Tough Decisions

>> Friday, October 29, 2010


Last night I challenged myself. (I don't necessarily recommend you do this yourself, it's just something I did.) But with my knee. I can run up to 4 or 5 miles relatively pain-free . . . then the tightness and sharpness start to set in. I had 8 miles on my training plan, so after a week and a half of paying attention and heeding to pain, I wanted to see what would happen if I pushed myself.

Just a little push.

Stephen always says I'm "too conservative" with my training. Taking each and every twinge out of proportion. What would happen if I kept going after those warning signs? Would I have to stop? Or could I keep going?


Well, I started off the run, again, pain free. 35 minutes came around, and the tightness on the outside of my knee started. "Oh, great," I thought. So, I stopped and stretched. It got better. 10 minutes later, the sharp spot below and to the left of my kneecap started. I stopped and stretched. Felt a bit better. It was still tight, but another 10 minutes passed. Stopped and stretched again.

I kept repeating this process until I had finished 8.8 miles.

The pain level stayed relatively the same the whole way. Which isn't great news, but it's also not terrible. It felt so good to run. Seriously -- if my knee was in good shape right now, I can confidently say I could have run a PR marathon last night. I'm just that well rested and trained. And today I'm able to walk pain-free, so I think despite all the issues I'm having, it's getting at least somewhat better. :)


Which brings me to the frustrating decision I am 85% sure I have made: I will not run the Philadelphia Marathon in full. I can't see myself pushing to finish a 20-mile run this week. It doesn't seem like a smart thing to do. This means I really won't be ready. Nor do I want to have some awful pain crop up during the race and have to DNF or finish hobbling to the end point.

It's hard enough when I'm at my healthiest. And the "anything to finish" attitude doesn't sit well with me in this case. (Or ever, really. You shouldn't drag yourself through something if you are in complete agony!)

I emailed the race directors at Philly, and they said as long as I'm not trying to run a LONGER race (I'm not jumping from a half marathon entry to a full) . . . I will finish with an official time. Meaning: Though I'm not technically in the half marathon, if I choose to only finish the first half . . . I will still get a time. I won't disappear into some DNF oblivion like I did at Wineglass.

This.
Is.
Great.
News.


Because if I decide ahead of time that I'm only running the half, which is basically what I'm saying I have decided, I won't feel that awful sinking feeling I had before with the DNF. I know my body, and I know I shouldn't push through an injury just to get that marathon finish this year. There will be other races. And I can plan to enjoy myself more. Take more photos. Visit with more friends and family. Visit Lululemon, too! Eat frozen yogurt and cheer people on.

Plus: I still completed my training plan -- and then some! That's a lot of miles!


Onto a more varied routine for a while. And this is good news for all of you, too. Many of you wrote in the survey that it's hard to relate to someone always training for marathons. Or someone who only seems to run. Not just because you're new to running . . . but you're into other stuff. Well-rounded-ness. You also want to know the kinds of things we do when we aren't training for a distance event.

And there are indeed other things we like to do for fitness fun!


This weekend, I'm joining our local YMCA (image source). A no-frills gym that will get the job done. That's for sure. And I see pool running, yoga, weight training, cycling, and interval training in my future. Group classes, too. I may even -- GASP -- learn to swim properly. It's not that I can't keep myself afloat, but I know nothing of actual technique. It's so totally not efficient!

I'm starting to think this post was a lot more for me than it was for all of you. But tough decisions are necessary and difficult to make. This one's a biggie. Thanks for reading!

So, that's the complete knee update for this week. Thanks for all your emails, tweets, and comments. Your get-well-soon wishes and kind words. Now, with my shiny, new gym membership in the horizon, I'd love to know what you favorite cross-training activities and group fitness classes are! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.



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Change-Your-Life Vegan Brownies and Tattoos


Before I begin, I want to thank the 850+ people (WOAH!) who have filled out our 1-year Blogiversary survey. We are completely overwhelmed in an AWESOME way with the response. We thought maybe a couple people would chime in with some suggestions and criticisms. But we've had friends, online friends, family, a few foes, and lots of self-titled "lurkers" fill it out. We can't wait to read through all the comments in full this weekend.

And what we like best is that a load of the feedback is positive (leaving up grinning from ear-to-ear), but we've also received a TON of great suggestions and constructive advice. (Lots of funny cat stories, too!) So, if you're interested and haven't had a chance to fill it out yet, check out the survey. There's no deadline. And we really appreciate the info.


"ULTIMATE" VEGAN BROWNIES

This vegan brownie recipe must certainly have been brought to Earth somehow by the gods. I've made countless attempts to perfect a brownie without real butter, eggs, etc., and I've never completely been satisfied. I've come close -- and my Tangerine Brownies are definitely a crowd-pleaser.

But I set out the other day to find the best vegan brownie recipe I could find. So, when I saw the photo of Mattie's "ultimate" creation, I just about passed out.
  • It looked SO good.
  • The texture looked SO authentic.
  • The chocolate-chewy-gooey-ness looked . . . PERFECT.

As with many baking pursuits, the trick is all in the method. I learned all about carefully attention to process when I made the Pecan Chocolate Chippers several months ago. So, if you're ready to have your world turned upside-down, follow his instructions EXACTLY.

A couple modifications I made to the ingredients:
  1. I used 2 ounces of chocolate chips instead of 1. (I used Sunspire semi-sweet chips.)
  2. I omitted the instant espresso powder.
  3. I used regular flax meal instead of the golden variety.
  4. I did indeed use tub margarine despite its instructions to use stick. (I used Earth Balance.)
  5. I added 1/2 cup of chocolate chips in at the end, pre-baking, for extra chocolate-y goodness.
For full ingredient list and instructions, visit Mattie's recipe on Veganbaking.net.


TATTOOS

We've received a number of questions about our tattoos. We weren't ignoring requests to explain what they are. What they mean. Why we have them. Etc. It's just tricky. Those of you out there with tattoos inevitably get the question: "Ohhh, cool -- tattoo, but what does that MEAN?" And no doubt, the tattoo SHOULD mean SOMETHING if you have it permanently inked onto your skin.

Right?

However, I find whenever I tell people about my tattoos (when they ask, of course -- I don't just go around obnoxiously wearing long-sleeve shirts with cut-outs on the arms so people bring them up or anything), there's this disappointment. A let-down that the meaning isn't so essential to the core of my very being. Part of why I have my tattoos is because I love art. I like how they look. They meant something to me at the time I decided to get them. And that meaning sticks with me, but may sound plain silly to others.

Since we've received so many requests, we decided to tell y'all about 'em. There's nothing earth-shattering here. :)


My infinity symbol. This was my very first tattoo. I got it during college. I was going through a rough time I felt I'd never get out of. But I knew in my head that life goes on. Situations come and go. So, to me, the infinity symbol means the continuity of things. The artist who did it thought I was a joke because I wanted it so small. Oh, well.


Stephen's tattoo is his first and only. It says "Burst and Bloom" -- a song lyric by a band called Cursive. I may not be explaining it the best, but to him it means growth. That you need to go through tough stuff to grow, come into your own. He got it done like days before we started dating, just as a fun tidbit.


My left wrist says "Aria" and people often ask if that's someone's name. No. It isn't. It's the Italian word for lyric melody. I was so involved with music -- singing, particularly (go altos!) -- in high school, I thought forever that I'd devote my life to music. But competition is stressful and took the fun out of it for me. Though I did well at festivals and other events, I decided to give up my music-major dream in college. But this tattoo always reminds me of my passion for music.

My right forearm has an "&" ampersand symbol. In French Script. This is about Stephen. I designed all the wedding stuff for us (save-the-dates, invites, programs, etc.), and EVERYTHING had a "Ashley & Stephen" on it. I liked the symbol so much . . . and it made me think of our wedding, basically just US, so I got it done the week after we were married. Sappy, I know.

Do you have tattoos? Or do you want a tattoo? What do you have . . . or what would you get? I thought this would be a fun Friday question! Let us know! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.


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Blogiversary: Help Us Help You!

>> Thursday, October 28, 2010


We try to not bug you all with the back-end side of things. But we're genuinely interested in who you are. How you came to follow us. What you like. What you don't like, etc. In the past week alone, we've received emails from teenagers and 50-somethings. We've fielded questions about barefoot running and vegan diets, yoga and home decor. We even had a reader email us all the way from Ecuador!
  • Who are you?
  • Where are you?
  • What do you like/dislike?
  • Etc., etc., etc.
So many questions! This survey should only take a couple minutes -- tops -- and it's anonymous. (So, mom -- please fill it out! Be brutally, but constructively, honest.) The answers to these questions won't necessarily shift our focus totally away from, say, running. But it will help us know why you keep coming back for more.

I mean, we're dorks! We thrive on this form-creation stuff!


(((Also: If you're having trouble finding the "Submit" button, just click in the box where you type text and push "Tab" a couple times. It'll get ya there. Or if you have a scroll on your mouse, that should let you scroll, too. The form is too wide for our format. THANKS!)))




Thank you so much -- the cats thank you, too! And if you'd rather email us directly -- we'd love to hear from you! Just shoot a note to neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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In the Kitchen with . . .


Clea told us she was having some trouble visualizing exactly how we stuffed the crust for our Brie Stuff-Crust Pizza recipe. I decided her question was a wonderful excuse opportunity to make the meal again. This time, with my all-time favorite Pumpkin Pizza Dough (PS: OSG Angela made mini herbed garlic knots with it recently -- she did a beautiful job!).

Of course, my camera battery died on me last night. So, I had to get creative with my documentation. And silly. Cheesy, if you will.


PEPPER-JACK(-o-lantern) STUFFED CRUST PIZZA
 
What you'll need . . .
  • Pumpkin Pizza Dough (just a half batch, unless you want 2 pizzas)
  • Pepper-Jack Cheese (enough slices to line the perimeter of the pie pan)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup Swiss chard, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin puree
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
Method . . .

1.) Prepare your pizza dough ahead of time by following the recipe's instructions.


You can refrigerate the other round to use the next day. Freeze to use within a month. Or make two pizzas by performing all the steps in this recipe twice.


(Yes. You saw that right. It's creepy!)


2.) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Then take your round (again, you'll just want 1/2 of what the recipe makes for one pizza) and stretch it so that it's 1 inch (on all sides) larger than your pie pan.



Press it into the pie pan. And let the sides hang over.



3.) Test everything to make sure it's balanced. You can also skip this part if you're not a weirdo like me. (Also: Are you seeing this? Stephen does the dishes while I cook. He's the best husband EVER.)


Then line the perimeter of the plate/dough with slices of cheese (you can use anything -- brie, mozzarella, pepper-Jack, cheddar, etc. -- but slices are easier than shredded).


Then seal the cheese into the crust by folding over and pressing into the bottom of the pan/dough. The more attention you give to this step (the tighter the seal), the better.


4.) Place crust in the oven (without any toppings) and bake for 10 minutes. Entertain yourself while you wait.



Try not to annoy your significant other, roommates, or friends. Also try not to break anything. (During this whole process, our kitchen faucet stopped working! We now need to replace it . . . so only the spray nozzle works. Ahh!)

And our kitchen
was
a
disaster!!!


5.) Take the crust out of the oven. Drain your diced tomatoes (but don't rinse), and combine them with the pumpkin puree, chopped Swiss chard, Parmesan cheese, and salt/ pepper. Then pour and spread this mixture into the body of the pizza. Return to the oven for another 10 to 15 minutes.


I don't have any photos for this part because we were dealing with the sink issue.

6.) Pizza is done when crust is golden brown. You may wish to broil yours for 2 to 3 minutes to get the crust's cheesy insides extra gooey.




If you missed our Brie Stuffed-Crust Pizza recipe on Tuesday, it looks much better than what these photos depict. A little something like this:


Shannon pointed out that this dish might make a great addition to your Thanksgiving spread. I couldn't agree with her more! Usually I just eat odds and ends, but I could totally see filling this with some kind of cranberry-sauce, veggies, and other holiday staples.

After our pizza demonstration, we set out to make some of the best vegan brownies we've ever seen. I haven't had a chance to sneak in a glamor session with them yet, so the recipe will have to wait (and it's not MY recipe -- it's one I found that's seriously fabulous). You'll definitely want to stay tuned, though. It will change your life.


Now that we're almost in November, I want to know about some of your favorite holiday foods. If you host, what do you serve? If you travel, what do you bring to pass? Do you have any family recipes and/or other food traditions? I love learning about the food-family-culture connection. It's absolutely fascinating and delicious!

Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.


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How to Train in the Cold Months

>> Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Sue writes:

I started running in August and finish my first 5K on October. It was so much fun and I plan on entering more races in the future, but since it is getting colder, it is going to be harder for me to run during the week. I also don't belong to a gym, and don't have a treadmill.

During the winter I just want to run, not really train for any particular race. Do you have suggestions as to how much to run in the winter months. Also: Should I try to increase mileage or wait until I am ready for another race?



Sooner than we think, the geese will fly south. The ground will freeze. So will our toes. Indeed, Sue asks a great, timely question, which is why we thought it'd be perfect to post for everyone. Now that fall racing madness is slowing down . . . the temperatures are cooling . . . the light hours in the day, dwindling . . . running/keeping fit gets somewhat a lot more difficult. I'm also not a member of a gym right now. And with no access to a treadmill, longer workouts mid-week are getting tough. (I say this mostly from Stephen's perspective, since my knee has kept me from running longer than 6 miles this past week.)

As far as mileage during the winter, it's difficult for me to prescribe a plan because we're all so different. I always say that one of the best things you can do -- no matter what time of year -- is create a goal in your mind. For some, that's a winter or spring race. (There's this awesome January 10K series where we live, so we both try to keep our pace up!) For others, it's getting faster. For others, it's going longer. Etc.


Coming up with a goal to work toward will not only help you decide what and how much training to do. It will also help keep you motivated when the ice and snow make you think twice before heading out the door.
  • For speed, you may want to start doing more intervals (bursts of faster running). Fartlek workouts. (more info)
  • For endurance, you may want to add a longer, slow run to each week (but no more than 10% more per week). Hills, even. (more info)
  • For a race, you may want to evaluate how your last training plan went and try a new one.
  • For maintenance of current fitness, you may want to simply continue your current intensity and mileage.
No matter what you decide your goal will be, simply stick within your current fitness level (no big changes) and slowly incorporate workouts in that help you reach it. And winter nights mean more time indoors. Instead of plopping yourself in front of the TV for yet another 16-and-Pregnant marathon (guilty), use your time wisely. Read up on running. That's what we, the English teacher and library worker, do!


Books we've read/plan to read:
See! There's tons of advice and inspiration that you can soak in on those cold, dark days.


CROSS-TRAINING

Winter is also a great time to tune up on other areas of fitness you may neglect when you're in the habit of only running. Many gyms offer a short-term membership plan and some offer a "membership freeze" if you want to quit for a while once the weather gets nicer.


I'm seriously considering joining a gym right now for several reasons.
  1. I'm injured and -- whether or not I'm able to complete the marathon next month -- I'd like to add swimming to my regimen. And some more strength training.
  2. I get cabin fever in the winter. I like to have a place to go on blustery days. Someplace that isn't my couch. I've been known to spend hours at the gym, sometimes only sitting in the sauna or walking some slow laps around the indoor track.
  3. I like to meet new people. So, the opportunity to join some group fitness classes, like yoga, spinning, etc., is exciting. And it beats watching TV.
  4. I get sick. Often in the winter. And even if I'm still OK to work out (because in many cases, you can still maintain fitness while you're sick), I may not feel like running in the dark. On ice. While snow accumulates on my shoulders.

If you haven't tried cross-training before, you'll be amazed. I promise! I was the most skeptical and always, always wanted to just keep running. No matter what.

BUT. When I get going on the bike, I tend to tone muscles I didn't know existed. I grow a new appreciation for my body. I get motivated to try new things that continually challenge my body and my mind. And I know for certain I've become a better runner from yoga and cycling. My very best 5K race time was completed during an intense spinning class-obsessed (in a good way) period of my life.


This year? I want to make a splash and learn better swimming technique. I'm not a natural in the pool, but there's always something about skipping around in my bathing suit while it's snowing outside that gets me giggly and exited!

And if you don't have the cash, you can work out at home, too! Though we don't have dedicated space, we have created a way to workout at home. We've written about our in-house "gym" here and here. One of our readers also wrote a passionate post about the topic a few months back. And we even have tips on how to squeeze in some zero-dollar strength training.


NEW SEASON. FRESH START.

I always find myself at the beginning of a new season desiring change. If you're new to fitness or running, now may be a good time to start. We've got a ton of running-related posts to get you laced up and ready for your first run. Most basic of which is titled simply: How To Run.

It's not too early to start training for your first 5K. Stop making excuses. Waiting until "next month." Now's the time! You can do it!


Other related information to get you moving . . .
How do you keep up your running/workout schedule during the colder months? Any tips to share with Sue and other readers? We'd love your input! Just leave a comment or email us at neverhomemaker [at] gmail [dot] com.

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