Saturday, December 20, 2014

Christmas is a time for great food

Food, wonderful food.Usually, around this time of year, we start planning the food for assorted holiday season get-togethers. Christmastime and New Years is the time period when I usually splurge on good food. For example, on Christmas Eve, our tradition is a steak dinner. I bought the steaks (New York) a couple of months ago, and I'd better get them out of the freezer tonight if they're going to thaw in time. I usually marinade them, serve them with baked potatoes, rolls, and some kind of veggies. This year though, instead of the baked potatoes, a couple of wonderful women in our household have decided to prepare au gratin potatoes. That's just great with me.

Sunday night, we're having our family party for Ann and I and our children and grandchildren. It should be great fun, and we've already planned out the menu. We're having sandwiches (with deli meats—roast beef, turkey, and ham), potato salad, pasta salad, chips with guacamole and/or salsa, shrimp, a tray of fresh veggies, and assorted other good things.

Christmas morning has generally been some kind of casserole, but I'll be shaking things up a bit this year. The plan is to make a fabulous cinnamon coffee cake. I'm thinking I'll provide assorted choices to go with it—maybe hot chocolate, orange juice, or milk, and probably some fresh fruit. I may even cook some link sausage. It's already sounding amazing.

If you're going to splurge on food, one of the best times to do so is right around Christmas. It helps build great memories.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Christmas Goodies

And so, a new adventure begins with a bang, crash, boom, and squish. I began making the annual Christmas treats for the neighbors by dropping one loaf pan of pumpkin bread batter, which ricocheted off the edge of the counter, coated the fronts of the cabinets and drawers, then landed, bottom-side down on the floor. There was lustrous applause for this stunt, or there should have been. It has never been so masterfully done. I scraped down the side of the pan, noticed that we could still use what was left and put it in the oven.

Earlier today, my wife Ann had told me that she was glad she won the Ghirardelli  Brownie mix because we could use it for part of our goodies to the neighbors plates. I gave her a sidelong glance, "No, I said, I won't make something out of a box to give to the neighbors." It's a pet peeve of mine, for me only--I don't mind if the neighbors give me something made from a box or nothing at all, I just don't like to do it myself. Of course, the neighbors of years ago who got our sugar cookies with the glossy frosting (made glossy by our children licking frosting off their little fingers and then spreading the remaining frosting around...sorry neighbors, we didn't find out until later), would beg to differ. "Please, give us something made from a box," they might say, or better yet, "just give us the box. We'll make our own." Not me. I'm not making anything from a box.

My next act was to begin figuring out how to ruin more treats. Maybe I could mix Red Hots in with the marshmallow for the Rice Krispy treats, or perhaps add Red Hots to the next batch of pumpkin bread. I like cinnamon, but Red Hots do not qualify.

I'm thinking if I keep my head in the game, I can accomplish with aplomb, burning at least one batch of chocolate chip cookies, scorching the fudge, or carmelizing something that needed to be taffyized.

Really, I need to focus on one thing at a time. If I try to make tacos at the same time as I'm doing a batch of sugar cookies, I'll end up with chili powder flavored frosting on the cookies, and Christmas tree-shaped tortillas. Actually, the tortillas shaped like Christmas trees do not sound too bad, but while I'm creating those, I'll end up with lettuce embedded in the frosting instead of red and green sprinkles. A multi-tasker, I am not.

When I became the chief cook and bottle washer a few years ago, I never knew the trouble it would be--for me, and for everyone else. One thing I can say though, those treats are going to be made with love, even if not with kid's saliva.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Hiking Nebo

After reading this article on hiking solo, from Backpacker Magazine I feel vindicated for hiking alone. Actually, most of the time I have no choice as my rotating work schedule has me off during mid-week instead of weekends. For example, I get every sixth Saturday off, when most of my pals could go along with me. This past summer I had the opportunity of climbing Mt. Nebo, the highest peak in the Wasatch Range. It would have been nice to have a companion on this hike, maybe two of us could cheer each other along. However, there's something to be said for conquering something with your own inner will. Here's the trip report of that hike that I posted at Bogley: Mt. Nebo trip report.

Great quote

I saw this insightful quote earlier this morning:

". . . when it comes down to it, that’s what life is all about: showing up for the people you love, again and again, until you can’t show up anymore." -Rebecca Walker

I love it. 

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

The Snowman

While I'm on the topic of Christmas, one of my favorite holiday films is this short film about a boy and his magical flight with a snowman. In particular, I'm fond of the song Walking in the Air, but the entire thing is charming. Here is a youtube video of The Snowman in its entirety.

Mary did you know?

Mark Lowry does a fantastic version of Mary Did You Know? Which is one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs. I love it. Here it is: Mary Did You Know?

This one by Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd is awesome as well: Click me now!

Sunday, December 07, 2014

A rare gem of a Christmas song

I pride myself on finding Christmas songs that are relatively unknown in this day and age. Eddie Fisher has some great Christmas songs, and here is one of his finest nostalgic tunes: Christmas Day

Friday, December 05, 2014

Addictions: I want a new drug

Sometimes, the hardest battles are those we fight within ourselves. Addictions are some of the toughest--especially when they are good addictions. Most people want to rid themselves of addictions that afflict them, but when the addiction is good and makes one feel good, there doesn't seem to be much of a point, and the will power sometimes just isn't there. For example, what if your addiction was helping other people? What if it was having a friendly conversation with someone? Why, when these things make you feel good, would you ever want to break such an addiction?

The answer is, you wouldn't. There would need to be an overpowering reason why these things were wrong in order for you to have the will to stop doing them. And the withdrawal from such addictions could be just as great as some kinds of drug withdrawal.

Maybe that's why Huey Lewis & the News did the song I Want a New Drug...

Yeah, and maybe that whole introduction was so that I could share this excellent live version of the song with you...just maybe.

Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas

Tonight on the Hallmark Channel we watched a very good made for television movie called Signed, Sealed, Delivered for Christmas. The spirit of the season was felt, and my mind was momentarily clear of other things that have been bothering me today. It's on again tomorrow at 9 am for anyone interested in watching this good Christmas film. Check it out.

My workout plan

If you're thinking of setting any New Year's goals as far as exercise goes, now may be the time to start instead of waiting until after the first of the year. Why? Because getting into good habits sooner rather than later is always best. I try to do mine year round, because it helps with activities I like to do, such as hiking, backpacking, and just about anything else, and I keep consistent on it because at my age, if I quit for even a week or two, it hurts too darn bad when I start up again. Just to help kick start you, here's more or less what I do on a weekly basis. For all my exercises, I rest 30-45 seconds in between sets.

Monday: Running 20-30 minutes. Ideally, it's 30 minutes, but realistically, I often can't get out the door early enough. Then I do my leg workout.

 I begin with 2 sets of 30 reps on the hip abductor machine. Here's what that looks like: Hip abductor exercises
Next I do 2 sets of 15 on the seated leg press machine
My next exercise is two sets of twenty Hip Swings. Here they are.
Next are lunges. I do mine with a twenty pound dumbbell in each hand, two sets of 15, alternating legs. Like this: clickety-click
I then do two sets of 20 calf raises, but I do them differently than most people do them. I raise up as high as I can go, and then just let my body weight (no extra weights) drop me down suddenly, instead of slowly. This actually helps to strengthen the achilles tendons.
Later on in the spring, I will add stair lifts onto a box or platform about 1 foot high, both front and lateral, so that I'm doing 30-35 to the front, then 30-35 with each leg to the right and left.

Tuesday: Running 20-30 minutes. Tuesday is chest and shoulder day, so here's what I do. First of all, this is a rotational thing. In other words, I go through each exercise once (except for the dips, but I could work those into the rotation as well if I wanted to), and then go through them a second time. On the pushups on one leg, the second time through, I raise the opposite leg off the floor, the same thing with the overhead shoulder press.

First I do a couple of sets of 15 dips. Dip exercises. I do mine by raising my legs to the front, so I'm bent at the waist. This helps build the core at the same time as working on chest and shoulders.

Pushups. I do pushups on one of those half exercise balls, called a Bosu Ball. As in the top image on this page: Bosu ball exercises. I do as many of these as I can until failure.

Second exercise is another one on the Bosu ball. With this exercise, I lift one leg as I do the push up. Again, doing the pushups until failure.

Next, I do decline pushups. Again, I do them until failure.

My next exercise is bench dips. A good video of how to do them, from beginner to more complicated is found here. I do 20 repetitions.

For shoulders, I do a variety of raises, with very light weights. My front raises  and side raises I do with an 8 lb. dumbbell in each hand and I do one set of 15. I also do overhead shoulder press standing on one foot as I do so, to increase core stability. I have a 12 lb. dumbbell in each hand for this. For both front and side raises, I raise the weight until it's completely vertical as taught by my physical therapist. I can't find any videos of exactly how I do it, but straight arm side raises and straight arm front raises can be found on this page. Just remember that I do them all the way up, until my arms are over head. For the side raises, I start with my hands down, palms facing forward, then move my arms in a wide arc from bottom (down near my hips) to top. If I can find a video, I'll add it later.

I will often do a set up pushups, then a set of side raises, then the one leg pushups, then another set of side raises, alternating shoulder and chest exercises. This seems to work well. I go through it until I've done two sets of every exercise.

Wednesday: Rest

Thursday: I begin with a 20-30 minute run. Thursday is back and arms day, really biceps and forearms because the triceps is worked on chest/shoulder day.

Here are my back exercises:

First, I lay on a mat on my abdomen and extend my arms out at the side like a bird, my fingertips angled at 45 degrees toward my feet. From there, I raise my arms up toward the ceiling, hands sideways with my thumbs pointed up, 20 reps. Next, I move my arms to the 90 degree position, repeating the exercise. Finally, I point my hands upward at 45 degrees, toward my head, then lift them again off the floor and back down, 20 reps. The idea is to look like you're making a snow angel, only on your stomach instead of your back, and to raise your arms up toward the ceiling and lower them back down.

My next exercise is similar to a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke. Still lying on my stomach, I reach up above my head until my hands touch, then swing my arms down toward my lower back, crossing them above my back, then back up to the above the head position. I do twenty of these.

Next I do pushups, but with the elbows out wide, hands turned in. This stretches the scapulae and increases range of motion. Twenty reps. I wish I had pictures of these exercises. If I find some I'll update it.

The next thing I do is seated rowing. I do two sets of 15 with 90 lbs.

Finally, I do two sets of lat pull downs with 70 lbs. With both the rowing and the lat pull-downs, the object is to engage the scapulae, so with the rowing, focus on bringing your shoulder blades back toward each other.

The only thing I do for my biceps is dumbbell alternate bicep curls. I do four sets of 22 (eleven per arm) with 25 lbs. My forearms are engaged in this exercise as well, and always remember that when you tighten your grip on the bar, and then do any exercise, your forearm flexors are strengthened.

Friday: Running 20-30 minutes. Friday is abs day and I basically follow Coach Nicole's ab workout. I have modified it though and have dropped the leg raise portion of it from my personal workout, and added planking, both facing the mat, and from both sides. I've also added an exercise call the prone extension.

Saturday: Right now, I'm doing nothing on Saturday. In the spring, I will be adding a long run, probably around 45 minutes.

Diet Considerations

One thing I've found is that maybe even more important than exercise in maintaining a healthy body weight/composition is diet. I personally have exercised at times to extremes, and still haven't been able to lose the extra fat around my mid-section. On the other hand, I've found when I eliminate or severely cut back unhealthy food and concentrate on eating stuff that's good for me, instead of just good, the fat begins to melt away. Too bad that celery doesn't taste like cheesecake or that cheesecake doesn't have the same number of calories as the equivalent in celery. That would make for an ideal world.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Dennis Prager on the Ten Commandments

I usually like Dennis Prager's "Prager University" videos. These on the Ten Commandments are no exception. They are well done, and thought-provoking. Enjoy.

Good Reads

A week or so ago I finished a great book by Thomas Williams called The Crown of Eden. It's the first in a series called The Seven Kingdoms Chronicles. It was a very good book that I highly recommend and for those who care about such things, I would give it a PG rating, so it's pretty tame while still being a page turner. Great work by Williams. The sad thing about this series is that our local library is lame and doesn't have it—even though it's rated highly on Goodreads. I've noticed that a lot about the Salt Lake County Library system—if it's not currently popular, and by that I mean it's not a New York Times best seller or a book that has been made into a series of bad movies (like Twilight), it cannot be found on the shelves of the library. Sad, but our library caters to popular culture in many ways. I had to buy the first book and will probably need to buy the second book, which is cool because I like books, but in most cases, with fiction, I'd rather read the book first to know if I want it hanging around my house. With limited space and so many books, it's an issue.

There are some great lists out there of fantasy novels and their ratings. If you go to my Goodreadslist for fantasy books,    you'll see a number of really popular novels and series in the top ten, but once you begin seeing some more obscure titles, you can rest assured that none of these are in the Salt Lake County Library system.

I just started a new series called The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. The first book is called Theft of Swords, and surprisingly, the library actually had it. So far, so good. Highly interesting.