Saturday, March 29, 2014

a year in my shoes

I’m currently training for the Flying Pig ½ marathon in Cincinnati and it is time to replace my shoes.  I typically get very excited to get a fresh pair of running shoes, but this year I’ve been dragging my heels a bit; my current pair of running shoes represents a lot of hard work, toil, pain, snot, sweat and tears.  I had ACL surgery in July 2012 and wasn’t cleared for running until after it got cold out.  I remember those first tentative jogs in one-minute intervals at LaSalle’s track on my way home from work.  I was elated and terrified all at the same time.  I felt so vulnerable and I realized just how much MORE work I had ahead of me if I was going to achieve my dream and run a ½ marathon as I had been planning to do later that year.  If I could train for and run a 10k with a torn ACL, I could totally run more than twice that distance with a repaired one! 

Once my muscles got used to jogging again, I was allowed to move from the track to the asphalt and gradually increase my milage.  At that point, I treated myself to the newest version of my favorite running shoes: the Asics Nimbus!  Last year’s version was wildly colorful and bright and they were just the encouragement I needed to put in even more hours at the gym and to start taking spinning and dancercise classes the gym to rebuild stamina and coordination in my right leg.  I remember my first successful 2-miler—it was cold and rainy and I ran faster than I had ever before my surgery thanks to the new strength and power in my legs.  I couldn’t have been happier.  Unfortunately, I developed pretty severe patellar tendonitis and then runner’s knee which I spent most of the summer working to banish.  I went thru two braces and tried a variety of exercises that were supposed to help my knee.  In the end I credit the 500 miles and many hills that I biked over the summer with rebuilding the strength around my patella that has enabled me to run brace-free for months now.  

So pretty, clean and colorful!!  They totally make a girl run faster! ;)

This fall, I started building my miles again and speed soon followed.  It also helped that I started treating my exercised-induced asthma that I realized I had after more than a few difficult hill-climbs on the bike that left me wheezing and winded for miles after.  Through all of this, my shoes were there, providing the cushiness that my knee needed and the colorful speed that my legs craved and my lungs were finally able to give.  Their wild colors elicited comments from older, awed onlookers who often cheered me on my way.  I felt fast, strong, unstoppable in them.  I had a few 5 and 6 milers during that time and was doing okay.

In December, I signed up for the Bob Ronker’s running spot ½ marathon training group and have been training for the ½ Pig since Jan. 11.  I’ve run a lot of miles since then.  Although I’ve been struggling with a hip issue since the start of training and can’t always log as many miles as I want, I have run every single long run and at least one week-day run.  A few of them had to be logged from the safety and warmth of the gym, but I did them all.  The 7 miler, the 15k (9.3mi) and today, the 10 miler.  My bright shoes have carried me through all of those miles: providing traction on the ice, a bounce in my stride, a beacon in the dark and cushion to my nagging hip issues. 

It was with some resignation that I went into the Running Spot to replace the shoes that have carried me from my first ½ mile back to my first double-digits ever.  These shoes are more than a piece of footwear, they are an inspiration to me.  Unfortunately, they didn’t have any Nimbus in my size (common problem for a size 11), but it was a good opportunity for me to try on a few other styles that the one I’ve been buying for the past 4 years.  I still wasn’t sold though, I’m waiting for my Nimbus to come in, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! 

While I’m sad that my current shoes won’t get to carry me across the finish line on May 4, I’m glad that they carried me along a significant portion of the course today and that they carried me from a beginning-again runner to a runner who is on the verge of running her first successful ½ marathon.  Thanks for all the miles!!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Holy Guacamole!

It is the end of the quarter, so naturally I'm looking for anything to distract me from the mounds of grading that I have sprawled across my executive-sized desk.  The sun showed its face for the first time in days and whispered at me through the open windows that I need to share my guacamole recipe with the world.  Spring really is just around the corner and maybe you want a fresh treat! 

I don't mean to brag, but my guac is pretty good and I think a lot of that has to do with the manner in which I make it, which is anything but traditional.  It is so smooth and creamy you won't believe there are no dairy products in it.  On the flip-side it is also chunky and hearty; the perfect combo!  The most important thing is the avocados.  They MUST be ripe!  You want the softer ones, not the hard ones.  It's okay if there's a few brown spots inside, just cut out any big or bad spots.  If they don't have any ripe ones, plan to make your guac a few days later, or just make something else.  The biggest issue with guac is not getting ripe avocados. 

You'll need to assemble all the usual ingredients:
1 lime, juiced (I just use the refrigerated stuff, but you can use a real lime too!)
1 garlic glove
1 T tightly packed cilantro
3 RIPE avacados
1/2 t cumin (I never measure)
salt to taste (I probably use 1.5-2 t of salt)
1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
1 ripe tomato, seeded, roughly chopped (in the winter I just use a 1/2 can of petite-diced tomatoes)

For the magic:
1. In a food processor (or blender), combine cilantro, garlic and 2 T of lime juice.  Process until the cilantro is finely chopped.
Scrape down sides.
2. Add two avocados and process until smooth and creamy, about 1 minute. 
3. Add cumin, salt and more lime juice to taste. (It should be a bit too strong at this point)
4. Add the final avocado, chunked and pulse 2x.  Check to make sure you don't need to add more salt, cumin or lime juice.
5. Add the tomatoes and onion and pulse 2-3x, until your guac reaches desired consistency. 

To keep it green:
There are several methods for keeping your guacamole green; I figure if each of them work, why not to all of them!
-Save 1-2 pits and put them in the bottom of the container and just scoop your guac right over them.
-smooth out the top and drizzle a little lime juice over the top so that most of it is wet
-cover the guac with plastic wrap and put the lid on your container!

My favorite chips to have with guac are the Tostitos Multi-Grain.  Aside from being addictive by themselves, they have the perfect balance of flavor and salt to compliment the gauc!


Monday, March 10, 2014

Lenten fasts and resolutions

I've made some pretty strange Lenten sacrifices in the past: there was the year that I vowed to only go the speed limit, which only lasted until I was late for work, two days in.  Another year, I gave up baked goods, except for special occasions without realizing the only time one typically has baked goods is on special occasions.  Then there was the year that I gave up listening to music in the car or on my own.  I spent a lot of time listening to Jim Scott in the morning and my own thoughts in the afternoon.  Everyone thought that one was strange, but that was the year of self-discovery for me, so it was a really crucial time and I needed a lot of alone time with myself and God.  Another year I gave up talking about my plight of loneliness and singleness.  That was a true test, but I thought all my friends really needed a break from me getting weepy on them every time I'd had a few sips of wine.  Last year, I decided to be more patient, which I kept failing at, but decided that it needs to be a daily goal to practice, not just during Lent, so this year I'm going back to giving something up.

As a kid, we are encouraged to give up something, to sacrifice, but as I got older, I really tried to get more creative.  I already have a lot of issues with Lent, like the fact that I love fish, especially if it is raw and wrapped in rice and seaweed and dunked in soy sauce and wasabi, or battered and deep fried.  So, other than remembering that its Friday, not eating meat on Friday is actually a treat, not a burden.  There were also those years that I tried to cut stuff out of my diet, or to eat less for Lent, but I have to question my motivation for that.  Was I really sacrificing for Jesus, or was I just trying to lose weight for selfish reasons in a time when I was supposed to be focusing on the Lord and preparing myself for Easter?

This year, I'm actually going the old-fashioned route and giving up cake, cookies and chocolate.  I have been craving these three things like a fiend and the urge to whip up a cake or bake a batch of cookies is so hard to fight.  I went an entire month where I had at least one home-baked brownie every day.  Then there's the chocolate that I keep stashed in my desk drawer that I surreptitiously grab out and go down the hall to what is essentially a closet to greedily eat in between classes.  This is going to be hard for me, and I will waver and want to give in, and I might nibble on some stale cookie crumbs in the corner of the drawer or a few chocolate shavings on the counter, but I'll have ice cream to comfort me and I'll be okay.

Why ice cream, you ask?  Well, spring is coming, I hate winter, and ice cream of the soft-serve variety is the promise of all that is good, warm and bright and if I don't have some outlet there aren't enough miles in Cincinnati for me to run to remain cool, calm and collected.  Plus, I've already cut down my weekly beer consumption significantly, so I don't feel like Lent is a good time to increase that!  Also, I don't crave ice cream like I crave those delicious concoctions of flour, sugar and butter.  I'm doing okay so far and even managed to make a chocolate dessert for my sister-in-law without eating any, although I did have to taste test the chocolate-fudge sauce and a good thing too, because it definitely needed a pinch of salt!

I'm already planning out what baked goods I'm going to make, come Easter, but for now,  I'll try to stay out of the flour and sugar and leave the unsalted butter buried in the back of the fridge. 

Why wouldn't you crave something as delicious as this every second of every day??!!??

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ignorance truly is BLISS

This past Friday, my school was off, so my friend, Mel, who teaches across the hall from me, and I decided that we needed to do something fun!  Things have been a little stressful at school and everyone has been really cranky, so it was nice to have something fun to look forward to on our day off and away!  We invited another friend, Ang, that we used to work with and her adorable baby son to breakfast at The Sleepy Bee in Oakley.  If you live in Cincy, you need to check it out--it's awesome, local, fresh, warm and wonderful.  Brunch with a baby and a friend who just returned from Florida and still had that sunshine glow was just what we needed to forget about the week gone by.

After breakfast, the two of us headed to the new Cinemark theater in Oakley (it was too early to partake in the great beer selection that they have!) to see The Monuments Men.  We both really thoroughly enjoyed it.  It was refreshing to just sit back and absorb some history for a few hours instead of figuring out how to get our students to absorb it, 85 minutes at a time.  I actually found it pretty humorous, but seemed to be the only one in the theater who thought so.  Granted, a lot of the jokes were made on the French, or towards the Americans in France, so I was a prime candidate. 

However, the movie got me to thinking as it normally does: I would have enjoyed this so much more if I didn't know better.  Life is Paris during the war was so austere that they would have been jealous of the Greeks' current situation.  Consumer goods were hard to come by; coffee, hosiery, meat, rubber were scarce and expensive.  Life in Paris in particular was so difficult that the French dug up all of their beautiful gardens to plant vegetables, they didn't have the same access to food that those in the countryside did.  None of this was reflected in the film, and the main female character wore stockings and cooked meat.  While this didn't detract from the movie, which I loved and will add to the list I give my students, it did take me out of the moment and linger with me afterward. 

The same thing happens when I'm in a museum or at some sort of historical monument.  Not only am I reading and looking for information, I'm also evaluating and analyzing how they summed up complicated history into something that can be understood by the average person who doesn't have esoteric knowledge of the subject.  It is really no different than what I do every day.  There are entire periods of history that I took entire courses on that I don't even mention to the Freshmen in my Modern World History class.  It is more in-depth than is merited in that kind of a class, just like an entire monograph (book) would be too much when only a short paragraph will do in a museum.  Even if I'm looking at an exhibit that I know nothing about, I still try to put it in context and NEVER take it at face value. 

Not much surprises me because if I know something similar happened in Europe and the US, it isn't surprising that it happened in Asia after that.  I especially love going to museums in Germany to see how they deal with Hitler and the Holocaust.  One of my best friends, Al, drug me to the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart and they simply focused on all of the money that the Nazis gave them to develop new engines and new vehicles that could be used for the war, but that would later have more practical and peaceful applications in a consumer society.   I would love to go to Russia and see how they deal with Stalin and the gulags and the Great Purge, or even how they answer the question that my students keep asking: Is Russia a democracy? 

In the US, we're very fond of living history, which I am SUCH a sucker for, but even how places like Williamsburg and Plymouth Plantation are created and run leaves a lot of questions about what is real or authentic or accurate.  While I was in grad school, I made the unfortunate misstep of taking a public history class, which has forever tainted any historical encounter for me.  Recreations can be very accurate, but they aren't real.  However, the real thing is old and dingy and broken and so isn't very accurate or authentic any more.  The arguments can make your head swim, but the important thing is to know going in whether you're seeing something as it is now, or as it was then.  Probably the most authentic and accurate thing I've ever seen is the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.  It took me three trips to Europe and two very out-of-the-way train rides and the tiniest hotel room ever, but I made it there.  We had some okay beer, almost got run over by a few bikes, walked over countless bridges, were astounded by everyone's English, had some really BIG pancakes and made our pilgrimage to the Secret Annex.  The furniture has been removed, but the owners of the building demanded that everything remain just as it was, no furniture brought back in or anything, so there are simply the walls, floors and ceilings and the window that Anne looked out to see her oak tree, which has been sick and dying for years. 

Knowing too much takes a lot of the fun out of it, but I still keep going back.  I love museums and history movies and historical fiction.  I really love historical fiction, it helps me put things into context of the typical average people so that I can help my students relate better.  Although I know that there are a lot of issues with the way history is being presented, I will always seek it out, I will always expose my students to it and eventually my children as well.  Even if it is tainted, it is done with the best intentions, we just need to realize to take it all with a grain of salt and enjoy it for it's value to our culture and heritage and to help us understand how to move forward.