Month: September 2014

Lessons in Coffee: Beginnings (or How Not to Look Like an Idiot at Starbucks)

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Happy Coffee Day!

If you don’t know, today is International Coffee Day. Why? Because we spend around $1,000 on coffee annually. Throwing that much cash at it, it should return the favor at least once a year.

Many companies are celebrating in style, with Dunkin Dounts, McDonalds, and Krispy Kreme all offering a free cup of coffee. Canadian giant, Tim Hortons, claims to have hidden $9,000 worth of prizes and giftcards in many of their major markets (including my hometown, Rochester, NY—GO HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS, GET THAT CASH!). Seems fitting these coffee giants should celebrate a holiday to promote fair trade coffees and farmer’s rights by giving away free, not fair trade coffee, but I digress. I promise that is not my soapbox for this post.

Anyway, grab yourself a free cup of joe, and let’s talk about coffee on this hallowed day.

Roast:

There are many different kinds of coffee roasts—all dependent on the length of roasting. They fall on a spectrum of light (roasted for a short period of time) to dark (roasted for a long time). Light roast coffees tend to have high acidity, so they will be brighter on your palette (hence why they are often called Breakfast Blends). Many light roast coffees are distinctly nutty, with hints of citrus. They pair well with fruity (berries, lemon) flavors. After extended roasting, the beans begin to lose their acidity and caffeine—light roast blends are more caffeinated than dark roasts. Dark roasts coffees are often characterized as robust, smoky, and bitter. They pair well with chocolate and caramel flavors.

Brewing:

These beans can then become a number of different beverages, depending on the brewing method. Standard brew coffee is ground to a medium consistency, placed in a paper filter and passed under hot water. This brewing method often robs the beans of their oils, producing, for some palettes, a coffee that is bitter and acidic. A French press is another common brewing method that helps the coffee to retain its oils. The coffee is ground to a coarse consistency, combined with hot water in a press, and then separated after five minutes with a mesh metal filter. (PS, you can actually order a press of any coffee from Starbucks at any time of day. Just make sure you have time to sit and enjoy it—it isn’t a take away order.)

The final, most common brewing method is espresso. Espresso is both a roast (dark) and a brewing method. The coffee beans are ground to a very fine consistency, and pressed into tight puck shaped cylinder. Next a small amount of hot water is pushed through the puck at a high pressure—creating a small, highly caffeinated dose of coffee (1 oz). It is this shot of espresso that is used in many standard coffee shop beverages.

Espresso:

There are many ways to order espresso, but I’m just going to focus on the most common today. Espresso can be ordered by the individual shot, but is very strong and bitter, usually an acquired taste. A great starter is the Americano. An Americano is a substitute to a cup of coffee, and is made by combining shots of espresso with hot water. It is often a smoother cup of coffee, retaining the oils that are lost in the standard brewing methods. It’s a great alternative if you’re worried about the coffee roast offered, or the quality of the brewing system. It is the freshest and fastest cup of coffee you can order.

Latte vs. Cappuccino:

The two most common drinks you would order from a coffee shop are the latte and the cappuccino. Both are made with shots of espresso (usually two) and steamed milk. A cappuccino is characterized as having more foam than milk, and will be airy and light to pick up. Cappuccinos can be ordered on a spectrum of dry (more foam) to wet (more milk). Cappuccino milk is usually aerated—the act of adding steam to the milk to give it a smooth, frothy consistency—for a longer amount of time than a latte.

A latte is characterized as having more milk than foam. It should be mostly steamed milk, with about a inch of foam at the top. Lattes can be ordered with extra foam or no foam. The latte is the base of most other espresso based drinks on a coffee shop menu.

Look at that! FANCY!

Latte Drinks:

As I said, the latte is the base for most espresso and milk drinks. For example, a mocha is just a latte with chocolate added. A breve is a latte made with steamed half and half instead of milk. More complicated drinks (like the, exclusive to Starbucks, caramel macchiato*) are based on this recipe. A caramel macchiato is a latte built upside-down with vanilla and caramel flavoring. Macchiato means “to mark” in Italian, so the shots are placed on top of the latte foam, to create a distinct line in your cup. This also means that the first flavor will be the espresso, as the drink is purposefully served layered.

Obviously, there are hundreds of other coffee drinks out there, and this is just the beginning. But with this knowledge, you are hopefully now armed to at least read a cafe menu. Got any questions about drinks? As a former barista, there are few things I haven’t heard, I promise. I’ll name that drink you had that one time, years ago, on a vacation to the Grand Canyon. Or I’ll find you someone who can. I’ll tell you just how great an espresso con panna is. Don’t be shy! Try and stump me!

*Beware, an espresso macchiato and a caramel macchiato are two VERY different drinks. An espresso macchiato is just shots of espresso and a dollop of steamed milk, and will give you quite a surprise if you order it hoping for a caramel/vanilla treat. Err on the side of caution, and never order a caramel macchiato outside of a Starbucks.

Adventures in Bread Winning

I. Love. Bread. I know this is a quinessential, middle-class white girl thing to say, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I buy myself half baguettes and just enjoy them as lunch. I love dipping sourdough in olive oil and italian seasoning, having Baby Bells and ciabatta, eating peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast. I’d sell my left foot for a fresh Wegman’s bagel right now. Bread is right up there with potatoes—the ultimate comfort food. CARBS ON CARBS ON CARBS.

Anyway. Since I love bread so much, I’ve often dreamed of making my own someday. I’m sort of put together in the kitchen, but my mother had never made anything past banana bread, and yeast freaked me out. What if I mess it up? It takes hours to make a stinking loaf of bread, and how dumb would I feel if it all went to hell?

Good question. Which is why, here at Staving Off Disaster we cut corners to feel maturer faster. Enter—focaccia.

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By now, you all know about my obsession with the boys over at Sorted Foods. They’re dedicated to making getting into the kitchen as a 20-something a little less painful. And they’ve got a fantastic focaccia recipe if you’re like me and terrified of something with the words “high active” in the name.

Luckily for all of us, the recipe is pretty straightforward.

Here’s what you need:

-4 cups of flour (the recipe calls for bread flour, but I used all-purpose, and everything turned out great)*

-A packet of active dry yeast (7g)

-About 1 1/2 cups of warm water (you won’t use all of this)

-2 tsp sugar

-2 tsp salt

-2 tbsp olive oil (and more for drizzling)

-assorted bread toppings you deem fit (I used chia seeds, black pepper, and sea salt—they used fresh rosemary, garlic, sea salt and pepper)

First, I’d recommend watching this video. It seems that bread is closer to cooking than it is to baking (in that measurements and timing don’t need to be exact-exact), so it’s a good idea to watch someone make the recipe before you start on the adventure.

After that, add the packet of yeast and about a 1/4 cup (or less) of warm water into a small bowl, to get the yeast starting its yeasty dance. Stir it a bit, and leave it to the side.

Next, add the flour, olive oil, sugar, salt and yeast-water mix to a bowl.

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I’m lucky enough to have a roommate with a KitchenAid mixer, so I got off the hook in the kneading process. If you’re doing it by hand, it’s time to get elbow deep in this recipe. Mix the flour-y madness with your hands, adding the water in small doses to get to a stretchy yet not sticky consistency (in the end, I think I used a little less than 1 cup). Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes. Or cheat knead in the mixer for 10 minutes, like me.

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Once your bread is at the right consistency (mine leaned toward the drier side, but it didn’t negatively affect the final product), form it into a nice, chubby ball. At this point, pat yourself on the back. This thing is darn cute, and you made it. Nice job!

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Next, you’ve got two options. You can leave it, covered with cling wrap, at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or you can leave it in the fridge overnight. Whatever you choose to do, by the time you move onto the next step, make sure your cute chubby ball of dough has doubled in size.

Get yourself a nice baking tray (we have a pizza one, but I think you can use any sort of pan), and roll out that bad boy so it looks a little more like focaccia.

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Beautiful! Next, use those digits your mama gave you to press a bunch of holes in the top of the bread, giving you pockets for your toppings, and the look of focaccia. Drizzle generously with olive oil and start throwing on your mouth presents. Chia seeds? Oregano? Sea salt? Cinnamon? You do you, kid.

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Preheat your oven to 400 degree F, and let this precious lump of pride rest for another 30 minutes, since you did just man-handle it a bit. After it’s had a nice nap, it’s time to bake! Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top. Pull that darling out, let it cool for around another half hour and then TUCK THE HELL IN. Because this monster is delicious.

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A little bit of butter, maybe an egg sandwich, whatever you want to put with it, you do it! This is your bread, your wonderful creation, and I won’t judge you if you eat it all in one sitting. I thought about it.

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Happy cooking!

*Make sure you consult a whole wheat recipe if you decide to go the whole wheat flour route. Whole wheat flour creates a denser final product, and you might need to cut down on the measurements. Otherwise, you can always mix bread flour and whole wheat flour. Again, consult a substitution chart.

5 Secrets to Living in a Terrible Apartment

It’s no secret to most people that know me, but I live in what I lovingly call a hellhole. I’m lucky enough to not have to fork over my entire paycheck each month, but the discounted living situation means there are some cut corners. For example, we don’t pay the heating bill, but since our landlord controls it, we practically freeze to death in the subzero Minnesota winters. And the old wiring means that running more than one high-voltage appliance at a time causes our entire apartment to lose power. It’s lots of fun. It builds character. I think.

After living in this disaster of an apartment now for a year and a half, I’ve discovered some secrets to making it a touch less awful.

1. Know where your breaker box is.

One of the first phone calls I made to my landlord was “HELP! MY POWER WENT OUT WHEN I WAS MAKING MY SOY BURGERS!” This, it quickly became apparent, would be a continuous problem in our old building. I’m not quite sure why cooking anything for more than two minutes shuts off all power, but it is something I always prepare for whenever I hit COOK. I grab my cellphone, put on my flip flops, and wait. If the lights go off, I turn on the iPhone flashlight, curse a bit about living in a low-budget horror film, and walk down the hall to flip the switches. Thankfully, the breaker box is on my floor, but I’m a little more familiar with the electrical room than I’d like to be. I even had to reset the power in the laundry room once. You’ll be much happier if you know where to go when the old wiring in your miserable apartment picks on you for eating too many Morning Star burgers.

2. Learn to use natural ingredients to unclog your drains.

The pipes in this apartment are old. I’m fairly certain they have never been replaced. And it is usually once a month I find myself standing in the shower (under a fine mist some call “extremely poor water pressure”) ankle-deep in soapy water. Which is always surprising, because the tiny gutter stream from my shower head could never fill the tub that quickly. For a while I bought Drain-O and called my landlord every time it happened. Now I’ve discovered the wonderful secret of vinegar and baking soda, from the lovely Crunchy Betty. First, pour a pot of boiling water down the drain, to begin to dislodge any gunk. Then dump a 1/2 cup of baking soda down that bad boy. Let it sit a bit. Follow up with mix of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup hot hot water. Let it sit for a bit more (5-10 minutes). Pour another pot of boiling water down that drain, and voila! Clear drain with no trip to Target.

3. Invest in equipment to help regulate temperatures.

Old apartments are notoriously terrible at maintaining temperatures. In the winter, those darling original windows (which gave it so much character!) will leak in cold air like body odor at the crowded state fair. If you’re lucky enough to control your own temperature, consider taking the super nerdy route and sealing your windows with plastic come cold weather. Your friends may laugh at you, but at least you’ll stay warm and have a cheaper heating bill. If you can’t control your thermostat, it might be time to break down and get a space heater. Sure, you’ll have a pretty high electric bill, but at least it doesn’t feel like you’re crawling out of your grave when you wake up in the morning. I invested in a smart space heater with a shut-off timer, so it runs for a few hours before turning off once I’m asleep.

There is likely no such thing as AC in your old apartment, and if you’re trying to stay cheap, box fans are the best investment. I found mine for around $10-$15 at Target. If you just can’t stand the heat, window air conditioning units are worth exploring. Keep in mind, like a space heater, this bad boy sucks up energy. Consider getting one with a timer.

4. Sign up to track you deliveries.

Maybe you’re luckier than I am, and this secret doesn’t apply to you. But the doorbell for our apartment has never worked (something we probably should have looked into before signing the lease). Since moving in, my Amazon Prime account has become all-but-useless. Ordering things online is now a hassle, from miscommunication via door tags to driving twenty minutes to pick up packages they couldn’t leave at the door to having packages stolen—the doorbell fiasco is a mess. But over the course of these mishaps I’ve discovered that both FedEx and UPS offer free delivery notifications if something is coming your way. With UPS My Choice and FedEx personal tracking you can receive text messages or emails when packages are headed to you (for free!). You can also put your account on vacation holds, and set up instructions for where drivers should leave a package. It might not make up for the $79 that Amazon Prime costs, but at least it’ll make deliveries a little less stressful.

5. Roll with the punches.

It’s unavoidable—something absolutely ludicrous will happen to you in your terrible apartment. You’ll find five millipedes on your bathroom floor one morning, accidentally break your single pane glass window while trying to kill a box elder bug, discover the joys of having to change ceiling fan lights for the first time at night. The power will go out for no reason, maybe they’ll even shut off your water. Whatever happens, keep in mind that it isn’t the end of the world. It may feel like it, as your stare at the shards of glass now spread out across your pillows and comforter, but it’s not. Ridiculous things will happen, and they are not a reflection of you, or your day, or your choices, or your lifestyle. They just happen sometimes. So grab your keys, and head out for a walk. The millipedes will probably crawl back into the drain by the time you get back.

Nora Ephron to the Rescue

Woo, Nelly. It’s been a rough patch of running. After a brutal Wednesday, I choked my way through a terrible Friday and an even worse Monday. I have been stopping to walk in the middle of my runs (sometimes for great lengths of time), and every time my legs started to slow, I felt like a failure. “I am not a runner! This is miserable, I’m miserable, why am I doing this?” I have thought very seriously about finishing with the whole endeavor, and never running again. I have never considered myself a runner—why am I allowed to take the title now? Especially after I’ve failed?

Today marked the second day of 28 minutes straight. I’ve been struggling with what to listen to to drown out the mental hurdles of running, and my go-to pop playlists are feeling drab. You can only listen to Britney Spears tell you to “work, bitch” so many times. After a while, Brit’s sage advice doesn’t feel genuine anymore. Sadly, I just don’t believe I will get a Maserati by running, Ms. Spears.

Today I tried something new—an audiobook that wouldn’t make me want to fall asleep (sorry, Margaret Atwood). Today, Nora Ephron and Meryl Streep joined me on my run with Heartburn. And it was mostly a success.

I did stop a few times, but ultimately kept running for almost the entire time. I felt great! I don’t know if I reached a runner’s high, but I certainly didn’t feel ready to be sick. The trade-off? I’ve lost almost 40 seconds on my pace. Even with the occasional walk on Wednesday and Friday, I kept around a 9:55 pace—my best yet. I slowed down dramatically today to around 10:27.

I like running fast, and I liked feeling like I was going somewhere with the fast pace. But I did feel like retching when I got to the finish line. For right now, I guess I can’t quite have speed and distance at the same time. And I think I’m ok with that. Besides, I’ve got a while to work on my pace.

Now, about that 5K to 10K app…

Diversity in Young Adult Lit: Why You Should Go See “The Maze Runner”

Let me say this before we get started: I quite openly disliked The Maze Runner book. I found the characters boring, the excessive infodumping cumbersome, and the style somewhat lacking. The book didn’t keep me engaged, I wasn’t rooting for anyone. But the plot (which, I’d argue, works better as a screenplay) originally pulled me in.

We start with a boy riding in a freight elevator, with no memory of anything that has come before. When he reaches his destination, a large group of 12-18 year old boys stare down at him. Our hero, confused and overwhelmed, runs from the group, only to discover he won’t be running far. He’s in his new home, “The Glade:” a giant field surrounded by high cement walls. Outside the Glade is a massive maze, about five stories tall and ever-changing. Each morning the boys send out Runners to map the maze, and search for a way out. No one has any memory of what happened before the freight elevator (save their names), and they’ve been trying to find the exit to the maze for three years.

The movie takes this plot and soars with it. The story builds itself on action-packed scenes and big surprises—which translate to tight camera angles, tons of night filters, and a healthy dose of dramatic music. But none of these individual parts feel overwhelming (it doesn’t get campy or silly), they just play with already well-created, tense scenes. And the plot is pulled out neatly, if somewhat quickly, as the tension of the changing maze begins to effect the group.

Where in the book the characters often became interchangeable and forgettable, the actors bring life to these boys. Dylan O’Brien creates a brave and thoughtful Thomas, and Aml Ameen shows us a wise, but fraught Alby. And our resident villain, Gally (played by Will Poulter, sniveling Eustace in The Chronicles of Narnia movies) is fleshed out and deliberate—he is more than just the bad guy, but rather a confused, if somewhat bull-headed, young man. What’s more is that the interactions with these boys is familial, but strained—think Lord of the Flies without devolving into chaos. Each of the actors (including the smaller roles) flesh out a group of boys desperately trying to be men in this new world they’ve been tossed into.

Finally, my favorite thing about this movie: the diverse cast. In the book, James Dashner makes a point of telling the reader the race of each of the boys. It doesn’t effect their personalities much (seeing as how they have no memories), but it does say something purposeful about the society they’ve built for themselves in the Glade—they are all equal. What’s more, it gives us diverse faces in the often very white world of young adult literature.

I don’t know whether to credit Denise Chaiman (the casting director) or Wes Ball (the director), but after the disaster with The Hunger Games, it’s refreshing to see a movie adaption that hasn’t been whitewashed. Aml Ameen does an incredible job as the group’s leader (Alby), and Ki Hong Lee is charming as Minho. On top of that, a diverse cast of extras fill out the Glade—again, something not even The Hobbit can apparently pull off well. In these minority roles are mostly unknown actors, giving them a jumpstart for their careers.

Going to see this movies means speaking to Hollywood the only way they will listen: with your money. By supporting this film, we can say “Hey, I like this movie with its diverse cast and new actors. And look! There isn’t even any sexualization of anyone in this film! I want to see more movies like this!” The Maze Runner could be the start of some big changes we can effect in the movie industry, if we show them what we want. It’s not only a smart, fun action movie, but it is a platform for diversity. Now, let’s support it.

The Maze Runner opened everywhere Friday, September 19th. Check fandago.com for local movie times.

Pep Talk

A while ago, my brother sent my family a text message with a link to a video. I don’t quite remember if he told us to save it, but I did. After watching the video, I added the video link under the contact “Pep Talk.” Occasionally, I’ll stumble upon it, but being in the grocery store, on the bus, out with friends, I will put off watching it. I’ve seen the video, so I know what it’s about. Anyway, I don’t feel like I need a pep talk.

The truth is, sometimes you don’t know you need a pep talk until you’re getting one.

With the general changes that come with fall (the start of school, the cooling weather, the impending holidays), it’s sometimes hard to see just how easy it is to get down. We roll our eyes in crowded parking lots, frown up at the grey clouds threatening rain, grumble as we pull the coats from storage. When the sun is shining, it’s easy to smile. When the mist hangs like dust, it’s hard to escape the deep chill.

Today I offer you a pep talk—something to watch and save and watch again. Think about it when you shuffle through the long bank line, when you are stopped at every red light, when you trip up the stairs. Because there is no harm in a pep talk. And if it keeps away the grey thoughts and nasty tones, then you should always have it in your arsenal. Even when you don’t think you need it, it’s good to know it’s there.

Showing Off Your Fake Culinary Skills: Pasta Sauce

Break open that bottle of red wine, because the weather has turned and we’re going to eat our weight in pasta. Sure, buying a jar of alfredo sauce is super simple, but who wants to fill up on crazy extra ingredients, like disodium phosphate and autolyzed yeast extract? Making your own pasta sauce is easy, healthier and fulfilling. You may not get your own show on The Food Network, but you made your own red sauce, and dammit it, that’s an accomplishment after sleeping in until noon. Now roll up your sleeves, start boiling water for your elk-shaped pasta, and let’s begin.

Red Sauce:

There are a number of different ways to make a successful red sauce while avoiding the jars. The easiest is just a can tomato paste, a can of tomato puree, olive oil, garlic, assorted spices and water. The wonderful people over at How To Adult walk you through the process here. While not significantly healthier than a jar of sauce, there is still something fulfilling in realizing you just made your own pasta sauce (plus, hella cheap). For real. High five.

If you’d like to take a slightly more involved route (you have to do more than just open some cans), you can start with fresh tomatoes. There are a ton of great recipes online for simple red sauces, and if you’re a stickler for measurements, I suggest following one of them. Keep in mind, many are written with bulk batches in mind, so you’ll have to do some math to parse down your measurements.

This is a great recipe if you have two or three leftover tomatoes that you need to use (let’s be serious, I always have leftover tomatoes–I WILL NEVER ACTUALLY EAT THE TOMATOES, WHY DO I BUY THEM, TRADER JOE’S??). I’ve both blanched them (slice a small X in the bottom, boil for about a minute, submerge in cold water, then peel the skins off) and cooked them with the skins on. Since I’m not the biggest tomato fan, I lean more toward the skinless recipe, but both work great. To a decent amount of olive oil on medium heat (about two tablespoons), add the fresh diced tomatoes, any vegetables (onions, peppers) and any other spices you’d like to flavor it (italian seasoning is a good standby, oregano and basil also work great if you’re getting fancy). Hell, why not pour some of the red wine in there? You’re the one who has to eat it after all, why not make it exciting? Let cook on medium heat, anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes until you like the consistency. Keep an eye on your sauce, and stir occasionally to check in–the longer you leave it, the more the tomatoes will break down, thus eliminating chunkiness. Serve with your fancy pasta. Voila! Look at you, you made red sauce! I’m so proud of you.

White Sauce:

One of my favorite things in the cooling weather is pasta with white sauce and sautéed mushrooms. I’ll warn you, I use the term white sauce fairly loosely, so if you’re looking for a true, simple alfredo sauce recipe, start here. Here’s the key though—try not to lock yourself into the recipe. Don’t like (or have) garlic powder? Leave it out! This is your dinner, I promise I won’t call Alton Brown to tattle on you.

For my white sauces, I start with a simple roux. A roux is just equal parts melted butter and flour (based on weight, not volume). Usually I start with one or two tablespoons of butter is a large saucepan over medium heat. Let the butter melt, careful not to let it brown. Add flour is small batches (I’m talking an 1/8 cup here), and keep stirring constantly, until you get a thick, paste consistency. Look at you go, you made a roux! See, you aren’t a complete failure just because you watched an entire season of GoT in one sitting!

To the roux, so we’re closer to the consistency of sauce, I begin adding milk. Again, the key here is to keep stirring, and to just watch your consistencies. I usually start with a 1/4 cup, and go from there. Stir, stir, stir, girlfriend. When it looks like a little waterier than something over pasta, you’re almost there!

Now comes the cheese! WOOOOO!! CHEESE!!

In the past I’ve used almost every kind of cheese in my sauces. For real, it’s pretty difficult to pick the wrong cheese for a white sauce. Soft cheeses work best, like gruyere, goat cheese, and mozzarella. You can even do cheddar or parmesan, but just make sure you grate these first. Add your cheese to your roux (add to taste–maybe a half cup?), continuing to stir. At this point, you might want to reduce the heat, since you’re really only melting the cheese into it. If you think you’re sauce is a bit too soupy, add more flour or cheese. Too thick? Add more milk. See how that works? You can’t screw it up! You just accidentally make more!

Taste it, make sure you’re into it. Maybe add some garlic powder. Keep stirring and tasting. Cooking is weird and awkward, but also fun and rewarding. Pay attention to the fun part, and go nuts. Look through your pantry, add whatever you want. This is your kitchen after all.

Pour this wonderful madness over your pasta, and HELL YES, OMG—instagram that ish. You just cooked yourself a white sauce. The crowd is cheering. You are the gender neutral ruler of the kitchen! Congratulations!

Now reward yourself by starting season three of Game of Thrones.

(For my darling sister, Haley, who is just beginning the journey of cooking for herself. And for my best friend Andrea who taught me just how much fun that journey could be.)

There’s a First for Everything

When it comes to running, I talk a big game. For the most part, I’ve been unnaturally successful on this journey—I have yet to hit the breaking point, to face the painful reality of quitting. Well, until today.

On Monday I started the first big week of running with Couch to 5K—25 minutes without breaks all week long. But after a few good Fridays with 20 and 22 minutes under my belt, I thought I was prepared. To keep my concentration away from the slow downfall of my lungs and heart, I put on an audiobook. Which was all well and good until the halfway point, when I wanted to scream at Margaret Atwood for not writing more action packed scenes. The mental battle shouted through the prose. “You’re halfway, which means you will be TWICE as tired when you’re done. Face it, you’re not really a runner, you’re not going to do this for the rest of your life, so let’s just bail.” I took a few seconds to change to music, but screwed up the Couch to 5K timer, losing all of the data I’d gotten for the first half of the run. I decided to run to where I’m usually allowed to quit, and hope for the best.

Today I finally had to face the full 25 minutes. And my subconscious chose to sabotage me. “You’re not actually going to be a runner. Once you’re done with this, you’ll probably stop running altogether. You don’t enjoy this that much, and you never stick to anything, so why are you doing this at all? Just, stop running for a second.” And that’s when I did it. For the first time on this whole adventure, I stopped running before the app told me I was allowed. I walked for half a block, mentally screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOU BROKE????” I started to run again, but the damage had been done. For the next mile I stopped on and off, feeling the seconds stack up on my average time. I was a mix of dread and shame. “Am I a runner? If I can quit this easily, if I can talk myself out of it so quickly, maybe this is all in vain. I haven’t found the runner’s high, I am miserable the whole time I’m running. Is this all just a prelude to one giant failure?”

For the last five blocks I ran without stopping, vowing to reach the end of the song to prove that I wasn’t a complete failure. And, thankfully, the 25 minute mark came first. I genuinely almost threw up when I stopped. I got so far as to plan out where I would do it, should the opportunity strike. Those bushes? That trash bin? The street? Which place would cause the least amount of stress to the neighborhood?

I hated feeling like a failure, so I pushed myself a bit in the cool down, running a short half block, and sprinting a half block to my apartment. These don’t change my running average, but to get over the mental hurdles, I needed to prove that I could do more.

I dreaded looking at my pace. I imagined something in the 11-minute range. I walked, which immediately adds minutes to my average, right?

To my utter surprise, today I averaged 9:51 over 2.54 miles. This is my best pace for straight running.

The unfortunate side-effect is that the questions still hang in the air, and now that I’ve opened the Pandora’s Box of negative thought, it’s pretty difficult to close. I’m proud of myself for getting such a great pace, but I worry that the damage has been done. I know, objectively, that running will get easier with each day, but in the moment, as my stomach cramps, and my lungs feel like they’re going through a paper shredder, success doesn’t feel real. I guess I’m not done with the mental battle yet.

Autumn Playlist: Falling Forward

I guess I have to admit it—fall is pretty much here. Soon the leaves will crunch underfoot, the weather will turn chillier and biting, your cheeks will bloom pink in the brisk wind. As we (perhaps unwillingly) welcome the cooling weather, I suggest you take a bit to regroup. Get a cup of tea, throw on your favorite scarf, and tuck into some wonderful fall music.

Falling Forward

1. The Wheel – Sohn

2. Fire-scene – S. Carey

3. Look Out – James Vincent McMorrow

4. This Won’t End Quietly – We The Committee

5. Lighthouse – Patrick Watson

6. An Unkindness of Ravens – Sanders Bohlke

7. Elevator Song – Keaton Henson

8. Shortline – RY X

9. Cavalier – James Vincent McMorrow

10. Come Away to the Water – Glen Hansard

11. Won’t You Come Home – Devendra Banhart

12. My Favorite Faded Fantasy – Damien Rice

13. The Ark – The Wilderness of Manitoba

14. Broken Brights – Angus Stone

15. Phantom and Friends – Old Man Canyon

16. Kids – Lady Danville

This playlist is also available on Spotify, and YouTube. Now break out those fall boots, those fingerless gloves, that tweed jacket, and head out for a brisk walk. It’s Autumn.

When You Run Out of Synonyms for Messing Up

If you haven’t noticed, I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit in terms of posting. My “on the road” blogging skills appear to be somewhat lacking. Half-vacations are rarely valuable, but I needed to get out the Twin Cities, and my bank account couldn’t take two weeks off. And while I applied to a few jobs, I didn’t exactly stick to my daily routine. Which means it’s time to check in on last month’s goals.

August action list:

-Wake/get out of bed on first alarm

-Complete couch to 5K program

-Do at least one responsible/adult task each weekday (this does not include job applications)

-At least two job applications/inquiries out each weekday

-Blog every weekday

-Write/research at least 1 full hour each weekday

-Say yes to every safe offer to hang out/meet people

Limit:

-NO TV

I would like to say that I attempted all of these tasks, but the three seasons of Suits I have under my belt argue against that. For a good while I did quit TV. But the sad truth is that rationing isn’t my forte (that and my two-month wait for Game of Thrones from the library finally came through).

For the most part, I did succeed at my goals for the month. I’ve definitely fallen off at the end, but for much of August I blogged every weekday, I have worked through the Couch to 5K program (today I ran for 25 minutes, and felt like vomiting! YAY PROGRESS!), I’ve applied to over 40 jobs, I’ve worked on my writing pretty consistently (owing much to my wonderful alpha readers), I’ve said yes to quite a few new things. I don’t know if we can call August a rousing success, but, well, I’m not counting it as a loss.

The key, for me, to achieving my goals is to accept my pitfalls. I am far from perfect (last night it took me almost ten minutes to change the lightbulb in my bedroom), but seeing my imperfections as failures is detrimental to my success. Just because I skip a day writing, doesn’t mean I abandon the novel. We make mistakes, this is inevitable. What we control is the grace we give ourselves after the fact. I am not yet the woman I want to be, but that doesn’t mean who I am now isn’t wonderful too.

September action list:

-Wake/get out of bed on first alarm

-Keep apartment relatively clean; do dishes immediately, pick up after myself, scoop litter boxes

-Continue Couch to 5K program

-Do at least three adult tasks (appointments, phone calls, emails) a week

-Write/research for 2 hours every weekday

-Continue blogging every weekday

-At least three job applications out every weekday

-At least one long-lost phone call a week

-Five hours of reading a week

-At least one short story/poetry submission out this month

-Say yes

Limits:

-Two spoken/written complaints a week

Here’s to having a more positive outlook, and a more successful day. If we fall off the wagon, if we screw up royally, if we watch 17 episodes of House of Cards in one sitting, we are not failures. We have made mistakes. And we are not defined by our mistakes, but rather, how we overcome them.