Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The sleep study

I'll have to await the doctor's determination about the final results but preliminary feedback indicated both positives and negatives from the sleep study.

Long story short, my OSA (obstructive sleep apnea) has been substantially reduced by my weight loss. The technician told me that, even at my worst, on my back and in deep REM sleep, I was barely registering much of anything. Initially when I fell asleep, I showed some signs of the OSA but with or without my CPAP I wasn't showing much.

This is good news. I was worried that it would have gotten worse or changed somehow for the worse since my weight loss, since I haven't done well to wear it regularly in the last 8-12 months. But that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, my weight loss has positively affected the OSA.

Still, for me it leaves me a bit of a question - if my OSA is not as bad as it was, why am I so tired lately? I didnt' wear my CPAP on Sunday night, forgot to put it on, and on Monday afternoon I had to lie down for a nap. It was only a 20-minute nap but I desperately needed to lie down. I guess that's a question for my pulmonologist.

The tech, however, said my CPAP was probably too high. It's at a setting of a 10 and it ranges from 4-6 all the way up to 20, for the severe cases. So, the higher the number the more pressure is going into keeping your airwaves opened to allow you to breath normally during the night. Apparently since my OSA is not as bad as it has been, I don't need the extra pressure. Maybe that's it. And maybe it's just something with my irregularity. Sometimes I go to bed at 9-10, while other times I'm burning the midnight oil. I rarely get more than seven hours of sleep, and am usually sporadic in what time I hit the sack and what time I wake up. That might be part of the problem.

Anyway, the sleep study itself was interesting. I was all wired up as the instruments recorded everything in my body, from heart rate, sleep level, movements, sounds, vibrations, pretty much everything coming from my body.

And it also made me look hot.

In the words of the immortal Human League, "Don't you want me baby?"

No. Oh. Don't blame ya.

I actually sent this picture to my wife. She confirmed that I looked hot.

Playlist enhancer: Smashing Pumpkins' "Thirty-Three"

I'm probably still at the sleep center right now, if you're here before 6 a.m. PT. But I didn't want to leave you all hanging so I left this little musical number here. I ran to this CD on Monday and it was good. I enjoyed it. Before some of the songs of this double CD were a little light but now I've learned to channel their energy and appreciate the music more.

Here's a good song to run to, if you're not in need of any sort of burst of speed or anything. Just a nice song to stretch your legs to.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Motivational Mondays (March 30)

Usually, physically feeling well is helps you stay motivated. If you feel up for a run or a walk or any sort of workout, it makes it easier to lace up your shoes, throw on your workout clothes and get to the track or gym or wherever.

But sometimes, the prospect of feeling well is motivating enough. Say you have a cold and you're almost recovered from it, or you're a day away from taking off a cast, or any sort of similar situation, it can be motivating.

Finally, I'm going to feel better.

I have that latter sense of impending relief coming shortly. Tonight I will spend the night not at home but rather at a sleep clinic right here in Riverside. I'm getting a sleep study done and I couldn't be more....

What's the word? Happy? Well, that's not really it. Yes I'm happy that I'm getting it done but I associate feeling happy about something with an outing like Disneyland or the movies or something.

So what then? Excited? No, definitely not the right word. I get excited about vacations, not sleep studies.

Relieved? There is an element of that. I feel relieved that I'm getting it done because I feel it's been a year overdue and I'm going to be able to figure out where my body stands now with my sleep apnea... or rather my severe obstructive sleep apnea.

I guess motivated is the best word after all. I'm motivated to tackle this challenge of re-introducing myself to the CPAP, of seeing the kinds of changes my body has undergone on yet another level, of re-familiarizing myself to another aspect of my body. I know my body pretty well, know the patterns and rhythms it goes through when I work out, for instance, know how I can handle (or not handle) foods and alcohol and sweets and the like.

But for the last year, I don't really know my sleep patterns and the effect sleep has or doesn't have on my body. I can sleep for seven straight hours and not feel rested, as was the case last night. I've been using my CPAP again with regularity since getting my new mask except for last night. I wasn't tired, or so I thought, when we went to bed and was laying down in the dark. I meant to put my mask on but was just laying there, thinking. And the next thing I know, it's 3:30 in the morning, way too late to put my mask on. An hour later, I woke up again but this time I felt wide awake, a few seconds after opening my eyes.

So I know in a sense that if I don't use my CPAP I'll be tired and sluggish early in the morning. But I used my CPAP on Friday night and I was quite tired on Saturday.

I do hope that the sleep study will reveal something about my body, about my OSA (obstructive sleep apnea). The sleep study itself is an interesting experience. I had wires hooked up to me on my chest, my back, my forehead, the top of my head.... I felt like a genuine test subject, probably because I was. But the readings it took were very accurate. It was difficult to fall asleep at first because there was no television, and the test administrators can watch you through closed-circuit television so I couldn't exactly act like I would at home... not that I'd engage in anything embarrassing or anything like that, but still, I had an audience.

But ultimately that's irrelevant. What matters most is the chance to figure out this OSA and how my body reacts to it now as opposed to before.

And I feel a bit motivated that I went to the doctor's and had this taken care of. It seems easy enough but last year I never took this step I'm taking now; in fact, my last visit to the pulmonologist was in 2007. I'm excited now to take this next step in my ongoing quest for better health. And that's a great way to start any week.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Savory Sundays: pepperoni, mac n' cheese lasagna style

A triumph! I'd never before made lasagna. It was something that I figured only the real experienced home cooks knew how to make, and I didn't think I fell into that category. But I've now conquered one of my fears in having made lasagna (yeast, you still frighten me!).

It was daunting but having gone through the process now I know I can do it again, and am rather anxious to try and make something a bit more healthy. This one was loaded with cheese and cheese and more cheese. Not saying it wasn't good but still.

Here's a link to the recipe.

Okay, while making this I was worried about the actual dish so I didn't take step-by-step pictures. Next time when I make it I'll be a bit more confident and I'll be able to take more and more pictures.

First I had to make the sauce. I melted 1/4 cup butter, added in flour and garlic to make a thick paste-kind of substance, and then slowly added in 2 1/2 cups half-and-half. After incorporating all the half-and-half, I took it off the heat and added 2 cups Parmesan cheese.

Instead of marinara sauce, this lasagna called for this cheese sauce. It tasted a bit like Alfredo sauce but not quite all the way there. I don't like Alfredo sauce but this sauce I tolerated. It wasn't my favorite flavor but it was okay. My wife loved it, however.

I boiled the lasagna, actually slightly undercooked it, and that was hard. I didn't know what it would or should look like slightly undercooked so I kinda played it by ear and it worked out well. The lasagna wasn't stiff but it sure wasn't cooked all the way through. I layered it and then spread the cheese sauce on it.

I had shredded about 1/2 pound mozzarella and 1/4 pound of Colby jack cheese (it called for cheddar but I had Colby jack). I added in 1/4 cup Parmesan, and layered the lasagna. I also used pepperonis in the layering process. I did cook the pepperonis in the oven a little bit to get some of the grease out of them. I topped it off with bread crumbs.

I was happy with the way the dish came out. It was quite cheesy and the flavors worked well together.
Still, I kept expecting to taste marinara sauce, so my mouth expected one thing but got another. The lasagna tasted well but it was also memorable for being my first foray into lasagna.

Savory Sundays; Croutons

Welcome to Savory Sundays! I've got a couple of smaller things to share and, if I get the time, one sort of major cooking triumph as well.

First, small thing number one: croutons. Here's a link to the recipe. Now, I know what you're thinking, 'Croutons aren't worth the trouble. It's easy to buy them and I'd rather spend time making something worth the effort.' True, it's easy to buy them and they aren't an indispensable part off a meal or salad even. But these are worth the trouble because they are so tasty. And really, it's not that tough to make. The hardest part is probably cutting up all the bread.

I used a French loaf but I've also used smaller loaves, a sourdough one worked well once. This time, though, just a standard French loaf, and it should be day-old bread, a bit on the crusty side.

You'll need six cups' worth, which is almost all of this loaf pictured above. I only had enough to make four cups' worth but typically six cups is almost this loaf in its entirety, save for the very ends. You'd be well served to cut the crust off to, although an odd piece here or there with crust won't destroy things.

All cut up:
Then, melt 1/4 cup of butter over medium-to-low heat. Toss in some garlic and thyme (or whatever other seasoning you'd like). Melt the butter and cook it until it foams, which is pretty quick.

Now, you could use a compound butter with garlic, thyme or other flavors in it already, but I didn't have that handy. You want to add the bread into the pan and toss them with the butter. Probably want to turn the heat off at that point, and do toss them quickly because otherwise one side of the bread cubes gets all the butter and the other side gets nothing.

Put the cubes on a baking sheet, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Put cookie sheet into a 350-degree oven for 10-15 minutes (mine were done right at 10 minutes). You'd do well to toss them once or twice. When they are light brown, golden colored, they're done. Now, if you use garlic and it falls onto the sheet, there will be some burned garlic pieces, but that's fine. It doesn't seem to affect the croutons. That's also why I use the aluminum foil, makes cleanup a lot easier.

Store them in an airtight container and you'll be good to go. And you'll feel like it was worth the effort because they are so tasty.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

New feature?

I set aside a day to display my love of cooking on here and I'm thinking of doing the same for something else that's not fitness-related. But I'm not sure. I may find it interesting but not sure if it would appeal to the masses [all 12 or so of my readers :) ]

Anyway, I thought blogging about some family stuff. I'd try not to just aimlessly blog about my family because, well, I don't know if that would keep anyone's interest. But I have things to share that probably would be of interest; my daughter's events in Kindergarten, the other one's events at preschool (like how Yvie's reading quite a bit and did so in the span of about one month), some issues I've got with certain things, challenges I face as essentially a stay-at-home dad, things like that. I'd try not to make it a family album, and I'd be sure to paint a realistic picture (my girls ARE NOT perfect but that's fine because that's how I want it, they need to face challenges to grow up and develop).

So what do you think? I suppose I'll throw it out there.

Some things you might see more often...

I shot this in 2006. Crazy.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Busy day

I was supposed to get a run in today. I'm planning a 10-miler tomorrow and felt like one more tune-up run would have been good.

Then yesterday one of my editors I do work for called me and asked if I'd be up for a last-minute interview with an Italian club soccer coach who just happened to be in LA. He's an incredibly famous person, but most of you probably never heard of him (incredibly famous anywhere but the US), and I couldn't really pass up the chance. Its probably my highest-profile one-on-one interview I've done in my writing career. And it was awesome. I left a bit ago. I enjoyed it and it will be a really big story.

Just too bad though that I didn't get my run in.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Savory Sundays: Raspberry Crumb Cake

Alright, five days late and about $3.50 short but...

I wanted to get you the second installment of last Sunday's Savory Sundays post. I have some dishes coming up for this Sunday ready to go, so I figured I'd go ahead and use this one. This is one of my most favorite things that I've made, probably one of the dishes I'm most proud of that I can make. Not sure why, probably because it's complicated (to me, anyway) and the flavors. My wife loves this dish, and she's not the biggest raspberry fan either.

It's a recipe for Raspberry Crumb Cake I got from AllRecipes.com. Funny thing is that it hardly has any reviews, which leads me to believe that hardly anyone has tried this, relatively speaking.

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
3/4 cup water
2 cups fresh or frozen unsweetened raspberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 cup cold butter or margarine
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold butter or margarine
1/4 cup sliced almonds

It's a three-step process, so there are three lists there. Disclaimer: I actually made this a while back, in December, but took pictures of everything but the final product. I have a picture of the cake when it's done but not an up close pose, and in fact the quality is kinda crappy. Still, the best thing about this to me was the complexity of the dish (again, complex to me) and that I was able to figure it out.

First, heat the raspberries in a saucepan.

Be very careful when doing this. They will burn in a matter of seconds!

Okay, bear with me here. You need to mix the crust mixture together, the first six ingredients anyway, then the rest. You only need to use about two-thirds of it before spreading the raspberry filling in the middle.

Then, cover with the rest of the crust mixture before adding the topping.
Pop it in the oven for 50-55 minutes and you will have a delicious cake. And make sure you take a good picture if that's the case. Here's a link to my picture of this dish from the first time I made it, way back in late '07.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sleep apnea

Ever slept for five hours and not felt rested? How about seven? Nine?

No way, right? Once you get right around the amount of uninterrupted sleep your body needs - seven to nine hours is about right - there's no chance you cannot feel rested. Right?

Not exactly. For most people I would venture to say this is true. But for me, this is not true. At all.

Last night I slept from about 10:45 p.m. until the alarm went off at 5 a.m.

(Not-so-quick side story: we have the alarm set to go off on some random soft-music-playing radio station and lately that station has been playing the Star Spangled Banner so this morning when I heard the anthem I was so confused, I thought I was watching an old TV show in the middle of the night and the anthem was playing, like in the movie Poltergeist)

Anyway that's, what?, a little more than six hours of sleep. Not great but more than twice of the time I slept on Monday (I got in a whopping three hours of sleep on Monday night... actually, it was Tuesday morning at 2 a.m. to be precise when I finally went off to bed, and woke up three hours later).

So I've been a bit sleep-deprived I suppose. And my sleep apnea does not help things.

I just got back from the gym and I'm glad I went, but I really had to fight through sleep in order to go. Now, when I saw my pulmonologist, I told him about being tired and running and he said that if you are sleepy, you can work out fine because once you start exercising your sleep center is repressed or something like that but if you are physically tired it's different. So I was sleepy tired and once I was on the bike and then the treadmill I was fine. But now that I'm back home, all I want to do is lie down. I can't because I have to blog, I mean, I have to go get my daughters from school.

I really need some coffee, anyway that's what my mind keeps saying. I'm tired, want coffee, want to lie down, have been like that since about 8 a.m.

Hello, my name is Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea keeps me from getting into a deep sleep. So, let's say sleep is like a swimming pool. Your body needs to get down deep in the deep end to get fully rested and stay there. So if it lingers about seven feet deep in the deep end, that's perfect. Now, sometimes you are kind of just floating around under the surface and that's when you can easily come up for air. But that's when you're first falling asleep. After a while, your body gets down into some deep sleep, down in the seven-foot-deep part of the pool.

Because of my sleep apnea, I don't ever get down into the seven-foot-deep part of the pool. The most I get is maybe a foot or two below the surface. So I'm always near the surface, never allowing my body to get fully rested. And it doesn't matter if I'm in the pool for 7-9 hours, or 12 for that matter, because I'm never going to get full deep rest anyway.

See, my windpipe closes in on itself. And every time this happens, I get jarred awake. Well, not really awake, but that's when I come up close to the surface. My head's still underwater but my hair is sticking out of the pool. Then I start to sink back down underneath when BAM! up I come close to the surface. Whenever my windpipe closes in on itself, I get jarred out of sleep even though I won't remember any of it.

How often does this happen? Well, since I don't have your average run-of-the-mill regular boring old sleep apnea but rather the deluxe model Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea it happens about once a minute, 60 times and hour, hundreds of times a night.

Could you imagine someone jamming you on the side of your body once a minute, 60 times an hour, hundreds of times a night? How could you possibly get any rest?

I have my sleep study five days away now. I'm looking forward to it and will share the data with everyone. Yesterday I got another piece of the puzzle, which I think is equally as important. I got a new mask. See, to combat sleep apnea, you wear a CPAP, a continuous positive airway pressure machine that constantly blows air down your throat. This keeps the windpipe open and allows your body to sink down to the bottom of the deep end of the pool. It sounds complicated and even uncomfortable but the body adapts. It took me a couple of nights to get used to it.

But my mask was giving me problems before, and my body has changed since I first started using my CPAP. I got the first part down with a new mask. It's the Mirage Activa Nasal Mask; basically it's a mask in the true sense of the word. It has straps along the back, a forehead pad that keeps the mask close to my face, cushioning and padding that keeps the plastic from tearing my face up, and a tube that comes out of the mask that blows air from the machine down my throat.

Sounds like a pleasant night of sleep, doesn't it? (If you ask nicely, I might post a picture of me and my mask)

I'll take that though any of the day of the week to sleepwalking through mornings and afternoons.

Now where's the friggin coffee?

Playlist enhancer: Kinky's "Mas"

Don't have much time to blog now and while I wanted to develop some thoughts into a more organized post, I wanted to have time to do it in. So I'll be back later to blog away... not that I'll have that much time later but still...

Anyway, in the meantime here's another song by Kinky that I like. This one you may have heard but probably not. If you're looking for some new and different music, this could fit the bill. It's a good running song for me too since it's just the right speed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The "Write" Stuff Award

Recently, I was given a blog award by blog buddy The 5th Sister. I was very touched to think that I had an impact on her life. Of course, she put in all the work herself, dug deep and found her motivation and desire and I'm happy to have been a part of it.

She handed me The "Write" Stuff Award for having influenced her blogging endeavors, and in turn I must award it to one other blog.

I reflected on it and have decided on a blog that I feel is worthy of the award.

Now, before I start, I must say that I've been blogging since December 2006. However, I only started blogging in this particular forum (muddy runner) since early last year. I started it to keep track of my Mud Run progress and to organize my thoughts. I blogged for nearly three months or so before I threw in the towel. I had all of one regular reader (my brother) and it wasn't too much fun pouring your heart and soul into something only to have one reader.

But after a few months, I decided to resurrect my blog. I was influenced by a fellow blog buddy.

Thus, I give the award to Mrs. Williams over at The Ordinary Housewife.

Now, I must say some of her topics I had little interest in. I'm not into fashion and such, for instance. But I enjoyed reading about it nonetheless. I found her different things interesting, such as her Wordless Wednesdays. I thought that was a cool feature while it lasted. Her recipes were delectable and I tried at least one (syrup, I liked it a lot, my girls... not really). And of course the things she posted about her boys were also quite interesting.

I was in awe too. She had something like 50 followers! Amazing! And she drew in a good amount of readers. My other blog at the time was still going strong (I since shut it down and started a different one) but that's kind of work-related, a niche-type blog. This was personal stuff she was blogging, every day stuff, and she was able to draw in people because her stuff was interesting, not because it appealed to a narrow audience.

So all that together helped me decide to re-inject some life into this blog. And I've been wasting time on here ever since! She took a break from blogging but has returned to blogging, and her massive audience is likely happy about that.

Anyway, here is her award:

Here are the rules of the award.

1. Determine what ONE blog has had the most influence on you and your decision to begin your own blogging endeavors.
2. Post about this blog on your site, along with a copy of this award.
3. Let the honoree know of their award by commenting on his/her blog.
4. You may only give out this award ONCE and to only ONE recipient.
5. A particularly influential recipient, may, however, receive the award more than once.
6. The recipient is to acknowledge the award in a brief post on their blog.

Anyway, thanks Mrs. W! This blog has been great for me and I've since expanded it from just a pure running blog to more and have incorporated working out, nutrition, cooking, baking, family, etc., and have more ideas about the future of this blog, things that might appeal to my readers and perhaps bring in more readers.

But 56 followers... I'm in awe.

Motivational Mondays (March 23)

I can. And I have.

I can run more than 10 miles. And I have run as many as 12.

I can participate in races and walk away with a sense of accomplishment. And I have run in a 5K and two 10Ks and come close to or accomplished my goals in each of them.

But then again, I can't. And I haven't.

I can't run more than 20 miles. And I haven't.

I can't run a 5K in under 20 minutes. And I haven't.

But you know, one thing...

I don't and I won't.

Care, of course. I don't care that I am not the fastest guy around. I don't care that I am not a specimen of speed, nor that I have not yet developed my long-distance runs to the point that I can knock out a 20-miler. I may someday, it may be relatively soon, but if and when that happens, I won't have fretted over it.

See, I like to set goals based upon my abilities. I like to make goals that are realistic. Challenging, yes, but realistic. I'm not going to run a five-minute mile. I'm just not. But you know what? I don't care. So what if some of those who will also run the same half-marathon I'm running in are shooting for and will finish in less than 90 minutes?

Sometimes, it's easy to feel as if you aren't progressing, that simply because you haven't met someone else's expectations you are failing. It's easy to get discouraged if you can't meet a standard that others like you meet. I did well in my last 10K to finish in 52:55 but I can guarantee you that if some other 33-year-old guys finished in that time they would have been embarrassed.

So what? It's my time, my work, my effort and I'm proud of it.

I try never to discourage people or minimize others' steps. I think I can run my half marathon in around two hours, possibly between two hours and two hours, 10 minutes. But I'm not going to feel superior to someone who will not finish in under two hours, 30 minutes, or someone who takes three hours or more to cross the finish line. Nor will I feel inferior to someone who completes the race in one hour, 30 minutes or faster.

We're all in the same race but we're all running to meet a different standard, a different goal and challenge.

So you've tried to lose weight and you've only dropped two pounds in a week or two? You've tried to run a 10-minute mile but can't get it under 11 minutes? Focus on the positives. You're dropping weight. You're out there running and you're almost there. Keep at it. The important thing is to challenge yourself and be true to yourself. If you are true to yourself and you put in the necessary work and dedicate yourself to yourself, you will get there. If you get there quickly, great. If it takes you longer than others, that's fine, so long as you get there.

I was a bit discouraged the first time I ran my 5K. I strayed from this way of thinking, even though I hadn't quite developed this at the time. I had been running for a few months, maybe less, as I'd signed up for the Mud Run. I felt like I needed to compete in a race before that, that I needed not only the experience of a race but to train for it, set a goal, challenge myself, all that good stuff that races bring.

It was May or so, and I luckily found a 5K right near my house. It was in a nearby city, maybe five miles away or so, and I immediately signed up for it. Now, keep in mind, I'd just recently knocked out the final pounds of my 120-plus and was trying to venture out into running - running! - which was a completely new experience for me. I still consider myself a beginner now, imagine back then.

I was excited to run in a 5K, excited that I was going to participate in an actual race. I think the last race I'd run in was a relay race in fifth grade. So I told friends and family about it. I told my brother who had gotten me into the Mud Run and has been into working out for years, but he inadvertently shot down my excitement.

"A 5K? Meh, you should run a 10K."

I was floored. Instead of the "Hey, that's great! A race!" reaction I had gotten from others, I was instantly upset and hurt. I can't remember if I told him or wanted to tell him this but my reaction was "you run a f-in' 10K."

What bothered me the most was that I felt I wasn't living up to expectations. I felt that perhaps I should have run a 10K instead of a 5K, even though I'd only run more than four miles once at the time and could not handle three miles or more very well. In the end, though, I decided to do what's right for me, not for anyone else. So my brother can run a 10K? Great! More power to him. We actually ran the 10K together and he did well. He finished in under 50 minutes, which is great and I was proud of him. I didn't remind him once that a lot of people, including some very young races and others much older than him smoked his time, because that doesn't matter. Yes, it's a race but I'm not racing against them. I'm not racing against anyone but myself, my own expectations.

I plod along at my own speed, make goals and reach them at my own pace. My pace might be too slow or too fast for others, but that's fine. As long as we're all moving in the right direction, that's fine.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Savory Sundays: Nachos

Welcome to another Savory Sunday. I have two things today. Up first is something that isn't really here for the recipe per se as it is for the technique. Now, don't get me wrong, I do have a bit of a Nacho recipe but I didn't have the ingredients for it so I just did it this way. But that's what is so great about this, is that you can make it to suit your needs.

What you need:
tortilla chips
grated cheese
cooked ground beef/chicken

Roll call:

Of course, I normally re-heat the beef on a skillet with some salsa and toss in some garlic or onions or peppers or tomatoes or cilantro or whatever I've got but I didn't have salsa. I just re-heated the beef in the microwave. It should be hot or at least warm and definitely cooked all the way through before you even start, so this is great with leftover beef. In particular, the leftover Rhode Island Hot Weiners. That is fantastic, and in fact it's the beef pictured here.

I used Colby Jack cheese, just tried some for the first time and it was pretty good. Arrange some chips on an oven-safe plate and layer the beef and cheese and if you want you can layer more chips on top of that and repeat the process.

I hate nachos that are one big layer of cheese on top and nothing but plain chips underneath, so layering them works. Then, put the plate (you can also use a cookie sheet, but you pretty much have to eat them right off the sheet that way) into a preheated 350-degree oven for about 10 minutes.
Serve with a side of paper clips... sorry, couldn't resist.

Anyway, there is something about warmed tortilla chips and warm melted cheese... yum. At this point, you can toss on some chopped green onions (the green parts) if you like. My wife doused hers with salsa (the mild kind, she keeps it around the house, I don't touch it) but I just had my serving like this.

I do reserve the right to publish another Nachos post if and when I make them the proper way, so you may see that in the future. This is one of our quick-and-easy dinners after all, so we make it somewhat often.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Wear 'em or not

Back in the dead days of this blog, during my four-month hiatus, I went through something that was both funny and embarrassing... though more the former than the latter. I didn't have a chance to blog about it but just remembered this event. It's pretty vivid in my mind, so I decided to blog about it now.

Before my oldest daughter started kindergarten, I took my girls every Wednesday to the local library for story time. At 10 was the story time for all ages and at 11 the big kids' story time, ages three and up. My girls enjoyed it quite a bit, so I always made it a point of going. I'd often go to the gym first, get a run in, and go the library afterward. It was a great way to spend a Wednesday morning as it ate up several hours and got both my body and my girls' minds engaged.

For some reason, this particular morning I had gotten off to a late start. The day-care part of the gym opens at 8, and I had planned for a 40-minute run. Had I gotten there right at 8, I would have had enough time to get my run in, shower and make it to the library in plenty of time. As it stood, I got the gym at about 8:30 and would have just enough time to run, shower and go to the library.

I checked the girls into the Kid's Club, stowed my clothes in a locker and found a treadmill. I got down to business and started running. I felt good, felt refreshed and was anticipating the library visit.

But somewhere around the 20th minute, I started ticking off the things I needed to do after getting off the treadmill. I had to shower, get dressed and get the girls. Just then, though, I realized I'd forgotten something vital.

I had left my underwear at home.

Great. I had a pair of underwear of course but I was wearing them. I sighed. And gave myself three options, none of which included not going to the library.

1) Stop. Get off the 'mill. Get the girls. Go home. Change.
2) Finish the run. Shower. Put sweaty underwear back on.
3) Finish the run. Shower. Go commando.

I kept running and quickly eliminated the first option. I did not like the idea of stopping my run. I knew that if I would stop I'd not be happy the rest of the day. Nothing worse than cutting a good workout short.

So that left me two choices. To wear or not to wear. I thought since nobody would know what was going on I could get away with either so it was just a matter of what I felt most comfortable with. And I did not like the idea of putting on dirty underwear after taking a shower. Dirty shorts, I'd grit my teeth. A dirty shirt, I'd look for a jacket. But dirty underwear... not a chance.

Commando I would go.

I got off the treadmill, hurried up and showered and got dressed sans undies. I wore shorts and a t-shirt (it was in the middle of the summer). The only thing that I needed to concern myself with was making sure my shorts did not fall. I wore a belt and tightened it tighter than normal. My shorts were long, down to around my knees, so they weren't going to rise up and reveal anything. And I just had to secure my shirt from rising up and showing crackage when I sat down.

The library went well. My girls enjoyed the day as they did every other time I went, although at the end I was happy to leave the library. I was pretty sure nobody but me knew that the only father there that day did not have any undies on.

But I did it all for my girls... and for the sake of the workout.

The run must go on!

I speak Chinese

I bet you didn't know I, uh, spoke Chinese.

Okay, I really don't, but this makes it look like I do.

Domo arigato! Oh wait, that's Japanese... um... ich habe keine Ahnung.... uh, no, German.... olvidate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Heightened heart rate

Finally, got back at it today and I feel great. I went to the gym and ran for the first time in about eight days. I ran my usual 42-minute interval run, my go-to workout when I need a jump start. It was challenging and tiring but it was well worth it. But not everything went off without a hitch.

Music Good, iPod Bad

First, Polly had set a great tone for my entire workout over on her blog. Then, Blog Buddy Ange said she'd been running to The Who so I fired up Roger and the boys for the first half of my interval run. I don't think I've ran to The Who before but it went pretty good actually. I liked the tempo of the songs I listened to, not too soft but not too up-tempo either. They allowed me to get into my groove soon enough.

About halfway through, I switched to Metallica, the old stand-by, since my heart rate was going up and up and I knew the last push was going to be tough. Sure enough, the final two-minute sprint - which I run at a 9.0 - Metallica was going to come in handy as I had put on a harder song but right when I was about to stretch my legs and start the sprint my iPod died on me. Argh! I was so frustrated.

I can look at it as a positive though, as a sort of test of my own will, a test to see if I can get through something alone but I'm tired of these tests and tired of my iPod's shenanigans. I got through the sprint just fine, cooled down for five minutes and then...

My Buddy, Core Exercise

I hadn't done core in a long time. Too long. I did some crunches and was on some other torture machines that doubled as core exercise machinery. I did manage to get the iPod up and running, found a defibrilator and got it back to life. I decided to keep the blog buddy theme going and listened to White Zombie, a suggestion from Crystal. That helped get me through the first torture machine. Then, I changed it up to Staind thanks to Willoughby and finally "Tomorrow Comes a Day Too Soon" by Flogging Molly, inspired by Tattoos and Teething Rings.

It was great. I really believe in fate and that things happen for a reason. For instance, before I got to the gym Metallica told be to look up at the sky, that it might be the last I'll ever see. That kind of summed up my fears. As I was on the torture chamber Staind said "It's been a while since... I did core" okay, they didn't say the last part but it had been a while since I worked on my core. Then, Flogging Molly belted out "without hope you're blind" or something to the effect.

I have hope and I still have hope and I will always have hope. Hope and desire and motivation drive me, and I was reminded by that at the end by that song.

High HR

My heart rate got as high as 193. Wow! I averaged 172.I think the last time I did the interval run the numbers were 162 and 181 or so.

It was good to have done the run and core but also it served as a reminder that I need to get back at it more often. But today was a great way to get back at it. And I have all my blog buddies to thank for it!

Hittin' it hard

I've got one month to go. Exactly one month.

On April 19, I will run my first half marathon. I haven't done well to keep up with my training, and while I'll have to re-assess what exactly happened to my training plan, I will get back at it today.

I'll have time for an interval run today, plus a longer distance run on Friday followed by a longer run on Saturday. I'll be aiming for 10 miles, so in three days I'll hopefully have run about 18 miles.

I need a jump start as health issues, work and family responsibilities have taken precedence over running. But I will have time, and I'm going to take advantage of it.

I'll be back later, after my run, to report back on how it went. I don't anticipate any problems; in fact, the only problem I may encounter is what to listen to.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Random-ness release

Well, I just spent the day writing and editing and I'm all written and edited out. So for fun, I like to... write, of course.

I got this little survey from a buddy on Facebook and figured I'd fill it out here. Take it if you wish:

Using only songs from one artist, cleverly answer these questions. Try not to repeat a song title.

Pick your artist: Rage Against The Machine

* Are you male or female? Street Fighting Man

* Describe yourself: Calm Like a Bomb

* How do you feel about yourself? Without a Face

* Describe where you currently live? New Millennium Homes

* If you could go anywhere, where would you go? Down Rodeo

* Your best friend is: Maria

* Your favorite color is: Ashes in the Fall

* What's the weather like? Wind Below

* If your life was a TV show, what would it be called? Voice of the Voiceless

* What is life to you? Settle For Nothing

* What is the best advice you have to give? Take the Power Back

* If you could change your name, what would it be? Snake Charmer

* Your favorite food: Fistful of Steel

Heavy on the coffee

For various reasons I haven't been able to run in about six days. It's pretty upsetting actually. Part of me feels like I'm letting myself down.

However, I was battling a cold on a couple of days and Monday and today have been hectic with work. This time of year is always busy for me, probably the busiest. I do hope to get a run later today at the gym. I might have time for that, and my body is recovered.

I've discovered something about myself, though. I either need coffee or a run to get me going. I've had neither for the last several days and I am not functioning well. I have the onset of a headache right now and I'm about leave to go get my daughters from their respective schools and I must stop off for coffee. I must. I stopped by the grocery store earlier but couldn't justify paying four bucks more for less coffee than I'd get at Costco, so forget that. I figure I can run the next few days and then might get out to Costco at some point.

Since running and coffee are the only things that physically keep me going apparently, I suppose then I should change the name of my blog from Muddy Runner to Muddy Caffeinated Runner.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Motivational Mondays (March 16)

There are fewer things that I take pleasure in than proving people wrong.

I don't know why, don't know if it's because I like to show people the error in their ways or if I like to play the role of the underdog but I enjoy making people think twice about me.

I'm fat? Oh okay, let me lose 120 pounds and I'll show you how fat I am.

I can't run? Alright, get back to me after I knock out this upcoming half marathon.

I'm a male so I'm supposed to have a 9-to-5 job? Okay, let me back to raising my daughters while maintaining a career at home.

I go against the grain. I march to a beat only I hear. People want to try and paint me a certain way, well, I've learned that if I let them, they win. If I live down to others' expectations, I won't achieve.

I let you in on some things last week about my image and past, and while the naysayers have left a permanent mark on me, I've worked hard on minimizing the long-term effects. Often, when I need some extra motivation, I turn to those types of thoughts, let them burn inside me and release the energy in the form of running or another form of exercise, or simply as mental fuel and the ability to make the right choice about nutrition or something else.

Now, you might say 'Who are these random 'people?' Is it society in general? Your fan club?' Truth be told, I do have a fan club. Really. It's actually a "fan" club, because people out there hate me. I'm not lying, they do.

Check this out. Scroll down to the bottom three lines or so and my name will jump out at you. And I did take the time to reply, I must say.

It's not just this guy who is a "fan." My "fans" are many. I'd love to post some other stuff but I won't get into it here. I'm sure you could do some digging and find some of my other fans, as they're bountiful.

It's those random haters as well as those who shaped my mental image who fuel me, motivate me to prove them all wrong.

I do my best when I'm facing a challenge that is sure to get the best of me, whether it's physical (running long distances), mental (the ability to eat a salad while everyone else around me is eating hamburgers) or family matters (anyone who has stayed at home with children can attest to this last one).

So let the critics have their say. Let the hatred flow. It'll just make my success that much sweeter.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Savory Sundays: Orange Chicken

Okay, well I went too long in between Savory Sunday posts. Between a birthday party, chasing the girls around the house and work, I had an eventful day. But I wanted to share this recipe as it is one of my favorite recipes. I know, I say that a lot but this one really is something that I not only love to make but am quite proud of making.

I've always loved Orange Chicken so I found this recipe for Orange Chicken and was intrigued. It seemed like a huge undertaking but one day I just decided to try it. And I am glad I did.

Now, this recipe is quite an undertaking but that's what I like about it. You need time in the morning to mix the sauce and cut up and marinate the chicken.

Here's what you'll need for the sauce:

1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup rice vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger root
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped green onion
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

All together now:
I've found that one medium- to large-size orange will do the trick for the tablespoon of zest, and will provide plenty of orange juice as well.

First, pour all the liquid ingredients into a saucepan and then add the sugar, zest, green onions, garlic, ginger and pepper flakes (I actually don't use the pepper flakes so that's an optional for me).
After the sauce reaches a boil, take it off the heat and allow to cool. That will give you enough time to cut the chicken. When cutting up the chicken, I use my bag-on-a-cup trick. I slice the chicken up into small cubes and toss them directly into the bag.

When the sauce has cooled, pour about a cup into the bag and marinate it in the refrigerator for at least an hour - two or more would be great.
When it's time to cook, I snip a corner off the bag and drain the marinade that way.

Put some flour into a bowl, add salt and pepper and drop the chicken pieces in there.

Now, you'll want to use a skillet big enough to handle all the chicken. It's important that the chicken touches the pan, so if you double the recipe I strongly recommend you either a) use two skillets or b) cook the chicken in batches.
It won't take too long, maybe 4-5 minutes per side. Meanwhile, heat the sauce up in a different pan (the original recipe says to dump the chicken in here but don't do that or else you'll lose the crunch). You'll need to dissolve some corn starch into some water and slowly add that to the sauce to thicken it. It's trial and error, and the only way I can get the right thickness is by slowly adding it until the sauce is thick. I don't use any measuring spoons or anything for this part.

I like to serve mine over plain white rice (yes I know I'm adventurous).

The only thing missing for me is the chopsticks... and the fortune cookie. I seriously don't make this dish enough.

Savory Sundays: the confessions

My blog buddy Gracey posted a challenge on her blog, and I'm all about challenges.

Gracey fessed up about her own cooking secrets, the stuff that we would be embarrassed to admit to a celebrity chef.

Well, I have a few and I figured it would be good to confess right here and right now, on a day I've set aside on my blog for cooking. So here goes:

1. My knives are terrible. I use small knives to cut most everything, from chicken and meats to fruits and vegetables. Worse, the knives are dull. I have a little sharpener but it doesn't really work.

2. I don't thaw my chicken and/or beef all the time. In fact, I rarely do. Most of the time, I soak the chicken in some hot water before cooking it. I know, it's supposed to be cold water but I don't have a lot of time when I do it. It's not that I always forget, but I don't always have my dinners planned out first thing in the morning. And when I do, I forget... most of the time anyway.

3. A lot of time when I get to cooking/baking, I have to wash something. It might be measuring cups or some utensil or it may be a muffin pan or a skillet. I hate washing dishes. No wait, let me rephrase that, ahem: I really HATE washing dishes. It's a pain in the ass.

4. I always take a big whiff of spices when I use them. I measure out what I need and when I go to put the lid on it or whatever, I always sniff it. Sometimes when I smell the chili powder, I sneeze! I don't know why I do it. I just love the smells I suppose.

5. I have my laptop in the kitchen with me at all times. My laptop sadly is dying a slow and painful death, and perhaps I accelerated it, but it's become a must. I have recipes on there a lot of the time and Ilisten to music while cooking as well. I like me some Killers or Flogging Molly mostly, sometimes Metallica.

6. One of my worst fears is serving undercooked chicken. So I tend to slice into the chicken to see if it's cooked. My chicken usually has a lot of stab wounds when I serve it.

7. I have never tried to use yeast. I'm scared of it. I have a few packets that I think have expired. I'm probably just going to toss them.

8. To check for al dente when cooking pasta, I throw it against the wall to see if it sticks. Once, I threw some spaghetti somewhere and then somehow it got covered up by something, cookbooks I think, and the pasta was literally on the wall for months before I realized it was there. Shhh!

9. Okay, here's my last and most embarrassing... I don't know how to use a broiler. Okay, that was painful to type. I just don't. Have never attempted to use it. Always feel inadequate when I hear it mentioned. Oh well... maybe some day.

Well, that's all I can think of right now. Confessions of a beginning home cook. That's me. Now, don't go telling Ingrid any of my dirty little secrets.

Savory Sundays: Latin Burgers

Welcome to another Savory Sunday. I have a pair of my favorite dishes coming up today, at least ones that are favorites because they always draw some strong complements.

First up are some Latin Burgers with Caramelized Onions. It's a recipe from Ingrid Hoffmann, and I have to say that makes it a bit extra special. I'll explain later; for now here's what you need:

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound chorizo
1 onion, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Adobo seasoning

A partial lineup

Now, the Caramelized Onions come later, so hold on for that crucial step. First, though, you must mix all the ingredients together. Grating the onion is tough since it always causes my eyes to drip like a faucet.

Mix with your hands until well combined but don't over-mix.
Now, shape into patties. Keep in mind, the original recipe calls for one pound of beef and 1/2 pound chorizo, so two parts beef, one part chorizo. It is supposed to make six large patties. Instead of making regular-size burgers, though, we opted to make them small. Why? Ingrid said so.
I'll get back to that in a sec. For now, here is the Caramelized Onion part. You need one large onion (or two smaller ones) sliced, olive oil, half-cup of brown sugar and 1/2 cup sliced jalapenos.

Heat the oil and onions in a saucepan and add the sugar and jalapenos.

About 15 minutes later or so, the onions are nice and caramelized. They are perfect.

Now, why did we make them mini burgers? I actually had the chance to meet Ingrid Hoffmann in person. I talked to her and told her I was a big fan. She didn't believe me (that's the vibe I got from her, well, it was either that or a damn-this-guy-is-hot vibe but I could be wrong) until I told her I made this recipe. She got very excited. I told her the caramelized onions were awesome! Then, she believed me. She suggested making mini-burgers out of them, so I did and they turned out well. This week was the second time we've made the small and they came out very good.

The original recipe also calls for a Red Pepper Mayo, which is basically roasted red peppers blended together wtih mayonaisse. I made that once too as well and it was great, but we can get by with the burgers and the caramelized onions on top. The first time I made these my wife said they were restaurant-quality burgers, which I took as a complement.

These is easily our favorite burger recipe and one of our top recipes in general, thanks to Ingrid!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Playlist enhancer: Kinky's "Soun Tha Mi Primer Amor"

Mexican music isn't all mariachis. This group here, Kinky, have made some inroads in the U.S., as their songs have been featured in American television shows before. You may be familiar with another tune as that's the one that has been on network television, albeit briefly.

But this song is may favorite song from Kinky. It's got what you'd expect from Mexican music - mariachi-like trumpets blaring - but it also has some other elements you wouldn't. They mix well and make for a good workout song. This isn't the most uppity song but it makes for a good jam to listen to on a long stretch of road or perhaps even a cooldown song.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Sleep apnea update

I saw my pulmonologist on Thursday for the first time in more than one year. Overall, I'd say the visit was a positive experience and I am very glad I made the appointment. I'm tired a lot, sluggish even, and there's no reason to be tired at 9 a.m. when I've slept six to eight hours the night before unless it's my sleep apnea working its magic.

Here's how the visit went.

"Weight is not everything"

I'm sure my doctor does not remember me, which is fine. He sees, what, dozens? hundreds? of visitors each year and I am just another person passing through. I say this because we had the same conversation Thursday as we did in December 2007, the last time I saw him. He asked me how I lost the weight and I responded through diet and exercise. Then, he said "You didn't have surgery?" and I said no, that I exercised a lot and still do.

He told me that it was great that I had dropped the weight but that my sleep apnea probably did not go away because "weight is not everything." I can attest to this because I'm tired nowadays like I was back in the day before I experienced the wonders of the CPAP.

Sleep Study Soon

I'm supposed to get a call on Friday from a local sleep clinic. I will schedule a sleep study when they call, hopefully sometime early next week. I need to get in and go through with it so the doctor can get the results back quickly and I can get my new CPAP, which I am expecting to happen anyway.

I've had a sleep study done before. If you haven't had one, I'll explain. It's like you are a guinea pig in an experiment. First, you are strapped with all sorts of wires on your forehead, chest, arms, back. Then, you are fitted with a mask. I had to watch a video afterward as well. Finally, you are taken off to your own room, which isn't private though. There are monitors so the medical staff can see you in action. The first half of the night you sleep normally, without any mask. At midnight or thereabouts, you are woken up to put the mask on and then go back to sleep. At around 4 a.m., they wake you up and kick you out... okay, that's harsh but if I wake a guest at my house up at 4 a.m. and ask them to leave, I'd be kicking them out.


My blood pressure read 144 over 78. I think the 144 is a bit high and the 78 is good-to-average. Not sure what it means. I weighed in at 189.6. I was happy because it was less than 190. Why was it less than 190? Because I changed out of my jeans and put on some shorts and a light shirt. Had I gone in my jeans, I'd have weighed 191-something and would have freaked. Also, I had lunch about 90 minutes before so I expected the weight to be a bit higher than it was the last time I weighed myself, at the gym recently.

Also, the nurse who took my blood pressure told me my heart rate was 49. I was excited! She said that was kind of low, then measured it with her hand and watch. She confirmed it. As we walked toward the exam room, I told her that I wear a heart rate monitor when I run and that my resting HR is usually at about 60 or so. Then she said "Well, you are in good shape so 49 isn't too low."

Long-Lost... Something

My last name isn't that common. Once, when I substitute taught for a high school class I had a student with the last name Bueno. Another time when I worked as a teller, I had someone come to my window named Bueno. The nurse who admitted me today was named Bueno. She was the third non-family Bueno I've ran into in my life. Strange!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Playlist enhancer: Sonic Youth's "Bull in the Heather"

I never really got into Sonic Youth when I was a youth myself. It wasn't because I disliked them or anything, just never had the chance to listen to them a whole lot. I attribute that to being poor. I didn't have the funds back in the early- to mid-90s to spend on a lot of things, including music. I don't think Sonic Youth got a lot of radio airplay so you would have had to go out of your way to listen to them.

This song though got some radio time.

Anyway, here is the video:


One of my New Year's Resolutions was to wear my C-PAP more often, but it became clear that I didn't need to just wear it but rather that I needed to try and start over with it.

What the heck is a C-PAP? Well, it's a breathing apparatus that helps sleep apnea sufferers breath at night. It's a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine. You wear a mask and the mask sends air continuously down your pipeline.

My problem, I believe, is that my machine needs to be re-calibrated, that because of my weight loss I need a new sleep study done and I need possibly a new machine and a new mask.

Well, I finally FINALLY made a doctor's appointment. I'm seeing a pulmonary specialist today for my annual checkup. I hope he sends me to get a new sleep study done because I've been feeling sluggish for a while. I was falling asleep one day last week while working with my daughter on her homework. At three in the afternoon.

Sleep studies are fun. Okay, fun isn't quite the right word... interesting maybe... but I had one done once, about four years ago and I was hooked up on machines and slept somewhere for a night. At about 4, they woke me up and sent me home. It wasn't comfortable and took me a while to fall asleep soon but I'm looking forward to getting one done.

I could finally get a decent night's rest.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

How I see myself

I'm going to let you in on something, a feeling from the nether-regions of my brain and my soul.

My perception is skewed. It is completely out of whack.

That doesn't sound like a problem, and maybe calling it a problem is a bit excessive, but it exists. And I struggle with it sometimes.

Perception. How I perceive myself. How I view myself. It's just a little bit off kilter.

I don't necessarily mean that in a good way or even a bad but understandable way. Good would be "My perception of myself is that I'm lean and have the body of someone who obviously works out." Bad but understandable would be "I am dead sexy."

No, it's not any thinking like that really. Sometimes, a lot actually, I feel big. I feel like I never dropped way more than 100 pounds. I feel like I'm still a big guy and that I'm starting to inflate.

I think that one of the biggest fears in my life is a fear that I'll put all my weight back on, or even a lot of it. Or even 20 pounds. I fear that I'll weigh more than 200 pounds again. It's a legitimate fear. And it feels like the beginnings of weight loss aren't far away. I feel as if I stop running or don't work out in a few days that it will be akin to having my fat-burning mechanics stop and for my body to start storing fat once again.

It's irrational, I know. It doesn't make sense. I run a lot. I wear size 32 pants! I fit in clothes that I would never thought possible, and when I put on some of the few clothes I have left from back in the day, I literally swim in them.

But don't try to talk sense into the nonsensical. My brain won't have it.

You see, for the longest time I heard that I was fat. I heard that I should exercise more, that I needed to lose weight, that I did not take care of myself. That I was lazy. Overweight. Chubby. Chunky. Just plain FAT.

Around high school was when it was the worst. Extended family members would tell me at family gatherings that I weighed too much, that I needed to drop some weight, that if all I ate was hamburgers.

So I believed them. They wouldn't tell me that I was fat if I wasn't fat, right? Time, though, has a way of showing you that your flawed way of thinking was just that, flawed.

Here is Yours Truly, circa 1991.

That's me in the middle, with the gray shorts and no shirt. I remember this picture as clear as the day it was taken. We used to go to this lake, Lake Perris, a great deal. I loved going there because it meant volleyball, splashing in the water, spending time with family and, of course, good food. But it also meant having to take my shirt off.

You want to know why I have my arms crossed? Because I thought I was fat, and that if I kept my arms at my side that I would look horrible in the picture. I seriously thought I was fat. I look at that teenager now and, I don't know, but I don't think that's fat. Or overweight even.

But of course, I didn't know any better. Before too long, I was big, well over 200 pounds. Then I was really big. Then, I was really, really big. I don't know when I crossed over from 200-plus to pushing 300 and then well over three hundred pounds. Then what?

At some point, it didn't really matter to me whether I was overweight or not. Because I had always been fat, from grade school all the way up to high school. Except that I hadn't been. And then when I really was severely overweight, it didn't really matter because I'd been hearing "You really need to lose weight" my whole life. That ceased having an impact on me years and years ago.

So now that I'm lean and have the look of someone who exercises regularly, I still have this mental baggage. See, I always perceived myself to be overweight. And I still perceive myself to be overweight because, well, not sure. Old habits die hard? In this case, old thoughts don't just vanish.

I guess in some ways it's just me trying to be humble, trying to stay grounded and not feel like I'm suddenly some Adonis. But mostly, though, it's just a lifelong thing of hearing that I'm overweight. I'd say from fourth grade until I was 30-something, I felt overweight. I heard that I was overweight. So now that I'm 30-something still, not a lot of time has passed between when I really was overweight to when I was in the average category in terms of body fat.

So while I knocked off 120-plus pounds in 20 months, it might take a bit longer to slim my perception down too.

At least nobody calls me fat anymore.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Sweet (potato) challenge

Was informed of this and thought I'd pass it along.

The awesome people of the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission are holding a bloggers' contest for an original sweet potato recipe. Follow this blog for more details.

Now, this post isn't necessarily to let you know about my own original sweet potato recipe, mainly because I have no original sweet potato recipe. However, I know some of you trusty readers do.

The winner gets a cool $1,000 cash prize. Nice! That might be enough for me to try and make up my own sweet potato recipe. Hmmm... maybe I'll think of a mean sweet potato muffin recipe. Or maybe some sort of sweet potato cookie. Yeah! I love sweet potatoes. Can't get enough of them.

Anyway, just wanted to pass that along to some of you more experienced cooks who might already have one to enter.

Willoughby's Challenge

I finally had the time to take This Stop Willoughby's challenge to unearth some informative and entertaining blogs out there. It really didn't take long to find a pretty good one.

This blog I found is called Working It Out. The blog author is in her 40s and has set a goal of competing in a half-Ironman challenge later this year. From what I can tell, she participates in quite a lot of races. On Sunday, she ran the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando. I wonder if they would have let me run in that, given that I'm not a Princess. Perhaps the competing males were dubbed Princes.

Anyway, the author (K-Dub) has her personal bests on her blog. Her 10K best is about 50 seconds faster than mine and her Half-Marathon best is under two hours - my goal is to finish mine under two hours... well, it's to finish and if I can get under two hours, that would be great.

As far as the Ironman challenge, I have a great deal of respect for athletes who train for and compete in this. The Ironman combines swimming, cycling and running. I can't compete in one because I can't swim, never learned. But even if I knew how, an Ironman seems like a monstrous challenge. Swimming, cycling and then running? I actually thought about competing in a Duathlon, which would have consisted of cycling and running - a 5K run, 30K bike ride and 5K run - but I'm going to wait until later to start cycling, much later. I'm having fun just running right now.

Yeah, well, the blog author also is an accomplished runner. She competed in not one but two half-marathons. Last year. Last November, actually. Two half-marathons in one month. Wow. I'm hoping to be able to run two half-marathons in one year, can't imagine running two in a month. But she's showing me that it is possible... not that I'm going to go out and run two in a month anytime soon. Still, that might be an option. The Disneyland Half-Marathon and the Camp Pendleton Half-Marathon are both in September of this year, so if she can do it, perhaps then I can too.

Wait, what am I saying? Two half marathons in one month for me? Aw man, I don't know about that. Yeah, thanks a lot K-Dub.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Motivational Mondays (March 9)

It's a cycle.

This whole weight-loss thing has been a cycle. I would say a "vicious" cycle but there's nothing negative about it, well, except the lost weight itself.

Eating well and exercising drives weight loss. Weight loss becomes a motivation to continue eating well and exercising, which drives more weight loss, which becomes more motivating...

At some point the weight loss is minimal. There's not much to lose when you have, what 15-22 percent body fat depending on age and gender. At least to us normal people.

But then, it becomes a little more difficult because you are eating well and exercising but you don't see much drastic change in weight. And if you do, it's because the weight is going in the wrong direction. But that spurns more eating right, exercising, it drives weight maintenance which becomes just as good as weight loss and that is just as motivating and that forces you to eat right, exercise...

See what I mean about a cycle?

I was thinking about this recently as I feel I gained control again over my cravings. It was a little difficult sometimes recently to cook because I found myself picking at the cheese or taking an extra bite of some other ingredient while cooking. Of course, I didn't need all those extra pickings (especially the cheese, no matter how tasty it was) but they were just cravings that I couldn't resist.

But last week was good in that I took out the ingredients, got what I needed and put everything promptly back in the refrigerator or cupboard or wherever. No extra nibbles missing. On Friday, I weighed in at 186.7, my post-workout weight, which was a drop of a few pounds from the last time I'd weighed myself.

I'm back in the cycle 100 percent now. I'm confident now as well, and confidence plays a big role in weight loss. I had zero confidence when I weighed 300-plus pounds, but now that I'm at 186 and dropping hopefully to around 180, I have a sense of confidence. Now, I'm not saying I'm ready to model any underwear or anything, come on now, but I know I tackled something challenging and it leads me to have a belief in myself that I can do things I previously thought weren't doable, such as running long distances.

I don't ever forget how I used to look. It's an unfortunate image that is not only ingrained in my mind and my person but a sad vestige of a previous life that featured little confidence and low self-esteem.

That picture, that entire outing was the last straw. I had no choice but to change, and I finally felt like doing something. It's a horrendous picture, an embarrassing picture even to this day. I never thought of posting it online but have been toying with the idea for weeks now, to post it, exorcise those demons, perhaps inspire others who have just as much weight to lose or nowhere near that amount of weight to lose.

What's that cliche? If you put your mind to it, you can do anything. Well, it's corny and played out, but dammit, it's true.

Eat right. Exercise. Lose weight. Feel good. Feel motivated. Eat right. Exercise. Lose weight. Feel good. Feel motivated. Eat right. Exercise. Feel good....

Nothing vicious about it.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Savory Sundays: Chorizo Tortas

Up next is one of my favorite things to cook. Aside from the awesome flavor, I think I enjoy it so much is because it's my own little creation. The concept is not mine - come on now, I'm not that creative - but I've taken something that is prevalent somewhere else and re-created it in my own kitchen. By myself!

Chorizo Tortas are one of my favorite things to eat. What the heck is a torta? Well, it's kind of a Mexican-style grinder, submarine sandwich if you will. In Mexico, tortas are very popular and you can get them with cold meats like ham or queso de puerco or with warm meat like chorizo or bistec. I've not tried anything but chorizo because those are my favorites to get whenever I go to Mexico (which is not often enough).

Anyway, what you'll need:

1 pound chorizo

Okay, that's the main ingredient. Since it's my own thing, I'm not sure how to go about listing the ingredients because a lot of time they change. But I'll show you instead.

The guest of honor:

You're going to need some peppers and the like to add once the chorizo is cooking. This is what I had on hand so this is what I used.

Typically though I would suggest onion for sure, probably about half of one, as well as whatever peppers you can get, plus cilantro. However, the chorizo has so much flavor in it already you really don't need a lot of extra stuff.

Brown the chorizo. You definitely don't need any oil or anything.

When it's been on the heat for about 5-7 minutes, toss in the peppers and onions and cilantro.

Now, the bread you need is a telera or bolillo roll. This is bolillo, although the telera is the one commonly used in Mexico for tortas. A regular sandwich roll would probably work but the telera/bolillo are the better options.

I like to use Thousand Island dressing and put the chorizo over the top. I also use a ketchup/mayonaisse mix. Not sure what is the traditional way but I'm pretty sure it's not either. Still, the Thousand Island gives it a great flavor as well. Then, I like to put Monterey Jack cheese, although this time I only had cheddar available.
Pop it in the oven for 5-7 minutes or so and you've got a tasty sandwich.
The picture wasn't in focus but the sandwiches were quite tasty.
This last picture did not do it justice, but the chorizo torta is one of the tasties dishes I make.

Savory Sundays: Steak Fajitas

Welcome to another Savory Sunday! I made some pretty tasty dishes this week and am anxious to share them with you.

First up, steak fajitas. Yum! I had bought some red bell peppers at the store recently and was wondering how to use them up. I actually made another dinner with them and then didn't want them to go to waste. I figured, why not make some steak fajitas? We hadn't had them in a long time, so I went out and got some meat and some different types of peppers to balance the red bells.

First up, I bought a pound of, uh, well, in Spanish it's carne para asar but I believe it's something like sirloin tip or something in English. So, carne para asar for me!

I slice it up nice and thin. Well, it always seems thin when I slice it but when it cooks for some reason the pieces seem thicker than I had cut them. Maybe it's the way the meat cooks. To marinate it, I use this

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
dash hot sauce
salt and pepper, to taste

Now, I put that in a resealable plastic bag and throw the meat inside. To save time and energy, I put the bag inside a big glass like so:
That helps save some frustration as well. Then, I make sure the marinade gets on as much of the meat as possible, get as much of the air out as I can, and put in nice and cozy in a bowl inside the refrigerator for at least an hour.

That gives you plenty of time to slice up the veggies. Here are, from top to bottom, a Poblano pepper, two Red Bell peppers, one Green chili and an onion.

When it's time to cook, heat the meat up over medium-high heat. You don't really need more oil since the meat has some but a splash won't hurt.

When the meat has cooked for a bit, toss in the veggies. I like to let them sit in there until they are tender. The thicker you leave the peppers, though, the longer that takes so you may want to slice them thinner than I did.

This probably took me 15-20 minutes to cook but I left it on the heat a while to get the peppers and onions nice and tender. Serve with some warm tortillas, perhaps a side of rice, some Pico de Gallo and maybe even a nice cold one.

This made for quite a feast. And we weren't disappointed!