Hobbies, My New Pastime

Since graduating nursing school and my short-lived time at a hospital, I’ve been on a 9a-5p schedule since February. It’s amazing. I had seven years of 2nd and 3rd shifts, a ton of weekends and generally being unavailable when the rest of the world was off work. I had forgotten what it was like to have a relatively set schedule that falls in line with day light hours. I still must work the majority of Saturdays but it’s really a small price to pay for a consistent schedule. Now I can plan things with reasonable assurance I’ll be able to do without requesting time off. It’s freeing.

I started a photography class, a continuing ed type, at a local community college back in February. It was my Christmas present to myself. I really loved it. I enjoy school, the learning aspect anyway, and I enjoy it even more when there aren’t grades. I decided to take the next level of photography class this spring. As I was looking through the classes I noticed I wanted to take them all! There was a craft beer class, wine tasting, cooking, ceramics, and language classes.

It feels as if there’s been a shift in my focus. For so long I was focused on getting through school, working full time and generally just trying to keep my head above water. Now I get to slow down and have some fun. I want to do All The Hobbies!!

Of course, that’s not totally practical, at least not to do them all at once. The joy is the possibility. Sure, I have all the normal life adult crap to deal with and home renovation projects to complete but I also have the opportunity to do some stuff just because it’s enjoyable. And to do it without the guilt of knowing I should be doing something else. It’s a good change.

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A Two Race Weekend

I’m a little late to post about it but the weekend before this one that just happened my fun little running gang (aka my boyfriend and whichever of my kids I can coerce into running) and I had a two race weekend. (In case you couldn’t guess that from the title up there.)

Really just my boyfriend and I did both races but my two youngest sons (ages 13 & 8) did do the first one with us.

Saturday:

This small out and back 5k through a lakeside neighborhood was more than just a fun race for us. It was a fund raiser for a friend of the 13 year old who has had some major unexpected health issues this year. His story has a happy ending, he’s on the other side of them now, but it was a little scary for a bit. It was a difficult time for my sensitive and often emotional teenager; we were more than happy to contribute to the family by participating in this run.

Other than the cause and atmosphere there was nothing too exciting about this 5k. The course had some light, rolling hills that made it enjoyably challenging and the morning was chilly (about 40 degrees Fahrenheit) but it was a pretty basic 5k.

Usually running with my boyfriend pushes my pace a bit (which is good) but we planned on taking this one easy since the race on Sunday was going to be much more difficult and we were running with the eight year old. The attempts at getting him to run in the weeks leading up to the race were… Not entirely successful, to say the least, so my goal was to try to get my son to run the first mile and to finish in under forty minutes.

Lucky for us his teacher showed up and decided to run with us (my little guy loves his teachers). The teacher did a great job of motivating my little guy to run the whole race.

That’s right, he ran the whole 3.1 miles. The 8 year old, his teacher, my boyfriend, and I all finished in about 31:40. Not too shabby for an untrained eight year old!

The 13 year old decided he was not feeling so motivated that chilly morning and walked almost the whole first mile. At the 1.5 mile turn around the rest of the group was at least a quarter of a mile ahead of him. He must have really pushed himself in the second half of the race because he ended up finishing about twenty seconds after we did. I was a little surprised and quite impressed to see him hauling in right behind us. After the run we hurried over to a family First Communion party already in progress where we ate cake then ran around playing basketball. Everyone was pretty beat that night.

Sunday:

Sometimes I poke fun at the cheesy memes and sayings about “being your best self & living your best life” and all that crap but early Sunday morning I was most definitely not my best self.

My guy and I had to be out the door before 7am (on a Sunday!) to get to the five mile trail run we had signed up to do. And boy was I cranky that morning! First, my boyfriend didn’t have the clothes he needed so I had to scrounge up some running pants for him. Then the neighbors were texting me to complain about the stupid dog barking (she had literally been out for less than five minutes before turning on the obnoxiousness). And of course we were leaving late.. ugh.

Despite all that we did get to the race course with (just!) enough time to get our shirts and numbers, hit the porta-potties, and join the large crowd behind the start line. Because this was a rather intense trail run the race started in waves. They weren’t time based or at all organized, just groups of people about the same size started a few minutes apart. I’m not sure which wave we started in but we didn’t wait too long before politely pushing our way to the start and beginning this challenging trail race.

It didn’t take us long to catch the tail end of the previous heat. I had heard that the trail got quite narrow in the very hilly woods. I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to push myself early in the five mile race, the course was intense and early morning races are really hit or miss for me. My guy, on the other hand, was full of energy and kept bounding ahead on the packed trails. This made me a little salty but I kept it to myself. I figured I’d already used my crabbiness allowance for the morning. Eventually he slowed down a bit and I realized I really didn’t feel bad.

Other than stopping to take off a layer (Did I mention it was just above freezing when the race started?) and some minor breathing issues on one particularly arduous hill I ran the whole five miles. And I didn’t feel like I was dying, I still felt pretty damn decent when we crossed the finish.

Garmin thought otherwise though.

My goal for this five miles was to stay under an hour and I’m happy to say we did it. As an added bonus, my guy finished 9th in his age group and I was 13th in mine.

Obviously that didn’t win us any additional bling but it’s nice knowing we’re not too shabby out there.

So if you’re keeping track these were races #2 & 3 for 2018; #1 was the St. Paddy’s day run. (Or rather to help me keep track)

Last weekend was a work weekend for me so it was totally devoid of races but tomorrow we’re running one of the bigger (beer themed!) Fun 5ks we did last year. Coincidentally it’s supposed to be cold and rainy again… even though it’s been close to eighty all week. Isn’t that just how it goes sometimes!

Sitting quietly in the moment

I tend to live life in a flurry of activity. I enjoy a certain level of busyness (or as some might call it chaos). I’m a bit of a challenge junkie, always pushing myself to see what I can accomplish next.

Imagine one of those old school cartoon characters juggling plates or carrying boxes, stuff gets stacked on, higher and higher until whatever they’re carrying is teetering dangerously (and somewhat humorously) close to toppling over. And every now and then it does all come crashing down around the ridiculous protagonist. That’s a pretty accurate metaphor (simile?) for me trying to manage my life. But I like it; I thrive in chaos and a certain level of craziness.

The sweet spot is that point where everything wobbles just enough to make you question if (or when) everything you’re piling on is going to fall. That visceral feeling in your gut, hovering between fear and excitement. The adrenaline that courses, turning into a pleasant, heady rush when your personal tower of nonsense stays erect. That’s it. Because when everything is about to come crashing down into a natural disaster level mess and you’re on the brink of being declared a national emergency but then, then at the very last moment, it doesn’t and you’ve somehow pulled it off (maybe with a few more grey hairs and slightly elevated blood pressure to show for it), you feel like you’ve accomplished something. You’ve succeeded. And, damn is it impressive!

The “I don’t know how you do it all”s and comments of the sort, made with a certain amount of awe but in a baffled tone that says “why would you even try?”, they’re gratifying. Sure a normal person would not take on so much at once but who wants to be normal. Downtime is overrated anyhow right?… Right?!?!

That’s the zone I thrive in. But right now my life is not there. Instead I’m in a place of seemingly static waiting. Everything is going to change, there is going to be a major shift towards chaos, but not for months. And in the meantime…. What?

Just daily life and waiting.

I’m trying to use these next few months before dental school starts to relax and enjoy life. Play games and go to the library regularly with my kids. Do all the fun runs. Start and finish projects. Take small vacations. And that’s all well and good, but in the day-to-day it’s slow. For me that’s frustrating. My instinct is to push forward, to be focused on the next hill. To go go go. Not to come home from the morning rush of getting the kids to school and look around and think “Now what?” So far I haven’t been handling the apparently empty days very well. (To be sure, there’s always things I should be doing but they’re the boring, mundane chores of daily living that I’d much rather avoid.) I’ve been restless, antsy and on edge. My temper is a little too quick and irritations often lurks just below the surface.

It’s a struggle to sit quietly and be content in the moment. But that’s what life is showing me needs to be done right now. It’s a time to embrace the stillness, take a few deep breaths and enjoy where I am instead of trying to jump to the next phase. I’m sure in six months, when I’m balls deep in the first semester of dental school and trying to manage four kids in school and fall extra curriculars, I’ll miss this phase.

Getting Stuffed

After going up north for a quick mini-vacation (if you can call three days and two nights in with a couple grouchy teenagers a vacation) it was back to (normalcy) reality which means back to making dinner three to five nights a week. Sit-down dinners are an important part of our family life and while I know it’s not what we have for dinner that’s important, I get tired of making the same five meals over and over again. I’m constantly asking the fam for dinner suggestions. Sometimes I actually get some.

This past go-round my boyfriend suggested stuffed peppers. And maybe stuffed mushrooms. I’ve never made either. Well, not true, I’ve made stuffed peppers at work but never for the family to eat. I’ve also made an appetizer version of stuffed mushrooms with the cute little baby Bella mushrooms, stuffing, spinach, and cheese. The much bigger version of those have always been intriguing but a little intimidating. They’re a big commitment. Like, if I make them and don’t like em it’s a lot to either suffer through or waste.

Stuffed foods are one of those things that could go either way for me with my weird food texture/color preferences. I don’t like mushy or over mixed food. I’m very wary of sauces I don’t know and have a strict one-sauce-per-item policy. And anything pureed, especially if it’s green (really anything green that doesn’t have a very distinguishable solid shape) is definitely a no! But, really, I’m not a picky eater.

That being said…

Let’s start with the mushrooms: they were beautiful and delicious.

I knew the kids were not going to touch the stuffed mushrooms (no matter how much bacon and cheese I put on them) so I got a four pack of the large but not huge portobello. I popped the stems off, scooped out the weird fin things, brushed them with oil and put them in the oven with the already cooking stuffed peppers. I think the recipe I was very loosely following called for ten to twelve minutes of oven time before stuffing.

In the meantime I mixed the internal ingredients: just a little minced garlic, cooked bacon, diced tomatoes, uncooked spinach (see above regarding issues with mushy green stuff), and ,of course, cheese. It’s pretty easy to tailor this to your personal preferences.

After the requisite baking time the stuffing is heaped on the now fork-tender mushroom caps. I say heaped because the caps don’t actually hold much stuffing. It’s more a topping than a stuffing.

Return to the oven for maybe five minutes and Bam! Delicious, basically healthy food. The mushrooms alone probably aren’t filling enough to be their own meal but they are a great side and the leftovers were super delicious for lunch the next day.

For some reason I almost always have an excess of stuffing. A couple days later I got a spinach, bacon, & tomato omelette out of the leftover mushroom stuffing. It was also delicious!

There’s not a lot to say about the stuffed peppers. The recipe I followed was pretty standard. I tweaked the amount of sauce mixed with the rice to suit my texture issue based preferences and put cheese on top but other than that actually followed the directions. Weird, I know. Oh, I did not cook my peppers at all before stuffing them. I like a more firm pepper. (Yeah, that’s what she said!)

Unlike the mushrooms, everyone loved the stuffed peppers. One kid even took leftovers for lunch the next day. You know the meal is a hot when the leftovers get eaten without prompting. Seriously, “Put down that bagel and eat some leftovers!” is something I say often.

Speaking of leftovers, the stuffed peppers would be a pretty good way to use leftovers. Specifically leftover rice. Since the rice is cooked before mixing and stuffing you could make these with leftover rice from another meal, stir fry or something like that. It would make their prep quicker too. I’m all about quick prep and using leftovers.

Kindness is not the answer.

This has been a rough week.* Not just here in my own home & life, though definitely that too, but on a bigger scale. Nationally? Maybe. Regionally? Probably. Locally? Yes.

There was another school shooting in the United States, in Florida, and a rash of outcry and protest about gun control laws and who should be doing what and who is to blame and who should have a gun to stop the person with the gun. And so on and so forth.

As a parent every school shooting hits close to home. With every single one I can’t help but think “What if that was my kids’ school?” Just the thought freezes my heart with terror. My kids go to a smaller charter school so I feel like they’re a little safer. Smaller = statistically less likely to get shot; more people watching fewer kids, more aware and involved parents, etc. I feel lucky to have that option. But that’s not fool proof.

Nothing is.

Earlier in the week, right on the heels of the horrific school shooting in Florida, there were multiple school closings due to threats of violence. Facebook friends from different districts on different days posted about their kid’s school being closed because someone had threatened to go in and shoot it up. Here in America, the self-proclaimed Greatest Nation on Earth, we are keeping our kids home from school because they might get shot. Let that sink in for a minute.

And it continues. This morning (maybe this afternoon; I don’t know, I work nights.) the news broke that a teenager had fired shots in a dorm room at Central Michigan University. Two college kids were killed. IN THEIR DORM. Their home. By another kid.

I don’t have any personal connections to Central but my oldest son visited the campus twice last year. He really liked the school and was interested in going to it. His interest waned & he’s still at home. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so relieved that my kid didn’t go to college. At least not that one. But, again, this could be happening anywhere. It just so happens that it’s taking place in my home state right now. It’s way too close to home for comfort but kids getting shot anywhere is too close to home.

Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with people? And how do we solve this problem.

Obviously something has to change. Maybe tighter gun control laws are the solution. Maybe not. (I have an opinion on this, I’m not going to share it because it’s irrelevant and detracts from the point of this post.) Either way that’s really not a solution.

The problem is bigger than guns getting into the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. I mean, who knows if those kids who threatened to shoot their schools had guns or not. They were still able to perpetuate the problem and stir up fear. They still made school an unsafe place to be on that day.

It has more to do with whatever causes people (young people, old people, whatever. Any people.) to see shooting or threatening to shoot or bomb a school as an acceptable course of action.

Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts. They’re a good distraction from the mundane chores of life. I listen to them when I’m running, when I’m folding laundry, or doing dishes, or doing thoughtless tasks at work. One that I’ve delved into is the Art of Charm podcast.

I was listening to one episode, Episode 684 with Celeste Headlee, while making dinner a month or two ago when I realized I was hearing something really important.

Celeste Headlee is a journalist and radio talk show hosts. She’s spent years interviewing people and sharing their perspective. The podcast I was listening was about having conversations, specifically how to do it effectively. (And it’s not the way you think it is.)

What really jumped out at me was something she said (roughly 33 minutes into the podcast) about empathy.

Empathy is one of those woo-woo, popular buzz words, you might see it tattooed on the foot of some trendy young hipster. It gets lightly thrown around quite a bit, but what does it really mean? Why is empathy such a big deal? And, more importantly, how do you get it?

The Oxford Dictionary (online version of course) defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”.

That sounds simple enough but it doesn’t really explain much about empathy (like why it’s important or what any of this has to do with school shootings).

Celeste Headlee tells us that empathy is the only known way to overcome our evolutionarily engrained biases.

While talking about conversation Celeste Headlee also points out that empathy has measurably decreased over the past some odd years. (Apparently there are legitimate studies that track empathy levels.) In other words we as a society are failing in our ability to see things from other’s perspective. More and more we are being governed by our basic instinct instead of our humanity. That’s kind of a big deal.

A decrease in the ability to comprehend how others are feeling, to put yourself in their shoes, is a deadly decrease. We’re seeing this play out. And it makes many parents feel helpless, like it’s near impossible to keep our kids safe.

So what do we do?

Sure modeling kindness, something that’s offered as a solution, is a good thing but it’s not the answer. Because, let’s be real, how many teenagers actually notice the small things other people do?

Having conversations might be a solution, though, a realistic and feasible way to make a change in our current culture. Even brief, seemingly meaningless interactions are more impactful and important than you’d imagine. In fact, according to Headlee, those are possibly the most important type and the biggest way we can build empathy. See, you can’t just choose to be empathetic; it’s a skill and skills, like those pesky toys labeled “some assembly required”, have to be built before they can be used.

If you don’t believe me you should listen to the podcast (linked up above) or check out Celeste Headlee’s TEDtalk or book.

And then go out and talk to people. Don’t pass up on the opportunity for brief conversation with a stranger, the more different than you the better. Make the world a better place one conversation at a time. Because we need something to change and public policy, laws and all that crap, take a very long time. This you can do every day. Sometimes the smallest actions can make the biggest difference.

*Please note that the time frames mentioned are relevant to when I was writing but not necessarily to when this was published. There’s a bit of lag going on here.

A Plan with No Goal in Sight

Back in January, specifically at the beginning, I set some goals regarding getting back on track with running. And maybe eating “right” too…

Me and fifty million other people right?

Well, now it’s February, almost the end too. By this time those beginning of the year goals have either stuck or they have not. If you’re still on the health/fitness/self-improvement band wagon two full months into the year I think it’s safe to say you’re on your way to resolution success.

While my activity here on the blog has been spotty at best, I’ve been decently consistent at running of late. After realizing how far off the fitness wagon I had fallen in late December, and subsequently incorporating getting back into the habit of running regularly into my New Year’s resolution, I’ve done just that: gotten back into the habit of running.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been a struggle at times. And even though I’m (mostly) running four times a week consistently I haven’t really lost any of the extra seven or eight pounds holiday season 2017 gifted me. (Maybe it’s time to crack down on my eating and drinking habits too. *sigh*) I do feel better while I’m running and in general though. That’s something I guess. Even if it’s something that doesn’t make my pants fit any better.

I’m a goal oriented person; I like concrete markers of success. Usually I’m thinking about what I want to accomplish over the year and set specific running goals. This year is different though; I’ve accomplished my biggest goal. I caught the big fish; I got into dental school. Now I’m waiting to fry the fish and I’ve got five months until life changes dramatically. My short term goal is to make the most of my free time until then.

After two not great half marathons in a row I’m hesitant to set any big race goals. On New year’s day I got a text from my sister asking if I wanted to do a half marathon in May. I felt pretty meh about it. Maybe later in the year I’ll find a half the sparks my interest but right now I’ve got nothing.

Despite not having specific race goals, I’ve got a plan. This is very unlike me.

So what changed? I got a book and a heart rate monitor, late Christmas presents that arrived mid January. The book, Jack Daniel’s Running Formula, I’ve skimmed before but upon looking a second read through I noticed his fitness based plans. Unlike most the laid out training plans in the book, these aren’t based on any time or distance goals. Instead they aim to increase general running fitness. Sound familiar?

It’s exactly what I needed right now. As for the heart rate monitor, I’m not entirely sure what to do with that other than wear it and look at my stats. Maybe I’ll try a heart rate based training plan sometime. Who knows. At least I’m running regularly again and I’m sure there will be some fun races this year…at least until August.

Eating Through the Winter Blahs

Like many, if not most people, I’ve made a loose resolution to “eat healthier” in the new year. Also like many I’ve resolved to be “better” with my finances, whatever that means.

One area where both these things can get out of control fast is groceries and food in general. With a relatively large household to feed (myself, four teenagers, an eight year old, and whatever friends wander in) it seems like I’m always making meals and constantly need groceries. It gets old fast. I tend to make a lot of the same meals again and again. And again. And again.

The redundant meal rut is especially depressing this time of year. Here in Michigan it’s cold and dark; the holidays are over and we’re just trudging through dingy slush day in and day out. Working third shift tends to accentuate the winter blahs.

In an effort to combat all that seasonal crappiness (don’t get me wrong I love winter but it definitely lends itself to some serious doldrums) I’ve taken (re-taken?) to meal planning and being better at using leftovers. Don’t get too excited, meal planning here literally just means making a list of meals I might make in the upcoming week or two and then trying to grocery shop accordingly. But so far it has helped. I spend more on groceries in one trip but then I don’t have to make those “quick” stops at the store which means fewer impulse buys. I’ve been tracking my spending this month so I should be able to tell if I’m actually spending less on food overall. Fingers crossed! Regardless, we’ve been eating better and more creative (for my less than adventurous bunch) dinners.

Here are some of the cheap, easy, & hopefully somewhat healthy meals we’ve been having…

Chicken stir-fry

This one has a few red & yellow peppers, sugar snap peas, matchstick carrots, those little baby corns that come in a cab, & some weird “Mexican potato” tuber. That last ingredient is what I get for taking a kid and my boyfriend grocery shopping with me.

Ham & potato soup

I know this picture is crap but the soup was the bomb dot com! (Yes I know no one says that anymore, that’s why it’s funny now.) This soup has a little dairy & cheese which gives it ax great cheese flavor without making it overly creamy & heavy. Here’s the recipe I used but I left out the peas. I think I just didn’t have any on hand.

Ham Risotto with Bulgar

This one was something totally different for us but I had leftover ham to use up and really didn’t want a boring egg based meal. I’ve only had risotto once & have never made it. When I searched for recipes I was discouraged to learn that you need a specific rice for risotto which, of course, I did not have. (Something about the starch level of the different eucre and how v that absorb moisture) Oddly enough I did have a bag of bulgar that had been sitting in my cupboard for a long time, possibly years.

A quick search uncovered this bulgar risotto recipe. And I had grabbed asparagus at the store just because it looked good. I think this meal was meant to be. Peas were left out again though because I still had not gotten any. I also used cheddar cheese instead of Parmesan… because that’s what I already had. Plus cheddar and ham is such a great flavor combination. It was not a bad move. This was delicious! It was reminiscent of a good creamy macaroni and cheese but with a healthier grain. I will definitely make this risotto again!

The classics…

It hasn’t been all new and different though. I definitely fall back on some hearty classics like the chicken drumsticks and oven roasted potatoes pictured below. Or meatloaf and baked (leftover) mashed potatoes.

Being more conscientious about what we’re eating has lead to some tasty, hearty winter dinners.