dirty fingers

last week at next gen house

Lots going on last week – the first full week in May, and in Pittsburgh, the first week of summer. It got hot and sticky this week, which really just made me really happy that it was only in the 70s for the Pittsburgh Half. We could have had 80 degrees at the start line and that would have been even more brutal.

Last week in running

I took a week off from running, in part to recover sore muscles from the Half but also to figure out what my exercise schedule is going to look like going forward for the summer. I walked 4 miles on the trail with a friend, spent a long day gardening and using every muscle in my body, and also rode almost 11.5 miles on the Panhandle Trail.

collage_20150510183418179_20150510183456658I am someone who won’t do any physical activity at all if I don’t have a plan, so I’m working on mapping out how much running I’m going to do in the summer, and incorporating strength training, krav maga, biking, and other outside activities. Considering using a gym by my building where I get an employee discount for its lockers and showers, so I can run outside in the mornings before it gets to be so hot. They also have super early morning classes, so that might work too. We’ll see.

Last week in eating

Most of the meals this week were routine, with possibly the exception of a great baked pasta with lemon, cream and artichokes and some carne asada tortas that Mark made, which were one of those sloppy sandwiches that make a huge mess but are delicious. I also decided to use the first bunch of ramps from our CSA in a new way – making this chimichurri ramp bread. I really screwed up the whole braiding part by not rolling the bread out thin enough and putting too much chimichurri in so that it scooged out everywhere. I’ve got a post coming up about it this week since the chimichurri was so good in and of itself, but I decided just to bake the loaves rolled up, without the twist, and it worked just fine.

chimichurri bread

Last week in homesteading

Finally, FINALLY, we have some movement here. My SCOBY got big enough to spawn off a baby, so now I have two jars going of homebrew kombucha. I have visions of having a cookout this summer where I have enough homebrew available to make it a potential party beverage, so I am going to keep up with the double batches for awhile. Might need more bottles!

It was Garden Weekend, so we spent a lot of time prepping beds and cleaning the yard and getting ready for the season. Lots more about that this week, but I am pretty sure I needed six showers after we were done and I still have dirt under my fingernails today.

 

 

 

dirty fingers

 

Last week in reading

I am almost done with Stone Mattress  by Margaret Atwood on audio, and though I’ve got a ton of books queued up in my Scribd library, I don’t know what’s next. I devoured Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which was a really quick read, but so fun. It takes place in a future America where almost all of the population participates in a virtual reality simulation called OASIS. The creator of the simulation leaves a complex quest as his will, where his fortune will be inherited by the person who wins the quest. The book is the story of his journey to solve the puzzle, and it’s chock full of great 80s pop culture references and video game geekery. I loved how easy it was to read and how it didn’t really have the pretense of being a deep, serious story.

Next up is The Wrenchies, a dystopian graphic novel that a friend gave me for my birthday. My next three books will be ones given to me as a gift in the last few months. Then I’ll switch back to the Kindle for awhile and tackle some books I’ve stacked up there.

The TBR struggle is real. But I hope that by next weekend, I’ll have my whole backyard oasis put together so I can start spending some time in an Adirondack chair with a sangria and a book.

It’s going to be a great summer.

 

kombucha

last week at next gen house

It finally felt like real spring around here last week – and I’m starting to feel refreshed and renewed, settling into a new schedule and routine. Still not 100% settled, but I am now convinced that spring is here to stay. I mean, there’s three colors of flowers coming up in the front yard. Feeling very welcoming of literal and metaphorical spring right now.

Last Week in Running

Last long run of the training cycle was Saturday, and I did 8 miles. Originally wanted to do 10 or 12, but I had a lot going on Saturday and had errands to run and just decided to finish the 8 mile loop and be done with it. I came in at 20 miles for the week, which wasn’t my goal, but it was more than nothing. My matra for times where I can’t seem to get everything together is “something is better than nothing,” something I learned in a class when I was first starting to try to live a healthy lifestyle. 20 miles is better than no miles, and I’m already in the best shape I’m going to be for running the Pittsburgh Half. I’ve already met my two running goals this season – PRing in the half and liking running again. So I’m going to run a few times this week and run the Carnegie 5K next weekend. And I will enjoy myself and go for a 5K PR, if I’m feeling like it.

More importantly, I’m only $2 from my fundraising PR as well. Just TWO DOLLARS. Can you be the person that puts me up over the top? I’ll be talking about this more later, but I have a plan to be able to take all of my donors with me during the race. Will you be on the list?

Last Week in Eating

Made the zuppa toscana as promised in the CSA post for dinner last night and it was delish. Saturday afternoon I had a free hour, and decided to bake a couple of treats. I’ve been missing my grandma lately, as we approach the anniversary of her death, six years ago. Whenever I miss her, I pull out her recipes and make something. Instead of choosing the favorites this time, I chose to make two things I’ve never made before – New Orleans Pecan Bars and Scotchies. Both delicious, though the presentation left a lot to be desired since the Scotchies puffed up and then collapsed. Her instructions are different than other cookie bars as far as the process. But they still tasted rich and deadent, and we were happy to devour them. I used to bake all the time, but that just doesn’t happen much anymore, for time reasons as well as health ones. But every so often I like to bust out my skills and bake, making my kitchen smell like hers when a cookie bar was in the oven.

Last Week in Homesteading

Well, the buch got bottled.

kombucha

It’s delicious and a success and it feels so good to be finally up and running again with this. Thanks to the donated SCOBY of one of my favorite people at my last job, it’s going again. I flavored these with mango, since that’s Mark’s favorite. But the next one might just be straight plain kombucha. I’m currently growing the SCOBY enough to split it and do a double batch. (!!)

Also falling into the homesteading category was real progress made on Mark’s t-shirt blanket. I have the entire front sewn together and am now in the processing of pinning the back. Which is a camo sheet, obviously. You can tell here it’s a mix of band shirts, cartoons, zombie jokes and the Punisher.

 

 

blanket

I am excited to be sewing again. One I finish the blanket, I’d like to make a couple of smaller projects before the gardening season gets into full swing and takes up more time.

Last Week in Reading

I finished Hausfrau on audiobook last week. It was well written, but I really loathed the main character and her behavior, so that colored my perspective of the book. Started listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania on Scribd.  I love Erik Larson’s non-fiction, since it reads more like fiction. I’d read a book of his on the history of dirt, he’s that engaging. Looking forward to getting into this latest book. (And pst, Scribd has all of his books on audio!) I’m also still reading The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on my Kindle and hope to finish that this week. I hit 40 books so far in 2015, which puts me more than on track for my 100 books in 2015 goal, but we’ll talk about that later. Links in this section are to GoodReads since I don’t really care where you buy your books.

Have a great week! Here’s a gratuitous cat photo of Stormy trying to take my spot in bed.

stormy blanket

 

darth vader comic

last week at next gen house

Ever have one of those off-weeks where you feel like you aren’t firing on all cylinders and nothing works the way it did just a few days before? That was last week at Next Gen House.

I was finishing up my last week at my old job, and while theoretically you would think that would make things calm down, it didn’t. Not in any way. My goal for this week – the first at my new job – is to just get through it intact and to do the best that I can to create a new normalcy. That being said, here’s how the week went.

Last Week in Running

Well. This week did not go remotely as planned. I started off strong, with a lovely, 7 mile outdoor run on Tuesday on the city trails. Work had a team building activity close to the trails and let out an hour early, allowing me to squeeze in 7 miles during daylight. Wednesday was another 5 on the Panhandle trail by our house, where Mark got to ride his bike and I ran. But by Thursday, my last day at the old job, the lack of sleep all week had caught up with me. I had to skip my Thursday workout because I got home too late and exhausted (physically and emotionally). All week I had tossed and turned every single night, being up for hour stretches all over the place. Not sure if that was my thyroid or just the stress of the job change. But needless to say, I figured that I was better off just sleeping because my body didn’t want me on that treadmill at 10 at night, no way, no how. Fridays are a rest for me, and I decided to keep it a rest even though I missed Thursday so that I would be okay to do 12-13 on Saturday with Elite.

Then I get up Saturday and it had rained the night before and it was cold. And the excuses start going in my brain, because I’m also exhausted again, with another night of restless sleep. And then a myriad other things start pounding my brain and I decided to skip the group run and try to go back to sleep. And this was probably my biggest mistake. I should have gone to the run and done at least what I could and then come home, but instead I laid back down. And there I didn’t sleep, but I mentally beat myself up and worried and stressed about all manner of things, logical and illogical, for another 45 minutes until I decided I’d have to at least run on the treadmill, so I ate a little something.

Once I got on the treadmill, I felt like it was the hardest thing I had ever done. I got through two torturous miles where every second felt like a year. Got off, went downstairs and told Mark I didn’t think I could do it and started crying. I am pretty sure all of the feelings I had about leaving a very difficult job finally came rearing in like a mac truck and the exhaustion caught up to me and between that and the immense guilt I had about skipping a long run, I just couldn’t hold it in. So I made peace with myself for a few minutes, got it out and then ran 2 more. So my 12-13 mile plan turned into 4 slow slog miles on a treadmill. We traveled for Easter, so I decided to skip Sunday’s as well and start with a clean slate today.

It was hard, coming off a great week with a PR to basically tank my training this week and run only 16 of the 34 miles I was supposed to run. But I didn’t have it in me and I should have faced the big changes happening in the rest of my life and realized how that would impact my training. I am a creature of habit and thrive on a routine. When that routine is disrupted, things go crazy. So I am going to relegate this past week of training to the past and just mentally wipe it clean and move forward. I’m where I need to be fitness-wise and I need to take pride in how far I’ve come and just move on. This week is a new week, and I hope to be as much on my game as possible, though I am going in to it knowing that more things are changing and I will have to take the runs one mile at a time.

Last Week in Eating

Well, it was Easter week, so we can definitely put my family Easter dinner on the high point. I always stuff myself to the gunnels and this year was really no exception, though I didn’t have to moan afterwards. (Though I did basically sleep the whole way home.) We also got to spend Saturday night with my family, which included celebratory cake and a make your own ice cream sundae bar, which was delish.

We also opened a bottle of champagne I got when I was in the Finger Lakes for the Wine Glass Half Marathon (which I had promised myself I wouldn’t open until I got a new job). And we drank some out of our Star Trek glasses, of course.

champagne and star trek

This week we’ll be making some standards that are easy to manage with a busy schedule. I am hoping this weekend to break out some new recipes I’ve been wanting to try but haven’t had the bandwith for.

Last Week in Homesteading

Guess who has two thumbs and a kombucha brew going strong? This girl right here. I’ll be tasting it this week to see if it’s ready to be bottled. That’s a really great sentence to type after a long, kombucha-less winter. Definitely dreaming of the garden too, pretty much every time I see our backyard, which is muddy, brown and gray. Though the chickens are pretty happy about the muck because they eat worms from it after it rains and then take a dust bath once it dries up!

Last Week in Reading

I finished the Star Trek audiobook that I started during the JASR half marathon last weekend, and started Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Doesn’t Stop Talking, which is completely fascinating. I often find myself nodding my head up and down and saying “yes, that’s me!” out loud in the car.

I also finished A Little Life, which was a huge tome that puts you through the emotional wringer. Probably didn’t help that I finished it, bawling my eyes out all over the library copy, the night before the long run that wasn’t this week. Amazing book, but not in any way light hearted. It requires lots of breaks and lots of fortitude. After that, I needed a light read, so I am blowing through Heap House, a children’s/young adult book that seems a lot like A Series of Unfortunate Events but takes place in 1870s England in a house that sits in the middle of garbage heaps, where the protagonist can hear objects tell him their names. It’s bizarre, but it’s a really fast read and is decidedly much more on the lighter side.

So that’s it for this week. I’ll leave you with a page from a Darth Vader comic I read recently. Going to help me move on from last week (and the last few years!).

darth vader comic

 

office kombucha

last week at next gen house

What a whirlwind of a week. The weather’s been all over the place and so have I, from wrapping up projects at work to meeting a brand new baby to running a half marathon to cheering the Pens on to a win at Consol Energy Center.

And one of these weekends I need to get around to taking some donations to Goodwill and getting some old books to Half Price. I’m hogging Vader’s sunny windowsills.

vader windowsill

So let’s get to it.

Last Week in Running

What an unexpected week. Last week I was celebrating getting in just four miles after being out for 10 days with the flu. And this week I’m celebrating a PR. I ran 30 miles this week, including the Just a Short Run half marathon on Saturday at North Park.

I began running hills in my own neighborhood, something I have always avoided because frankly, my house is at the bottom of one of those Pittsburgh neighborhoods that can be described as “slopes.” The kind of hills your car isn’t super excited about. But I got outside and ran several times and kicked my butt on those hills, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. Now if there was just somewhere flat to run without 400 stoplights! The Panhandle Trail is still a mud pit, since it’s not paved, so it’s not conducive to training at the moment. So this week’s 17 miles of training were a mix of inside and outside. I’ll take it.

just a short run 1 resized

But the big shocker of the week was running a PR at Saturday’s race. I took 5 minutes and 29 seconds off of my previous best, coming in at 2:22:49. I’m going to recap the race tomorrow because I have a lot of thoughts about it. But it was unexpected and such a great boost, both for my training and also for my general spirits. So it was a good week in running.

Last Week in Eating

Back to cooking this week, but still a lot of simple meals. Sunday, Mark worked on fixing our dining room light fixture while I prepped and cooked a pasta dish (sometimes with power, sometimes without!). It’s a penne with broccoli and sun dried tomatoes that was the meal I cooked for him the first time I told him I loved him, which we now call “I love you pasta” (yeah, gag from that mushiness). I don’t make I love you pasta very often because it’s one of those great recipes that’s really prep intense, but it was perfect for a sunny Sunday evening.

Last Week in Homesteading

The winter kombucha saga continues. My SCOBY starter with the Christmas lights? Never ended up going anywhere. Don’t really know what happened, since it didn’t mold, but the tea keeps evaporating out with no SCOBY forming on the top, just a tiny sliver of one.

Enter one of my favorite clients at work, who happens to also brew her own kombucha. I found this out when we were attending a meeting where she had a bottle of what looked like GT’s. I asked her if she drank kombucha a lot, because I brewed my own. It turns out it was her own brew, just in a recycled bottle! She graciously offered to give me one of her healthy SCOBY babies. So for a day, it got to gross people out at my desk.

office kombucha

It’s now brewing in a jar at home, so fingers crossed!

Every day that we have some warm weather, I’m dreaming of seedlings and the garden. I know it will be here before we know it.

Last Week in Reading

While I’m still in my free trial of Scribd, I listened to Aisha Tyler’s book Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation, which was humorous and an easy listen. I also started a short (less than 5 hours) audiobook during my half marathon on Saturday, which is William Shatner’s Star Trek Memories, about the production and behind the scenes people working on the original Star Trek series. Waiting on a few more audios from the library, so I’m not sure what will be next there.

I am still working my way through A Little Life, which is over 700 pages. So part of the reason it’s taking so long is that it’s just long page-wise, but the other is that the prose is really thick and deep. I find myself quickly immersed in it and it’s hard to pull my head out of it and re-enter the world. It’s a book of highly developed characters, which is something I’m drawn to anyway. I hope to finish it this week, but I will likely have to read something fluffy next, because this book packs an emotional wallop.

So that was last week at Next Gen House.

Don’t forget that I’m still raising money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank by running the Pittsburgh Half Marathon on May 3. You can donate by using the module to the right on the blog, or visit https://www.crowdrise.com/pittscommunityfoodbank2015/fundraiser/joannastone.

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!

IMG_20150123_122703

last week at next gen house

We traveled over a long weekend for some family stuff, so I’m feeling off kilter a bit. It’s amazing how much disrupting routine makes my head spin. I always return to my home and desk at work thinking “what was I doing again?” I have every confidence I will walk into my cubicle today and forget exactly what I do at my job.

So until I can get my head together on what we got in our CSA last week, let’s just chat.

Last Week in Running

Week 4 of training for the Pittsburgh Half brought 20.15 miles. Even though I didn’t technically have a “long” run this week due to my schedule, I managed two difficult workouts. Tuesday was my first time doing 800 repeats with my running group – on hills, nonetheless. I liked it for a speed workout and it definitely took effort to keep the pacing right. But it’s clear that my fast is getting faster and my slow is getting faster. And I’m happy with that.

The other difficult workout was in the hotel gym this weekend. 4 miles on a treadmill already approaches my personal treadmill limit, but the room was sweltering (literally 76 degrees) and my body was aching from all of the physical work I was doing over the weekend. It was at my “easy” pace, but nothing about it felt easy. But it got done. Which is exactly how I’m going to get to my goal.

Last Week in Eating

Definitely the best eating experience this week was going to lunch at Gaucho on Friday before we left town. I’ve wanted to eat there since we had a taste of their food at the Backyard BBQ even this summer. It’s Argentinian food, wood-fired. And so delicious. I could never be a restaurant critic because I have very few words in my vocabulary for delicious food besides “so good” and “amazeballs” and some various grunts and groans. But all of these apply at Gaucho.

IMG_20150123_122703Do yourself a favor, locals, and get there. (Early though, because there was a line out the door 15 minutes after they opened.)

Last Week in Homesteading

So that kombucha restart? Molded AGAIN. I have no idea what’s going on, so I need to do some extensive troubleshooting and break out the thermometers and whatnot. Maybe our house is just too cold right now for it? I’m not going to raise the heat in the house just to brew some kombucha, since that’s not remotely cost-effective. But still, frustration!

Also in homesteading this week? Shoveling snow. Hurrah!

Last Week in Reading

With virtually no time in the last four days to read, I’m still reading what I was reading last week. But when we travel in the car, we typically listen to an audiobook. We picked The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, which is apparently something I needed to consume if I was going to keep my geek street cred. What a great choice for an audiobook – the humor is especially funny when narrated by a great British reader. Happy to have had a push to start it!

Last Week in Randomness

Not going to lie. Every time we get significant snowfall, I wish we got enough to get truly snowed in, like we did back in 2010 (?). Because I’d rather have a ton of snow, or no snow at all. 6 inches at a time just makes my commute a mess. I know that big blizzards like the one hitting the east coast aren’t really a good thing – but from this chair at 5:31 a.m., I’m thinking being snowed in sounds pretty good.

 

So how was your week?

last week at next gen house

So what happens when you write a blog that’s narrowly focused around a sub-set of what your actual life looks like, making you run out of things to write about when you don’t have a ton of time in your schedule for new urban homesteading projects and outside it’s a frozen wasteland of gray?

Here’s the thing. I could write post after post about why I don’t eat fast food, the importance of eating whole, real foods or why chia seeds are the most foul of the one-item health trends, but a lot of that is repeat. But while posts like that have their place since they fall right smack into one of my passions, there’s more to my life than sustainable, healthy food and canning tomatoes.

Not sure how this will exactly play out with content, because I am still staying within the theme of 2015 for me – margin. But for now, it’s Monday. Here’s some…stuff.

The Week in Running

I just completed week 3 of my Pittsburgh Half Marathon training. 5 runs for a total of 19.4 miles. I’m amping up my training plan this year in an effort to shave some minutes off my best time, not just seconds. And I’m putting my running shoes where my mouth is and hitting those workouts, even when it’s uncomfortable.

I’m still feeling really excited about training, but I know logically that not all weeks will feel like that. But for now, I’m riding that wave. I’ve also been doing daily yoga with the help of Yoga With Adriene. Those yoga videos? The only ones I’ve ever done without wanting to throw a block at the computer. It’s really helping with my stretching and keeping my legs in good shape with this added running.

The Week in Eating

To celebrate me turning 32 this weekend, we ate at Dish Osteria on Saturday night. It’s been my favorite Pittsburgh restaurant since we ate there last year. It’s a tight space, so it’s not super quiet, but the food and drink are just outstanding. I feel like a lot of restaurants have really great food, but Dish goes beyond good food – every bite and every flavor seems like it has a purpose. Mark and I both tried quail – allowing us to cross another item off our Mark & Joanna Life List (eat something that we’ve both never tried). And I even ate a big slice of golden beet. I know, right?

The Week in Homesteading

My last two attempts to grow a new kombucha SCOBY failed. The first of those attempts got moldy from being too close to other potential molds in the kitchen as well as Mark’s sourdough starter. (We think the kombucha was also responsible for the sourdough starter molding too.) The second attempt didn’t mold, but also didn’t go anywhere because the temp wasn’t right. So I started up again this weekend, trying to grow a new SCOBY by moving the jars to the warmest room in the house and keeping an eye on the temp. We’ll see how it goes!

The Week in Reading

I’m tooling along just fine on my reading goal for the year. Currently listening to the third book in the Dresden Files series on audio in my car and currently reading the sixth book in the Star Trek Typhon Pact series. Do you have a serious TBR (to be read) list and want to commiserate about that with me on GoodReads? Find me here.

Know something else? I’m happy that at 32, I can say that I’ve made it to the stage in my reading life where I realize there’s no such thing as guilty pleasure reading. I will proudly wave my Star Trek novels all over the place, leaving them out on my desk for people to see or whipping out a graphic novel in a waiting room. If it’s worth my limited reading time to consume, it’s worth letting people know that. I love what I love. I’m not in the least ashamed that I have a master’s degree in literature and consume Star Trek novels. I’m sorry for anyone who carries around book related guilt. Life is too short.

The Week in Randomness

Got a Kindle with Christmas money, thereby silencing the last vestige of book-related guilt. E-books are never going to be my big thing, but they are here and I’m not missing out anymore. Anyhow, after I get Mark’s t-shirt blanket done, I think I might make myself one of these.

Mark and I are watching our way through the old Battlestar Galactica. Which was made in 1978 but somehow has worse special effects than the original Star Trek did in the 60s. It’s so bad I think it warrants a post of its own.

I woke up on my birthday thinking that what I’d really like for breakfast was brownie edges. (Yes, I am the person that the ridiculous edges only pan was made for, though I haven’t gone ahead to buy it since I need another baking pan in my house like a hole in the head.) So I whipped these up and ate them with some vanilla ice cream from Antey’s, the world’s greatest homemade ice cream place in the West End. (We stock up on pints at the end of the season to last us through the winter. As you do.)

How was your week?

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!

Mind

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.
 

 

Home
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.

homebrew kombucha: when you let it go

Back in the early summer, I finally followed through on my 2014 goal of brewing kombucha (fermented tea) at home. It turned out to be a wildly successful project for me, producing some delicious kombucha that I flavored with pomegranate, peach, mango, cherry and even rhubarb. (Though not all at the same time.)

And it was a good project for me because kombucha gives you a little leeway when it comes to time. It’s not on a minute by minute schedule, so if you have to wait a few more hours (or days, ahem) to get to it and move it to the next stage, it’s pretty forgiving.

Well, the last 6 weeks or so have been pretty crazy. And I’ve had to prioritize what gets done. Mostly tomatoes. So some things fell to the wayside, including the kombucha. I’ve had two jars brewing for awhile now. Let’s just say, I “let it go.” (See what I did there?)

resized kombucha

That’s a pretty big SCOBY, and there’s a significant amount of extra room there at the top, as the bacteria and yeast have been gobbling the sugar in the tea for awhile now.

It doesn’t smell bad – just a slight vinegar smell, which is expected. No fuzz or otherwise gross contaminants that would signify that something had truly gone awry or that my SCOBYs were bad. I thought I was basically just giving myself two SCOBY hotels with this batch of kombucha, that it had gone “too far” to be usable as far as food.

Fermented-Cover-SMALLBut then I met Jill Ciciarelli at a Wigle Whiskey event for Penn’s Corner members. She gave us a sample of one of their experimental whiskeys, and in the course of me running my mouth, I mentioned that I wished I had gone to their kombucha and cocktails class. Turns out, she taught it. Must have been the whiskey, but I confessed that my poor kombucha had gone too far. Turns out, she wrote a book on fermentation, titled, aptly, Fermented.* And she told me that I can still use kombucha that’s been fermenting too long to want to drink it straight.

First of all, how did I not find this book when I was starting this process?!?! Allow me to kick myself here. It is so straight forward and easy to understand, it takes all the fear out of it. I appreciate Sandor Katz and love The Art of Fermentation, but that book is intimidating beyond belief for first time fermenters, and it’s also not a how-to. Fermented, however, is visually appealing and organized so well that I ordered myself a copy as soon as my library copy had to go back.

Ever want to put a post-it note in a library book that says “Do yourself a favor. Return this now and go buy it.”? I wanted to do that with this book. If you are considering fermenting anything – tea, cabbage, booze – get this book!

Anyway, back to my poor, neglected kombucha. I think one of my jars will remain a SCOBY hotel, holding a backup SCOBY in case something goes south with my next brew. I might always try to keep one on hand like that. As for the extras, the book mentions dehydrating them, and I’ve seen people make them into gummies, though that might be a goal for 2015.

But for the rest of the liquid, I’ll basically use it as what it is – vinegar! I can store it as vinegar and use it to make things like kombucha salad dressing (recipe in the book) or a marinade.

And hopefully this weekend, I’ll get a new batch for drinking going!

 

*I didn’t get paid or perked to talk about this book and the links are not affiliates. It’s just really good and you should buy it. That’s all.

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.

Mind
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.

Body
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.

Home
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!