Mission Accomplished!

The Mission, if accepted: Complete a 5k on Sunday, June 6th, 2010 (motivated by the Weight Watchers 2010 Walk-It Challenge)

My Personal Goal: Walk/Jog said 5k and complete in under 45 minutes (i.e. 15-min miles)

The Contender(s): Me, and my beloved team of support (AKA my husband and friends)

Location: The Pasadena Rose Bowl – site of the famed Rose Bowl Tournament and the Tournament of Roses Parade — complete with a perimeter pedestrian path of 3.2 miles (5k)

Front view of the Pasadena Rose Bowl

The Pasadena Rose Bowl, courtesy of VirtualTourist.com

The Lowdown: At 6:40-something on Sunday morning I hear my husband’s alarm going off, knowing I now have about ten more minutes before my back-up alarm goes off.  I greedily relish every second of half-sleep, peeping one eye open every other minute or so to see how much time I have left.  Finally at about 6:50-something, about three minutes before the alarm time, I get out of bed, left leg, right leg, and out…realizing that I’m awake.  Teeth brushed, bananas sliced, cereal poured, milk waiting, workout clothes on, I wait for my hubby to join me for a healthy, somewhat hearty (but not too heavy) breakfast together.  We lace up our shoes, make sure we have all we need, even grab the camera, and head out by 7:40 to the Rose Bowl.  Although it’s supposed to heat up to a smokin’ Southern California 93 degrees by mid-day at 8-ish in the morning it’s sunny and cool — perfect for a nice 5k jaunt around the Rose Bowl.

Picture of Proposed Updates to Pasadena Rose Bowl Pedestrian Path

Image of Proposed Updates to Pasadena Rose Bowl Pedestrian Path courtesy of la.streetsblog.org

Upon pulling into the arena area and driving towards our chosen parking lot, we notice the proposed updates to the pedestrian path have now become a reality.  Roads have been paved, clear pedestrian and car lanes have been drawn, areas shaded, and new white lines have been painted — it looks great and incredibly inviting.  As soon as our friends join us we take a quick before picture, and head off to join the many other walkers, bikers, and runners.

Continuing in the interval format, my friend and I start off with a 5-minute walking warm-up, then progress to intervals of 3-minute jogs and 2-minute walks.  We pace ourselves, and manage to carry on conversations, but bring on the activity enough to break out a sweat and get our hearts beating.  The slight up and down grades are manageable, and the sight of fellow exercisers, plus a refreshing breeze keeps us going on our merry way.  Although I will still firmly say, “I am NOT a runner!” I do admit that the bump in activity, the stretching of my legs in a non-walking way, and the amazing feeling afterwards is enough reward, that I will confess to being an interval jogger.  Slower pace, shorter intervals, manageable level of activity — this I can do.  About 40 minutes and 50 seconds later (inexact due to user and stopwatch miscommunication) we reached our goal and completed the 5k.  With a little rounding-off that makes for less than 14-minute miles (getting close to 13.5) — in a very good pace.  More Math – adding up our intervals means we jogged for about 21 minutes of our 40 minutes, meaning we jogged for more than half of our 3.2 miles.  For me, non-runner, hater-of-running, the fact that I jogged for 21 minutes is awesome!  And the fact that I felt comfortable in our pace and our activity – great!

Mission Accomplished!  Words of encouragement to the fellow non-runners out there.  If I can do it, so can you.  So go ahead, choose a goal that is seemingly impossible, break it down to the manageable, and go for it.  And then, share your stories?  What’s your goal?  How’s your journey?  How’s your mission?

Ponyo and Homemade Pizza

I first saw the beauty of his work during an annual screening of “Hotaru no Hakka” (Grave of the Fireflies) — even with the Japanese language ability of a two-month old his animation transcended the major gaps in my vocabulary and deeply touched my heart.  He seemed to have captured every detail from the everyday task of tapping the shoe just right to get it on to shaking a tin of candy drops to get the last ones out.  The work of Miyazaki, Hayao is well known, not only through Japan, but also internationally.  Such masterpieces as “Tonari no Totoro” (My Neighbor Totoro), “Mononoke Hime” (Princess Mononoke), and most recently “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” (Ponyo).  DVD cover to "Ponyo"With the nostalgia that each Miyazaki movie brings me, it almost feels like a betrayal to the artwork and culture to watch his films dubbed in English.  Now don’t get me wrong, Disney and Pixar do great work to assemble a fantastic cast, and they go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the production, but if I have the option to see the works as they were originally created with English subtitles, then bring it on!

To celebrate our Ponyo-viewing occasion, my husband and I invited some friends over for some homemade pizza ala Trader Joe’s.  We bought the pre-made pizza dough in plain, garlic herb, and wholewheat.  We decided to vary our toppings to create a Thai Chicken, a Works, and a Pineapple Pepperoni  – deelish!  What’s more, it was easy, healthier than our beloved Papa John’s delivery, and easy on our budget.  We sliced and diced a bunch of fresh veggies — green and red bell pepper, onion, carrot, green onion, mushroom, tomato — the works.  Then added some pizza sauce and peanut sauce (respectively), mozzarella, pepperoni, and chicken sausages.  Our favorite was the Pineapple Pepperoni, but don’t let us tell you which one’s the best — check out the pics and judge for yourselves.

Thai Chicken Pizza on Wholewheat Crust

Thai Chicken Pizza on Wholewheat Crust

The Works on Garlic Herb Crust

The Works on Garlic Herb Crust

Pineapple Pepperoni on Plain Crust

Pineapple Pepperoni on Plain Crust

A Classic Yummy — Tuna Sandwich

My father came to the U.S. in his early adulthood – an immigrant from the coastal country of Perú – with big dreams for his life, an innate curiosity about nature, Science, and the world around him, and a great love for seafood.  My mother, a mix of German, Austrian, Irish, and Native American ancestry, is a confessed carnivore — she relishes the experience of chewing meat, sucking the flavor from bones, and being able to sample the rare and highly-prized meat delicacies of the globe — this includes those that make their life below water’s surface.  And then there’s me — I have vague memories as a child of eating shrimp, lobster, and other fishy things, but something happened along the way.  I think when my taste and texture palates developed, they sent signals to my brain further excluding anything which had lived in water from my “like” food list.

As a child I often tested the limits of my mother’s patience, out-waiting and out-stubborning her with a plate of fish on my plate, and no desire, nor intention, whatsoever of eating it.  I didn’t care about the rumblies in my tummy — I could not bear the texture and taste of those scaly-covered creatures.  One finned friend, however, did sometimes make it to the “like” list — usually this was during the season of Lent at my Catholic school.  At the time I didn’t really understand why, but often when other lunch menu options were no longer available, suddenly the tuna sandwich was — so, I ordered it.  Was it was the presence of mayonnaise, bread, relish, onions, celery?  I don’t know.  I just know that I didn’t mind eating tuna sandwiches.

Flash forward about five or six years and I was now teaching English in a rural rice-farming (I thank God, not fishing) village in Japan.  Fortunately, although my palate had not matured, my cultural sensitivity had — I was determined to try everything on my plate at least once.  I ate fish head, I ate little translucent fish, I ate fish with eyes, and I ate lots more fish in other forms.  I can’t say that I enjoyed it, and often I got sick to my stomach, but I tried it all.  About six months into my first year (I was there for three) I noticed on a Sunday evening while brushing my teeth and getting ready for bed that my wrists and stomach were kind of itchy.  When I awoke the following morning the small areas of itchiness had exploded in growth and covered most of my body.  I learned a new Japanese term — “jinmashin” or hives.  Although the experience of recovering from hives is not one of my favorite, the gift that came with it was well worth it.  After visiting the doctor it was determined that I was allergic to certain varieties of sealife – and that I had probably eaten one fish or another at my Sunday church lunch.  From this point forward I could politely let people know (and in a small rural village, most found out quickly anyway) that I had allergies to fish and would sadly (well, not really) not be able to partake of the seafood options.  Fortunately, although contrary to wide-held belief, Japan offers all kinds of culinary delicacies that have nothing to do with fish.  I was happily sustained on all the many other food choices.

Needless to say, I am not a big fan of fish.  Every so often I am tempted — like that time when I was reading “Angela’s Ashes” and just had to see what all the fish and chips fuss was about.  And for whatever reason, my body decides every so often (and lately it is more often) that it wants tuna.  So I buy the little tin can filled with water and tuna (and which, might I add, resembles nothing of the creature from which it came) mix it up with some mayo, yummy, yummy relish (I love the dill pickled relish, but am such a fan that it doesn’t matter sweet, dill, or other), some pepper, maybe some raw onions, celery — the works!  On my latest favorite — Orowheat Sandwich Thins — loaded with fiber (5g), and not so much with fat (1g) and calories (100), the tuna sandwich is a true classic, very easy, and absolutely tasty — even in my humble non-fish-loving opinion.

Tuna & Swiss Sandwich on Orowheat Sandwich Thin

Tuna & Swiss Sandwich on Orowheat Sandwich Thin

And as always, for fellow weight-watchers – the total Points value for this number (will vary depending on your mayo and bread, and additional toppings) is 3.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • Orowheat Sandwich Thin – 1 serving – 1 Point
  • Trader Joe’s tuna in water – 1 serving – 1 Point
  • Trader Joe’s Reduced Fat mayo – 1 serving – 1 Point
  • Heinz Dill Relish – 1 serving – 0 Points
  • (Optional) Trader Joe’s Lite Swiss or Lite Havarti Cheese – 1 serving – (Add 2 Points)

Nostalgia in a Bowl — Potsticker Soup

Many favorite childhood memories include visits to a little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant called “Mrs. Wong’s Kitchen”.  In addition to being a favorite dining stop for my dad, Mrs. Wong’s Kitchen also had a large, jolly Buddha statue, and in my young opinion — served the best Won Ton soup on the planet.  Even now, and especially after having taught for three years in Japan, my fondness for a good Asian soup has not diminished.

In one of my recent visits to the library I came across what is now one of my new treasures — the “I Heart Trader Joe’s Cookbook“.  It’s loaded with delicious combinations of favorite Trader Joe’s ingredients.  You’ll understand why I chose to try this first one in particular…

Bowl of potsticker soup

Potsticker Soup

In a large pot I put together vegetable broth, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, frozen chicken potstickers, frozen stir fry vegetables, and green onions.  There’s a lot of room for flavor customization — adding ginger, making it vegetarian by choosing to use vegetable potstickers, etc.  Not only is this soup incredibly easy, very tasty, but it’s loaded with vegetables…and for those counting their Weight Watcher’s points — the grand total is about six points if you have a serving with three gyoza (dumplings).

Enjoy!

Put on a Happy Face…

…after all, the show must go on.

No worries – the title of the post is not implying that I’m in a down mood and in need of cheering, but rather that sometimes when I don’t want to do something, I just need to move myself through the steps of preparation and then before I know it, I’ll be doing my thing. I think about actors sometimes, having to display emotions on their faces and bodies that may not necessarily match what they’re feeling inside, yet as they say, the show must go on, and like Tony Bennett crows — “Pick out a pleasant outlook…Slap on a happy grin…spread sunshine all over the place…and put on a happy face.” So today’s challenge is to get back on the wagon. Yes, I’m talkin’ about the walking/running wagon.

I’d been diligently following my Active plan and had completed the fourth week, when changes in weather, visiting Contractors for a week, and my internal lazy monster made their visits.  This isn’t to say that I ditched my exercise plan altogether — I did compensate with in-home cycling sessions at varying levels of intensity, and did continue my beloved walks admiring beautiful homes, and scaling the various hills in my neighborhood.  However, when I tried incorporating some running into a walking errand last week, I did notice that my body was not havin’ it.  Although I do try to push myself further, I also value listening to its signals, so I jogged the bits and pieces that I could, but knew that I needed to get back into THE PLAN.

So, today, Monday — I am moving myself back to the start of week 2 of my Active plan, and will work my way back to where I was.  Although I am even more utterly convinced that I am NOT a runner, I am determined to thoroughly complete this eight-week plan.  My end goal, besides improved health and the joy of completing the challenge, is to get myself to a point where I can run a good part of a 5K event.

My running attitude may currently be gray and gloomy, a “full-of-doubt-look” may be covering my outlook, but I’m in my cutest exercise clothes, the Nano is charging, and I’m determined to spread some sunshine, and Put on a Happy Face!

Comfort Food-Lover’s Delight

I’ve had the good fortune throughout my life to be blessed with good roommates.  Almost five years ago (I can’t believe it’s already been that long) I had roommate who possessed not only with the gift of cooking, but also the love of tweaking the ingredients just so to produce satisfying and healthy results.  One favorite I like to call Comfort Food-Lover’s Delight.  It’s a mix of sausage, onions, pepper, marinara sauce, and if you’re so inclined — cheese, all hot and melty on your choice of bread.  My husband loves sausage and I’m a marinara sauce fanatic, so this suits both our needs, and since it’s so easy it can be a great meal for those nights when I’m feeling lazy about cooking.  And for those fellow weight-watchers out there, although it hits the spot just so, and tastes sinfully delicious, the whole construction adds up to about 8 points.  Obviously, as you change ingredients, the points-value will change, but I’ll share the ingredients we used — and you may notice that most are from Trader Joe’s — I love Trader Joe’s!

Ingredients (enough for 2 servings):

  • 1-2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion, cut into long thin slices
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
  • 1 small green bell pepper, cut into long thin slices
  • 2 sausages (we like TJ’s Spicy Jalapeño Chicken or Sweet Italian Chicken)
  • spices (TJ’s 21 Seasoning Salute, or cumin, basil, oregano, red pepper…)
  • 1 cup marinara sauce (TJ’s Tomato Basil)
  • 2 slices lite Havarti cheese (again TJ’s sliced is our choice here)
  • 1 serving TJ’s Mediterranean Flatbread (adds 2 points to recipe) or Orowheat Sandwich Thins
  • fork, spoon, and lots of napkins to enjoy the “mess”

Directions:

  1. Boil the sausage until it swells (usually 5 or so minutes).  Drain.  Cut into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté oil, red onion, garlic until the onion begins to turn translucent (about 5-7 minutes).
  3. Add the bell pepper and sauté for another 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the bite-sized pieces of sausage.  Sauté all ingredients until they start to lightly brown.  Sprinkle your choice of spices (we like TJ’s 21 Seasoning Salute – mixture of salt, garlic powder, oregano, basil, and about 17 others).
  5. Pour in marinara sauce.  Stir until sauce begins to bubble and ingredients are mixed together well.  Cover and turn off heat.
  6. Toast sandwich thins and/or flatbread.  Add cheese.
  7. Spoon sausage and marinara mixture onto your bread.  Let the cheese melt.
  8. Enjoy!

If you try this out, let me know how you like it AND if you have some recipes of your own, please feel free to share!

You Make Me Feel…

I don’t know if it’s the message in the lyrics, the nostalgic memories of riding with my mom in a sky blue Toyota Corolla and listening to K-Earth 101, images of the Lee Jeans commercials, or just the soulfulness that Aretha belts out, but “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” is definitely a song that has a special place in my heart.  And oftentimes, when I am struck by a certain, sometimes un-nameable, emotion, the song will, without bidding, yet always welcome, come into my mind.  Last weekend was one of those long, extended moments.

Now I’ve said it before — Unemployed.  Tight finances.  Cutting back.  But this doesn’t mean that our life is without fun, nor is it without shopping.  Since we hadn’t been in awhile, my husband suggested we make a visit to our local Goodwill and check out the deals.  When we visit the Goodwill store, it’s often with a particular item in mind, but something that we have the patience to wait for — meaning if we see it and fall in love with it, we’ll get it, but if not, we are content to keep looking until we do.  One of the things I love about entering our local Goodwill is that at each entrance there will be a sign with the specials of the week and, what I like to call, the colored tag finds [You know those pesky clear, plastic tags that you have to cut out of new clothes — well Goodwill uses those same tags, but in colors — thus helping manage their inventory.  After so many weeks, a particular color, representing inventory from some weeks back goes on sale].  This means that one clothing item – say jeans, will be on special for $4.99, and anything with a purple tag will be 50% off.  This week we were greeted with the happy surprise (really more for me than my husband) of finding dresses at a special of $3.99 and red tags at 50% off.

For awhile now, I’ve been on a quest for cute, springy-summery, not black, dresses.  With such a deal, I was off to the dress section.  My modus operandi for navigating the shop is to go through a section, pull out anything that strikes my fancy, that I would likely wear, and that is in my size.  This often means that at the end of a section I could have a good six to seven items on my arm, and usually after a fitting room stop, the pile will shrink down to one, two, or zero items.  This time started off no differently.  I scavenged my way through the dresses, and for good measure made my way through the neighboring pantsuit section (I’ve been needing a good professional suit — remember, I’m an optimist and full of hope that I will have need — for an interview, job, conference, etc.).  Since the fitting room has a maximum allowance of three items, I batted my eyelashes at my hubby, gave him my remaining six items, and took in my first round of three.  Now here’s where Aretha kicked in!

The first two dresses carry the tags of one of those stores that put out modern and edgy advertisements, but usually no clothes that I can honestly wear.  These two must have been their only exceptions.  I had grabbed them on a playful whim – kind of a – let’s see how these would look, but now — on me — they were cute!  Both different, but both cute!  Immediately, I could hear Aretha singing her chorus.  One was coaxing me to take it out for Salsa dancing (my husband and I attended community classes for 8 weeks), and the other issued out invitations to sunny picnics on the beach with waves gently crashing and kids building sandcastles nearby.  Validation came from my husband’s admiring looks and approving words when I opened the fitting room door.

After two more rounds of fitting room fun, I was down to my two dresses.  Meanwhile, my husband was scoping out the dress shirt section, and had his own stack to dwindle down.  In the pantsuit department, there were a couple of possibilities, but nothing that I was in love with.  You have to understand — I’m short.  We’re not talking 5’5 or 5’3, but more like 5’1 (on a generous scale) short.  So even when clothing designates petite or short, it’s usually not enough.  Especially when combining pants with blazers – putting my short legs, curvy hips, and short waist into these outfits means I have to find the right one.  The first ones I picked out were either too baggy, flared too much in the hips, or hung down too low on me, but I did discover that I was now fitting in a size smaller, and could check out some of the other options I’d passed over.  So, back to pantsuits.  I pulled out two more, tried them on.  No dice, but closer.  One more — that was going to be my limit, and then my Goodwill visit was done.  I grabbed one more suit that had caught originally caught my eye, but being in a smaller size, I had disregarded it.  Me and my pantsuit were off to the dressing room, where once again, clothing and wearer magic ensued.  The pants fit well, they were flattering, the blazer hung at just the right level.  It was cute.  It was professional.  It was a winner.  My husband totally agreed!  So there we were, two dresses, one pantsuit, two workshirts for him — jackpot!  One our way to the cashier he spotted a lovely black, velvety dress blazer and encouraged me to take a look at it, so with my arm twisted behind my back, I tried it on over my shirt.  [insert magical fairy-like sound here] — another winner!  Now since the dress jacket was a last-minute add in, I decided to see how our total was before official adding it to our purchases.  So here we go, holding our breath, moment of truth (we had an idea, but a couple items were obscure in their prices)…$39.60…and this is after adding in the dress coat.  So, Accounting majors out there, we got two dresses, one pantsuit, two workshirts, and a dress jacket — for less than $40 — that’s less than $7 an item!  Again — jackpot!  This is the kind of splurging that our anemic budget can handle.  So to those of you who also find yourselves with cutting back, unemployed, or facing tighter budgets — check out your local Goodwill or thrift shop.

Now throughout this whole Goodwill-shopping, Fitting Room-visiting adventure, Aretha was right there with me — singing her heart out.  Why?  Because for one of the first times being faced with a full-length mirror (sometimes two) was not disheartening or discouraging me.  Rather, I was seeing me, seeing all of me, and appreciating what I saw.  Over the past two years, as I have made slow and gradual changes in my eating and activity lifestyle, better health has also come.  In addition, I have lost weight and lost dress sizes — things I do not want to find again.  I could see in my reflection the changes brought about by my regular walking/jogging, my cycling, my Yoga, my Pilates, my stretching — all of it.  My body is still uniquely me — extra curvy in some areas, slimmer in others, the trademarks that God created within me.  Even with a little extra in the tummy, hips, and thighs, I could look in the mirror, take it all in, and truly feel “like a natural woman”.  No, my body is not perfect, but it is healthy, and that to me is beautiful, and that feels so good.  And like Lady Soul sings, “But you’re [i.e. self-love, self-appreciation, love from my God, love from my hubby] the key to my peace of mind — Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like — A natural woman.”

C’mon — sing it with me and Aretha…

Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
But you’re the key to my peace of mind

Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like
A natural woman