30 days in

Published March 31, 2014 by livinggraciously

So, I’m 30% through my hundred-days-at-the-gym commitment. What are the results so far?

-I’ve gained 2 pounds
-I am not able to lift appreciably heavier weights
-Other than swimming, I am not appreciably faster
-Lifting yesterday, I twinged my old shoulder injury which made me temporarily lose control of the weight and pulled muscles on my left side in my arm and my chest wall that keep giving my twinges that make me scared it’s my heart (yes, I am going to the doctor on Wednesday to get myself checked out, but taking Advil made it go away yesterday evening, so I’m not too worried)
-I have improved my abs so that I can do 3 sets of 10 leglifts on the captain’s chair, whereas at the beginning I could only do 3 sets of 5

What is my analysis of these results? It would be easy to be discouraged, because the markers that we generally look for are not there. But I’m looking at it a different way. I was already walking quite a bit and lifting, though not with regularity and discipline. So my fitness in these areas was already pretty good. Therefore, it’s not actually surprising to not see much change in so short a time, since my baseline in those areas was already high.

My swimming speed and my abs, however, were abysmal. I hadn’t been swimming since last summer, and I hadn’t been doing ab work. So it’s not surprising that I saw quick improvement in those areas because my baseline was really low.

When we see a story about someone who made vast improvements in their fitness really quickly, they usually involve either someone who was not involved in fitness at all prior to their effort, or someone already in great shape who is now making fitness pretty much their full-time job (I’m thinking of actor training up for physical roles where they spend 6 weeks in intense training and such). If a person is starting from a position of “already working out and in reasonable shape,” then the changes that upping that workout time will bring are going to be less dramatic.

Which is to say, yes it would be awesome to say that my cardio fitness went through the roof and I can now benchpress a Volkswagen. But also not a realistic expectation. My improvements are smaller, but they are there. And they will continue to grow.

100 days: 25% through

Published March 26, 2014 by livinggraciously

Things have been more than a little tough around here. With Rebecca’s cancer, it just seemed rather frivolous to be writing about my silly little goals. But in a moment between I thought I’d report in.

First of all, 100 days is a long-ass time. What the hell was I thinking?

Then I remember that it isn’t long at all, in many ways.

I’ve been to the gym every day It’s the one thing I have managed to do consistently. Today is the first day that I haven’t gotten there yet, but I’m gonna try.

The cooking has been dismal. I haven’t been practicing Italian. I have been reading. Journaling, some. I did actually work on a quilt a little bit.

I’m not going to apologize for my mediocre performance. A lot of days I haven’t even wanted to get out of bed.

But I am gonna hit that gym.

 

BBA #16: Kaiser rolls

Published March 20, 2014 by livinggraciously

My gaming group has learned to look forward to the days when it’s my turn to cook, because it’s usually when I will try the next BBA bread. The first question that Ian asked when he came through the door Tuesday night was, “what’s tonight’s bread?”

The answer was, Kaiser rolls. Also known as hard rolls or bulkies. You know, the hamburger bun-sized rolls with a little star-shaped pattern in the top.

Now, I debated about making these rolls, because what I was making for dinner was not something that naturally went on a bun. I was making chicken and corn chowder, otherwise known as “CSA soup.” This is because I had a lot of produce from my CSA and also a chicken that needed stewing rather than roasting. So my first thought was that I would make a different bread to go with the soup. Alas, my OCD nature is such that skipping forward in the book and not doing the breads in order was something I just couldn’t get behind. So my second thought was to make them small like dinner rolls. But that would mean shaping a LOT of them, so eventually I just gave up and put these two great tastes that didn’t go all that great together in front of my diners.

None of them complained. Except to say that the bread would be really fabulous with the pulled pork I made a while back. So I will eventually do that.

Anyway, on to the bread. Once again I will spare you pictures of dough. It all looks like dough. This was another bread that started with a preferment, and then putting it all together on the morning of the second day. Once it was risen, the fun began. I made a double batch (because I know my friends), so had to divide it into 12 “even” parts. I realized that I just plain need to use the scale to do this, because I am crap at eyeballing these divisions.

Once divided down, the dough gets shaped into rolls. This is where I learned the awful truth about Kaiser rolls. You want to know how bakeries get that traditional star shape in the top of the roll? They just form them into little balls and then use a Kaiser roll cutter to cut the shape into them! Scandalous!

There would be none of that for me. For one thing, I don’t have an Kaiser roll cutter (and don’t have a large enough kitchen for single-purpose tools like that). For another, if I’m going to do a thing, I want to do it the original way.

The original way is to turn each piece of dough into a long rope:

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And then to tie it into a knot:

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You then take the ends of the knot and tuck one under and up and the other over and down:

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This was one of those amazing moments when I looked at the pictures in the book and then looked at my own rolls, and realized that my rolls actually looked better than the ones in the book.

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While they were rising, I got in my workout for the day, then got home just in time to put them in the oven. I changed the recipe a little at this point by adding an egg wash to get better color and gloss on the finished rolls:

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Half of them are poppy seed, the other half sesame seed. The thing that is still amazing to me is that they actually look like Kaiser rolls!

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And thanks to a great suggestion about tossing ice cubes into the oven to create steam, I got a great, thin and crunchy crust on them, as well as an airy crumb:

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If it weren’t for that pesky “having to work” nonsense, I don’t think I would even buy a hamburger bun again. These were really delicious.

“Not those people”

Published March 17, 2014 by livinggraciously

On Thursday our goddaughter Rebecca will have yet another MRI to determine whether the toxic chemicals being poured into her system are successfully keeping her brain cancer at bay.

Rebecca is 5 years old.

She was diagnosed in August. Ferrett and I were there in Philadelphia with her and her family while she underwent brain surgery to remove the tumor. We were there to see the x-rays and hear the discussion of the diagnosis and the treatment plan and the prognosis. We cared for and cuddled her siblings, and hugged her parents and did what we could to help care for them. We have been along for every MRI results meeting since they were able to return home permanently after proton radiation treatment. We have walked for cancer in Rebecca’s honor, donated to and helped raise money for her sister having her head shaved for St. Baldrick’s just yesterday.

I still can’t quite believe that Rebecca has cancer. Because the Meyers aren’t supposed to be a family that goes through this. They are wonderful and amazing and I consider it one of the greatest gifts that I am part of their lives. In my mind, this can’t be happening because they are simply “not those people.”

The thing is, “those people” is not a derogatory designation in my mind. My extended family? TOTALLY “those people.” If one of my siblings or cousins was diagnosed with cancer, I would be saddened and shocked, but I would be able to accept it. It wouldn’t feel so impossible. When Ferrett’s stepdad contracted ALS, it was awful, and that he died so quickly from it was terrible and tragic. But while I felt like it was unfair and I was grief-stricken, I never went through this ongoing sense of, “but…this just can’t be!”

I’m not quite sure why Rebecca’s cancer feels so different from so many other illnesses and tragedies, but I do remember the one other person I felt this way about: my friend Annie, who died of inflammatory breast cancer when she was just 36, the mother of four small children. Annie and Grant were also a family was wonderful and amazing, and the notion that Annie, who worked so hard to feed her family fresh, organic food and lived such a green lifestyle, could have this genetic timebomb within her that mowed through all those good decisions? It just wasn’t right! It’s been at least 14 years since Annie died, and I still get moments when it pulls me up short.

Because the fact of the matter is, there is no magic that protects any of us. There is no magical good fortune that keeps illness and accident and tragedy at bay. We are, each of us, vulnerable.

I don’t know how to end this. It’s not a happy entry. I have no deep insight that leads to a positive outlook right now. Do I just fall back on platitudes: hug your loved ones; appreciate life’s every moment? The truth is that this is a dark and scary place, and I’m not in a good headspace about it right now. I spent yesterday afternoon cheering on Carolyn and her friends as they got their heads shaved, getting snuggles from Rebecca, and visiting with friends as we all hang on together trying to feel like we are making a difference. And we are, overall. The money raised goes to research that will help kids in the future, just as the money raised a decade ago and more went to the research that has led to developments that are giving Rebecca a good chance of beating this.

But each of us, in the moment, is just clinging to each other against the cold, howling winds of chance. We stick together for comfort and support. And right now all I can think about is Thursday, when we will be there with Rebecca’s parents to hear the verdict once again. I believe right now that it will be fine, that the MRI will be clear. But believing it and knowing it are two different things, and we won’t know until then.

“Well, I’m back.”

Published March 14, 2014 by livinggraciously

Today, I walked through the door of the house and said, “Well, I’m back.” The last line of The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. It made me a little teary. You see, I started on the Walk to Rivendell back at the beginning of 2006, and after 7 years and 2 and a half months, I have completed every step of that journey. I walked the miles with the Fellowship to Rauros, then followed Frodo and Sam to Mount Doom and through their rescue by the eagles. I then “flew back” to Rauros and followed Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas through the final battle. Then once again, flew back and followed Merry and Pippin until they got split after Helm’s Deep, following first Merry and then Pippin. With the Fellowship reunited, I walked and rode the journey back to Hobbiton, and finally the journey to the Gray Havens and back. A total of 8,349 miles.

I’ve kept records throughout all those years. I’ve only counted the miles that were part of exercise, not just walking around for errands or work. The mileage tells the tale of where I’ve been emotionally and physically. In 2006 and 2007, I walked over 1,000 miles. But from 2008-2011 my mileage was minimal–shocking minimal. As little as 282 miles in 2008. Part of that was that in 2007 I was hit by a car on my bike. I wasn’t badly injured, but I lost my nerve for riding. I went from riding over 500 miles to not riding a single mile in 2011.

But at the end of 2011 I took control of my life again. I joined Spark People in September and started working out. In 2012 I completed 2542 miles, and in 2013, 1684. Considering how crisis-filled 2013 was, I am not surprised that my mileage fell off considerably.

And now, I have reached the end of an adventure. The last of the Walk to Rivendell. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

So what’s next? After a short celebration, tomorrow I will head out with Bilbo and the dwarves for the Lonely Mountain. Because there are always adventures to be had in Middle Earth.

Now please excuse me; I have to attend an Unexpected Party at the home of Mr. Bilbo Baggins!

Self-deception for fun and profit

Published March 13, 2014 by livinggraciously

Yesterday’s weather was abysmal. All the schools around us were closed because snow was … not so much falling as being hurled vertically across the landscape like tiny ice bullets. The wind velocity combined with this punishing precipitation inspired me not so much to go to the gym as to climb back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and refuse to come out until April.

Plus, it was a swimming day. Which meant getting WET in a non-home location. It just sounded terrible.

So I promised myself that I could just go to the rec center, climb in the hot tub, and marinate for half an hour. After all, I only committed to going TO the gym every day. Not to working out every day.

Of course I was lying to myself. I knew that when I got there, I would at least get into the pool first and paddle a couple leisurely laps.

That was also a lie. I went, and I swam a mile freestyle, then an additional 5 laps of backstroke just to finish out the hour. Then I finally went and sat in the hot tub for a little while.

It’s useful, at times of low motivation, to break things down into baby steps and to tell ourselves that we only have to do the first step. Right now my kitchen is a mess, and I’m telling myself that when I finish this entry I only have to put the dishes in the sink into the dishwasher and start it. Nothing else.

Sometimes we really do just complete that one baby step. There may well be a day when I go to the gym and just get in the hot tub because I really need a day off. But most of the time, it’s just a little lie, coaxing us on to the next part of what feels like an overwhelming task. Just one mile on the bike, just one time around the track, just one load of laundry, just one errand.

And with a little luck, we will finish the day feeling quite smug about all the things we lied ourselves into accomplishing.

BBA #15: Italian Bread

Published March 11, 2014 by livinggraciously

I did this one a while back, and didn’t write it up. Partially because it was very much like the French bread in the process: make a preferment the night before, knead it all together the next day, shape loaves.

The difference was in the recipe. Whereas the French bread called for only the basics of flour, water, yeast and salt, the Italian bread added milk and oil. I’m not really 100% certain how authentic the recipe is because of that, but I’m making them from the book, so I’m making them by the book.

Where things really got different was in the shaping process. The recipe makes two large loaves or eight hoagie/torpedo/sub rolls. It just so happened that on the day I was making this bread our gaming group was coming over, I was making pulled pork (an extremely bastardized pulled pork that included a  bunch of root vegetables to up the nutrition and was pronounced delicious), and decided that, as there are four of us in the group, I would make one large loaf and 4 rolls.

I divided the dough evenly, and formed the large loaf, which I prepped sliding onto the baking stone with a peel.

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Then it was on to dividing the remaining half into four even sized rolls. In retrospect, I should have formed a second loaf, and then cut it, because trying to divide an uneven half-circle was not my forte:

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…yeah.

The thing about the gluten skin on well-developed dough is that you can mess it up pretty easily. I couldn’t just be whacking some of it off of one roll and smooshing it into another roll. so I was stuck with a sort of “Three Bears” situation: Papa, Mama, Baby, and Goldilocks.

Still, they baked up pretty:

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As did the main loaf:

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As for the flavor, Ferrett pronounced it to be the first bread I’ve made that actually evoked sense memory of the bread he ate in Italian restaurants back home. And no one except my gaming group got to taste it because they had their pulled pork on their hoagie rolls and then went on to devour the entire loaf of bread. I’d call it another success.

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