Sunrise Musings

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This morning, I had resolved to sleep in. This past week had been incredibly exhausting and it was all I could do to keep my head from dropping onto my plate at dinner every night. I was shooting for staying in bed until 7:30ish (about 2 hours past my usual wake up), which is Parker’s normal wake up time. In preparation for this marathon sleep session, I silenced my phone and turned off the alarm clock. Yup, I was cruising for 11 hours of sleep (minus the number of times that Parker woke up in the middle of the night). Surely, one as sleep deprived as I could manage to sleep in, right?

Wrong. At exactly 5:58am, my eyes sprung open and I frantically searched my brain for the proper date. Once I settled on the right one and remembered my quest to sleep in, I snuggled deeper under the covers and firmly shut my eyes, resolved to drift back to sleep. Unfortunately, my body wasn’t fooled. The sun may not be up, but a lifetime early riser such as myself is truly and honestly incapable of sleeping in. I felt a momentary pang of disappointment that I had failed in my quest.

So, I changed my expectations of how the morning was going to go and I dragged by bleary-eyed self out into the living room so that my boys wouldn’t be infected by the sole morning person in the house. Of course, within 5 minutes of being up, I knew that I had been fooling myself. I love 6am almost as much as I love the smell of my morning coffee. We were made for each other so I decided to make the most of my 90 minutes of alone time.

I got the coffee going and fed the cats (the dogs would have to wait since they would have woken the whole house if I had let them out of the bedroom) and I settled in with a book to wait for the sun to rise. If it hadn’t been 25 degrees outside, I would have preferred sitting on the back deck, but since it was indeed frigid, I settled for staying wrapped up in my favorite hole-y sweater and got comfortable in the dining room to watch the sunrise out of our panoramic window.

I am obsessed with sunrises and sunsets. I love the colors and the peacefulness. There’s something soothing in the transition from day to night and night to day. Given my preferences, I would have been suited for life before electricity. As it is, I generally live my life during the daylight hours and my preference is always for the predawn as opposed to the night.

As I watched the day dawn from gray to pink to vivid blue, I polished off my second cup of coffee and got in about 3 chapters of my book before I heard the shuffle of little feet coming out to join me. Awake and refreshed, I welcomed Parker’s company and got some tea going for the Irishman, a not-so-morning person. As the dogs came tearing around the corner and my house returned to it’s normal level of noise and chaos, I mentally thanked my internal alarm clock for not allowing me to squander the beauty of the morning.

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Starbucks Instant Coffee

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Last year, I shared with you this confession about my new love for instant coffee. At the time, I was buying the NesCafe jar of instant coffee for about $7 for the large canister. Well, Starbucks heard about my confession and realized that if a self proclaimed coffee freak like me was into instant, then perhaps there was a corner of the market that they could tap into. Okay, not really, but it soothes my ego to think that I was ahead of the curve. You know, a trail blazer, a risk taker…

Anyways, last weekend, in addition to showing up with my favorite pizza, the Irishman brought 2 boxes of Starbucks instant coffee. Unlike my ginormous canister of NesCafe, these are dainty little boxes with 12 individual servings each. And, Starbucks being Starbucks, they’re selling them for $10 a box. Holy moly, but is that expensive! Particularly since I need 1.5 packets of coffee per mug, which works out to roughly, 8 mugs of coffee, or $1.25 per mug. So essentially, since I’m providing my own cream and sugar, I’m paying just as much as I would be if I dropped into a Starbucks store to buy the fresh brewed stuff.

Aside from my gripe about how they’re fleecing my crazy coffee loving self, the instant coffee itself is good. Very good. It is virtually indistinguishable from the fresh brewed coffee that they serve in-house. In fact, I think it actually tastes better since it hasn’t been sitting around waiting for you to purchase it. Come to think of it, maybe the cost isn’t that outrageous. I mean, I didn’t have to spend any gas money to go get it. I didn’t need to change out of my PJs or slap on some under-eye concealer for my chronically sleep-deprived self. No waiting in line and fighting for parking.

So, now that I’ve talked myself in circles, I think that the Starbucks instant coffee will be a nice purse staple (along with some of the no refrigeration needed creamers) for when I simply must have more caffeine, but I can’t be bothered with going to a coffee shop to find it. All I would need to find is a microwave and some water and voila, coffee is ready to go. But for my at-home massive consumption of java, I think I’ll stick with my NesCafe sweetened with a tablespoon of International Delights Hershey’s chocolate caramel creamer. At 23 cents per giant mug, it definitely gets the job done without giving me indigestion over the cost.

Campus From Above

Last week, I was invited to a colleagues house for a faculty reception. Her house is about two miles from campus – straight up the mountain side. The drive to her house reminded me an awful lot of our house in Greece. It also reminded me why we don’t “winter” at our summer home – it was two miles of driving on a sheet of ice! Definitely not for the faint of heart or owners of a 2-wheel drive.

Her house was lovely. I have such an affection for log cabins. Just look how warm and inviting it seems inside.
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She also had a huge deck that overlooked campus.
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As you can see here, our campus is nested in the valley right up against the Tuckaseegee River.
Here’s a closer look. That large black building is our basketball arena.
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Just look at those gorgeous mountains…and this is considered the “ugly” time of year! Imagine this view in the summer and the fall!
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Don’t worry, I already invited myself up so I’ll share the pictures with you as the seasons change.
While I think that a view like this would be phenomenal to live with, the drive down off of the mountain would definitely get burdensome, especially at this time of year. Knowing myself as I do, it’s probably wise that I don’t pick a house that is difficult to come down from – I may never leave home.

Running Into Oblivion

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Yesterday was one of those days. You know the ones I’m talking about – when it seems like everyone is trying to make your job more difficult. Of course, my walking obstacles come in the form of disrespectful students. They’re usually seniors who thing that they know everything there is to know at the ripe old age of 21. I know what they’re thinking because I too was one of “those” students about a decade ago. Unfortunately, that doesn’t endear them to me when they turn the know-it-all-attitude in my direction. I had so much pent up aggression by 2pm, that I knew my options were gym or bust.

I chose the gym. I knew that I had to work off this mood before I went home or it would follow me well into the evening as I chewed over each frustrating conversation that I had earlier. So, I did what I do best. I cranked up the iPod, cranked up the speed on the treadmill until I could barely keep up and I kick my own…well, you know the rest.
For me, running is completely cathartic. I can literally run myself into oblivion until my legs are no longer willing to go the distance. When I’m going as fast as I can for any sustained period of time, there is no thought to what’s stressing me out. The only thought in my head is to keep one foot in front of the other and to keep moving at all costs. Truth be told, I ran all out for about 60 minutes. I think I crammed in about 6.5 miles (one full mile more than my standard 60 minute run). I ran until I literally couldn’t feel my legs.
And then I went to the free weights. I piled on about 10-30 lbs. more than usual and I did as many reps as I could manage until the burn overwhelmed me. I’m certain I grunted, but I didn’t care. I was on the warpath. I barely noticed that anyone else was there. I was just doing my damnedest to stay one step ahead of my fatigue until it was all I could do to stand up and walk out of there.
You know what? It worked. I had literally run and lifted my way into oblivion. It was as if I had hopped in my car and driven for hundreds of miles with the pedal to the medal. I left the gym victorious and feeling more than a little smug. The little boogers could get under my skin, but they couldn’t stay there for long. It may take have taken me a good 20 minutes of grunting and groaning to heave my tired muscles out of bed this morning, but at least I slept well.

The Best Pizza.

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The Irishman went to Tallahassee on a solo trip this weekend. His trip included sleeping, beer drinking and general merriment with his friends. While I wished him well on his trip, it’s always taxing on the single parent who is left behind to care for and entertain the munchkin. So, even though he was only gone for 2 days and 6 hours, I heaved a sigh of relief when I heard his key in the door. Reinforcements had arrived.

And when I looked down at what he was carrying in his arms, it nearly brought tears of joy to my eyes. He brought pizza, but not just any pizza. Momo’s Pizza. Momo’s is a Tallahassee staple. It’s New York style pizza that has melty, stringy cheese and a thin, crisp crust. Add in just the right amount of lightly spiced tomato sauce and you have virtual pizza perfection.

They simply don’t have a good New York style pizza here and I’m incredibly impressed that the Irishman drove 400 miles with that pizza sitting next to him without consuming the entire thing (he did have two slices, bless his heart). Now, I don’t like cold pizza. In fact, I pretty much only like pizza when it’s fresh out of the oven. If you do too, then I have a trick to share with you.

It’s something that I picked up years ago watching a random Rachel Ray episode. She claimed that the best way to reheat pizza was to put it in a large skillet and heat it over medium heat until the cheese melted. I had always been a toaster oven or microwave kind of re-heater, so I tested her skillet method the first chance I got…and I’ll be damned if I could tell the difference between my skillet heated pizza and the fresh-out-of-the-oven version that it had been a mere 24 hours before.

So as I sit here typing this, I’m enjoying my second slice of heaven. It’s a caloric nightmare, but in case I needed yet another reason to love running, I have 22 miles slated for this weeks training plan – translation: guilt-free pizza consumption. Life, my friends, is good.

Small Towns

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Well, our first 6 months in our small town (population 2500) is behind us. The Irishman and I were talking about the pros and cons of small town life and we came up with the following list.

PROS:

1. You never have to wait. Not in traffic, not at the doctor’s office, not to get into a movie on opening night and not even to make an appointment to have your teeth cleaned. It’s amazing – whatever services you need, you get right away. For a South Floridian who used to dread driving to the grocery store because it was guaranteed to be a 1 hour trip, this is phenomenal.

2. The quality of service is great. When we first made an appointment to see our local dentist, I was imagining something a kin to the dentist’s office that I visited in Greece (a story to be told at another time) – small, older, etc… Imagine my surprise when I saw that the facility here had more sophisticated machinery and tools than our dentist in Tallahassee. That’s consistently been what we’ve found here. Similarly, our pharmacist knows who we are and is amazingly helpful. I’m used to just being a nameless person waiting in line to pick up a prescription.

3. When you support local businesses, you know exactly who you’re supporting. In a community this size, you become friends with small business owners and there’s a whole network of support out there to keep their little businesses up and running. I feel invested in this community and try my best to buy locally whenever possible.

4. Because there isn’t a lot to do here, we spend a lot of time at parks, playgrounds and driving around to visit neighboring towns. Also, the university hosts a ton of events – from plays to sporting events, there isn’t a lack of options if you look.

5. People go out of their way to help you. We buy an organic dog food that is supplied by the boarding facility that we use (also a top notch facility). If we can’t make it out to them to pick it up, they are more than happy to drop it off at our house and bill us later. Isn’t that amazing?!

CONS:

1. Everything you want isn’t available locally. For example, I went to every supermarket in town and I could not find red curry paste or coconut milk. In one place, they didn’t even know what I was talking about. I finally found it at a tiny market that specializes in organic and ethnic canned goods.

2. Similarly, we don’t have a mall, or even a department store. The closest Best Buy or Office Depot is 15 miles away and our only large retailer here is Wal-Mart. As a plus, this means that I don’t spend nearly as much money on a regular basis as I did in Tallahassee.

3. A lot of the locals have never lived anywhere but here. While I’m not prone to making sweeping generalizations, there is much less cultural diversity here than what I’m used to. Fortunately, Asheville is less than an hour away and is quite diverse and culturally-oriented.

4. We’re at least an hour away from even the smallest airport and 2.5 hours away from an international airport (Atlanta or Charlotte). Honestly, this isn’t that big of a deal, but it’s something to consider if you’re planning to catch a morning flight.

5. This hasn’t happened to us yet, but in the event that you have a disagreement with someone or you don’t want to run in the same circles as someone, it’s sometimes hard to avoid them. For a hermit like me, that isn’t really a big deal since I’d rather be left alone anyway, but the rest of my social family may have an issue with this.

Overall, I’m loving small town life, but that’s mainly because I don’t much care for a lot of human interaction. The scenery is gorgeous and I love driving, so I don’t mind going to Asheville for groceries or Atlanta for flights. Our 4 month old Subaru, however, DOES mind since we’ve already put 9000 miles on the car! Oh well, good thing we bought and didn’t lease. Now, please excuse me while I look into purchasing an extended warranty…which will require a trip into Asheville.

Group Exercise Classes

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I’ve been a certified group exercise instructor for about 5 years now. While I haven’t taught any classes since we moved to North Carolina, I still believe that group ex classes definitely have a place in a well-rounded exercise routine. There are a number of different types of classes out there and they each serve a unique purpose. For this post, I’ve broken them down into three groups.

The first group includes the classes that are cardio-heavy: spinning, kick boxing, step, etc… These classes will get your heart rate up for 40-60 minutes and allow you to mindlessly follow someone else’s lead. You have the benefit of a personal trainer while sharing your pain with a host of others – misery loves company, right?

Of course, like with everything else in life, what you get out of these classes is a direct result of the effort that you put in. I always asked my classes the following questions.

1. Are you comfortable?
2. Could you do this all day?
3. Could you speak more than 3 or 4 words before needing to take a breath?

If you answer yes to any or all of these questions, you aren’t working hard enough! Ultimately, no matter how great and motivating your instructor is, you have to put in the effort to get the results. Don’t be afraid to push yourself – you can always pull back the effort if you start to get breathless. However, I think you will surprise yourself with what you’re really capable of. Don’t over think it, just go for it.

The second group of classes are meant to get your heart rate up while encouraging you to have fun. The emphasis here isn’t on the workout, but on the camaraderie created in class and on distracting you from the fact that you’re burning calories. This group includes dance classes like Zumba, hip hop and belly dancing. The important thing here is to keep moving. If you have a hard time staying focused on the treadmill or the elliptical, a great idea is to do 30 minutes on the treadmill right before the class starts. That way, you’ll get to do the class that you enjoy while still burning an extra 200-300 calories beforehand.

The third group of classes are those that focus on a mind-body connection like yoga and pilates. These classes are a great supplement to any workout because (1) they help you calm and focus your mind, which is imperative to staying on track with your goals; (2) they focus on strength and stretching, which are two neglected areas of most people’s cardio-heavy exercise regimen; and (3) they include a number of modifications that make the moves possible for most people to do. With these classes, it’s important to listen to exactly what the instructor is telling you – form is paramount here. Also, don’t quit if it starts to burn. Hold the pose or move for the entire duration that you’re told. Don’t underestimate the strength component of these classes. If you listen to your instructor and do the moves correctly, you will notice that within a month or two, you can do more advanced moves and hold the poses for longer.

Regardless of which classes you decide to incorporate into your regimen, remember that variety is good! Different machines and classes work different muscles and you want to make sure to switch up your workout about every 6 months or so to make sure that you are making the most efficient use of your time at the gym (or on the pavement or in the pool…). I go through cycles where I run diligently for 6 months (which usually culminates in a couple of races) and then I ease back on the running and hit the pool for the spring and summer months. Not only does it keep me from getting bored, but it keeps my metabolism up.

Remember, the perfect exercise routine is the one that you’re doing consistently and giving your best effort to. Always check your PRE (perceived rate of exertion) and ask yourself the questions that I listed above – as long as you’re pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, you are making strides towards a new, healthier you.