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New Lessons for a New Year (and Football Predictions!)

8 Jan

As a rule, I don’t really have New Year’s resolutions. I love goal-setting, but having something set in stone doesn’t work well for someone who tends to chastise herself when things don’t go according to plan. Instead, I thought I’d share with you some of the lessons 2008 taught me (and that I will hopefully apply in ’09!)

1. Guilt has no place in every day life.

We all have certain things we do out of a sense of obligation. What I discovered is that there are many things I’ve convinced myself that I have to do without any outside pressure. So, I started asking why. Why do I feel bad when I don’t do the dishes in the sink immediately when I come home from work? Why do I feel obliged to go to a crowded party? (I’m not saying you should let your dwelling become a pig sty or that you should become a social recluse.) What I’ve learned is that I can take control of my decisions and own them. It’s okay to let those dishes sit until a little later if I’d rather just have some quiet time after work.

2. Being healthy means taking a very honest look at yourself.

Taking my vitamins every day is not optional. 2007 taught me what I stood to lose by being ill-informed about my own health. This past year taught me an even greater lesson, and it was about being honest. I stopped drinking alcohol. I spent four years trying to keep up with other people my age at college parties before (finally) acknowledging that my post-op digestive system is simply no longer equipped to digest alcohol at a normal rate. I was not being honest with myself about my physical limitations. I accepted that there were certain foods I can’t eat anymore, I accepted that I can only eat limited portions, but I couldn’t accept the idea of going out for happy hour and not being able to have a drink with everyone. I don’t know why–I felt like I wouldn’t fit in at parties anymore. Once I stopped, I felt so much better. I didn’t have to worry if the evening would be one where I was okay, or if it would be one of those nights where my stomach just couldn’t tolerate it. Going out knowing that I won’t have to worry about feeling sick is an amazing feeling. It’s also great to know that I always have a designated driver!

3. I work to live. I do not live to work.

Our society places a lot of value on people who work tirelessly at their jobs. These people are to be commended for their sacrifice and dedication. Some people truly feel their best when they are working. But daily, I see nervous businessmen/women typing frantically on their Blackberrys while attempting to swallow a cup of soup for lunch. I hear people on the Metro say on their mobile phone, “Hey, I won’t be home until after 8 or 9 tonight.”

I like my job very much. I work with good people, I enjoy the work I do, and it’s something I can do well. Part of the reason I am no longer at my previous job is because of the rigorous expectations of the corporate world. I had no wish to rush all day and work long hours for what was barely a living wage in Boston. I really believe that it doesn’t have to be like that. I can hear the chorus of people calling me naive from here, but I honestly believe that things would still get done if people truly worked 9-5 every day and spent the rest of their time living.

We all have responsibilities at work. But tell me why those responsibilities should trump our responsibilities to ourselves, our families, our pets, and even our hobbies? It doesn’t make sense to have priorities skewed so much toward what is only ONE part of life. This leads into my next point…

4. Slow down.

I don’t want this year to fly by. Our family has so much to savor. My brother is getting married to someone wonderful (and I get to be in a wedding!), my cousin is having a baby, my dad opened a brand new office, and Joe and I are exploring what is still a relatively new home for us.

But sometimes with workworkworkworkschoolschoolschoolschool, I forget to just slow down and take some time to enjoy the things around me. It amazes me how far Dioji has come from the scared, shy, and wary dog he was the day we brought him home. Now he sleeps on my feet when I sit on the couch so that he’ll know if I move. He’s learned to play with toys (he was so confused for those first few months), he is too smart for his own good, and he makes me smile every day. Right now, I’m in my basement writing this blog and enjoying the smell coming from the pot of coffee I just brewed. It’s a really simple moment, but what I’m doing right now is exactly what I want to be doing. That’s a nice feeling.

6. It’s ok that things don’t go according to plan.

This has been a difficult one for me to learn. It’s not that I haven’t been aware of the fact that things don’t always go according to plan. The problem I’ve had in the past is being at peace with that. I’d get very flustered and frustrated. After going with the flow a little more during the latter part of 2008, I started recognizing that sometimes change is better than the original plan. Things do, in fact happen for a reason. Allowing a little flexibility in life makes it more exciting. I ought to just enjoy the ride more often.

So, Happy New Year, folks. In the new year, I encourage you to follow your heart, trust your instincts, and remember this:

“Smart people do what they like to do, not what the world thinks.” -Elia Aboumrad

Cheers, friends!

And now for something completely off-topic…

Seeing as my Pick’em league ended (Joe won! Congratulations!) before the playoffs, I thought I’d put my football picks for the playoffs up on here. This Sunday is the Divisional Round and the team I list in bold is the one I pick to win.

Baltimore @ Tennessee, 4:30pm Saturday: This is one of those games I see going into overtime and ending with a lot of very battered players on both sides. Two of the best teams in football right now are playing in what I expect to be the epitome of a smash mouth game. On the Tennessee side, this game is going to come down to Collins’ timing with his receivers. If Ed Reed manages to get his hands on a pick, look out. To win, Tennessee must not commit turnovers and they have to find a way to run the ball against Baltimore’s very stingy run defense. Baltimore also has areas where they need to step up. Rookie QB Joe Flacco has progressed well throughout the season under the leadership of new coach John Harbaugh. What I want to see is how some of the veteran leadership on the team (Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Derrick Mason) can help their young QB and first-time head coach avoid mistakes caused by inexperience. To win, the Ravens must continue to hold teams on 3rd down and force turnovers. That said, it’s hard to decide who really has an edge in this game. Even with the game being in Nashville, I’ve got to think that Baltimore wants it more. Ravens win it on a Stover field goal.

Arizona @ Carolina, 8:15pm Saturday: If you’d told me this time last year that Jake Delhomme would come back after Tommy John surgery and help lead the Carolina Panthers into the playoffs, I might have scoffed a little. I didn’t count on Deangelo Williams pulling out a 1500 yard rushing season or Steve Smith having a 1400 yard receiving season. Bottom line? Carolina has a well-balanced offense that’s poised to adapt to its opponents. In contrast, Arizona has an excellent passing game with Kurt Warner having thrown for over 4500 yards this season, but a meager running game. If Carolina’s secondary shuts down the pass, the Cardinals are in some serious trouble. Statistically, Arizona also fumbles more than Carolina does. In the end, I think that Carolina’s balanced play will overwhelm the pass heavy Cardinals. Panthers by a touchdown.

Philadelphia @ New York (G), 1:00pm Sunday: This is an exceptionally hard game to call. Division games always are. Teams in the same division play so often that they really get to know the nuances of their opponents. Statistically, there’s no category where one team has a distinct advantage over the other. The X factors in this game are the running backs. New York has to contain Brian Westbrook and force Donovan McNabb to make snap decisions. If McNabb has time in the pocket, the Eagles will win. Conversely, Philadelphia has to contain the trifecta of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw. With such depth in the running game, I predict a more confident Eli Manning in the pocket and a Giants win by 10.

San Diego @ Pittsburgh, 4:45pm Sunday: After last week’s game against Indianapolis, let me say that I don’t believe any of the injury reports coming out of San Diego. Tomlinson says now that he has a tear in the tendon near his groin. Nate Kaeding is also questionable with a groin injury. Losing either of these players could be a kick in the gut for San Diego. However, I think losing Kaeding might actually be worse. Let’s not forget how excellent Darren Sproles has looked on the ground lately. Kaeding has a reputation as one of the most reliable kickers in the game, and if this one comes down to 3 points they’re going to want the best guy they have trying to put it through the uprights at Heinz Field (a stadium infamously difficult to kick in). The other factor on the Chargers side is of course, Philip Rivers. In order to win this game, Rivers has got to keep his cool. The Steelers #1 ranked defense is going to throw everything it has at him, and in the past, Rivers has shown that he becomes flustered and makes bad decisions under pressure. As for the Steelers, I find myself less concerned about Roethlisberger’s return from his (3rd?) concussion because I have confidence in the Parker-Moore-Russell tandem. Admittedly, it hasn’t been Willie Parker’s best season. It’s possible that breaking his leg last season has left him a little bit gun shy. However, the multi-angled approach to the run has worked well for Pittsburgh this season. The receiving core hasn’t looked too bad either. While the numbers don’t look especially spectacular, Nate Washington, Santonio Holmes, and Hines Ward have all made plays when they needed to happen. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if it’s 1 point or 20 points–a win is a win. The Steelers have been somewhat reliant on their defense to propel them forward. In order to win, the offensive line must keep San Diego from pressuring Roethlisberger in the pocket. During running plays, blocking needs to be a team effort in order to give the Steelers’ running backs space to make big plays. I say Pittsburgh takes it by a Jeff Reed field goal.

On Food and Fantasy Football

25 Aug

Good morning, folks! There wasn’t much time to write this weekend. I was busy getting ready for the start of classes, fantasy football drafts, and doing some good cooking so that I have meals handy for the week.

As promised, however, I have a fantasy football roster, and a dinner report from Dino to share with all of you fine people.

Team WiiFat (It’s a league with a bunch of video-gamers, so…yeah…)

QB: David Garrard, Jacksonville
WR: Terrell Owens, Dallas
WR: Joey Galloway, Tampa Bay
WR: Patrick Crayton, Dallas
RB: Willie Parker, Pittsburgh
RB: Fred Taylor, Jacksonville
TE: Alge Crumpler, Tennessee
K: Mason Crosby, Green Bay
D: Seattle
DL: Jason Babin, Seattle
DL: William Joseph, Oakland
DB: Dominique Barber, Houston

On the Bench
RB: Kenny Watson, Cincinnati
WR: Shaun McDonald, Detroit
QB: Vince Young, Tennessee
WR: Dennis Northcutt, Jacksonville

All in all, it was a pretty strong draft. My only complaint is that several of my players have the same bye week, so there’ll be a week where I lack some depth. Other than that, I’m fairly pleased with how it went, and it gave me an idea of some strategies to use for my draft tonight.

Yes, tonight. It was supposed to be on Saturday, but our final team didn’t join until less than a half hour before the draft and Yahoo took our draft time away. I was so angry. Luckily, it wasn’t postponed too much and it looks like everyone will still be able to play. Oh well, at least it gave me more time to evaluate talent. Plus, this pre-season weekend was kind of brutal on some teams and left a couple of normally decent players a bit broken. Luckily, no one I’ve drafted so far has a serious injury.

Onto other news… Friday night’s dinner was absolutely wonderful. Joe met up with me after work and we meandered over to Cleveland Park where we had a drink at Alero before our dinner reservation. When we got to Dino, it was fairly empty, but by the time our entrees came around the place was just packed. The restaurant is in a small space, so it was a little loud with so many other people in the room, but it wasn’t impossible to hold a conversation.

The food was excellent. I started with an Antipasto di Verdure (vegetarian antipasti) that included small tastes of roasted tomatoes, pickled eggplant wrapped in grilled eggplant, minted baby squash, a cold bean salad, and some fresh mozzarella and sharp pecorino. Most of it is in my refrigerator at home, because I really wanted to save room to try each course I ordered. Joe started with some fried calamari that was served with a roasted red pepper sauce. The sauce had a bit of a kick to it, which I liked, but the squid alone was just delectable. The batter was light, rich, and somewhat flaky (almost like pastry crust) and the squid pieces were perfectly textured. Calamari is one of those dishes that can come out very rubbery if prepared improperly, but I’m guessing that those pieces got an overnight soak in buttermilk to soften them.

Our mains came out shortly thereafter. Joe got a flat iron steak that was marinated in some well-aged balsamic vinegar. I was enjoying my own entrée so much that I didn’t have room to taste his, but he said it was excellent. The steak came with some roasted potatoes which were fairly non-descript, but still tasty. For myself, I got the Zuppa di Pesce, which was a tomato-seafood broth full of mussels, bay scallops, sea scallops, wild pink shrimp, calamari, fish, and clams. It was absolutely mouth-watering. All of the shellfish, with the exception of the shrimp were served in their shells, which gave the plate a wealth of color. Each type was flavorful and delicious, but my favorites were the enormous sea scallops. They had an extremely buttery texture which was well complemented by the tomato flavor from the broth. My soup was served with two large pieces of grilled bread that had been slathered in olive oil and garlic. Joe and I each had a bite and it was very good, but neither of us was in the mood to fill up on bread.

The dessert selection was full of great choices, but Dino also offered the option of selecting two cheeses from their menu as a final course. I went that route to avoid getting something too sweet (which would have left me soured on the experience). I chose Longo Robiola Pagliarino, a soft-ripened cheese aged in a pile of straw and flown in every two weeks from Torino, and a Guffanti Ragusano, a hard to find, well-aged raw-milk cheese from Ragusa, Sicily that had a sharp bite to it. My selections were very pleasing and complimented each other well. I wasn’t too crazy about the Robiola at first, but it was one of those flavors that grew on me with each taste. It was very nutty and almost brie-like in texture. The Ragusano reminded me of a rich, long-aged pecorino with a bit of a grassy flavor to it. The cheeses were served alongside three small toasts, candied pecans, and a balsamic condiment. For his dessert, Joe selected the house made vanilla gelato which was served “drowned” in espresso. His delighted expression said it all regarding the taste there.

All in all, we decided it was our best restaurant week experience to date. It was a great way to explore a part of D.C. that I hadn’t seen before and enjoy a meal that left us both satisfied, but not overstuffed. Although we participated in the restaurant week promotion (3 courses plus a complimentary glass of grapp/limoncello/moscato for $35.08), I still thought that the menu was reasonably priced for the quality of the food presented.

Aside from our fantasy football draft and delicious trip to Dino, the weekend was mostly spent relaxing. I spent a little bit of time looking over my course syllabi for the semester and preparing my computer for the onslaught of downloads involved in online study. I also came up with a new creation this weekend after having a craving for something that my dad always makes.

Often, when I’m home in Pittsburgh my dad makes an enormous pan of greens and beans, which is exactly as it sounds: A huge pan full of garlic, white beans, and leafy greens sautéed together until delicious. I decided that it would make a really good soup with a few additions, and I came up with this:

Greens, Beans, and Chicken Soup

1 16oz. can cannellini beans
1 16oz. can northern beans
3 cups of baby spinach, rinsed
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms
2-3 pieces pre-cooked bacon, diced
1 32 oz. box natural chicken broth, or 32 oz. homemade
2 cloves garlic
2 medium carrots
1 lb. chicken breasts, diced into one inch pieces and dredged lightly in flour
1/4 cup grated parmesan, asiago, and/or romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
Trader Joe’s 21 seasoning salute (or a mixture of onion powder, a bay leaf, basil, parsley, and thyme)

In a dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté the garlic, bacon, mushrooms, and carrots until the vegetables are slightly softened and then set them aside on a small plate.

Add a small amount of olive oil to the dutch oven and add the chicken. Once the chicken is golden on all sides, add the broth, sautéed vegetables, and both cans of beans to the pot. Simmer for 15 minutes and then add the spinach one cup at a time, allowing each addition to wilt slightly before adding the next. Simmer for 5-10 more minutes and then stir in the grated cheese.

The pot makes 9 1-cup servings at 142 calories, 3 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbohydrates, and 18 grams of protein. It’s really warm and comforting—and I love any dish that requires only one pot to make. I froze mine in single serving containers and spent most of the weekend devouring it. Luckily, I saved some to take to work this week.

Well, after that bizarre whirlwind tour of my weekend, I’m off to face a new week. Fantasy draft #2 is tonight, and I’ll be sure to update my musings throughout the week. Have a great Monday, and keep smiling. Ciao!

Classes, Banapples, and Football (oh my!)

21 Aug

Yesterday was a very productive day. I finished the assignments for my first graduate course. Granted, it was a one-credit class to prepare for online learning, but it still brings me one credit closer to being a librarian. I also had an online orientation via the Elluminate platform last night. It just amazes me how far technology has come. Elluminate is as close to being in a real-live classroom as it gets. We had discussions via chat and microphone, and learned how to use all of the application’s functions. Any action you might have in a live classroom (raising your hand, writing on the board, taking a poll, splitting into groups…etc.) is available via on-screen buttons. Applications and presentations can be shared, and moderators can provide “web tours” if they want to explore a website with the class. Some professors also use it to host virtual office hours. Finally, there’s a “drop-in center” where students can chat with one another and practice using the various techniques. I imagine it will really come in handy for meetings when working on group projects. I’m very excited for the coming semester.

Aside from getting a head start on classes and orientation, it was also a successful day of trying new foods and baking. I tried roasted-salted edamame for the first time today. They’re just roasted soybeans, but have a nutty, almost peanut-like flavor. A ¼ cup is 130 calories and 14 grams of protein. They taste like they’d be a fantastic salad topper or trail mix ingredient. I may add some to the leftover steamed shrimp and broccoli I had for dinner and eat it cold for lunch tomorrow

While at the market, I also picked up some apple chips to make a fruity protein bar which I’ve dubbed “the banapple-nut bar.” They came out great and had a texture similar to my apple-cake bars. Here’s the recipe and method for those interested:

Banapple Nut Protein Bars

¼ cup soy flour
¼ cup almond flour (just grind blanched almonds to a cornmeal consistency)
1 packet kashi honey-cinnamon 7 grain hot cereal
2 scoops of vanilla protein powder (or about 60g)
½ tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
2 ½ tbsp. SF cinnamon syrup (hazelnut or caramel would be fine too)
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 egg white
2 tbsp. cashew-macadamia butter
2 tbsp. chopped pecans
¼ cup banana chips, chopped
¼ cup apple chips, chopped
1 tbsp. apple butter (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, soy flour, ½ of the packed of kashi, ½ of the protein powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add the cinnamon syrup and mix well until everything is slightly wet. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white and nut butter until smooth. Add that mixture to the dry ingredients and mix well. Finally, add the other ½ of the kashi packet, protein powder, pecans, banana chips, and apple chips. Mix well until a sticky batter forms.

Line a 9×5 loaf pan with parchment paper or greased aluminum foil. Grease or lightly wet your hands and pat the batter into the pan evenly. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, drizzle on the apple butter and spread it evenly. It will melt slightly and create a thin glaze. When cool, remove the bars from the pan and cut into 6 equal pieces.

Nutrition facts: 172 calories, 11 grams of fat, 14 grams of carbohydrates, and 10 grams of protein.

If you’re concerned about fat, you can replace the nut butter with some applesauce or mashed banana and/or nix the chopped pecans. If you still want a nutty flavor without adding too much fat, try using PB2 in place of the nut butter. Keep in mind, however, that the fats in nuts are monounsaturated and have been shown to lower levels of bad cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease when eaten in moderate amounts (reference: Mayo Clinic website). Walnuts and flaxseeds in particular contain high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which are even better for heart health.

If Little Red Riding Hood’s granny had me for a grandchild, I can assure you that she would have chased that wolf out of her house lickety-split. That’s because I would have brought this:

This is my goody basket. It’s where I keep my protein and vitamin rich snacks so that I can grab one or two and get out the door quickly in the morning. As much as I love making my own protein bars, there are some flavors that I simply haven’t mastered yet. I usually have Kashi Chocolate-Peanut and Cinnamon Coffee Cake Protein-Fiber bars on hand, as well as some of the South Beach Peanut Butter or Cinnamon Raisin Protein Cereal bars. South Beach does make “meal bars,” but they’re high in sugar alcohols which I tend not to tolerate. Also packed in my basket are a batch of my chocolate vita-cupcakes and a batch of my new banapple nut bars. Granny would have been power-packed and ready to lay the beat-down on any nasty wolf that came her way.

Keeping healthy foods in high supply is crucial to balanced eating. Without that basket, I’d be scrambling around the kitchen in the morning trying to find things to throw together that are high protein, high iron, and just all around good for me. Take the time to prepare things for yourself in advance and it’ll make eating well significantly easier. Most soups freeze very well, so I try to make a large pot, let it cool slightly, and then put it in single-serving containers in the freezer. I take one out in the morning, toss it in my bag, and by lunch it’s thawed enough to get nice and toasty after about a minute and a half in the microwave. I’m currently eating my way through a batch of cauliflower-cheese-chicken chowder.

The reason I’m focusing on this so much now is that I know once classes get into full swing, I’ll have a lot of other things on my mind. With a good meal plan in place, there’s one less thing to worry about.

In other news, I have my first fantasy football draft of the season today. Joe and I joined a league with a bunch of people from a forum that we frequent. I’ve got some lists made, but I want to narrow a few more things down and check injury reports one more time. I’ll post my roster here tonight or tomorrow for anyone who’s interested.

That’s all for now. It’s almost the weekend, so “Just keep swimming,” as Dory said so many times in Finding Nemo. Think positive and have a wonderful Thursday everyone. Ciao!

Two down, six to go! (Boca loaf inside)

11 Aug

What a weekend! Saturday night, we watched as Michael Phelps claimed his first gold medal in the men’s 400 IM. It was the event he said would be his toughest. Well, he blew past his own world record by 2 seconds and made it look easy. Then, last night Jason Lezak pulled of the comeback of all comebacks to bring the men victory in the 4X100 freestyle relay. It was unbelievable. Coming out of the final turn, he was still nearly a full body-length behind the Frenchman Alain Bernard. Suddenly, it just seemed like something changed inside of Lezak. Barnard hadn’t slowed down. If anything, he was exploding during the last 50 meters. Lezak just wanted it a little more, and his determination paid off when he touched the wall first.

So, thanks to Jason Lezak, Phelps’ quest for 8 gold medals continues. Here’s the list of events with their televised times (ET)

400m IM- August 9 @ 10pm- GOLD
4X100m freestyle relay- August 10 @ 11:01pm- GOLD
200m freestyle- August 11 @ 10:13pm
200m butterfly- August 12 @ 10:18pm
4X200m freestyle relay- August 12 @ 11:16pm
4X50m IM- August 14 @ 1o:45pm
100m butterfly- August 15 @ 10:07pm
4X100 medley relay- August 16 @ 10:55pm

In comparison to the feats of athletics I saw this weekend, my accomplishments were rather small. In my own way, I had some good success. Here’s another vegan loaf recipe that’s a bit more “meaty” tasting.

Cast of Characters:

½ cup almonds (ground to a coarse meal)
2 TB olive oil One onion, diced
One large garlic clove, minced
One large carrot, peeled and grated
Two celery ribs, diced
One red or green pepper, diced
One cup baby bella mushrooms, coarsely chopped
2 cups Boca Ground “meat”
1 cup cooked whole wheat cous cous
1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon mixed seasonings (whatever herbs and spices you like)
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp. salt

Use the same method as the lentil-veggie loaf and add only as much vegetable broth as is needed to bring the loaf together. This loaf only takes about 40 minutes to cook, although you can leave it in the oven for 5 extra minutes if you want the top to be very crispy. Divided into 8 slices, it comes out to about 116 calories and 10 grams of protein per slice. It is low in fat and carbohydrates too, but I don’t have the numbers with me right now. I’ll post them in the comments later if anyone shows interest.

Here’s me deciding that a fork won’t be necessary…

In other news, I decided on a chocolate protein powder to experiment with. It’s by BSN and it’s called Lean Dessert (in chocolate fudge pudding flavor). It made really good ice cream—yum! I really like it, but I’m still trying out more samples because as powders go, it comes in a little bit low at 20g protein per scoop. I got a sample of Jay Robb’s whey powder at Vitamin Shoppe. That comes in at 25g protein per scoop and they only use milk from cows that have not been given hormones. To me that seems like a good thing. I have enough hormones of my own, thanks.

Also, looks like it’s back to the drawing board on the iron front. Remember that I mentioned I was due for blood work in August? Well, everything came back looking great with the exception of my ferritin (1), iron (9), iron saturation (2), and hematocrit (25%). It’s really hard not to get discouraged. Pushing more red meat into my diet doesn’t exactly thrill me because of the cholesterol factor, so fixing this issue will be about making good choices and creating new ways to sneak iron into recipes.

Safeway sells giant bags of frozen shrimp and scallops. I can toss those into my stir-fries along with vegetables like broccoli and red peppers that aid in iron absorption. I also plan to buy some bran flakes and molasses to make iron muffins. Another thought that crossed my mind was finding some young, mild calves or chicken livers, chopping them finely, and adding that to one of my protein loaves. Like I said, I’m going to have to get creative. It’ll probably mean giving up my beloved protein bars as snacks in exchange for something that is high protein AND high iron, like some tuna fish or a molasses-bran muffin. At any rate, I spent most of last evening researching high-iron recipes and I will most certainly post anything successful.

Even though I’m discouraged about my iron level, I have to remember that I’ve successfully raised my vitamin D and B vitamins, have normal liver functions, and have maintained proper levels of everything else. My goal now is to keep eating healthy and to raise my hematocrit as much as I can. I’ve said it before, but I truly believe writing down a goal is all the motivation we need sometimes, and this situation is no exception. I will fine tune my eating habits to focus on protein and high iron. Since I’m not a medical expert, I’ve also consulted a hematologist to help me monitor everything.

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to their week and that the sun is shining wherever you are. Stay motivated and stay positive!

Ciao for now, friends.

Jonesing for some football…

6 Aug

So it seems that all has come to a stalemate in the “retired-just-kidding-what-do-you-mean-I-can’t-start?” drama between Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers. Mike McCarthy announced last night that Aaron Rodgers will remain the starting quarterback and that Favre’s future will not be with the Packers. Rumors of trade negotiations between Green Bay and Tampa Bay have already surfaced. If that’s true, I actually feel really bad for Tampa Bay’s current starter, Jeff Garcia. He’s actually started to produce a decent offense down there, and to get shoved out by Favre’s ego would be a slap in the face (in my opinion).

And yet, I can’t get too mad because, like it or not, the NFL is a business. If the Bucs, Jets, or any other team showing interest in Favre thinks that he’s the best chance their franchise has for success, of course they’re going to take it! They’d be stupid not to. With a guy like Favre, ticket sales, merchandise sales, and publicity would skyrocket. Whoever has Favre this season is going to be in the spotlight whether the team has a horrific season or a great one. Everyone is going to be watching to see what happens. This soap opera is going to reach Mike Vick proportions.

Elsewhere around the NFL, training camps continue with the usual random injuries, hold-outs, and competitions for depth chart positions. Mostly, I’ve just been keeping an eye on the black and gold. I was VERY excited to see James Walker’s recent report from the Steelers training camp. This season has potential to be the best of Roethlisberger’s career thanks to the weapons and defense being built up around him. That’s not to say the upcoming season will be a piece of cake. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Their opponents this season have a .598 winning percentage giving the Steelers the hardest strength of schedule in the NFL. On tap they have games against the entire NFC East (and I live with a Redskins fan!), a Jaguars team that was very strong last season, the ever in sync Colts, Patriots, and two potentially tough games against their division rivals, the Cleveland Browns. As much as it pains me to say it, Cleveland has the players to be a very competitive team this season. Their question mark lies in the players’ ability to create a team chemistry.

What gives me confidence are the reports of good mentoring to the rookies on the parts of the veteran Steelers players. Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall could prove to be a dangerous two-back tandem.

Oh, and did I mention that 12 year vetern Hines Ward was voted the NFL’s smartest offensive (non-quarterback) player by the NFL coaches?

That’s right, behind that never-ending grin is a player who can study a defense quickly on the field and adjust his route/timing as necessary. That’s a big advantage for the passing game.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh returns this season with most of it’s top-ranked defense intact. The injury bug has been around already to aggravate Troy Polamalu’s hamstring and James Harrison’s groin, but the way I see it I’d rather it happen now than mid-season.

The only lasting training camp injury that hampers the Steelers is Daniel Sepulveda’s ACL tear, in his kicking leg no less. Sepulveda is set for surgery and currently out for the season. His ability to bury offenses on the other side of the field was a huge boon to Pittsburgh’s defense, and now someone will have to come in and fill those shoes.

The Steelers’ preseason begins this Friday evening versus the Philadelphia Eagles. I doubt we’ll see much of the starters, but I admit I’m very curious to see if Donovan McNabb is as healthy as the Eagles are claiming him to be.

Also starting this Friday are the Beijing Olympics! From last week’s post, I’m sure you all can tell how excited I am for that. Not too much else is going on in Neen’s world this week. According to UPS, my package from Vitalady should be delivered today, so I’m really hoping I can try some new protein bars/ice creams and share some more recipes with my wonderful readers.

I hope that everyone is having a wonderful week. If you’re feeling discouraged (I was last night after an experiment gone wrong in the kitchen), remember that you can always seek advice and try again. Things don’t always work out the first (or even the second) time, but if you resolve to keep trying and remain determined to reach your goals, you’ll surely make it. Keep thinking positive! Ciao for now.

A Little Bit of Everything

1 Aug

There was a really excellent article on ESPN the other day by Eric Adelson discussing the magnitude of the challenge that Michael Phelps will face during the Olympics. Including preliminary races, semi-finals, and finals, he will swim 17 races in the span of nine days.

Here’s a link to the article:

This is the part I really wanted to quote though, because I’ve never quite been able to describe to anyone what swimming the individual medley is like. For those who don’t know, the IM is an event in which swimmers swim equal distances of all four strokes (butterfly, backstroke, breastroke, and freestyle). The longest race of that type I’ve ever competed in was the 200m version and I distinctly recall seeing black spots afterward—although it was one of the greatest adrenaline rushes I’ve ever felt. At any rate, here’s a paragraph from the article that explains what the 400m event feels like:

“Phelps begins with the most difficult event: swimming’s decathlon, the 400 individual medley. The race begins with 100 meters of butterfly, in which he must propel his body out of the pool, over and over, until he feels as if he’s doing squat jumps with two kids on his back. The fly requires an edge, almost an anger. ‘You have to be tougher, meaner,’ says 1992 gold medalist Mel Stewart. ‘If you don’t have a base of strength and stamina, you fade. You die.’

Next, the backstroke. Lie on your back, put ankle weights on and kick for a full minute. That’s what the backstroke feels like. By the end of these 100 meters, a swimmer’s quads and abs are shot. The race is half over.

Switch to breaststroke, Phelps’ weakest. He will struggle to hold form: back straight, elbows tight, head up, wrists snapping just so. His arms will whine and the field will close in and someone might even pass him, as Ryan Lochte did in the trials.

The freestyle leg will take anything Phelps has left. During breaststroke, muscles lock up. Still, he must sprint for 50 more seconds. Many swimmers drive the final 25 meters without lifting their head to breathe, to wring the final tenths out of the clock. At trials, Matt Grevers saw spots and felt his consciousness start to slip away. Phelps broke the world record to barely win the event at trials, and he called it ‘one of the most painful races of my life.’ He has 15 left.”

…And yet, some people commenting on ESPN continue to claim that swimming isn’t “a sport in the true sense.” What does that even mean? In order to find “the true sense” that this person was talking about I turned to the American Heritage Dictionary. I figured that if I found the definition of the word, I could then determine whether or not swimming fit the criteria. The first listing for “sport” came up as follows: “Physical activity that is governed by a set of rules or customs and often engaged in competitively.”

Well, I certainly came out of the pool breathing hard and feeling tired when I raced, so there’s the physical activity component. As for the next part, swimming most assuredly has rules, (i.e. touching the wall with two hands on certain strokes, no flutter kicking during butterfly or breastroke..etc). Lastly, judging from the endless number of swim meets I went to from ages 6-18, I’d say that it is “often engaged in competitively.”

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a sport! And now that I think of it, those very same principals apply to another sport that some people roll their eyes at even more:

Synchronized Swimming!

I think that synchronized swimming (and figure skating) often get put down as sports simply because when done properly, they look so beautiful and effortless. That’s how these people are trained. Team USA synchronized swimmer Kate Hooven said of the lack of respect, “It gets frustrating at times. Maybe we make it look too easy.”

Here’s an idea of what’s happening under the water for those swimmers. First of all, it’s an immediate disqualification if the bottom of the pool is touched. That means suspending the body in water while performing maneuvers which require breath control, balance, muscle control, and a big smile on your face. Part of the training regimen used to achieve this involves using 10 lb. weight belts and 2 1/2 lb. ankle weights during practice. Like most elite athletes, they devote 6-8 hours a day to their sport. While much of that time is spent in the water, they also do a lot of biking, running, yoga, and pilates to maintain flexibility and strength.

In other words, try treading water for 4 minutes, hold your breath during most of it, and add a host of underwater somersaults (in both directions) and then tell me if you can still determine which way is up. That’s nothing compared to what you’ll see done at the Olympics this year. I’d encourage everyone to try and catch the finals, because it’s bound to be an impressive display of athleticism and artistry.

All of this drama and fun starts a week from today. If there’s a specific event you don’t want to miss, here is the schedule of televised events.

I hope everyone had a wonderful week and that you’re looking forward to a relaxing weekend. Joe and I tried out the Wii Fit last night and I have to say, I’m just amazed at the technology that went into creating the game. The idea that the balance board wirelessly synchronizes with the system and can feel every little movement you make is just crazy to me. The game itself is truly a great step in the right direction. By being so active and interactive, it succeeds in encouraging exercise via fun games and tests. I particularly like the yoga, step aerobics, and the strength training. Joe is much better at the balance games than I am (haha, I know I’m a little clutzy). In any event, I’m really exciting to start tracking my progress with it and finding out if I do in fact get a little more “Fit.” My weekend will probably involve a lot of playing with my new toy (thanks Mom and Dad!).

This weekend also kicks off preseason football with the Hall of Fame Game. Indianapolis plays Washington, but the real focus here is the induction of this year’s Hall of Fame Class: Congratulations to Fred Dean, Darrell Green, Art Monk, Emmitt Thomas, Andre Tippett, and Gary Zimmerman. You can read more about their successful careers at

That’s all from me today. Again, have a wonderful weekend and remember to think positive! Ciao!