Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On the Run - Introduction

"If you sign up and complete the triathlon you have been talking about, I will start training for a 5K."

So said I to the boyfriend after a straight hour of ribbing from my family for not showing interest in running, or exercise at all for that matter. As I've told others, "I lead a sedentary life." Of course, with one of my goals for the year being to start and stick with a program to get in shape (I may be skinny, but I'm weak as hell and want to get my energy levels up), maybe this "bet" would be good motivation for both me and Bob.

A natural swimmer and with his brand new road bike as his wheels, Bob had 2/3 of a sprint tri down pat. His challenge would be the run - additional training in this area will only help him improve his time for future events. Including that 5K that I will be now participating in. . .

He was at the race start by 4:50 that morning, for a 6:50am start time in the lake. I "slept in" and got to the Bike transition area at 7:00 - only had to wait about 10 minutes before my yellow-shirted boyfriend passed me by! I got to see him a couple more times at different points in the run and caught up with him after the announcers called his name at the finish line (those electronic chips they wear are genius!)
Way to go Bob and congratulations to our other friends who swam the swim, biked the bike and ran the run. I realize how sad this is, but I seemed just as tired as he was after a few hours of standing outside in the sun! And so it was, at 8:42am on Sunday, August 29, as Bob crossed the finish line of the Chicago Triathlon that my challenge started.
Follow me as I explore new terrority including:
Buying running shoes - I rarely wear tennis shoes and haven't gotten a new pair since 2003. Plans are to get fitted and my stride checked at Fleet Feet this week!

Setting up a schedule - Run in the morning or in the evening? In my neighborhood (where it can be a little sketchy) or in a gym? How many times a week and for how long recommended for a beginner? A lot of questions to answer before I get started.

Tracking Progress - there are quite a few online systems to link into to track workouts that can get one away from the manual excel sheet. Let's review them!

Finding the races - starting with the Hot Chocolate 5K in November! Does anything sound better than finishing a run and getting rewarded with a chocolate fondue fountain? I don't think so.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Have Carry On Bag, Will Travel

What is it about August? Last year I only got in about 6 posts during the dog days of summer, and I'm looking to beat that low record this year. . .a couple weeks of travel, intense humidity and a general break from improving the house have made for an almost project-less month!

I promise to get back into the swing of things in September, stay tuned for wedding shower activity ideas, fall decor and recipes, a (fingers-crossed) finished console table, more and more homemade cards and - most exciting of all - another room makeover at my parents' house (we tackled the kitchen last winter, next up is a basement bedroom!). 

In the meantime, how about I focus on all this recent travel with another trip tips installment!

This time around, lets focus on the plane ride itself. Are you the type who, like me, craves the window seat so I can tuck in and not have to get up for anybody during the flight? Are you the type who, like me, hopes that there is a helpful gentleman sitting near me who will throw my roller carry-on in the overhead bin for you? Are you the type who, like me, loves Sky Mall and American Way? (I've managed to read all but one month of American Way this year thanks to a few trips that fell mid-month, meaning I got one issue on my flight in and the new one on the flight back!)

That's Entertainment - Fully charge your iPod and download a couple fave TV shows to pass the time. I once was thisclose to buying a personal DVD player and in retrospect was so glad Best Buy was out of stock of the one I was going to get. Between the laptop I usually have with me for work trips and a video iPod, why should I haul around another electronics item?? I also like to bring my netflix with me so that I can watch them on the laptop when I'm back at the hotel for the night - my relaxation mode before the crazy early morning workday begins! 

BookIt - As much as I wanted to bring it, I left my hardcover version of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest at home during my last work trip, opting instead for a smaller paperback for the trip read. With my laptop already taking up mucho room in my backpack carry on, Lisbeth Salander and her heavy tome were not going to add to the weight. Of course, when I found myself sans laptop on the personal trip last week, guess which book now found a place in the bag??

I also like to bring my travel crossword book - doing one of these usually takes up the time between sitting down in my seat and actually taking off.  Bonus: doing puzzles like crosswords keeps the brain sharp! Invest in trivia games, puzzle books and the ilk - your older self will thank you! Check out my faves: MindTrap, Tribond, Will Shortz Crosswords and good old fashioned Trivial Pursuit.

Have a Seat - add seat preferences to your profiles to ensure you get what you want at the outset and where possible. I like window seats in the middle of the plane. I've had the exit row and front rows before, but honestly a shrimp like me doesn't need to hog the extra leg room from my tall co-passengers and I also don't like not being able to keep my bag under the seat in front of me. If you get on the plane and have a justifiable reason to want to switch seats, have the courtesy to ask the person whose seat assignment it is as opposed to sitting there first and assuming they will switch. 

Fight the Cold - High up in the clouds = chilly temps on the plane! I always wear shoes and socks as opposed to flip flops and layer up with a cardigan, pashmina or jacket. The free blankets are not so easy to come by anymore, so prepare yourself properly for the ride! 

The Air Up There - Aint just a Kevin Bacon movie. It is dry, dry, dry. Plenty of water, chapstick, eye drops and nasal spray are good things to keep on hand! I just came back from Colorado and I can feel the dryness in my lips and face. Ahh, moisturizer, you are a good friend.

Snacky Snacks - If you think the free blankets are a rare species nowadays, the free in flight meal is even more of one. Although, it is sort of funny when you think about it - other than overseas flights, can people really not go three hours without a meal being set in front of them? You can typically purchase snack packs from airlines today, though I know Southwest is still pretty giving when it comes to cracker packages and small candy bars. I say, pack your own ahead of time to get you through the flight. I myself am a sucker for Swedish Fish, Dried Fruit, mixed nuts and a good piece of chocolate. If you are going to go all out with packing your own meal - or grabbing something right before boarding - be kind to your seatmates and stay away from the smellier of McDonalds' meals.

Now Stretch - Especially on those long flights! Get up and walk around, move your feet, neck and wrists in circles or flex your muscles a little bit to keep the blood pumping. Nothing worse than sitting in one cramped little place for hours on end!

Hopefully some of these are helpful hints - until the next trip, adieu!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Inch by Inch, Row by Row - August Update

I love getting back from a work trip, as I did this past Sunday, and finding our Roma and Cherry Tomato plants looking10 times the size they were when I left. That might be an exaggeration, but like anything you can't always grasp how big things have gotten until you don't see them for an extended length of time.

A few weeks ago:
We are getting closer and closer to being able to snack on these bad boys. Our tomato plants are thriving with many, many little sections of fruit sprouting up. So proud that these have been grown from seed. Here is that same one from above:
 Of course, as I sort of expected, it is not all sunshine and roses. I first experienced "Blossom End Rot" when my brother in law was checking out his tomatoes and caught some bad eggs. Putting, "tomatoes rotting at the bottom" in a google search, we quickly learned what Blossom End Rot really is and luckily realized that all of our tomatoes won't be affected.
Blossom-end rot is caused by either a lack of calcium in the soil or the plant's inability to draw calcium from the soil due to stress. It can also be caused by inconsistent watering, which is very common when growing in containers.

During drier conditions, the plants have a more difficult time absorbing nutrients. Since calcium is normally low in content in most home gardens, the first few tomatoes will experience this problem. The good news is that it does not spread to other tomatoes and will normally correct itself after a few weeks. Even better news is that you can prevent the problem by using corrective measures in early spring.

Epsom salts, composed primarily of magnesium sulfate, has been proven to help prevent blossom-end rot. Simply mix one or two tablespoons of epsom salts to the soil when planting. Once the plant begins flowering, apply 1 tbs. epsom salts to one gallon of water and spray liberally on the plants. Then mulch the plants with 3" of straw or dried grass clippings to help retain moisture and keep down weeds. This should be sufficient enough to prevent this problem in the future.

One other trick for established tomatoes is to crush a few Tums and carefully work them into the soil around the plants. Tums contain calcium and will sometimes serve as a quick solution to BER.

My favorite quote from one of the sites was "Stay Calm." Because this usually affects some of the first fruits to sprout, I guess it is easy to freak out and ditch the whole endeavor!
Here's hoping by September we'll be ready to pick some of these guys!
In the meantime, our basil has been going strong and has proved quite useful in a few recipes. Try this latest easy-peasy recipe from Real Simple: Sauteed Spinach with Basil.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wild Cards

Another whirlwind card making day this past Saturday.

The living room exploded with card making supplies - and two very helpful kitties who stuck around the entire time to lay on everything. I didn't have a particular card style in mind, instead made a smattering of birthday, thank you, wedding, congratulations and just for fun. I'm leaving all of them blank on the inside for now - more versatile that way!
I bought a pack of cardstock labels from Michaels which could be layered up for added card elements - and allow me to not stamp directly on the card. I inevitably mess up the stamping when I try to do things directly on the card and not on a separate layer! I used a square hole punch for the window effect. Next step will be figuring out how I can make that fourth punch to complete the window when the hole punch won't go any further. Back to not wanting to mess up the actual card, I stamped the flower image on a scrap piece of the same cardstock and taped to the back where I wanted it to show through.

I realized I need to pick up a couple new "happy birthday" type stamps. I got pretty sick of the couple I have after awhile!

My last trip to Michael's I bought wedding themed paper and phrase stamps (ie. "On Your Special Day"). I had this bride and groom sticker from a project a long time ago and had never found a use. I think the couple fits in perfectly on this card!
I wrote about ticket-themed cards in this post and used up a few more here. I used foam adhesive squares to make "soar" and "live" pop out a bit more than "play." I think the little foam adhesive squares are my most utilized items when it comes to card making - that and my Fiskars paper cutter! Have I mentioned my inability to cut in a straight line?
I started out trying to make a stockpile of my own cards but got to thinking I might put together some card sets to sell at a craft show my aunt is a part of this fall.

The question is: would you rather buy a set of cards that contained:
a) all the same design
b) different designs but all one color scheme and topic (ex. all purple and green birthday cards)
c) different designs and color schemes but same topic (ex. all birthday cards)
d) a "wild card" grab bag assortment, different designs and topics (ex. 5 birthday cards, 3 thank you cards and 2 wedding cards)

or e) I wouldn't pay for these. You should stick to your day job.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Register Now

Ah summer. . . the sun, the sand and the surf.

And the weddings.

Yes, warm weather is synonymous with dragging out the formal wear and putting your dancing shoes on. Now, I'm not complaining - I love me some formal wear and dancing, but after more than a few weddings under our belts the same ole registry items look a little blah. How to add some creativity to what you are buying the happy couple? Especially if they are a close relative or friend - for some reason the matching towel set just won't cut it.

Here's a few ideas I've culled from google searches and my own thoughts on how to spice up the wedding gift into something that will make the bride and groom really mean the words in that thank you note!

A Gift for the Long Term
A bottle of scotch, a piece of art or a long-lasting plant . This will be something they can always turn to and remember who they got it from. Caution - know the couple's taste well or else that piece of art might just find a home in their closet on the days you aren't visiting.

Take some work out of the honeymoon - find a restaurant or spa option where they'll be staying and call ahead to get a gift card in their name. If you've got frequent flier miles up the wazoo see if you can get them an upgrade at the airport for their flight out. Of course, you'll probably get charged a fee. Side note: my latest favorite airline fee was Ryanair's attempt to create "vertical seating" and pack in more people by charging for those who stand the whole flight.

Tickets, Tickets
Sometimes an experience can be worth a lot more than a physical gift. Encourage the couple to keep going on dates long after the wedding day by giving tickets to a play series, movie gift cards, baseball games or other activities you know they will enjoy.

Breakfast for Two
Sure you could just give a waffle maker or a blender, and the couple would probably like it. But give a more thoughtful registry gift by making it into a package. Along with the appliance, add a favorite waffle recipe or brunch cookbook, a breakfast tray and bud vase.

Sweet Charity
Cater to the couple's good nature and make a donation in their name to their favorite charity. Pull some strings to get their name on an engraved brick of a new exhibit or walkway in an area that means something to them. Donate the new wing of the art museum in their name. . . oh wait, that might fall a bit out of budget.

Wedding Day Saviors
Offer your services as they plan the wedding - calligraphy expert who can take on the invitations? Connections to an amazing band or photographer? Graphic design specialist who can create their programs? As long as you make sure to keep them informed of your decisions. Last thing they want is the bagpipe surprise like Ross was planning on giving Monica and Chandler on Friends. (actually a pretty funny video I found of the scene showing a blooper of them all cracking up.)

So there you have it, a few ideas for mixing up the usual wedding gifts. Of course, it's always good to not go too far from what the bride and groom may be able to actually use and enjoy - it can be a fine line between "off the registry" and "off the mark."

Monday, August 2, 2010

A What Layer Salad?

Am I the only one who has never heard of a Seven Layer Salad? When I got asked to make one for a dinner get together, I thought they meant taco dip or bean dip or something along those lines. Imagine my surprise when a friend tells me that Seven Layer Salad in their household includes mayo and peas. What's that now?

I found quite a few variations of recipes to mix and match the best options. This recipe was my starting point, and I used the comments to change up a couple of the ingredients (no thanks cauliflower, I'll take mushrooms). I also liked the look of sliced eggs around the side of the dish and stole that to actually make it an eight layer salad. Look at me going above and beyond. . . .

I mixed up the original recipe by also adding the mayo layer to the middle. Something about an inch thick surface of mayonnaise seems like a less than appetizing top view for the dish. . .
Wishing I had an egg slicer to get prettier slices. Ahh well. I tucked them into the mayo layer and started in with the cheese. Always a key ingredient in my dishes.
Seven Layer Salad
serves 8
1 pound bacon
1 large head iceberg lettuce - rinsed, dried, and chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen green peas, thawed
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced
10 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped mushrooms

1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white sugar
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Crumble and set aside.

In a large flat bowl, place the chopped lettuce and top with a layer of onion, peas and mushrooms.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together the mayonnaise, sugar and Parmesan cheese. Spread over salad. Line the bowl with the egg slices. Top with cheese and bacon crumbles and refrigerate until chilled.
I saved some time by buying pre-cooked and crumbled bacon in the salad dressing aisle. As I mentioned earlier, I think there is some leeway with what your salad layers entail. I replaced cauliflower with mushrooms, you might replace red onion with green, celery or pepper for peas. The possibilities are endless.