Warriors by Day, Grandmas by Night!

For a few years, my sister, Melissa, has been running the Warrior Dash. I’ve always thought it looked so fun, you know, for people who actually run and wouldn’t die in the middle of it. It almost made me want to take up running, just so I could do this with my sister and participate in all those Survivor-like challenges. We love Survivor in this family.

Every year, Melissa would participate in the Warrior Dash and then ask me if I wanted to sign up to do it with her next time. My answer was always, “Maybe. We’ll see.” I never did sign up. Then came last winter. I decided to give up laziness for Lent. I decided to accomplish this by downloading the Couch to 5K app and working my way through it.

Surprisingly, I came to somewhat enjoy running and I continued running beyond Easter. One day, back in May, I ran 3.1 miles – the full distance of a 5K – for the first time. To celebrate, Melissa and I signed up for the Warrior Dash in St. Francisville scheduled for October 3rd. I had nearly five months to get it together, right? All I had to do was keep up my running routine. Then came summer in Louisiana. It was hot and sticky and not any fun for running. I slacked to the point of usually running once a week. Every so often I would run twice in a week. I’ve lost my endurance. One mile is standard for me on a regular running day. Two miles just isn’t going to happen. Two miles is too much to ask.

October 3rd came creeping up on me. As it got closer and closer, I got more and more nervous. What was I thinking? I had never even run a 5K race at all, much less one full of obstacles. I had barely run at all throughout the summer. What made me think I could handle 3.24 miles plus 12 obstacles. Really?! Oh, I was going to regret this.

I was having flashbacks to things that were supposed to be fun that I did not find fun. Several years ago, I let Melissa convince me to go snowboarding with her. Snowboarding is fun, right? Wrong. It is not fun. Snowboarding is awful. I did not snowboard. Sure, there was a snowboard strapped to my feet, but no snowboarding was accomplished. I fell down repeatedly. I tried and tried and tried. And I fell and fell and fell. Eventually, I watched a child who was approximately four years old remain upright and snowboard past me and I decided I’d had enough. I took that stupid board off my feet and started walking down the mountain. I didn’t care how long it took to reach the bottom. I could walk, but I could not snowboard, so walking was what I would do. Thankfully someone who worked at the resort told me I could catch a ride back down the mountain via ski-lift type thing and not have to walk, so I did that. But I hated it. HATED it. It was awful and I was incredibly disappointed and frustrated that I couldn’t do it.

I also thought about the day in second grade when my mom took Melissa and me out to LSU-Shreveport for a “Jump Rope For Heart” event. A lot of my friends and classmates were there and we jumped rope all day to raise money for some organization, which I can only assume was the American Heart Association. I was roughly seven or eight years old. I kept messing up while trying to do something (double-dutch, maybe) and I started giggling about it. One of the adults leading the event fussed at me for laughing. So, of course, I went from laughing to crying. I was so sad and embarrassed. Jumping rope was supposed to be fun. It was no longer fun. Looking back I find it pretty sad that an adult would berate a child over something like jumping rope, but it happened, and it hurt my little seven year old heart. I still remember sitting up against the cinderblock wall, crying and wishing Mama would show up soon to take us home.

I was so nervous the Warrior Dash would be a similar experience. I thought I wouldn’t be able to accomplish these challenges. I would fail. History has shown that I’m not a big fan of failure when I fail at things that are supposed to be fun. It just makes me mad and I don’t even want to be around myself at that point. I literally was praying to God that I would keep a good attitude – that even if there was a challenge I couldn’t complete, I would keep a good attitude and not allow this to become a miserable experience. I know myself. I know how I respond to that. I wanted to have fun with this. I really really did.

Saturday came along. My sister and I packed our bags, loaded up my car, and headed to St. Francisville. On the drive down, we stopped in Natchez for a bathroom break and it was freezing outside. The sun was completely hidden behind the clouds and I was shivering on the walk to and from the car. Also, the first challenge on this Warrior Dash route was called Alcatraz, where you had to swim out to a floating structure, climb over it, and swim back to shore. (In my nervousness, I had studied the course map. I wanted to be prepared for what I was going to encounter.) Shivering while completely dry had me a little worried about how cold I would be after swimming. This was not a good sign. But it’s better than heat, right?! I’d much rather run in the cold weather than the stifling heat. Give me snow any running day over 95 degrees with 100% humidity.

We got to the site of the race an hour later than we were supposed to, which put us an hour behind on running the race. No big deal. We just would run the next heat. As we were checking in, I was feeling pretty excited about it – more excitement than dread. (God was answering my prayer to have a good attitude.) We headed to the starting chute and watched the clock, counting down until 12:15 when we would officially start the race.

We took a few pre-race photos before it started:

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In this next one, Melissa suggested that we try to look fierce, but then she just kept laughing.

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The route was so much fun – it was very hilly and wound through the woods on a (mostly) dirt path. It was mostly shaded since it was in the woods. We had to run a while before we reached the first challenge – Alcatraz. I’m not the strongest swimmer and I saw a sign that the water was 6 to 9 feet deep. I just went for it. It wasn’t a far distance to swim and I can swim well enough to handle what was ahead of me. The water weighed my shoes down a good bit – I’m not used to swimming in Brooks running shoes – so I swam to the side and held on to a rope until the crowd thinned enough that I could climb on the structure and cross to the other side. It felt great to have the first of twelve challenges in the books!

We continued on and reached the next challenge where we had to climb two walls that were probably about five feet high, crawl under a big tarp (boot camp style crawling), and then climb two more walls. It was at this challenge when Melissa saw that I really came to play. I wasn’t going to just walk up to the wall and see what would happen. I ran full speed and scaled them pretty quickly. I mentioned my family loves Survivor, so as we were crawling under the tarp, Melissa jokingly said to me, “For immunity!” I immediately picked up the pace and hustled as fast as I could. We were cracking ourselves up.

At another obstacle, I had climbed over and was making my way down. Melissa had already finished and was waiting on me. Again referencing Survivor, Melissa said, “For love letters from home!” At this, I full on sprinted toward her for a few seconds. I’m sure other people wondered what in the world we were talking about, but again, we cracked ourselves up.

Along the course, there were funny signs. At a wall climbing challenge, a sign said, “Danger – Butts Ahead!” Another sign along the way said, “We wish you had trained for this, too.” Another one, which was probably the first one where you’d really get muddy, read – “You came here to get muddy.” And boy did we get muddy. I felt like a toddler with a loaded diaper at one point. Coming right out of the mud, your feet would slip and slide everywhere until you got to more solid ground. It was fun. It was stinking fun. It really was stinking at some of the mud-centered challenges. And it was so much fun.

When it came time for our fire jump, we were ready. Some people were tired and would simply clear the flames by an inch or two and keep moving. Melissa and I wanted a fun fire picture. We’ve talked about having a fun fire picture ever since she first started trying to talk me into running the Warrior Dash with her. We wanted to be in the air at the same time. Since we planned it out, we allowed the people in front of us enough time to jump over the fire and get several feet ahead. Then on the count of three we ran and jumped. The photographer gave us a thumbs up once our feet were back on the ground so that was a good sign. We got a sequence of three photos and this is my favorite:

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After the fire came the most intimidating challenge of all – Goliath. You had to climb a wall, walk across an elevated balance beam, and then go down a 30 foot slide into a giant pool of muddy water. This one was the hardest for me. I climbed the wall pretty quickly, but the distance between the last foothold and the top of the wall was taller than me. I was having trouble trying to pull myself over. Plus, the lady literally lying on top of the wall in utter exhaustion was not helping, because I felt sure I would kick her in the head. I knew that if I didn’t pull myself over, I would have to go to the bottom and start over because I would need some momentum once I got to the top. I dug deep and pulled myself over. I even inched a little to my left in the process so I didn’t kick the lady in the head. (You’re welcome, lady!) That moment felt like the greatest accomplishment of the whole course to me. The balance beam was the most nerve wracking part and I did not allow myself to look down. My heart was pounding when I made it safely to the other side. Also, apparently there was a photographer around that I didn’t see, because I ended up with this photo:

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At the end of Goliath was the 30 foot slide.

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I’ve heard too many stories about brain eating amoebas in Louisiana waters this year, so I was ready to pinch my nose shut from 30 feet up. Not today, brain eating amoeba. Not today. From the force of the entry into the water at the bottom of the slide, Melissa and I both lost our St. Jude buffs in the process. We both came up with big eyes patting the tops of our heads. One of them floated up, so Melissa grabbed it and let me keep it. It wasn’t even mine to begin with. They were both hers. But she kindly let me keep it as a souvenir of my first Warrior Dash.

The last challenge was Muddy Mayhem, where you’re forced to get as muddy as possible unless you want to encounter some real barbed wire. I prefer mud to blood and scars, so I stayed down. My poor sister ended up with mud in her eye, so she was having problems seeing at the end. This was our photo at the finish line:

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Afterward, Melissa was able to take a shower because she raised a lot of money for St. Jude and it was one of her perks. I hosed off as well as I could. Once Melissa was truly clean and I was moderately clean, we took a photo with our fuzzy Warrior hats.

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Then we got in line for some food. Melissa also had some food vouchers as part of her St. Jude perks. We had our hearts set on turkey legs, but they were out, so we snacked on french fries & corn on the cob. A drunk guy came to our picnic table and chatted up my sister. He offered her a sip of his oversized beer and assured her he didn’t have any diseases. (That’s what they all say, Meat Head!) She declined. She and I texted back and forth a little bit about Meat Head as he talked about how he had gained thirty pounds by going to the gym so much. He looked down and admired his defined chest. I kept my eyes averted and didn’t look directly at my sister until he finally walked away because my face would have told it all. However, if my sister had taken a sip of Meat Head’s beer, I wouldn’t have been able to control my face. No worries. She’s too smart for that.

Once we left, we headed to the Airbnb we were staying for the night in St. Francisville. I took one of the most glorious showers of my life. I never obey bath product labels that instruct me to “lather, rinse, repeat”. I just lather and rinse. On this day, I obeyed. Lather, rinse, repeat. Repeat was necessary. Also, once we had finished the race, my clothes were wet and it was a cool day, so I stayed cold to the point of occasionally shivering. I was so happy to be taking a hot shower. I actually hung my head in sadness once I finally decided I’d used enough hot water and shut it off.

Melissa and I went into St. Francisville – wearing our Warrior Dash medals with pride, of course – and ate supper at the Magnolia Cafe. (Melissa even put on her Warrior hat to order her food but didn’t get a reaction at the moment. Tough crowd.) One of the restaurant managers went to Tech, so we talked Tech football with him and showed him highlight videos our dad was sending us during the game. When we left, we realized it was still pretty early – probably around 7:00 or 7:30 – and there’s really not much to do in St. Francisville once the sun goes down. Also, there was no TV in the Airbnb where we stayed. We had a conversation that went something like this:

Me – “I wish we had thought to bring some decks of cards or something.”
Melissa – “Yeah, me too. OH! I have an idea!”
Me – “What?!”
Melissa – “We can go back to our room and do crossword puzzles!!!!”
Me – “Crossword puzzles?! That doesn’t sound fun!”
Melissa – “No, it’s this fun app on my iPad!”
Me – “Crossword puzzles are boring.”
Melissa – “Oh wait! Not CROSSWORD puzzles. JIGSAW puzzles! With our own pictures!”
Me – “OOOH! That does sound fun! Let’s put on pajamas first!”
Melissa – “Okay! Pajamas and jigsaw puzzles!”

Me – “Yes!”
Melissa – “Wow, we sound like grandmas.”
Me – “What?! We are not grandmas! We ran the Warrior Dash!”

Well, let me just say we did at least two hours worth of Warrior Dash photo jigsaw puzzles as well as a precious Sayid jigsaw puzzle and now I officially want an iPad. Something has finally come along to make me want an iPad. Jigsaw puzzles.

The next morning we woke up – yes, I was sore especially across the arms and shoulders – and our Airbnb host served us breakfast on her patio before we headed home.

This was fun. It was just as fun as Melissa always made it out to be. No, it was even more fun. I absolutely loved it. I left St. Francisville with sore muscles, multiple bruises, and a few battle wounds on my arms and legs. It was totally worth it. These grandmas are getting ready to sign up for Warrior Dash 2016.

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And I Was Running …

Four months ago, my philosophy on running was that I would run if something was chasing me. Otherwise, I wasn’t interested.

But always in the back of my mind was how fun I thought it would be to run the Warrior Dash and actually be able to endure it. Also the thought of being more active was appealing. Living like a couch potato can get boring. Also there was the fact that my parents live in the most perfect neighborhood for walking, running, or biking and I am living at their house at the moment. But still, nothing was chasing me, so sleeping later won out.

Then came Lent. I’m not Catholic, but I understand the concept of sacrificing something and I’ve given up things for Lent the past several years. This year I decided to give up laziness and downloaded the Couch To 5K app. My goal was to be able to run a mile by Easter. A friend of mine who runs felt confident I’d be able to do it, so I gave it a shot. Those first 60 or 90 second running increments were rough, but I stuck it out and built up endurance. And it happened – I ran over a mile straight before Easter.

So now here it is two months after Easter and I’m still running. It’s a strange thing to admit, but I actually enjoy it. I actually look forward to it. I look forward to getting up an hour earlier than non-running days and running. I’ve found it to be a great way to start the day.

I get to see the moon before it goes into hiding for the day. I see rabbits and turtles and squirrels and ducks and geese. (I’m cautious of the geese. I’ve heard they can be aggressive.) I talk to God. I clear my head. Ideas come to mind. Things seem to make a little more sense early in the morning when I’m outside in the fresh air. Most of the neighborhood is still asleep or getting ready for work, so there’s very little traffic. It’s peaceful. Usually I’ll turn my music on after a few minutes and it keeps me motivated. Then the day carries on, I get to work, and thoughts/ideas can get a little fuzzy again, but the morning starts out wonderfully. I love it. I’m thankful for it.

For the longest time, I was running around 2.5 miles, but hadn’t made it to 3.1. That was my next goal. First was run a mile by Easter (check!) and next was to make it to 3.1 miles, which is the distance of a 5K. I’ve done it my last three times to go running. I’ve run at least 3.1 miles. (The most so far was 3.42.) Wonders never cease.

On the day I first accomplished 3.1 miles, Melissa and I signed up to run the Warrior Dash to celebrate. Now I have no choice but to keep going. I’m thankful for the motivation though. I want to keep at it and nothing is even chasing me.

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Sayid likes to give me a post-run bath when I get home. He likes the salt. Then I head to the shower and wash off the sweat and dog slobber. I’ve gotta say though, I’d be a fool to refuse some sweet Sayid kisses.

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Blueberry Heaven

IMG_8942Just when I start thinking West Monroe doesn’t have much to offer, something comes along and surprises me.  This time my happy little surprise was a blueberry farm!  I’ve lived in this area most of my life, but had no idea this place even existed.

A few weeks ago my friend, Amber, who lives in Oklahoma posted a photo of herself at a blueberry farm.  Days later, my friends, Johnathan and Anna, in Ruston posted very similar photos of their family picking blueberries.  I became curious and started asking about this blueberry picking phenomenon because I had no idea such places even existed and I love blueberries.  So then Amber from Oklahoma told me places like this aren’t too hard to find.  Then Amber from Oklahoma directed me to a website, and before I could even find the listing myself, Amber from Oklahoma told me that there’s one in West Monroe!  My West Monroe.  And not just in West Monroe, but less than five miles from my house in West Monroe.  Amber from Oklahoma enlightened me about a place that I have driven past countless times.  Thank you, Amber!  Those Oklahoma folks are good people.

I told my sister, Melissa, about this place – Butler Blueberries – and she & Stacy visited it the following weekend.  She loved it so much that she wanted to go again.  Yesterday morning, I went with Melissa and Stacy.  We went early in the morning around 7:00 since Louisiana likes to turn hot and humid pretty quickly.  Our plan was to each pick a $10 gallon bucket.  I went off by myself, plugged into my iPod and listened to a great playlist.  I lost track of Melissa and Stacy, but I knew they were just a few rows over and would be easy to find.  There were blueberries galore.  Amazingly, I never even broke a sweat while I was filling my bucket.  I just listened to my music and smiled and picked.  I am the type who is usually constantly on the lookout for bugs, spiders, wasps, etc.  I didn’t even care.  In fact, I reached right past a spider web, because I saw a cluster of berries I wanted in my bucket.  Blueberries make me brave, apparently.  As early as it was, I’m not going to lie – my alarm went off and I momentarily toyed with the idea of sleeping in, but as I was picking, I thought I’m so glad I got up early for this.  About an hour after we arrived, my bucket was full and it kind of bummed me out.  I was having so much fun, I wanted to keep picking.

I went on a short little hunt and found Melissa and Stacy.  Melissa understood my sadness regarding my full bucket, because she was also having fun, so we decided to get one more bucket full.  There were a few extra buckets on the ground, so I gave her one and took one for myself with the goal of each of us fulling ours halfway.  We decided we’d each throw in an extra $5 and split that gallon.

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I loved it.  I want to go back.  I wish I had a need for more blueberries, but I have far more than I need.  In fact, I’ll be sharing with some folks.  I’ll also be making homemade blueberry muffins this afternoon to take to work in the morning and share.

With the gallon Melissa and I split, we shared a lot with Mama and we also went to her house where Stacy and Melissa cooked breakfast – complete with loaded blueberry pancakes – for all of us.  After sharing with Mama, Melissa and I each ended up with three pint size freezer bags full.

Of my own gallon, I ended up with four pint size freezer bags full, eight snack bags full, and a big bowl full of roughly three cups of blueberries to use for my muffins.  The recipe calls for two cups, but my cajun cooking teacher told us to use a recipe as a guide, but put in more of what you like.  In regards to this, I can just hear him saying, “If you like blueberries, put in mo’ blueberries, because the mo’ you put in, the mo’ betta it be!”  I concur.

 

I put my co-op loot to work, y’all.

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Tomorrow makes two weeks since my mom and I visited Ashley in Dallas and helped with her co-op shopping/distributing day.  We each put in $10 for our own shares and came home with a load of produce.  I would say that the fun started once I got home, but that’s not true.  The fun started when we got in Ashley’s car and headed to the Dallas Farmer’s Market District first thing Tuesday morning.  I genuinely enjoyed the whole experience.  But I love to cook and really love to eat, so the fun simply continued.  These are some of the dishes we created with our co-op stash:

*  beautiful, flavorful, fresh salads with leaf lettuce, grape tomatoes, and cucumber, along with other toppings we added that weren’t from the co-op  (We had several of these and they did not disappoint.)
*  roasted broccoli
*  roasted red potatoes
*  roasted broccoli, red potatoes, & red bell pepper combined  (I should add that roasted vegetables are pretty much the favorite way to cook & eat vegetables in this house.)
*  grilled corn on the cob with garlic and parmesan  (amazing!)
*  jalapeño poppers  (It’s hard to go wrong when you add bacon, cream cheese, and cheddar cheese to something.  These got devoured very quickly.  And these are also the reason I am now sad that I didn’t plant jalapeño peppers in my garden this spring.)
*  fresh squeezed lemonade  (Just water, lemons, and sugar, made by following instructions on my sister’s food blog.  DELICIOUS.  Not too tart.  It was summery perfection in a glass.)
*  BLTs made using leaf lettuce – and that was done tonight … thirteen days after I brought this leaf lettuce home.  It was still beautiful, green, and lovely.
*  Granny Smith apples as a snack with peanut butter & honey

Unfortunately, our green bell pepper went bad before we got around to using it.  Our second red bell pepper had a bad spot, so I chopped that right off and threw the rest of it into our “bag of tricks” in the freezer.  When we boil chicken for any reason, we throw some frozen onion, pepper, and celery scraps in the pot for extra flavor.  I think we’ve only used one of our co-op onions so far, so we have a few left.

This co-op experience has been a thing of beauty.  I realized that freshly squeezed lemonade can be delicious if done right and can have me reaching for the pitcher to pour a second glass instead of making ugly faces.  My sister learned that even though she doesn’t usually like bell peppers, roasted red peppers are actually sweet and delicious.  She even started seeking them out on the roasting pan and by the time we were both full, the only thing left was a small scattering of potatoes.  I discovered that even though I have an aversion to mayonnaise in general, when whipped up into a mixture with some garlic and parmesan cheese and spread on an ear of corn before grilling, it makes for the best corn I’ve ever eaten.  Bring on the mayo.  We realized that even though we are usually drawn toward spinach leaves when we make salads, it’s hard to top leaf lettuce.

I am very envious that Ashley gets a fresh co-op stash of goodies tomorrow morning.  I am amazed that we still have a few items left that are still in good shape.  I am definitely working toward getting a co-op started here.  The wheels are steadily turning and this thing is going to become a reality.  It’s too great of an opportunity to let fall away.  It’s only a matter of time.

It’s a GIRL! (And three boys!)

I’m borderline obsessed with my adorable little container garden in the back yard.  My uncle gave me a few smaller containers and told me about this really cheap potting soil his friend always uses and has success with, so I planted three more things with cheap potting soil.  I’ve got basil, cilantro (yum!), and gypsy sweet peppers.  Here is my garden with all seven of my crops.  (Crops?  Is it okay to call it a crop when it’s a very small amount?)

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The back row is tomatoes (some are starting to show up!), strawberries (which are appearing to be completely useless), squash (MVP!), and cucumbers (which probably would like to have something to climb).  The front row is basil (which I really don’t think I’ve used much of before), cilantro (which I LOVE), and gypsy sweet peppers (why not).  And the very front is my precious Sayid and his frisbee.

I am finding my squash plant to be, by far, the most fun to watch.  It has grown so much!  I think it is so pretty when the yellow flowers start to bloom.  So over the past week, I’ve been paying attention to a bloom that has been right on the verge of opening up.  Then, finally, on Tuesday morning, I looked outside and saw this beautiful sight.

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Isn’t it lovely?!  Then today, my sister texted me and asked if I knew anything about the male & female blooms and pollination.  I didn’t, so I looked it up online.  I learned so much! I feel so smart now.  I learned that only the female squash blossoms have the chance of turning into a squash that can be picked & eaten.  The male blossoms are just around for pollination purposes and then they just fall off and die.  But apparently, the male flowers are a delicacy.  So should I end up with an abundance of boys at some point, I might decide to try my hand at cooking a delicacy!  I learned that the boy plants are on longer stems, typically, and the girl blooms have a small fruit attached to the stem.  So I excitedly went outside to see if my beautiful bloom was a boy or a girl.  It’s a GIRL!  And I have three boys who will probably be opened up in the morning.  Then the bees need to come do their job.  I must say, gardening is fun.  This is the most interest I’ve had in anything scientific in a very long time.  I feel like a proud Mama, with my one girl and three boys!

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It’s a GIRL!

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It’s a BOY!

Crossing my fingers that my thumbs are green

Growing up, until around the end of elementary school, I remember having vegetable gardens in our yard.  My mom informed me that the reason we didn’t have gardens during my middle school & high school years was because the house we lived in had a massive front yard and no back yard, and “nobody wants a garden in their front yard”.  I maintain that we could have had a garden inconspicuously hidden behind the massive hideous bushes that surrounded our property.  But, alas, nothing can be done about it now!

In the summer of 2008, my sister and I decided to attempt a garden in our yard.  It was not successful.  I think that was partially because we planted it too late in the spring, partially because we didn’t give it the attention it needed, and also maybe because our soil – which was just our yard dirt – wasn’t that great.

I’ve decided to give it another shot this year.  But this year, I am doing a container garden instead of a standard garden.  I did some reading on container gardening and it definitely has its pros!  For example, today when we’ve had storms and strong winds, I brought my pots under the patio, so they’re not in the crazy weather.  I actually bought a 99 cent book in the Kindle store over the weekend and got quite the education on container gardening.  It was 99 cents well spent.  If anyone is curious, the book is called Container Gardening – A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Container Gardening by Alice C. Murray.  It was a wealth of information for a buck!  It comes highly recommended.

After some research, a few visits to Lowe’s and Home Depot, and then sending my dad to pick up some better quality soil at a local garden mart instead of one of the major stores, I was ready to plant.  My sweet parents came over to help me Tuesday night.

Daddy scrubbed my hand-me-down pots from Mama with soap and water.  (This is something I learned in my Kindle book!  I would have probably just rinsed them out really well, but I learned that soap and water were necessary to make sure there are no lingering pesticides, insect eggs, salt deposits, etc. from the previous planting.)

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Sayid discovered my new watering can and kept drinking from it.  He also decided he liked snacking on potting soil, unfortunately.

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In the end, I got everything planted!  From left to right, I have Sayid (who at 85 pounds is pretty much still growing!), patio tomatoes, strawberries, squash, and cucumbers!

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I had three strawberries on my plant to begin with.  Two were green and one was red.  The red one was so lovely and it smelled so sweet!  I took a picture of my cute little strawberry.  And thank goodness, because by the time I got home Wednesday afternoon, a bird had been snacking on my precious little treasured berry.  But wasn’t it cute before the rude bird with great taste but no manners came & destroyed it?

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I am hopeful that my garden will be successful, but I’ve gotta figure out something to keep those pesky birds away!

Branching out – spaghetti squash!

One of my favorite shows is The Biggest Loser.  The season that just ended was a great season.  There were so many likable people competing.  I think one reason this show appeals to me so much is that I love food and I love to find healthy new ways to cook different things.  I prefer to eat healthy food, so I learn a lot by watching this show.

I love squash, but I had never tried spaghetti squash.  I’m sure I had heard of it, but never gave it much thought.  Then this season on The Biggest Loser, one of the contestants, Jackson, mentioned spaghetti squash several times.  He talked about how much he liked it and mentioned that he could now enjoy one of his favorite foods – spaghetti – without all the carbs of pasta.  This definitely piqued my interest.  I also love spaghetti on occasion, but hate all the empty calories that come from pasta.

I found Jackson’s recipe online and then started my search for a spaghetti squash each time I was in the grocery store.  After several misses, I finally found one.  It was the last one in the store.  I bought it and followed Jackson’s recipe.  I had no idea that spaghetti squash comes apart and looks just like noodles when cooked.  It’s amazing!

My sister also liked it.  In fact, she liked it so much that she thinks we should always use a spaghetti squash when available and then just use pasta for our leftover sauce once the spaghetti squash is all eaten.  I tend to agree!  If you’ve never tried spaghetti squash and are looking for a healthier alternative, I highly recommend it.  The only difference I noticed between pasta and spaghetti squash was that the spaghetti squash has a bit of a crunch to it.  It just has a firm crispness to it.  But it’s great and so much healthier.  And, kudos to Jackson for the idea of putting baby spinach in the sauce.  I love spinach, but that thought never crossed my mind!

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Here is a link to Jackson’s spaghetti squash recipe – http://www.biggestloser.com/nutrition/recipes/jacksons-spaghetti-squash

Veering away from sandwiches

Does anyone else get tired of sandwiches, wraps, or flat bread creations for lunch?  I’m so tired of these things.  I love bread if it’s freshly toasted, buttered french bread or a hot roll from Logan’s Roadhouse, but sandwich bread can be so boring.  It finally struck me that the only reason I eat sandwich bread is because it holds all the other stuff together.  It’s certainly not what I want to be eating for lunch every day.  My sister and I discovered the wonder of lettuce wraps last year, so I thought maybe I could do something with lettuce wraps instead.

I’ve started looking over the sale papers for the local grocery stores that appear in the mailbox, and I should have been doing that all along.  A few weeks ago, I found avocados for fifty cents each at Super One.  Fifty cents!  This week a few deals caught my eye.  They had red, orange, or yellow bell peppers for 98 cents each, and collard, turnip, or mustard greens for 78 cents per bunch.  I like cooking with bell peppers, but they’re usually about $2 each for anything other than green, so I jumped at this opportunity.  Also, I experimented with cooking collard greens for the first time a month or so ago, and they were delicious.  I figured 78 cents per bunch seemed like as good an excuse as any to cook some again.  So, I headed to Super One to take advantage of these deals.  I got three bell peppers – one of each color – and two bunches of collard greens.  Then I spotted an extra special deal – avocados for 38 cents each!  THIRTY EIGHT CENTS!!  So I grabbed three of those, too.  Then I headed to Walmart for my heavy duty shopping.

Anyway, I’m straying away from the point.  I’m tired of bread!  I want to do lettuce wraps to change things up a bit.  So, I decided to buy some ground turkey and cook it with some of the peppers and a little purple onion & garlic.  That will go in my lettuce leaves for my wraps.

I divided it up after it was cooked.  I’ve got two small bowls ready to grab & go for lunch for the next two workdays.  (And I bought a fresh pineapple that I already chopped up and some strawberries to go with my lunches, as well.)  Then I have a separate freezer bag with enough for two more servings for another time.  And on top of that, I’ve got three freezer bags of sliced, mixed bell peppers for cooking with later!  Success!

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If anyone has ideas for lunches to take to work, I’d be interested in hearing them!

Inspiration from PF Changs

On Good Friday, my brother-in-law, Robert, flew Melissa, Daddy, and me to Jackson, Mississippi in his airplane and we ate supper at PF Changs.  Robert has eaten at PF Changs way more often than the rest of us, and none of us are picky eaters, so we deferred to Robert’s suggestions for appetizers & entrees. One of the appetizers Robert ordered was the lettuce wraps.  I had heard people rave about the lettuce wraps, but I probably wouldn’t have ever tried them.  I would have thought … lettuce?  Surely I can pick something on this menu more exciting than lettuce.

Well, they were delicious.  Everything was delicious, but my goodness, those lettuce wraps are worth all the hype.  Yummy.  Yummy yummy yummy.  We loved them so much, Melissa & I decided we wanted to try making them ourselves.  But the more we thought about it, the more we didn’t really know how to go about making them similar to PF Changs without going to a specialty store to buy the right kinds of seasonings & ingredients.  So, we branched out.

This is what we came up with –

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We went the Mexican route!  Lettuce, of course, diced chicken cooked in fajita seasoning, black beans, sour cream, tomatoes, cheese, & avocado.  YUM.  So good.  So good that we’ve eaten this meal several times in the past month.  Even Mama loved them (and has made them herself) and has decided she likes black beans afterall!

We’ve tried one other way … diced chicken cooked in barbecue sauce, cheese, bacon, green onions, tomato, & avocado.  It was also very good.

Who would have ever thought we’d get so excited about buying a head of iceberg lettuce.  The possibilities are endless!

My exercise of choice – bicycling!

Every summer, a small group of friends & family gets together & takes a trip to the beach for a few days.  Last summer on our beach trip, Amber, Jody, & I made a Walmart run for some groceries we needed, and we came across these adorable bicycles in the sporting goods section.  They were women’s beach cruiser bikes.  We loved them.  All three of us talked about how cute they were.  My mom & her friend, Mrs. Barnes, also came across those bikes on one of their trips to the local Walmart & admired them.  Mama & I decided we both wanted to buy those bikes when we got back home.

My sweet, generous Daddy ended up treating both of us to new bikes.  I keep my bike at my parents’ house along with Mama’s, because they have such a great neighborhood for riding.  We’ve had a lot of fun riding our bikes.  My sister & brother-in-law live down the street from my parents, so they rode with us several times last summer, too.  My nephew, Seth, who is in the photo below, led our biking adventure once.  Suffice it to say, Seth was our personal trainer.  He took us on our longest, most strenuous ride that day. It was great.

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So, now that the weather is getting warmer and my income tax return is pending, I’m considering buying another inexpensive bike from Target or Walmart to keep at my house.  There are times I want to ride, but I don’t want to drive to my parents’ house to do it.  So, this will give me options.

And, I’m also thinking I may end up buying a bike rack for my car, that will hold two bikes.  I just find riding bikes to be really fun.  Running?  NO.  Not fun for me.  Bicycling?  YES.  Absolutely.  And it’s even more fun when you have someone to ride with.  If I have a bike rack that’ll hold two bikes, I can take my bikes – both of them – when we go to the beach this summer.  Then two of us can ride bikes to the souvenir shops, a restaurant, or a snowball stand.  We can just ride up & down that main stretch of highway & enjoy the breeze & the salty air.  Or if Melissa & I want to take a day trip to a small town not too far from here, just for a fun day, we can put the bikes on the rack & ride our bikes through the downtown areas.  That just sounds really fun to me.  It sounds like a plan.  🙂