandparents (long overdue)
6. Ordered our Christmas cards (using a Groupon)
7. Watched X-Men 2 (I wasn't a fan of Stryker, that guy is seriously evil)
8. Put flannel sheets on our bed (winter is long, dark, and cold. Flannel sheets are a must)
9. Blogged (obvious, but still an accomplishment)
10. Finished Pride and Prejudice (okay, I have 15 pages left, so technically, I'm going to bed right now to finish it. I'm so excited. This book is seriously good.)

And because C would appreciate a shout-out: he also managed to do some yardwork while I was visiting my grandparents and installed door stops around our house. I think he also managed to get some serious work done on the DVR.

I hope your weekend was as relaxing or productive as you wanted it to be!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Technology hates me

I'm pretty sure technology hates me. Or maybe I just don't understand it. I hate the layout of my blog, but I really can't figure out how to change it. I am amazed by people who have nice blogs. I don't know how they do it. I do not find this system to be intuitive whatsoever. In fact, blogger and my computer must have some fued going on because I can no longer post from my computer. I can write posts. I can save them. I cannot upload them. So once I'm done writing this, I'll hit save, pull it up on my iphone, and post from there. There's something seriously wrong with this process.

iTunes freezes my computer everytime I turn it on. This makes life with an iPhone no fun. People always ask me if I've updated my phone or if I backup my phone. No, I do not do these things because that would require iTunes to make it past the startup phases to actually recognize the device I've plugged into it.

Ultimately I think it's my computer. You can't trust a laptop with a battery that only lasts 25 minutes. The sound only works when it wants to (which currently isn't right now), and it takes approximately 4 minutes to startup. This laptop is only about 2 1/2 years old. I bought it in April 2009. I will never buy another HP laptop. Ever.

I'd like to say that at least mechanical parts like me after my success with changing my headlight last night, but I have a pretty serious fued going on with my garage door opener right now that outweighs the headlight.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stuffed Butternut Squash

It's storming out. I love thunderstorms. especially in November. because a thunderstorm in November, means it's warm enough to rain and not snow.

When I got to work today, I noticed one of my headlights had burnt out. Knowing it was going to get dark extra early tonight and anticipating the storm that was rolling in, this was a bummer. I ran to the auto parts store on my lunch break to buy a new bulb in hopes that I could convince some guy there to replace it for me. Note: almost every time I have had to have something replaced/fixed on my car, the man at the auto store does it for me. Most recently it was replacing my tail light. Honestly, I knew how to do this one and was completely prepaired to do it myself and the guy just came out and offered to do it for me. I don't mind the extra help.

Unfortunately, the store was pretty swamped while I was there and thus no help was offered. I was partly relieved because I really wanted to have the satisfaction of doing it myself. That is, until I opened the hood to see that the light that needed replaced was blocked by a cover that required tools to remove. So I drove home in the dark rain with one headlight determined to fix it when I got home. I had to have C help loosen one of the nuts (which I was actually the one to finally break it loose, just saying..) but other than that, I totally did it all on my own. Satisfaction. Achieved.

This dinner tonight was satisfaction too. Roasted butternut squash filled with quinoa, onion and sausage. Delicious. This was super easy, and I had the italian sausage links leftover from the sausage and veggie dish I made last week in the slow cooker.

P.S. If you haven't tried quinoa before, do yourself a favor and get some. It's so incredibly delicious. I had some leftover that I didn't add to the sausage and onions and it's taking serious willpower not to pull it out of the fridge and gobble it up. Or try this recipe.

1 butternut squash (or any variety you prefer)
1-2 cups cooked quinoa
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
3 italian sausage links, cut in half, then sliced
Chicken stock or bouillon cubes to cook the quinoa in
Cut the butternut squash in half and bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until it starts to soften. While the squash is baking, cook the quinoa in the broth. Water will work fine too, but the broth gives it a little extra flavor.

Heat a pan with about a tablespoon of EVOO and add the chopped onions. Saute for about 3-4 minutes, then add the sliced sausage. When the quinoa is done cooking, add it to the pan with the onion and sausage. Feel free to add any spices you want. I added a little garlic powder and black pepper, but the italian sausage had quite a bit of flavor already.

After 30 minutes, pull the squash out of the oven and fill the "crater" with the quinoa mixture. Put the squash back in the oven and bake for another 15-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and enjoy! We had leftover quinoa mixture (obviously it won't all fit into the squash at once) so I ate some extra on the side. :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Autumn Harvest Minestrone

Tonight was the final night for my week of Crock Pot cooking. We have plenty of leftovers to get us through the weekend, even with me taking leftovers for lunch all week! While the meals were good this week, I must admit that I'm excited for some non-slow cooker meals next week. It's really nice to come home and have dinner ready, but when something sits in a slow cooker for approximately 12 hours, it's pretty mushy by the time you eat it. I'll definitely be trying more recipes and working to utilize our slow cooker more often over the winter months, but it won't be an every day kind of thing.

Tonight we had Autumn Harvest Minestrone soup. Last night it was raining and cold...and I was a little disappointed I didn't have that soup. I had even planned on making it for Wednesday but time got away from me Tuesday evening and I didn't have time to prep all the veggies needed for this. So as fate would have it, artichoke pasta was called up to Wednesday and minestrone got bumped to Thursday. This was the best mistake the week could have offered.

I got off work late tonight and we still had to get in our 5 mile run (gotta stay on track with our training) so we didn't even start our run until just before 7:00. It's almost winter. It's almost pitch black outside at 7:00. Add in the dropping temperatures, and I was so thankful to come home to a nice, hot bowl of soup. This was pretty good and I will definitely make it again. Although I might have to adjust some of the ingredients, because frankly, I officially hate peeling butternut squash.

Autumn Harvest Minestrone
serves 6
from Prevention Magazine (very slightly adapted to my recipe below)

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans (4 cups) fat free, reduced sodium chicken broth
3 C (1 lb) butternut squash chunks-I bought 1 large squash and had leftovers
1 can diced tomatoes
1 med turnip, peeled and cut into chunks
1 med parsnip, peeled, quartered at the large end, and sliced 1/4" thick
1 rib celery, sliced 1/4" thick
2 C bagged coleslaw mix
1 lg leek (white and light green parts), sliced --this was the first time I'd used leek. I had to watch a video on YouTube on how to cut it up.
1 tsp minced garlic

Throw all ingredients in a 4 quart or larger slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, or until veggies are tender.

The magazine had a recipe for some "basil sauce" (aka: pesto) to add as a soup topping, but I opted not to make this. Mostly because I didn't want to clean my food processor.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Artichoke Pasta

It's raining and 39 degrees. It's supposed to turn to snow later tonight. I'm trying to keep a positive attitude about this whole "winter" thing. Yeah, I'm putting quotation marks around winter as if it doesn't really exist. It's part of my positive attitude thing.

I knew it was supposed to rain this afternoon so I brought my gym bag to work. I had every intention of going to the gym to get in my run on the dreaded treadmill. I even had a relatively positive attitude about that too, you know, considering it's the treadmill. Then however, I left work and the wind was blowing the rain sideways, the temperature had dropped 25 degrees from when I got to work, and the traffic was terribly slow. My positive attitude quickly faded as I sat in my car with wet clothes thinking about fighting my way through the wind and rain into the YMCA. I drove home and opted to fight Jillian through a Shred session rather than fighting the wind and rain. She won.

Thank goodness for the slow cooker. Tonight's dinner might have been one of my favorites so far. The easiest one since practically all ingredients were canned, and full of flavor. C even went back for seconds on the sauce despite being out of pasta.

Slow Cooker Artichoke Pasta
from A Year of Slow Cooking

3 cans Italian tomatoes (diced or stewed, with juice)
2 cans artichoke hearts in water, drained and lightly chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed olives
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (to add later)
1 lb freshly cooked pasta (we had some mushroom flavor linguini we got from a specialty store so I used that, but anything will work.)

Use a 6-quart slow cooker. Pour the tomatoes in your crockpot. Lightly chop the drained artichoke hearts and toss them in. Add garlic and olives. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours. You could also add chicken, in which case cook on low 6 to 7 hours, or until chicken is no longer pink. Stir in heavy cream and hot, cooked pasta before serving.
My slow cooker only has 2 options for the low setting, 8 hours and 10 hours. I went ahead and set it for 8 hours. I think it turned out just fine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Slow Cooker: Sausage and Peppers

I stepped in dog poop on our run tonight. True story. I didn't know about it until I got home and took my shoes off. This is why you don't run in the dark. Or maybe my neighbors shouldn't let their dogs poo on the sidewalk. Ugh.

Good thing I had dinner ready in the Crock Pot when I got home so I had that extra time to clean my shoe. Night 3 of 5 and we're going strong. C is loving that he has minimal dishes to do each night. I'm loving having leftovers for lunch.

Tonight I made sausage and vegetables. We make a variation of this dish once every couple of months on the stove or in the oven so I was interested in trying it in the slow cooker. I found a recipe for it on A Year Of Slow Cooking and used her suggestion for adding the chicken broth. Otherwise I just added whatever I had around the pantry and fridge.

Sausage and Vegetables
serves 3

3 sausage links (use what you like. Chicken or Turkey sausage is obviously healthier, but I had trouble finding a good flavor in those so I used Italian seasoning beef links)
1 large sweet potato (straight from my momma's garden!)
2 stalks celery
2 bell peppers
1/2 cup baby carrots
4 boiler onions (I just had these leftover from a meal last week. White or Yellow Onions would work just as well here)
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup white wine (optional)

Cut all veggies into 2-inch chunks and add to crock pot. Slice the sausage and add it to the pot. Add broth and wine. I actually used 2 cups of broth like the blog suggested, but I thought the veggies came out pretty soggy so I'm hoping less broth would help prevent this a little. Cook on low for 8 hours. Serve over brown rice if desired. Enjoy!