Insanity or perseverance?

Last January, within weeks of moving into our new Denver apartment, my husband signed me up for skiing lessons. I’d been once or twice on the East Coast, but Colorado skiing is not East Coast skiing, and I was grateful for the instruction. My husband has been skiing out West all his life and is comfortable on any mountain, but we both agreed that me getting lessons from someone else would be the best way to preserve our marriage.

On my first lesson, I progressed quickly and the instructor recommended that I was ready for intermediate lessons. A month later, I took intermediate lessons and “graduated” with flying colors. I was ready to move from the easiest green runs to more difficult, steeper blue routes.

And while I am not a fan of moguls (nor do I have any interest), I am now completely comfortable on all blue runs, and even some of the difficult blacks. All this progression in just one season, about 15 total days of skiing. This is not to say that I’m headed to the Olympics any time soon (ever), but to illustrate that learning to ski, that getting better at skiing, was neither particularly difficult or time consuming for me.

Skiing is a progression of cause and effect – do this, and you will turn; do this and you will stop; do this and you will speed up. While skiing, I’ve taken a few tumbles, but nothing serious. If it weren’t for the actual ski equipment, skiing would be downright enjoyable. Ski boots are tight and uncomfortable and cause my feet to go numb. Skis are heavy and cumbersome and difficult to transport. Ski poles are just annoying to have to carry.

So when my husband suggested that we learn to snowboard, I thought it would be perfect. Compared to ski boots, snowboarding boots are a dream. Comfortable, easy to walk in, cushioned; like a slightly-tighter pair of your favorite Uggs. Snowboards are light as a feather and a joy to carry around. In theory, it’s a wonderful sport.

But I’ll be damned if I can figure it out.

My husband and I signed up for three snowboard lessons in early December. The first two days were terrible. Awful. No good and very bad. I cried after each lesson because it just. wasn’t. clicking. Each time I fell (which was about every five seconds) I swore I had just given myself a concussion. Despite hearing from everyone (instructors, friends, the internet, chair lift operators) that the first two days are hell, I convinced myself that I was never going to learn, that I was an utter failure, etc. (I tend to be melodramatic like that.)

It doesn’t help that I have very little patience for learning new things and I arrogantly and stubbornly dislike doing this at which I am not inherently and immediately successful.

The third lesson was better. I made it down the beginner “mountain” (really, more of a hill) without falling and ended the lesson without crying. I was no expert, but I thought maybe – MAYBE – I could unlock the secrets of this mysterious sport.

We just got back from a week-long trip to Steamboat Springs, a small ski town about 3 hours northwest of Denver. Since one of my goals for 2016 is to stick with snowboarding, I diligently put aside my skis for several days and resolved to work on my snowboarding.

Day one of snowboarding, I fell so hard that I thought I shattered my tailbone. I checked with my mother (who’s a nurse), and since I exhibited none of the scary symptoms (lower-leg numbness, inability to put weight on either of my legs, pain shooting down to my feet), we concluded that it was just bruised. Yay! No emergency room trip required.

After a few days of skiing, I determined that I was sufficiently recovered to snowboard again. The morning went well. I worked on my toe-turns, fell but didn’t die, and generally managed to swallow my terror and made it down the mountain without falling off a cliff.

That afternoon, I sprained my ankle, leaving me sidelined for the rest of the trip.

WHAT IS THIS DEVIL SPORT AND WHY DO PEOPLE ENJOY IT?!

Is it too early for me to break a resolution? At what point do I throw in the towel? Should I keep trying and risk breaking a limb, or do I call myself a quitter and preserve my general well-being?

Is continuing to snowboard insanity or perseverance?

 

2016 Goals

I have never been much of a New Year’s Resolution person. In general, I feel that I’m leading a pretty decent life, and that any vices I have at this point are vices I have by choice. That’s not to say that I’m perfect, or that there’s not room for improvement – there is. Plenty. But, mostly, I’m too lazy to do anything about it.

My husband, however, is the opposite. Each year, he sets goals. And what’s more, he tracks them throughout the year and crosses them off as they’re accomplished. Basically, he gets shit done. In the past, I’ve managed to avoid being drawn into his over-achieving plans for self-betterment, or I’ve been able to slide by setting “goals” that I knew I could get done, or that wouldn’t require much effort.

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This year, though, my husband’s inner Richard Simmons has emerged in full force and I’ve been tasked with setting no fewer that 5 goals that will “actually challenge me”. Keep in mind that, in the words of the Goal Nazi himself, they must be SMART goals (Specific, Meaningful, Action Oriented, Realistic, Timely), which is something we were taught in business school but that I promptly dismissed as irrelevant marketing jargon. I tried to wiggle my way out of actual goal setting by listing “be a better person”. That didn’t fly.

In return for his unbearable enthusiasm and encouragement, my husband has resolved to cut his sugar intake from 2+ sweets a day to 1 a month, and to increase his water intake from about 16 ounces a day to the recommended 100.

Although I’m not big on goal setting, I am quite the fan of making lists, so this whole thing might not be so bad after all.

In order of personal importance, here are my goals for the upcoming year:

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Photo from the 2015 Bridge of the Gods race. (Source)

  • Delete Facebook app from phone (and keep it deleted). This basically translates to: do something more valuable with my time than creep on other people. Although my dear friends and family are on Facebook, my account is also full of people I haven’t spoken to or seen in years. I’ll keep my account active, but I don’t need the temptation of pulling up the app every time I’m waiting in line or am “bored”.
  • Stick with snowboarding & get more comfortable going fast. Learning how to snowboard is easily the most frustrating/difficult thing I’ve done in my adult life. I am not patient, and I don’t like failing. Which is silly, I know, especially because virtually no one is good at snowboarding the first time. Or the second. Or the third. It takes practice (ugh, imagine that) and time. We’ve had 3 lessons and I can see dramatic improvement, but hot damn I just want to be good already.
pain

Shit snowboarders say. (Source)

  • No cell phone use after 9pm or in bed. Like most people these days, my cell phone is the last thing I put down at night and the first thing I reach for in the morning. It’s my primary source of news, entertainment, and connection to the outside world. For years, I’ve seen articles popping up that tout the dangers of cell phone use before bed. And for years, I’ve ignored them, reasoning that I don’t have problems falling asleep. But now, I’m realizing that getting good sleep is not the same as falling asleep quickly. The older I get, the more sleep I seem to need, and putting down my phone and actually reading a book at night seems like a win all around.
  • Learn Spanish in preparation for our Fall 2016 Europe trip. After much deliberation, and an afternoon on Google Flights, Adam and I decided that our 2016 trip will be to France and Spain (flying into Paris and out of Madrid). We contemplated buying Rosetta Stone for French, but then my mom told us about Duolingo, which is free. Since free is hard to beat, we gave it a shot and are totally sold. Adam learned French as a child and I studied Spanish in high school, so we agreed that he’d learn French and I’d brush up on Spanish. Duolingo isn’t perfect (some of the sentences are wacky, and occasionally you repeat exercises), but again it’s free and I think it’s actually a lot of fun. I downloaded the app to my phone which is really going to tax my above resolution regarding cell phone use at night.

Other minor goals include:

  • Take a yoga class at least 2 times a month. Because sometimes I need to slow down and breathe. Also, I need to work on my flexibility.
  • Eat a fully vegan meal dinner at least once a week (as a family). Adam was not thrilled when I announced this goal, but little does he know that some of his favorite meals – stir fries, Indian lentil stew – are already vegan or easily adaptable. Now that I have a killer cashew “cream” sauce in my wheelhouse, I’m pretty confident that this won’t be a significant challenge.
  • Simplify weeknight meals – prep more on weekends and utilize the freezer. Truthfully, I love to cook. Even after a long day, cooking is my stress relief. I have no problem spending an hour each night making dinner, but sometimes that just isn’t feasible. Because of sports and my dad’s work schedule, I grew up eating dinner at 7:30 or later, so it’s not an issue for me to come home from the gym, spend an hour cooking, and sit down to dinner at 8:30. But my poor husband doesn’t enjoy that as much. This year, I’m going to work on building my repertoire of 30-minute meals and prepping ingredients ahead of time.
  • Reduce food waste and find new ways to use leftovers. Did you know that the average American household throws away $2,000 of food a year? That equates to 35 million tons of wasted food in our country. Y’all. That. Is. DISGUSTING. Just yesterday, I thew away 4 perfectly good acorn squash because I had ignored them in the pantry for too long. Time to stop. It’s a waste of money and it’s a slap in the face to the 795 million people around the world who don’t get enough to eat. This year, I resolve to do better.
  • Get back on Weight Watchers and lose 5 pounds. With Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays, suffice it to say I have not been tracking my food or alcohol properly (pretty sure I would have broken the app with all the cheese and wine I consumed). Starting tomorrow, I’m getting back on track. (Tonight, though, I’m making queso dip.)

Hrm, that was longer than I expected. I told you I had plenty of room for self-improvement! What about you – do you make New Years resolutions?

 

 

 

 

Things I’ve been doing other than blogging

  1. Traveling for fun. We took our family trip to Germany and Belgium back in October (over 2 months ago – how crazy is that!) and I promise I will get around to blogging about that soon. Traveling with my parents was different, in a good way, as our budget was rather higher than what Adam and I usually have when we travel on our own. I discovered that Germany wasn’t my favorite country, and that I never care to go back to Brussels. But Bruges – that my friends is a magical city. I’m already planning our next trip; I’m thinking either Spain/Portugal or back to Italy (the country of my soul).

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    In summary, we did a lot of this.

  2. Traveling for work. In addition to my normal trips to DC, my company picked up a new client in Las Vegas, and I was there for two weeks – which, as you can imagine, is a looooong time to spend in Vegas. It’s hard for me to complain though, as the flight to Vegas is less than half of my flight time to DC, and Las Vegas restaurants are exponentially more enjoyable when someone else is picking up the tab. While we didn’t eat on the Strip every night, we did get to try several highly rated restaurants in different casinos, which is an experience in and of itself. One night my boss came to town and took us to Emeril’s Delmonico restaurant which was over-the-top delicious (with a price tag to match – not something I could ever afford on my own dime!) and served me the absolute best ahi tuna I have ever had in my entire life. I’m still dreaming about that meal.

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    I also got to drunkenly spend time with this stud, who is an exact replica of the original David, even down to the marble used. #onlyinvegas

  3. Hiked my first (and possibly last) 14’er. In Colorado, hiking a 14’er is a rite of passage. These routes are so named because they climb to an elevation of at least 14,000 feet. The “easy” 14’ers take about 5 hours round trip and are only 5 miles in distance. They go up in difficulty from there, with some covering 10 miles and requiring an 8+ hour time commitment. Because, in the words of my husband, “hiking is just walking, but for longer” (wrong – nothing is ever “just” at 14,000 feet altitude), we were over-ambitious and chose Mt. Bierstadt as our first mountain (ranked 38 out of 53 in terms of difficulty), rather than the much friendlier Torrey’s Peak (ranked only 9 out of 53). As we quickly learned, a 6-mile, 2,000 ft. elevation gain is nothing to laugh at, and 1/2 way into the ascent, neither of us were remotely pleased with life. But we stuck it out, were rewarded with Clif bars, buffalo jerky, and excellent views at the top, and I can cross it off my bucket list.

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    Reached the top! Finally smiling.

  4. Hosted my first Thanksgiving. Although I’ve done Thanksgiving cooking for Adam and I for the past 4 years, it’s always been only the two of us, so the quantity of food isn’t that different and the pressure was never very high. Usually, we just grill Cornish game hens rather than doing a full turkey. This year, though, my parents came up from Florida, and even though they have to love me no matter what, the stakes were raised a bit. Fortunately, the turkey turned out wonderfully – even I thought so, and I’m not a turkey fan. I dry-brined and spatchcocked it for more even cooking. Served along with traditional Thanksgiving sides, it was a wonderful meal, and of course it meant so much that my parents made the journey out. My mom spent most of her time cleaning, reorganizing, and helping me complete house projects I’d been meaning to get around to, but we also took some time to play in the snow, grab Starbucks peppermint mochas, shop, and pick out a Christmas tree. It was a pretty perfect week of vacation.

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    My mom is loving this. My dad is wearing long underwear, two sweaters, a scarf, a hat, gloves (with hand-warmers), extra-thick socks, and is tolerating this.

  5. Waking up earlier to enjoy morning coffee and sunrises in a quiet house. I used to be a huge morning person – even in college I was up before the sun (and everyone else) 98% of the time. I was that weirdo who purposely scheduled 8AM classes – and liked it. But since I started working from home, I slipped into a bad habit of sleeping until my husband’s alarm clock went off at 7:15. I make him breakfast every morning, and he needs to be out of the house by 7:45 to make his daily 8AM meeting. Waking up that late kept stressing me out, and even though getting out of a warm bed while it’s still cold and dark isn’t easy, I’m so much happier overall. My alarm goes off at 5:45AM and I have time to make coffee, do some dishes, catch up on emails, and watch the sun rise. It’s the perfect routine for me and I’m glad to have rediscovered my inner morning person!

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    Trees on fire

  6. Trying to compose a Christmas list like a gosh-darn adult. Here’s what I should be putting on my Christmas wish list: a new faucet for the kitchen, snow tires (as we just got another foot of snow here in Denver and we’re on track to have one of the snowiest winters in recent memory), furniture (right now our TV is propped up on a chair from the kitchen table and we have a spare mattress doing stand-in duty as a couch in the basement), Home Depot gift cards, money to pay someone to put insulation in our 50+ year-old home (see the part about the snow), a snowblower, and so so many other things we need for our first home. What I want to put on my Christmas wish list is a little different: a jewelry subscription from Erin McDermott (you know, because I toooootally get dressed and wear jewelry when I work from home #not), overpriced gym clothes (but they’re SO CUTE – send help), money to put towards our next Europe trip, cozy sweaters, and a gift card to our favorite pizzeria in Denver, plus a bajillion other superficial things that I just don’t need, dammit. Adulting is overrated.
  7. Ordered new blinds. The front of our house has two large sets of windows – my husband pulled one set of blinds down within 2 weeks of us moving into the house, and a foster dog shredded the other set when we left her alone in the house for too long and she escaped from her crate. They were the cheap, plastic variety, so I don’t mind replacing them, but talk about the least fun thing to spend money on in the history of ever. I suppose it’s a small price to pay to spare our 80-year-old neighbors the shock of seeing us walk around less than fully clothed.h5qsgltx6rzmzr9y8xvrwc1dcuspc2itfdldryckbpaizqd4mvgbj-dvjwqhs3gtwbaaemf1bi-q_5-2po_td3zdfnch_6sxda68ttvhzh-tc_gy5x49c3rrva1

And that’s about it! I was trying to get to 10, but I simply haven’t done enough fun/cool/blog-worthy things. We leave for Florida next week to spend Christmas with my family, which will be a weather change from this snowy tundra, to say the least. Denver is predicted to have a white Christmas while Florida is….predicted to be 85 and sunny. I never thought in a million years that I’d be saying this, but after spending the past week bundled up like an eskimo and shoveling snow from our driveway, sidewalk, and walkway, I might not might a bit of warm weather.

On being a foster (dog) parent

On this woman crush Wednesday (that’s still a thing, right?), I’m dedicating this post to my current foster dog, this lovely lady Lucy.

Lucy sleeping

Can #wcw apply to dogs?

Just when I thought I’d gotten over my jet lag from our two-week trip to Germany and Belgium, my foster dog decided she needed to wake me up at 4AM to go to the bathroom. After she chased a bunny in around the yard. After I let her out, wrangled her inside, and crawled back in bed, I started thinking of all the things I need to get done today and couldn’t fall back asleep. So, naturally, I crawled back out of bed and instead of doing any of those things keeping me awake, am writing this blog post.

My husband and I foster dogs through the Safe Harbor Lab Rescue organization, based out of Golden, Colorado. I started fostering dogs when I lived in DC (and my husband – then boyfriend – lived in Connecticut) and long hours during busy seasons kept me from having a dog of my own. After we moved to Colorado, I did some research and submitted a foster application to Safe Harbor, and I’m now on my 5th Colorado foster. To paraphrase Dickens, it’s the best of times, and it’s the worst of times.

Lucy is my current foster and she’s amazing. In addition to being adorable, she’s fully house-trained, knows lots of commands, and likes to snuggle but isn’t glued to your side 24/7. I suppose I should counter all this praise with reiteration of the fact that she might also wake you up at ungodly hours of the night/morning to take a bathroom break, but I’d much prefer that to discovering a puddle by the door later. Plus, I can’t make it through the night without a trip to the bathroom, so it’s hard for me to criticize.

And this face! How could I ever be mad at this?

Here she is with her stuffed duck

Here she is with her stuffed duck

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the dog fostering process, here’s a quick breakdown; it’s pretty similar across most organizations. When the organization (in my current case, Safe Harbor), takes in a dog (this could be from another shelter, the pound, or an owner surrender), the dog is vetted and screened to make sure they don’t have any serious behavioral issues (aggression towards people or other dogs, food guarding, etc.) that would need to be addressed by a trained professional. The dog is tested for any diseases or illnesses (heartworms, rabies, all the good stuff) and is proscribed medicine if necessary. Safe Harbor pays for all vet bills and medications. Another volunteer evaluates the dog to (try to) determine whether the dog is potty-trained, good with other dogs, knows any commands, and other information that a prospective foster parent or adoptive family would need to know. Then foster volunteers (like me) are matched with a foster dog.

Foster parents are responsible for paying for food, treats, and toys, and are charged with providing their foster dog a safe place to call home (temporarily), teaching them basic commands and manners, and – most importantly – giving them lots of love. Lucy is an owner surrender and hasn’t been majorly traumatized, but some of the other dogs I’ve fostered have come from deplorable circumstances.

Jack, my first Colorado foster, was left in the care of a mentally-handicapped family member after his owner died. The family member was utterly unqualified to care for a dog and simply didn’t feed him for weeks and kept him locked up inside. When a neighbor finally realized he hadn’t seen the dog in a while, Jack was rescued and brought to Safe Harbor 20 pounds under weight. Despite having been horribly misused by humans, Jack was loving, sweet, and pretty perfect. I managed to add 10 pounds to him in the week he was in my care, then his adopted family rechristened him “Waffles” and proceeded to feed him and love him back to his healthy weight.

The day Jack was adopted, I cried for 2 hours. Happy tears, sure. But also selfish, sad tears. I fall in love with these dogs and then they leave. I’m now on my 10th foster. It doesn’t get any easier. Every time one of my fosters is adopted, I tell the family how happy I am for them (and I wholeheartedly mean it), and then run inside and sob. The rewards outweigh the heartbreak, for sure, but man that heartbreak is real and it is painful.

My current baby, Lucy, is no different. She’s going to be hard to let go. We’ve had her for just over a week and my husband and I are pretty smitten.

This is my husband's work glove. She appropriated it from the garage and when he's at work, she carries it around. I'm pretty sure she buried the other one.

Here she is with my husband’s work glove. She appropriated it from the garage, and when he’s at work, she carries it around. I’m pretty sure she buried the other one.

I always try to go into fostering with the mindset that this is not my dog. This is someone else’s dog that I’m babysitting for a bit. I cannot have a dog right now because of XYZ. Sometimes these mantras work. Sometimes they completely fail.

Does anyone have any tips for hardening your heart against adorable labs?

At the end of the day, though, we foster because we know that we are making a difference. We’re taking in dogs who might have run out of time in a kill-shelter, who might have languished in a kennel, who might have never been rescued, and allowing families to see their true potential so they can find homes. Forever homes. With amazing families. And if heartbreak is what it takes to get them there, then heartbreak is worth it.

Lucy + hubby

A man, his (foster) dog, and his scotch. Pure love.

With that, I’m going to stand on my soapbox just briefly.

If you are planning to bring a dog into your life, please, please, please consider a rescue dog. Go through your local humane society or another rescue organization. There are dogs of all ages, backgrounds, and dispositions available, just waiting for you. If you’re interested in a certain breed, there are breed-specific rescue organizations for almost every breed under the sun – just do a quick Google search to find one in your area.

If you have any questions, about fostering, about labs, about adopting a dog, about what I’m going to eat for breakfast, about whether Lucy was able to fall back asleep after waking me up at 4AM (spoiler alert: she was), I’d love to answer them!

Let’s do the timewarp

Right now, I have no fewer than four posts, all about 95% complete, that have been sitting in my draft folder for the past week. They’re all perfectly mediocre, yet somehow I couldn’t bring myself to hit publish on any of them, and now it seems pointless to post about things I was experiencing or feeling almost a week ago.

But never fear, I’ll do it anyway. And just to keep things nice and confusing, let’s go in reverse chronological order, shall we?

9/04. Yesterday.

I spent most of the morning making my husband’s birthday cake, this German Chocolate beauty from Annie’s Eats (originally from David Lebovitz). It was my first experiment with high altitude baking, and although it required a fairly heavy amount of math first thing in the morning, this chart from King Arthur Flour made it pretty straightforward. I have a few pictures, but those will have to wait because I’m desperate to get this post (finally) published and I can’t bring myself to hunt for my iPhone right now.

9/03. Thursday.

Breakfast of champions – oatmeal with (slightly over) toasted pecans and coconut, and cherries, raspberries, and pomegranate.

I crave oatmeal about 3 times a year – when I’m sick. In true my body hates me fashion, that usually happens around the holidays or on vacation. We have big plans for this holiday weekend, including a request by the birthday boy to hit up a lumberjack show and a wings & whiskey festival. I was hoping this big bowl of oatmeal and a full pot of coffee would kick my immune system into gear, and it mostly worked (hallelujah!). Because lord knows I’m not missing the opportunity to wear my flannel button-down in an appropriate setting.

9/02. Wednesday.

Overall, Wednesday pretty much sucked. I spent my morning waiting in line at the post office in an attempt to track down a package that was supposed to be delivered by 9/1, but wasn’t, because USPS. (They, of course, DID deliver another package that we didn’t pay to have overnighted). The package contained a power cord and water hose, which we needed for our washer/dryer that were getting delivered that morning. So, after waiting in line at the post office for 45 minutes, I was told that the package had already been sent out on a truck (despite their promises to Amazon that it would be there waiting for me to pick up in person) and that they had no idea when it would be delivered. That led to a very frantic run to Home Depot, which is not a place where you can find what you need quickly and escape. Despite the stressful morning, everything worked out and our 29-inch-wide dryer even fit through our 29.5 inch doorway. The helpful delivery people set everything up, turned it on to make sure it worked, and were out within 20 minutes. After hauling our laundry to the local laundromat (full of colorful characters, as you’d imagine) for the past month, I am THRILLED to have in-home washing and drying capabilities! Plus, I’m pretty sure these babies have more technology than my family’s first computer back in the 90’s.

I never thought I'd be so happy about doing laundry

I never thought I’d be so happy about doing laundry.

8/31. Monday.

The suckiness of Tuesday was balanced out by the awesomeness of Monday (how often does that happen?), and I accept that. A few months ago, I found out about the Film on the Rocks series at Red Rocks Amphitheater. The overall movie lineup is pretty good, but when I saw they were screening Guardians of the Galaxy, I knew I had to buy tickets. Hubby is a huge comic book nerd and GotG is one of his faves (I even bought him this bobble head Groot for his birthday, shh don’t tell!), and I’ll admit that GotG is not a typical comic book movie (as in – it’s actually good). The doors opened at 6:30 and the movie started around 8:30. Red Rocks lets you bring in your own food and drink (but no alcohol), so we packed a picnic dinner and for $15 a ticket, we got to see two awesome bands, a decent stand-up comedian, and a hit movie, all in an incredible setting. Seriously, photos do not do this place justice.

Movie at Red Rocks

Rocket Raccoon

8/30. Sunday.

Sunday is usually our get shit done around the house day, but we took a break from cleaning and organizing to visit a local distillery. I’ll admit I’m not the biggest whiskey drinker, but the tour at Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey was a lot of fun and actually quite informative, so the nerd in me was happy, plus it was free, which is hard to beat. On our tour, we learned that Stranahan’s is made using scotch ingredients, rather than whiskey (malted barley, rather than corn), but aged like a bourbon, in a new charred oak barrel. We got a sizable taste at the end of the tour, and while it won’t be my go-to after-work drink, I understand why there

Mmmm whiskey

Mmmm whiskey

8/29. Saturday.

Being the responsible employee that I am (total sarcasm, you can read more on that below), I boycotted the mountain of work I have left (because there’s always Monday), and we went shopping for snowboards, boots, and bindings. After one season of skiing in Colorado, my husband is convinced that we’re proficient enough at that (he’s actually quite a good skier; I’m just happy I haven’t broken anything yet), and we’re ready for our next adventure. Which will basically be us eating shit for 3 days of snowboard lessons and then hopefully being able to make it down the mountain without dying.

Because we’re both snowboard n00bs, we opted for more simple, less in-your-face snowboards. But in the extremely unlikely event that I become a bad-ass snowboarder, here are some boards I have my eye on:

Capita Defenders of Awesome

DC Hell City

Oz Wonder Shred (“Best thing since sliced bread! Greatly paired with classic deli meats, epic jibs, huge airs and our special sauce!”)

8/28. Friday.

I’ve been in Chicago all week for work, and despite hauling my personal laptop along with me, I was so busy that it did nothing but sit on the hotel desk all week, untouched. After working 12 hour days crunching numbers, the last thing I wanted to do when I left the office was go back to my hotel and boot up another electronic device. Which means that I was “that person” in security with two laptops (work and personal), for pretty much no reason.

I did make time to venture out into the city with my boss and his wife (who was also in town) to Kingston Mines, a famous blues club, and we were out until 2 in the morning. On a work night, which is at least 3 hours later than I’m ever up on a weeknight. Doesn’t that make me sound old, complaining about being up too late? To make matters worse, I also had to sneak to the bathroom multiple times in order to dump out half my drink because I couldn’t keep up with them, and “no thank you” isn’t an option when the boss’s wife insists we order another round (and another, and another). Pouring out free alcohol?! WHO AM I? But it turned out to be a good life decision, as I was exhausted, but not hungover, the following morning. My boss appears to be just as chipper as ever this morning, and he’s 30 years older than I am, so I need to learn his secret.

I also had the weirdest cab experience of my life, in which my cabbie blasted the Christian rock radio station for the duration of our trip, sang along with his favorites (at times, with both hands in the air – Jesus, take the wheel), asked if I wanted to read his Bible (kept on the armrest in a bedazzled leather case) aloud, and told me he would pray for my soul.

But hey, my flight landed safely and 30 minutes early, so I guess I shouldn’t complain about the extra prayers.

Favorite Healthy Recipes

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been on a Weight Watchers kick recently, in an effort to lose the 5 pounds I’ve gained since marrying the love of my life (who also happens to have the metabolism of a body builder and can eat whatever he wants without gaining an ounce) along with an additional 5 just because. I had a rocky July, with 2 weddings, a vacation, a few beer festivals, sporting events, and moving into our new house, but somehow (seriously, how?) I still lost weight and am now only 1.5 pounds away from my goal.

I’ve always loved to cook, but have never been a big recipe follower. My style of cooking is much more haphazard than that, and I prefer to simply throw stuff in a pan and see what happens. With Weight Watchers, though, I’ve been forced to measure and weigh everything in order to track what I’m actually consuming. These recipes are not only healthy, they’re easy to follow and made out of (mostly) pantry staples and items I usually have around, which makes meal prep so much easier.

Happy eating!

Coconut Lime Cauliflower Rice (with Sweet Chili Coconut Lime Grilled Chicken) from Iowa Girl Eats.

Coconut Lime Cauliflower Rice from Iowa Girl Eats (she serves it with Sweet Chili Coconut Lime Grilled Chicken, which I have made for hubby and is also delicious). I omit the coconut oil and mist the pan with olive oil instead (I have this mister and love it) in order to cut down on the calories/points. No, it’s not actually rice, and if you don’t like cauliflower, this probably isn’t the recipe for you. I love cauliflower, though, and cauli-rice is a diet-saver, giving me a “base” for sauce and toppings without using tons of points. With 3 Tbsp of light coconut milk, 1 serving is worth 1 point (the recipe makes 4 servings total).

Egg Drop Soup from Paleo Takeout by Russ Crandall (recipe via Veggie Staples). Adam and I don’t follow the Paleo diet, but I’ve been reading Russ’s blog for a while now, and I was lucky enough to be selected to taste-test and provide feedback on a few recipes earlier this year when he was developing the cookbook. Every recipe of his that I’ve tried has been delicious, and his egg-drop soup was no exception. One serving of egg drop soup is 2 points; I bulk it up with 3 oz of tofu (2 points) to make a full meal.

Mango with Turmeric Smoothie from the Food Network.

Mango with Turmeric Smoothie from the Food Network. I have a small container of turmeric in my spice pantry from an Indian recipe I cooked last month, and I’ve been trying to figure out additional ways to use it up, since I hate having spices waste away, unused and unloved. I’m not sure I quite buy into all the hype over turmeric’s miraculous healing powers, but adding a pinch to my morning smoothie gives it a delightfully sunny color and doesn’t impart any sort of savory taste. I tweak the FN recipe based on what I have on hand at the time – usually omitting the OJ and using almond milk rather than coconut water.

Vegan Pesto (also known as food crack) from Minimalist Baker.

Vegan Pesto (as part of the recipe for Vegan Pesto Parmesan Breadsticks) from Minimalist Baker. Holy bejezus this stuff is good. Good, as in – I hesitate to include it on this healthy recipes roundup because I tend to eat it by the spoonful and before you know it, I’ve consumed an entire meal’s worth of points in pesto. I’m going to admit, I love regular pesto so much that I didn’t have high hopes for the vegan variety, but now that I’ve made this recipe, I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Vegan pesto is cheaper, better for you, and every bit as good (if not better) than the original. To reduce the calorie/point count, I halve the olive oil and walnuts (because I’m too cheap for pine nuts). With those adjustments, 1 Tbsp comes out to about 1 point and goes a long way.

Black Bean Patties from Annie’s Eats. Whenever I turn to Annie’s blog for inspiration, I am never disappointed. I only made 1/2 the recipe, because I only had 1 red pepper and 1.5 cups of beans, and they were delicious! 1/2 the recipe made 8 patties and 1 patty equals 1 point. 2 patties was the perfect serving size for a healthy, but filling lunch. I found they cooked better from frozen, which is perfect because I can never have too many quick and easy things to pull out of the freezer when I don’t feel like cooking.

Photograph by Love and Lemons.

Healthy Loaded Sweet Potatoes from Love and Lemons. Traditional baked potatoes are one of my comfort foods and were on my short list of go-to cheap, filling meals in college. These days, I swap out the white potato for a sweet potato, and omit the butter, cheese, and sour cream in favor of filling proteins and deliciously spiced veggies. I love baked potatoes because they are a “clean out the fridge” meal that can be stuffed with almost anything, and this combination of black beans, spices, and lime juice is hard to beat.

How to plan a trip to Europe – Part II

I interrupted this series to share our big news (we bought a house!), but now I’m back with Part II of How to Plan a Trip to Europe.

The first part of this series was all about getting together a vague outline, and we determined, generally, the who, where, when of the trip. This part is all about drilling down to specifics to end up with a moderately detailed daily itinerary.

Luxembourg garden, Paris.

Luxembourg garden, Paris.

Although first, I suppose I should convince you of why you need to go through all this effort in the first place? Couldn’t you just buy plane tickets, make some hotel reservations, show up, and figure it out once you get there? Well, sure. It’s your vacation, so you do you.

But consider this. In Florence, there are five sites that are widely considered “must-see” (the Duomo, its bell tower, and Baptistery; the Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David; the Uffizi Gallery, which displays countless Italian masterpieces, including works by Simone Martini, Fra Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, and the like; the Palazzo Vecchio; and the Ponte Vecchio bridge). Then you have the other blockbusters (the churches of Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, and San Marco, the Bargello museum, and Piazzale Michelangelo and nearby San Miniato church), and even more amazing museums, churches, markets, bridges, and shopping districts. Then consider that lines for the blockbuster sites can be hours long, even during the off-season, and that certain sites are open early, some stay open late, and they all close on various days of the week. How in the world would you keep that all straight? And wouldn’t it be a shame to spend all that money on a trip to Florence and not be able to enjoy as many of its amazing sites as reasonably possible?

Lines at major European sites can be hours long. Don’t waste precious time during your vacation standing in line behind a bunch of sweaty, smelly tourists. You’re better than that! (Image source here.)

Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your- trust me. A little planning before your trip will make your vacation so. much. better.

Trip Planning – Part II

(Remember, steps 1 – 5 were covered in the Trip Planning – Part I post.)

6. Finalize travel dates, make a list of cities, and buy flights. Now that you’ve decided on a general destination, confirm travel dates with everyone in the group (plus or minus a few days to allow for savings on airfare). Make a list of cities that sound interesting, then do some more research, considering where you could fly into or out of. Go through and prioritize the cities you’ve written down – which deserve more time, which can be done as day trips, which can be cut? Keep in mind airfare costs, distance between cities, balancing busy cities with relaxed towns, and practicality of transportation. Booking airfare is my least favorite part, but it’s worthwhile to investigate several different options on multiple carriers and websites. Remember that it’s usually better to fly “open-jaw”, into and out of different cities; not only do you get to see more without having to return to a city you’ve already visited, it’s usually cheaper. I prefer to visit fewer cities for longer periods of time to cut down on moving between hotels; for a two week trip, I would do no more than 7 overnight cities, and even less than that if we were a larger group.  For our two week trip to Germany and Belgium this fall, here’s our plan:

Munich – 3 nights

Staufen – 2 nights

Baden-Baden – 1 night

Bacharach – 2 nights

Bruges – 3 nights

Brussels – 3 nights

Italian Monastery, Assisi.

Italian Monastery.

7. Lock down hotel reservations (maybe). If you’re traveling during a large festival or during peak season, make sure to book rooms as early as possible. For travel during the off-season, you can leave this step until later or even book as you go, depending on how comfortable you are with spontaneity. When it was just Adam and I traveling through Italy in the winter, we emailed hotels a few days in advance or our arrival and never had an issue. We were also able to save quite a bit of money. However, for our trip to Germany in September, I’ve already booked all hotel rooms for the entire trip, since we’ll be traveling during shoulder season and will need two rooms (one for us, one for my parents) in each hotel.

8. Sketch a daily itinerary, but remember to be flexible. A daily itinerary is much more important for big cities with major sites (London, Paris, Rome, Florence, Amsterdam, Berlin) than it is for small towns. For each city on your list, determine which attractions you’d like to see, then go through and prioritize (sense a theme?). You likely won’t be able to see everything, so don’t even try. Tell yourself you will return. I’ve been to London, Paris, and Rome multiple times and haven’t even come close to crossing everything off on my list. Take advantage of sites that are open early or late, and buy advance tickets if possible, but don’t try to cram in too much! My general guideline is that we spend half the day doing planned sightseeing in museums, churches, etc. and the other half soaking up the local culture in parks, cafes, or wandering in back alleys. In Florence, for example, I wouldn’t plan to visit the Accademia, Uffizi, Bargello, and Duomo all in the same day. That leaves no time for enjoying la dolce vita! Rather, we’d visit the Accademia in the morning, have a relaxing picnic lunch, escape the afternoon heat by wandering through the Bargello museum, and finish the day by watching the sun set over the city at Piazzale Michelangelo. For major sites, definitely buy advance tickets unless you plan to buy a city pass that allows you to skip the lines. And don’t be afraid to switch things up once you arrive! Maybe the weather today isn’t ideal for wandering through the gardens of Versailles, or you just don’t feel like stepping foot in another museum. European vacations are about so much more than the sights – it’s about the experience, the food, the joy of the unknown and unfamiliar. I believe that the best travel recommendations come from people you know, so be open to changing your itinerary if a coworker, friend, or favorite blogger who has recently visited your destination tells you about a spot they particularly loved.

View over the Seine, Paris.

View over the Seine, Paris.

9. Read up on your destination and get excited! Your trip is mostly planned, so now you can move on to the fun part. I love reading books and watching movies about the cities or countries we’re visiting, whether they’re historical fiction or current documentaries. In my opinion, the more you know about a destination, the more interesting it is when you visit. Read the news and stay informed about national events. Most European citizens (especially in larger cities) speak at least some English and would love to discuss current events with you. There’s also a somewhat negative perception among Europeans that all Americans care about is their own country, so let’s all work to change that image. Most importantly, get excited for your vacation! Not only will you not be working (the best part about vacations, in my opinion), you’ll be broadening your world and expanding your horizons, and all that research will certainly pay off!

What do you think? Is my trip planning overkill? How do you go about picking a vacation spot? Have your favorite trips been planned or more spontaneous? Where should we travel next?