Friday, February 27, 2009

Playlist enhancer: Johnny Cash's "The Highwayman"

Typically when I run, I've been running to hard music like Metallica as well as groups like The Killers and Flogging Molly. But I've found that listening to Johnny Cash is very relaxing, particularly on long runs.

I'm not sure how Johnny Cash would work on shorter runs, when you have to exert yourself more and the more upbeat or harder songs are better suited for such a workout.

But when you are in for the long haul, for 90 minutes or more of running, you need something that will take your mind off of things, to help you relax, some sort of soothing music without it putting you to sleep. Johnny Cash fits the bill for me.

I particularly love this song, have for a while but now it's got some new-found life to it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lawnmower, mow that lawn!

Sometimes life throws you curve balls. And sometimes, it's loaded with guilt.

My schedule changed this week. Sunday won't be an option for a 10-mile run day, so that will be Saturday now. I didn't end up getting my run in on Wednesday so now I have today and Friday to run in preparation for Saturday's 10-miler.

And today is suddenly out as well.

I noticed that my truck is particularly dirty and I need to make time to wash it. Also, my lawn is in need of some attention as well. With the rains coming and going, I hadn't really found it necessary to mow the lawn, or rather, hadn't found it in good enough condition to mow the lawn but it is supposed to be dry here until at least Tuesday so I need to make time to do both.

I spend two hours in my truck Tuesday through Thursday, between dropping off and picking up my two girls from their separate schools. So the time there is quite limited. Right now, I have enough time to wash the truck and mow my front lawn before I have to get ready to get my oldest, drive clear across town to get my youngest, and head home. It's fun. Really.

Nevermind my writing duties for the people who pay me. Oh yeah, and I have to ref some grad school intramural soccer games tonight.

So there goes my run.

I guess it's a good thing I'm only running my half marathon for fun. Without all these missed runs, it's hard to imagine finishing in a good time.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Plain is good

One of the things I've done recently to incorporate different foods into my meal plan is to start eating yogurt.

Now, I used to eat lots of yogurt. The fruit-on-the-bottom kind was my favorite. Then, when I started to pay attention to nutritional labels I swore off it. When I got into my fitness/nutritional renaissance, I really swore off it and would avoid it at all costs.

But then plain yogurt started to come up a lot in different cooking shows and recipes I'd come across, so I looked into it. I ended up buying the generic store-brand plain, fat-free yogurt, a big container of it, as each serving was only 70 calories. Not sure exactly how much is one serving but it's at least one cup. I don't have one handy right now, otherwise I'd check.

Anyway, the Mag points out the benefits of plain fat-free yogurt.

According to the Mag: "In a 12-week study, people who consumed three 6-ounce servings of fat-free yogurt daily lost 81 percent more fat from their midsections than those who ate a variety of dairy products containing less total calcium."

I believe the serving size for mine is eight ounces. I typically have a bowl of plain fat-free yogurt maybe twice a week with lunch. Now, don't get me wrong... they call it plain for a reason. I don't eat it alone like that. I always slice up a banana and make my own fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt snack, but mine will have maybe 10g sugar, as opposed to nearly three times that... and most of my sugar is of the natural kind. One banana has roughly 10g sugar, by the way, and the plain fat-free yogurt has exactly zero grams of sugar.

Of course, I do need to pay attention to the labels though. My last batch of yogurt I got was vanilla, and not the plain fat-free kind. I think it was fat-free vanilla but the calories were more than double from the plain stuff, and I didn't realize this until I was almost done with the container. Yikes. I thought the stuff tasted a bit sweeter, but figured it was the banana that was doing the trick.

Anyway, I've experimented with lemons before and tried to use the yogurt with lemon on the bottom but that did not taste very good. I'm now afraid to try other fruits on the bottom. I may go for strawberries since I bought a bunch recently for cheap. But bananas work well and they make for a light and quick snack or a good side dish for lunch.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So I'm not a speedy guy

I tried. Honestly, I did.

I ran four miles earlier today. Since I didn't need to conserve my strength for anything, I figured I'd open it up, stretch my legs and fly... in relative terms of course. Well, if that was flying, then I'm part-ostrich. I barely got off the ground in my "flight" around my neighborhood.

I finished the run in 36:57. It's not the worst time, but it's certainly not fast, at least not in the 30- to 35-year-old male category.

But I did try. I actually started off pretty decent, ran for the first mile or so at about a pace of 8:30 to 8:40 per mile. Then, I made the fatal mistake (at least in terms of my speed prospects) or running uphill. There's a nice big hill near my house and I've ran over the whole thing once. But I like to run up to the where the sidewalk ends, just to the entrance of a golf club, cross the street and run back down. It's a fairly lonely street so the traffic isn't a problem or anything. No stupid dogs either.

Anyway, at the base of the hill I was under a nine-mile-per-hour pace. When I got to the end of the sidewalk and turned around, the Garmin flashed 9:17. Next to it read the word SLOW.

Okay, it didn't but it should have.

I guess my run clears up one thing. I'm not fast. I'm not going to win any speed races, or probably any race that doesn't involve my daughters (at least until they get to high school or something). But that's a good thing. I have my boundaries that I like to work within. I have limits and I am fully aware of them. I've ran a mile under seven minutes before and I'm proud of that. I've beaten lots of people in various races I've competed in, so I'm not the slowest 30-35 yr-old male out there.

So what if I'm part ostrich? Man was not meant to fly anyway, right?

Turning it up a notch

Lately, I've been running a lot of miles on the weekend, but the midweek miles have been consistently low. I've had runs of two and three miles to take up my time midweek, plus interval runs which are a bit longer.

Today, for instance, I have a four-mile run scheduled. Tomorrow is a regular interval run I've been doing but on Thursday and Friday I'll also have four-mile runs on the docket. Saturday is a rest day and Sunday is another 10-mile run.

I believe this is meant to get more weekly mileage in, probably in order to get through the longer runs better. With more mileage under my belt during the week, it might be easier to get through a longer run. I think the most important thing, though, is to get the runs in. I've skipped at least one run each week since I started my training for various reasons; soccer, children (you know, those pesky needy children :) ), work, health. I've done well to get my long runs in but sometimes life intervenes in the middle of the week.

Still, I think this week I will have the opportunity to get in my three four-mile runs, plus the interval run on Wednesday, plus the 10-mile run on Sunday.

And while Saturday's run was the longest run, this week may be the most mileage I've put in during any given week before. So there's another small achievement that I can count on.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dozen miles: a look back

After such a long run on Saturday, I have gone back over and over the run in my mind. I've come away with several different thoughts on the run now than immediately after, or even a few hours after I finished. I guess two days removed I have another perspective on it and I felt I'd put it here so I can get these thoughts down and perhaps use them to draw on before my next long run.

EXHAUSTION

I wasn't completely exhausted after the run. I never got to what I call the "huffing and puffing" stage. There were a few hills in the second half of the run, I think Mile 10 was pretty much uphill, and I got close to that point during the run but I was never truly fully exhausted and wiped out in terms of being out of breath. This is very encouraging, but at the same time has me wondering if I didn't exert myself enough. I'm going back and forth over this feeling. Should I have been completely out of breath by the end? Does that mean I didn't give it my all? Or did I do well to conserve enough energy that I was able to get through 12 miles?

SPEED

Part of my hang-up over the exhaustion factor is my own personal debate where speed is concerned. On the one hand, finishing is my number one goal - finishing the half, finishing a really long run - and that is number one by a mile. Number two is finishing in a good time, or at least beating a set time. But on the other hand, I might not be running as fast as I maybe should be, and thus am not fully challenging myself. I tend to run at or around 9-minute miles. At least, that's what I've noticed since I got my Garmin. I've seen it as low as 8:30, the pace, and as high as 10:04 (the last part of the 12-mile run) but it usually doesn't get anywhere near a 7:59. Still, that's not taking into consideration the interval work I do at the gym, and some of those speeds are pretty fast. I'm wondering if I should try to run faster to maximize my runs and get a better workout. Although, I don't think my runs are lacking or my workouts are bad. Anyway, with relation to Saturday, I finished the run in a little more than two hours, so 12 miles then were run at a 10-minute-per-mile pace. Should I even care about that figure right now? I'm trying not to, but part of me wonders if I could have done it faster. Still, I counter to myself, faster for what? Why? Ugh. It's a debate with no end.

SWEAT

After the run, my shirt was drenched. Now I actually wore three shirts: the first was a tight workout shirt, a shirt that is meant to be tight actually, kind of like a stretchy-material that accentuates all your blemishes...; second was a long-sleeve shirt over that and third was a workout/running shirt over that. It wasn't that cold, I know, but I still wanted to wear several layers. All layers were drenched after the run, in particular the long-sleeve shirt. However, during the last 15-20 minutes, I noticed that I wasn't sweating. My forehead, which had dripped sweat into my eyes frequently during the early portion of the run, was dry. That got me worried. I'm going to have to A) hydrate myself even more on the day before my next 10-mile-plus run and B) figure out what I can take with me to consume during another such run. I've heard of a gel pack that you can pop in your mouth during runs, maybe that's a solution. But I've never done research into those because I've never had to. Now I will.

RECOVERY

I was supposed to have run three miles on Sunday. There was no way I could have ran three miles, I thought on Saturday. But on Sunday I actually went on a walk with my family, and it was encouraging. I could have ran three miles. I won't scrap the post-run workouts anymore since I was supposed to have run two miles after my 10-mile run. My muscles felt fine on Sunday morning, not fatigued or cramped or in pain or anything.

MENTAL TOLL

I'm not worried about a 12-mile run anymore. I'm still not sure about 13 miles, but I think I can handle that extra mile. I think once I break that 13-mile barrier I will not be worried about it either. I guess part of this half-marathon training thing is to also train my brain, for me to prepare mentally. I have a 10-mile run planned for this weekend and I believe a 12-mile run for the first full weekend of March. I look forward to those runs now with anticipation instead of with apprehension and a bit of fear, as I had in the start.

Motivational Mondays (Feb. 23)

Sometimes, it's hard to be motivated. It's Monday, time to git yer arse out of bed and into the week. When this happens, sometimes I try to think about certain things in the not-to-far-off future. For instance, I like cheat days. Sunday was a cheat day. I had a cheeseburger. Lots of chips. Some nighttime snacks. Things I usually try and avoid.

Cheat days are good though, and necessary. I put in a lot of work during the week and it's hard sometimes to pass on that extra serving or drink water instead of a beer or diet Sprite instead of regular Sprite. But if I know I can let my guard down and have a second helping of something that isn't the greatest of things, and maybe drink a regular soda down with it, it makes some things go by easier.

Typically I try and stay around 1800 calories a day but if I get close to 2000 that's not the end of the world. I probably should lower those figures to 1600-1800 but I guess that's another topic for another day. On cheat days I don't go up to 6000 calories or anything ridiculous. In fact, I woke up this morning with an uncomfortable stomach, partly because I'm not used to snacking at night anymore.

But I used to have cheat days all the time. Every day was a cheat day, and I wasn't happy with how I looked. I still have some of those same urges as before, but now that I can organize and compartmentalize those, it makes a great difference and I don't quite feel guilty about having a second helping. At least not on cheat days.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Savory Sundays: Flatlander Chili

I don't often make chili. I have only made it once, and that was when I first started cooking. It's not that I don't like chili, just haven't really gotten around to it I suppose. Also, growing up, we never really had chili - it's not really a Mexican-style dish at all. Whatever chili we did have was out of a can or from fast food, like in chili cheese fries or some similar abomination. Perhaps that's why I never really considered it.

Anyway, I finally made it this week again and it was something I really should have done earlier. This chili turned out wonderful and I will make it again, for sure. I probably won't try other chili recipes, except for the white chicken chili recipe I came across some time ago that I really should make soon. But that will have quite a different flavor I imagine.

This chili recipe is called Flatlander Chili, a recipe I got from All Recipes.

What you'll need:

2 pounds lean ground beef
1 (46 fluid ounce) can tomato juice
1 (29 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped poblano chile
1/4 cup chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 cups canned red beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup cornmeal (optional)

All together now:

The Paprika sneaked into the picture. I didn't use any and it didn't call for it. Guess it just wanted some attention. Anyway, you won't see any ground beef since it was browning when the rest of the ingredients got together.

Now, I was a bit worried about this step to be honest. It didn't say to add any spices to the meat, just to brown it. I was worried that once it got into the chili, it wouldn't really have any flavor. But that wasn't the case at all. Still, I wonder if you would be able to add spices in this step to add something to it... but then again, the chili turned out great.

Another part of this recipe I enjoyed was the ease and simplicity of making it. Again, not sure if all chili is like this but all I did was brown the meat and then toss everything into a pot (or kettle as it called for).

Here's everything ready to be tossed in:

Again, this recipe calls for a green bell pepper but I use poblano chiles whenever green bells are called for. I like the flavor better and there's no added heat.

Here's what everything looks like in the pot:


My pot there could barely hold the chili! I have one that's a bit bigger and I may use that one next time. But I really like to use this one so we'll see. I suppose since it turned out fine I'll just use this one. I added the cornmeal as was suggested by a reviewer on the original recipe. The cornmeal added some thickness to it, and the consistency for me was perfect. I don't know what it would have been like without it but I wanted it thicker instead of thinner and that seemed to do the trick.

As a side dish I made these Sweet Corn Muffins. I took pictures of all the steps but then forgot to take a picture of the finished product. Those did not last long at all.

This meal was fantastic. I had intended to freeze some of the chili but, well, it didn't last long at all. No freezing necessary!

Savory Sundays: LB's Meat Sauce

The first installment of today's Savory Sundays is a bit of my own creation. Now, most of the things I cook I make by following a recipe. I have become a bit more daring lately, though, and have started making my own meat sauce. Now, in the grand scheme of things this is probably a standard type of thing many home cooks make. But since I've not been cooking for that long, I'm actually excited that I came up with this on my own. It may not be something mind-blowing or revolutionary but it's my own.

It's actually a work in progress, but I think I have a good base. Here's what you'll need:

canola oil
1 onion, diced
1 pound ground beef
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 garlic cloves
3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 sausage links
2 cups marinara sauce

As I said, this is a work in progress and no amounts are set in stone. In fact, one onion of this size is probably too much. So I may change it to one onion to maybe a cup of diced onion or something. And the sausage links will also vary. It's just what I have on hand, and this one was one that had cheese in it. I have since picked up a mild Italian sausage, so the flavors will vary on this one.

First, drizzle some oil on a pan and saute the onions (also, you can use margarine which is what I think I'll try next time, to change it up I suppose). After a few minutes, toss in the parsley, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and garlic, and then add the ground beef.

Brown the ground beef. Add the sausage before beef is completely browned.

I made the Marinara Sauce recipe I had on here last week on again.

I added some of the sauce, measuring the marinara sauce one half-cupful at a time until it was done, and it amounted to two cups worth.
I didn't take a picture but I tossed this in some penne pasta and it made for a tasty meal. I've also made it with spaghetti of course and may try some rigatoni or rotini next time.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Even dozen

When I woke up this morning, I felt good. I'd been worried about a pending cold, at least something I've felt coming on that I think is a cold, so I went to bed last night unsure of the status of my run. But when I opened my eyes just before 5 a.m. I knew a run was in store for me.

About two hours later, I had my running gear on and was ready to hit the road. I'd planned on running 12 miles, and had mapped out a route during the week. I was all set for the run; mentally prepared, felt well physically, no pending commitments that needed my attention/presence. None of that. Just me and the road... and my iPod, Garmin, Polar and all my gear as well.

I tried to divide my run into thirds but the math wasn't working out. The first third would be at the corner of one street and another (I'd type the name but it won't mean jack to most of my readers); that particular intersection was when I'd change course a bit. The route resembled a strange triangle, and that was near one of the corners. However, the second third - the end of the eighth mile - wasn't really near any sort of intersection. So I just decided that the last stretch, which was about five miles, would be my final leg.

Interestingly, my run divided in thirds after all. The first third, which coincided with the first leg, was a bit rougher than I had intended. The second third was great, fantastic. And the last third was pretty tough, got tougher as the run went on.

Still, it was a good run in that I ran for two hours and 12 miles, each new personal highs. I need to run those distances in order to best prepare for my half marathon so in that sense it was perfect.

In the end, my muscles were fatigued more than anything. But my body will adjust. It will have to since I have another 12-mile run scheduled for next week too.

Hopefully all legs of that one will go by smoothly.

Running after all

I'm all set for my 12-mile run. I feel great this morning (okay, maybe not 100 percent but in the 90s). I'll report back later, as well as update you on our dance lessons from Friday.

In the meantime, this is what I'll be listening to during a portion of my run today. I love running to this song:

Friday, February 20, 2009

Cold front

I've been feeling sluggish all week. About the only time I haven't felt less than 100 percent has been during my runs and when we went dancing.

Tonight we have another dance lesson (expect a full report afterward) and on Saturday I have a biggie coming up, a 12-mile run.

I'm looking forward to my 12-mile run... if I get to run it. If this less-than-stellar feeling I'm having worsens, I might ground myself and not allow myself to run. When I ran eight miles a couple of weeks back, I was not feeling the greatest but still went through with it. I paid the price though as I felt much more wasted after that run than I did after my 10-mile run last Saturday. I felt energized after that run, mostly I think because I was in good condition to run it.

I'd say if I felt like I felt this morning before 8 I'd be up for running it. But if I feel like I'm feeling right now, it might not happen. Lessening my chances of running will be my wife, for she was against me running the 8-miler and said she was right that I shouldn't have ran that. I fear that I might actually have to listen to the voice of reason that is my wife for a change.

Either that or get up and go!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Step, step, excuuuse me

My first night of dancing, of true real-life dancing, began with finding the right shoes. I had just one pair that would fit the bill; a pair of seldom-used expensive dress shoes with the non-marking sole. I found some blue slacks and a long blue-sleeve shirt to go with it, and I felt like I was going to some formal event.

But really, it was. Even though it was just going to be my wife and I and an instructor or two, it was a festive occasion. I'd gotten my wife dance lessons for Christmas, and I was ready to learn how to dance.

For years I've made a fool of myself dancing, have felt foolish and out of place on the few dance floors I've been on (mostly at weddings). But now, I had my chance at redemption. I approached the lessons with an open mind and a desire to soak in everything possible in order to enjoy something I'd never enjoyed before. It helped that the dance lesson was a private dance lesson, so the entire studio consisted of more staff (owner plus four instructors) than students (my wife and I). One instructor was with us, another hung out and jumped in as needed and the others were in the background working or whatever.

Although we'd wanted to Tango, because we were both so new and inexperienced (especially me) the instructor thought it best to start with the basics of a few dances. The Fox Trot and Waltz were up our alley. I'd heard of both but was unaware what exactly the Fox Trot entailed.

Step, step, excuse me; step, step, excuse me

We can all step forward and back; the excuse me, our teacher explained, was as if we were trying to step sideways as if taking a step into a row of seats at the movie theater. Excuse me

We started off in each other's arms... okay, it wasn't that romantic. Actually, romance never entered the fray as I was concentrating on the dance steps. Though we did hold each other, the first was a practice hold (I think that's what he called it), where I held my wife's arms above the elbow and she did the same to mine. We were more trying to figure out the steps while making contact with each other more than actually dancing together.

We also learned to get out of trouble. That is, if you're dancing and you reach a corner or you are amidst a crowd and need to get out of trouble, you use this move to do so.

Rock forward, rock back, excuuuse me

So we step-step-excuse-me'd our way across the dance floor. A few trips across the dance floor and we were elevated into the actual dance position.

Step, step, excuse me; step, step, excuse me; rock forward, rock back, excuse me

Somewhere in between we waltzed, which consisted of dancing in a sort of box.

Start with the left foot, step forward, bring right foot forward, excuse me to right, bring left foot together, right foot back, left foot back, left foot excuse me, right foot excuse me

Nothing to it. I just practiced right now in my kitchen, where I'm sitting while I type, and I got it down. It's not graceful but that will come with time.

In the end, the lesson finished much too soon. I felt as if I was just getting the hang of it when the class was over. We scheduled another lesson for Friday and we are both looking forward to it. I'm anxious to get all dressed up again and developing this new-found hobby. I'm not a natural dancer, but now I have a bit of confidence in myself, and know that I can get this dancing thing down somewhat.

And have fun while doing so.

The skinny

Dance lessons went well. I will blog more about this later when I have time but just wanted to say that I didn't make a fool out of myself (which was priority number one) and I actually enjoyed myself (a distant second to the top priority).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

To take my mind off the nerves

It's a few hours before our scheduled dance lesson. I have to go get my clothes and my shoes (apparently, you can't roll up in jeans a t-shirt) but before I do (I might sneak in a nap too), I wanted to take the time to do something a little off-topic. I saw this on one of my blog buddy's blogs. Sounds like a fun game. Although, I'm not exactly thrilled with the underlying theme and subliminal messages sent my way.

*******
Play Ouija With Your iPod
1. Put Your iTunes on Shuffle.
2. For each question, press the next button to get your answer.
3. You must write down the name of the song no matter how silly it sounds!
4. Put any comments in brackets after the song name.
*******

a. If someone says, “Is this okay?” you say…

Somebody to Love, Queen
(See, the thing is, if you have somebody to love you can ask them this question. So, I can't really answer 'Is this okay' because that's a question you need to ask your loved ones. Unless, of course, it's my wife asking me, to wit I'd reply 'Yes, dear.')

b. How would you describe yourself?
Sisters of the Moon, Fleetwood Mac
(I cook. I bake. For all intents and purposes, I'm a stay-at-home parent. Why ever would you mistake me for a 'Sister?' Wait, maybe you shouldn't answer that...)

c. What do you like in a girl?
In The Jailhouse Now, Soggy Bottom Boys
(Seems I have a thing for bad girls)

d. How do you feel today?
We'll be Together Again, Rod Stewart
(My wife got back from a business trip so we're together, preparing for our dance lesson, blissfully happy... or something)

e. What is your life’s purpose?
Mantra, Tool
(My purpose is to be vague apparently. Yes, I have a mantra, but that's as far as I've gotten)

f. What is your motto?
American Woman, The Guess Who
(Okay, I sense a theme here - sisters, women, ha ha, very funny)

g. What do your friends think of you?
Outside, Staind
(Yeah, I'm on the outside, just an outsider on the outside)

h. What do you think of your parents?
Te Solte La Rienda, Mana [translation: I let go of your reins]
(How awesome was that? I have dozens upon dozens of Spanish songs on my iPod and this is the first one that pops up. And yes, I let go of my parents' reins a while ago... which actually is true in reverse)

i. What do you think about often?
Cream, Prince
(I'm not even going to go there right now...)

j. What is 2 + 2?
Bongo Bong, Manu Chao
(Silly answer for a silly question)

k. What do you think of your best friend?
Chocolate, Carmen Gonzalez
(Maybe my best friend IS chocolate)

l. What is your life story?
Civil War, Guns n Roses
(What we've got here is failure to communicate)

m. What do you want to be when you grow up?
Bone, Sonic Youth
(I guess at some point I'll just be a big bone, or a pile of them anyway)

n. What do you think of when you see the person you like?
Sludge Factory, Alice in Chains
(NO! Honestly, I don't...)

o. What will you dance to at your wedding?
Material Girl, Madonna
(What the hell is this doing on my iPod? See, the theme continues... and for the record, I don't recall any Madonna songs at my wedding)

p. What will they play at your funeral?
Where the Wild Things Are, Metallica
(Maybe they could read the book too)

q. What is your hobby/interest?
Real Good Man, Tim McGraw
(Can I just state for the record that I am 100 percent man? This theme is getting out of hand...I suppose I could say that BEING a Real Good Man is my hobby, interest... yeah, we'll go with that)

r. What is your biggest fear?
Under the Bridge, Red Hot Chili Peppers
(I don't want to end up homeless, living under a bridge - oooh, I made one work)

s. What is your biggest secret?

Grind, Alice in Chains
(No, I don't have any of those skeletons in my closet)

t. What do you think of your friends?

Substitute, The Who
(My friends are interchangeable, apparently)

u. What will you post this as?
Ready to Run, Dixie Chicks
(How appropriate, a song about a woman, sung by women.. ha ha)

What, me Tango?

For Christmas, I decided to spring for some dance lessons for my wife and I. She had been wanting dance lessons for the longest time, and I finally took the plunge.

I may regret that decision later today. We are scheduled to have our first dance lesson tonight.

Now, I had originally wanted to take either Tango or Salsa lessons, but luckily I did not have to choose which lessons. My wife chose Tango, and I'm glad. Well, actually, it doesn't matter because I'm certain to have no rhythm no matter what. I guess I'm just happy she didn't pick something that will completely humiliate me.

Because, you know, the tango is soooo easy...

I'm not a dancer. Let's get that clear.

I'm a runner. I'm a writer. I'm a joker. I'm a smoker. I'm a midnight toker... oh wait...

But seriously, I'm many things but DANCER is not one of them (and neither is smoker). So I answered The Killers' question right there, I'm HUMAN because I'm not DANCER.

I have a serious medical condition known as Two Left Feet. This hinders my ability to dance.

Having said that, of course, I'm going to try and approach this with... oh, who am I kidding? I'm looking forward to it only because I get to spend time with my wife. Also, this is a new experience for me and I will try my hardest to learn something.

I hope in time that I will look like this guy:



It's not likely. At least not anytime soon.

But wouldn't you have once said that about running a half-marathon and your desire and ability to do so?

Not the same thing...

Afternoon run

It wasn't the best run, but I went to the gym Tuesday afternoon as planned.

The biggest difference, I quickly noted, was in my mental makeup. First, there was no way I would have been able to run 10 miles with the way my mind was racing. I wanted just to finish the run and I kept looking at the mileage on the treadmill and the clock in hopes of finishing early.

Now, I was only supposed to run two miles but I wound up running three. I figured the extra mile would do me some good. I ran the first mile at a 6.0, then a 6.8. Mile 2 I ran it at a speed of 7.3, and my heart rate reflected it. For the entire mile, my heart rate rose steadily from the low 170s to the mid 170s. I wasn't worried necessarily but just taken aback by how quickly it rose. Needless to say, if I want to run more than six miles or so, running that fast that early would not be wise.

By the time I was finished with my three miles, I felt more in a groove and more relaxed than I had when I first started. I could easily have kept going but I have to stick with my schedule. That is a good thing when you've got a 2-3 mile run, but not so good when you have a 12-mile monster facing you, which is my upcoming Saturday challenge.

Still, it's runs like Tuesday's that will help me defeat the beast.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Change in routine

Since I started running, I've always preferred morning runs to afternoon or evening runs. I suppose I got used to it from the start, since that's when I typically worked out. Runs then carried over and my mornings were filled with runs.

Now, nearly 11 months into my running life, I'm going to add a new wrinkle and start running some in the afternoon.

The operative word is "some." I still plan on doing the majority of my runs in the morning hours, but there will be days like today where I need my morning time for other things, and a run would fit nicely in the afternoon hours.

I've tried to run in the afternoons before. I went a few times to the gym to get in some runs but things did not work out well. The last time I went, I believe it was the last time, I felt wasted and felt like the three miles I did were the hardest three miles I'd ever done. I had wanted to run five at the start but when I got to 2.5 or so, I felt that I only had a half-mile left in me. I was very disappointed because I labored so much and did not feel like I did much of anything that day.

Now, of course, I've had plenty of experience running in the afternoons, just not distance running. I had to run around dozens of soccer fields in the area for the last two months, so my body became adjusted to some sort of physical activity in the afternoons. I want to build on that, want to carry that over somewhat into my runs and give myself some time in the mornings to do other things. Sometimes, running can dominate a morning's plans, and if I can free up some time to do other things, be they work-related or cooking-related (course, I'd much rather cook than work...) then that would be an added bonus.

Soccer is over, and my heels could not be happier. And with the rain today, I'll head to the gym for a three-mile run. It should be a welcomed change of pace, and hopefully the start of something new.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Motivational Mondays (Feb. 16)

Is it summer yet?

While we haven't been hit hard with true winter weather here in Southern California, it hasn't been 90 degrees and sunny every day either. In fact, today is raining and the rain torpedoed a planned trip to Disneyland. It's a holiday after all, and no school means no obligations for Yvie which means we can all go to Disneyland. But the rain had other ideas, and although I think it would be a light day in terms of visitors, I don't want to subject my girls to cold and wind and rain.

Anyway, I can imagine the summer right now, waking up and not having to reach for a sweatshirt, going out to get the paper in my sandals and leaving the screen door open at 7 a.m., marinating some chicken and veggies to skewer them on the grill later, maybe preparing some burgers for the same, going to the store to get fruit for a fruit smoothie... and Disneyland of course, can't forget about trips to Disneyland and swapping the jackets for sunblock, making sure we have plenty of water and our sunglasses, maybe hats to protect from the sun...

While that in and of itself may or may not motivate you, what can be motivating is knowing that all of those memories will happen for me. I will grill burgers and veggie-chicken kabobs. I will make fruit smoothies and milkshakes. I will go to Disneyland in the blistering sun.

It's going to happen, and what shape do I want to be in when it happens? As sure as the sun is set to come up in the morning (or if you're technical, as sure as the Earth will spin on its axis to allow us to see the sun in the morning), the summer months will be upon us soon. Maybe not soon enough but before we all know it, it'll be March and then April and then May and then the summer months. Remember not too long ago Thanksgiving? That's been almost three months, and to me it doesn't seem that far off. Before too long, February will be just a memory too.

So during the summer months, I want to be in good running shape. I have the Mud Run scheduled for June 13, and not only do I want to do well there but I also want to be in good enough condition to continue running and training after that. I've got two races in mind for September and I want to be able to train during the summer months for those races.

I also want to look good. I mean, who doesn't? I want to be able to wear my size 32 swim trunks as I did last summer. I want to think of the beach as a fun place to take the girls instead of the dreaded place where I have to take my shirt off.

All the work I put into now is not going to waste. Every run, every workout I have is helping me prepare for the summer. Maybe not directly, but every workout will either help me prepare for continued training during the summer or help shed excess pounds in preparation for the summer. Just like we all have to endure this crummy weather, sometimes you just have to endure through a tough workout or an evening of fighting off temptation (no dessert for LB!) or anything that may be unpleasant but won't last forever.

Summer will be here soon; may as well look and feel good when it arrives.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Savory Sundays: Onion Rice

This may be our favorite side dish, at least one with rice. We love the flavor, and its versatility. It goes well with all sorts of different types of foods - Italian, Mexican, whatever. You could probably add some steamed veggies or something else on the side and have a very tasty and healthy dish. Here's a link to the recipe from All Recipes.

I also like it because it's fairly simple. All it has is five ingredients:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup long-grain white rice
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups chicken broth

Everyone:

Now, heat some oil in a saucepan and add the chopped onion when it's hot.

You have to heat the onion in the oil until it's almost tender and then add the rice. Not sure what exactly that looks like but this is about the point I take it to:

I suppose when the onion turns a soft purple color is when it's tender. Anyway, cover the rice with oil, so just stir it and stir it and keep stirring it. Well, maybe not that much but just stir it up a little every now and then. When the rice is all coated with the oil and it starts to brown, add the pepper and then the chicken broth. The broth is what gives it flavor as well. I made it with water once (ran out of broth) and it tasted very bland. Then, bring it to a boil:

Once it's boiling and bubbly, turn heat to low, cover and let it sit on low for 20 minutes.

It's very good, trust me. The only thing that's kinda strange is the leftovers... if there are leftovers. The onions turn a strange color, like an off-purple. But once you heat it up, it looks like this. Nothing big really, it doesn't change the flavor at all. Overall, this dish is my wife's favorite rice dish and I love it because of its simplicity.

Savory Sundays: Marinara Sauce

This is something that I tried for the first time, and I will continue to make over and over again. I've always been intrigued by the idea of making Marinara Sauce from scratch, and lately I've been working on making my own meat sauce recipe to serve with spaghetti. I think I've come close to coming up a good recipe for the meat, so I figured why not go all the way and make the sauce for it as well. Here's the link for the Marinara Sauce recipe, which I got from All Recipes. And really, it's a simple recipe to make.

Ingredients

2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) olive oil
1/3 cup finely diced onion
1/2 cup white wine
1 tablespoon brown sugar (optional)

All together now:

Toss in the tomatoes, tomato paste, garlic, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper in a food processor.

Blend that until it looks like this:

Then, take the olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Toss in the onions and saute for a couple of minutes:

Then, add the tomato mixture as well as the white wine. Now, I suppose you could leave out the wine. I almost did but figured I'd try it with the wine and if I didn't like it or if it didn't go well, I'd just leave it out the next time. Well, I liked it. So it stays. And I'm not a wine drinker. Also, the brown sugar is optional; it seems to cut down on some of the tartness from the tomatoes, at least that's how I understood it.

Simmer for 30 minutes. You have to stir occasionally because otherwise the bubbles from the heat will get tomato everywhere. When it's done, you have a good amount of marinara sauce. This one came out great and it worked very well with the meat I seasoned and cooked.

What I also like about the marinara sauce is you can add a lot to it; mushrooms, extra garlic, a bay leaf while it's on the heat... whatever strikes your fancy.

Savory Sundays: White Chip Lemon Streusel Bars

Hello and welcome to another edition of Savory Sundays. I like this feature too much I think, as all week I'm wondering what I'll feature on the upcoming Sunday and try and plan meals around that. It's good though since it forces me to be creative, and I got creative this week.

The first of three (or four) things today is a bar recipe I tried: White Chip Lemon Streusel Bars. It's from a cookbook I have called Cookies, Bars and Muffins, which features lots of - you guessed it - cookies, bars and muffins.

Ingredients:

1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 cups (1 package) white chocolate chips
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2/3 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups regular rolled or quick-cooking oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon shortening

Group photo:

Now, before I start I must say this was an involved recipe. One thing I disliked about it was having to set aside this much of this and that much of that and it confused me. I wasted some flour and oats and an egg because I missed a step. But that was probably my fault for not understanding it going in and not reading it properly. Anyway, first thing you do is zest a lemon, squeeze out 1/2 cup lemon juice and pour the sweetened condensed milk into a bowl. Well, it doesn't really pour, it kind of sticks and oozes if you're lucky. I whisked it together and got most of the juice and milk to mix.

First, you have to set aside 1/4 cup and 1/3 cup of the white chips, and then the remainder (what's left in the bag) you dump in with this mixture.

Mix the butter and sugar until well blended. Stir together oats, flour, baking powder, salt and add to butter mixture (the step I missed! Grr). Then, you have to set aside 1 2/3 cups of the mixture. Add egg to what's left in the bowl, blend until crumbly. Then, you press that onto the bottom of a greased 13-by-9 inch pan like so:

Then, you layer. First comes the lemon/chips mixture:
Then, you add the 1/3 cup of chips to the reserved oats mixture, stir it up a bit and then sprinkle on top of the lemon mixture:

Pop it in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes (it took me the full 25).

Put the 1/4 cup of chocolate chips and the shortening in the microwave and melt them. It took me about a minute and 10 seconds. I have that down because of some biscotti I make; I drizzle them with melted white chocolate chips and that's about as long as it takes. Then, mix it and drizzled over the top:

It didn't come out perfect but it looks okay. I made it for a baby shower my wife helped organize and she said it went over well. I had a bit afterward and was surprised how lemony it tasted. I figured the lemon flavor would be overpowered by everything else but it wasn't. It was pretty rich, very flavorful and if you like white chocolate and lemons, this would be a good recipe to make.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Double Digits

Hopefully, this doesn't get lost amidst the Savory Sunday posts...

Saturday, I had what was easily one of the best runs of my life. it also happened to be the "longest run of my life" but that's not the only reason why it was an outstanding run.

Before heading out this morning, I was nervous. I had thought about the run all day Friday and through the night. It was the first thing I thought about this morning and I was a bit of a wreck while making my Saturday morning muffins. But around 7 or so, I started to get ready and before long I was stretching and figuring out what music I wanted to run to.

I left around 7:30 and the sun cooperated with me. It was not raining but rather sunny, not warm but just a bright morning. Still, I went out in long sleeves and gloves because it was still chilly. A little bit. But I've gotten used to wearing my gloves while running and my hands get cold so easily.

I didn't really have a route mapped out. I kinda sorta did, but I wasn't thrilled with it. The first mile was on a somewhat busy street outside my housing tract, but Mile 2 started out at the beginning of a lonely road that runs parallel to a freeway; no houses, no dogs, no people, few cars. It was nice. I got the four-mile mark and was supposed to hang a left, go back over the freeway and take a busy street back home, but decided against it. I liked the serenity of the lonely road so I stayed on there. I eventually got to 4.88 miles when I decided to turn back around.

I got to mile 6 and felt great. I remembered how a year ago, on my anniversary in fact, I'd ran six miles and my heart rate was in the 180s, which meant I was gassed. And that was just after breaking the 5-mile mark. My heart rate on Saturday hovered around 170 for much of the run, as I averaged 168 during the run.

For the next mile or so, I thought about how great the intervals had worked for me. That is a great exercise for my heart, since I work it a lot during an interval run. Here I was, in the seventh mile of a run, and I my heart rate was at 167, when not even eight months ago I would have already hit the wall.

Before I knew it, I was approaching the intersection to get back to the busy street near my house. I looked at my Garmin: 8.25. It's funny how a week ago that was the long run, and on Saturday it was a milestone that was forgotten almost as quickly as it had been reached.

I got past nine miles and felt great. I was in a groove, didn't feel any pain (save for the usual nip pain, argh) and wasn't tired or breathing heavily. Eventually I got on my street and was at around 9.9 miles or so. I hung a left instead of a right, ran down to the end, turned around and headed back home. I looked down and saw 10.0. I extended my arms out to my side and said "Yay!" to myself. I really had to control myself there because I wanted to keep running, keep going past my house and get to 11 or 12 miles, or longer.

Those runs will come in time. Saturday was about reaching a milestone, tackling the "longest run of my life" and checking off another long-distance run from my list

It was a rite of passage, and a run I'll remember forever.

10 Miles!

I don't have a lot of time right now - actually no computer access - but did want to post this now.

I ran 10 miles today! It felt great to get out there and run that distance. Today's run was easily one of the best runs I've had in my life. Everything about it was about as good as I could hope for - except for the ever-present nip pain.

To me this is a bit of a rite of passage, to hit the 10-mile mark.

I do want to write more on this run later though, but just wanted to post this here now.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Jumping on the bandwagon

I've got a 10-mile run planned for Saturday and I was going to blog about it but I'm nervous about it and don't want to psyche myself out so to take my mind off of it, I figured I'd throw my hat in the ring. Some of my blog buddies have been doing this 25 Things list, and I've enjoyed all of them. Really I have, just haven't commented. Guess I should go back and comment on them... think I will.

Anyway, it inspired me.

1. I was named after my paternal grandfather. I have three brothers (no sisters) and my dad got to name two of us. He named me after his dad and my youngest brother after himself. Also, none of us four have middle names.

2. My daughters' names have very special meaning: Yvonne shares a name with her great grandmother (who is still around) and a middle name with both my grandmothers (who aren't) as both were Esperanza. Kennedy shares a name with my mother-in-law's birth name (last name) and Raquel is my mom's name.

3. I've shared this before but thought I'd expand on it. In one of life's biggest ironies (at least in mine), my wife did not take my last name. Why is this ironic? Throughout school - elementary through high school - I'd sometimes write down random girls' names and pair them with my last name, and wondered what my future wife's full name would be. None of the countless names ever came to fruition, and the time I spent on them was in vain.

4. I have a huge man-crush on Michael Chiarello. I am in awe of the man. Funny thing is, I hardly every make one of his recipes. But that does not lessen the man crush. At all.

5. I like to drink beer. Sad thing is, I hardly ever do these days. If I have a few beers, I feel them the next day. I don't hung over easily but I just feel a bit queasy. Yes, I'm a wimp. But when I was 300 pounds, I could knock back eight beers without feeling much.

6. I don't think patriotism means blindly following leaders and waving the American flag. I figure if you do your civic duty and vote, obey the laws, pay your taxes, inform yourself about what's going on with the government and in the country, donate, volunteer... that's along the lines of patriotism. To me anyway.

7. I once killed a chick by squeezing it to death. I was three. I didn't know what I was doing. I still get flak for it.

8. Nothing irritates me more, nothing makes my mood turn downright sour more than inconsiderate drivers. It's probably because I take so much effort to be considerate that when some jackhole cuts me off or is driving too slow in the fast lane or doesn't turn their blinker on, it just bothers me more than it should.

9. I don't really have one favorite band. I really like Rage Against The Machine, Metallica and Rammstein and recently I've gotten into The Killers and Flogging Molly. And of course I like Guns N Roses and Nirvana from back in the day.

10. Keeping the musical theme... I'm not a big concertgoer necessarily but I've been to a few. I've seen Rage five times, the band I've seen the most. The last concert I went to was Metallica on Dec. 12. That kicked major tail!

11. I never really had a lot of girlfriends. It's not that I didn't date, but I was bad at it. I had one serious girlfriend in my life, and I married her.

12. I love muffins. Everything about them. And I hate cupcakes. I think when I developed my love of muffins is when I started hating cupcakes.

13. I like to bake. When I'm older (like when my girls are out of high school), I want to work part time at a bakery.

14. I've driven from Southern California to my parents' hometown in Mexico three times in the last seven years. We used to take family vacations when were younger every now and then but I've made the drive as an adult three times. It's about 1600 miles and I love it.

15. I think I've been to more states in Mexico than I have in the US. Let me see: Mexico: Baja California Norte, Sonora, Sinaloa, Nayarit, Jalisco, Michoacan, Guanajuato, Chihuahua, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, DF... I think that's it. That's 11. US of A: California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois. That's 11. Ha! The same. Although, I used to count Georgia and Florida because I had layovers in Atlante and Miami before but my wife doesn't allow me to count them :( Well, others have said the same but I blame her.

16. I don't consider golf and auto racing true "sports" in the sense of the word. Neither have a defense, and how athletic do you have to be to golf? Golf to me is like playing pool. I like billiards, playing it, and I've even played and enjoyed golf before, like real golf on a real course, not miniature golf. But I hate golf on TV; hate watching it, hate seeing it on sports highlights, hate the coverage it gets. I'm a hater I guess. NASCAR and Formula-One and all that, meh. I don't hate it but I don't follow it either.

17. I'm a freelance writer by trade, and I've interviewed many famous people, people who are revered and idolized in their homelands. Seriously. But most Americans have never heard of them. Why? They're soccer players. The most famous person I've interviewed is well known here, though: this guy.

18. I want to retire either in my parents' hometown (they have a house there) or in the Caribbean somewhere.

19. I think I have ADD. Seriously. It's very hard for me to keep my focus on certain things, many things, but when I find something that I really enjoy and can sink my teeth into, it's like tunnel vision. I took a test once online, like a test doctors use to screen people who may have ADD. It said that if you answered yes to more than 10 of the questions, you could have it. I answered yes to almost 30 of them.

20. I don't read books. This is very sad, I know. I should read books more often. However, when I find books I like, I can read them quickly. I read the last Harry Potter book in about two days. I read The Book (the running book I got recently) a lot. I read The Mag too, but that's not a book. Mags I can read but books... sad.

21. I dislike peanut butter. I can eat peanuts but not peanut butter. It tastes like butt.

22. I kind of like karaoke, although I never really have done it, well just once. For my 34th birthday (which will be in August) I plan on a karaoke-related party. Those who I invite will not need to bring presents or anything. All they must do is sing two karaoke songs, one they select and one I choose for them. I figure, I put this obstacle up so that when people try and negotiate with me, we'll negotiate down to one song which is what I really want anyway. Yes, I'm aware that I might be at my party alone...

23. My favorite candy is Skittles, followed closely by Lemonheads.

24. I didn't really care a lot about Disney and/or Disneyland until we got season passes. My mother-in-law kicked down with some passes for my girls' birthday presents in 2007, for which I'll be forever grateful (on an aside, I really like my wife's family, I lucked out in the in-law department). Now I'm a Disneyland freak. I'd go twice or three times a week if I could and never get bored.

25. I would love to get a motorcycle. Right before I met my wife I was looking into getting a motorcycle and taking classes on how to ride them. My wife DOES NOT like the idea of me getting a motorcycle, so it's never gotten past the I-would-love-to stage. But I think it would kick ass if I drove my daughter to school in a motorcycle.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Meanwhile, on the field...

These last couple of days have been hectic. Crazy, really. Just swamped with work-related stuff along with my normal stay-and-work-at-home-dad duties. And the forecast looks to be busy for the next few days too.

Anyway, I don't want to neglect this trusty blog so I figured I'd share this with you. I wrote this bit up about a recent referee experience and posted it on my other blog (it's a sports-related blog that would probably bore most of you regulars to death so I don't link to it here but can if you really want me to). It was a very interesting experience that I just had to get off my chest, so I did over there and I'll do so here as well.

...

I've had a quite eventful last... well, two months, but in particular the last three days in my role as high school referee. I had my confidence raised, shattered and raised again, which I guess is all part of the learning process.

Thursday I had a junior varsity girls game. This was a fairly high-level JV girls game as the two high schools have traditionally had strong varsity girls teams. I was doing well, active, making all the right calls and getting no flak from the coaches and/or parents in attendance. With about five minutes left and the score at 0-0, that all changed. The visiting team had the ball in the hosts' penalty area. A girl dribbled the ball around some defenders when one of them stuck her leg out and tripped the attacking player, who fell to the ground as the ball went away from her.

I blew my whistle and pointed to the spot. PK. I was certain it was the right call. It wasn't a blatant foul; the defender didn't elbow her or knock her down from behind, but nonetheless it was a foul. The visitors converted the penalty and took a 1-0 lead. About three minutes elapsed by the time play resumed, and for those three minutes I took quite a bit of heat from the losing coach. She was complaining about everything from that point on, to the point that I nearly cautioned her. Still, I figured what would be best would to keep control of the game, blow the whistle as soon as the 35 minutes were up and get the hell out of dodge.

After I ended the game, I jogged over to get my stuff. Sometimes I change out of my cleats and slip back into something more foot-friendly but this time I didn't bother. I figured I'd rather leave without giving people time to complain or whatever. Well, that didn't happen. As I'm walking out towards the gate I hear the coach racing towards me.

"REFEREE! REFEREE!"

Well shit, here comes the coach, I thought. This was a first. I was involved in a game earlier this year when a parent waited for me and my partner in the parking lot after his son was sent off (I didn't send him off but that didn't matter to that guy) but this was the first time a coach ran to me after a game to complain about a call.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" I asked her twice. Maybe that took some of the edge off because she seemed to pause for a second before she ripped into me.

"How could you call that? The girl tripped over her own feet? Did you not see that?!?!?!?"

I didn't stop walking. No way. But I didn't speed up or anything, just kept at my pace. I probably should have just not said anything but that probably would have pissed her off even more so I told her that I had the best vantage point, that she was on the sideline and that her player tripped the other girl. She said something else before she turned away but at that point I just put my head down and tried to leave before anyone else confronted me. Luckily, there were a lot of people coming and going as the varsity game was set to start later and I sort of just blended in at some point.

Although I think I handled the confrontation well, what I should have done was carded her. As a high school referee, I can card people after I've blown the final whistle. And really, she crossed the line. She completely lost it, lost control, displayed poor sportsmanship and set a bad example to her players. I should have red-carded her ass and given her a game off to think about her actions and force her to explain herself to her principal, since that's what HS coaches have to do after receiving a red card (at least in my area). But, of course, I was unclear on whether or not I could have carded her at all. It was the first time it came up, so after talking to other referees about it I am now more up-to-speed on that.

On Friday I was slated to ref a varsity girls game between a pair of mid-level area girls teams. I couldn't stop thinking about the day before. Had I made the right call? Should I have let play go on? Did I do what I never want to do and decide the game? That stupid confrontation made things worse. Had the coach not approached me I may not have second-guessed myself so much, but she went all crazy on me so it rattled me a bit. I was nervous then before Friday's game so I called a referee buddy of mine to talk about it and hopefully settle my nerves.

It was a great call, actually, as he had reffed the varsity game afterward. The same coach, who was on the bench as an assistant coach for that game, had continued her shenanigans as she was complaining about the calls so much so that my friend had to tell her to be quiet. Maybe she was still seething over the PK or whatever. Anyway, the team had earned five yellow cards and a red card that game and lost. The school apparently has a reputation for being like that and the coach hasn't been that great to other officials as well. So apparently I didn't force a rational coach into doing something irrational.

Anyway, in Friday's game I was doing well at the start. I was keeping up with the speed of play, making all the right calls, ignoring incidental contact, etc. Still, the one thing I did not want was to have the players put me in a position where I either needed to call a penalty or let contact in the area slide. I didn't know how I would react.

Of course, that happened with about 10 minutes left. Ahead 1-0, a girl dribbled the ball into the penalty area and two defenders sandwiched her and knocked her on her back. I didn't hesitate and immediately blew my whistle and pointed to the spot. It was 100 percent the right call. The opposing coach did not complain. Later, the other ref said that I had made a good call.

That kind of made me feel better. I don't like to play mind games with myself and always try to stay focused and make the right calls. But when your confidence is down, it's hard to do that. I was fine and Friday's game restored whatever faith that had been lost from the end of the previous day's game to the start of the other.

It's situations like that that have helped me learn about refereeing games, and have given me the knowledge and experience necessary to improve. As bad as those things are, it's the only way to continue evolving and developing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The end is near

I have my final soccer game of the season on Thursday. Now, I want to reflect back on the season at some point and my experiences because they have been rather interesting. For instance, a couple of weeks ago a coach chased after me after a game after I made a late penalty kick call. That was interesting. I have parents yell stuff at me every game and have had coaches go insane on me on the sidelines... you know, all the fun stuff referees have to endure.

Anyway, while I will miss the money, my heels could not be more excited about the end of the season. I realized on Tuesday just how much damage is being done to my heels. I hadn't reffed a game in four days, from last Thursday until Tuesday, and over that relative short period of time my heels had gotten better. I hadn't really noticed until Tuesday, when I put my cleats back on and ran around on the soccer field. It was painful, and the difference between running in my Asics and running in cleats was never more apparent than it was then.

With some time off my cleats, I think my heels will be able to recover rather quickly, even if I'm still running and walking around and doing things like I normally do. After all, 70-80 minutes on cleats is a lot to ask for.

I think next season (and I'm doing this again next season) I will have to prepare better. I will have to buy the cushions or whatever they're called. I don't want to not wear cleats - some of the fields I've been on were difficult enough navigating on cleats - but I might have to find an alternative to just straight soccer cleats.

So yes, my final game is on Thursday, a junior varsity girls game. Well, actually, I take that back. I started refereeing some games at a local university; it's mostly grad students, co-ed, people paying a ton of money to go to school that must also participate in some sort of physical activity, and I'm one of the refs. It's not the most stressful situation - waaaaay easier than high school - but it's still time in my cleats.

But once a week is better than five times a week... for my heels, not my wallet.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Technology don't fail me now

Just got back from a 2.15 mile run. It was the first run since Friday's eight-mile run and I felt good. it felt good to get back out there. Physically everything went well.

But my downfall I believe will be technology. And today was a good illustration of that.

I run with lots of bells and whistles. Aside from the actual act of running and everything that goes with it, I've got plenty to keep me busy during a typical run. Here's a breakdown:

* iPod Part 1 of 2: I'm nothing without my iPod. I need music to run. I tell people all the time that without my iPod I'd still weigh 300 pounds.

* Headphones, Part 2 of 2: I worry about them sometimes. They slip off my ear, or they give out on me.

* Watch, Part 1 of 2: My watch goes around my left wrist and measures my heart rate, time and calories burned, though it only shows either the heart rate or time, not both. It goes with...

* Heart Rate Strap, Part 2 of 2: This attaches around my torso, and the actual part that measures the heart rate sits right underneath my sternum. I lovingly refer to it as my "man-bra" although it supports nothing. (here's a link to a picture of some guys wearing one)

* Garmin: I love it but I'm still trying to figure it out. I try not to look at it too often but it's difficult. The pace is quite intriguing.

Sometimes I feel like I'm going off to battle or something with the amount of gear I have on. Nevermind sunglasses if I need them, the Vaseline to prevent injury, etc. I've got plenty to keep me busy.

Now, lately my heart rate monitor has been irritating me. Not sure why but for the last few months I need to put the strap on about 30 minutes before a run in order for it to register a heart rate from the start of the run. I noticed that during soccer season as I wear it during every game I officiate. It's usually not a problem - I put it on, make sure it's secure and forget about it. I really don't feel it when I run, and I ran the Mud Run and the 10K while wearing it.

But when it fails you, it can throw off an entire run. This morning, for instance, I didn't have a lot of time to prepare for my run. I put the strap on before I did anything else, and by the time I was out on the street in front of my house warming up for my run, with iPod set to AC/DC, Garmin registering the GPS and my vaseline-lubed nips ready to go, my watch kept flashing "00" at me. No heart rate.

Oh well. I left without it. Now, I'd only wanted to run a couple of miles so I didn't want to linger. Had I been running intervals or something longer than two miles, I may have waited. As it was, though, I was irritated and didn't want to give it any more time and/or attention.

I ran for about a half mile before trying again. It finally kicked on and measured my heart rate. I felt more in a groove once that was on, since I got used to running with it and glancing at in order to help me maintain my pace and rhythm. Now with my Garmin, though, I have something else that will help me with my pace.

The run went well and I had no problems with my watch, the strap (sometimes it slips down because it's too loose but not today), the Garmin, the iPod or the headphones (the right one slipped off the ear a few times but nothing big). No, the biggest problem I had with my run today was, in fact, a physical one. My nipple is complaining again.

I guess I can't win for trying.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Motivational Mondays (Feb. 9)

I'll make it easy today.

A phrase often repeated by parents is "I'll do anything for my children." And while this is admirable, I didn't really know how to put in action when I became a parent. Sure, you have to feed them and clothe them and take care of them when they are small, but does that constitute "doing anything" for them? What does?

I eventually answered my own question. I don't know how to answer that for others, but for me "doing anything" meant losing weight and staying healthy. For the girls' sake.

I wanted to give them a parent to be proud of. I wanted to provide some sort of good example for them, to show them that you really can meet your goals when you set your mind on them. I wanted to show them that anything is possible.

How did I do that? I did everything for them. I dropped more than 120 pounds and got fit for them. Well, for me too but they were a huge factor in my weight loss. I didn't want to be the fat dad at my oldest daughter's kindergarten class... and I'm not. I wanted to be the active parent volunteer (and by active both going weekly and moving around with ease) in her class. And I am, on most weeks. Most of all, though, I want to be around for them. I didn't want to get some horrible obesity-related disease early in life simply because I didn't take care of my body. How unfair that would be for the girls, to do that to myself.

Anyway, here are the girls in action. This is old... from October 2006 to September 2007. The girls are considerably older now... well, at least it seems like it. I really really need to do this again, from Oct. 2007 to Sept. 2008. If and when that happens, I'll make it another Motivational Monday post.

For now, though, here are my girls growing up.



Sunday, February 8, 2009

Savory Sundays: Black bean soup

Third and final recipe for the day. I got this one from an episode of Tyler's Ultimate on the Food Network. Not sure why but when I saw it, I immediately put it on my must-make-as-soon-as-possible list. The flavors speak to me - cilantro, onion, garlic, peppers, cumin - but some don't - black beans, ham hock. Still, I had to try it, so I did. The recipe is Black Bean Soup and you can find it here.

Here are the ingredients:

1 pound dried black beans
4 cloves garlic
2 onions, roughly chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped
1/4 bunch fresh cilantro
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 sprigs fresh oregano
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 smoked ham hock
1 jalapeno, split
1 3/4 quarts low-sodium chicken stock
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

And the lineup:


A couple of things... 1) it calls for green bell peppers but I've pretty much stopped using green bells. I never cared for the flavor and I figured that a poblano pepper is similar to a green bell - green, not a lot of heat, relatively thick - so I swap out a green bell in favor of a poblano every time I come across the former. 2) the recipe doesn't list bay leaves in the ingredients but you need to use bay leaves; it even says so in the instructions, confusing I know; 3) soak the beans overnight otherwise they won't cook right, I read that on the recipe suggestions as well.

When you are ready to start the recipe, roughly chop the onions and poblano (or green bell) and toss them with the garlic and cilantro in a food processor. Blend until smooth:


Then, take a good amount of olive oil (the recipe says a 3-count, I figure that's about 3 tablespoons give or take) and when it's hot, toss in the cumin and oregano. I used ground Mexican oregano because that's what I had. Then, put the vegetable puree into the pot:


Now here comes the fun part. After the vegetable puree has had a chance to sit in the pot for about 10 minutes, add the chicken broth and the jalapeno as well as the ham hock. I dont't know why but the concept of cooking with a ham hock really appealed to me. I just thought it was cool that you could just throw that in something and get the flavor to come out of it and into the soup.


Unfortunately, the ham hock rendered some very chewy meat. I'm kind of a texture person so I didn't do what you were supposed to, which is cut the meat off the bone and toss it back into the soup. I left it out and am taking it over to my parents because I know them and I know they will destroy it.


Still, the soup came out quite tasty. I didn't take a picture of it but it also calls for a cup of sour cream mixed with a teaspoon of lime zest. I put that into my soup (and I normally don't like sour cream) but it was quite tasty. I also put in cilantro as well as lime into the soup. I liked it a lot. My wife didn't care for it but that's fine - more for me. I froze about three heaping bowlfuls of it so I'll have plenty to last me for a while.

Savory Sundays: chicken tortilla soup

This tasty dish is one of our wintertime favorites. It's a Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe I got from AllRecipes.com. Now, if you do a search for that on the site, you'll come up with all sorts of different Chicken Tortilla Soup recipes. I've not tried any of the others, but most of them seem good. We just really loved the flavors of this one so we didn't bother trying with another one.

Here's what you'll need:

2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 cup chunky salsa
corn tortilla chips
shredded Monterey Jack cheese (optional)

Now, what I like about this type of soup is that you can go easy on or add more of the ingredients. Recently I had taken out one extra chicken breast but I cooked it right along with and it came out great. I've just been making this with a lot of the ingredients really, well, except for the onions. I guess you don't really want to have the onions take over.

Anyway, start off by slicing the chicken meat into small pieces, 1/2 inch or smaller, and saute the chicken in some olive oil in a pot.

Meanwhile, here's the rest of the stuff. I had made the chicken broth earlier with my boullion.


Now, in my haste to make the soup and take care of my parental duties I neglected to take a picture of the stuff when it's in the pot, so just use your imagination! You have to toss everything in there - the onions, salsa, corn, broth, lemon juice, whatever else you want to use - once the chicken has been in there for five minutes, maybe longer. I used to be paranoid that the chicken would not be cooked all the way through so I'd cook it until it was ready to be eaten, then toss all the stuff inside, but it will continue cooking and probably comes out a bit more tender if you only leave it in the oil for about five minutes or so.

The finished product:


I like to put the tortilla chips on the bottom and then fill the bowl with soup. You can top it with cheese or sour cream or cilantro or whatever else you'd like. It really is versatile, and wintertime is the best time to have this soup.

Savory Sundays: Rhode Island style hot weiners

Disclaimer: I have never been to Rhode Island. Thus, I have no idea what a true Rhode Island chili dog tastes like. But if they taste anything like these, well, I've been missing out. I got this recipe from Guy Fieri and when I saw the episode where he makes these, right away I wanted to try them. That was more than a year ago, and they've since become a staple around here.

Here's what you'll need:

* 4 tablespoons margarine
* 2 yellow onions, minced, divided
* 2 tablespoons chili powder
* 2 tablespoons paprika
* 1/2 teaspoon allspice
* 1/2 teaspoon curry
* 1 teaspoon dry mustard
* 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
* 1 pound ground beef, 80/20
* 1/4 cup water

* 2 tablespoons celery salt

Mandatory ingredient shot:


First, you have to cut up an onion. Put the four tablespoons (1/4 cup) of margarine in a skillet, melt them and then toss in the onion.


The onion just needs a few minutes to get ready, no more than five. While that is sauteing, mix the spices together. Now, I don't use the curry since my and I aren't big fans of curry. We might be missing out but we enjoy it just fine without. Of course, I didn't take a picture of the next step which is to toss the spices into the skillet when the onions are ready, but you get a nice rich red color. Stir that up a bit and then add the ground beef. You can see some of that color here on the side of the ground beef.


Work the ground beef until all of it has gotten a chance to touch the bottom of the pan and have the spice flavor infused into it. You may or may not need an entire quarter-cup of water. Usually I just eyeball it and I usually don't get a quarter-cup inside, but that's just how we roll here.


Now, the meat flavor is intense and rich as is. Typically for leftovers we make nachos out of this and... well, that's just fantastic. I'm not that creative so I don't know what else you could do with this. For now, chili dogs and nachos work out great.

The last and most important step, however, is this: CELERY SALT. You need celery salt to make this work, plain and simple. Don't know what it is about celery salt but it really brings the flavors together. Another reason we like this style of chili dogs is this: the chili is not runny. At all.


Seriously, go out and get the spices you don't have (if you don't have any that is) and try this. You won't be disappointed.