last week at Next Gen House

The worse the winter, the more glorious the spring. And by spring, I mean temperatures over 32 degrees. We saw 40s this weekend and it felt so much like spring that I almost brushed the snow off my lawn chairs to sit outside with a book. Spring fever is a very real thing.

But here’s what happened last week – with one less hour to work with!

Last Week in Running

dinoI had 28 on the schedule this week, but ended up running 29 when my the core of my group decided to do 12 on Saturday. Even though the long run was kind of a slog, with difficult ice packed terrain, we kept an average pace of 11:41. I looked back in my records, and I haven’t had a run of that length at a pace that fast since 2013. And knowing how rough the terrain was and how it was still pretty cold, this run was the boost I needed to get through the next few higher mileage weeks. I am definitely improving this year and am finding my groove.

Higher temps this week will bring more outdoor runs (and hopefully the melting of the ice!), which I’m looking forward to. On Saturday we ran through the South Side a bit, and took a detour to see the Mister Rogers dinosaur – which was actually created by one of the mentors in my pace group!. Didn’t hurt to see something Mister Rogers in the last mile of a long run, since I can’t help but smile and geek out a little.

On to 34 miles this week, the highest mileage week so far. Need to continue the yoga to keep my muscles happy!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eatingbone marrow butter

On Sunday night, we made a tomato cream sauce for pasta with shrimp. We went to the Strip to buy the shrimp specifically at Marty’s Market, since I won’t eat shrimp sourced anywhere else. While we were at Marty’s, we were perusing the gold mine of house-produced items, and the owner offered us a sample of bone marrow butter on a piece of crostini. It was so amazing, we bought a container to take home. It’s like the richest butter you could imagine, so a little dab will do you. And the pasta turned out yummy too.

We also made some of my frozen swiss chard from our garden and it seemed to cook up just fine, so with excess greens this summer I will try to do the same thing to preserve them.

I made a batch of pretzel rolls on Sunday which ended up being twice the size I expected. The yeast was crazy active, I guess. That and the recipe was probably wrong about portions. Either way, they are more suited for sandwiches than anything else, but they are my preferred pre-run fuel. So now the freezer is stocked for the next month!

One of the evenings last week we had plans that were cancelled for bad weather, so we had to wing it for dinner. I had a very long day at work and wanted comfort food, which for me always involves potatoes. So I came home and roasted up some of the potatoes we got this week in the CSA with some garlic and parmesan, and used some of the Steel City Salt Company Peruvian Pink salt that Mark had given me for Christmas. Delicious! I can’t wait to try the smoked salt.

sea salt potatoes

Last Week in Homesteading

Kombucha is going strong, with a SCOBY forming with no mold for the first time all winter. Christmas lights are working!

While cooking dinner last night, I heard the chickens start making a racket, but it sounded like what one of them does when she wants to announce that she’s laid, so I didn’t think much of it. Mark looked out the window a minute later and a hawk was perched on our compost pile while the chickens were cowering under one of the big bushes along our garage. He went outside to scare the hawk away and the chickens finally got brave enough to leave the bush and go home to roost an hour or so later.

I know we can’t avoid predators like hawks – it’s the circle of life and all that. It’s the price we pay for letting the chickens run around outside like they want to. But I am glad we did not have to deal with losing a chicken last night, that’s for sure. Stupid federally protected hawks!

Last Week in Reading

To be honest, every week that I get to read is a good week in reading.

I finished a few trade volumes of some new comics, including one called Marvels that takes place in the Marvel universe but from the point of view of the New Yorkers that all of the sudden are supposed to believe that seeing the Human Torch is just normal. I also went through a bunch of first issues that I got for my birthday to determine which ones I’d like to keep reading – which ended up being all but one, of course.

I decided to bail on the audio version of Man in the High Castle since the narrator was just not holding my interest and I was wasting time having to go back to repeat sections. I’m going to finish that one in print, but for now my audiobook is What If? by Randall Monroe, the creator of XKCD. I’m listening to it on Scribd and it’s narrated by Wil Wheaton, which is the perfect pairing of narrator and book.

I’m reading a book on fermenting called Fermented Vegetables: From Arugula Kimchi to Zucchini Curry, a Complete Guide to Fermenting More Than 80 Herbs and Vegetables for an online book club.

I also started To Kill a Mockingbird this week on Kindle. It wasn’t part of my curriculum in high school, and I think by the time I got to college and grad school, people already assumed that every American student read it. So I managed to get a master’s in English without reading it. Because I’m fascinated by Harper Lee and the news that a new book of hers is coming out this year, I decided it was time to read it. So I pushed it forward on my list and I understood within a few pages why this book is what it is in our culture. If I was reading it in print, I’d be scribbling all over it.

to kill a mockingbird

I know the Kindle has a highlight feature and places to enter notes and whatnot, but it’s definitely not the same as being able to scribble notes in your own writing. I wonder if someday people will archive authors’ Kindle marginalia. Would it still be called marginalia?

Deep thoughts for a Monday.

kombucha lights

last week at next gen house

Now that we’ve turned the corner into March, I’m ready for more mild weather. I know that long winters can contribute to more gratitude for the spring. But more and more it feels like we have two seasons here in Pittsburgh: cold mess and hot mess.

While we wait, here’s what happened last week at Next Gen House.

Last Week in Running

brooks ghost 725 on the schedule this week, including the 10-mile Spring Thaw race on Saturday. That’s the lowest mileage I will run until the week of the race, since my training amps up for these last 8 weeks. Tuesday I had a really great outdoor fartlek run – and I was really glad my schedule allowed me to get out to the group workout with Elite. I am really craving running outside more and I’m thinking I need to make more of an effort to run outside my office directly after work while there is still daylight, instead of waiting until I get home. I think I might try to do that for my Wednesday run this week.

I will probably recap the race itself this week, but I ended up treating it like a long run instead of a race, which is something I only decided moments before we started. I got to meet Jennifer from Running on Lentils and we ran together! (Also, she is a lovely person and you should be reading her blog. She’s one of the official Pittsburgh Marathon bloggers this year!)

I also got new shoes this week (the Brooks Ghost 7 – pictured at left!) and took them for a spin on the treadmill on Sunday. They don’t feel quite right yet, but I need to put my insoles in and give them a go outside before I make any judgments. I have to remember that brand new shoes don’t feel quite the same as ones with 350 miles on them!

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Food Bank. You can donate by using the widget in the right sidebar on the blog or visit my fundraising page directly. Every dollar counts – and multiplies by 5 with the Food Bank’s resources. A $25 donation means $125 worth of food to hungry families in our community!

Last Week in Eating

We made several good meals this week, including a great slow cooker goulash, but the highlight of the week (and probably the month of February if I’m honest) was the Knockoff Chipotle Sofritas. Sofritas are Chipotle’s new vegan option – a marinated spicy tofu. I haven’t had it at Chipotle yet, but Mark did, and he really liked it. His co-worker mentioned this knockoff recipe was delicious, and actually tasted even better since the sauce is thicker and not as runny as Chipotle’s (since the tofu soaks in its sauce there like the other meat options do). I even got to use some of my frozen roasted poblano peppers from our garden.

It. Was. So. Good. I could have eaten it every day that week and was sad that I only made enough for four servings. (I used two packages of tofu and doubled the sauce in the recipe and it was perfect.) We ate it over homemade lime cilantro rice and black beans. Mark made his homemade guacamole and we were in heaven.

Don’t be afraid of cooking tofu, either. I had a meltdown about halfway through because I felt like I wasn’t frying it correctly. (It’s lightly fried, not deep fried.) But it turned out perfectly and I had nothing to be scared of. Just be fearless, like Julia Child says. Have the courage of your convictions.

collage sofritas

Last Week in Reading

I finished the third book in the Silo trilogy, Dust, as well as Bad Feminist on audio. Really liked both, but they were both heavy in subject matter, so I’m catching up on a bunch of comics this week in both trades and single issues. I also started Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick on Scribd, which imagines an alternate future where Germany and Japan won WWII and occupied the U.S. So I guess I didn’t get that far away from heavy subject matter. But I found that book after watching the Amazon original pilot that is based off of the novel. The book is fine so far, but the narrator is not so great, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it on audio. It’s crazy how narrators can make or break an audiobook for me. I guess I’m just picky!

Last Week in Homesteading

I am giving kombucha one last winter try, after many unsuccessful attempts. (I’m just not willing to keep my house at 70 degrees in the winter to sustain a SCOBY. No way.) I now have it in the warmest room of the house with all heating vents in the room open, and I tried the suggestion of wrapping Christmas lights around the jar. Which seems to be keeping it at a nice temperature. (Only after I first put LED lights around it because I am an idiot. LED lights don’t get warm.)

kombucha lights

I also had to use a thin gaiter that Mark had to cover the top until I can get cheesecloth (which we both thought was in the house, but we can’t find it anywhere). It seems to be working so far! Fingers crossed that I get some SCOBY and no blue fuzz!

sexist mac and cheese

last week at next gen house

Coming off of another weekend of travel and family stuff, and my brain hasn’t caught up with the mental and physical fatigue. Here’s hoping I catch up this week!

Last Week in Running

26 miles on the schedule this week, and I’ll be honest. It was hard. Too much treadmill, for one thing. I had to split up my long run miles because of traveling, since I can’t (won’t) do 10 miles on a treadmill. So it was a lot of 5 mile treadmill runs. And at the end of the week while we were traveling, I developed a lower body rash aggravated by heat and sweating. Joy. But I did all of the runs and got the miles in. Even if I had to bribe myself with pizza.

treadmill pizza

I’m getting to that point in training where I’m desperate for the weather to lift a little and to get to daylight savings so we have a little more light in the evenings. I just don’t have a safe place to run outside in the dark with the exception of Tuesday group runs, which I hope to get to this week. Next Saturday is the Spring Thaw race at North Park – I’ll be doing the 10 mile option. I know I should treat it like a long run and go at long run pace, but I’m tempted to race it. I’ll have to do some thinking on that one.

Last Week in Eating

Besides the delicious homemade pizza that Mark made on Friday night that was a great reward for a long interval workout, we also had a pretty good week for regular dinners. Nothing super special, but good standards – penne alla vodka (one of our favorite vegetarian pastas, made with our own canned tomatoes), venison meatloaf and roasted vegetables, haluski, Salad Monday and Taco Tuesday. In the last two weeks or so, my 2015 resolution to eat clean has really kicked in. I’m off sugar as much as possible (considering it was giving me some WICKED heartburn, especially on the treadmill) and feeling good.

I’m especially dedicated to this right now since I’m seeing a few signs that my thyroid is acting up again and I might need a med adjustment – fatigue, in particular. Knowing that it could be due to the combination of run training and a lot of job stress right now, I’m making sure to eat clean and also to do the daily relaxation exercises. Eating clean has so many healthy effects for me – and I know that my mood is improved when I’m dedicated. So this week will have more clean meals – including two new recipes to change it up a little.

Last Week in Reading

I’m still listening to Bad Feminist on audio through my free trial of Scribd (which I really like and think is a great deal for the monthly fee of $8.99). It’s an interesting book of essays – some are too tied to a critique of another piece of writing or film that I haven’t seen for me to get really into them. But some of them are just spot on.

I finished the second book in the Silo series by Hugh Howey – Shift – on my Kindle. On to the third and final – Dust – and then I’ll probably switch back to some comics and my large nightstand pile. Reading on the Kindle has gone a lot better than I expected, though it probably helps that I’ve been reading books that are so good that I fly through them without even noticing the format.

Last Week in Homesteading

I got more kombucha to start a SCOBY again – for my final try at kombucha in the winter. Going to use a tip that Deanna mentioned in the comments – to wrap Christmas lights around the jar for a bit of extra warmth. We’ll see how it goes.

Tangentially related to homesteading, I learned while grocery shopping that Manchester Farms, the local dairy that produced the non-homogenized milk that we love, has stopped dairy production. This makes me so unbelievably sad – particularly because this farm was a great example of how dairy can be done right – with super happy, healthy cows and no hormones, etc. Not sure why they closed, but I don’t know if people really appreciated the quality of this milk and why it stands out from any other dairy offering in the case. I’ll probably write a post about this, since I need to explore milk options now.

Last Week in Randomness

While traveling and getting gas, I noticed this sign outside of Sheetz.

sexist mac and cheese

I angry tweeted Sheetz, wanting to know what about me being a lady means that this large “man platter” of mac and cheese isn’t for me?  (Whether or not I would eat mac and cheese from Sheetz is besides the point.) I find this kind of gender marketing obnoxious in about 10 ways. I could eat my husband under the table in mac and cheese and it has nothing to do with my gender. Plus, probably no one of any gender needs the portion size of the man platter of mac and cheese, since it’s probably twice the daily recommended caloric intake. I want to go in the store and ask them if I’m using the right gas pump for the ladies. Perhaps there’s a pink one that doesn’t require you to squeeze as hard?


snowy yard resized

last week at next gen house

I feel like there’s a chill in my bones and we’ve entered the part of winter where I forget what it feels like to have warm weather. My belief that the seasons do change has been suspended and I am wearing socks entirely too often, that’s for sure.

Last Week in Running

23 miles on the schedule last week – the 7th in training for the Pittsburgh Half. I hit all of my workouts this week, even though I had to modify some mileage, running more on some days and less on others. I ran 5 times and ended up over my mileage by a half a mile, coming in at 23.5.

Most of the runs were uneventful, with the exception of the long run on Saturday. It had started to snow when I arrived at the South Side for the group run, and I didn’t bring my Yaktrax because I didn’t even think about it and also didn’t really think the kind of snow we were getting would stay (those big fat flakes that seem like they take forever to actually fall down). Well, by the time we got going and crossed the Birmingham Bridge, it was really coming down and climbing the hill to Oakland? Slush monster mess. So for all 10.5 miles, we basically had no solid footing. So shooting for an 11:30-11:45 pace and coming in at 12:06 was actually pretty amazing, considering all of the stops for traffic lights and the fact that I think it was a cross country ski and not a run.


I mentioned last week that I need to get back into yoga, and that’s definitely true. I’m feeling my muscles start to stiffen more significantly and I need the relaxation too. But I also need to add in strength training in a more significant way. It’s hard to fit in 5 days of running, 2 days of krav maga, plus yoga and strength. I probably need to force myself onto Pinterest to find some home strength workouts or check out some running bloggers who share their strength routines. Goal for this week!

Also related to running, I’m only $5 away from my first $100 raised for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Check out the module on the right or visit my fundraising page. I have a long way to go to get to my goal of $715, but every dollar counts!

Last Week in Eating

Sunday Mark and I celebrated 6 years to the day since we met by eating at Lidia’s. It’s one of our favorite places to eat – fancy but affordable, with great service and a really nice, warm atmosphere. We typically don’t diverge from the pasta tasting trio (three unlimited fresh pasta dishes brought to your table in warm saute pans), and we were not disappointed in our choice. I ate an ungodly amount of carbs and probably should have run 18 miles the next day.

I also made a great new dish this week – Creamy Chicken and Dumplings from How Sweet Eats. Delish and filling. And I’m glad I took the time to make it on a weeknight. As I was heating up leftovers at work, someone said, “those are big dumplings for Bisquick!” Well, that’s because they are not Bisquick. I will never understand how Bisquick and other baking mixes are supposedly such time savers, since you still have to add liquid. Plus they taste terrible. I’ll take my couple of dry ingredients and some buttermilk any day.

For some reason I also had a craving for my mom’s blueberry muffins (which are more like blueberry cupcakes without frosting than muffins, but that’s why they are so good). Plus we still had buttermilk from the dumplings earlier in the week. So I made some on Sunday, the coldest day.

muffin resized

Hungry for muffins now?

Last Week in Reading

It was a good reading week, that’s for sure. Finished two more volumes of Fables as well as my audiobook, the third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cress. But all of that was meh compared to a book I binge-read Friday night and Saturday after the cross country ski run. Wool by Hugh Howey. I was gifted the three books in the series for Christmas by my friend T (you will recall her as the marathon angel), and after finally finishing all the books I had out from the library, I turned to the Kindle.

With my Mister Rogers mug full of coffee, my Frostbeard Studios “Old Books” candle (most amazing scented candles on the planet) and my Out of Print library card pouch that I’m using as a case until I can make one (which I received from my Book Riot Quarterly box) – I sat down on Friday and dug in.

Friday reading resized
Holy cow. I haven’t devoured a book like that in a long time. Yes, I got virtually nothing done that I should have on Saturday. But what a book. It’s dystopian, but so clever. The writing is so good, I wanted to swim in it. Don’t waste time looking up a synopsis or any other info, just go read it.

So now, I’m reading the second book in that series – Shift – on my Kindle. And also listening to Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist on audio in my car through Scribd, which I’m trying out for their audiobook subscription service. So far, so great!

Last Week in Randomness

I have been behind on sewing projects because I need new needles for my machine. In a fit of laziness, I tried to order some from Amazon, but then realized they would charge me twice the cost of the actual needles for shipping alone, since I’m exactly that type of lazy person. So after almost being stupid enough to pay it, I thought better of it and told myself to just go buy them with a Joann’s coupon. But now it’s cold and my laziness and cheapness are warring against each other. Going to make it to Joann’s, just probably not until this weekend.

Next up on the list is Mark’s t-shirt blanket, followed closely by a Kindle case and a child-size apron for my niece for her birthday, so we can bake together. She tells me that we make a good team, so we should probably be outfitted like one, right?


cookies resized

last week at next gen house

This was a long but good week, where you feel like you do a million things but nothing that can be checked off your to do list. Ever have those weeks? I’m looking forward to a more routine week with more time at home and a quiet weekend. My 20 year old self would never believe that my 32 year old self just wants to be home most of the time.

Last Week in Running

I had 21 miles on my schedule this week, and I managed to nail each workout. Six weeks of training now completed, and I’m starting to fully adjust to a 5 day a week plan. Right now, I usually only groan about having to run on the 5th workout, which is good for me at this point. I needed to finish up some miles on the treadmill yesterday, and I was not feeling it. But I did it anyway, after adding these great shoe tags that I got for my birthday (courtesy of the bestie).

shoes resized

Next week it’s back up to 23 miles with a long run of 8-9. This week the long run was to be 8, but I cut it to just over 7 because we were so slowed due to compacted ice on the trails. So many times we needed to just stop and shuffle, and it killed our pace as well as our motivation to get going again. I can now say I shimmied/ice skated all the way from Carson Street to the Point.

It’s also back to daily yoga for me. I missed more than a few days this week and my muscles feel it.

Last Week in Eating

We had several meals we had to eat out this week, but we still managed to make some meals at home. I made my best red chili recipe (All American Chili from the ATK Healthy Family Cookbook) and it makes a ton, so we had leftovers for lunches and also to freeze once we got sick of it. It easily reheats and is filling and flavorful. Yesterday I put a roast in the crockpot using a recipe for Italian Style Pot Roast from ATK’s Slow Cooker Revolution. The prep took awhile, but the whole house smelled delicious and it was really tasty. It had veggies and a sauce with it, so we shredded the roast and mixed it back into the sauce and put it over pasta. First time I’ve ever put a pot roast on pasta, but it worked!

Sunday we had lunch with friends, and I got to request the lunch as a belated birthday celebration. I requested a comfort food dish that my friend makes that I love, which includes potatoes and beans. And then Mark made me peanut butter cookies, which are my favorite kind. Especially when you make them even better by putting the heads of the Golden Girls on them (courtesy of the bestie, again).

cookies resized

I picked Dorothy, since with the exception of her height, I’ve felt like her most of my life.

Last Week in Reading

Still listening to the third Lunar Chronicles book on audio during my commute. I finished The Chain (review coming this week) and am now reading the 15th volume of Fables, one of my favorite comics. Will probably finish 15 and 16 this week and start addressing the pile of books on my nightstand. And then there’s the Kindle. Ugh. Never enough time to read! (Though I’d never be satisfied with my available time to read unless I had at least 4-6 hours to do it a day. Basically I need it to be my full time job.)

Last Week in Randomness

Probably the coolest thing I got to do all weekend (besides hang out with my nieces) was seeing Garth Brooks in concert at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Friday night. What a wonderful show – probably my favorite concert ever. He sang so many of his hits, and it was a definite fan centered concert. Even with new music coming out, he focused on the songs of his legacy.

garth resized


It was great that Trisha Yearwood sang a few songs too – “She’s in Love with the Boy” was a favorite of my mom’s and my sister and I learned it from her. I love country music and have a lot of good childhood memories tied to it, due to my grandparents listening to country radio non-stop. Lots of verklempt moments at the concert, that’s for sure. I wish it could have lasted another few hours.


So tell me, how was your week? Which Golden Girl cookie would you pick?


2014 resolutions – how did I do?

We’re finally to the last day of 2014.

Before I can finalize my goals for 2015, I need to check back in on 2014 and see how it went. You can see the other goal posts for 2014 here: January, AprilJuly and October.

Here’s how I did!


Read 75 books.

Knocked this one out of the park. As of right now, I’ve completed 99 books. There is a high likelihood that if I get to take a lunch break today, I’ll hit 100. I didn’t anticipate blowing this goal so far out of the water, but I shouldn’t be surprised. Reading is like plugging myself into the Joanna charger. I only feel like me when I have a chance to read every day, even if it’s only 5 pages. I read some truly great books this year, which is a post unto itself. I didn’t finish the two sub-goals of finishing Atwood’s canon and reading a Russian doorstop, so I am considering whether or not those are still goals for 2015.

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I wrote one in April on the DARK Act, and I wrote again in the fall regarding funding for food assistance. But I didn’t hit the third letter. Fall was a very busy time for us – the craziest of the year – so my ability to read up on the current food issues was somewhat limited.

medal resize 1Body

Run a marathon.

Done. Boom.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
This has been pretty close, so I’m calling it a win. I am trying to turn to water when I want coffee in the afternoon at my desk and I’ve done that more often than I’ve given in, so that’s a win too.


Start my home brew kombucha.
Finished this one earlier in the year, though I need to get a better restart going. I tried to do one after the marathon was over, but the room wasn’t warm enough to inhibit mold growth. So I think I’ve found a warmer spot and will try again soon. This will be ongoing.

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Did this. And also sewed this Star Trek Quiet Bookt-shirt blanket resize

Can one new thing.
We made one new variant of jam this year, but mostly we canned the usual.
Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
I didn’t do as well with this one as I would have liked, but most of my flowers stayed alive all season, so that’s huge progress for me.
Make the chickens some treats.
Done. With two days to spare!

Organize the basement.
I did this. And then it creeped back to cluttered, and now it’s a mess again. I think when we put away the Christmas decorations, I’ll take that opportunity to work on it again. We’ve given over the larger room to Mark’s work space, so I need to make the best use possible of the remaining space. Definitely an ongoing challenge.


garden update: early August

Really the subtitle of this post should be “all the green tomatoes” because primarily, that’s what we’ve got going on in our garden right now.

Yep. And there’s more.

These ones look almost like pears or peppers.

This is just a tiny snapshot of the tomatoes we have going on right now. You can imagine the scope of the tomato issue when I show you that this is what the tomato beds look like right now.

Yeah… It’s kind of a jungle. We don’t win awards in this house for aesthetics, that’s for sure. But in just a few weeks we will likely be up to our eyeballs canning tomatoes and making salsa. I’m not complaining because they taste pretty great. The few that have ripened so far were made into the first batch of fresh tomato sauce (which we freeze) and it filled the house with the best smell – like the best of summer.

Beyond the tomatoes, the beans have been producing like mad. This was not even all of what I picked the other night. I had about another two bags of that size.

So the netting we have to keep the chickens out is still askew from me ripping it apart to get in there and pick. I was racing a thunderstorm that night so I was moving as fast as possible. Again, not winning any awards for aesthetics.

None of our cucumber plants made it, but we have had so many cucumbers from our CSA and my grandparents’ garden that I’m honestly kind of happy we don’t have any more.

One really cool thing though, is this bed of sweet corn. 

It’s so tall – and we’re seeing some silk. Here come the ears!

It will be pretty awesome to have a few ears of corn from our own backyard. Crazy to think just a couple months ago these were just seeds. 

The chard is also still doing well. Big huge leaves and vibrantly colored stalks.

Last but not least we have peppers. Lots of those coming, of different types. Hopefully right around the time for salsa.

Late August is the peak time for us for gardening and canning, so I’m trying to stay ahead of the game with what veggies we’re eating and preserving with a little white board on our fridge. 

How’s your garden doing?

2014 resolution update – July

This is the first year that I’ve made a concerted effort to work on actually completing my resolutions for the year. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t aim too high and made them realistic. Here’s an update on how I’m doing at the halfway point in the year.

Read 75 books.
Today I will finish book #46, so I’m well on my way to that goal. I do have to get the sub-goals in of finishing Margaret Atwood’s canon (6 more books) and one Russian door-stop novel. I’ve been reading a lot of books that are part of a series, so I end up going through the series and it delays my next choices. Even if I don’t hit the sub-goals, I will still read more this year than in any year since graduate school. I’m also reading in genres outside of my comfort zone, which is pretty cool. (I am a total graphic novel and comic convert.)

Write letters on three issues to my elected representatives.
I haven’t done another one since this post on the DARK Act. I need to get on that. I might write next about funding to reduce hunger.

Run a marathon.
I’m in my 8th week of a 23 week training schedule. (Most plans are 18 weeks, but I am drawing mine out due to previous injuries and lingering issues with my IT bands.) Last week’s long run was 13 miles, and it was the first time I ran that far when it wasn’t a race, and only my fourth time at that distance at all. It was quite honestly one of the most difficult runs I’ve ever had – humid and disgusting outside, dehydrated big time. Everything was screaming at me to stop, and even though I had to walk more than I had hoped, I finished. (Which was really only because of the two awesome ladies I run with.) 

It’s been good to be on a training schedule and to be following it. I’ve put in 246 miles so far this year and that number is about to go way up because it’s going to get hard soon – after the holiday weekend we bump up to 15 miles for a long run and I go into distance territory that my body has never traveled. It’s an adventure, this marathon training. Don’t forget, I’m posting photos on Instagram under the hashtag #yearofthemarathon in case you want to follow along on the adventure.

Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
I really need to kick this into high gear during this marathon training, because even though I do drink water constantly, I am always fighting being dehydrated in this weather. And I was doing some research this week that dehydration while running can also increase your heart rate, which is something I’m hyper sensitive to as an asthmatic.

Start my home brew kombucha.
Done and done. Completely knocked this one out of the park, and it might be the coolest thing I accomplished this year (unless I do complete the marathon, that is). Read about it here

Sew a t-shirt quilt.
Making slow progress on this one. I finished cutting all of the squares for my quilt this weekend. (I’m technically getting materials together for two, planning to start with my own quilt to get the hang of it before I do Mark’s.) Now it’s time to fire up my grandma’s sewing machine, which will hopefully happen in July.

Can one new thing.
Technically I’ve met this goal with our strawberry vanilla jam, a variant I hadn’t made before. But since I think the spirit of this was for me to do something entirely new, I won’t count this done yet. But it will be full on canning season in the next couple months.

Plant a bee-friendly flower garden.
Didn’t really get around to planting specifically bee-friendly plants, but we definitely have more flowers this year compared to last, which is at least a step in the right direction.

Make the chickens some treats.
I actually completely forgot about this one, so this is a good reminder. Perhaps because of the heat and humidity, I’ll make something that’s refreshing for them.

Organize the basement.
The basement has stayed relatively organized since we transitioned one side of it to a work area for Mark. I still have a few things I’d like to do down there, especially to get a root cellar ready for later this year. But it’s better than it used to be (at least when Stormy and Vader don’t knock food bowls all over the place).

How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Share them in the comments!

my backyard oasis

When someone says “backyard oasis”, you probably think they mean a yard you would find on HGTV – some fancy landscaped place with some kind of fountain and lush gardens. Well, this is mine.

Our deck has never been really used since we moved into this house, on account of the fact that the previous owners didn’t take care of the wood, and so it’s kind of a mess of splinters and shards. So we’ve ignored it in favor of the cement patio, where we have a table and chairs, and do most of our outdoor entertaining. 

But this year I was wanting to use that space more, because I wanted to use some of it to house my herb pots, and also because I wanted a space to sit outside that was comfortable and that the chickens didn’t have access to, so I could be in peace. 

We moved the grill out of the way and off to the first corner, in an easily accessible spot that doesn’t block the rest of the deck. Put a pair of flip flops by the back door so my feet don’t get splinters. Bought two plastic Adirondack chairs at Lowe’s. Added these deck boxes – ones we previously had with the brackets moved to accommodate their size. 

I also decided to try hanging baskets again. I tried them two years ago and couldn’t keep them alive, but I’m giving it a shot again.

Mark also bought me a lily (my favorite flower) with my favorite colors (the colors of the sun – red, yellow and orange).

Now that I have colorful flowers, fragrant herbs and comfy chairs, I just add my coffee, a book and myself and it’s my backyard oasis. 

around Next Gen House, lately

Pittsburgh had a beautiful, sunny weekend – and we took major advantage of it, catching up on a lot of outdoor work that had fallen to the wayside. We also were blessed to have my parents lend their hands with much of the work. I’ll be showing off our handiwork in more detail once we finish off a few of the rough edges this week, but we managed to get a huge list of work done. (Including trimming back this bleeding heart plant that was competing with the rhododendron to eat Carnegie.)

I even started to create a small backyard oasis by trying to regain the use of our deck. The rattletrap grill got moved to make way for a couple of plastic Adirondack chairs, soon to be joined by a small table. Mark took the time to move brackets placed by the previous owners of the house to fit our own deck boxes, soon to be filled with flowers.

Those small things combined with large projects like repairing a retaining wall and prepping raised beds made this weekend feel like our most productive in a very long time. Ironically, many of the tasks we completed are ones that people look to as markers of a “more simple life.” Gardening and DIY projects are actually anything but simple (wait until I tell you about the seedlings). 

It was good for me to have the time this weekend to be out in the sun, shoveling dirt, hauling stones, filling pots and digging holes. It was also nice to have time to get my kombucha started and get the house clean. Sunday night was the first time I’ve gone to bed in awhile feeling like I had pretty much checked off all my to dos for the weekend. 

I find it frustrating sometimes to see all the amazing homesteading things that other people are doing (and highlighting on their amazingly styled and organized blogs), wanting to have time to do every project that crosses my screen. These kind of tasks bring me a great amount of joy – creating things with my hands and doing things for myself. But the reality is that many of those urban homesteaders have alternate sources of income that don’t require them to work full time, or have made their blog a business, so their actual job is to homestead. They’re actually home for the majority of their waking hours. 

I work 45 hours a week and I spend at least an hour a day commuting, often two. I take krav maga classes and run 3 days a week. I cook dinner and do laundry and try to keep a house clean. So that whole idea that I can “have it all”? That I can tackle every interesting project I encounter and make my own everything and grow all the possible things to grow? Not going to happen. 

Tonight after work, I managed to finish potting herbs (more on that later). I did it while standing outside in my workout clothes after krav class, listening to an audiobook on my phone. As my pots filled up and the sun was setting, I looked around at the gardens and at the chickens running around and the soon to be finished little deck oasis and was grateful for how much I am able to do – really how much Mark and I are able to do together as partners – and didn’t lament the things we can’t.