Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Point Half Marathon

(A few things to point out in this picture---I am not angry, just focused. And check out the oranges in my hand--I don't trust the food at the aid stations, so I bring my own. P.S. This is at the start of the race. Hence the reason I'm dry.)

Last Saturday dawned drizzly and without much visible sunlight, and I was feeling pretty nervous that the half marathon might be cancelled, especially because the closer we drove to Thanksgiving Point, the harder it seemed to rain. Normally I don't mind running in the rain, but this was no refreshing sprinkle---this was a cold, get-thoroughly-drenched, try-not-to-slip-in-the-mud kind of rain, and I hadn't exactly prepared for that.

It didn't help that the night before, I'd gotten fewer than four hours of sleep due to my brain refusing to shut down (partly because I was paranoid we'd sleep through our 5:30 A.M. alarm and partly because I knew I'd probably just seen my grandma for the last time alive that night (Friday)). So at 6:15, Matt and I, groggy and a little disoriented, left my sister's house (where we'd stayed the night since she lived closer) and drove down to Lehi.

When we ran the Salt Lake Marathon two years ago, Matt and I had arrived almost an hour early, leaving us plenty of time to go to the bathroom, strap on our magnetic race trackers, and adjust our bib numbers. When Matt and I got to Thanksgiving Point Saturday morning, I had about 9 minutes before the gun went off, and I REALLY had to use the bathroom, had no idea how to strap the race tracker on, and there were no safety pins in sight to help me get my bib on. Miraculously though, with Matt scrambling around asking for pins and me getting into the shortest bathroom line, I was able to make it to the starting line with about 45 seconds to spare before race time.

In other words, to sum up my rather long intro, it wasn't exactly the most ideal start to the race.

The good news was that my body was itching to run---I had been under so much stress all week, and all the tapering hadn't helped ease that anxiety since it meant I didn't have as much head-clearing running time. (For any non-runners, "tapering" is when you drastically reduce your mileage the week leading up to the race so that your body will be fully recovered and rested for your big day.)

Throughout all my many weeks and months of training, I had come up with a pretty set strategy (that I'd tried and tested out on long runs and that seemed to work well):

I would start out at a pretty slow pace for the first mile (about 45 seconds slower than what I wanted my next few miles to be), I would maintain a faster pace for miles 2-9 (which is when I seem to be most "in the zone"), I'd probably slow down by necessity for miles 10-12 (but I still wanted to try and stay under 10 mins/mile if possible), and then I'd use mind tricks the last 1.1 miles to push myself back to the type of pace I'd had in miles 2-9. If everything went as planned, I would be right on track to finish in 2:07 or just a bit faster.

So in plainer terms, here was the plan:

Mile 1 = about a 9:55 mile
Miles 2 - 9 = between a 9:00 and 9:30 mile
Miles 10 - 12 = anything under 10:00/mile would be ideal, but I was expecting I'd have to increase to about 10:20 - 10:30
Mile 13 = between a 9:00 and 9:30 mile
Mile 13.1 (last tenth of a mile) = an all-out sprint (at about a 7:30 pace, if I could manage it)

I know to any non-runners out there, this kind of planning probably seems over-intense, but when you run a race this long, you really should have a plan in place to keep you on track and make sure that you mentally stay in the race. I'm always amazed how some people just randomly decide, "Hey, I'm going to run a half-marathon," they train a little bit (maybe with their longest run being about 6 or 7 miles long), and then they just decide they're going to "wing it" come race day.

Maybe some people handle that kind of run-by-the-seat-of-their-pants kind of thinking well, but I know I sure don't. I knew I'd have the best possible chance of having a good race if I trained hard and planned carefully. (I even had my breakfast carefully planned out---4 eggs, scrambled, and about 2/3 of an avocado. It's a breakfast I've tried out multiple times before long runs with a high degree of success, due to minimal GI distress after and a prolonged sense of satiety.)

(Me at the mile 11 stop point when Matt finally was able to meet up with me. The look on my face says it all.)

I did an excellent job sticking to my plan until about mile 8 when we started hitting some crazy-steep hills. Miles 5 to about 11 were all on a golf course, and while many of the hills were manageable, there were a few inclines that were so steep I was practically walking up them (because my pace was so slow). Luckily, I'd prepared myself at least somewhat for hills, so I usually forced myself to increase the pace on the uphills and then I just sprinted full speed down the downhills. That strategy worked super well until about mile 8 (like I said) when I just didn't have the lung capacity to be hitting the uphills so hard anymore. Miles 8-9 were both at about a 10:30 pace, which meant that if I wanted to meet my goal time, I'd have to make it up elsewhere, which wasn't likely to happen.

And sure enough, I ended up finishing in 2:08:17, a mere 18 seconds off of my ultimate goal time. Those two miles had basically cost me my goal.

(Apparently you go faster at the end if you shut your eyes, which I did for about the last 50 meters)

Even though I didn't quite make the time I wanted, I'm still proud of my performance--I ran a great race, and it was the first race I've ever done where every minute was really focused on running and on my performance. Usually when I run longer distances, I find that my mind wanders, which means that I don't always push  myself to go fast. But during the half, every minute was focused on how I could keep up the pace, how I could make up lost time, how I could pass just one more person. I feel sure if I run another half marathon anytime soon, I could beat my goal time (a lack of rain would help, too).

It seems that whenever I finish a race, one of the first questions I get asked is, "Are you going to do another one?"

In short---yes.

I don't know when the next half marathon I run will be, but I do know that there will be a next. Had you asked me ten minutes after I'd finished this last half, dripping with rainwater and shivering so hard I couldn't open the chocolate milk I'd grabbed, I would have probably said some pretty snarky things to you. But now, three days after the fact and only a little sore, I'm already gearing up for my "next."

And who knows? Since I don't seem to be too built for speed, the half-marathon might even become my signature race.

Have you ever run a half-marathon? I'd love to know other people's strategies for running long races.

Monday, April 28, 2014

In Loving Memory - Grandma Austin

Last night at 9:35 P.M. as my husband and I had just gotten finished saying our bedtime prayers together, I got a call saying that my beloved grandmother had passed away. While the news was not unexpected, I was still immediately flooded with grief and emotion, but at the same time, I felt an intense rush of gratitude for the legacy that this woman has left all of us.

My grandparents first moved the street over from my mom's house when I was about ten, and I was at first shy around her and my grandpa, just as I was shy around most adults back then. I had only seen them a few times up until that point, and my grandpa always "tweaked" off my nose when they used to come visit, and I was worried that I would be left nose-less forever (even though I must have known somewhere deep in my brain that that was irrational). I don't remember much about them actually moving in, but I clearly remember what happened the following Sunday:

My mom, wanting my siblings and I to form a closer bond with our grandparents (especially now that they lived so close), told us to cut through the neighbor's backyard and walk up the street to my grandparents' house after dinner and see if they wanted to play card games with us. My mom then proceeded to tell us how much her parents loved playing card games and how she was sure they would be beyond thrilled if we came over and asked to play a game or two.

Although a bit hesitant, my sister Hannah and I presented ourselves at their door soon after her suggestion and were enthusiastically taken up on our offer to learn some of our grandparents' favorite games.

What followed would become one of the most cherished traditions of my life growing up---from that point on, each and every Sunday that we were in town, my sister and I would head on over to our grandparents' for games of Rook, Mormon Bridge, and Hand and Foot, which were always accompanied by large amounts of Tootsie Rolls, Costco-sized bags of sugar cookies and M & M's, and cheese and crackers. While I was quickly developing my card skills by learning from the masters, I also was developing a deep and close friendship with my grandparents, especially with my grandma (as she was my partner in these games and my sister was partnered with my grandpa).

When my grandpa passed away about 6 years later, we still went over every Sunday to visit Grandma and to sometimes still play games. As I turned into a teenager, my grandma taught me the value of hard work and entrepreneurship as she paid me to clean her house and mow her lawn. Every time I came over to visit or to work, we would always chat about the latest goings-on in our lives---her about all the family gossip and what she was working on with her family history/extraction work and me about all my dating drama and school achievements. Many times, when I found myself upset or frustrated or lonely, I would run over to Grandma's house and spend hours there fitting one of the puzzles that she always had going or asking her for advice. I spent many a Friday night and Saturday afternoon hanging out with my grandma.

My grandma believed in supporting us in our dreams. When my grandpa was still alive and I was still playing softball, they would both come and cheer me on at many of my games, wearing their matching "Austin Family Reunion" hats and toting the large water mugs they always had nearby. They would give me pointers on my technique and congratulate me on my triumphs. My grandma's support continued as often as her strength and health would allow---she continued to come to my choir concerts, musicals, and school award ceremonies as we both got older. But I think one of my fondest memories of her support was when I was 19 and about to graduate high school---I had gotten an invitation to travel to Europe with teacher-nominated students from all over the state to participate in a Utah high school traveling choir (The Utah Ambassadors of Music). Although I attended the information session with my mom and wanted more than anything to go, I took one look at the price of the trip and felt my heart drop as I knew there was no way I could afford it

My mom could see my disappointment and knew that I'd been working hard to save up money for college that fall, and she tried to crunch some of the numbers for me to see if her and my dad could help make up some of the costs, but I had given up hope and resigned myself to having to miss out.

Imagine my surprise when I saw my grandma next and she told me that she'd fronted the whole security deposit herself ($500) and that she insisted I take this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And with the help of my parents and with some intense saving on my own part, I was able to take that trip that will forever remain one of the most amazing opportunities I've experienced in my lifetime.

Fast forward a few years later---I had just decided to go on a mission, but since I had received the impression a year earlier that I SHOULDN'T go on one, I hadn't been saving up my money to serve. I felt strongly that the timing was finally right for me to go, however, and I confided my wish to my parents, who agreed to take on the monthly costs as long as I would pay for all my own start-up costs (luggage, clothes, etc.). My grandma, ever wanting to show her support of every worthy dream, ended up contributing a significant portion of the monthly payment throughout my mission, as well as faithfully writing me at least once or twice a month for the entire 18 months I was out.

My grandma was a woman of faith. Throughout her life, she never wavered in her devotion to Jesus Christ and His restored gospel, and she was always encouraging us to follow righteous paths ourselves. With her humble nature, she never sought for positions of influence, but she influenced us all just the same--her faith never wavered when it came to her knowledge and testimony of the reality of our Father in Heaven and the importance of following his Son, not even when she faced trials such as the loss of her beloved spouse, intensifying injuries and illness, or the increasing wickedness of the world all around her. She always stood firm on the knowledge she had gained from a lifetime of righteous living, and she knew that all things would indeed "work together for [her] good" if she continued faithful.

As I began to sense over the past year that her time would be short with us, I tried to take advantage of every opportunity to visit her while we were in town. Some of these visits would end up lasting several hours and be among the most valued memories I have with her. As I shared my fears and concerns with her about starting a family, being a teacher, and overall growing up and finding my place in the world, she continually assured me that everything would work out and that we would be blessed as long as we kept trying our best to do what's right. As I think of her last few hours, surrounded by dozens of family members around her---children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren---I find in me the strength to go on in my fears because I want to be more like her : unwavering in my faith and forever showing my support and love to my family.

Even though the next several weeks and months and years will be hard as we have to accustom ourselves to life without her here in our presence, my heart is filled with gratitude for the long life she lived, for the legacy she has left us, and for the friendship that I had with her. I never could have known how much my life would be influenced by that simple suggestion of my mother to go to the house a street over and ask to play cards.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wardrobe Basics: The Gaps

With all my informal research on minimalism, I have discovered that most people looking to simplify eventually end up drastically paring down their wardrobes so that they mostly include well-made classic pieces and just a few "fun," trendy/colorful items.

As my own look has evolved from mostly t-shirts and jeans to a more professional, adult-appropriate style, I have found myself parting with a lot of the cheaper-looking pieces in my wardrobe and gravitating toward things that will last me for a good several years more at least.

Of course, there are a couple problems with that ideal---

One, I'm a bit restricted on budget. Since we've been trying to save up money for when Matt gets into grad school and when we one day start a family, I haven't allowed myself as much money to spend on clothing as I have in the past.

Two, there aren't many places in Logan that sell reasonably high-quality pieces, and whenever I go down to Bountiful, I usually prefer to spend my time with family and friends rather than go shopping. (I guess I could online shop, but that always makes me wary because a good fit is something I'm really trying to invest more in.)

But as I was going through yet another closet downsizing this last week, I noticed that there are a few pieces I would really do well to invest in:

- a well-made white t-shirt that fits well and that I actually like (instead of the 8 or 9 I have that are "just okay" but that I don't WANT to wear that often)
- solidly made knee-high boots that will last me for the next ten years (I've bought myself 3-4 pairs of inexpensive boots, and boy are they looking shabby after just two winters of wear)
- a three-quarter sleeve blazer (I like my full-length black blazer all right, but I know I would wear a 3/4 sleeve blazer more often since I'm not a huge fan of long sleeves)
- grey skinny jeans (I wore out my favorite pair from Old Navy in about a year, and I'm desperate to find a better-made pair, and pronto)
- a structured dress in a neutral color (like black or navy) that makes me feel like a million bucks
- a swimsuit that actually makes me want to GO swimming
- comfortable black flats that will last me longer than the ones I currently have (which didn't even make it a year from all the walking I do while teaching)
-close-toe black heels that are dressy but reasonably comfortable and easy to walk in (my one really well-made pair finally gave out about 6 months ago after almost ten years of constant use)

I'm thinking that maybe I'll start spending about $100 every 3 or 4 months or so and start picking up some of these classic pieces.

I have two questions for you---

First, what stores and brands do you know of that produce high-quality clothing at semi-reasonable prices? (aka, about $100 (or less) for an item of clothing and about $200 (or less) for a pair of shoes/boots?)

Second, have I skipped over any other essentials? Anything that my list is lacking? (you should know that I already have a beautifully fitting winter dress coat, a decent white button-up, a black pencil skirt, and nice dress slacks)

This post inspired by this post that I ran across today

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Scenes From Our Easter

Last weekend was charmingly simple---we didn't have much going on, which is how I like it sometimes. Sometimes the social media world at large (I'm looking at you, Pinterest!) makes us think that we have to go all out for every holiday in order to maximize the enjoyment and show the world that we know how to really live it up.

But since I've been trying to consciously put less needless pressure on myself, I've simplified a lot of our holiday routines. Thus, Easter this year was spent going to church, enjoying a delicious (but simple) meal of slow cooker pot roast, roasted vegetables, and homemade rolls, and playing games with friends.

The simplicity of the day encouraged me to be a little introspective than usual as I thought about the idea of new life rising up from the ashes of death---Christ's resurrection has always been one of the most glorious and most comforting truths in my life, especially as more and more of my loved ones each year pass on to the other side.

Just as we watch the world come alive again every spring, so will each person rise again from the dead--that is the glorious promise given to all men (and women). Likewise, I tend to take the idea further---often, with each "death" of certain seasons of our lives, there is inevitably a rebirth--a chance for us to rise again, a better and more glorious version of ourselves. And thus we find ourselves constantly growing and "hatching" into more and more progressive versions of ourselves, much like a hermit crab "graduates" to bigger and better shells.

I have a feeling that I have my own "rebirth" coming up here in the next little while as we prepare ourselves for some upcoming changes (which I'll post about a different time).

The weekend also was a bit of a "calm before the storm" --- we have a LOT of  important events coming up, like my half marathon on Saturday, Matt's completion of finals next week, our 3-year anniversary, and several end-of-the-school-year festivities (and stresses) for me (along with those changes mentioned earlier).

I kind of have a feeling that life isn't going to slow down much until June, when I'm finally done with the school year and have settled into some of the changes and have had time to catch my breath.

But such is life---always providing us new environments and experiences to force us to rise from the ashes of our old selves and grow into something new.

Hope you had a lovely Easter!

Monday, April 21, 2014

When Setting a Goal = Failure

image via Runner's World

My half-marathon is coming up on Saturday, and with a 10-mile run last weekend that went superbly, I'm feeling a lot better about the upcoming race. It had seemed like all of my long runs (just about, anyway) during this bout of training had been uphill battles that I was continually losing---I seemed to lose energy, get terrible side stitches, and feel like throwing up every time I laced up my sneakers.

Last Saturday's long run finally went as planned, which gives me hope that I might be able to get through the race this week with my  head held high.

I once read somewhere (probably in Runner's World magazine) that it's unwise to set just one goal for yourself for a race. Many times, serious runners (a category I now have to class myself with) get so latched onto one "dream time" for their race that they will often feel like failures if they don't hit that number, even if everything else about the race (or training!) had gone well.

So, in order to not be classified now or ever as a "foolish runner that is setting herself up for failure," I have set three possible goal times for my upcoming half :

1. My "if-the-stars-align-and-I-magically-feel-like-I-can-fly" time,

2. My "tough-to-reach-but-actually-really-do-able time," and

3. My "I'd-better-get-this-time-or-else-I'll-beat-myself-up-for-weeks" time.

My out-of-this-world time would be 1:59:59 (aka, anything under two hours, which is one of the goals on my life's bucket list). Considering that this goal would require me to average about a 9-minute mile the whole way, it's still pretty "out-of-this-world" for my current body and speed. Like I've mentioned before, I may be a devoted runner, but I'm not exactly fast.

My hard-but-possible goal is 2:07. On my 10-mile run last Saturday, I ran 9:30 for about the last 6 miles, which should set me up nicely to do a 2:07 (if I can average the rest of the miles to be at about 10-minutes apiece). I will seriously be thrilled if I hit 2:07 on Saturday because it will mean that everything has gone really well.

The time I'm absolutely going to force myself to beat no matter what is 2:17, which is half of what my marathon time was two years ago (4:34). Considering that I'm overall faster than I was two years ago and that I'm only running 13.1 miles instead of 26.2, I really better beat that time.

The race is this Saturday at 7 AM, so here's hoping I cross that finish line at 9:07 or earlier!

Have you ever run in a race before? Do you set time goals for yourself? Or is your general goal just to finish?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

To Move or Not To Move

We have been living in our current apartment for almost three years now (it will have been three years in about 3 weeks), and here is the sad truth:

I've kind of hated our apartment almost since day one.

At first, my twitterpated newlywed self could easily look past the many indiscretions and blemishes of the place, including the non-washing dishwasher, cat-scratched bathroom door, lingering pet dander smell, and urine-colored walls. With our small collection of artwork and family photos, we were determined to bring some cheer to what was clearly a pretty ghetto apartment.

And I have lots of wonderful memories in this little place, scraggly carpet and all.

Then more stuff started going awry---

-asbestos in the ceiling,
-the dishwasher breeding what sounds like an angry gorilla with a head cold,
-stained kitchen tiles (since the grout was never sealed),
-a non-working doorbell,
-flickering electricity that sometimes just cuts out for no apparent reason,

and on and on and on.

Now, if we were still getting the sweet deal we were originally getting on the place ($500/month with included heat and Internet), I would be here til the cows we never had came home.

But no---we are now footing nearly $150 extra on our monthly rent and utility bills since the new owner stopped paying for Internet and heat.

So it's basically come to this---stay in a ghetto apartment and pay nearly as much as we'd pay for a nicer one, or bite the bullet and pay an extra $40 or so and move to a more well-kept place?

On Sunday, after my entire plan to overhaul my life (see last Sunday's blog post), I was in the mood for some serious overhauling of everything, including my job, apartment, and general leisure time. And though I actually did try to apply for another job, it's not looking like it's going to pan out, so it looks like my focus will have to go elsewhere.

The problem is, I originally wanted to move to SAVE us money since I've been complaining like crazy about the extra $150 we've been paying. But on Monday, Matt and I went to go look at some super nice apartments just a couple streets down from ours, and we were a bit smitten with the fresh paint, clean carpet, and ample storage space. Writing everything down, it will figure that if we move there, we will pay around $30-50 more a month than what we pay here, but for a place that's twice as nice.

So here's the real question----to move or not to move? Or should we keep looking around to see if there's something cheaper (even if it means trading one ghetto apartment for another)?

What would you do?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thoughts On Simplifying & Taking Back Control of my Life

If you've been a blog reader of mine for a long time, you might remember my post on minimalism last summer or even my whole 50 Weeks to Organized project I worked on all last year. Basically, the drive behind both of those was that I was feeling an intense desire to simplify my life and make sure I had all my priorities straight--I wanted to make sure I was focusing on people, not things, and on meaningful experiences, not time-wasting activities.

As with any worthwhile pursuit, these kinds of aims couldn't come overnight--while I've gotten much of my clutter (kinda) under control and cut out some of the unnecessary fluff, I haven't been able to shake the overwhelming feeling that my life isn't exactly going the way it could be and the way I want it to be. And it's not because the solid foundation isn't there---I've got all I need for a happy, fulfilled life.

The problem is me and the way I'm choosing to spend the 2-3 hours of free time I have each night.

Luckily, I know from past experience that the power to change all that is entirely within my reach.

I've been asking myself a lot of questions lately---things like:
-What makes me happy and brings me a sense of fulfillment?
-What brings me joy?
-What are the goals and dreams I have that are truly worth pursuing?
-What are the goals and dreams I'm willing to put forth the effort to achieve?
-What is holding me back from striving harder to reach those goals and dreams NOW?

Some of the answers haven't come easily, and some of them haven't been easy to face.

For example, one of my goals three years ago when I first discovered that bloggers could actually make money blogging was to make money off my blog---I read up on sponsorship and creating quality content and I even bought myself a nice camera and learned some photography tips along the way all in my quest to have the kind of blog that could grow into a money-making pursuit.And  I wouldn't trade those skills I gained along the way for anything.

But I've been thinking long and hard about what making money off a blog would really mean---namely (among others), an obligation to write nearly every day (whether I felt like writing or not), an obligation to my sponsors to sell their content or their product (even if in my heart of hearts, they didn't really have my full support and enthusiasm), and the constant nagging worry at the back of my mind about the numbers--how many new readers am I getting? How many readers did I lose, and what kind of posts drove them away? Which posts are getting the most hits?

And it's come down to this--

Blogging for money, at least the way I understand it now, is not something that I think will be worth pursuing for me or something that I'm willing to sacrifice more for. Since I'm trying my best to move towards less stuff and fewer time commitments, it would hardly make sense to try and get into an industry that would basically require a constant time commitment as well as a constant need to promote the materialism I'm trying so hard to avoid right now.

Even though it probably seems so silly, it's still a tough dream to let go of---after all, I've been working toward it for over three years and have invested countless hours to reach that particular goal.

So what does this mean for the blog?

Well, I will keep blogging because I get an innate satisfaction out of expressing myself, conversing with the blogging community, and finding creative ways of presenting my ideas. I also believe that regular blogging has helped to develop my level of comfort with writing, which is something I've been trying to work on since high school.

So in the end, this whole concept of simplification boils down to who I want to be and what I'll need to give up to get there---

-I want to be the kind of person who takes walks after dinner, perhaps with a camera in hand, to regularly enjoy the beauties of nature and reflect thoughtfully on her life.
-I want to be a woman who continues to develop her talents throughout her life instead of relying on all the frontloading she did on them as a teenager
-I want to be an adult who doesn't just consume (esp. mindless media), but who creates
-I want to be a go-getter who isn't afraid of going for her dreams (even when they scare her)
-I want to be a disciplined disciple of Christ who spends time daily in meaningful spiritual and soul-feeding pursuits
-I want to be a reader of classics and poetry and philosophy, not a reader fed on a junk food diet of pop culture, social media feeds, and the kinds of blogs that only leave her feeling like something is lacking

Each week, one of our friends (Jon) sends us a weekly email updating us on his and his family's life down in Texas. At the top of each of his emails, he'll include inspirational quotes that I always take great pleasure in reading. One quote in particular has truly haunted me ever since I read it, and it goes like this:

"If you have a twenty-hour-a-week television habit and would repent and convert it into a gospel-study habit, in one year you could read the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and the entire Bible. In addition, you could read Jesus the Christ, The Articles of Faith, Gospel Principles, the basic priesthood manual, the basic women’s manual, the basic children’s manual, all three volumes of Doctrines of Salvation, The Miracle of Forgiveness, The Promised Messiah, and Essentials in Church History, and could then reread the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price. This would still leave time to read the Ensign, the New Era, and the Friend each month and the Church News each week. This is based on your ability to read only ten pages an hour. The average person can read twenty pages or more an hour. If you are average, this leaves you with ten hours a week to govern yourself in other kingdom-building activities, such as keeping a personal journal, genealogy and temple work, improved home teaching, welfare services, civic and patriotic involvement to protect our freedom, and much more."
                                                                                                               - William R. Bradford

Although Matt and I actually don't get live t.v., we are constantly playing movies (usually in the background) and connecting ourselves to social media sites, playing mindless games on Facebook (Candy Crush, anyone?), and surfing the Net (and often doing all three at the same time).

I've known that I've been needing to change that soon, but I've kept putting it off over and over again, reasoning that those activities were "how I relaxed" from the stress of my job, even though they ultimately have never left me feeling as satisfied as more worthwhile pursuits, like keeping a tidy house, reading a good book, or serving others.

No more. 

We always encourage kids to have "TV-Free" week and are always hearing in the media about the "atrocious amount of time" that average teens spend consuming media every day. But what about the adults? What about the rest of us? Aren't our futures just as important? Perhaps people reason that if kids form good habits when they are young, they are less likely to fall into bad habits later.

This is true, to a point.

But I hardly watched t.v. as a teenager and spent my time overall in much more worthy pursuits. It's only been since I've become a full-fledged adult that I've managed to let myself get sucked into the time-wasting black hole of constant entertainment.

No more.

So folks, here's the final verdict:
*I am deleting my Candy Crush from my Facebook
*I am severely going to cut back on my blog/social media feed
*I am going to severely cut back on my movie/t.v. watching (I just haven't decided on a good number yet, but I will)
*I will only blog when it will be truly authentic, instead of blogging just because I feel like it's an obligation. Some weeks, that might mean I still post five times a week. Other weeks, I might only post once.

The time has come to live a different sort of life, to be a better sort of person.

I hope this helps do the trick.

If you still want to come along for what could be a very sporadic ride, I would love to still have you around :)

Friday, April 11, 2014

5 Things

1. My goal to lose 5 pounds before the half marathon is going splendidly---something I forgot with weight loss is that two things really help me out: one, if I track my calories via myfitnesspal, and two, if I am able to see results relatively quickly. My problem before was that I wasn't seeing enough progress through exercise alone to make me want to make any more drastic changes, which only led to me gaining weight. Once I saw two pounds come off in the first week of counting calories, I felt much more enthused about continuing with it. Who knows? Maybe come half-marathon time, I'll even be 7 or 8 pounds down. That's a possible 16 seconds faster per mile, people!

2. This week back at work after spring break has not been great. Surprisingly, it's actually not really due to the students like it usually is---in fact, I think I've pretty much reached the point where I can tolerate quite a bit before it tips me over the edge for the day (like I was able to tolerate--and even laugh about-- kids taking off their shoes and licking them or putting sticks into their mouths or stirring up a mutiny against me when I tried to make them learn to dance salsa in Spanish, all true things that have happened in the past 5 days). No, it's the drama that's been going round and round in the typical politics of the school, and somehow I found myself present for far too much of it.

3. I made the most delightful apple-and-carrots dish today that was simply divine---think softy and gooey with flavors of orange, nutmeg, and butter. Amazing. It was really all I felt like making after a long last workday of the week (and after donating plasma---which I can finally do again!---and going grocery shopping). It is basically because of that fatigue that I didn't do a Financial Friday post as planned today (sorry, folks! those recipes will be coming next week).

4. On Monday, I went into the Instacare to have my ear blown out again since the buildup had become so bad that I couldn't hear for about 3 days straight. I'm pretty frustrated by it, actually, because I never had any problems with my ears being too waxy until last year, and then the doctor told me I should never, ever use Q-tips (which I've been using regularly all my life). So I didn't use them at all and tried some of the other methods (like washing them out in the shower or putting in ear drops), but it only meant that I was back in the doctor's office 6 months later getting them blown out again. Basically I've decided that I'm just going to keep using the evil ol' Q-tip and see if the problem is fixed. Doctor's orders, schmoctor's orders. I'll do what I want.

(Although I'm curious---do you use Q-tips or do you go an alternative route?)

5. Around these parts, Matt has been sick all week and I haven't done the dishes at all in days. I hope the two aren't related.

Happy weekend, friends!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Utah National Parks: Golden Spike Monument

Since one of my bucket list items is to visit all the national parks in Utah (all 18 of them!) with Matt, I figured we'd best get a move on with the ones closest to us first.

I knew that the Golden Spike Monument was west of Brigham City, so I figured it was pretty close---maybe about a 35-minute drive from Logan.

Yeah right.

The monument is out in the middle of nowhere, and it was easily an hour and ten minutes from Logan, which made us a little more pressed for time than we would have liked to be. Both Matt and I had been to the monument when we were significantly younger, so we had forgotten a lot. (And when we had both gone before during the summer, the trains were outside on the tracks and provided a backdrop for a little live skit they put on; since we went at the close of the winter season, we got taken back into the workshop where they work on polishing up and repairing the trains, which was pretty cool.)

Facts you need to know:

-The Golden Spike Monument is the place where the final railroad tie was laid that connected the East and West coast by train. It was a monumental feat born from the sweat and lives of thousands of workers (many of them Chinese and Irish immigrants), and with the technology available at the time, the feat has been called the equivalent of man walking on the moon.

-Cost to get in: $5.00 per vehicle

-Things To Do:
*see the short skit re-enacting the historic event (May - October)
*watch the 20-minute historical documentary
*take a guided tour of the train repair workshop (November - April)
*check out the gift shop
*walk around the small museum featuring artifacts and interesting details about the time period
*watch the steam train demonstration (May - October)

Another thing you need to know:

If you look closely into the picture below, you'll see Matt and me reflected in the brass.


And that's about it, really---visiting the park was a fun little day trip, and the hour and a half we had before closing time was plenty of time to see all there was to be seen. If you visit during the summer, you'll want to plan your visit around when they do tours because the people who worked there and the tour guides were my favorite part.

What national parks have you been to in Utah? Which one should we visit next?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Success is Not Achieved in the Comfort Zone

Human pride is a funny thing, and it's something that's come to my attention a lot in my runs---

If while I am running, I see someone else running, I tend to speed up.

If I was about to walk during my run for whatever reason and I see someone---anyone---in the area around me (be it in car, on bike, or on foot), I will almost never slow down and actually walk.

Even if I feel like I'm about to puke in a race, if there is a single spectator (esp. a spectator who is cheering me on), I somehow manage to choke back the urge to vomit and push through it.

Lesson learned:

We are almost always the best versions of our physical selves if we work out where we will be seen.

As has come up here on the blog, I have been feeling a bit frustrated and burned out with running---I've been feeling that even though I've been more or less consistent with my running schedule for over 9 months, I have been regressing in many ways when it comes to speed and endurance. Call it a plateau, call it burnout, call it stress, but whatever you call it, I've been sucking it up big time out on the pavement.

In response to one of these blog confessions, my sister Jill messaged me on Facebook and asked me if I wanted to join her for a run next time I was down in Bountiful. She reasoned that I probably just needed a change of pace, and since my sister is a WAYYYY faster runner than I am, it would be a change of pace indeed.

Take a step back for a moment and picture this---my comfortable running pace is a 10-minute mile. Sure, I can push myself to go faster, but a 10-minute mile is the pace I can sustain for very long periods of time.

My sister's comfortable pace is between an 8- and 8.5-minute mile, and she can also push herself to go faster if she wants to.

So when she asked me what I wanted to do when I showed up at her place for a run, I replied (with all honesty): "I'm just going to try and keep up with you and not get lost."

Being the motivated spitfire that she is, she decided that we were going to run like we were racing a 5K, and then we were going to slow up and just do 2-3 easy miles after. I tried to play it cool and act like I was going to be able to keep up with her at a race-5K pace like it was no big deal, but I was more than a little skeptical about how this run was going to go, especially when she confided that she likes to push her pace quite a bit at the very beginning and then "slow up" into her usual pace.

We started out running about a 7.5-minute mile, and by a quarter-mile in, I was already starting to lag behind, especially when her legs only seemed to gain momentum while mine were dragging me back like I had anchors attached. Her steps were light and easy, like a deer, and I felt like an asthmatic elephant crashing through the trail 200 meters behind her. Occasionally she'd turn around, do some high knees, and yell back, "Come on! Keep pushing! YOU CAN DO THIS!!!"

I'd respond with a groan that she couldn't hear and a feeble attempt at an even faster pace. Not even halfway through our 5K distance, I was feeling like I was going to throw up and split my gut open and disembowel my stomach muscles, simultaneously. I was panting so hard I could barely  hear my footsteps, and the beads of sweat had banded together to form a slick, shiny pool on my forehead. More times than I could count, I was tempted to stop and walk--as I'd been letting myself do so often these past few weeks--because I just didn't want to push anymore. And every time I thought for sure I was going to actually react on that impulse, Jill would turn around, yell some more encouragement, and tap her watch, calling out my pace.

I think that 5K with my sister was one of the first times in my life I've ever really left everything I had out on the asphalt--I didn't let myself stop, and I was either going to keep pushing or die trying. When she turned around and waved her arms and said, "This is the end! Just sprint until here!," I somehow managed to make my legs give one last burst of speed.

I finished our informal 5K in 26:05.

Let me put that feat into perspective for you---the fastest 5K I'd run previous to that was about 29:30, and I thought I was pushing myself during that one. The only other timed 5K I'd done, I got just over 30 minutes.

Two points to my story:

1. I'm apparently capable of a LOT more than I think I am, especially when it comes to running.
2. It REALLY helps to have a running buddy or coach or someone by your side who is at least keeping you accountable.

Since I'd never done any really competitive sports in high school, I've never really known what it was like to have a coach pushing me to my limits. Sure, I've had lots of good coaches that helped refine my softball and basketball skills, but since I wasn't in a very competitive league, I never really was pushed super hard.

Saturday morning felt like a revelation, and finally---finally!---my running goals of doing a 5K in less than 25 minutes and doing a half marathon in less than 2 hours seem possible.

And DANG--I needed that motivation.

Have you ever had a personal trainer or coach? Or are you able to push yourself to your best without one?

Friday, April 4, 2014

Financial Friday: 10 Tips for Spending Less on Groceries

I always thought that our spending habits when it came to groceries were pretty normal (maybe because I live in a poor college town full of poor college students), but based on some of the comments coming in lately asking how we manage to spend so little on groceries every month, I guess I'm a little more unusual than I thought.

Disclaimer: There really probably isn't anything new or exciting about these suggestions. These are just the ways that we personally manage to keep our grocery budget between $115-200 a month (for two people).

Second Disclaimer: we do eat out once a week for our date night (on Friday), so it's not like we're anti-spending-money. Just had to get that out there.

Disclaimers aside, it took me a few years to get this grocery bill thing under control--when Matt and I were first engaged and he was coming over to my apartment for pretty much every meal but breakfast, I went crazy on the grocery bill (mostly just because I wanted to impress him with my burgeoning cooking skills). I remember that for those first few months of engagement and marriage, I was easily spending $300-350 a month on groceries for the two of us. It wasn't until we'd been married about a year and were both jobless for about 4 months that I started to really crack down on our spending, especially when it came to groceries. During that time, I learned how to be "the crazy coupon lady" and learned to basically live on rice and beans. There were times during that summer that we only spent $75 a month on food.

Now our money isn't so very tight like it was during that unemployed summer, but the frugal habits have still managed to carry over (for the most part)---I don't really coupon like crazy anymore (I coupon hardly at all, in fact), and I've allowed myself about double of what I did during that lean time when we could only afford $75/month on groceries, but we still keep it pretty cheap apparently.

So here you go---my tips for keeping your grocery budget at a minimum with minimal effort:

10 Tips for Saving Money on Groceries

1. Cut out the soda.

One of the first habits I got into when I started my teaching job was drinking Diet Dr. Pepper every day in order to "get through" the stress of it all. I justified the money spent on soda by saying that it kept me sane and happy. Last November, my doctor told me that it was likely the soda was part of the reason I had so many stomach problems, so I quit cold-turkey. Not only has my stomach felt better than it has in years, but I also managed to cut an easy $30-40 off our grocery bill. Win-win.

2. In fact, limit buying drinks period. 

While we will always have milk on hand, we rarely have any other drink in the house, including juice (although last month, we splurged a bit and got some). While we're not perfect at following this rule, I know from plenty of experience that if you train yourself to just drink water with your meals, you can save quite a bit of cash.

3. Cook 95% of your own meals.

Each month, we eat about 100 meals. Matt and I usually only eat 5 (or so) of those meals at restaurants or take-out places. By cooking our own meals most of the time, we are almost guaranteeing that we'll spend less money than had we gone out for that same meal (plus we're healthier for it).

Also, I've found that eating the same thing for breakfast every day is where we really cut costs--with our busy lifestyle, we just don't have time to sit down and eat breakfast in the morning, so I just make up a packet of instant oatmeal in a plastic cup and take it with me on my 35-minute commute to work. (Matt, by choice, usually skips breakfast.)

4. Go meatless as much as possible.

Meat prices are constantly on the rise, so choose to eat meatless as much as possible. We have several go-to meatless options that I can make anytime we don't have any kind of meat in the house (which perhaps I'll post on for a different Financial Friday). Most weeks, we eat about 3 days' worth of meatless meals.

5. Limit "snack" food (especially processed snack food)

I was trained not to be a snacker growing up---we always ate 3 solid meals that were generally plenty big enough to last us until the next one, and the only "snack" foods my mom had in the house were healthy (like fruit), which prevented me from becoming a big snacker. Those habits have carried over to my adult life, which means that you'll almost never find too many snack foods (esp. processed snack foods) around our place. In fact, the only super-processed foods we have on hand usually are tortilla chips and salt crackers.

6. Buy in bulk and stock up your pantry.

It is this tip that has probably made the biggest impact on our grocery spending. When I was in college and had 3-5 roommates at any given time, I had such limited cupboard and fridge space that I couldn't build up much in the way of a pantry. Since getting married and moving into our own little place, we have invested in a huge floor-to-ceiling heavy-duty shelf that can house hundreds of canned goods and other pantry items. We wait until case lot sales (like the one going on this week at Smith's!) to purchase these types of goods, and we only have to do it once or twice a year. During those months of case lot sales, my grocery bill will go up to probably $250 for the month, but it's worth it in order to have plenty in the pantry.

Also, it's important to actually plan meals around what's in the pantry. Many of my quick weeknight meals are based off of items that are always on our shelves, and many of my meals that have a longer prep time simply require me to buy a few fresh things at the beginning of the week from the grocery store. It is mainly because of this tip that our grocery bill is kept so low because we only need to purchase $30-40/week of fresh food to accompany what we already have on hand.

Last note on pantry stuff---if you can't afford all of it at once (we certainly couldn't), then just build it up gradually : spend $20-30 extra a month to go towards pantry staples, and soon you won't even have to add to it unless you run out of something.

7. Shop at the same place most weeks (especially a place that offers rewards).

When I was a hardcore couponer, I totally would have disagreed with this tip, but that's because I had the time and energy to go to several different stores to get the best deals. Now that I work 50+ hours a week, I don't have that luxury. Shopping at the same store means not only that I know where everything is, but I also know when something is a good price or not. Also, at a place like Smith's (which is where I do 99% of my grocery shopping), they send you coupons pretty much weekly in the mail that are tailored to recent purchases that you've made. They also offer digital coupons that you can load right onto your shopper's card that ring up automatically at checkout. As if that weren't enough, you also get 10 cents off of gasoline for every 100 points you rack up in the store.

So although I don't hardcore coupon anymore, I do clip out the pertinent coupons from what they've sent me in the mail, and I load up pretty much all the digital coupons they offer onto my card, which is basically the laziest way to coupon ever. (And bonus---Smith's "doubles up" on coupons, so if you have a paper coupon from the mail and a digital coupon for the same item, you get both values deducted from the price of the item).

The thing I like especially about Smith's is that in some of their coupons they send by mail, they'll give you coupons for free stuff (like free bread, eggs, cereal, or even frozen fruit), and they also will send you coupons on produce (like $1/off $4 worth of produce) or meat, which are hard to save money on when buying from grocery stores.

8. Base your meals on what's on sale.

This one can be hard sometimes (esp. since I'm not always super good at planning out meals in advance), but I will almost never buy something unless it's for a good price. Take the other week, for example---I really wanted asparagus, but when I went to the store, it wasn't on sale that week. Instead of spending $3.99/lb. for asparagus, I ended up buying some other vegetables that were on sale. Lo and behold, the next week the asparagus was on sale for 99 cents, and my craving for bargains AND asparagus was satisfied.

It pays to wait and be flexible, people.

9. Limit treats.

This tip is not only good for your health, it's good for your wallet---when I started looking a bit more into clean eating last year, I read a tip about only eating the sweets that you were willing to make yourself. While I'm not perfect about following that rule, I'd say that 90% of the sweets we eat are from recipes I've baked up in our kitchen, which has saved us a bunch of money (especially when we were able to not buy ice cream for about 4-5 months, a streak which ended last week, lol).

10. Don't waste food.

It wasn't until I started really watching how much we wasted that I realized how much money we were throwing away every month on spoiled, expired food. Before you go shopping, take some time to really go through your fridge and rotate things around so you can see what you really need. Before making any meal, don't just ask yourself what sounds good or what's easiest---go to your fridge and see what needs to be used up the quickest. I believe that it was this tip almost more than any other that allowed us to get our grocery bill down to less than $140 last month.

What tips do you have for saving money on groceries?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Teacher on Spring Break Seeking Adventure

You guys---I'm on spring break. I have actually been on spring break since Tuesday at exactly 3:06 PM.

Sadly, you wouldn't know it by looking at my daily activities though, which have been noteworthy only in the fact that I've gotten a little bit of extra sleep.

Recently, I have come to accept the fact that I no longer live a super exciting life filled with spontaneous adventures and lots of drama. I no longer yearn to "go out on the town" (aka, bowling or out to the movies or out to eat) with loads and loads of people on Friday and Saturday nights, and my life is no longer filled (thankfully) with the daily dose of drama that seems to come hand-in-hand along with the single life.

Usually I don't miss the excitement, as my job spurs me to seek as much quiet and tranquility as possible to rev me up for the next day of teaching.

But sometimes it's hard to think that my spring break--a time period that used to be synonymous with sun and adventure and staying up late--has now become synonymous with housework, grocery shopping, and running all the errands I've put off forever.


When exactly did I become an adult?!

I remember when I was younger (mid-teens, perhaps) and vowed--VOWED!--that I would never become one of "those adults" who thought a good time was staying in and watching reruns or doing yard work on Saturday mornings. I vowed to myself that I would constantly seek adventure and stimulation and novelty, and that I would do it surrounded by my 6 best friends who would always be as big a part of my daily life as they were back in junior high.

Funny how life changes your perspective.

But sometimes, I do still crave more excitement in my life although (paradoxically) I don't usually try to seek it out anymore. Perhaps it's because I still remember all too well that with "excitement" and "adventure" also comes other words like "risk" and "effort." And sometimes my creature-comforts-loving self just doesn't want to give up the tranquility that comes with routine.

I do need to get out and experience more though--I have been becoming increasingly more restless over the past few months, which will result in a huge change (like a move or a job change) unless I can get it under control by experiencing new things in other ways.

So this weekend, Matt and I are off to find ourselves some good old-fashioned excitement through exploring a new national park, seeing if we can meet up with some friends when we travel to our hometown, and trying out a new exercise routine with my sister (well, that last one will just be me).

Hopefully that will be enough to break the funk because otherwise, I just might be starting to scout around for new places to live...

Do you get restless in your routine? Do you ever miss the excitement of your younger years?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

February/March Reading

Life's been pretty busy lately, but now that I'm going into the home stretch of the school year, I have had a *little* more time to read, and my latest crop of books has not disappointed.

Just a reminder as to the significance of the ratings:
5 stars = life-changing (and I try not to use this one lightly)
4 stars = loved it
3 stars = liked it
2 stars = it was okay
1 star = wouldn't push it onto my worst enemy

Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool

Even though I've struggled to enjoy YA lit as much as I used to (maybe just because many of the themes no longer seem to apply to my life), I have been impressed with the recent Newbery winners coming out, including this one. Moon Over Manifest is the story of a girl who was dropped off by her vagabond father into his boyhood town for the summer while he went to go find some work while traveling around. The story is set during the Prohibition-era, and the town of Manifest has a lot of secrets up its sleeve.

The cool thing about this story is that it weaves two different time periods from that same town together, and you're not sure until the end how everything fits together. Also, since I've gotten pretty interested in the idea of immigration in the 1800's since doing some of my own family history, I really enjoyed the historical element of the story.

Overall, the book starts out a bit slow, but by the end, I thought it was a real stunner.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cleanliness Rating: Squeaky clean!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This was a bit of a wild card for me---it had been on one of my reading lists forever, and when I happened to come across a copy at a secondhand store, I decided to finally pick it up and check it out. Although I hadn't heard anything about the book before, I am SO glad I read this. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is the story of a young girl growing up in poverty in New York during the early 1900's, and it basically follows her as she grows up into a woman.

The fascinating thing about this story is that there's not much plot to it---it's not like other books, where a major conflict is introduced right at the beginning and several sub-conflicts are introduced later on and then all resolved at the end. No, the interesting thing about this book is that it reads like normal life, but like normal life written in the most gorgeous, simple prose you can imagine. I highlighted multiple sections of this book just because they were so beautiful and because they resonated so strongly with my own childhood experiences.

If you're feeling a bit nostalgic and want a book that's relatable and not too intense, then pick this one up.

My Rating: 4.5 stars
Cleanliness: Although some things like attempted rapes and loose morals are implied within some of the characters, the book is pretty clean because it's written from the child's perspective.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Although apparently this book was made into a movie, I'd never heard anything about it until I started reading it--all I basically knew was that it was the first book listed on my "1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die" list. Basically, this book is all about a not-so-distant futuristic society where human cloning is taking place. As the British government allows for human cloning, a sharp division arises as to how the clones should be raised--should they simply be kept alive and healthy, without any regard to their feelings or intellectual development? Or should they be raised as humanely as possible, despite the fact they're only being created for the sole purpose of saving their models' lives?

It's a pretty fascinating concept for a book, and it brought up some crucial questions when it comes to advancing science and medicine. Although the book didn't end with things tied up as well as I normally like, it did leave me thinking for days afterward.

My Rating: 3.5 stars
Cleanliness: The clones's attitudes towards sex is really nonchalant and open (since they can't reproduce), so there are a few places in the book that are a bit uncomfortable. Overall though, much of the sexual things are implied rather than drawn out too much.

To Be a Runner by Martin Dugard

Since I've long since known that I'm much more motivated to run when I'm reading inspirational stories and tips about it, I've been trying to keep a running book or two constantly revolving into my reading pile. This particular book is a fabulous collection of little essays all about pretty much every aspect of running---starting out, bad weather, racing, going for the gold, etc. I found that reading a chapter or two right before a long run helped keep me focused and optimistic, and I've copied down several motivational quotes from this book to remember during the hard moments of training.

Pick this up for a bit of pre-running motivation stimulation.

My Rating: 4 stars
Cleanliness: Overall, it's pretty clean, but there are a few instances of strong language and awkward referrals to various body parts or functions.

Have you read anything noteworthy lately? Anything you'd recommend?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Goals

After my humiliating goal attempts in February, I was determined to make last month count. And I don't know if it was the determination that came from having achieved so very little the month before or if it was the coming out of the sun and springtime weather, but I kicked BUTT in March on my goals.

By which, I mean that I actually managed to complete EVERY LAST ONE of my March goals. 

This might be a first in goal-setting history.

Quick recap of what exactly went down--

March Goals

*Finish the books of Judges, Ruth, and first and second Samuel in Old Testament. For awhile, I was convinced that it would take me two years to finish my goal of reading the Old Testament (and at the pace I was going then---only one chapter a day---it might have done. However, since drastically upping the time I spend each day reading, I'm almost halfway through. Boo-yoy.

*Decide on name for photography business and get into contact with people who can help me design a web page and a logo.  This one took me awhile to commit to (because it meant continually facing my feelings of inadequacy on the subject), but things are officially rolling on this one thanks to some logo and web design help from my talented father and brother. Everything won't be ready to go for another several months still, but at least I'm taking baby steps towards the end result.

*Visit a new temple. On our way back from Yellowstone, Matt and I stopped at the Rexburg, Idaho temple to do a session. On our way out to the car, I managed to catch some squinty pictures as proof. (See pictures.) 

*Read two books on my lists. I have finally broken the reading curse that had been hovering over my reading goals since January 1st. I officially read three books in March (one that was not on my lists), and I'm 60 pages away from finishing another.

*Type up fifteen pages of one of my journals. I finished this one last night at about 9 P.M. (procrastinate, much?), but done is done!

*Learn one new piece in Piano Classics book. I actually had this one done about halfway through the month and had moved onto a second piece by the last week. I'm still not in the habit of daily practicing the piano, but I'm at least playing a couple times a week, which is improvement. (Of course,when I run out of simpler pieces in that book, I'm going to really need to step things up!)

*Go on an 11-mile run. If you read the blog last week, you'll know that I overachieved on this one by accident. I don't exactly recommend going that route with long runs (although I am comforted knowing that I guess I'm more ready for my half marathon than I thought).

*Homemaking Goal: Save money on food. I did REALLY well on this one for me---in the entire month of March, I only had to throw away two tomatoes, a piece of old pizza, and a lime. For a person who usually throws away embarrassing amounts of moldy food every week, this was a real success. Plus, I managed to spend less than $130 on groceries last month (when I usually was spending $200-250). Since several readers wondered how we kept grocery costs so low, I'm planning on doing a post on it soon.

Now, onto the new---

April Goals 

*Visit a new national park in Utah. Did you know that there are 18 national parks in Utah? Since one of my goals is to visit them all with Matt and since we have one pretty close to us (The Golden Spike National Historic Site), I feel like I have no excuse to keep putting this one off. Plus it will be fun to do something out of the ordinary. Plus I feel like it goes along with the whole "brain food" thing I posted about yesterday. Win-win. Win.

*Read 1 Kings and 2 Kings in the Old Testament. I've already read stories about a man who was so embarrassed about being struck by a woman that he made one of his men run him through with a sword and a breach between King David and one of his wives over the fact that she felt he was dancing inappropriately in the streets for a man of his rank. Exciting stuff, people---it's only getting better with each book!

*Run a half-marathon. I'm not planning on actually being able to complete my ultimate bucket list goal of running a half in under two hours with this first attempt, but I'm sure going to try my darnedest to get as close as possible. (I'm running the Tulip Half Marathon at Thanksgiving Point at the end of this month, in case you missed the news!)

*Lose 5 pounds. When I was ran my marathon two years ago, I was nine pounds lighter than what I am now, and I was a lot faster naturally (without having to put in as much effort). According to some studies, for each pound you lose, you run 2 seconds faster per mile. Since I have no excuse for the extra 9 pounds I've put on anyway, I figure I might as well lose as much of it as possible before the half and see if I can save myself a couple minutes on my time.

*Learn a new piece from my Piano Classics book.

*Read two books from my lists, at least one of which needs to come off my "100 Most-Recommended Classics" list (which I've been putting off for awhile now). Yeah, I know that there's not much variation in some of these goals...sorry about that...

*Homemaking Goal: Try out 4 new recipes this month, two of which are more "adventurous" (either due to difficulty level, complexity of ingredient list, or unusual-ness). I once made the comment to Matt that I'm not a picky eater. He laughed at me, which made me feel the need to follow up with---"Well, I'm not picky with the food that I make for myself anyway..." Basically, even when I try out new recipes, I tend to stay in a very safe zone---I usually stick with meats, vegetables, preparation styles, etc. that I am incredibly familiar with. I very rarely venture out of my cooking comfort zone, which means that as a cook, I'm sorely lacking when it comes to my skills making more unusual dishes (especially various ethnic dishes). I'm determined to get a little gutsy this month in the kitchen, which will likely mean me trying out a vegan recipe (from this vegan cookbook my dad bought me for Christmas) and a foreign dish (most likely something French).

What do you do to get adventurous in the kitchen? And do you have any good ethnic or vegan recipes for me to try?

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