Can we still have a pumpkin thing? Yes.

I am a fan of simple tasty recipes that also are healthier than the alternative. I’m also a fan of quick. This is even easier than the black bean brownies (yes, you read that right) and is also just two ingredients. Just a box of spice cake mix and a can of pumpkin. Mix thoroughly and then you bake per the instructions on the box. I generally make cakies (cookies that are pretty cake-like) by dropping spoonfuls on a baking sheet and baking the amount of time for cupcakes. But you could do cakes or proper cupcakes too, of course. Enjoy!


Do you see what I see?

During the holidays I was gearing up to go out for my daily walk, something my husband has gotten used to me doing. This time he started to put on his shoes and I was surprised. He has some back and joint issues that make long distance walking, and certainly at the pace I do it, not truly feasible. But he wanted to go with me – so I suggested a change in route and that we walk to our local pub and then back, thus having a built-in break at a place we both enjoy hanging out. He thought that was an even better idea, of course.

So off we went. We walked a slower pace than I do alone, but probably similar to what most people would walk. Under a mile in he remarked it was further than he thought – and I was very glad I had suggested what I had! The walk to the pub by a direct route is only a bit over 1.5 miles. That’s a really short walk by my standards!

A bit later he said something much more profound.

“Things look different when you’re walking.”

Yes. They do. You’re moving slower and you have more time to notice things around you – and you can stop and investigate more closely if you want to. We live in an interesting area; it’s residential and rural simultaneously. We said hello to the steer we passed by (they watched but did not respond). We saw all sorts of birds. We saw more damage from the windstorm – many trees fallen over.

When we were ready to head home he picked a slightly longer route that involved a road I hadn’t walked on before. It has fast become a favorite – we saw goats (big goats!), chickens (also big!), and more cattle. We saw an enormous flock of birds cleaning up residual corn from a large field – when they flew together the noise was impressive. And we saw this building, which I think looks really cool.

IMG_2713Why this survived the wind when other things didn’t is a bit of a mystery (though the angled boards are likely the major part of the answer). I can’t quite make out what the roof once said and it’s possible this wasn’t a business anyway, but just a building that made money letting a business advertise on its roof in farm country. It has a story, and I don’t really want to know it. I like that it’s there. It gives me a nice feeling and I don’t know why.

I’ve decided I will try to get more pictures of the things I enjoy seeing while I walk and share them here. Sometimes I will venture out with my “real” camera in tow maybe even along with tripod (but remember, I’m on foot for many miles!), and other times we’ll be stuck with what I can manage on my cell phone (which honestly can be pretty good sometimes). I hope you enjoy seeing what I see!


Walk it off

When I was young, I was an active person. I was a cheerleader in the south, where it’s taken as seriously (if not moreso) than football. We had two-a-day practices during the summer.

(technically that one on the right is when I was in New Mexico – and now you all have proof I am a natural blonde. So, if you have comments – please type slowly.)

I didn’t actually appreciate I was a slender person until I looked back at photos from high school many years later… In college I took up martial arts, and by the time I was a senior I was taking or teaching as many as 8 classes a week. I was fit. I also collected some big-ass trophies from tournaments. I eventually threw those away, but I still have my gi and my belts. (stopped at first degree black belt, if you’re interested).


Then I went to grad school. There, my brain got the workout and my body did not – and I didn’t make the effort to change that. So, the weight started creeping up. I come from hearty genetics that says I will survive famine, I think. Over time I’d get a piece of equipment for my house, or go on a diet, or whatever – and keep relatively stable. For a while at work there was a gym onsite and a friend and I helped each other keep our commitments to working out. But then I changed jobs and moved across the country. I love my where I work and what I do, but there is no gym on site and I am simply not wired to join a gym at this point. I won’t go. I know I won’t. I have had varying kinds of exercise equipment in my home, but for whatever reason they weren’t giving the results (and I *did* use them). Weight crept up.

And up.

And came perilously close to 200 pounds. That scared me. So I tried one of those packaged food diets. The food wasn’t great, but I found some things I did like and I stuck with it. I started to lose weight and I learned a lot about portion size (gosh, I was way over-eating some foods!). I also got into a stronger habit of drinking plenty of water, which definitely matters for me. Everyone is different, of course.

After many months, I had lost 36 pounds. That was Thanksgiving 2010. I felt great. By that time I had stopped with the pre-packaged plan and was maintaining on my own. Of course, it was the holidays. My weight started to creep up and by Thanksgiving 2011 I had gained back 10 pounds – but still, it wasn’t too bad. Of course, it was the holidays again…

By early summer 2012 I was close to having regained half of what I had lost, and I was also close to deciding to get the pre-packaged food again to get back on track. About this same time, my twitter-and-real-life friend @NomdeB introduced me to FitBit:


This is a nifty little tracker that is a pedometer and much much more. It syncs wirelessly to your computer to keep a log of your activity and can also help you track your sleep patterns (depending on the version you get; you wear it on a wrist strap for that). I got mine in early July 2012. Since then, I have been quite dedicated to making sure I hit 10000 steps a day – and in fact now I push for 5 miles a day, which for me is closer to 11000 steps. I get to work early so I can park several buildings away from my office. I schedule meetings in other people’s offices so I can walk to them. I find that this also helps me mentally break from whatever task I was working on before the meeting and focus on what’s ahead while I walk there. When I am home I use MapMyWalk (a free app on my phone) and walk around my neighborhood. That is all I am doing. I walk at least 5 miles a day, cumulatively but sometimes all at once. When I travel for work I usually spend my layovers in airports walking around the terminal instead of sitting at my gate. Walking is something I do 100% for me. It is a precious gift I am giving myself every single day.

End result so far? I’ve had a net loss of about 13 pounds and dropped my body fat percentage by about 4%. That translates into losing about 15 pounds of fat and gaining about 2 pounds of muscle. And I’ve done this with zero change in my eating habits. I am not tracking calories. I am not worrying about food. I don’t go nuts, but I don’t worry either. I am sure that if I did, I could have trimmed down faster – but this is a very sustainable life for me right now.  [Note, @NomdeB also highly recommends an app called LoseIt which is a food tracker, and I’ve heard good things about it. I just don’t feel I need it. These things all depend on what motivates you – and the raw data about my activity levels is all I need.]

I don’t have a target weight – I am at a healthy weight now but it’s possible I will lose more. Since I’m not dieting I figure at some point I will stabilize based on my level of activity and how much I’m eating. I’m good with that. I’m healthy. And as for Thanksgiving 2012?

Tomorrow, I will be back where I was in 2010, except with a lower body fat percentage.

I feel great!



Diagram of a bad night’s sleep

I’ve been using a FitBit Ultra recently – and in a future entry I will talk about the great things it does for my motivation to be more healthy, but that is not what this post is about.

One thing the FitBit Ultra does is track how well you’re sleeping. You wear it on a wristband and I assume however much your wrist moves around is related to how well you’re sleeping and if it should call you “awake” or not. It actually seems pretty accurate.

Last night I went to bed at a reasonable hour – around 10pm local time. I had worked hard during the day putting in many hours of yard work (including a grueling session of deadheading the day lilies – which results in something nice but in the hours I’m doing it I mostly hate). I was tired and sore.

I was, apparently, too tired to sleep. I hate that.

When I went to bed I called my cat – Stray Cat (that’s her name, don’t judge) – and she mrowled a lot. I explained to her that I was not about to go back downstairs to give her tuna or anything else and that her only options were come upstairs to sleep or not. She came upstairs. Here is a picture of her when she’s less annoyed:

sitting on mom’s lap on the deck


Now might be a time to admit that while I had been on the computer earlier in the evening I had a weird feeling that someone else was in the house. Mind you, I knew this was impossible – I had been walking around the house downstairs to get my 5 miles of walking in (for the FitBit, you see) and I had carefully checked all the locks on the downstairs doors. So I knew no-one was in the house but me and Stray Cat (my husband being away on business travel). I shook off the feeling because it was silly.

I went to bed. I tossed and turned. I tried multiple varieties of sound on the sound machine to help me sleep. Stray Cat did come up and jump onto the bed. She slept. I tried.

Around 2:30am I heard noises – then LOUD CAT MROWLS and more LOUD CAT MROWLS – only one of which sounded like my cat.

Now might be a time to tell you that Stray Cat has a pretty cool cat door – it is tied to her microchip and only opens for her. So another cat being in the house is hard, but not impossible. There are a couple of cats who hang around the house but are too skittish to approach. The will come in the garage (where Stray Cat’s food bowl is kept) and eat her food if we leave the door open. I try hard not to do that but I had been doing a lot of yard work. It was not impossible that someone had been inside the garage/shop when I went to bed and who then came inside (through a non-microchip door) from the garage later. Weird, certainly. Unprecedented, even. But not impossible.

The Suspects

There is a ginger cat and a black cat who hang out. We call the ginger one Rudy – either short for Rutabaga or Rudolph (red-nosed cat) depending on whether you ask me or my husband respectively. The other is Black Cat. We’re not that creative.

In any case – at 2:30am I’m awakened to what sounds like a cat fight. Stray Cat is not known for her bravery in defending her territory. This could be ugly. I rush downstairs sans glasses (not a great plan). I see no cats. I hear no cats. Eventually I spot Stray Cat wild-eyed on the stairs heading back up. I walk around downstairs and in the garage and find no one.

Stray Cat and I go back to bed. She sleeps. I get up twice more to investigate and make sure there is no other cat in the house or garage. Apparently there is not.

It is possible the other cat was never in the house and the mrowling was through a window – they can be quite loud. But usually Stray Cat ignores any cat “through glass.” I have no idea. All I know is that all of this combined meant that I reset my 5:30am alarm to 6:30am (thankful that I could) and regardless it was the worst night of sleep my FitBit has recorded since I got it:

this is what a bad night looks like.


Mind you – only the 2:30 – 3:00am part is what I can blame on the cats. The rest is just me having a bad night. All in all, I am truly hoping for better tonight.

Salad Days

After reading on my friend Rich’s site about his experiment with making salads-in-a-mason-jar I decided to give it a go myself. I find that despite my best intentions if I buy lunch during the day at work I don’t always  make healthy choices. I make sandwiches sometimes but honestly it’s a little tedious and I wasn’t always taking the time. I also took frozen meals – those are okay sometimes but I always like salad as long as it’s got good variety. By making a week’s worth myself on Sunday, I’ve got the whole lunch thing dealt with and no stress or excuses about eating healthy.

The first week I had two working lunches, so I only made three salads. The key to this is the order in which the ingredients are placed into the jar. A wide-mouth quart mason jar is what I used based on Rich’s recommendation. Since this is the whole meal, I want it to be satisfying.

The order is this:

dressing on the bottom (I used low-fat dressing and am in love with a toasted sesame ginger version right now) – I just pour it into the bottom of the jar. Not all of it will be coming back out. This is (for the dressings I’m using) 100-150 calories based on probably putting more than 2 tablespoons into the jar.

veggies that can handle being on contact with the dressing for a while come next – I put matchstick carrots on, and the coleslaw mix (just the cabbage, not actual coleslaw). I just got some broccoli slaw to try next time, which I already know I love.

I add chopped red pepper and red onion on top of that, and then chopped cucumber. I also sometimes add sugar snap peas if I have them. And grape tomatoes work really well because you don’t have to slice them. I’m all for less work.

If you want, you can also add cheese. I’ve used crumbled feta but honestly you can also skip it if you have enough variety and a tasty dressing.

Next I add a protein (hey, this is the whole meal!). I’ve gotten the pre-cooked chicken breasts and they work great. I also used chopped ham and enjoyed that. The first time I tried an experiment with lump crab meat I happened to have on hand. More later on that. Total calories for average protein input for me is about 100 calories. That means even if I add a bit of cheese, which I usually forget to do, the whole thing is still under 300 calories and is mostly colorful veggies.

Finally, cram the top with lettuce. You need a lettuce that can stand up to the test for a week – so softer varieties are probably a bad idea. I’ve been sticking with romaine (because iceberg lettuce is just stupid) and it’s worked great!


the first three salads-in-mason-jars

Here are the three I made the first week (left to right):

1. light blue cheese dressing and chicken breast

2. light toasted sesame ginger dressing and chicken breast

3. light blue cheese dressing and crab meat

All the rest the veggies were the same though others would probably tailor this more. For the assembly line version, it’s easier not to bother and just let the dressing be the variety.

Day one I took the crab salad to work.

salad and bowl, time for lunch!

I had a large soup bowl in my office, but it wasn’t up to the task.

we’re gonna need a bigger bowl…

Fortunately I also had a supply of plates:

not as pretty as it could have been

It’s great how when you dump the salad out it’s in the right order and the interesting veggies and dressing are all on top! That didn’t happen the first time since I had to move from bowl to plate. Lesson learned. I use the plate now.

So – the crab. It was fine. It was not oh-my-gosh-awesome to be worth the expense and I do worry that it might not hold up as well over time. The chicken was very tasty and has been my favorite protein addition so far.

The salads are large, flavorful, and filling. I am carving out time on Sunday (it takes about 30 minutes total) to make my lunches for the week. I have had one that I ended up waiting 8 days to eat, and it was just as fresh and tasty as the first one. I highly recommend this for busy people who want to eat well. This way, you know exactly what is in your salad. Bon appetit!