Today is my second snow day this week.
And until this morning, I had lost count of how many snow days we’ve had so far this winter. (According to my school system’s post on Facebook, we’ve used eight snow days—and they only accounted for five in this year’s calendar. And winter doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. So…)
As stir crazy as I am, and as concerned as I may be that I am never, ever going to get through all of my lessons for the year, the snow days have at least been good for my productivity. In the last two days alone I’ve tackled a huge chunk of both my school and wedding to-do lists (papers graded, quizzes written, grades entered, interims posted, ceremony script nearly finalized, bridal party gifts ordered, photo guestbook created, etc etc etc), which has left me feeling a little less frazzled and a lot more organized and accomplished than I did even a week ago.
The days off have also left me with a little bit of time to get into the kitchen and mess with one of my very favorite and classic standby recipes: banana bread.
Ever since Nick started his new job in December, I have been making banana bread at least once a week for him to take with him on the train as a mid-morning breakfast/snack. I had been making my go-to recipe for awhile, but I started to feel like it was a little too much butter/sugar/white flour for him to be eating on a daily basis (not like he would care, but I’m beginning to worry that I’m going to give him early onset diabetes or something). I’ve been messing around with some “healthier” recipes for the last few weeks, but haven’t really loved any of them; they were either too tough or dry or bland, and none of them lived up to the original.
And then today I stumbled on this Cooking Light banana bread recipe, made a few modifications, and the result was, dare I say, the best banana bread I’ve ever made. It is everything banana bread should be: moist, and just dense and sweet enough without feeling/tasting like dessert. And with a lot less butter and the additions of oatmeal and Greek yogurt, it’s at least a little bit healthier than the original.
- 1.5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter, melted
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
- 1/3 cup plain non-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup chocolate chips
- Cooking spray
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk.
- Place sugars and butter in a large bowl, and stir well blended. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; stir to combine just until moist. Gently fold in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into an 9×5 inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes in pan on a wire rack; remove from pan. Cool completely on wire rack.
How is it New Year’s Eve? I know it’s a cliche to wrap up the year with the sweeping “where does the time go?!” statement, but I feel like it’s true. More than any other year I can remember, 2013 completely flew by, leaving me a little bit dazed and overwhelmed.
I know I’ve mentioned it before, but the last couple of years really felt like “fillers” to me. That’s an awful thing to say, especially in the middle of my 20s, but it’s true. It’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself or have some incredible experiences (traveling to Israel and running two half marathons come to mind), but I feel like I spent a good three years with my head down, just trying to get shit done. I was teaching full time, working on my Master’s degree, and pushing through what I knew would be the last few years of long-distance with Nick. Life was good—I loved my job, I was happy in my relationships with my family, friends, and boyfriend, and I felt healthy and strong and successful. But I also felt much of the time that I was waiting for the next chapter to begin.
And then 2013 rolled around—and it felt like a whole new BOOK began. This year has been so good to me, both personally and professionally.
In May, I finally defended my thesis and graduated with my Master’s in curriculum and instruction. Without a doubt, it was one of the proudest moments of my life; I worked my ass off for nearly three years to get this degree, and walking that stage and knowing I had KILLED IT made me feel elated.
In June, after five years and ten months of long distance (but who’s counting?!), Nick left North Carolina to come live with me in Maryland. These last few months of living together have been my favorite months of our relationship. Living alone was fun, but knowing that I get to come home and hang out with this guy every night is the best.
We spent much of the summer and fall doing wedding planning things. We took engagement pictures, sent out Save the Dates, picked out flowers and hotels and attire for the wedding party. Because my best friends are the most incredibly generous women on the planet, I spent some time in Rhode Island for my bachelorette weekend, at a beach house they had rented right up the road from where we lived in college. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had in recent memory.
Then, to accommodate my friends in Maryland who couldn’t make it to the party in RI, my girls threw me a beautiful bridal shower down here as well. It was overwhelming and wonderful and I spent most of the weekend crying and feeling incredibly blessed and lucky.
Then in the fall, I took the biggest step of my professional career so far and began teaching a graduate course at the university where I got my Master’s. Yup. Just about six weeks after graduation, I was offered this affiliate position at the university that I knew I couldn’t turn down. Teaching at the college level has been a dream of mine since my freshman year in college, one that I had pushed aside once I decided that I ultimately didn’t think I had the time or desire to pursue my PhD. Teaching the course was extremely time consuming and a lot of work, but it was the most fulfilling professional experience I think I’ve ever had.
It feels like 2013 was one of the most overwhelming years of my life, in the best way possible. And, as a result, I find myself at a loss for what to expect or hope for in 2014.
There’s the obvious: we’re getting married! And while planning the wedding will surely take up a lot of our time for the first few months of the year, I don’t really consider getting to the wedding as a goal. Getting to the wedding under budget and with our sanity intact might be more appropriate, but I think we’re doing fine in that regard so far (heh)! So other than getting married, here’s what I’d like to accomplish, or at least work towards, in the next year:
- Be more social. I am naturally a social person, but I have become grossly antisocial in the last year and a half. I blame it on the “busy trap” that I know we all fall into, but that can’t be an excuse any more. I miss hanging out with my friends and meeting new people and trying new things. I thrive on that stuff, and it’s time to make time for it all again.
- Travel (or, more specifically, plan a kick-ass honeymoon without freaking out). I am a frugal person. I do not spend my money frivolously, and spending a huge chunk of cash on anything, even if it’s something I really want or even need, can cause me serious anxiety. I am putting all of that aside when it comes to saving and planning for our honeymoon. We’re considering this a once-in-a-lifetime trip, and I am all in with that mindset. We haven’t settled on a location yet, but we have several awesome ideas, and they’re all trips that I would LOVE to take. Win-win.
- Challenge myself and try new things. This is so broad, but it applies to so many different things. I get stuck in ruts very easily, and I need the reminder to forcefully remove myself from them sometimes. I want to try some new fitness classes, plan some “out-of-the-box” lessons for my classroom, visit some places in the Baltimore/DC area that I still haven’t been to, etc. Doing the same old stuff is comforting, sure, but it’s far from exciting—so bring on the different and new and unusual!
- Publish? Heavy on the question mark. I think it’s time to revisit my Master’s thesis and make some revisions suitable for publication. This will take some serious work and aggravation and commitment, but I’m proud of the research I did, and I want other people to see (and perhaps benefit from) it.
- Volunteer. I have been putting this off since I started my graduate program, blaming my lack of time. I volunteered quite a bit in high school and college, and I miss it. I’ve already started looking into some local programs, and I’m excited to get back into it.
- Write more. Again, something I’ve put off due to being busy. But I miss writing! Back to it I go.
All in all, it’s been an incredible year, and I have so much to look forward to in these next twelve months.
Wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year!
Seven stages. Six months.
And just like that, I’m done!
Last week, I finished the final workout for the NROLFW program, and I feel pretty awesome. I’m proud of myself for sticking with the program, even when it got really difficult or really repetitive and boring. I’m proud of myself for committing to the challenge to steadily increase the weight for all of the exercises and (safely) pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Mostly I’m proud of myself for completing an entire lifting plan and for proving that I’m stronger than I give myself credit for.
I went into NROLFW figuring that, if I could commit to a length half-marathon training plan, this should be no different. I was right—I love the structure and ease of a pre-planned workout which made it easy to stick with. I also loved seeing my strength increase over time; I’m not a competitive person, but I did find myself getting competitive…with myself! It was great motivation to keep pushing past my preconceived notions of what I thought I could do, and with motivation comes results.
- I’m happy with my results, but as I previously mentioned, I know I would have seen even more dramatic changes had I followed the nutrition plan to a T. That being said, my arms, back, legs, shoulders, and butt are much stronger and much more defined, and I can even see a peek of my abs. My weight has stayed relatively the same, and my pants are quite a bit looser in the waist (but tighter in the butt and thighs! Helloooo squats!)
- I am so, so out of running shape. Like, embarrassingly so. Like I’ve said before, the plan focuses on interval training, but very strongly discourages steady state endurance cardio. As a result, going for a 5k run feels like torture right now. I’d like to build my running base up at least a little bit in the next couple of months, but mainly as an obnoxious point of pride more than anything else.
- I’m not quite sure what to do now that the plan is over! I think I might start it from the beginning, but follow it a bit more loosely. I definitely want to continue the functional movements/heavy weights aspect of the plan because I saw how effective that combination was for me.
- I would definitely recommend the plan to anyone who was already comfortable in the weight room, especially if they were thinking of switching things up and trying something new. It’s easy to follow and effective, even more so if you stick with the nutrition plan.
So what’s next? NO CLUE. Anyone have any ideas?
And six months after I started, I finally finished all seven stages of the NROLFW program.
(Note: this doesn’t mean I’m actually done with the program. I still have the six “Final Cut” workouts to get through, but those are considered “optional”!)
Stage 7 was one of my favorite stages, if only because it focused on those functional movements I seem to love so much, and the workouts themselves were fairly short, simple, and to the point. I also LOVED that the last of both the A and B workouts called for AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of the exercises: for me, there really is no better way to see my progress than to see how many reps I can complete until “failure.” I also love the challenge of seeing how far I can go!
So here are my thoughts on stage 7 and my progress in the program, in no particular order:
- I am definitely stronger, something I can tell not just by my progress in the program, but in the way I look. I am lifting heavier than ever (although, when it comes to certain exercises like lat pull downs, I think I’ve hit my limit—at least for now!) which feels incredible. And the physical results are great, too: my upper body especially looks different. My arms, shoulders, and back have never, ever looked this toned. I tried my wedding dress on a few weeks ago and was SHOCKED at how different my back looked in it now as compared to when I bought it in March (about two weeks after starting the program).
- I know my results would be more dramatic had I really stuck with the nutrition plan. I definitely paid closer attention to my protein intake over the last six months and cut down on the amount of carbs I was eating, but I also had plenty of ice cream and other treats this summer. I’m not upset or disappointed at all, but I do know for certain that I would have had much more visible results if I had be more “strict” with my nutrition.
- Functional movements are here to stay. I have never seen results like I have from doing moves like squats, pull ups, planks, deadlifts, etc. These will become the foundation of any plan I set for myself in the future, for sure!
- Intervals are here to stay, too! There’s a time and a place for long, steady cardio (usually when I just want to zone out or relieve stress), but I have kind of fallen in love with the feeling I get after a 20 minutes set of really intense sprints. I know I’ll continue to do these, too.
- I am so, so glad I am not training for a race right now. SO GLAD. The thought of running more than a 5k makes me want to puke. My, my—how things have changed!
- I started the “Final Cut” on Saturday and GOOD LORD it’s a doozy. I was so sore yesterday I could barely climb up the stairs. Oddly enough, I LOVE that feeling after a workout (must mean that it’s working, right?!) and am really psyched to finish the last five workouts.
It’s weird to think I’ll be done with the entire plan in another two weeks or so, but I actually think I might start from the beginning (or modify it to focus on the workouts I really loved). If nothing else, the plan has made me realize that I’m stronger than I thought I was—and that I have the potential to get even stronger if I work at it!
Sometimes, you just get a craving. Usually my cravings are fairly predictable: ice cream. Chocolate. Peanut butter.
Other times, my cravings take even me by surprise. Tonight was one of those nights, when suddenly I had a craving for bacon.
Then I got to the store and saw Brussels sprouts. And suddenly I had a craving for those, too.
Luckily for me, all of these things sounded like they could make a potentially delicious meal. Even more luckily for me, they not only turned into a delicious meal, but the meal took fewer than 30 minutes to make.
Add this one to the rotation, friends. It’s a keeper!
“BLT” Pasta Salad
Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens
- 8 ounces short whole wheat pasta (we used elbows)
- 1 avocado halved, seeded, peeled, and chopped
- 7 slices turkey bacon
- about 3 cups shredded Brussels sprouts
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup feta cheese
1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, cook bacon according to package directions until crisp. Remove bacon from pan and crumble. Add 1 tablespoon oil and Brussels sprouts to pan. Saute sprouts in bacon grease until tender and slightly wilted.
3. In a large bowl combine the avocados, lemon juice, bacon, sprouts, remainder of the olive oil, garlic, pepper, and salt. Add the hot pasta and toss to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle with cheese. Makes 4-5 servings.
Five stages down, two to go.
And, I hate to say, this was by far the worst stage yet.
I don’t quite know what to attribute this to. Am I losing motivation after four months on the plan? Did the laziness of summer vacation start seeping into my workouts? I guess both of these things are likely. But I think the answer is even more simple: stage five is a total repeat of stage three, which I loathed completing.
I don’t know what it was about the exercises in the two workouts in these stages—they felt more awkward, less natural, more difficult (and not in a “I feel like I’m challenging myself” way, but more of a “This feels uncomfortable and not like it’s effective” way) than most of the other exercises in other stages. The only things I liked about the workouts were the interval and body weight matrix cardio exercises and the occasional functional exercises that I’ve found to be really effective in the past (planks, squats, chest presses, cable wood chops). That being said, I did complete all eight workouts, but I am THRILLED to move on to stage six (the last “real” stage before something the book refers to as “The Final Cut.” Hey, now!)
Some random thoughts:
- The plan’s emphasis on cardio intervals is definitely helping me increase my speed, but it is demolishing my endurance (which I guess is to be expected?) I can easily get through 2 miles of sprint intervals on the treadmill, but a 5k steady-state run feels like torture right now.
- Kind of unrelated to the plan, but Nick has been teaching me how to properly do pull ups on a bar we have attached to the door on our guest room. Progress there is slow, but definitely steady! It’s incredible how quickly your strength increases when you consistently challenge yourself.
- I can finally hold a plank for 90 seconds: a huge, huge accomplishment for me. When I started the plan, 30 seconds was my max. I’m loving these clear, obvious indicators of improvement!
- I actually started stage six today, and I LOVE it. It looks so short and simple on paper, but it is an absolute killer (one exercise alone called for 10 sets of 2 reps—and took me over 15 minutes to complete with rest breaks. OOF). It completely focuses on functional movements, which I love. It feels good to be back in a stage that I look forward to completing!
- I’ll be on vacation in Rhode Island for the first week of August, so I’ll have a weird break in the middle of this stage. No biggie; I’ll pick it right back up when I get back to Maryland!
I love summer for so many reasons: longer days, warmer weather, time off from school to catch up on my running list of books to read (and, yes, also to catch up on my sleep!)
I also love that I have a little extra time on my hands, not just to run errands or catch up on my doctor’s appointments or even sit by the pool, but also because, with that extra time in my day, cooking dinner no longer feels like a hassle. As much as I love cooking and experimenting with new foods and recipes, during the school year I tend to fly on autopilot when it comes to getting dinner on the table. I find three or four meals that I know I can cook in under thirty minutes, and I keep them in rotation until the thought of eating [insert standard meal here] is repulsive.
Living with Nick has also been good motivation for me to try new meals. Although I could probably survive on the same chicken stir fry for three weeks straight, I know he probably couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) It’s been fun to brainstorm meal ideas together, or to go grocery shopping and just totally wing it with whatever looks good.
Which is exactly what we did with dinner last night:
When we were at Wegmans over the weekend, we picked up some tilapia on sale, figuring we needed a break from chicken for a week. I also picked up some asparagus, figuring we’d just bake it with oil, salt, and pepper like we usually do. But I was famished while I was making dinner last night and knew that a piece of fish and some asparagus was not going to hold me over. I needed something with a little more staying power, so I poked around in the kitchen and figured some carbs and healthy fats would do the trick.
This isn’t really a recipe, so much as it was a “throw whatever you have on hand together and hope for the best” kind of situation. But the steps were basic:
- Cut asparagus stalks into bite-size piece and saute in olive oil 8-10 min or until tender (I should have added garlic!) Season with salt and pepper.
- Scoop out avocado and dice into 1/2 in. cubes.
- Toss asparagus and avocado with cooked brown rice (preferably still warm). Season with S&P plus the juice of 1/2 lemon. Stir, stir, stir! (Because the rice and asparagus was still warm, the avocado melted a little bit, making the consistency almost like a risotto). Toss in some feta cheese if you’d like (we did. And we liked!)
- We served with some very simple baked tilapia (just seasoned with S&P and some red chili flakes and lemon juice, baked at 350* for 15 minutes).
A fresh, simple, healthy, and delicious dinner? Just another added summer perk!