Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Do Your Research

Before we left for Hilton Head, my brother and I decided to stop at the library to pick up some books.  I picked up “Julie and Julia” because it’s a book about food and blogging and I enjoyed the movie.  I was about to check out when I saw a book on the return shelf called “Running Well – Run smarter, run faster, and avoid injury!”  I thought “eh, couldn’t hurt” and checked that one out as well.

Before I started running, I made sure to ask questions about post recovery drinks, what kind of workouts I should be doing, what goals I should aim for, how to run up hills, etc.  Some advice I took right away, others I kept in the back of my mind and had to learn for myself (like why I should stick to 5Ks for a while instead of constantly pushing up my mileage or why months of core work over the winter is so important).  And some things I just discovered on my own, like how to run with good form to prevent back issues.  One thing I never thought of doing, though, was checking out a book on running because honestly how hard is it?  I just hit the road and run, right?

Not really.

I first realized this when I was having a lot of lower back pain after my runs.  I ran with a friend once who simply told me to keep my arms lower.  I was carrying a lot of tension in my shoulders and I had no idea why.  It was because I kept my arms up by my chest when I ran, instead of keeping my elbows at a 90-degree angle and keeping my arms near my waist.  Do you know how many people run with T-Rex arms?  No wonder my back hurt.

I was reminded of this incident when I looked at this book and thought there might be a lot I could learn about the mechanics of running, how to prevent an injury, and how to run more efficiently. I would recommend to anyone that is starting something new to not only ask questions about what you are doing so you understand it but to also read a book by a credible author(s) so you have a good foundation.  The authors of this book are two British women, one who is a 14-time marathon runner and training consultant to the London Marathon and the other is a physical therapist for British athletics.  I would really like to share with you what I learned, but I would also highly recommend getting a book for yourself, since the topics I’d like to cover were news to me but I may have left out stuff that would be news to others.  This book was just like many other running books out there, so if you’d like to read a running book, don’t feel like you have to read this particular one.  Just make sure to check the author's background and make sure they know what they are talking about.

Running Drills

I remember doing running drills before ultimate frisbee (we called them plyos).  I always just assumed that we were warming up all of our muscles, but in actuality you’re mimicking (albeit exaggerating) different motions you make while running.  I had never really thought about our plyos this way and will definitely try to incorporate them more into my warm ups.  Which brings me to my next point…

Warming Up and Cooling Down

If you’re like me, you don’t want to waste time warming up.  You just want to get in a quick stretch and go for your run, since you’ll already be spending 40 minutes running anyway.  The authors emphasized the importance of warming your muscles up before running, and walking to the end of your driveway before your run does not count.  Along with the running drills, they incorporated some mobilization stretches that release tension and tightness where you’re most likely to carry it.  What I also found interesting was that running does not put your knee through its full range of motion, so your knee does not get entirely lubricated.  They incorporated some running-specific activities to cope with this problem.  The authors also stretched the importance of cooling down after runs to bring the body back to its normal state and help remove some of the lactate built up in your muscles.  After a sprint workout, try to go right from sprinting to standing - you feel dizzy and nauseous because the blood is rushing around your body at an extremely high pace.  You need to cool down after a workout in order to bring your body back to equilibrium.  From now on, I’m going to make myself at least jog around the block before setting out on my run, and maybe even ending my run a block or so from my house, forcing me to walk back and cool down. 

Stretching

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love stretching.  I have noticed time after time that when I don’t stretch after a frisbee game or a hard run I am exponentially sorer the next day.  I knew it helped your muscles recover and repair themselves, but I never knew how.  This book allowed me to understand the biometrics of running and in turn why it is so important to stretch.  When your feet hit the pavement, your muscles are constantly contracting.  Stretching lengthens them back to their normal length and helps realign the fibers within your muscles, preventing your muscles from shortening permanently and putting your joints out of alignment.  Also, people tend to stretch only three muscles: the calves, the quads, and the hamstrings.  But you’re leaving out some of the most important running muscles: the hip flexors and the adductors.  I have a whole arsenal of stretches I use after my runs and I usually stretch for at least 15 minutes.  Maybe one day I’ll just have a whole post on stretching…

Core Stability

Over the winter, I was doing ab workouts 4 days a week to build a strong core.  I never really understood why until I went on my first run of Spring.  You need a strong core to support your top half and to power your legs.  A strong core also gives you good form, which will help prevent injuries.  This book taught me that a strong core can also relieve some of the stress on muscles in your legs, such as the muscles in the front of your hip, and keep your pelvis stable while your legs are moving.  These exercises are low load and therefore can be done every day, something I’m going to try to incorporate into my morning routine, especially since I’m spending less and less time at the gym since it’s been so nice outside.

This is just a fraction of what I learned from this book; there were also sections on nutrition, diagnosing an injury, picking the right running shoe, and how to come back from an injury.  I did not go into much detail for the sake of keeping this post short, so please feel free to contact me should you have any questions.  For anyone starting something new, whether it’s running or cooking or going on your first backpacking trip, I would highly recommend reading up about it first.  And after you have this foundation, be sure to always ask about why you are doing something so you have a good understanding of what you’re doing. 

Disclaimer: The views that I express in this review are my own and I was in no way contacted by the authors or compensated for my time.  Again, I picked this book based on the credibility of the authors and if you would like to read up about running, any book at your library written by someone with knowledge of the field would suffice.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Vegetable Garden, After the Flood

We picked a great time to go on vacation.  We got calls from the police department saying that there was flooding throughout the town, but luckily our house isn't near water.  Because I didn't have to worry about our house flooding as long as our sump pump was running, I could instead worry about our vegetable garden.  The cilantro was already growing sideways because the ground was so wet, and when I arrived home from vacation I wouldn't have been surprised if all of my plants had uprooted and moved to higher and drier ground.

When we pulled up at 2AM we were greeted by Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors in the pot where my squash plant used to be.  The leaves had changed from a broad shape to a narrow, 3-pointed shape, a sign (I'm assuming) that means it's about to bear fruit (or vegetables, rather).  I rushed into the backyard to be greeted by another 3 foot tall squash plant that has taken over the entire plot.  The tomatoes and peppers are climbing through the squash leaves, and the cucumber plant is climbing up the fence looking for a way out.  Everything seems to be blooming, except the lettuce which probably isn't growing back and the basil is definitely struggling.  I replanted the basil in pots.  Speaking of pots...the mint is growing so nicely in its own little pot.  Looks like it's time for more mojitos...or maybe mojito cupcakes?

Zucchinis - who knew they were actually
the stem of a flower?
And there's first signs of life in our garden!  A tiny pepper, cucumber, and squash are starting to form.  We're going to have lots of vegetables, which means lots of cooking and finally getting use of that food processor I bought.

Oh and those plants in the compost heap?  Potatoes, from tossing potato skins into the heap apparently.  It's crazy how easy gardening can be.  For now...



Baby tomato
Baby pepper
That blurry fuzzy thing behind the blooming
flower is actually a cucumber

Monday, June 27, 2011

Crab and Shrimp Risotto

We spent Father's Day this year in Hilton Head, South Carolina.  My family has been going to Hilton Head for the past three years, and each year we would stop at a local farmer's market to get produce and freshly caught shrimp.  I had come upon this recipe a couple of months ago when I was looking for something to do with all of that parsley in our garden, and I immediately thought of it when we were deciding what we were going to do for Father's Day.  This dish would be perfect with the fresh caught shrimp and it would give me a chance to practice my cooking skills.

My dad cooked, peeled, and deveined the shrimp basically because he didn't trust me to do it.  He told me to leave the eggs in the female shrimp because it would add to the taste and after I finally got him to leave the kitchen he would call in "Given up yet?" periodically while reading his book 2010: Odyssey Two.  That's my dad.

I had never cooked risotto before and I was worried that it wouldn't get creamy (especially because this recipe didn't call for anything creamy) or I wouldn't be able to tell when it was done.  I'm also incredibly impatient, so there were times when it was close and I just wanted to serve it.  But I kept adding chicken broth like the recipe said, and even when I thought it was done, I added another 1/4 c of broth before adding the shrimp and crab back in.  The key is to taste it often - the risotto will be white and fluffy and tender but not chewy when it is done.  My favorite part about this dish?  The pink color that the risotto gets when you add the Old Bay seasoning - it's a very nice finishing touch.

Everyone enjoyed the meal and we finished the entire batch, even though this recipe could easily feed 5 people.  When I asked for constructive criticism I only got a "it's terrible" from my brother as he finished his plate.  He did ask if there was any lemon in the risotto, which I had forgotten since it was not in the recipe (it was in the picture that went with the recipe, but that didn't print out).  Although it is somewhat time consuming, risotto is not as difficult to make as I had anticipated and I look forward to making this dish again as well as other risotto dishes.  There is also a technique where you can put all of the required broth in with the risotto, cover it, and let the action of the bubbles boiling and rising to the top mix the risotto for you.  Maybe I'll try that when I get a little more comfortable in the kitchen...

Crab and Shrimp Risotto
Source: adapted from Annie's Eats
Makes 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients
2 to 3 large cloves of garlic
1 1/2 T fresh parsley
3 T olive oil
1/3 lb shrimp - peeled, deveined, and cut into bite size pieces
3 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
1 c yellow onion, chopped
1 c tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 c of medium-grain rice
1/4 c dry white wine
1/2 t Old Bay seasoning
6 oz. lump crabmeat
freshly grated parmesan cheese, lemon wedges, and fresh parsley for serving

Directions
In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute the garlic and parsley in 1 1/2 T of olive oil, stirring once or twice, until the garlic is fragrant (about 2 minutes).  Add shrimp, season with salt and pepper and stir until the shrimp are pink.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Put the broth in a small pot and bring to a simmer over low heat.

In the same saucepan, add an additional 1 1/2 T of olive oil and add the onion and saute until the pieces are translucent.  Add the rice and stir until the rice kernels are coated in oil.  Add the wine and continue to cook, stirring often, until the wine is absorbed.

Add the broth 1/4 c at a time, stirring constantly and making sure the liquid is absorbed before adding another 1/4 c of broth.  After about 10 minutes, add the tomatoes and Old Bay seasoning.  Continue to add broth until the rice kernels are creamy, fluffy, and white and are tender when tasted.  The rice should take about 25 minutes but could possibly take longer.  If you use all of the broth but the rice is still chewy do not hesitate to add more broth.

Stir in the crabmeat and shrimp and cook until just heated through and mixed together.  Add additional salt and pepper to taste.  Transfer to serving dishes and garnish with parsley, parmesan cheese, and lemon.  Serve immediately.

**Notes: the amount of garlic you use depends on how much you enjoy garlic.  I used 2 cloves and I could barely taste it.  The rice that I used was Arborio rice, and I found it with the international food.  The crabmeat I found with the canned tuna, and it doesn't matter too much what size can you get.  I got the smallest one (6 oz), but you could probably get the next size up.  Also, I did not have chicken broth on hand but instead had packets of chicken bullion.  I added 1 packet to each c of water I used and it tasted fine.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Vacation Highlights

I feel like I should share the highlights of our family vacation to Hilton Head, SC.  I’m reading these out loud to my family now and we’re laughing hysterically.  Some of these moments are those “you just had to be there moments,” but I hope you enjoy reading them and are reminded of your own wonderful and wacky family vacations.

-       I was driving through Virginia late at night, talking animatedly with my brother, when I went across a bridge and passed a sign that said “welcome to Maryland.”  I had somehow ended up on 495 N even though I was on 95 S and had already passed through Maryland.  I still have no idea how that happened.
-       Getting to our motel off of the highway and not being able to get the door open.  It felt like it was locked from the inside and my brother could swear he saw someone sleeping in the room.  There wasn’t a homeless person squatting in our room, we just were turning the handle the wrong way.
-       Eating breakfast the next morning with a young woman (read: my age) who went on to tell us (without any of us prompting her conversation) that she was traveling from her home in NC to Washington, D.C. with her boyfriend who is a marine who doesn’t like to drive at night (and doesn’t let her drive) and is afraid to stay in D.C. because of the high crime rate.  The two of them have been dating for 7 months, already bought their own dog together, and she’s already been married and divorced to another marine.  Oh and she was also an only child until she was 13 when her parents had her younger brother, at which point she became his babysitter, not his sister. 
-       My dad asking us to pick out a sandwich for him that had all of the “appropriate vegetables.”  We had great fun deciding which vegetables would be inappropriate vegetables.  “Those banana peppers have filthy mouths.”  Definitely one of those “you had to be there” moments.
-       Stopping at a Subway in North Carolina where the girl in line behind us was having trouble reading what her coworkers wanted on their sandwiches.  Tomatoes were spelled “to matters” (pronounced “toe-maters”). 
-       Shadow barking at the cars that would pull up to the Subway while we ate outside.
-       Running on the beach and seeing sea turtle tracks, dolphins, and people catching baby sharks and sting rays. 
-       Shadow on the beach stealing people’s bocce balls and water bottles, interrupting their naps, and getting water trapped in his ears leading to gross ear infections.  Oh and pooping in the ocean.
-       Shadow trying to save us every time we went in the ocean.  He would swim out after us and grab our hands and arms and try to get us to come back. 
-       Shadow batting at a baby shark that a fisherman threw back in the ocean, and then proceeding to try to pick it up in his mouth.  Fisherman: “he’s going to get bit.”  Dad: “oh he’s fine.” 
-       Shadow licking a jellyfish.
-       Shadow’s collection of sticks at the end of the path to the beach, thus deeming him “stick dog” by everyone in the condo complex.
-       Learning that I could restrain myself from drinking too much sweet tea, unlike three years ago when I drank about a pitcher’s worth and then vomited in the restaurant bathroom.  The lady in the bathroom asked if she should get my mom, I told her my mom didn’t care because I was 20. 
-       Learning that I could not restrain myself from eating handfuls of hush puppies and almost reliving the sweet tea incident of 2008.
-       Thinking I was going to get dive bombed by a pelican and almost tipping my kayak over.
-       My mom (after she laughed at me) trying to get out of her kayak and almost falling off the side of her boat. 
-       Throwing sand on my brother’s leg and him retaliating by closing my beach chair on me.
-       My mom looking at the pictures on my camera and exclaiming, “what is this mush?” when looking at the picture I took of the dinner I made my dad for Father’s Day.
-       My dad playing “click it” (a game where you count yellow cars) by himself during the drive home.  My mom played her own game: she counted dead armadillos on the side of the road (which turned into dead turtles as we traveled further north).  
-    Hitting a ton of traffic on I-95 and deciding to take a route through Virginia back country.  Sites included a coyote walking down the side of the street and a pygmy goat farm.  

It's after 2 AM, going to sleep in my own bed!!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Kayaking with Dolphins

Yes,  that happened.

Whenever you go on vacation to a touristy spot (like Hilton Head) there are a multitude of tours you can pay out of the nose for which promise 100 lb fish, dolphins, and even a tour on a pirate sailboat where you get to shoot water guns at other tour boats.  My family loves to kayak so we decided to wake up early and spend two hours on the water.  Now, for the four of us to rent kayaks for 2 hours, it was around $80.  If we took a dolphin/low country kayak tour, it would have been about $80 apiece.  Yikes.  That was not going to happen.

We each got our own kayak and got launched off of the dock.  The man told us to go to the left and the right and to follow the shoreline.   My dad, of course, went left and then left again.  We were pretty close to another tour group, and the man said he knew where to find dolphins and headed to the right, so my mom and I decided to follow him in search for dolphins.  We were subsequently warned not to try to get a free tour, but even without the guide we saw the first one crest on the other side of the inlet within 10 minutes.  We paddled over, and before we knew it we were spotting dolphins every 15 minutes.  There was a baby dolphin with her mother, there were dolphins coming up under my dad's kayak, and there were dolphins jumping out of the water (my brother saw one, unfortunately I missed it).  I had images of dolphins coming up under my kayak, flipping it, and laughing at me, because that's what a dolphin would do.  Anyone who has seen the movie Flipper has the image of a dolphin as being whimsical and jovial, where in actuality they can be huge jerks.  They're incredibly intelligent, meaning that they'll mess with you for fun, and I've heard second-hand horror stories from someone who worked with dolphins.  I really wanted a dolphin to come up to my boat, but I think I'd probably freak out and tip my kayak over myself.  One did come close to me, about 10 feet away, and I felt like a 5-year-old girl meeting Cinderella at Disney World.  I also got to see lots of pelicans, and one even dove for a fish in front of me and I could see the fish flapping around in its throat pouch before the pelican swallowed it whole.  I was even able to identify a White Ibis.  It's times like these that I miss working at the zoo.  I miss the close contact I had with fascinating animals, but I know the path I have chosen is the right one.  I love being able to teach people about animals and nature, which I think was one of the things that helped me in my transition from working with animals to being a teacher.  I still get to enjoy animals at times like this and I do hope that in the future my knowledge of animals that I gained from working at the zoo will come in handy.

When we were coming back in from our trip I saw a huge pelican sitting on the dock.  I never realized how huge these birds are until I was about 2 feet from it.  It was looking at me with this fight or flight response in its eyes and I've been attacked by enough birds to be justly terrified of them, especially this monster of a bird.  The bird took off and I screamed and ducked, dropping my paddle instead of using it as a weapon.  The bird joined its friend on another dock, and I slunk down into my kayak as all of the people on the dock stared at me.  The focus was taken off of me soon enough, though, when my mom almost fell through the dock trying to get out of her kayak.

We stayed out on the water for about 2 hours.  Kayaking is an amazing upper-body workout - I wish I could put this into my cross-training every week.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is going to be on the water this summer.   For $20 each, we got to kayak with dolphins and pelicans and travel through marshes and around oyster beds.  It was pretty amazing, no tour guide required.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Running's a Beach

A couple of months ago, I subscribed to Runner’s World magazine because they were offering a 2-year subscription for $24.  I figured at a dollar an issue, how could I go wrong?  I have enjoyed it so far; it has good tips for beginner runners and workouts that I may or may not add to my routine in the future.  I also enjoy reading their recipes (obviously)…

There’s one column called “Ask Miles” that I only read because it's good for a laugh.  I’ve never seen this man’s credentials (I'm wondering if he even exists) other than “he’s been around the block a few times."  It's always good to ask questions about running because the more you learn, the more you'll improve.  However, Miles answers questions like, “what’s the proper etiquette for running on a gym treadmill barefoot?”  Answer: ew. Don’t.  Another question was a woman who asked Miles what she should say to her running buddy who always asks her to hold her energy gels.  Answer: say no.  The questions that he chooses to answer are ones that could be answered by a 12-year-old.  So in the most recent Runner’s World, there is a question to Miles that says, “When I run on the beach, should I wear shoes or not? I don’t want to look silly,” to which he replies, “Beach runners look silly to me, shod or not.  But if you must: go bare.  Unless you enjoy shaking sand out of your shoes for all eternity.” 

What an ass.

A few summers ago, I was up at our family’s beach house in Maine.  I had brought my running shoes and running clothes yet I just could not motivate myself to go out for a run.  I’d sleep until 9 or 10 every morning, go downstairs and make breakfast, and be greeted by my uncle who just came back from his run on the beach.  He would rave how beautiful it was and he was always so excited and happy about his runs.  My cousin and her fiancĂ©e would go for runs on the beach too and then come back to the house and do ab workouts together.  After seeing that for about 3 or 4 days, I decided to put on my shoes and head towards the beach. 

After walking over the soft sand, I found a stretch of sand by the water that wasn’t wet but was firm enough to support me.  I started off for my run.  I love the smell of the ocean, and the breeze coming off of the water was so refreshing.  I had brought my iPod but I decided to turn it off, just using it as a timer, so I could listen to the seagulls, the kids playing, and the sound of the wind rushing through the grass on the sand dunes.  I ran for 40 minutes, the longest I had ever run in my life, and it felt amazing.  I went for one more run on the beach before we went home. 

So now that we are spending the week in Hilton Head, South Carolina, I knew I had to get in some beach runs.  The sand provides a nice break from asphalt – it’s firm enough to support your weight yet it gives a little so your knees do not feel the impact as much.  You could run barefoot too, I’ve done it twice before for ultimate tournaments, but it’ll take a huge toll on your calves since your feet don’t have the support they are used to, especially if you've never run barefoot before (bad advice Miles).  So this morning I laced up my sneakers and jogged down to the beach. 

It was about 10:00AM when I got down there.  There was a cool breeze coming off of the water, but it wasn't enough to block out the 85 degree weather.  As I jogged along the water, I spotted beached jellyfish and horseshoe crabs and I even saw tracks from a female sea turtle who had come up to the dunes to lay her eggs.  Even though the beach was crowded it was quiet, since it was mostly families relaxing together.  I saw a guy catch a little sting ray, and on my way back I watched him throw it back into the water.  It was a really beautiful and relaxing run, even though it was incredibly hot.  Towards the end the sun was burning my face and the wind was no longer cooling me down, so I cut my run to 30 minutes and headed back in.  

I would recommend to anyone who is going to the beach this summer to take a run on the sand.  You're not going to look silly because chances are you are going to be one of dozens of people running, walking, and biking.  If you do wear your shoes, you won't get a ton of sand in them and as a matter of fact I didn't get any in mine this morning (take that Miles).  If you go barefoot, don't plan on running as far as you normally do, your ankles, feet, and calves are really going to feel it.  Make sure you lather on the sunscreen no matter what time of day you go, but I would definitely recommend going in the morning because it's cooler (duh) and it tends to be not as windy.  Oh and don't wear your bathing suit when you go for your run, you're not on Baywatch.  

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Track (and a workout)

I feel like every time I read an article about sprint workouts, there are always people lamenting over how terrible the track is, how they dread going there, etc etc.  I never really understood why people hated the track - maybe it's because I didn't run track in high school, so before last week the last time I had run around a full size track was when we had to run the mile for gym class (which I dreaded every year).  I had some sprint workouts planned for the next few weeks, and even though I could have done them in my neighborhood I decided to go back to my high school and do the sprints on the track.  Maybe it was because I wanted to accurately measure how far I was sprinting.  Maybe it was because the track is the only place I could run in circles and not look odd (my neighbors would probably get weirded out if they saw me run around the block over and over and over).

Well, when I reached the track I realized how track illiterate I was.  There were so many lines and different starting and finishing points that I had no idea where to start and end.  During my first sprint workout, I ended up sprinting 25 and 50 m instead of 100 and 200 m sets.  The workout I did the other day was much easier to understand: jog the curves (running intervals) and sprint the straights (repeats).  3 sets of 4 laps each.  The one thing that I did remember from running the track in high school was that 4 laps around the track equals 1 mile.  Another reason why I wanted to do this workout on the track rather than in my neighborhood is I knew that each set equaled a mile.  It's a huge motivation and a confidence booster when you finish that mile, especially when you have two more sets to go.

I would definitely recommend this workout to anyone who would like to be faster, whether it's in running or in a sport.  Start off with just 1 mile (4 laps) of running intervals and repeats.  When sprinting, make sure to really pump your arms - your hand should come behind you when you swing your arms backwards and keep your elbow at 90 degrees.  Also, make sure to bring up your knees.  Make sure that when you sprint your speed is consistent with the goal of finishing strong.  And when you're done - stretch!  Stretch your quads, hamstrings, and calves, and most importantly stretch out your shins.  Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, and have a friend push down on the top of your feet for 10 - 15 seconds.  I love stretching and feel it's vital for recovery and rebuilding muscles.  Feel free to ask about any stretches I mentioned above and I'll do my best to give you some pointers.

If you complete this mile worth of sprints and aren't terribly sore or fatigued the following day, feel free to tack on another set or two.  Sprints are great after a stressful or frustrating day because you can use all of that energy to really push yourself to run hard down those straights.  It's incredibly cathartic and a great workout and completing a mile or more is a huge accomplishment.  I'll be visiting the track much more often in the coming weeks...

Friday, June 17, 2011

Two Different Places

Yesterday morning I ran into an old friend from elementary school.  I was dropping off business cards to try to get some tutoring jobs at a local elementary school and there she was picking up her son from pre-school.  And her second son was strapped into his car seat in the back of her car.  Her pre-schooler hopped into the car, throwing toys off the seat and stomping on crumbs on the car floor.  My car, although it may have crumbs, has a tennis racket in the back seat and is littered with papers.  She asked me what I was up to, and I was telling her about how I quit my job and am going back to school to get my teaching degree when we were interrupted by another parent who had to ask her about contributing to the class gift.  I really enjoyed seeing her because I had heard she had two kids and was wondering how she was doing.  At this point in my life, I could not even fathom having two kids, but here she was, the same age as me, and this lifestyle seemed to suit her perfectly.  It's amazing how two lives can start in the same place and completely diverge to end up somewhere entirely different.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

When life gives you lemons, trade them for limes and make mojitos

I never thought that having wet hair would cost me a job.  I went to an interview with my hair up and wet from the shower I took that morning and that’s what cost me a job.

But this blog is not a place for me to whine and moan.  That job was not important, so therefore losing it was not at the top of my concerns.  It was the reason why I lost it, though, which made me lose it.  But, I had to go to work, so I collected myself and moved on. 

That morning, I had seen a recipe for mojito cupcakes in the newspaper (which I will be making soon I’m sure) and it inspired me to add an additional plant to my garden: mint.  Well, I won’t actually plant the mint in my garden because it is a vine and would take over the entire garden like my squash plant did (even though squash is not a vine, it’s just a giant plant).  On my way back from an appointment, I stopped at the garden center to pick up a peppermint plant, which is where I got the call that I didn’t get the job.  I brought home the plant, potted it, went to work, and sat there thinking of what I was going to do for the summer.  There are still a few more places I can send my application to.  I can also easily supplement my free time (and income) this summer with babysitting and tutoring positions.  And if I don’t get anything for the summer it isn’t the end of the world, it’s not like I’ll be sitting around with nothing to do.  This week I’ve certainly kept myself busy with appointments and getting my substitute application together and some other errands (including creating business cards!).  It’s just that I haven’t gotten two jobs I interviewed for this summer and it’s been discouraging.  So, I decided that this would be a great night to work that new mint plant and make some mojitos.  I invited some friends over and I winged a recipe for a pitcher of mojitos while my friend (who has his bartending license) acted as a backseat bartender and gave me his input.  (Drum roll please) I present to you, my first original Quarter Life Crisis recipe!

Mojito (pitcher)
Serves 5

Ingredients
2 C mint leaves, packed
2 T sugar
1/3 C lime juice
1 ½ cups of rum
1 L club soda
5 slices lime and 5 sprigs of mint (1 for each glass)

Put the mint leaves in a bowl with the lime juice and muddle until the leaves become dark green.  Let sit for about 10 minutes.  Add sugar and stir until dissolved.  Pour the contents of the bowl into a pitcher.  Add the rum and the club soda and stir.  Pour over ice and garnish each glass with a slice of lime and a sprig of mint. 

Notes: If you’re using freshly squeezed lime juice, use about another T or 2 of sugar.  I used bottled lime juice, which was sweetened, so I used less sugar.  Also, we first tried the mojito with only 1 C of rum in the pitcher and it tasted fine.  We added an extra half-cup of rum and it made the mojito taste less like lime juice and more like a mojito, without the alcohol overpowering the drink.  I’d suggest starting with the 1 C of rum and then adding more to suit your taste.  If you do not like mint leaves in your mojito, pour the contents of the pitcher through a cocktail strainer when pouring glasses, but let the mint leaves steep in the pitcher or else your mojito will just taste like lime juice.    

Friday, June 10, 2011

Vegetable Garden


Last summer, I half-heartedly planted a vegetable garden in a small plot in my backyard.  I didn’t really pay much attention to it because by the time I got home from work it was late and I was too exhausted to care.  Plus there was a groundhog living nearby who loved to decimate my vegetables and herbs.  So at the end of the summer I was left with a handful of green tomatoes that were too high up on the vine for the groundhog to reach and this oddly shaped cucumber that clearly suffered from some odd watering pattern.  This year, I vowed to plant and take care of a vegetable garden, complete with a wire fence to keep out that freaking groundhog. 

Garden, complete with wire fence
 I wanted to start my garden from seeds but I acted a little late on that since I didn’t get my garden going until May.  So my parents went down to the local Shop Rite and picked up some tomato plants, a ton of parsley plants, basil plants, and lettuce plants. 

They left them on the ground.  The groundhog had eaten most of them overnight. 


Tomato bud
I was like “that’s it! We’re going to Lowe’s.”  We scoured the garden center for the perfect wire mesh (I knew which one would work because there was a picture of a bunny in a pen on it).  My dad said it wasn’t going to be enough because groundhogs can climb (what?) so he decided he should run an electric current through the fence.  I convinced him not to and proposed a better solution using something I had learned at the zoo: bury the fence about ½ of a foot into the ground.  My dad hammered the stakes into the ground (me with a sledgehammer is hilarious and terrifying) and hooked up the fence.  That little sucker had his last free meal…

Squash buds
So therefore without a groundhog to curb it back my garden has exploded almost overnight.  The squash plant (I think it’s the green squash) has taken over the garden, covering my basil and lettuce plants with its broad leaves.  They seem to be holding their own, and we were actually able to make a salad with some of the lettuce leaves the other night.  There’s nothing more delicious than eating food from your garden, and I’m starting to see tiny buds where tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers will grow from.  But all of this produce means I need to find some recipes, especially for all of that darn parsley…I’ll keep you all updated

Little update: we have a second squash plant in the front of the house in a giant pot and this morning I saw lots of big yellow flowers!  Yay squash. 

Pepper bud
Basil plants and tons of parsley.
What am I going to do with all of this parsley?

Lettuce plants, the first produce we got to enjoy
from the garden. 
Not sure what is growing in my compost pile, but when
we put compost on our garden there must have been some
pumpkin seeds from Thanksgiving in it, because it looks like
there are pumpkins growing in my garden

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Savage

The word savage is defined as "cruel, vicious, hostile," and when applied to ultimate frisbee the definition does not lose its meaning.  In ultimate, the word savage is used when one player has to play the entire game.  Games are played to 15 points, but seldom do you ever play just 15 points.  At a maximum, you play for two hours with a break at half time.  Sunday, we only had two girls (including myself) show up to play ultimate.  Therefore, I had my first experience with playing savage.

When I go out for my runs, it's always the first mile that's the hardest, but once I'm closing in on the 2 mile mark, I realize that I'm already invested in this run and I just need to keep pushing.  The same was certainly true for ultimate, with the first few points being the hardest and then it slowly got easier, probably once I realized I wasn't going to catch a break.  I was switching back and forth between the role of a cutter and a handler.  I was sprinting all over the field, chasing after the person I was defending and trying to sprint to an open spot on the field.  After about 6 points, my head was in a fog from all of the running and strategizing, and it would be at this point that I would take a break and sit on the sideline so I could gather myself and bring my intensity back up.  Unfortunately, this was impossible, and I was required to use the brief respites between points to try to clear my head and remain amped for the rest of the game.

I haven't handled in a long time, so my dump cuts definitely needed work.  In ultimate, there are usually two handlers who move the disc back and forth between each other and to the cutters in the field.  When the handler with the disc does not have a throw upfield, he or she will look at the other handler for a bail out.  The other handler (who is being guarded) needs to make a series of jukes and cuts (referred to as dump cuts) to get open to bail that handler out, resetting the disc and hoping for another cut upfield.  There are many different kinds of dump cuts you can make, but most of mine did not seem to be working.

By the second half of the game I had got a second wind, but I was still exhausted.  I decided that if I wasn't going to be sprinting all over the field when we played offense, I would need to step it up on defense.  I love guarding the second handler because I love blocking off that dump cut and forcing the other handler with the disc to throw it away.  I tried to guard the second handler as much as possible, telling myself to stay on my toes and really follow where the second handler (the dump) was going.  Even when I was in the stack, guarding one of the cutters, I kept telling myself to stay on my toes so I could block the girl trying to cut in, making sure she didn't get on my outside.  I shut them down a few times, they got the disc a few times, but in the end we won the game and I had a lot of fun.

When I woke up yesterday morning I was not as sore as I originally thought I would be (yet even as I am writing this I can feel some tightness in my calves).  Two weeks ago I was sore for two days after we had played, everything from my hips to my ankles.  This either means that I am in better shape than I thought or I didn't push myself enough during the game.  At least now I know my threshold, so if this situation ever comes up again I know how hard and fast I should be running in order to have the endurance and stamina to play throughout the game.

Now that I know I can run/jog for 2 hours (more or less), I should really be pushing myself on my 4 mile runs.  I'm also going to be incorporating some sprint workouts into my training in order to boost my speed on and off the field.  During college, I was really only somewhat competitive when I played ultimate.  Sure, I wanted to win, but I never really felt like I had that "edge" that would push me on the field to play my best and my hardest.  This summer, I hope to achieve that edge and turn myself into a competitive player.  Because I won't be doing any races this summer, I hope to use ultimate as my motivation for my workouts during the week.  Oh, and speaking of motivation, I have a story that I'd like to share and also to keep for myself as a motivator for when I do my runs.

As some of you may remember, I was in an article about running your first 5K a couple of weeks back.  Around the same time, my mom joined Weight Watchers.  She went to a meeting the other day where she saw the mother of one of the girls in her class.  My mom was talking to her about joining WW and the woman said she had just signed up for a 10K.  My mom asked if she had been reading the series in the newspaper and the woman said that she had been skimming over it but there was one particular article that caught her eye about a young woman who had just picked up running and had just ran her first 5K and was running another one and she inspired her to get back into running.  My mom asked if there was a picture attached to the article and the woman replied that there was and it was such a nice picture and had such an inspiring quote.  So finally my mom couldn't hold back any longer and pointed out that the young woman in the article was her daughter, and the woman got so excited.  She told my mom to tell me that I was in part her inspiration to start running again.  When I had been interviewed for this article I doubted that people would actually read it.  It was extremely flattering and humbling to hear that someone was motivated by my story and what I had said and it inspired her to start running again.  It was really all I could ask for.  I hope that other people out there (whether from reading this blog or that article) would be inspired to start running, even if it's just around the block or track a couple of times or running while playing a sport.  I cannot stress enough how good running is for you, and I hope that today is the day you decide to put on those sneakers and go outside for a jog.  What will be your motivation?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Tennis

One thing that I love about this blog is that I am at the "beginner" level of some of the things that I post about, tennis being one of them.  I hope that you, as readers, get something out of these beginner posts so that if you try to pick up something new or something you haven't played in a while these tips will help you get started at a more accelerated pace.  I've played tennis maybe 4 or 5 times now (I used to play when I was younger) and I think I'm finally starting to get the hang of it.  Today, I played one-on-one with a good friend who also doubles as a great tennis coach.  Because it was just the two of us, he really helped me with my forehand and backhand swings as well as my control.  First, we warmed up and just volleyed the ball back and forth.  Then, we decided to play a game, to which I lost 6-0 (I did score 1 point).  After that, he had me hit the tennis ball against a fence to work on my control (aim and power).  But the thing that worked best for practicing my control was when we played in one of the half court boxes, otherwise known as mini tennis.  He told me to aim within that half court mini box and every time it went long or wide we'd start again.  After about 15 minutes we had some really great volleys going and my forehand looked pretty good.  I was able to gauge how much power I needed to put in my swings and how I should hold my racket in order to get the ball where I wanted it to go.  We then switched to backhand and I worked on only swinging with one hand rather than two (it just feels more natural to me).  After about two hours and a few great volleys under our belts, we decided to call it a day.

I would like to provide some tips for beginners or even advanced beginners in order to improve your game.  Some of this may come obvious to most, but I would hope that someone would find these tips helpful.  As I discover ways to make myself a better and more competitive tennis player, I hope to document the things I changed about my technique and my form so that others may decide to pick up this exhilarating sport.  I feel new things are less intimidating when you have some tricks of the trade at your disposal :)

Always keep your feet moving
This is one thing that should have come naturally to me since I always try to stay on the balls of my feet whenever playing ultimate.  My friend told me that my feet should never be in the same position for each swing, and once that clicked for me, my swings became much better.  Also, when your feet are moving your brain is engaged and you are more likely to have some pretty good hits if  your whole body and your mind is in motion.  A stagnant player will not hit the ball well even if their feet are in the right position.

Quick tips:
- If the ball is coming at you, take a few steps back rather than choking up on the racket.  This will give you a fuller swing, which will result in more power and accuracy.
- Keep your feet perpendicular to the net.  I found that if my hips were square to the net, the ball would go off to the side because my arm would follow my body.  When I swing, I step with my front foot in the direction that I want the ball to go (which by the way is exactly what you do when you throw a frisbee).  If you're on the balls of your feet and ready to move when that ball comes over the net, you'll have more time to get a good position on the ball.
- Always return to the middle of the court after a swing.  You may be running more than necessary, but if your opponent hits the ball across the court, you want to be in a good position to go after it.  It's also much easier to run forwards than backwards so if your opponent hits a short ball you can charge the net rather than run after it.  However, if your opponent hits the ball towards the back of the court, you want be far enough back so you have time to run onto it.

To summarize, make sure that you're feet are always moving so that you can position yourself perpendicular to the net so that the ball comes to your side and you're facing it, ready for your swing.

Let the ball come to you
This is something that I had A LOT of trouble with when I first started playing tennis because it is against everything I have ever learned when playing a sport.  In frisbee, if you don't charge that disc, someone else will knock it right out of your path.  So, when I first started playing tennis and the ball was coming towards me, I would run straight at it and then have to hit it with this weird overhand swing, which either sent the ball flying or straight into the ground (on my side of the court).  So today I practiced waiting for the ball to come to my side.  When I knew approximately where it was going to reach its peak after the first bounce, I would make sure my hips were square to the ball and my feet were perpendicular to the net.  Then, I'd take my swing when it looked like the ball was at its peak.  It was so difficult for me to wait for that ball, but my swings improved drastically once I did.  So again, square your hips to the ball, keep your front foot in the direction you want the ball to go (your feet should be ready because they've been constantly moving), and swing level.

Speaking of swinging level, that's another problem I had when I first started playing.  This was fixed immediately, though, once I realized that when I cocked my racket back, I would twist my wrist so that my palm was facing me, which would tilt the racket up and out, which is where the ball would go when I hit it.  Once I kept my palm down when my racket was cocked back, my swing would be more level and the ball wouldn't go up in the air or off to the side as much.  My backhand still needs some work, and I've been fooling with whether or not I want to swing my backhand with two hands (like a baseball bat) or with one hand.  What seemed to work with me was when I approached the ball with two hands but only used one hand on my follow through (it's just much more comfortable for me).

So to summarize again, when that ball comes at you, square your hips to the ball, make sure your arm's length away from it, your front foot is where you want the ball to go, and swing.  It takes a ton of practice but you'll start to feel really good once you get some good volleys going.

I really do like playing tennis.  Chasing down that ball and getting a nice level hit over the net is exhilarating.  And I love the sound the ball makes when it hits the racket right in the center.  The weather is supposed to be in the mid 70s for the next week or so in my area, so grab a $30 racket from Dick's or Sports Authority and hit the court with a friend.  When you start, practice close to the net and play in one of the half boxes like we did today, and as you get more confident in your hits and your accuracy improves, start to back up a little.  Next time we play one-on-one we'll play half court, which is one of the small boxes up close to the net plus the large rectangular box in the back of the court.  And remember, keep on the balls of your feet, let the ball come to you, and get your feet and hips in position before you swing.  Get out there and have some fun :)

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Acadia National Park - Day 3

The third day got off to a somewhat earlier start, and after our 6.5 mi excursion the day before we decided to take an easier hike today and head toward the shore.  We were going to hike a trail called Great Head Trail, which went around the beach and had some light scrambling over rocks.  When we showed up to the site, we looked extremely New York with our coffee cups and we were all looking forward to a relaxing hike along the beach.  Well at some point, which I do not remember, we decided to take a different trail that one of our friends said was even better than Great Head and would be a lot of fun.  What he forgot to mention was that this trail was called Precipice Trail, and for a very good reason.

Crossing the metal bridge
The first sign of danger should have been the tiny metal bridge we had to cross.  It made me extremely uncomfortable because of the gaps between the rungs and the fact that it was still damp out, making the metal a little slippery.  We continued to scramble up rocks and cross ledges that were about a foot wide, and every time I turned around I was greeted by a beautiful view and a straight shot to the bottom.  All of a sudden, we got to a sheer rock face with metal rungs welded into the rock.  And I thought the scramble yesterday was ridiculous, now I had to climb ladders?  I again tried to think of this as rock climbing and used the metal railings and crevices in the rock to hoist myself up the ladders, trying not to think of how slippery the rungs were.  But, at least when I was rock climbing I was wearing a harness, here there was nothing.

Shimmying across ledges.
When I thought this trail couldn't get any more dangerous, we had stopped to let some hikers pass and I was aghast at the way they had come.  They were wearing Columbia pants, camelbacks, and teva sandals, so I assumed they had taken the more difficult route across a 1 foot wide ledge and there must be another group of rocks we could scramble up.  Well I was mistaken, and I found myself clutching to the rock, trying to dig my tiny fingers into any crevice I could find, and shimmying across this ledge.  I tried to reassure myself by remembering that below me was a 2 or 3 foot wide path and it should catch my fall if I slip.  No one slipped though, and once I had crossed that ledge I had lost my feeling of apprehension, for the most part.  I climbed the rest of the ladders and the rocks with excitement and had forgotten what lay below me.

What lay below the trails:
a straight shot to the bottom
We stopped at a quick overlook and then reached the top of the mountain, which was extremely anti-climatic considering the climb we made.  We sat there for about 45 minutes, taking pictures and chatting.  The fog cleared for a brief moment and we were able to catch a view of the beach and a ferry carrying passengers to one of Acadia's small islands.  Unfortunately, my camera's battery had died by then and I was unable to get a shot.  When we started to head back down, most of us were relieved to hear that the other side of the mountain was not as treacherous.  Too bad I had already gulped down my coffee and didn't have anything for the walk on the beach.

Down the street from our campsite was a building that advertised coin operated showers, which of course we had to use before our trip into Bar Harbor, where we had an amazing lobster dinner followed by Maine blueberry pie - something that is now on my list to make once we go back to Maine in August.

By the time we got back to the site it was already midnight, but since it was our last night in Acadia we had no intention of going to bed.  We attempted to start a fire, but because everything was still damp it took about 45 minutes to actually get the fire started.  I didn't understand the science behind building a fire until this weekend.  I always thought it was as simple as throwing a match on a pile of wood, which if the wood was dry then maybe it would have been.  Apparently, there are two ways to build a fire: log cabin and pyramid.  The log cabin is good for cooking because it covers a large area with a relatively even amount of heat, where the pyramid is good for bonfires.  Also, you can't just light up a large log, you have to light up some tinder and smaller wood chips and branches first.  Some tinder that worked great were pieces of rope and surprisingly, cotton balls in vaseline.  When we went to buy supplies for our camping trip I scoffed at the hatchet and thought "why would I need that?"  Well we ended up borrowing our friend's often in order to cut up some wood chips and smaller logs to help get the fire started.  So, here's how we did it: we started with a small pyramid of wood chips with tinder underneath and then got that burning.  As it was burning, we added slightly larger and larger wood chips until we were adding small and medium sized logs.  Finally, we would take the big logs and stack them in a log cabin (box) around the flame or place them over the flame like a teepee.  The hardest part was getting the little stuff to burn, but once it did and we were able to add the larger stuff the fire burned for hours (we actually had trouble putting it out).

We decided to walk down to the beach but flashes of lightening and the rain made us turn back.  I loved falling asleep to the sound of rain hitting the tarps, but I did not love getting woken up by the booming thunder and the lightening that illuminated the entire forest.  It was terrifying.  The rain was coming down in buckets - putting up the tarp was definitely one of the best decisions of the weekend.  Luckily, the rain stopped by the time we woke up and we were greeted by a sunny, 80 degree day for our drive home.

I hope you enjoyed reading my posts about my first camping trip and for those of you who have never gone before/haven't been in a while, I hope you found these posts at least somewhat informative.  I'll definitely be referring back to them especially when we start packing for our next trip...


Note:  The name of the trail was actually Beehive, not Precipice.  Both are very similar in their difficulty and description so when I was looking up pictures I got the two mixed up.  Thank you, Chris, for pointing this out and thus proving me wrong.  You were right. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Acadia National Park - Day 2

Great Pond
After getting off to a pretty late start, we packed up our bags and cars and headed to the Western Mountains for a hike.  We decided to take the Great Pond Trail to start because it was a moderate level hike but didn't seem to change in altitude that much.  When we reached the site we were greeted by Great Pond itself and I was reminded of how beautiful Maine is.  The pond was also a reservoir so the water was clear and the fog had lifted so we finally had a shot of the landscape.  After a group picture we set off on the trail.


Wooden staircase
The hike was a little more strenuous than we had anticipated, and when we came to the next checkpoint we were faced with either continuing to hike around the lake or head towards the mountains.  The mountains were only .4 mi so we decided to take the challenge and pick the more strenuous route.  About .1 of this .4 mi piece of the hike was a giant staircase, and when I was standing at the bottom I had no idea how I was going to drag my legs up those logs.  My quads were heavy and my ankles were sore.  I may be running 4 mi a couple of days per week but hiking is a completely different beast.  You're walking on uneven ground, which takes a huge toll on your ankles, which in turn effects the stability of your legs overall.  The rest of the muscles (your calves and hamstrings) have to compensate for your ankles, and they get worn out quickly.  And when you're climbing hundreds of feet uphill, your quads, glutes, and lower back are getting an intense workout.  But, like running, when you finish your run, or in this case reach the top of that staircase, you have such an overwhelming sense of accomplishment that you want to just keep going.

Scrambling up rocks and tree roots
So when we reached the second checkpoint, we decided that we were going to go all of the way to Bernard Mountain, the highest mountain in the Western Mountains, even after being exhausted from our over 3 mi hike.  The plan was to hike to Bernard Mountain (1071' above sea level), then hike back down to our current checkpoint, and then back down Great Notch Trail and to the parking lot.

For the first part of the hike, we were able to follow dirt and even gravel trails.  When we started our hike to Bernard Mountain, the trail stopped abruptly at a huge tree with roots growing through rocks.  This was the way up.  The rest of the trail was very similar to this, with us scrambling up rocks and tree roots.  It was a ton of fun because it reminded me of rock climbing, but the roots and rocks were very wet and slippery.  Needless to say, I ended the day with a couple of bruises on my shins and some soreness in my ankles.  We stopped at an overlook, Knight Nubble (who/what is a nubble?), and then reached the top of the mountain where we made PB&J sandwiches and enjoyed the view (or at least what we could see over the trees and through the fog).  Like after finishing a run, I was overwhelmed by a sense of accomplishment over reaching the top of the mountain.  We scrambled back down the way we came and hiked back down to the cars.  After stopping for another view of the lake and to replenish our energy stores with cheese balls, we headed back to the camp to make dinner.

From the top of Bernard Mountain

We hiked along the pond up Great Pond Trail and went down
Great Notch Trail. We hiked over to Knight Nubble
and Bernard Mountain, then hiked back down to
Great Notch Trail and off the map to the right back
to the parking lot, about 6.5 mi in all.
 

A friend had brought his dutch oven to make chili with cornbread baked on top, and I don't think my patience has ever been tested as much as it was that night.  The chili took about an hour and a half to make (and this was after we got the charcoals burning in the charcoal chimney).  Every time we lifted the lid of the pot to see how the meat was browning or the vegetables were cooking, we were greeted by this  amazing aroma and I could barely hold myself back from grabbing the cast iron pot and running off into the woods with it.  We then mixed the cornbread in a large plastic bag and piped it on top of the simmering chili (obviously my favorite part).  The hardest part was waiting for the cornbread to bake.  We put coals on the lid of the dutch oven and waited, and waited, and waited.  And even when we thought the cornbread was ready by using a toothpick test, when we cut into it we realized the underside was still raw.  So we waited and waited and waited again.  But it was worth it.  This recipe can certainly be used at home, but the cornbread would have to be baked separately.  It is a great treat while camping, but I would suggest preparing it about 3 hours before you want to actually eat it...

Dutch Oven Chili with Cornbread
Recipe adapted by Pat M.
Serves about 10 people

2 lb ground meat, chopped
1 lg. onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 green pepper, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 packets of chili seasoning
2 (32 oz) cans of chili beans
1 (16 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 (32 oz) can tomato puree (we added these cans one at a time.  If the chili was still too thick, we added some of the second can until it was the consistency we preferred.  You could also use beer or water).
2 boxes of cornbread mix (we used Jiffy) and all of the ingredients listed to make the cornbread.

Brown the meat in the Dutch oven and fry the onions in a skillet until they are clear.  Add the onions to the meat.  Add the peppers and the garlic and let the chili simmer until the peppers are brown (about 15 to 20 minutes).  Add the diced tomato, tomato puree, chili beans, and chili seasoning.  Let the chili simmer for an additional 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

During this time, mix the cornbread and the required ingredients in a gallon sized ziplock bag.  Knead the dough with your fingers and when the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, cut off one of the bottom corners of the bag to create a piping bag.  Pipe the cornbread batter on top of the chili in a spiral and then fill in any open spaces with left over batter.  Place the lid back on the dutch oven and cover the lid with coals.  Check the cornbread every 5 minutes, you will know it is ready when the top of the cornbread is slightly browned and cracked.  Be sure to stick a knife through the cornbread and make sure it comes out clean before serving.  Dig in and enjoy :)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Acadia National Park - Day 1

Over the next few days I'll be posting about my camping trip in Acadia National Park in Maine.  I had never been camping before and this was a great introduction to something I want to do much more this summer.  I went with a large group of people and we were car camping, meaning that even though we slept in tents we had our cars about 50 feet away and each site had its own fire pit and picnic table.  I had a wonderful time and the pictures that I took do not do justice to how beautiful this place was. Acadia National Park is 4 hours into Maine, therefore we did the trip up in two stages.  After spending the night in Portsmouth, NH and making a stop at Shaw's we arrived at our camp around 4:00 and began setting up.

Our site
I knew it was going to be cool, but I didn't know it was going to be so damp.  All of my cotton hoodies, socks, sweatpants, and shirts as well as my pillowcase felt damp and cold all weekend, even if they weren't wet.  Luckily, I had brought some dry-wick shirts that I wear for running and ultimate and those served me well.  Next time I will definitely avoid the cotton.

After all three of our sites were covered with tarps, we grilled up some hamburgers and hot dogs and spent the night sitting around the fire and getting to know each other.  That night (and in the car ride home) I went over some things that I should have brought, could have brought, and definitely wanted to buy before our next trip.  Luckily, I was able to borrow most of these items from the other people who were there so I got by.

Should Have Brought: no explanation needed.
- North Face fleece - I needed one more layer and the fleece seemed to stay dry while my sweaters did not.
- Hand towel - there weren't showers at the site but it would have been nice to have a small towel for when I washed my hands and my face.  I ended up wiping my face and hands on my shirts and they didn't dry all weekend.  If I had known that we would be taking showers Sunday night I would have brought a full size towel too.
- Face wipes - much easier than washing your face with cold water.
- Sheet for my ground pad - the first night we pitched our tent on an incline (oops), so I was sliding around a lot on the ground pad.  It would have been nice to have a sheet to keep my sleeping bag from slipping all over the place.
- Sponge and dish soap - I didn't even think of washing dishes in the woods, but the national park had a small washroom where we could have washed our dishes.
- Charcoal - it makes cooking so much easier, especially when you're cold and tired and you don't want to wait for a fire to start the traditional way.  And along those lines, definitely should have brought some tinder.  Everything was so wet it was very difficult to get fires started.  Funny story: vaseline on cotton balls worked well...very interesting.

Could Have Brought: the things I have at home that I would have brought car camping, but certainly not if we were backpacking.
- Tupperware tubs - these were great for transporting small items back and forth as well as storing dry food.
- BBQ utensils
- cutting board and knife
- folding chairs and tables
- torch lighter - makes lighting fires much easier
- table cloth - creature comforts
- cooler

Shopping List: things that I would definitely like to buy before my next trip.
Covering our site with a tarp
- Tarp and bungees
- Head lamps - they have ones with red lights so you can still have your headlamp on but not blind people as you talk to them.
- Lantern
- Hatchet - for making woodchips.  Building fires is much more complicated than I thought (more on that later).
- Charcoal chimney - they're great for getting charcoals burning quickly and you only need to make a small fire to get it going.
- Pans
- CamelBack for hiking
- Rock climbing gear - we didn't need it for this trip but when I eventually go up to the Gunks I'd like to get some.
- Dust pan and broom - another creature comfort that really comes in handy.  Tents can get filthy after three days...
- Walkie talkies - especially in areas with bad service.

I wanted to post this list to offer advice to anyone who has never been camping before or maybe hasn't been in a while and wouldn't remember what to pack.  I have many more exciting posts planned about hiking so stay tuned :)