Friday, December 28

Wine 101

Oh, a glass of wine is fine when you dine...

Sorry. I'll stop rhyming now. Ahem.

A friend posted this on Facebook and The Wine Bar itself says to share like wildfire, so here I am sharing with all you fine people.

This little graphic details several types of wine by name and where they fall on the scale of bold to light and fruity to earthy.

Who knew that mathematically-familiar x and y axes would be so useful to plot out the finer points of one of the finer beverages we enjoy?

wine chart

I learned by browsing their website that The Wine Bar is very sharp to point out that "you don't need a master's degree to enjoy wine." (And even if you do have a master's, well, you shouldn't feel silly about not knowing jack about wine... except for that little bit you absorbed on the wine country tour you took last summer while visiting San Francisco... like me.) They also offer pairings for snacks with wine and recipes with wine.

I like them already. Maybe next time I'm in New York, I'll see if my friend will take me to their leader. 

Thursday, December 27

Karissa's 2012 Race Recap

This was my first year as a runner. I started running in earnest in November 2011, hitting a trail near my home every day that I could. I loved it. When it got cold, though, my lungs didn’t love it and I was stuck indoors with no real way to keep going. After Christmas I decided to join the Anytime Fitness in my neighborhood. I know, I know: this is the New Year’s resolution of New Year’s resolutions… a gym membership. But my real resolution was to run a 5k. A few days into January I signed up for a race in April with a friend. The date was on the calendar and I now had a goal to work towards. 

I signed up to work with a personal trainer for a few sessions at a special introductory price and learned how to use the machines and free weights, and she also taught me some things about nutrition and what muscle groups to work in what order. I couldn’t afford to continue with personal training, but I took what I learned from those sessions and did my best to apply it as the months wore on.

I ran as much as possible. 

Friday, December 21

Appetite = Zero

This battle with food is hard fought, but I feel like I'm losing despite my best efforts.

It's probably the stress of the holidays combined with the difficulties I was already experiencing to make the perfect storm of absolutely zero appetite... But I have zero desire to eat. And when I do, I struggle to find anything that tastes good.

I've been trying to work with some of the solutions my friends gave me last month, but even these are becoming difficult. I had Thai food this past weekend and that was good. I've tired of all things in bar form. Smoothies are also losing their touch. I'm beginning to fear what I will have to do if this continues.

Last night I told my boyfriend about how I've felt and, naturally, he was worried. We had planned to eat dinner together anyway, but he said he'd help me go get groceries so I accepted. Going to the store right now is difficult because I end up leaving with either a) almost nothing or b) nothing but crap.

So he came with me. The cart was mostly empty. I had tried to get a few things like sherbet for smoothies, but he talked me out of it (read: stood in front of the freezer case and told me "no").

I know I need to eat. It is so hard. I hate choking things down.

We walked to the diet supplement aisle and I looked at whey protein. I bought "Designer Whey" in French vanilla. It was really the recipe for the orange dreamsicle smoothie on the back that took me in. I like that kind of flavored thing, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I made it this morning, but I had to choke it down too. I had toast for breakfast, but I know that's not really enough, especially if I'm going to try to ramp up my running...

I've felt ill since I finished the drink, though, too. Burping it. Feeling like it's in my throat. Sigh...

It's really upsetting to struggle with this. I'm trying to use reverse psychology to go against myself, but even that seems to be failing right now. Even some of the "crap" that I would normally gravitate towards isn't appetizing (Velveeta shells and cheese, microwave popcorn, freezer waffles).

I'm pushing onward, but this is really getting old.

Wednesday, December 19

Running Education: A Coach and a Team

In the throes of illness last week, I missed the informational session for the Training Academy run by Elite Runners and Walkers (Robinson Twp and Monroeville, PA), but my friend Eleanor hooked me up with the details and the contagious energy of the group while we drove to and from Columbus this past weekend. I was excited about the prospects of learning about running so I could be good at it. But I wasn't *quite* sold.

Last night was our first meet. After driving around the local high school's enormous campus searching for the track (which I had incorrectly assumed would be lit), I finally found my friend's car and parked next to it. Each of us in the small group is training for either the Pittsburgh Marathon or the Pittsburgh Half Marathon. It was hard to stand still because it was pretty chilly and kind of windy.

Our coach arrived. We talked about the program and how it worked, and then made our way to the exceptionally dark track. Somehow it seemed that the darkness got a little darker there. We walked quickly to warm up, and I found a few small patches of ice. That made me nervous... Coach taught us some really excellent stretches, most of which I had never even seen before. Then we ran around a few times. I was being extra cautious and I'm not fueled by lightning, so I was trailing behind the pack. We decided it was too dangerous to do any timed running there and made our way back to one of the myriads of parking lots.

Then the goal seemed simple. Run for ten minutes. I ran behind the group until we returned to the starting point and had to stop. Passing a half dozen idling diesel school buses in addition to running in the cold air sent my lungs reeling and I couldn't catch my breath. That was a little upsetting. But at least I'm being honest with myself. I want the coach to know where I am. Really. And to help me develop a plan to improve from that point. So while I was a little down about my performance, I was at least feeling okay about being real with both myself and the coach.

After everyone finished, we discussed lots of other aspects of the program and I began to see the merits of being involved in something so well organized. I get a coach, a training plan, education, and personal interaction. Not bad for such a decent price. Definitely cheaper than a semester of college (which is about how long the program runs).

I'm treating this as my investment in my future. My education as a runner. I'm hoping to learn enough and improve enough that I can take these lessons with me for the rest of my life (even if I end up going back to the program again and again, which is what they say many people end up doing).

Monday, December 17

The Weak, Sick, Less-Than-Awesome 5k

I learned a lot by running in Saturday's race. Sadly, most of it was learned in pain or discomfort.

Having had the flu earlier in the week, I had gotten myself well enough that I went to work on Thursday and Friday. (Surpassing "human" after feeling so violently ill earlier in the week was a significant victory for me and my immune system.) Surely, I thought, this meant that I was well enough to go run on Saturday.

No, not really. Big difference between going to work and running a 5k. On a scale of awful to fantastic, I was at "well enough to go to work." I had not yet reached "well enough to run." But ran I did.

The first kilometer wasn't bad. It was in the low 40s that morning (the race started after 10 a.m.), so my lungs were a little chilled, but I had done a decent warm-up, so I felt good about how I was breathing. I had taken both my inhalers too. I was good to go.

Unfortunately, my knee started to hurt a little. Enough to bug me to slow down. So I slowed down. And then my gut started complaining. Ugh. So I walked a little. When I started running again, the air felt different and I began breathing erratically. I took my inhaler to try to nip an asthma attack in the bud. I kept going. My friend stuck by me (she's awesome) and we ran on.

When I started feeling nauseous, the race felt interminable. I knew then that I wasn't well enough to run. (Who doesn't love hindsight?? Argh.) The goal became to just finish the race.

There were still people behind us, so my mental game was at bay. Thank goodness. One thing was going right.

We ran, slowed down, ran, walked, ran, slowed down... in a pattern until we sprinted for the finish line. I always want a strong finish. It feels good. After that, though, I needed to sit down with a bottle of water and I really, really needed something warmer to wear.

I wasn't thrilled with my time--37:27--but having had the flu and having not run for three weeks since I had a knee injury, I think I did okay.

It wasn't my intent to just go cold into running the race. Last week I had wanted to do a few easy runs a few days during the week to see how my knee felt and make sure I was stretched and ready. But with the flu, there was no way to do that. So the lessons learned are as follows: 1) don't rush to return from illness, 2) try to gauge how well you feel by being active before the day of the race, 3) don't return from an injury and an illness at the same time (ever).

This was the last race of 2012 for me. My next race with be on New Year's Day! I'll recap my 2012 racing season in another post, but I'm really excited that I completed this race. It wasn't easy because I wasn't well, but I finished.

Friday, December 14

Down with Holiday Food Guilt!

And so it persists, this problem with food. I've been eating better than I was when I initially wrote about my struggle--mostly thanks to suggestions of pure brilliance from friends--but I'm battling boundaries I didn't know existed here in my mental waywardness of edibles.

Having the stomach flu this week did nothing for my desire to eat nor my ability to consume food... Even though I feel 100% human today after a terrific night's sleep, I hesitated when I went to pack my lunch this morning. I had almost nothing to go on because I hadn't had time to get to the store... So I left my house a few minutes early to hit the local grocery before work. Now THAT was a stroke of genius. I bought Greek yogurt, burritos, fruit, and Odwalla juice because Lord knows I need more vitamin C.

But back to the initial pre-flu struggle. I've been concerned about how to handle the holidays since they're centered around food and tend to put eating habits on display for observation. At Thanksgiving I was able to make myself eat a plate of turkey and fixins without too much trouble. Christmas and New Years (and for those of you who celebrate other holidays like Hanukkah or Kwanza), though, brings lots of little celebrations to dot the calendar as people are able to gather together. I've been a bit nervous about any critical remarks I might earn with the evidence of my appetite or lack there-of.

Thanks to some good Twitter friends, I found Shape Magazine's 10 Responses to "Food Pushers". These are things to say when someone tells you to have some more, to take seconds, or something like that. Admittedly, Shape Magazine probably has in mind who its readers are, so the article is slanted towards people who are fit (or trying to be) and body conscious.

Note: most of the situations indicate that the person is skinny or could manage to gain a few pounds, or suggest that the person is eating unhealthily or has an eating disorder. But in our world obviously there is a blurred line between fitness and illness... This is not a perfect world, with none of us perfect.

The title of the piece is a little misleading because not all of the responses indicate that the other person wants you to take more food (i.e., food pusher). For example, there are responses to "Girls don't normally eat that much" statements (indicating you've eaten quite a bit, or at least more than this person expected) and "Should you really be eating that?" kinds of questions. These are definitely helpful to people outside of what I am assuming is the standard readership of the magazine. (Disclaimer: I'm human and make assumptions; forgive me if I'm incorrect.) Have a look at the situations and the responses. I think I feel better about going to dinner parties just having read that because I think I can intelligently respond to whatever quip someone lobs my way, whether about my appetite, my size, or my weight. (Which, quite honestly, I've been doing for years, but somewhat less gracefully. Mostly with silence.) At the very least, this article prompted me to think about the things I wouldn't want to say...

I can talk myself into changing my habits for just these few days, few hours, few minutes that I'm walking past cookie trays and passing the butter and complimenting the cook... But I'd be sick, uncomfortable, and unhappy, so it's not worth it. Besides, it's honest to goodness work that I'm doing in all the time OUTSIDE of the holidays that matters most. (Furthermore: here's more evidence that mindful eating is the eating that matters most when making memories of food.)

Enough with the guilt. I know what I'm doing for myself. I am going to do my best and I hope that you do your best. I am killing the guilt with knowledge about my habits and how to work on them. I know the cause of my problem and I am taking steps to help myself. I am taking down the guilt by staying strong when facing food pushers who urge me to eat more than I might be comfortable with right now.

How are you taking down the guilt? How are you staying strong? I'll lead the charge. Follow at will. :)

Monday, December 10

I'm a bird!

I've had a grin on my face for the better part of the day thanks to an email I received this morning.

Yes, I am at work, but this email was not connected to work. It was about running. Ah, yes, this email was from the Oiselle Racing Team manager welcoming me to the team.

I'm on the team!!! I'm a bird!!!

Ever since I learned about this brand and the team, I've wanted to be part of it. There are a variety of perks associated with being a member, but the greatest that I can discern from getting to know the ladies I've befriended are these: representing a truly awesome, women's running apparel company and being part of a nationwide network of running peeps.

If you're a lady runner and you haven't checked out Oiselle's apparel yet, I encourage you to do so. My "gateway drug," so to speak, was the Roga short: they're super cute, have a flat waistband, they're not poofy, spandexy, or clingy. And for gals who prefer a longer length, there's the long Roga. (I have both!)

Anyway... I'm still grinning because I'm so honored and so excited to be part of this wonderful group of really amazing women. I already admire so many of them and am learning from them, and I'm looking forward to even more fun and learning now that I'm officially part of the team.

Thursday, December 6

Surprisingly Awesome Salad

This salad was born from the "you bought it, darn it, now eat it!" meal plan. On Sunday I bought groceries at Aldi based on a shopping list from my emeals subscription. The one special thing I bought that wasn't on the list? An avocado. I didn't have plans for it, but it was a cheap thrill at 79 cents.

Here's how it came together...
-chopped romaine lettuce
-sliced Bosch pear
-half of an avocado, diced
-seasoned croutons
-balsamic vinaigrette


Layers of Difficulty

I'm finally officially calling myself a runner. And when I do that, people often say, "Oh, running is hard." Or something like that. It's usually followed by a story from when they were a kid, which just so happens to be the penultimate example of why a person shouldn't run. Sometimes there's a story of a record something-er-other or injured whatchamacallit and at the end I don't know if I'm supposed to feel like I bonded with the person or like I have learned my lesson.

Yeah, running can be hard.

But you know what else is hard?

NOT running.

At least it is when you're used to it, expecting it, wanting it, or needing it.

I've been trying to rest my knee ever since learning my official diagnosis, and it's really difficult to do! I walked my race on Saturday. I've been pushing myself to do the physical therapy exercises my doctor gave me. Lunch breaks on days without precipitation are spent walking around Pittsburgh's South Side (seeing the sights, doing some holiday shopping).

I'm trying to stay moving. I'm trying to stay motivated. I've had a tough time dragging myself out of bed in the morning. I'm guessing it's because the days are so short and my house is so cold that my body's impulse is to hibernate right where I lay. Yeah, I know you all have been there. It's a common human thing, I've learned.

Sometimes running is my stress relief after a long day. Other times it's what I do to make myself feel better about myself or life in general. It can be an escape (yes, even on a treadmill). Running's catharsis lies in every step, step, step, after step of hope that I'm getting better at something... improving my form, my breathing (with my asthma, a constant struggle), working on hills, or changing my gait. Or just running. I can just be getting better at running when I run. That's okay too. Superficial or deep, whatever I need, that's what running is in my life. I can fit it to that gap to fill that need, albeit temporarily.

But not running has made it tough to find a way to stay on top of my mood if I'm wishing I could just go pound pavement--where does that energy go? What am I choosing to do with it instead? It's really a challenge to pay attention to because these habits of *not* running aren't all that unfamiliar. I only started a year ago. It wouldn't be that difficult to slip back into non-runner status. But I'm trying to keep going, reminding myself that I want to come back. Staying mindful of what I'm feeling when I want to run and why I feel the urge to run is proving to be a very interesting experience. If you've never dissected it, I encourage you to do so. You will probably learn something about your own motivation.

My knee still hurts. I hope that I will be able to run next Saturday. (I'll even take a run, walk, run, walk pattern!) It's a 5k road race I've been looking forward to in Columbus and I've got two running pals coming with me. It'll be fun no matter what, but I'd really like to be able to enjoy the sporting part of it.

Monday, December 3

Get a Fire Extinguisher: A Public Service Announcement

We've all had some cooking mishaps. None of mine ever included fire. Not until last week, anyway.

I wanted yams--just like at Thanksgiving. The ones I put in the oven were perfect. Sweet and bound for greatness. I baked them and when the timer went off, I removed them from the oven and dropped the marshmallows on top one by one, creating a little layer of puffy clouds on top of my already delicious dessert-like food.

I did what my mom had said to do--I moved the oven rack up and turned on the broiler. I slid the dish into the oven and went about getting ready the remainder of my turkey leftovers.

I looked over at it and noticed that there was smoke coming from the back left burner, which is where the oven vent is located. I immediately went to the oven and opened the door.

After seeing flames, I threw the oven door shut.

I yelled, panicked, and was echoed by the smoke detector, but, having been trained how to deal with emergencies like this a few times in my life, I jumped into action without much thought. It was more reflex than choice...

Under my kitchen sink I found my fire extinguisher. I pulled the pin, checked the pressure, opened the oven wide, and sprayed. Once. Twice. The fire was out.

I took the wailing smoke detector down from the ceiling and hushed it.

Then, I couldn't breathe.

I got onto the floor and crawled to my kitchen door and onto the porch with my dog. I propped open the door. I fell into a coughing fit, but when I caught my breath, I knew I had to go back inside to open up the house.

Notice that everything in this picture is covered
in white dust. That's from my fire extinguisher.
The air was white with extinguisher chemical. The air wasn't fit to breathe. It burned my nose and throat when I breathed. I held my shirt sleeve over my mouth and nose so I at least didn't breathe in the particles directly... I was already having an asthma attack.

I went around the house opening windows and turning on ceiling fans.

When I got dizzy, I sat down, but I knew I couldn't stay there. I would just pass out because I wouldn't be able to breathe. I crawled back to the porch where my dog waited. She was frantic, but listened to me so well. Thank God, she listens so well. What a good girl.

I was a Girl Scout, my dad was a volunteer fire fighter, and I was a resident assistant for an upperclassmen dorm in college, so over the years I've learned a little about how to handle myself with a fire extinguisher. That doesn't mean I'm okay with fire. Quite the opposite actually. My family's home caught fire during my senior year of high school. It was devastating. I've never really been okay with fire. But putting out fire? I know a thing or two...

And now my Public Service Announcement...

If you do not have a fire extinguisher in your home, please go purchase one. They are not too expensive, but they could save you a lot of money (especially if you have no renter's/homeowner's insurance or a high deductible).

These are my sad yams. Half the marshmallows were
blown inside the oven when I used the extinguisher.
(See above photo.) Silver lining: the dish cleaned up
nicely and was not ruined.
There are different classes of fire extinguishers to handle different types of fires. *Note especially that there is a special kind indicated to handle grease/oil fires in kitchens (class K). Some extinguishers can be labeled to handle multiple classes of fires. Mine was labeled for ordinary combustibles (class A), flammable liquids and gases (class B), and energized electrical equipment (class C).

*Note that there is a special kind of extinguisher for electrical fires... (i.e., wire short-circuits, overloaded electrical cables). With these, water, foam, and other agents that have the potential to conduct electricity ("conductive agents") SHOULD NOT be used.

My fire was an ordinary combustible: marshmallows
But they were on fire in an electrical environment: my electric oven

Is it an electrical fire? No, but is it safe to dump water on the marshmallows en flambe?

I wasn't willing to take that chance. My extinguisher did the job.

After you use your fire extinguisher, no matter how little of the agent you used, it needs to be recharged. I used only two sprays. (I knew such a small fire didn't require me to empty the whole darn thing into my kitchen... besides, I would've just had all that much more chemical to breathe in! Yuck!) Your local fire department may be able to recharge your extinguisher for you, and if they can't, they will probably be able to tell you who can. Even if you have to pay to have it done, it'll most likely be cheaper than buying a brand new extinguisher.

It's also a good idea to have your extinguisher recharged when you inspect it regularly. Yeah, yeah, I know you're thinking that you'll do that about as often as you change your smoke detector's batteries... which is rarely or never, or only when forced because the dang thing starts beeping in the middle of the night... But maintenance is an important part of maintaining safety. If you want safety (who doesn't?), you have to work for it.