Blizzard

Well folks, it has certainly been an interesting three days. Beginning with Friday, we drove out to Asheville around noon to run some errands (and I had a hair appointment). We thought nothing of it because the weather forecast said that it was supposed to start raining at 3pm and then by nightfall (6pm) the rain would turn into snow. Great, no problem. We had plenty of time. The only problem is that weather rolled in much quicker and heavier than the forecasters predicted.

As I was sitting in the stylist’s chair with soaking wet hair, I looked over and saw that it had started snowing. Huh. That wasn’t supposed to happen yet – what happened to the rain? So, I called the Irishman and said you better come get me, it’s snowing. As we left the hair salon, he wanted to squeeze in one more errand (to pick up a special edition beer) and I started to get nervous. In typical male bravado, he boasted, “Don’t worry about it. It’s still 40 degrees outside. It won’t stick yet.”

I snapped this picture with my phone right as we were getting on the highway.

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It was slow going, but decent driving conditions for the first half of the trip. But then things got ugly. About 20 miles from home, cars not equipped for the conditions started spinning out on the road in front of us. It was completely understandable considering that just one hour after we left Asheville, this is what we were driving through.

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We were driving about 25 miles an hour. Thankfully, Parker had his DVD player so he was blissfully ignorant about how scary the drive actually was. Of course, it got worse. About 6 miles from home, we saw a handful of cars stopped up ahead. Crap. There was a man standing in the road holding up traffic. This is about when a full blown panic hit me. We were way further than walking distance from home. I didn’t even have my heavy jacket with me (it was in the car I had driven earlier) and we didn’t have any extra food in the car.

Actually, that isn’t entirely true. I did have a stash of ketchup packets in the glove box that I kept for dire emergencies. In fact, the Irishman made fun of me on a regular basis for hoarding ketchup packets, but I swear to you, every story I had ever heard of someone falling in a ditch and being lost for days before discovery ended with, “I survived eating ketchup packets.” It made an impression on me, so I started stashing them in the glove box. Of course, us stopped six miles from home with a small child and no idea of when we’d start moving again was probably not the best time for me to bring it up (which of course I did), but strangely enough, I felt comforted by the thought of a handful of packets.

The good news is that (1) we were only at a standstill for about 20 minutes or so. They had stopped us to allow emergency crews to clear up a wreck further up the road; (2) our new Subaru Outback handled amazingly well. The Irishman said that there wasn’t a single moment when he felt unstable in it. He was more freaked out by the cars careening off of the road in front of us than by the actual driving itself.

I heaved a huge sigh of relief when we got off on our exit and an even bigger one when we hit the town proper since we could easily have walked home from there. Thankfully, our trusty new car took us all the way up to the house (on 3 inches of fresh snow). We started a fire, toasted to being safely in our home and swore that we would not do something so foolish as being 50 miles from our home within hours of a predicted storm system moving.

Here are some pictures I took as soon as we got home. All of this snow accumulated in a matter of 2 hours.

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This below was the actual color of the sky.

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This is looking out of one of the front windows of our house. Look at how blue everything was in comparison to the warm tones of our house. So surreal!

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Oh and we finally figured out how to start and maintain a fire. Good thing since we promptly lost power for 15 hours.

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Resistance Bands

Hi folks! I hope everyone is thus far having a great 2010 and sticking with their goals and resolutions. If you haven’t quite gotten on track, that’s okay. Regain your focus and don’t waste another minute feeling guilty about it. Tomorrow is always another day. Perfection is not something to strive for. On the other hand, consistently giving your best effort is a worthy goal and that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

I had a request to discuss vacations, specifically how to keep from getting derailed if you leave town or have a shift in routine. For me, I have to keep my head in the game. When I know that I’ll be out of town for any period of time, I try to squeeze in a workout right before I leave. If I have access to a decent hotel gym, I’ll take advantage of that and go first thing in the morning (making sure to scope it out the night before so I’m not intimidated by just walking in blind). If, however, I don’t have access to a gym, I bring these along:

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These are my Gold’s Gym resistance bands that I picked up at WalMart for about $15 dollars. Conveniently, they come with 3 different tension levels as well as a DVD (that you can watch before you leave) and written instructions (with pictures that you can take with you).

The box looks like this.

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I picked up the resistance bands for a number of reasons.

(1) They are incredibly light, weighing in at less than 1 lb. so they are easily transported.

(2) I used a much more primitive version of resistance bands as a competitive swimmer and I very clearly remember the burn. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you won’t get a decent muscle workout with these. The more you increase the tension, the heavier the weight.

(3) I could do a large number of exercises that I would normally do with dumbbells or a weighted curl bar – bicep curls, tricep extensions, squats, lunges – you name it!

(4) They were inexpensive, so even if I only used them a handful of times a year, it was no biggie.

I will tell you that I usually use them about once a week (on the days that I probably should go to the gym to lift, but don’t make it there). You all know that my motto is JUST DO IT so there are no excuses for not squeezing in some form of exercise three or four times a week.

If you also want to throw in a bit of cardio while you’re traveling, I recommend buying a simple jump rope. You’ll burn as many calories jumping rope for 10 minutes as you would running and you’ll get a heck of a calf burn in the process! I have a weighted Gold’s Gym jump rope (that I bought at the same time as the resistance bands) and on cold, rainy days, it gets me warm and helps burn some calories.

Also, don’t be afraid to go ahead and bring your running/walking shoes with you on a work trip. I’ve gotten to explore a number of cities by running their streets in the mornings. Just make sure that you do either an out and back route or a simple loop so that you don’t find yourself lost.

So remember, when leaving town (or even when you just get swamped), make sure to plan ahead and squeeze in 30 minutes for yourself. It will do wonders for your physical and mental well being.

Pineapple Zucchini Bread

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This past weekend, I sat down and went through 13 Cooking Light magazines. I pulled out the recipes that I thought I would definitely try and I gave the leftover magazine to Parker to use for Arts and Crafts projects. He had a blast cutting out pictures and I found it interesting that he was drawn to cutting out pictures of people instead of objects. Well, he did cut out every cookie that he came across. Poor deprived child.

Anyway, the point of the above rambling is that I now have a stack of recipes to make. If it gets a “thumbs up” from the boys, I’m passing it along to you. Recipe #1 of the Cooking Light Recipe Testing Extravaganza was this pineapple zucchini bread. The Irishman has been lamenting that Parker isn’t getting enough veggies in his diet (which I do have to agree with), so I thought I would try the sneaky route that seems to be all the rage these day. By adding crushed pineapple to the zucchini bread, it adds a lovely sweetness. The bonus here is that I can assert that it’s “pineapple bread” without lying.

Here’s the recipe for you and remember, this is coming to you directly from Cooking Light, which means that it is a modified, lighter version of the recipe without sacrificing taste. My mom got me a subscription about 5 years ago and has renewed it for me every year. One of the best magazines around (along with Men’s Health which is both informative and has pictures of ridiculously built men). But, I digress.

Ingredients:

1.5 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
1 cup grated zucchini (1 medium zucchini)
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup egg substitute (like Egg Beaters)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 can crushed pineapple in juice, drained

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder and cinnamon in a bowl. Mix well and set aside. Beat egg in a mixer until foamy, then add in sugar, zucchini, oil, egg substitute and vanilla. Once well blended, add in flour mixture until just combined.

Next, fold in crushed pineapple and spoon batter into a 9×5 inch loaf pan. Shockingly, I don’t own any loaf pans, so I just baked it in my trusty oval shaped ovenware. Bake for about an hour (until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean).

This was really a lovely bread. It was incredibly moist and flavorful. Next time, I’ll double the recipe and freeze half of it. I’m particularly thrilled that Parker has been scarfing it down. When he first tried it, I was lurking in the corner like a cooking villain spying to see whether he ate it. After I heard his characteristic, “Mmmmmmmm, mmmmmmmm, mmmmmmm” that he keeps up for the duration of the meal when he’s enjoying the food, I chuckled an evil little laugh and mentally plotted my next vegetable coup.

Firewood

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When we were living in Florida, buying firewood was an occasional experience. It probably got cold enough to use it on a regular basis, but it was more for the novelty of the experience than for the heat it provided.

In our drafty old house in North Carolina, we quickly realized that unless we wanted a $400 monthly heating bill, we better get used to building and maintaining a fire in the fireplace when it dips below 20 degrees. There was one small problem. Where the heck do we get firewood from?

We checked out the usual places that we purchased wood in Florida (Lowe’s and the grocery store) and as you would imagine, it was ridiculously overpriced. So, the Irishman decided to make friends with on of our neighbors who has a huge stack in front of his house to figure out where we can get a similar stack.

He came back with a phone number for a guy named Earl who drops off wood by the pick-up load. Perfect. I was relieved that we could arrange an economical way of having all of the firewood that we would need. So, the following day, Earl showed up driving his pick-up truck and the Irishman gets to work on unloading the wood.

So, now we have firewood. Turning it into a fire is another challenge in and of itself (we’ve never worked with wood that had not been pretreated), but we’ve been slowly and steadily figuring out how to get it going.

One thing that is clear to me is that I so would not survive in the wild by myself. It’s almost laughable at how little I know about basic cold weather survival. Do you think the Boy Scouts would let me join their organization? This situation has to be remedied if we’re going to do all of the camping that I’d like to do in the spring.

Roasted Acorn Squash

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The Food Network has always been a source of culinary inspiration for me. When Parker was an infant and I was working from home, I needed something on the TV that was light, fun and didn’t require a lot of attention on my part. As such, I alternated between Food Network, HGTV and The Golden Girls. Life was both simple and hectic at the same time back in those days.

Anyway, I found myself watching the Food Network last week as I was folding laundry and Sunny Anderson was roasting acorn squash. She had put a pad of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar in the center and let it do it’s thing. It was super easy and she seemed to enjoy it (although I’m sure they would roll their eyes ecstatically even if it tasted like cow manure), so I thought I would give it a try.

I can honestly say that prior to last week, I had never purchased acorn squash in my life. But, as instructed on the happy Food Network, I cut it in half lengthwise, scooped out the seeds and plopped a 1/2 tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of brown sugar in the middle of each half.

I put it in a 400 degree oven and I spooned the melting butter/sugar mixture over the edges of the squash about every 15 minutes or so. I let it cook for an hour. (It’s done when your fork easily sinks into the flesh of the squash.)

And then I took it out. And I let it cool a little bit. And I took a bite. And my eyes rolled ecstatically into the back of my head. It was simple and simply delicious. And that is the story of how acorn squash and I met.

Of Mice And Men

So last week we had a mouse incident. Specifically, Payton the bionic cat dropped a dead mouse onto my foot. I screamed. And cursed. And scrubbed my skin raw. All of which are presumably normal reactions from a former Floridian who has no experience with such things.

As I was recounting the story to Patrick, we both agreed that Lulu Belle had probably been the one to chase down and kill the little mouse, but walked away from it when the slaughter was done leaving Payton to claim the kill. Quite frankly, Payton is a bit tubby and lazy to chase down live prey. Even if he was so inclined to give chase, only having one real eye definitely affects his depth perception. We had this conversation in front of Parker and he refused to believe it.

For Parker, Payton was the mouse killer. In his eyes, Payton is young and fit and gifted with two working eyes. He is the savior of small children and the destroyer of all rodent kind. His faith in Payton as a feline is really quite admirable. So, I did my best to keep a straight face when Parker solemnly requested that Payton be allowed to “keep guard” while he took a nap. You know, in case any rodents decided to make an appearance.

Payton accepted this challenge without hesitation (aided I’m sure by the promise of getting to lay on the chenile throw on Parker’s bed). Here is Payton the Rodent Killer keeping guard of Parker.

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Yup, he takes his assignments seriously. Especially when it involved eating and sleeping.

Kung Fu Fighter

So, we signed Parker up for Kung Fu a couple of weeks ago. It’s his first extracurricular activity and he’s ridiculously excited to go to his class. We like it because the focus is on discipline and physical activity. He likes it because he gets to run around like a maniac with 5 other 3-4 year olds. It’s a win-win situation.

Here is the little Kung Fu fighter getting ready to go to class.

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And here he is in class with the other little warriors in training.
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Their Si Fu (leader) is telling them “Listen To Learn.” It’s the catch phrase for this age group because they sure do have a hard time listening.

Here are the little tykes stretching (or attempting to stretch).

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Then, it’s time to play, err, to learn. And all chaos breaks loose.

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I have no idea what they were supposed to be doing here, but it was hysterical to watch. The Si Fu has the patience of a saint and lots to tricks to get their attention. Which is short lived before they start running around like maniacs again.

Here, they were learning how to do a side kick. All of the kids got the hang of it. Except for Parker who apparently thought they were supposed to be climbing like monkeys. Oh dear.

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Since it was only his second class, I’m sure he’ll pick it up. If not, at least I know that he’s capable of climbing a tree in the event that someone is chasing him. He can side kick them from up there. I’m sure that was his plan. Yeah, that’s it.