Are you ready to RUN!?!

Well folks, this is the idea that started this entire monthly challenge business. You see, I saw a news article about Heidi Klum running every day for 30 days and blogging about and I thought, “I think that would be a great way to stay motivated.” Now, before you completely disregard this challenge because you’re not into running, I would encourage you to give it a chance. At the end of 30 days, if you’re not filled with a sense of accomplishment then by all means, drop it like a bad habit. I have a feeling, however, that once you give this a shot, you might just see what all of the fuss is about.

First and foremost, let’s get something straight. Almost everyone can run. Seriously, we are biologically engineered for it! How the heck do you think we used to get from point A to point B before the domestication of horses and vehicles? If you don’t believe me, just watch Conan the Barbarian (the original, if you please) and you’ll see that traveling = running…and with a sword on your back no less! Ah, those were the days.

Now, if you think that you’re to ________ to run (fill in the blank here – too heavy, too old, too lazy, too busy), kindly turn on an episode of The Biggest Loser for evidence. If a 400 lb. person who has been sedentary for the last 20 years can run, that means that YOU can too! Trust me on this one. It may not be fun at first, it may hurt like the dickens (whatever that means), and you may feel completely ridiculous…but you CAN do it. YOU can do it. You can DO it. You can do IT. Have I gotten my point across? Great!

Okay, now that we’ve established that you can and will give this a try, here is a bunch of information that will be helpful to you:

1. I wrote up an entire post about getting the proper running gear. The right gear will spare you from discomfort and can help reduce injury. Absolutely the most important thing for running is what you put on your feet (for obvious reasons). If you have a specialty running store near you, go there and get fitted. It will be worth every penny to be in good shoes that fit properly (and socks, too!).

2. If you a brand new runner (or it’s been a while since you’ve laced up your running shoes), there is a ton of great information here on the Runner’s World website.

3. If the word RUN makes you want to run for the hills, there’s a lot to be said for walking/running plans. Here’s more info on that. Have you heard of the Couch to 5K program? Here’s info on that as well.

4. If you’re into training plans, a bunch (all the way from running your first 5K to running a marathon) can be found here on the Runner’s World website.

5. Do you want your smartphone’s help? Here are apps for iPhones and here are some for Androids.

6. If you aren’t into training plans but just want a common sense way to get started, here’s how I originally found my “running legs.”

Plan to stay out there for 30 minutes, 3 times a week. Start off running very slowly and walk when you need to walk (even if this is after 20 steps!). Once you’ve caught your breath, start running again. Stick with this schedule until you can run the entire 30 minutes. Even if this takes you 3 months to do, THAT’S OK!! The key is consistency. Just keep getting out there.

Once you’ve reached your goal, bump up your time to 40 minutes and start the same process over again. When you’ve conquered that, bump up to 50 minutes, etc…
Once you can run for one hour straight (and this could take 6 months or so to reach), you can start counting your miles and getting a more specific training plan in place.

This is the only way I know to successfully become a runner. This process is called building your base. It took me 4 months to get up to the 45 minute mark of running continuously and for me, the key is to keep it nice and slow.

Okay, so what’s the challenge? Well, this is going to be slightly different for everyone depending on where you are as a runner. If you’re an established runner, try to head out there for 30 days straight, switching it up from one-miler rest days with a super easy pace to more difficult distances and paces in order to avoid overuse injuries. If you want to walk on some days, that’s totally fine. Just get out there every day and do something. If you are a brand new runner, you’ll be doing a lot of walking in the first couple of weeks. Again, the key is to build your length of time that you run each week since what you’re looking for is progress. So, whether you run or walk – get out there and pound the pavement (or the treadmill) every day.

What am I going to do? Well, I’m thinking that my first week is going to look like this:

Saturday: 1 mile
Sunday: 2 mile
Monday: 3 miles
Tuesday: 4 miles
Wednesday: 1 mile
Thursday: 2 miles
Friday: 3 miles

Depending on how I feel (since I haven’t been running quite as much as I would like since the baby was born), I’ll either stick to a similar pattern for the following week or kick it up. My ultimate goal, however, is to get to my first post-baby 10-miler by the end of the month.

So, are you guys and gals with me?!? Please say yes. You know I love you all for company.

***Let me put in the usual disclaimer here that you should probably check with your doctor if it’s been a while and please, take it easy if you start to feel light-headed or experience shortness of breath. 

Parker + Chopsticks = ??!?

Parker saw the Irishman and I using chopsticks to eat our stir fry the other day. Last night, he went to the utensil drawer and instead of helping himself to a fork, he grabbed a set of chopsticks. After a couple of minutes of attempting to use them the right way (without success), he grabbed one in each hand and started using them to shovel his spaghetti into his mouth. He looked up as us, grinned and said, “See? It’s a piece of cake!” And that’s how he ate his whole meal.

Hey, whatever works kiddo!

Stir Fry. 4 Ways.

Towards the end of the week, I always seem to end up with a random assortment of veggies that are left over from other recipes. While I had been using these veggies to make omelets for the most part, I’d always wanted to try my hand at making a good stir fry. The only problem was that all of the recipes that I had tried in the past were just plain mediocre and it left me kind of discouraged. So, you can imagine my glee when I opened my Cooking Light magazine a couple of days ago and saw that they had a feature in there on building a better stir fry. Perfecto!

If you want to read all of the steps, here is the full feature online, but I’ll just share with you what I did. First, I washed and dried all of the veggies I wanted to use (I had green peppers, onions, red peppers, edamame and shitaki mushrooms) and cut them into bite size pieces. Then, I heated up 1 tablespoon of canola oil and I sauteed the veggies on high for about 5 minutes. After the veggies were done, I added in the Coconut Ginger sauce (recipe below) and stirred it constantly for a couple of minutes. Once everything was coated and the sauce thickened, I took it off of the heat and served it over rice (if I’d had Soba noodles, that would have definitely been preferable).

The Coconut Ginger sauce rocked my socks off! It was amazing and next time, I’m going to add in some shrimp with the veggies and serve it over Jasmine rice. I’m drooling just thinking about it. The Coconut Ginger sauce was the one that first grabbed my attention, but I’m going to definitely try the other three sauces over the coming weeks. I’m excited to have found the “magic formula” for making healthy stir fry. I love that the combinations of veggies, proteins and starches are limitless so that even if you made stir fry every week, you could go years without duplicating the same recipe.

For your eating pleasure, here are the recipes for all 4 different sauces that were in my Cooking Light magazine. Enjoy!

Ginger Hoisin (30 CALORIES)
• 1½ teaspoons finely chopped green onions, 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar, 1½ teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce, 1 teaspoon peeled fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce

Teriyaki Sauce (30 CALORIES)
• 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, ½ teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar, ½ teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger, 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, 1 minced garlic clove, ¾ teaspoon cornstarch, 1 teaspoon water

Coconut Ginger (35 CALORIES)
• ½ teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon Sriracha, 2 teaspoons lower-sodium soy sauce, 1 teaspoon red curry paste, 2 tablespoons light coconut milk

Peanut Sauce (95 CALORIES)
• 1 tablespoon water, 1½ teaspoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons chunky peanut butter, ½ teaspoon Sriracha, 1 teaspoon lower-sodium soy sauce, 1½ teaspoons rice vinegar

Good Wine + Charity Work = A Flippin’ Big Announcement!

You know folks, the universe has a funny way of using people to fulfill a greater purpose. That is the only way that I can explain the events that transpired over the last month. It all started about 6 weeks ago when I began hearing a number of my friends braggin’ on FlipFlop wines. Part of what piqued my interest in that particular brand was that for every bottle of wine they sold, a pair of shoes was donated to the Soles4Souls shoe charity and distributed to those in need. I’ll admit, I love it when things that I would buy normally also happen to benefit a charity. It’s an easy way to give back to the community. I like buying Christmas presents from the Humane Society and St. Jude Children’s Hospital, so why not also buy a wine that puts shoes on the feet of those in need?

When I went to the Underdog Wine Merchants website to order a bottle, I was sad to see that they didn’t ship to North Carolina yet. Not to be deterred, I contacted FlipFlop wines to express my interest in trying their wines and one week later, there were three glorious bottles at my doorstep, courtesy of FlipFlop wines. While I was sightly surprised to see a twist top instead of a cork, I kept an open mind and boy, am I glad that I did. The first wine that we tried was the Pinot Grigio and it was fantastic! If you can believe it, even the Irishman (the consummate beer drinker) had two glasses and commented on the crisp and clean flavor. I don’t think I have ever seen him actually enjoy a glass of wine before.

One of the things that I love about FlipFlop wines is the cheeky way that they keep from taking themselves too seriously (as a lot of wines and wine drinkers do). My bottle of Pinot Grigio advertised that it paired well with Bruschetta, Eggplant Parmesan or my favorite tacos (and you know how we love tacos here)!

The next wine that we tried, the Pinot Noir, was my favorite of the three. Having gone
almost a year without indulging in a good wine (thanks to my pregnancy), I think I might have even swooned when I tasted this one. It was as delicious as it was beautiful, with a smooth finish and the slightest hint of cherries. I’m pretty sure that I need another case bottle of this immediately. In fact, I’m wishing that I had another glass of it in hand right. about. now.

The third and final wine that we tried was the Riesling. I wasn’t quite as crazy about this one, but that might be because I was already so impressed with the Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir. Don’t get me wrong, we still polished off the bottle (which is why there’s no picture) and it definitely holds its own against other Rieslings, but it just didn’t have the “wow” factor for me that the other two had.

When I sent a thank you email to the folks over at FlipFlop wines, I received a reply email informing me about a contest they were about to launch with their good friends over at the shoes charity, Soles4Souls. This contest, The Flippin’ Good Deeds Challenge, encourages bloggers to host a shoe drive in their community. What’s more, the winner of the challenge will get to travel with the good folks over at Soles4Souls to distribute shoes to those in need.

Photo courtesy of Soles4Souls.org

Now, you all know how I feel about a good challenge. What’s more, within hours (literally) of getting that email from FlipFlop wines, I was invited to be on a university committee in charge of launching a year-long initiative to combat global poverty. You see what’s coming next, right? Clearly, it was serendipitous. I mean, who am I to fight the universe?

So, from October 1 to October 31, I’m helping to launch a university- and community-wide shoe drive at my lovely school, Western Carolina University. With a university community of almost 15,000 folks and a bunch of young and motivate students joining forces with me, can you imagine the potential impact we might make?

Photo courtesy of Soles4Souls.org.

If you are reading this and thinking that it’s a great idea (I mean, who doesn’t have extra shoes cluttering their closet?!?), you can absolutely bring this mission to your own community. It’s incredibly easy to host a shoe drive of your own – just go to this link and fill out your information. In less than a week, a package will arrive with boxes for collection and you’ll get an editable template for fliers to help you advertise your shoe drive.

Whether you collect shoes at your child’s school, your church or even just collecting among your friends, every pair counts! I would be THRILLED to have you on my team. If you are ready to take up the challenge (and I know you are!), make sure to write down my blogging number on your paperwork (I’m lucky #13) and together, we will stomp the competition do our best to help as many in need as we can.

Seriously though, regardless of whether I win or not (and you all know I’m going to gun for it), I’m pretty sure that every second soliciting for shoes will be totally worth it.

Small Town Festivals

This past weekend, we went to a local festival that celebrated mountain culture. Our region of North Carolina is part of Appalachia and the mountain heritage runs deep in the rural counties that march along the spine of the Appalachian range.

 

Pretending to take a picture of the boys so I can snap a shot of the gentleman in overalls.


Mountain culture was an enigma to me in our first months here, but I’ve come to realize that it includes the following: a love of folk music, a love of family, a love of the land that has belonged to your bloodline for generations and above all, it’s a love of overalls. Seriously, they’re everywhere.

Since it had been raining for the past week, the Irishman convinced me that it was a good idea to wear rain boots (instead of my usual flip flops), just in case the grass was soggy.

This turned out to be a regrettable decision because (as you can see from the down-turned faces of my offspring), it turn out to be dry and blindingly hot in the sun. In other words, my feet were baking.

There were hundreds of booths that featured things like local pottery…

and handmade furniture.

There were also the usual festival food vendors and while I was dying to try Cherokee fry bread, the line was ridiculously long (like 50 people deep). Speaking of the Cherokee people, they had a huge presence in this area and there is still a sizable population of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. All throughout the festival, they put on demonstrations of traditional Native American games. Here, some teenagers are playing a game of “Stick Ball.”

After we watched the game for a while (which is a more simplistic version of lacrosse), Parker led us towards the boarding area for the hayrides. He rode on a wagon pulled by horses…

 and also on a wagon pulled by mules…

and he even rode on a wagon pulled by a tractor. I didn’t get a picture of that one as I was nursing Lexi while sitting on a bale of hay (that was a first), but I waved at him as he went by and watched him happily bounce around the not-so-stable wagon.

One of the last thing we did was to check out the classic cars that people brought in (although I’m not sure how that fits into the mountain culture) and Parker got to sit in this old Wells Fargo carriage.

While it was no Mule Day, it was definitely a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon with the family.

Perfect Grilled Cheese

Yesterday, I made grilled cheese sandwiches for the boys. My husband, who polished his off in 32 seconds, wanted to know how I got such consistent grilled cheese goodness every time I made them. Apparently, when left to his own devices, his cheese isn’t adequately melted and some parts of his bread are almost burnt while other parts are barely toasted.

So, I took him into the kitchen and shared with him my trick. He was so pleased to finally know the secret to grilled cheese goodness that I thought I would share it will all of you too! First, I don’t have the patience to smear cold butter onto soft bread. Instead, I melt a pad of butter directly onto the pan and then smear the bottom piece of bread around so that it’s fully coated.

Next, I turn the temperature down to medium low. Grilled cheese needs to cook slow and low in order to get a consistent golden color across the entire slice of bread. This also gives the cheese a chance to get gooey. While the bottom slice of bread is cooking, I put a pad of butter on top of the sandwich. When the butter starts to get melty around the edges and is easily smeared, that means it’s time to flip the sandwich.

Once you flip it, it should only take an additional 3-5 minutes to finish off the second side. I’ll start checking it after 3 minutes or so until it’s a nice golden color.

This method of cooking grilled cheese has never failed me. It’s almost impossible to screw up when your heat is on low. Sure, it might take you a couple of minutes longer, but I promise that the end results are worth the wait!

Ode to Fall.

When we moved up to the mountains just over 2 years ago, a big motivating factor for making the move was that I wanted to live in a place where the changing seasons meant changing footwear. Where scarves and gloves were necessary and not just fashionable. Where coming home to a fire meant that the cold that had seeped into my core would slowly unravel and be replaced with a warmth that I previously only associated with taking a shot of whiskey.

Now that we’re here, I make myself take the time to bask in the crisp mountain air as the leaves start their inexorable shift from green to a riot of orange and gold hues. As a child, I remember that the onset of autumn (even without the change in weather) meant fall festivals, Halloween candy, Thanksgiving gluttony and finally, the magical Christmas finale. While I’m not quite as into the march of the holidays as I was 20 years ago, I can’t help but feel a giddy sense of anticipation rise up in my throat as October approaches.

Even as I type this, with my hot tea at my side, there is a riotous parade of leaves floating past my window. Fall, my friends, is here and I plan on soaking up each delicious day of it until the autumn light recedes into the mystery of winter.