The Ins and Outs of an Ordinary Life

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Listening to the Heat at 3 am

It was another ordinary day today. Went to work, ate some food, took some photos, went to the gym. When I got home, I noticed that the house was a bit colder than usual. 56 degrees, read the thermostat. Not good. Went down to the basement, stared at the furnace, pushed the red reset button, and when nothing happened, called the oil company. A technician arrived within an hour. He checked this, and that, and the other thing, and everything seemed fine. So then he checked the oil tank. And there was none. Well, none is a harsh word, but not enough oil to get the heating system to function. Not sure how that happened, but now its about 11 pm and I'm in a suburban home without heat. I could have used a lifeline, phoned a friend and gone over to her warm and toasty house for the night. But I decided to tough it out. The basement was a few degrees warmer so I got a bunch of blankets, put on a sweatshirt, and built myself a snuggly cocoon on the couch. I watched some reruns on TV, and finally went to sleep around midnight. The phone woke me, the oil company. The oil truck was on my street but didn't know which house was mine, could I please turn on the porch light for the driver. When I got upstairs I realized it was not quite 3:00. I expected to have to call the oil company at 7 a.m. and that I would get a delivery at around noon. And I was OK with that. I guess the oil company takes the issue of customers without heat in the dead of winter very seriously, and I guess this is a good thing. They don't call it the "dead of winter" for no reason. So now at 3 a.m., I am blogging and listening to the gentle pinging of the heat rising. The air is losing its sharpness, getting softer, and my hands are getting warmer. I am feeling the warm glow of oil from a foregn land filling my home. It makes me wonder, how different will it be when all the oil is gone.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Pumpkin Soup

I am participating in The Nourishing Gourmet's Nourishing Soups and Stews Carnival.
Here is my recipe for Pumpkin Soup, from Emeril Lagasse.

4 lbs pumpkin , peeled, seeded and chopped
2 tsp salt
2 Tb unsalted butter
2 cups chopped onions
3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
2 tsp sugar
8 cups chicken broth
2 Tb smooth peanut butter
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp allspice

1. Put the pumpkin in a large saucepan, cover with water, add 1 tsp salt. Boil and cook until fork tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Drain, cool, and mash. You should have about 4 cups of pumpkin.

3. In large heavy pot, melt the butter. Add the onions, bay leaves, remaining 1 tsp salt, white pepper and sugar. Cook, stirring until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.

4. Add the chicken broth, pumpkin puree, and peanut butter (Emeril's secret ingredient). Stir and bring to a boil.

5. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until the soup coats a spoon, about 1 hr 15 min.

6. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. Remove and discard bay leaves. Serve hot in soup bowls.

NOTES: I usually make this soup using pumpkin that I have roasted and frozen. Sometimes I throw in an acorn squash too, if I happen to have one. I also use my immersion blender to make it smooth and creamy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chuang Yen Monastery

Approaching the Great Buddha Hall,


home of the largest indoor sculpture of Buddha in the western hemisphere,




surrounded by 10,000 little Buddhas.


Kuan Yin Hall is home to this 1,000 year old statue of Kuan Yin.


Statues line the paths leading to the monastery buildings.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Ox. A great way to slow down and appreciate the cultural diversity surrounding me.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

A Spin, A GNO, A Run, A Swim, A Fill, A Hike and a Zen Lunch

On Wednesday evening, I made it to the gym for JK's spinning class. They moved it back to 6:30 from 6:00, so now it is well within the realm of possible. JK is one of favorite spin instructors because, quite simply, he looks good. And he plays mostly classic rock. A little Dave Matthews mixed in, and before you know it, you've been going up and down hills, doing sprints, and fantasizing for 45 minutes.

Thursday was a rest day becuase it was Girls Night Out. The Book Club That Doesn't Read the Book (don't even pick a book) had a wonderful get together at a Tapas restaurant. What a great group of women, each with their own story. All of them have taken charge of their lives, made decisions to do it with a spouse or without, and have dealt with every curveball life has thrown at them. The "Keeper of the Stories" threatens to write a book, possibly with a chapter about each woman. My chapter would be very boring, but that's why they keep me around. I provide a yardstick for measuring their craziness.

On Friday evening, I did a core workout, and then I got on the hamster wheel, (or dreadmill as my tri-friend John refers to it). I can't remember the last time I ran, that's how much I have neglected running. It was time. I ran the 2 slowest miles ever run by anyone in the history of the world and I pretty much hated it. I think I resented the fact that I felt like I had to run and it was punishment. Oh well. At least I had my iPod to help me get through it. More classic rock.

I was back in the gym bright and early today for Masters Swim (8:oo-9:30 am on Saturdays, talk about punishment!). After just a few weeks of consistently making it to 2 Masters swim workouts each week, and consistently doing varied workouts, the swimming is getting easier. I am not getting faster, but I can get through the workouts better and I can hold onto my form for longer. The last part of today's workout was a killer-- swim 50 yds hard, rest 2 min, swim 100 yds almost as hard, rest 2 minutes. Do that 4 times, and don't slow down. It didn't seem so bad when he wrote it on the board, but he did warn us that physiologically this would be one where you have dig deep to find it. Yep, he knows what he's talking about. I thought my lungs were going to explode on the last 100. But that's what it's about, finding out how hard you can push. My shoulders are feeling the love.

Then this afternoon, I headed to the nail salon for a fill. This is also part of my routine. I have fake nails and every 2 weeks, they have to be filled in because they grow out. I have a love hate relationship with my fake nails. I hate the maintenance and having to find time to get them "done" on their schedule and not mine! I am a slave to my nails. But I love having pretty colored nails that don't chip or break. The fake nails is one of the few girly girl things to which I prescribe. I don't do make-up except for special occasions, and I don't spend time or money clothes shopping. I prefer to spend my money on fake nails and personal training.

Tomorrow morning I am going hiking with our little group of hikers from the gym. It is going to be VERY COLD tomorrow morning. Then we are going to a nearby Buddhist Monastery for a Chinese New Year lunch. The monastery is supposedly very beautiful and I am glad I am going to have a chance to see and experience it. Hope to have some photos tomorrow. So I am defintiely accomplishing what I set out to do this month, getting all the pieces in play, and feeling the positive energy from it. All in the confines of an ordinary life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Pin


About 3 years ago, I bought this small pin in Posman Books, the independent bookstore in Grand Central Terminal. I put it on my backpack. You see, before it was about Obama, it was about Bush (and Cheney), and how every day he remained in office was a day of incompetence, fear, lies and loss. Lost lives, lost opportunities, lost jobs, lost homes, and a lost future. I took the pin off my backpack yesterday and I wore it. I replaced my Bush’s Last Day pin with love and hope. I watched the inauguration with a group of colleagues, a diverse group, and felt a positive energy fill the room. I felt all that we had in common instead of everything that made us different. I saw the challenges ahead as we rebuild America, and felt the commitment of all whom had gathered to move forward. It was indeed my first Big Fat Junkanoo moment of the Obama presidency. I took my Bush’s Last Day pin and put it at the bottom of my jewelry box. I want to keep it, but I want to focus on the positive energy and not the failures of the past administration. I don’t have an Obama pin, but I’ll find something tangible to put on my backpack to represent the love and hope.

Tuesday evenings is Masters swim, and I totally kicked my own butt and rocked the workout. The workout was 2900 yards, emphasizing continuous swimming!!! And even though I swim too slow to get through all that yardage, all that positive energy was definitely with me and I had it working. What a great day to be an American swimmer.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Getting it Right, Paying the Price

I have been back in the gym big time, putting all the pieces in play. Swimming, core, strength, cardio variety pack. It feels great to be moving and shaking, but boy do I feel it. I am really sore. Luckily I split my strength training between upper and lower body. So on any given day, at least half of my body is working. It's interesting to face the day with only half of my body in full action. All those "activities of daily living" that I just do, like climbing stairs, picking up money that you drop, reaching something on the top shelf, opening jars.... well, suddenly these tasks are not so easy, depending on which half of my body is working at full capacity. So the lesson here is once you get going, don't stop! Getting started again has a steep price.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

More Life Long Learning

Remember I said that sometimes learning is happenstance?
Well, today I learned that a yak is more like a cow than a llama.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life Long Learning

Being a lifelong learner is quickly becoming an essential tool in today’s world. The economy has leveled the playing field in many ways. The people that will get ahead or stay ahead are those that can learn new skills and adapt to a changing environment.
I am one of those people that if given the time and money, could go to school forever. I love learning. That is one reason that I love my job. Being in an academic environment gives me opportunities and resources to learn new things. It’s even part of the job. Life-long learning has become part of who I am. Sometimes it’s something simple like looking up a word in the dictionary. Sometimes it’s more complex like buying a sewing machine so I could learn to sew. Sometimes it’s purposeful and sometimes it’s happenstance. Often learning something becomes the impetus for learning something else and I become immersed in a fantastic cycle of self-directed learning.

Toward the end of 2008, I spent a good amount of time learning about environmental issues, sustainability, and peak oil. With Barak Obama’s campaign and subsequent election serving as a catalyst, I have been thinking about change. I’m finding myself in some interesting and challenging places intellectually, and trying to figure out what to do with everything I have been learning. I think about my hopes for change in America, and whether I want to be an active or passive participant in those changes. Those changes will be big changes and are likely to have big impact. But they also happen at a much slower pace. I also think about my personal responsibility to change my behaviors; the smaller changes that are easier to put into play, but don’t have as much impact. But here’s the thing, many of those changes will also have an immediate impact on my health and happiness—driving less means walking more, eating less meat means eating more plants, and using fewer resources in general means having more money for other things. I’m also learning that once you start to make changes, the next step comes into focus, and you start learning whatever you need to learn to make it happen.

I don’t know where my 2009 year of learning will take me ultimately, but I do see some of the paths down which I am beginning to wander. I predict that in 2009, I will be learning skills that my parents and grandparents used in their daily lives. I will be learning how to plug into the local food economy. I will be learning how to create happiness by connecting with people. I will be learning that there is so much to learn that even a lifetime of learning won’t be enough!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

BFJ in the Kitchen

Yesterday was a bit snowy, and even though it wasn't as bad as predicted, it was a great day for cooking and watching the football playoffs. Here's how it went down.
  • A week or so ago for no particular reason, I went down to the basement and brought my Zojirushi bread machine up to the kitchen. I started the cooking festival by throwing the ingredients for a plain wheat bread in the pan and pushed the start button. A few hours later, the smell of fresh baked bread filled the kitchen and I pulled out a simple but lovely loaf of bread.
  • I also decided to make some yogurt cheese, so I dumped a container of yogurt into some cheesecloth and set that up to drain. This morning I dumped the cheese into a bowl and add some fresh herbs. Its not exactly cream cheese, but I'm learning to like it.
  • I had seen this recipe for sweet potato galette and decided to give it a go. I cooked up some greens -- I had kale and some leftover swiss chard. I had a peice of manchego cheese which I bought because I had never even tasted manchego cheese and I was feeling adventurous, so I grated some of that. This turned into one very tasty concoction!
  • I had defrosted some chopped meat to make a meat loaf but son #2 declared that very boring and decided he wanted to make empanadas. So he found a recipe, made the dough and the meat filling. Rolling out the dough and building the empanadas was very labor intensive (much more work than he ever anticipated!) but he stuck with it and we finally got them in the oven. Beef empanadas and sweet potateo galette-- now we're talking about some good food!
  • Finally I finished the gravlax that I had started on Thursday. Gravlax is a salt-cured salmon, similar to nova lox, Jewish soul food. Basically you make a paste of salt, sugar and citrus, and assorted herbs, cover the salmon with it, and stick it in the frig for 48 hours with something heavy on top of it. Then you wash it off and slice it. Slicing 3 lbs of salmon is the hardest part. I put several small bundles of lox in the freezer.
  • This morning I had a nice slice of toasted wheat bread with herbed yogurt cheese and gravlax for breakfast. Wanna come over to my house?
The giant mountain of dirty dishes was a small price to pay for the great food and time with my family. It was definitely a Big Fat Junkanoo kinda day.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Could you do this?

Son #1 is in Quito, Ecuador for a 5-week study abroad program. He is with a group of 18 students, none of whom he had ever met before attending the meetings preparing for the program. He is living with an Ecuadorian host family. He travels via bus to get to the university where he attends classes. He was inoculated for yellow fever and is taking anti-malaria medication. Quito is at 10,000 feet but he has not had any difficulty with the elevation. His Spanish is very good and getting better. The program includes a trip to Machu Picchu (Peru) and other excursions.

How great is it that he never even thought twice about whether or not he should do this. Pushing the envelope and challenging himself is part of who he is. He has learned how to adapt and make it work in almost any situation. He loves to travel and given the opportunity, he would probably go just about anywhere in the world.

When I was in college, I wanted to go abroad for a semester. Well, not really abroad, I only wanted to go to Montreal to McGill University. My father said no. I'm not sure why. I think he thought it was frivolous, or a distraction from real schoolwork. He was not into "broadening your horizons" and didn't think the experience would have any added value, so why bother? To this day I feel like I missed out, and I don't want my kids to miss out. I'm so happy he has put himself out there. Could you do it?

Monday, January 05, 2009

2009 -- More than a Triathlon

For me and DH, 2009 began in the early morning hours of New Years Day on Shirley Street in Nassau (The Bahamas) at Junkanoo. Junkanoo is a mardi gras type celebration and competition. It is an orchestrated extravaganza of dazzling costumes and floats that parades through the streets of downtown Nassau, beginning at 2 am and continuing through the morning. The rhythm of the parade is provided by cowbells, whistles, drums, horns and homemade instruments. Every group that performed had a theme that expressed religious, political and cultural points of view (really fascinating). There was enormous energy and commitment on display as these groups paraded and performed. It must have taken months to prepare for this-- from the elaborate and complex costumes to the marching bands and choreography. It seemed that every Bahamian on the island was there, participating in either the event or the celebration that surrounded it (I was actually surprised by the paucity of tourists turning out for this). Everyone meeted and greeted their friends and neighbors. They all cheered for their favorite groups. They danced along the parade route. I absolutely loved Junkanoo!

I took more away from Junkanoo than some really fantastic photographs. Junkanoo renewed my spirit and gave me hope for the year ahead. The two values of commitment and community permeate Junkanoo and I want to build them both into my life in 2009. And they work well together.
Commitment is more than a public statement of your New Years Resolutions. It's about living a full and meaningful life, and believing that what you are doing is the right thing for you and the world around you. Commitment forces you to explore and learn new things, to reach out in new directions and to meet new and interesting people along the way. It's about sharing what is good with the community, whether that community is your immediate family, your book club, your coworkers or your blogging buddies.
Building and sustaining a Community requires commitment. You have to invest time and energy in reaching out to these people and building relationships. If you don't maintain your commitment to the community, then your relationship will wither. The good news is that it is usually easy to recommit and rebuild when you find yourself disconnected from the community.

Commitment and community will serve me well in pursuit of my fitness goals. Without my bike club community, I don't know if I would achieve my goal of riding a metric century, and it certainly wouldn't be as much fun without sharing it with my bike riding buddies. In a way, riding a metric century or completing a triathlon are outcomes or measurements of my commitment to lead an active and healthy life. This commitment will probably lead me in new directions, take me to interesting places (both real and virtual), give me the opportunity to meet fantastic people, and force me to think about the various communities in which I walk. I hereby proclaim 2009 as the Year of the Big Fat Junkanoo (BFJ)!