Monday, December 29, 2008

Xmas recap

Christmas began, as per usual, at Nana and Grampy’s on Christmas Eve.

Santa gave me some special shoes to help me walk on the ice.

The Schofields

Later that night, we drove on up to my parents’ house in P-town, and on Christmas Day we celebrated with my family.

Logan and Grandma Nan playing

Train boys
Logan loved his train set, but I think his Da-da and his Unkie Rob loved it even more!

Unfortunately, many of us were hit by some kind of Post-Christmas Vortex immediately thereafter. We’re still not sure exactly what it was or how we got it, but there was a lot of puking going on. Luckily, Rob has remained in good health so that he can sort of look after me (“More Ginger-Ale, please!”). We are back at home now, and for the past couple of days I’ve either been in bed or praying to the porcelain goddess. As I write, I’ve been about 24-hours without puking—even though I don’t feel so great, I really hope I’m on the road to recovery.

Another downside to all this vortex is that I have momentarily stopped being a vegan. This is really frustrating to me, since I worked hard to ensure a Very Merry Vegan Christmas, but after so much vortex, I decided that if something non-vegan sounded good to me, I might as well eat it. I’m hoping that once I get myself back on track, I’ll be able to carry on vegan again. Until then, I guess I’ll just be a vegan, interrupted.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The shortest day

Today is the winter solstice. The first day of winter. The shortest day, but the longest night. It’s my favorite holiday because, among other things, it’s the day beyond which you know things cannot get worse—at least in terms of daylight. Starting tomorrow, the days will become longer. It will be slow at first—tomorrow’s daylight will increase by just 3 seconds—but by the end of January, we’ll have 10 whole hours of light each day, and the sun won’t set until 5:05pm. All that’s left to do is just hang on.

The first day of winter did not disappoint this year. The windchill hovered around 25 below zero all day, and I think the actual temperature made it all the way up to 2 degrees at some point today. As if the extreme cold and 30+ mph winds weren’t bad enough, the entire world is covered in a sheet of ice. Seriously people, I can handle snow and cold to a certain extent, but ice is completely unacceptable in my opinion. And even though today is just the first day of winter, it feels like the city has already thrown its arms up in disgust and given up on even attempting to plow or salt the streets.

Last night was our neighborhood holiday party. It was only a block away, which was good, because I practically made Rob carry me over there. I am terrible on the ice. In the past couple of weeks, two elderly people have passed me when I’ve been out trying to walk on this stuff. I am considering making my own snow shoes by drilling screws into all my shoes. Unfortunately, I don’t think we have the right kind of screws for that, and it’s too damn icy to go to the hardware store.

In true west-Urbana style, last night's party was a real, old-fashioned, neighborhood holiday sing along. It was the kind of thing that belonged in a black-and-white film. Everybody was all dolled up and had brought along homemade Christmas cookies. There was hot mulled cider brewing on the stove. We actually all stood around the piano and sang Christmas carols. I am not kidding. When it came time to sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” each guest was assigned a different “day” (I was “nine ladies dancing”). When we sang “We Three Kings,” three of the male guests sang the magi’s verses as solos. Before he realized what he was getting into, Rob was somehow volunteered to sing the part of Melchior. He did so well that he will probably be asked to sing this part again next year. It was fun, it was folksy, and—despite the fact that over 90% of the party guests still have Obama signs in their yard—it was real America.

I’m hoping that when I wake up tomorrow morning, it will be warm out and my knee won’t hurt anymore so that I can go running. Keeping my fingers crossed on that one.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Monkey talk

Today I went to talk to my friend Cara’s 6th graders about howler monkeys. I went to speak to her classes last year as well, and for the second time, I was amazed at their inquisitiveness. 6th graders have so many questions. About everything. At any given moment, there were 25 small people seated in front of me, all frantically waving their arms high in the air trying to get me to pick them next. Their questions were really great, showing that they’d paid attention to the story they read prior to my visit and that they were paying attention to the things I was talking about. One girl asked, “How did the monkeys get to Ometepe Island?” which is a really great question nobody has an answer to. A lot of students wanted to know if I’d kept a monkey as a pet or if I’d brought a monkey home with me. I tried to impress upon them what a bad—and illegal—idea that would be. I explained that monkeys are wild animals who belong in the trees, that they are not happy in captivity. I likened it to trying to keep a squirrel as a pet, and most students thought that was hilariously ridiculous. “But Willie Wonka had a pet squirrel,” one student pointed out. Before I even had a chance to contemplate that statement, another student countered, “Yes, but Willie Wonka is fiction.” Enough said.

Some of my favorite questions actually had nothing to do with monkeys:
  • “What is your Japanese sign” one student asked me. My what? I had no idea what she was talking about. “Your Japanese sign,” she said. “Uhh, I don’t know,” was all I could say. “Mine is the rat,” she said proudly. So I guess she meant the Chinese Zodiac. I don’t know what my sign is, but I’ve since looked it up and found it is the ram.
  • “Look, I can write in gnomish.” It wasn’t so much a question, but a proud statement and display of a sheet of notebook paper covered in strange and interesting symbols.

And in the last class of the day, as the bell had rung and students were gathering their things and filing out of the room, one particularly energetic boy (who’d asked about a billion questions) rushed up to me, gave me a hug and a handshake, and asked for my email address.

At any rate, I really enjoyed speaking to Cara’s classes. It’s great to be surrounded by students who are still young enough to be excited about everything. The only downside is that, just like last year, my throat hurts from demonstrating howler monkey vocalizations all day. Oh well, I guess a sore throat will be company to my sore knee, which has been bothering me for a while now. As it turns out, my refusal to give myself a break after the marathon has resulted in some nasty tendonitis. It’s not the end of the world—it just means that I can’t run for a while, which is excruciating for me. I’ve been going strong at 30+ miles a week since August. And now I’ve come to a complete standstill. Considering that the world outside is a solid slick of ice and snow and the windchills have been below zero for a few days, I guess a rest will do me good. It’s just frustrating to be immobilized, but I’ll try to hang in there.

Again, thanks to everybody for your get well wishes to my grandma. Please keep her in your thoughts! Thanks for reading.

You're a vegan? What do you eat? (#1)

So a while back, I mentioned that I was thinking of starting a segment on the blog entitled “You’re a vegan? What do you eat?” I’ve decided to try to do this once a week (I’m tentatively thinking Wednesdays). I feel like, for the 11 years that I’ve been a vegetarian, I’ve had a pretty good diet, but ever since becoming a vegan, my diet has improved by leaps and bounds. Seriously, I’ve never felt better. Most people seem to think that eating a vegan diet must be impossibly difficult (an opinion I definitely shared before actually trying it myself), but really, it’s pretty easy.

I’ll start off by introducing a winter staple around the Ragfield house: Minestrone soup. I generally don’t follow a recipe for this (just using whatever I have on hand), but a good template for this soup can be found at Vegan A Go-Go. Some basic essentials are garlic, onions, celery, and carrots. Beyond that you need kidney beans, tomatoes, vegetable broth, and some kind of pasta. I also usually add chopped kale and red cabbage.

The particular soup in this photo was actually proclaimed Melissa’s Best Ever Minestrone by none other than Rob. And it was really great. The thing is, I’m not sure what I did to make it so great, and I’ve never quite been able to reproduce it. What I am sort of suspecting is that in this particular batch, I’d used the last of the garden tomatoes (the ones I’d picked green before the first frost and let ripen in a paper bag in our pantry). Maybe it’s the canned tomatoes that make this soup a little lack-luster. Even so, a sub-par minestrone is still pretty good. And right about now, minestrone is Rob’s favorite thing to eat. He doesn’t mind eating batch after batch of the soup as I try to recreate that Best Ever Minestrone made with the season’s last fresh tomatoes.



Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 15, 2008

One more post about the Christmas tree

Can the internet handle one more picture of the Ragfield Christmas tree? Rob and I were at Target the other night, and as we walked past the aisles of Christmas decorations, this beautiful silver star caught my eye. It was only $9.99, which I considered totally worth it. For years I’ve been looking for something like this, but I’ve never found any that I liked enough to buy. Now that it’s on the tree, I’m not sure if it makes the tree more or less folksy than the red and gold bow that was there before. Either way, I like it.

Thanks to everybody who has called, emailed, etc to ask about my grandma and wish her well. It really means the world to me, to know that there are so many people out there rooting for her. Some have asked if there is anything they can do to help, and I’d say, just keep Grandma (and my mom and aunt too) in your thoughts. All that love and energy really does help, I can feel it. Thanks again so, so much.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The things I couldn't say

Sometimes, there are just things I can’t write about.

For whoever finds this blog, please send your very best thoughts and wishes to my grandma, whose health has taken a turn for the worse, and to my mom and aunt, who are looking after her.

The women in my family (myself included) tend to have a stubborn streak, to harbor strong opinions, to fight like a lion for those that we love, to be unable to do things in moderation, and to feel that we must never be idle because there is always a meal that needs to be cooked or a tub that needs to be scrubbed. All of this stems from grandma, and for 93 years, she’s been going strong. Recently, she’s had to slow down a lot though. On Friday afternoon she suffered a series of strokes or seizures or both, and now we’re all having to come to terms with the fact that things aren’t going to be the same anymore.

I still can’t really say or write the things that are going on in my head. Auntie is the one who’s probably sorting it all out and writing it into one of her poems that sums up everything and makes us all smile even though we’re kind of crying at the same time too.

I keep remembering that when I was in second grade, I had to do this art project where the teacher gave us the beginning of a sentence and we had to complete the thought by drawing a picture. The phrases were things like, “It makes me happy when…” or “My favorite food to eat is…” One of the phrases was, “Sometimes I cry when…” I finished it off by writing, “when its time to leave Grandma and Grandpa’s house.” I drew a picture of Grandma, her hair red (rather than the blonde she always insisted she was) and Grandpa, with his cap on, standing in front of the barn with their dog Tasha. It doesn’t really feel like it was more than 20 years ago that I drew that picture.

At any rate, I can’t really write or draw these days. I’m only posting this with the hopes that anyone who reads it will take a moment to send a thought or prayer or wish—whatever you call it—to my grandma. I know it works, because the love and energy that people have sent to me during tough times have gotten me through a lot.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Ragfield Family Christmas Tree (cont'd)

The Ragfield family Christmas tree

If this tree gets any more cute and folksy, it will wink and say, "You betcha." (Let's hope it doesn't come to that.)

I actually really love our folksy tree. Making the popcorn and cranberry garland took forever, but it was a nice way to be productive during my unrelenting insomnia.

I haven't had any luck in finding a more suitable top for the tree. You wouldn't think it would be too hard. All I want is a plain silver star. Over the weekend I looked at Prairie Gardens and Michael's, and neither of them had anything even remotely like that.

Here are a few photos of some of my favorite ornaments.

I picked up this ornament in San Francisco in a cute little shop at Fisherman's Wharf for only $1.49

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Round and round the Christmas tree

When I was little we had this stereo-hutch type thing that held an actual record player. Around Christmas, we would play actual records on this record player. It may have been a bit of an antiquated system, even at the time, but I always remember it as being so much fun.

There was one particular song I remember listening to all the time. I don’t know who sang it or even what the name of the song was, but the chorus went something like this:

Round and round the Christmas tree
Opening presents with the family
One for you and two for me!
Oh what a Christmas Day!

Last night as Rob and I decorated our tree, that song was going through my head. In case anybody who found this doesn’t already read Rob’s blog, here is a video of us decorating the tree. A while ago Rob built this remote timer thing for his camera, and while we were decorating the tree he set it up so that it would take a photo every 10 seconds. Then he strung all these photos together and made a video out of it.

(Technical note: Okay, I just looked at this post and realized that the smallness of the video really sucks. I need to get back to my dissertation now, but sometime soon I will try to fix the video. And maybe also convince Rob to add some kind of music to the video [if that is even possible]).

If you look closely, you will see that at one point we dropped an ornament and it shattered. At the time I was disappointed to have broken an ornament, but in retrospect, it is pretty funny on the video. Also, you may see me go in and out the front door a couple of times. Although it looks like I am trying to run away, I was actually just putting up a wreath and some other small decorations outside.

I would also like to point out that (what may end up as a future blog entry), the finishing touches have not yet been added to the tree. I am trying to make a popcorn and cranberry garland (which is taking a lot longer than I'd hoped), and I'd kind of like to get an actual star for the top.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Ragfield Family Christmas Tree

I was actually being sarcastic when I suggested to Rob that we go pick up a Christmas tree on our tandem bike. But he called my bluff and took me up on it.

The whole endeavor was made more interesting because when we woke up this morning, the world of Urbana was covered in snow. Finally this afternoon we rode Big Red through the slush over to the Custard Cup parking lot, which is where they sell Christmas trees every year. It wasn’t actually too difficult to pick one out, given that there were only a few trees in our price range.

The day after Thanksgiving, the Custard Cup parking lot transforms into a Christmas tree lot.

We bought the tree and Rob used bungee cords to secure it to the make-shift trailer he had constructed. Then we headed for home. It probably wasn’t the safest ride we’ve ever done. By this time, it was after 4:30 and becoming dark, it was sleeting a little bit, and with a 7-foot tree strapped to the back of the bike, we couldn’t see if there were any cars behind us. It was kind of scary every time we had to turn a corner or come to a stop. But luckily we only had about 2.5 miles to go, and we made it home just fine. I was a little disappointed not to have a photo or video of the adventure. I’d been hoping to stage a victory lap around our block so we could get some photos, but by the time we made it back, it was getting dark and I was convinced that all my fingers and toes were frostbitten.

I can only assume that this will now become a Ragfield Tradition. Hopefully next year we’ll ride over to pick out our tree before the first snow of the season.

A Very Vegan Thanksgiving

Rob and I have had 4 Thanksgivings (well 1 of them was actually a birthday party) in the past 4 days. When I was little, I remember Thanksgiving being one meal, on one day, at my great aunts’ house. Times have changed I guess.

Several months ago when I decided to stop dallying around and become a vegan for real, the one thing that gave me pause was what I would do at family holiday gatherings. I decided I’d cross that bridge when I came to it, and this Thanksgiving it was finally time. The end result? Well, I’m not going to be writing a Vegan Holiday Survival Guide, but I might go looking to see if someone else has written one that I can read up on before Christmas.

The festivities began on Wednesday night, when we celebrated niece Vivian’s first birthday and continued on Thursday with Thanksgiving dinner with Rob’s family. To these events, I brought pumpkin chipotle hummus (loosely based off of this recipe) and a sub-par minestrone soup that somehow managed not to re-heat all the way through before dinner, so I ended up eating it luke warm. I also brought some pumpkin spice cookies so that I wouldn’t feel too left out when everybody was eating Vivian’s cake and pumpkin pie. It ended up that I was the only person who ate any of these things (well, Rob politely had some minestrone soup).

What is this, finger paint?

Vivian's birthday cake

Nephew Caleb invented this fabulous game in which I got to sit on the couch while he stood guard for approaching "dinosaurs." Whenever he saw a dinosaur, he would call for me to put up my Magic Dinosaur Shield (a pillow), while he chased away the offending beast. Caleb and I both could have played this game for hours. The best thing about this game was that I got to sit in one place the whole time.

On Thursday night after the Scho Thankgsiving, we drove a very boring 4-1/2 hours up to my sister’s place and arrived late at night. Since we didn’t stop back at home, I traveled with all my various vegan dishes and accoutrements. My sister had made us a fabulous vegetarian chili and also some vegan brownies that are single-handedly responsible for my skinny jeans not fitting anymore. It was totally worth it though.

Nephew Logan playing

Melissa, Rob, & Logan
Rob and Meli with Logan

Michelle, Mark, & Logan
Michelle and Mark with Logan

The Raguet family
Meli's fam

We spent the day on Friday at my sister’s, hanging out with my family and playing with nephew Logan. I also whipped up another batch of Peanut-Butter Noodles (which I keep calling “Thai Peanut Noodles” for some reason) for our 4th and final Thanksgiving with Rob’s family the next day. We left my sister’s at 6:30am in the bitter cold on Saturday morning and drove like hell to get there by noon. The car was loaded down with the peanut noodles, pumpkin chipotle hummus, and pumpkin spice cookies. I felt pretty terrible and was really hungry when we finally arrived. When it was time for dinner, I put the peanut noodles in the microwave, but they didn’t get heated all the way through. I sat down with a plate of ice-cold noodles, which were actually pretty gross. If I were at home, I would have just popped my plate back in the microwave, but we were eating off of fine china, so I just made do.

I think what made this Thanksgiving so difficult was that we went so many places and there were so many different family dinners that I had to bring something to. Considering all the work I went to and how it turned out, I might as well have just packed myself a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich instead of trying unsuccessfully to create a delicious dish that other people weren’t going to eat anyway (except for a few brave or unknowing souls tried my pumpkin chipotle hummus and ended up gagging and writhing on the floor).

Don't tell Cousin Dan, but its pretty obvious that little Brody (14 months) is my favorite Cousin-in-Law. Whenever I'm around Brody, I remind myself of the female howler monkeys who would steal other females' babies to hold them and play with them.

Caleb and Vivian with their momma and Santy Claus. At just 12 months, Vivian is a striding biped. I am truly impressed with her locomotor abilities.

The Bassetts
Rob's family, which you may notice is more numerous than mine.

At any rate, I guess I have to regroup, and get ready to tackle Christmas. If there are any vegans out there who happen to have stumbled on this blog, please, please send your holiday survival tips my way.

Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

You're a vegan? What do you eat?

I’m thinking of starting a new segment on the blog called “You’re a vegan? What do you eat?!” This is for a couple of reasons. First, I get this question frequently, and hopefully such posts will provide an answer to any who are concerned. Second, many of the things that I eat are so lovely that I take pictures of them.

We’ll start off this segment with a dessert I made recently (I think it was great-aunt Julia who always said you should eat dessert first). Its called Gingered Cranberry Pear Cobbler. It actually ended up being a ton of work, and the ingredients were kind of expensive. It takes 8 pears. Eight! And have you priced pears lately? They aren’t cheap. The cranberries were on sale though, so maybe that helped a little. The original recipe calls for sour cream, which I substituted with Tofutti Vegan Better Than Sour Cream.

Making this dessert was pretty labor-intensive. It took me a long time to peel and slice all those pears, and then making the crust turned out to be a little bit more work than I’d hoped for. When I started out making the dessert, I hadn’t realized there would be kneading, rising, and rolling involved. It wasn’t too bad though, it just dirtied a lot of dishes. The final product was gorgeous, especially when I put it into the beautiful baking dish that my mother-in-law gave me last year for Christmas.

The verdict on this dessert: the filling was definitely tart alright. The recipe only called for ¾ cup of brown sugar, but I think adding some white sugar would probably help. I made this dessert when we had a couple of friends over for dinner, and they both told me that it was great. Rob tried some of it, which I definitely appreciate, since he generally avoids all desserts unless they come in brownie form. (He claims this is the first time he has ever eaten “cobbler,” but I find it hard to believe he’s lived 30 years and never had any of his Grandma B’s widely acclaimed cherry cobbler). But in the end, this dessert was not my favorite. We ate less than half of it and I finally wrapped it up and put it in the freezer, which I think of as Food Purgatory. I don’t know if cobbler is something that freezes well, but after going to so much work, I couldn’t simply throw it out. In sum, it was pretty good, but I’ve realized that if I’m going to put that much effort into something, it ought to be chocolate.

Moving on. For dinner tonight, I made Peanut-Butter Noodles from the Vegan A Go-Go website. They were A-MAZING!! All I can say is that Vegan A Go-Go rocks! This recipe was so easy to make, and it was seriously one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. I used low-sodium soy sauce and low-sodium vegetable broth for the sauce and it was still pretty salty. I’m not sure what “chili paste” is, but I had some “chili garlic sauce” and used that instead. I also chopped up some carrots and broccoli, steamed them, and added that to the final mix. The whole thing turned out so good that I’ve decided to bring it to one of the Thanksgivings that Rob and I are attending this week (we’re going to several celebrations in multiple states). Thanks for the great recipe, Vegan A Go-Go!

Fabulous Peanut Noodles. Showcasing Auntie's old Corell dishes again.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


Rob and I have been dog-sitting a very sleepy puppy* all weekend.

*Note: at ~8 pounds, Ravage is full grown.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Save the Red Herring

The Red Herring is a non-profit lunch-only vegan restaurant that is literally across the street from the Anthropology Department. You would think because 1) it is so close to where I work –and- 2) I’ve been a vegetarian and/or vegan for the past 11+ years, that I would be eating lunch there all the time. But not so much really. Before the last week, I’d probably only eaten there 3 or 4 times. This is because I’ve never been much of a lunch person, but that is probably beyond the scope of this blog.

At any rate, I found out recently that the Red Herring is in financial distress and in imminent danger of closing forever. In a grass roots effort to keep their doors open, they’ve been trying to get everybody and anybody to come in and buy lunch. I guess they normally serve maybe 50 people a day, and they need to drastically increase that number in order to make enough money to buy the supplies to stay open another week. (Keeping in mind that the people who work there are volunteers and do not actually get paid).

Rob and I met for lunch there last Friday, and it was a little chaotic. There were a lot of people in there, and you could tell that the staff was not used to this kind of business. This week, I scored some office space in the department, so I’ve been working from campus and have been back to the Red Herring twice to pick up a sandwich to go. Both times there have again been tons of people ordering lunch. So much, in fact, that today I waited in line for 30 minutes before even placing my order. Just as I got up to the counter, they announced that they were out of everything on the menu, except the Baked Tofu Sandwich—which was actually the thing I wanted anyway, so that was fine by me.

At any rate, I really, sincerely hope that the Red Herring doesn’t have to close down. Its been open for the past 30 years, and I guess its the only totally vegan restaurant in town. Restaurants normally stress me out, because I usually have to ask about a billion questions to determine what, if anything, is vegan and even then I’m never quite sure. So it is really nice to have this restaurant that is all vegan, and I can order anything off the menu (provided that they don’t run out). If you live in the Champaign-Urbana area, please drop by the Red Herring for lunch in the next couple of days to help support a local business. Its in the basement of the Channing Murray Foundation, at the corner of Mathews and Oregon. The Channing Murray is some kind of Unitarian church, but I don't think that the restaurant is affiliated with the church. Anyway, the food is amazing, and I’m not just saying that because I’m vegan. SL took us there for a Dissertation Lunch one time—even he enjoyed it, and he’s a total carnivore.

This is a photo of the building that the Red Herring is in. The Anthropology Department is the pink brick building in the background.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stuck in an infinite loop

I’ve never been a good sleeper. Even when I was a little kid, I remember being stressed out and having trouble sleeping. When I was a sophomore in college, I think I slept like 2 hours the entire year and it almost drove me crazy. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be one of those people who could fall asleep as soon as your head hits the pillow and then be able to stay asleep through anything.

Tonight (this morning?) is typical for me. I went to bed around 11pm (a fairly reasonable hour) but woke up at 2:30. Done. Wide awake. Ready for breakfast. Won’t the sun come up already? The longer I was awake, the more I became stuck in an infinite loop. Ten billion things were going through my head with each passing second. I should go to the grocery store in the morning and get more soymilk. I should think of something vegan to take to M and S’s party on Thursday so that I can have something to eat. I should figure what in the world I am going to make for the impending tri-state Thanksgiving Odyssey and how I am going to transport it all. I should do something with that small yet unnerving pile of things I just noticed under the bed (that has probably been there since we moved in). I should get up and try to work on my Fallback Foods paper some more. I should, in general, do Pilates or yoga.

I finally gave up trying to go back to sleep and thought maybe I’d get up and do some work. When I opened my computer, there it was—an email from SL with his long awaited comments on 2 (of the 6) dissertation chapters I’ve sent him. What better way to be greeted at 4 in the morning. I considered not opening the message, but then decided that the not-knowing would be worse than just jumping right in and seeing what he had to say. Besides, its not like I was getting back to sleep anyway.

Much to my surprise, it wasn’t bad. He seemed to like it, or at least not find any major logical errors. Most of his comments were about my grammar. I do feel that one area where SL and I definitely disagree is grammar. My hellish year in 8th grade advanced English was practically like getting a PhD in grammar (needless to say, Amy will know what I mean), so I feel that I know a thing or two. It seems like SL had a similarly traumatic experience in his youth, but with a teacher who taught slightly different grammatical principles. And maybe I do like to push the envelope a bit. For instance, I am quite fond of beginning sentences with introductory clauses (such as this one). SL has tried to break me of this habit for years. I also like to split infinitives, and I think that—as long as its used sparingly—there is nothing wrong with the passive voice.

Even though SL’s comments were not catastrophic (there’s an introductory clause again), I’m still too wound up to go back to sleep. Maybe when I go to the store to pick up that soymilk, I should also get some chamomile tea.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Green Party

It was a short night last night. Rob and I were up late celebrating Obama’s victory (or Who-bama, as Little Mr. E calls him). In my concept of a perfect world, the Green Party candidate (Cynthia McKinney) would have won, but in the real world, this is a dream come true. After listening to President Obama's victory speech I was exhausted, but I was too wound up to sleep. It didn’t help matters any when the alarm went off at 4:40am this morning. Rob had some kind of conference in Chicago today, and he had to be there by 8.

Left on my own for dinner tonight, I made my new favorite thing. A while ago, I found a really fabulous recipe for greens on an amazing website called Vegan-A-Go-Go, and I just can’t get enough of it. I made these greens to go with dinner a few days ago, and even though Rob ate it, he did not share my enthusiasm. “They’re okay, I guess,” is what he said. So even though its a bit lonely with Rob not here for dinner, I contented myself by having a Green Party. The first time I made this dish, I used kale and spinach. This time, I used kale and mustard greens, and I think I liked my first batch better. But seriously, this is good stuff.

This is an answer to the horrified question: "You're a vegan? What do you eat?!"

Rob was driving through Kankakee about an hour ago, so he should be home any minute. And I’ve got to go, to see Jon Stewart’s take on the election.

Thanks for reading!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How I qualified for Boston without even trying

Okay, I guess I should say that I did actually try for it, I just didn’t plan for it. And here’s a warning: this post is ridiculously long and may contain both feminist ideology and mild profanity.

So the Boston Marathon is like, the holy grail of marathons. I guess it was the first marathon ever held in the US, so its steeped in history. It holds a special place in my feminist heart too. Women used to be prohibited from running marathons, you know, because we’re supposed to be barefoot and pregnant all the time. In 1966, a woman named Roberta Gibb ran the Boston Marathon as a “bandit” (without really registering for it, because it wasn’t allowed), and then there’s a really famous story about a woman named Katherine Switzer, who ran the Boston Marathon in 1967 and race officials literally tried to push her off the course. Because she was a woman. It was unseemly. Get back in the kitchen and make me a sandwich. But she persevered, I guess, and somehow managed to finish even though being physically assaulted on the course. In 1972, women were officially allowed to run in the Boston Marathon for the first time. When you think about it, that really wasn’t all that long ago.

The other thing about Boston is that you have to qualify for it by running a specified qualifying time for your age and sex bracket. For me, this is 3 hours and 40 minutes. My previous best marathon (in 2005) was 3:47:39. My most recent marathon (May 2008) was something in the neighborhood of 3:50. For me, Boston wasn’t even something I considered reaching for. In fact, I never really considered attempting to qualify for it. Afterall, its at a bad time of year for someone in academia (finals time—late April), plus its always on a Monday. A lot of people run marathons with dreams of BQ’ing (Boston Qualifying) as we call it, but honestly, the thought never crossed my mind. I run just to run.

Which is why I signed up for the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon today. It seemed like it would be a good race, plus Rob and I have a lot of friends and family in the area who we’d get a chance to see. I trained pretty hard—around 2 months of nearly 40 miles per week, plus a peak week when I managed to run just over 50 miles. And all that training went really, peculiarly well. No injuries, illnesses or ailments. Despite the high mileage, I took it easy, always running at a slow pace. I never did “speed workouts” and rarely, if ever, even took a watch with me while I ran. As we headed over to Indianapolis yesterday, I reviewed my 3:45 pace band, hoping that this would be the race when I’d finally get there. I’ve probably printed out a 3:45 pace band for every previous marathon, and always ended up ripping it off my arm in anger at some point during the race, as I realized I’d fallen unattainably behind.

We arrived at AK and BY’s house in Indianapolis last night, which incidentally was Halloween. Little Miss C was a pink princess (complete with tiara) and Little Mr E was a robot. Adorable. AK had fixed us a lovely pasta dinner, and we had all the creature comforts of being at home, or being at the home of someone who is your family. We went to bed at a fairly reasonable hour and then woke up bright and early on race morning. (Well, dark and early actually).

I knew that this marathon had the potential to be either the best or worst one I’ve ever done. I’d trained better (at least, at higher mileage) than any of my previous 7, so I had that going for me. But I’d been feeling downright terrible the whole week before the race—only able to sleep a few hours each night, and an upset stomach that made me wonder if I’d even make the start line. When the alarm went off this morning, I still did not feel too great, and I actually had a minor freak-out that I was even attempting to run 26.2 miles.

But that’s what I’d come here for. So we went to the start line. It was freezing. I’d solicited the advice of Rob and BY and consulted and finally opted to wear shorts and a t-shirt. Unpleasant standing in the dark at the start when the temperature is in the 40’s. But welcome once the sun came up and it gradually warmed to the 60’s.

The start was super-congested. There were so many people that after the gun went off, it took me more than a minute to even get to the start line. Once I actually crossed the start, I still was just walking because it was so congested. The whole first mile was slow, but I thought that was probably a good thing. During my last several marathons, I’ve started out way too fast and ended up paying for it dearly at the end (or middle!) when I run out of energy. My GPS wasn’t working right (this is the last time I ever will run with the aging Garmin ForeRunner 201!), so I had to just rely on the mile markers along the course. At mile 1, my time was 9:20. Yikes. I’d wanted to start off slow, but not that slow! The pace per mile for a 3:45 marathon is 8:35.

While freezing at the start, I had met up with a woman named Denise who also wanted to run 3:45. We resolved to stay together as long as we could, and when we saw how much our pace was lagging, we picked it up. I think we over-compensated. We started running 8:20’s or below, and by at least 4 miles in, we were back on pace for 3:45. We didn’t slow down though. In fact, we kept speeding up. By mile 11, we were about 2 minutes ahead of schedule. Denise was pumped. But I knew, from so many previous experiences, that this did not bode well.

I knew that Rob, AK, BY, and the kids were planning on being at a corner around mile 11.5, so I’d really been looking forward to seeing them there. When I got there, much to my surprise, there were some additions to my cheering section. Rob’s aunt and uncle and baby cousin were there, and Rob’s parents were too! It was like the whole corner erupted in huge: “Go, Melissa!” cheers. I felt like an honest-to-goodness celebrity. I felt like a million bucks, and it meant the world to me. This powered me to run an 8:16 for my next mile. By around mile 14, I had cruised ahead of Denise. I knew I should pull it back, but I just couldn’t. I kept hammering out 8:16’s, 8:12’s, and so on. Pretty soon I was 3 minutes and 30 seconds ahead of pace. I told myself, okay Melissa, keep your cool. If you feel good at mile 20, you can go for it. But don’t do anything stupid before you get that far.

Denise, wherever you are, it was great running with you!

Surprise!! The whole gang was there!

Around mile 16, I saw Rob and our friends again. I was so far ahead of schedule that Rob’s family hadn’t made it to that point yet. I hollered for Rob to bring me the “emergency stash” of pretzels I’d had him hold for me. He ran them over to me, and it was a lifesaver. I’d brought a couple of carbohydrate gel packs with me, but, my body was having none of that. I wanted salt. And lots of it.

Seeing my cheering squad and having the pretzels gave me even more speed. Pretty soon, I realized something. Boston was within my reach. My BQ time is 3:40, but they accept anything under 3:40:59. So all I had to do was be 4 minutes and 1 second under my original goal pace. And I was already over 4 minutes ahead. And I felt great. So I picked it up even more, running close to 8 minute pace. Pretty soon I was 5 minutes up. Still tenuous, but getting close to safe. I saw Rob a couple miles later and I told him, “I might qualify for Boston.” Suddenly I wished I hadn’t said that outloud. I didn’t want to jinx it.

"My quads will destroy you"

By mile 20, I was nearly 6 minutes ahead of 3:45 pace. And I was running sub-8 minute miles. I think mile 22 was 7:40, though its hard to say for sure with my malfunctioning GPS. It was such a weird, almost out of body experience. It was like I was in a war zone or something. All around me, people were going down, shrieking in pain as they clutched throbbing legs and fell to the ground. And here I was, fleetly picking my way through the fallen masses, practically skimming through the air.

By mile 23 I was almost 7 minutes up, and I realized I could slow down significantly and still make it. By mile 24, I was so ready for this to be over. At mile 25, I saw Rob and BY again on their bikes. Even though I had just puked a little bit in my mouth, their exuberant cheering bolstered me onward, and I ran a 7:56 mile. At mile 26, I had only 2 tenths left to go, and I ran like hell. I could see the finishing line and I started sobbing hysterically. The announcer called my name as I ran across the finishing mat, in something like 3:37:20 (chip time). I started screaming, “I JUST QUALIFIED FOR BOSTON!! I JUST QUALIFED FOR BOSTON!!” A man put a medal around my neck and wrapped a mylar blanket around me. “I just qualified for Boston!” I sobbed, and he held my hand for a minute and told me congratulations.

I couldn’t eat or drink or do anything other than sort of pant hysterically. I wandered aimlessly through the finishing area, sidestepping people who were being put on stretchers and lifted onto ambulances, probably still hoarsely whispering, “I just qualified for Boston.” I barely managed to get it under control by the time Rob and BY found me in the crowd. Eventually, we walked back to the car and went to AK and BY’s house, where I had a warm shower and a delicious vegan lunch.

My head is still sort of reeling from all of this. I normally take a nap after a marathon, but this time I am way too excited. Things couldn’t have gone better if I’d planned it. The weather was ideal. The course was nearly perfectly flat. I also had a cheering section of friends and family who helped me keep the crazies at bay. If I’d gone into this with the hope of BQ’ing, I would have inevitably been stressed out and enjoyed the whole experience much less. The way it happened was like a nice surprise—a really nice surprise.

The only thing left to do is go to Boston, I guess. The thing is, I’m not sure that I’m even going to. Its just nice to have qualified. There are so many things to consider. Like what a horrible time of year it will be for me… as I scramble to finish my dissertation and hopefully find some type of gainful employment. And how expensive it will be. Plane tickets, hotel, race registration fee, etc. I’m just feeling so overwhelmed. I don’t know if anyone besides my immediate friends and family will have gotten through this gargantuan post, but if any runners out there are reading, what I’m wondering is if I can elect to do the Boston Marathon in 2010 instead of 2009. From the information on the BAA website, it seems to indicate that a qualifying time after September 29, 2008, makes you eligible for both the 2009 and 2010 race. If I could really truly defer my time and run the 2010 race instead, that might be so much better for me. There is just so much in my life that needs to be accomplished between now and April, that the thought of cramming in a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Boston is almost more than I can handle. We’ll have to see how to work this out.

At any rate, I should end this before it gets any longer. I just want to point out that the icing on the cake is that I did this whole thing 100% vegan. I know there were people out there who thought I was going to wither up and die when I went from vegetarian to vegan, but I’d say this is living proof that an animal free lifestyle suits me well. Its kind of amusing to see the look of horror on peoples’ faces when they find out I’m vegan and to hear the inevitable “What do you eat!?” I eat lots of lovely, lovely things that allowed me to BQ and to shave off 10 whole minutes from my previous best marathon time!

Oh yeah, and I did the whole thing wearing my Bitch Socks.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adventures in vegan party planning

Rob’s big 3-0 is today and we’ve had a weekend of partying—vegan partying to be exact. On Friday night we had a big party at our place. Overall, it went pretty well I think. It was standing room only in our house for a while, and people seemed to be having a good time. I made a bunch of stuff to eat—all of it vegan. I got pretty creative, with a vegan cream cheese dip for apple slices and even a vegan ranch dip for veggies. I also had chips and chismol; bread and crackers with regular hummus or pumpkin-chipotle hummus; sugar cookies; pumpkin spice muffins; and chocolate cake. I had this grand master plan to get everybody, even the carnivores, to start talking about how great the food was, and then at some point during the evening to reveal my big surprise to everyone, “ITS VEGAN, ITS ALL VEGAN!” It didn’t quite work out that way. First of all, I wasn’t too suave about keeping the secret, because as people arrived I tended to tell them excitedly, “Welcome the party! We have tons of food and all of it is vegan!” And secondly, our house got so crowded and loud that I would have needed some sort of megaphone to make the announcement. But people did seem to genuinely like the food, and I think that my vegan chocolate cake turned out to be the best one I’ve ever made. This was all the more surprising since I did not measure any of the ingredients—I’d been rushed and just sort of threw everything into a mixing bowl and hoped for the best. The only mishap at the party (despite the fact people were packed in our house like sardines) was that at some point we ran out of beer. Last year when we’d had a party for Rob, I’d way overestimated the beer consumption and ended up with a ton left over. This year I guess I way underestimated it. Hopefully next year, I’ll get it just right.

Meli, preparing vegan delights (Yes, I am wearing a Christmas apron. And my Skinny Jeans)

Classy... We ran out of beer but had tons of wine left over.

Some of our fabulous vegan party food!

After the party, I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning cleaning (there were globs of salsa and bits of mashed vegan cake all over our house!). On Saturday afternoon we spent some time with friends, and then it was onto party #2 for Rob. This one was a family party, and Rob had decided that he wanted to have his family over to our place for dinner, cake, and ice cream. After much thought, I had determined that I would make ratatouille to put over pasta—its generally pretty easy to fix, and if I added enough eggplant (chewy in texture), maybe the meat-eaters wouldn’t notice it was vegan ☺ Now, I’ve made some pretty good ratatouilles in my day, but I am sad to report that this wasn’t one of them! I don’t know what my deal was—I guess it was just an off night for me. That, and I was operating on only about 4 hours of sleep and ended up being incredibly rushed at the end. The ratatouille was still pretty good, and Rob’s family, bless their hearts, wouldn’t stop raving about how wonderful it was. But it just wasn’t one of my best. They’ll have to come over some other time so that I can show them what I’m really made of!

Party #2 was also completely vegan, though I did set out cheese for anybody who wanted it. I’d also whipped up another vegan chocolate cake, because the one for Party #1 was all gone. This time I was more careful about measuring out the ingredients, but it actually turned out to be not as great as the previous night’s cake. I think its because I added too much vanilla. At least now I know for next time, right? In addition to the cake, we also had vegan ice cream. Rob had selected two kinds: Soy Dream Chocolate Fudge Brownie and Rice Dream Vanilla. Everybody tried some of each kind. I never was an ice cream person, so I can’t say how it compares to the real stuff. In my opinion, the vanilla was not that great, but the chocolate brownie flavor was fantastic.

After everybody left and I was putting stuff away, I found a container of freshly made basil pesto that I had completely forgotten to set out. I couldn’t believe I had forgotten all about it, since I’d made it from scratch just about a half an hour before everybody arrived. Although from what I hear, its not the first time that some portion of a Scho family dinner was accidently forgotten about and left in the refrigerator.

Today was Rob’s actual birthday, and at some point in the future, I’m sure he’ll blog about how he spent his day. As for me, I did my last 8-mile run before next week’s marathon, and then I tore down the garden because the forecast calls for frost tonight. I brought in a giant paper sack full of green tomatoes, in hopes that they’ll ripen indoors. Its so cold and windy today that I feel like I should be putting up a Christmas tree or at least drinking mulled cider. Unfortunately we don’t have any mulled cider. What we do have is a lot of leftover wine that people brought to the party on Friday night but nobody drank. That 2007 Beaujolais is looking pretty good to me, so we’ll have to see if it makes it through the night.

That’s all for now. Here’s a picture of a neighbor’s tree; I love how the tips of the leaves have all turned red, but the bases are still green. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Vegan Macaroni and Cheese

So I recently tried nutritional yeast for the first time. I think its really great actually. During my several 40+ mile weeks of peak marathon training, my staple snack was a slice of whole grain toast with Earth Balance spread and sprinkled with nutritional yeast. Quite nice. I can see how people who are die-hard devotees to the S.A.D (Standard American Diet) would find it weird though.

I found a couple of recipes online for vegan macaroni and cheese using nutritional yeast, and I thought I would try it. Now, I’ve never been a fan of the traditional box made macaroni and cheese. I’m sure I’ve eaten it at some point in my life, but probably not for at least 12 or 15 years. Rob has a distinct aversion to macaroni and cheese because when he was 5 years old, there was an unfortunate vomiting incident that occurred immediately after he had eaten a meal of macaroni and cheese with red Kool-Aid. What has always puzzled me about this is that although Rob cites this incident as why he refuses to eat macaroni and cheese, he has no such aversion to red Kool-Aid.

At any rate. Rob went out to dinner with his cycling team last Wednesday, and I was left to my own devices for dinner. Since Rob wasn’t going to be around and I had an ample supply of nutritional yeast (I would assume that Rob’s macaroni and cheese aversion also extends to vegan forms of the dish), I decided to try it. I roughly followed a recipe that I found on a cool website called Your Vegan Mom, though I didn’t have all the stuff that Vegan Mom did, so I left some of it out. For example, I used garlic powder instead of onion powder, and I left out the paprika and nutmeg because I didn’t have those either. Instead I put in a little bit of tumeric because I had seen other vegan mac and cheese recipes that called for it. Despite my modifications to the recipe, it turned out pretty tasty. Next time, I don’t think I would add any mustard though. I think the main thing is to use plain soymilk and nutritional yeast, and then add whatever spices you think sound good

Here are some photos of the meal. For good measure, I also made a nice swiss chard salad.

Close up of the mac and cheese

And another photo of the salad, just because it was so lovely.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Save Kickapoo State Park

Rob and I went camping at Kickapoo State Park last Friday night. Kickapoo is one of the parks that is scheduled to be closed on November 1st as a result of irresponsible budgeting that has apparently left Illinois without enough money to keep its state parks open. Rob and I were both really upset about the park closures: Rob—because he spent a lot of time at Kickapoo while he was growing up, and me—because I just love trees. We both signed petitions protesting the park’s closure and wrote to the governor and other state representatives, imploring them to keep it open. As I realized how close November 1st is looming, I suggested that we go and camp there one more time. Probably not the wisest choice for someone who has been wearing 10 layers of clothing indoors for the past several weeks, but I thought I could handle it.

It wouldn’t be a Ragfield Family Camping Trip if it wasn’t pouring down rain though. I’m not sure if Rob and I have ever camped together when it wasn’t raining. For the most part it was just a light mist, and since I had doubled the already ridiculous amount of clothing I have to wear to keep warm, it really wasn’t that bad.

We Ragfields like to travel light.

As we settled down for the night, it was really nice to hear the rain drumming on the tent and the owls and other animals out in the woods. In the cold and the rain, I had thought that we might be the only people hard-core enough to camp, but quite a few people began showing up at the campground and pitching their tents. It began to get a little bit noisy. And before too long it became quite a bit noisy. In fact, it sounded like I was in the middle of a big frat party. There was shrieking, shouting, laughter, revving of car engines, etc. Rob, blessed with the ability to sleep through anything, was out like a light and completely oblivious. Not I. I was wide awake, cold and shivering, and kind of having to pee but not wanting to go out into the middle of the party. I watched the hours tick by. It was around 1am when I heard this (extremely loud and extremely drunk) conversation:

Dude #2: (laughing as if this is the most hilarious thing he has ever heard) DUDE, YOU SHOULD, LIKE, DRINK SOME OF (some other dude’s name) 600 CANS OF RED BULL. HE’S GOT LIKE 800 CANS.

I couldn’t help but think of something Prof. Pablo once told me: “Melissa, the world is full of morons.” Indeed. This was the moment that I decided I wanted to remove my name from the “Save Kickapoo Park” petition. I do want to save Kickapoo State Park, but not from closure. Rather, I want to save it from people like Dude #1 and Dude #2 and what sounded like 50 of their closest, drunkest, screaming, friends. And if closing the park would do that, then I’m all for it. I hate it when people trivialize nature. The trees deserve our utmost respect. The birds and deer and crickets and squirrels need their sleep. They don’t need irreverent drunk people (who apparently feel that “No Alcohol Allowed” signs are a big joke) disturbing the peace. I wish that people would learn to appreciate this planet.

Dude #1’s desire to stay awake all night kept me up all night too. I’m not sure that I slept at all. In the morning when I crawled out of the tent, I saw an empty “Budweiser” carton, and somebody who was sleeping inside a running car. Come on. Nobody is colder than me, and I managed to get through the night without going to the car and turning on the heat.

Knowing that this might be the last time for the foreseeable future that we’d get to be at Kickapoo park, Rob and I went hiking around on some of the trails. During our hike, we saw two deer. The deer stopped and we stopped, and we all just stood looking at each other for the longest time. They were really quite beautiful deer.

We headed home a little while later, and I forced myself to go out and do a 12 mile run. In general, the first “long” run of the taper can be quite grueling. I don’t know why, it just is. I was prepared for the worst this time, especially knowing that I had not gotten any sleep at all the night before. But it went by pretty well, so now I’ve got that done.

Dude, its like, getting late, and I’ve, like, got a lot of stuff to do tomorrow, so I’m, like, going to go to sleep.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Skinny Jeans

As I sit here and type, I am wearing my Skinny Jeans. I have to type fast in case they suddenly become too tight again.

Back in the summer of 2005, I was probably in the best shape of my life. I’d just run my fastest marathon ever, and I biked up (and down) Clingman’s Dome—the highest point in Tennessee and the second highest point east of the Mississippi. I was an animal.

Then I had to get serious about writing my thesis proposal and taking my pre-lim exams. I also had a more traditional 9 to 5-ish job as the undergraduate advisor, and I couldn’t take off and run whenever I felt like it. I went from 40-mile weeks to 20-mile weeks, and then even less than that. But I never stopped eating brownies. Needless to say, the Skinny Jeans became snug and I eventually stopped wearing them.

Then I went to Nicaragua. Did I mention how fond the Nicaraguans are of frying everything? When we came back for a brief visit over Christmas, I made the mistake of finding the Skinny Jeans in a box at my parents’ house and attempting to put them on. Yikes. I don’t think I could get them up past my knees. My mother said that they must have shrunk in the wash. “Have you been coming down to the basement and washing all the clothes that I am storing here?” I asked her. She paused slightly, then said, “…Yessss?” Actually, knowing my mother, I wouldn’t put it past her to do that. But it wasn’t helping me to be delusional.

And it didn’t help matters either, when we went back to Nicaragua and both Alejandra and Doña Argentina told me, “Melissa, estas más gorda!” It wasn’t really a compliment or a criticism, just an observation. I vowed that I wouldn’t let my newfound girth (and others’ observations of it) bother me, but it was quite an adjustment. I’d never been particularly lean as a kid, but for about the last 10 years or so, I’d been quite skinny, and I guess I’d gotten used to it. It suddenly felt weird not to think of myself as skinny anymore, but there was very little I could do about it. I didn’t have much control over what I ate at the field station, and generally after a long day out in the forest, I was hungry enough to eat whatever fried, greasy thing they put in front of me at dinner that night. Plus, the dry season was tough. Sometimes 1 or 2 little packs of Chickies (Lorna Doone type cookies covered in chocolate) were the only thing that could get me through the day.

When we finally moved back from Nicaragua, I sort of assumed all this extra weight would just fly right off me, as soon as I was back to my typical diet and running marathons again. But a year of going without brownies leaves you with no restraint. Every once and a while I would attempt to put the Skinny Jeans on, only to realize that I could not breathe or move while wearing them, much less let myself be seen outside the house. More than once, I put them in a pile of clothes to take to the Goodwill, but I always snatched them back, as if in some fit of nostalgic desperation.

It took 2 marathons and a whole year, but I am pleased to announce that I can now comfortably wear the Skinny Jeans again! I don’t know how it happened, but one day I just put them on and gasped in disbelief when they actually fit! After this moment, I wore the Skinny Jeans for about 2 weeks straight without washing them. I was so afraid that a spin through the washing machine would shrink them and that would be the end of the story. But I finally bit the bullet and washed them (cold water of course, that’s how I wash everything); I hung them up on the clothesline to dry, and lo and behold, they still fit. In fact, I can say that they are even becoming a little bit loose these days.

The irony of all this is that whenever it was that I got these jeans, they were actually a replacement for a former pair of Skinny Jeans that had become too tight to fit. I distinctly remember going to the store, peering into the garishly lit dressing room mirror, and then grimly purchasing this pair of jeans that were the same brand and style as my former pair, just a size larger. But that was back in the day when I thought a container of light, fat-free yogurt was perfectly acceptable as a meal, and only weak women stopped for lunch.

Even though I work from home and rarely have anywhere to go during the day, I still find every excuse to wear my skinny jeans. In fact, its all I can do not to climb up to the roof and shout to the world, “World, I am wearing my Skinny Jeans again!” But I try to use restraint. Still, when everything seems kind of grim—my dissertation is a disaster, I’ll never have health care or social security or a real job—it is nice to have the small piece of comfort that I can face these challenges while wearing my Skinny Jeans.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

50-mile week

This past week I’ve run over 50 miles (I think it was actually probably closer to 51), which is the farthest I’ve ever run during one week. In fact, I’ve run about 96 in the last 2 weeks and taken only 2 days off. I feel pretty hard core.

Today was my last 20-miler before the Indianapolis Marathon on November 1. This means all my training is done, and all I’ll be doing for the next few weeks is trying to conserve my knees and running much lower mileage. Its always nice to end on a high note, but today’s 20-miler was nothing noteworthy. The weather was a lot warmer than I’d been expecting though. I actually had to change my route a little bit so that I could run back home and get more water when I realized I didn’t have enough with me to comfortably finish out the last 4 miles. Even so, I was pretty dehydrated when I finally got done.

Instead of getting my electrolytes back in order, I spent the rest of the day cleaning the house. And I’m not talking about light dusting or anything like that. I was on my hands and knees scrubbing things and moving random piles of clutter for about 4 hours. It would have tired me out had I not run 20 miles beforehand. The infuriating part is that the house is still not totally clean or organized.

I’ve been running fairly high mileage since August, and its been pretty intense for me. As you’re going through it, it compromises your immune system and makes you narcolepticly exhausted (at 3pm I fall asleep no matter where I am) and ridiculously hungry (I probably eat about 3000 calories a day). But in the end, it only makes you stronger—which is why I keep doing it, I suppose.

Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What $21.90 of local organic produce looks like

This morning I rode my bike over to the farmer’s market armed with a long list of fruits and vegetables to buy. As I was paying for my first set of purchases, another customer (an older lady) saw my arms full of kale, swiss chard, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, and eggplant. “Are you a vegetarian?” she said in a somewhat admiring tone.

The farmer’s market in October is one of the best places on earth to be. Its practically bursting with beautiful green, red, orange, yellow, and purple things. I also bought some spaghetti squash, a butternut squash, a few pears and some bright red liberty apples. Its all so lovely that it makes me forget about how much I miss July. Sure, you can get watermelon and some early tomatoes then, but October is what its all about.

It was a rough night last night, so I was definitely happy to be out and about this morning. I didn’t feel so great before I went to bed, and then sometime in the middle of the night I woke up with a throbbing pain behind my left eye. Even though its been a long time since I’ve had a real migraine headache, that’s where it always hits. And as always, it was accompanied by several hours of nausea before I finally succumbed to a couple more hours of vortexing. It takes a lot for me to actually puke. There was more than one occasion in Nicaragua when we went back to the mainland over the weekend and I’d feel seasick until Wednesday, when I would finally puke. Luckily for Rob, he is blessed with the ability to sleep through just about anything, so my various nocturnal vortexes have gone largely unnoticed by him.

At any rate, I’ve felt pretty ishy today but I’m trying to recover enough so that I can do my last 20-mile training run for the Indianapolis Marathon tomorrow. This is my peak week of training, and I intend to get in a total of 50 miles. I am ridiculously overtrained right now, but I just need to hang in for one more day and then all I have to do is coast to the marathon.

Alright. Have got to rest now and soak up some October sun.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


When I lived in France some 8 or 9 years ago, I listened to this radio station called OuiFm 102.3. It was great. And luckily for me, they stream their broadcast live online, so I’ve been able to continue listening to it ever since. Its especially soothing while I’m analyzing data. In the long hours I’ve spent running tedious statistical tests, OuiFm has introduced me to artists such as Amy Winehouse and MGMT. In fact, the radio station tends to be quite repetitive, so on any given day of data analysis, I was liable to hear Amy Winehouse’s "Back to Black" and MGMT’s "Time to Pretend" about 5 times apiece. It really grew on me. I decided that if my great American novel (that I have not actually started yet) ever gets made into a movie, "Time to Pretend" would be on the soundtrack. I was later dismayed, when Rob and I saw the movie 21, to hear this song in the background during at least one scene. Maybe it had become too mainstream already.

At any rate, I’m going to shift gears here for a minute. This morning we had a neighborhood brunch (the ladies in my neighborhood get together once a month for coffee and chatting—its really quite nice). I am usually by far the youngest in attendance. There is one other couple across the street who are both grad students, but most of the people who live nearby are the age of my parents or grandparents. Whenever I show up at one of the neighborhood events, everyone is very excited and amicable to have somebody new and young around. (My next door neighbor tells me that you have to live here at least 10 years before everybody stops calling you “the new neighbors”).

So, vegan coffee cake in hand, I walked over to the brunch with my next door neighbor. The hostess for this month’s gathering was a lady named Mrs. G who is in her 80’s (or maybe even 90’s?). When we walked in, Mrs. G was delighted that I had brought the coffee cake. As I helped her set up in the kitchen, she apologetically explained that she was running behind schedule this morning because she and her husband had unexpectedly gone out of town the day before. She said that her grandson had called to tell her that his rock band was performing somewhere in Wisconsin, and he had asked if she and grandpa could come. They’d gone, of course, and they didn’t get home until 2 o’clock in the morning!

The brunch proceeded, and my vegan coffee cake was a huge success. I was relieved that it turned out so well, but my motivation for bringing it was more than just being neighborly: I always travel with something vegan so that I am sure I can eat. While we were all sipping our coffee, someone asked Mrs. G what was the name of her grandson’s band. “MGMT,” she replied.


My jaw must have hit the floor. I think I literally squealed, began jumping up and down, and said something to the effect of, “OH MY GOD, YOUR GRANDSON IS IN MGMT?!?!”

No one else had even heard of them, which wasn’t too surprising considering that I was the youngest person in the room by probably 30 years. Judging from my fanatic screeching, everybody else wanted to know who this MGMT was. They asked me what kind of music they played. I didn’t know how to politely say that the subject matter of the one MGMT song I know involves promiscuity (described with a rough term), cocaine, and dying young. Mrs. G led us over to her computer, where she went to the MGMT webpage and pulled up a video of one of their songs. “That’s my grandson,” she said, pointing to the cute one with the curly hair. She also showed me some pictures of him when he was a baby.

When I was getting ready to leave, she told me that her grandson had gotten them VIP seating at the concert. She said that the guy sitting next to them had seemed puzzled by their presence and finally asked, “What are you two doing here?” “My grandson is in the orchestra,” she had explained.

She thanked me again for the coffee cake and said that she would be sure to tell her grandson that I was a fan. Of course, now I'm an even bigger fan now that I know one of the guys in the band has such lovely grandparents!

Thanks for reading.