Thursday, December 27, 2012

Reflections & A Resolution

It's been about two months since I've done any sort of regular physical activity and more than 3 since I've been able to log consistent miles running. While my clothes are starting to feel a bit snug from the handful of pounds that I've added, I'm the first to admit that I needed the break because staying in shape is not only demanding physically - but it takes planning and scheduling and sticking to a routine. And quite honestly there have been plenty of times that I've wanted to say screw it. I like sitting on my ass and eating cookies and enjoying french fries and taking a nap in the afternoon when everyone else is napping instead of heading out the door to squeeze in some miles.

Christmas Goodies
Thankfully, my body has reached a point of revolt and revolution and I find myself craving salads, pears, and carrot sticks more than I do brownies and ice cream. Getting back into the swing of things - swimming and running and yes, spinning - is going to take some doing but I know once I do it will again become habit and I will be well on my way to logging miles and swimming meters and happily riding a spin bike going nowhere fast. I'm grateful that the Sports Santa was generous and brought me a nice collection of new swim gear that included a gear bag, paddles, a pull buoy and a waterproof iPod. Yes, you did read that correctly, the iPod itself is waterproofed)

I surprised myself in 2012 by completing 4 half marathons, one 4 miler, a handful of 5ks and a couple of 1 mile runs for fun (okay, maybe it was running for beer but still). Somewhere along the way I actually began to enjoy running but even better was the fact that The Munchkin began to enjoy running with me. We've logged a couple hundred miles this year, she and I.  I have my moments when I enjoy the peace and solitude when I'm alone with the pavement under my feet and the thoughts in my head - running isn't the same without her anymore. We talk. We sing. She yells at me to run faster or pushes me to keep running when I think that I need to walk. She's only two, soon to be three - but in that tiny body of hers is an intense motivation to keep moving if nothing else so I can spend as much time with her as I can because I know these moments (ones like when she looks at me and says, "I yur runnin' buddy")  will slip by far too fast. 

2012 also caused me to look at my training - how I train and what I train for - and re-prioritize what I want to get out of my running. I used to be driven by a need and a desire to beat a personal best. I thought 2012 was going to be the year I pushed myself closer to a sub 2 hour half marathon and then the injuries started to add up. They weren't always mine - but having friends being put out of commission for months at a time to let an injury heal made me appreciate what it meant to run with the goal of running happy and injury free. Ultimately I've started to accept that what's best for me isn't to push for time - it's to concentrate on finishing but having fun in the process because life is, after all, a journey and not a destination. 

I've registered for my first half marathon of 2013 and on New Year's Day will register for my second and possibly my third. Sometime before the end of February I plan on registering for what I hope will be my first marathon. If there's one thing I want in 2013 it's to train for a marathon with The Munchkin - it's a journey I started with her in 2012 and it won't seem right if I don't complete it without her. I'd like to try trail running - but I'd also like to knock off a sprint tri if I can somehow scrounge enough together for a relatively inexpensive road bike.

Oh, and my resolution?

It's not to lose weight or to get in shape or to run a sub 2 hour half marathon. All I want to do is conquer and master the making of a perfect lemon meringue pie. I'll keep you posted as to my progress :) 


Tuesday, December 18, 2012


On Monday morning, as I’m sure many parents did, I bundled up The Oldest, gave her an extra long hug, a kiss on the forehead and told her I loved her. I watched as she climbed the steps to the school bus while The Munchkin waved and watched and spoke as only a two year old can about the day she will get to ride the bus. Then, as it pulled away from the curb, I held my breath.

I was tempted to follow the bus to school, something that has never crossed my mind before not even on the first day of kindergarten. I know, however, that as a parent if I am to move beyond the senseless tragedy in Newtown I have to let go. I can love her. I can guide her. I can clean the scrapes on her knees and make sure she eats all of her peas at dinner but at some point I have to send her out into the world – a world that to me is much more uncertain and scary than it was last Friday morning. 

As parents we walk a fine line between protecting and being over protective, between reacting and being over reactive; and struggle knowing that a certain amount of fear is healthy, too much can be crippling. So you take a lot of love, add a couple of shakes of compassion, maybe a few (or maybe many) dashes of concern, a liberal amount of manners, a few heaping scoops of boundaries combined with guidance and  and mix well in the hopes that what you get is a confident, intelligent, self-assured kiddo that makes positive contributions to society. 

The words President Barack Obama spoke to the residents of Newtown at the prayer vigil held on Sunday evening resonated with me:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Like many others, I too had my moments of reflection in the hours and days that followed. Some happened through thoughtful discussion while others were in peaceful solitude and I had arrived at many of the same conclusions on my own before President Obama spoke to Newtown and by extension, the people of the United States. No. We are not meeting our obligations. We are not doing enough to keep them safe from harm. We cannot claim as a nation we are doing enough. And we will have to change. I fear without that change that while I am doing what I can to raise two beautiful girls who will have much to offer the world, that the society I live in - that we live in - is going to fail them. 

Violent crime in any form is terrible, but violent crime involving children is particularly abhorrent and senseless. The fact that what happened in Newtown happened in an elementary school - a place that is sacred and should inherently be considered safe - makes this event even more difficult to comprehend. Say what you will but our children deserve to be able to go to school - to learn, to be nurtured and loved and educated - without having to walk past an armed guard or have a continual police presence. 

Society is failing my girls and failing our children and families in more than one way, and it's time WE THE PEOPLE, our community leaders and our lawmakers engage in discussion as to how we right the wrongs. I don't claim to have the answers but while I believe gun control alone isn't the answer, I also believe that there are steps that can be taken (that have not been) to help reduce risks. I don't know as mental illness should be the lone focal point of these types of incidents but hope that there's discussion about the failures of our communities to help families who need assistance. Perhaps most of all I hope that we honor the children whose lives were cut tragically short by continuing to dialogue about how we can best make sure that these horrific events become a thing of the past.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Dinner

I have wonderful memories of sitting down to Sunday afternoon dinners with my family. Sometimes it was only my mom, dad, sister and me - but others we were visiting my Nana in Connecticut or my Grandma and Grandpa in New Hampshire. I especially loved it when my mom would cook because the house would fill with the most wonderful smells

Roasted Pork
There's lots of research out there that points eating meals at home as a family being really beneficial to children.  Eating well (or at least better) is one of the biggest, but a family meal seated around a table can really help set the stage and lay a solid foundation for many other things in a child's life. Despite this, and for a variety of reasons, many families are struggling to to share meals together. 

I'm the first to admit that this was us, especially after The Munchkin joined our family of three and made it it a family of four. After a long day of work and shuttling kids out the door to school or to daycare coming home to cook was the last thing on my mind. We happen to live in an area where per-capita individuals eat out more than any area in the country (please don't ask me for a hard reference - see note below if you want to know where I pulled that one from) and because of that there is a plethora of restaurants making it very easy to eat out or pick up a to-go order. Hindsight being 20/20, I cringe to think about how much of our family budget was being allocated to eating meals every week. 

So what changed? 

Late last year The Oldest became very upset as we were getting ready to head out to eat. Sat down on the floor and began to cry kind of upset. When I finally got her calmed down enough that she could explain between sobs what was going on, she told me all she wanted to do was eat at home as a family. 

That was all the motivation I needed to make a change. 

It's not easy getting my family to sit down to a meal as many times per week as we can. I need to plan ahead, sometimes adjust MY schedule to make it work and I've had to get creative. We've started eating breakfast together on Saturday morning and Sunday - because I value my time in the evening to get ready for the week - I've returned to, you guessed it, a Sunday afternoon dinner.

It wasn't too hard to make the change because I love to cook. Years ago I was --> THIS <-- close to plunking down a deposit to become a student at the New England Culinary Institute. It's something that comes naturally to me - just something I know how to do. But I know that for others cooking can be a challenge. So, in my attempt to become more regular at blogging and wanting to give anyone who is reading a "gift" for the season, I'm going to do my best to log on on Sunday mornings, share with you what thoughts I've had about meals for the week, and share a recipe (or maybe two) with you in the hopes that maybe it will make it a little easier for you to have a meal with your family. 

I have a recipe that I'll share with you for the week, but first some "food" for thought (sorry, couldn't resist):

1. Prepacked Foods: I try to avoid them whenever possible but sometimes they are a necessary evil and will still be cheaper and many times more healthy for my family than going out. I always read labels when I do making note of the portion/serving size and the nutritional information. 20% of daily fat intake might not be too bad UNLESS one package of pulled pork is less than 1 pound and contains 8-10 servings. I like Laura's Lean, particularly the Beef Pot Roast. It's a bit more expensive at around $7 - $9 for the package, but when I consider I can serve it with steamed broccoli and a baked potato and come out to a grand total of about $4 per serving, it's still cheaper (and again, healthier) than eating out.

2. Start Small: Even though I love to cook, it still took me time to get into the HABIT of making meals during the week and when I began making the change my goal was to get two meals on the table each week. 

3. When I buy pork and chicken at the grocery and don't have plans to use them until later in the week I'll place them in a zip top bag, add a little orange juice, seal it and freeze. When I take it out to thaw it marinates in the oj, becomes tender and flavorful. Throw on a George Foreman or in the oven, cook and then baste with BBQ sauce and VOILA! 

4. If I'm making something like pasta with spaghetti sauce I'll buy two containers of sauce and extra of whatever I'm cooking up to put in it (ground beef, ground sausage) and make it up in one big batch. I'll use half of it for that meal and then freeze the rest for a later date. 

5. Remember, when introducing new foods and flavors to kids it takes them trying it 8 to 10 times before they can really tell whether or not they like it. If they don't like the taste of a vegetable steamed, try roasting it with a little bit of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. To make clean up easier put cut veggies into a zip top bag, drizzle with oil and salt, close and shake. It's a bit wasteful and the tree-hugging environmentalist in me cringes but if it makes getting a meal on the table easier, it's worth it.

6. Don't forget that meals can be simple and do not have to be involved. Whole grain blueberry pancakes with turkey sausage and apple sauce is easy to whip up, easy to involve kids, and easy to clean up from too.


My recipe for Sunday is one that I made yesterday: Ina Garten's Perfect Roast Chicken. I'm not sure why it took me so long to try and conquer the Roasted Chicken - maybe because there's something that's intimidating about roasting a whole bird. Of course, my only experience with roasting poultry up to that point had been turkeys and those can intimidate almost anyone. I wanted a simple recipe both in flavor and preparation and this fit the bill. 

When I make this I usually roast extra veggies in the roasting pan in addition to the fennel and onion. Parsnips, carrots, celery, extra onions, rutabaga and potatoes have been used in the past. Last night, as a change, I also added two full heads of garlic sliced off at the top and at the end had two perfectly heads of rich, buttery, roasted garlic. I don't use the roasting rack - I lay all the veggies in the pan and then place the chicken directly on top. Word of advice, do tie the chicken's legs together otherwise you're likely to lose half of a lemon or the garlic not to mention I think that the bird stays juicier that way. Kitchen twine or string is your best bet and can be found at most specialty cooking stores (or if you're really nice to the person at the meat counter they might cut you off a small length) but any 100% natural cotton string (not bleached, no synthetic fibers) could work too. The recipe says it serves 3, but with added veggies and salad it's fed 3 adults and 2 kiddos. 

I serve with a salad so my family gets their greens. The first time I made this it was an instant hit and I was told it was a definite "do-over". Hopefully you will find the same.

Perfect Roast Chicken - Ina Garten
Preheat Oven to 425
Prep Time: Varies 30 to 60 minutes
Cook Time: 1.5 hours

1 (5 to 6 pound) roasting chicken
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large bunch fresh thyme
1 lemon, halved
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter, melted
1 large yellow onion, thickly sliced
4 carrots cut into 2-inch chunks
1 bulb of fennel, tops removed, and cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. 

Remove the chicken giblets. Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Place the onions, carrots, and fennel in a roasting pan. Toss with salt, pepper, thyme, and olive oil. Spread around the bottom of the roasting pan and place the chicken on top.
Roast the chicken for 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove the chicken and vegetables to a platter and cover with aluminum foil for about 20 minutes. Slice the chicken onto a platter and serve it with the vegetables. 

And about how this area per capita eats out more than any other place in the United States? In a former professional life I coordinated special event fundraisers for a children's hospital. In 2003 a chain restaurant opened their very first location here and as part of their grand opening held a private fundraiser. When I asked the general manager at that time why here he said it was for a handful of reasons but one of the biggest was because it was a market where people eat out more than other places in the United States. I know there have been other restaurant groups that utilize this as a test market for concepts and menus so it makes sense to me. So again, I can't provide hard data, but given this man's position within the restaurant that opened I have to believe there is some truth behind his words.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

It's Home

Let me tell you a little bit about New England.

No, it is not a state that you have not heard of.

Yes, it does include Connecticut even though there are areas - like down around New Haven - that many New Englanders consider to be an extension of New York. This is particularly true of baseball and football fans, and occasionally those who follow basketball and hockey.  And no, New York is not a part of New England.

New England isn't just a place to live. It's a way of life. It's a landscape. It's large, diverse cities and small, quaint towns with a white church that sit quietly at the head of a "common". It's where old timers gather on the porch of the country store during the summer or at the local breakfast dive during the winter and over a cup of coffee talk about all the goings on and gossip. People say we talk fast, are always in a hurry, and keep to ourselves - but once we warm to you what you know you have got is genuine and the real deal.

In many ways, a visit to New England is like being able to visit France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Austria all in one day. Accents are different. Cultures are different. It might take you a little while to realize that "Down East" Maine is actually more north.  The people in the city of Burlington located in the Green Mountain State sometimes joke that the great thing about their locations is that it's so close to the rest of Vermont. Lobstahs, as they should appropriately be called, are purple crustaceans and chowdah should never, ever be red. That Manhattan stuff? It's soup.

New Englanders can add the word "wicked" to almost anything. Wicked cool. Wicked awesome. Wicked bad. In some parts of New England they seem to forget what the letter "r" sounds like but in others the letter "r" gets randomly added to words. They understand there's truth to the phrase, "You can't get there from here," and often measure distance not in miles but in the number of hours it takes to get from Point A to Point B. They sometimes experience the season of spring, maybe a few weeks of summer, a beautiful fall, a cold winter and then the season of mud. Driving in the winter is great because snow will fill potholes but sometimes you have to contend with frost heaves. Even then, one of the worst seasons anyone could ever experience is Black Fly.

New Englanders are resourceful and resilient and have been since the early days of our country.Communities banded together then, and they will come together again because inevitably everyone knows someone who knows someone.

I still haven't figured out why I want to tell you about New England. Maybe it's because despite living in the mid-west for the last 10 years New England is still home. But maybe it's because I know a handful of someones directly affected by Newtown. And yes, I may be in the land of soybeans and corn but they are all still close to my heart and my heart aches for "my" New England.