Friday, January 17, 2014


You know how those journalists from satirical news shows go out and ask folks on the street simple questions about U.S. Geography/History/Politics and the folks embarrass themselves and our education system by saying that the state of Texas borders, say...Australia? Well, in a recent development in my life, I'm the one about to be embarrassed because I'm being asked to teach a homeschool co-op class on chess. If a journalist was forcing me to tell you what I know about chess, here's what I'd say:

It's a game of strategy played on a Checkerboard -- or maybe it's a chess board when you're playing chess. But it has lots of squares in two different colors. And there is a row of pawns and then a row with a King, a Queen, some horses, their castle, and these long skinny guys that have always looked like Muppets to me. Muppets throwing their heads back with deep emotion. These guys:
The whole object of the game is to kill the Queen. Or the King. I'm not sure which. One is more important than the other and it probably makes some statement about gender inequality in a monarchy. The pawns can't do much and the other pieces all have specific ways they can move and it's all very difficult to keep straight unless you practice a lot which would be horribly dull. 

There you have it. I don't even LIKE the game. When I told family and friends I was going to be teaching it, they EACH promptly retorted, "but you HATE strategy games!" Even my son said this. I disagreed. "I don't HATE them, exactly. I just prefer word games and acting-type games and things like tooth extractions and uncomfortable conflicts with perfect strangers in the grocery store."

Why am I teaching it? Because I like this co-op, and my kids' involvement in it -- and because they ASKED me to -- they didn't have a chess teacher lined up yet (why not? doesn't anyone else like it either? and if not -- why are they offering it?) and because I like a challenge. If I can teach chess to a bunch of middle-school-aged kids, I can do ANYTHING. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Life Coach Notes

Some people have an imaginary friend. I have an imaginary life coach. This is a cool thing because whereas an imaginary friend just kinda hangs out with you, an imaginary life coach "Provides Influence Toward a Maximized Life and Super-Enriched Relationships" -- this is a line from the life coach brochure. I know you're full of questions, so let me address them in hopes that you'll consider hiring one, too - and beginning your own maximized life.

Your Question: What does she look like?

She's imaginary, therefore I can't show you a photo of her. But so you get an idea, she looks a lot like one of the characters on the show "Friends." Not Phoebe or Monica or Rachel -- more like Joey's agent, Estelle. Remember?
I know, I know, you're thinking that if you're going to hire a life coach, a person who presumably should help you live life in a better way, you'd want someone slightly better "put together." But this is my imagination - and as Ag (her name - short for Agatha) tells me, I don't need to worry about what other people think of her.

Your Question: How much does it cost to employ a life coach?

Ag's pretty reasonable as life coaches go. Of course, I haven't exactly called around. But I can afford her, and that's saying a lot since I'm not someone with lots of spare cash for frivolities like life coaches, pedicures, and gossip magazines in the checkout lane. The harder thing to afford is time, so I'm grateful she saves me a drive and comes to my house. She puts up with the mess, the constantly-present children, and my cooking. She nearly always appears at lunchtime (or occasionally brunch) and she insists on cooked food rather than cold cuts and whatnot. Her meals are an "extra" above and beyond her regular fee.

Your Question: What exactly does she do?

Well, you could just read the brochure... she suggests ways to "Maximize My Life." It might be more helpful to tell you what she does NOT do. She doesn't just walk in and start "rearranging the furniture" as many therapists do. Those guys want to convince you to drastically alter your circumstances: "Send those kids to school!" they say, "Stop eating so much refined sugar!" they say, "Open your own martial arts studio!"... I can't just up and do the opposite of everything I'm doing! I need someone to help me work with what I've already got going. That's Ag's specialty.

Some real-life examples courtesy of my life:

1) Dealing with extended family.
Whereas I'd like to run away, Ag says no. She says be honest. Currently, I'm working up the guts to tell my cuckoo cousin that his nudity in family photos is immoral at worst and disturbing at best. Once he hears the truth, I expect Thanksgiving to be a lot less traumatic for everyone.

2) Letting go of anger when I just tripped over the dog for the fourth time today.
This is a toughie. Right now, we are using the ear-shattering-whistle-method. Whenever something super-annoying happens, with the dog or anyone else, and I want to respond with profanity or violence, Ag steps in and blows this prescription whistle (available through imaginary psychiatrists or on the black market) for like 15 straight seconds. Its painful noise forces me to drop to the floor and curl into fetal position, which stops my anger response. Eventually, the whistle will no longer be needed and I will just drop and curl up every time I get mad. We have to explore how this will work when I'm driving and some jerk cuts me off in traffic.

3) Worrying too much about outward appearances/what others think of me.
Ag suggested I smear salad dressing on key pieces of my wardrobe and quit wearing mascara. In public, this will be affirming because people will supposedly still accept me even without eyelashes and smelling like Thousand Island.
Furthermore, if I am willing to disclose crazy secrets like an imaginary life coach - I will find out in the end who is bothered by this and who will still meet me for coffee.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Grab a Pencil! Teri Is Posting an Actual RECIPE on Her Blog!

I have decided to try to eat healthier in 2014. How does this concern you? Well... I like to bring people along on all my journeys and this is no exception. If I'm going to eat healthier, then you are too. If I have to learn some new foods, shop in new stores, gag down new vegetables -- so do you! Won't this be great?

My sister-in-law was here for Christmas. When my sister-in-law is here, full years are added to my life expectancy, just from being around her. She's THAT healthy. This is a person who makes cinnamon rolls from SCRATCH. She hasn't heard of Pillsbury. Or maybe she has, but she scorns it. And she spent what seemed (to me) like hours removing the seeds from a couple pomegranates in order to use them for topping on the cinnamon rolls. Before Christmas morning, 2013 - I would not have believed that fruit and cinnamon rolls could go together in any way. The result is extraordinary. And it is amazing when you mix little mini chocolate chips in with the pomegranate seeds. However, I am wasting time. I did not really come here to tell you about the cinnamon rolls, interesting as they are. I came here to tell you about the protein bars I made today from Rachel's recipe. I will show you the recipe and then I will walk you through it because I expect that, like me, you thought that only people like Clif, Power Bar, and Luna made protein bars. (Kinda like only Pillsbury makes cinnamon rolls.)

This recipe is from Rachel's blog, which I highly recommend. Just visiting the blog one time will reduce your chances of all kinds of diet-related diseases. Actually following some of the recipes will probably make you a different person. I'm not pressuring you. Some of us don't like change.

Banana Bread Protein Bars-Only slightly adapted from, "Oh She Glows"

Yield: 10 bars
Dry ingredients:
  • 2/3 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup raw buckwheat groats*, ground into flour
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 3 tbsp chia seeds
  • 3 tbsp mini dark chocolate chips (Rachel's note: I use semisweet chocolate chips and chop them up in the food processor.)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp fine grain sea salt

Wet ingredients:
  • 3/4 cup mashed ripe banana (about 2 small-medium)
  • 1/2 cup natural smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup coconut nectar syrup or brown rice syrup (Rachel's note: I use brown rice syrup)
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350F and line an 8-inch square pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper, one going each way. Tip – to get the parchment to stick to the pan, give the base a spray with olive oil and do this for the next paper too.

2. Add raw buckwheat groats into a high-speed blender and blend on high until a fine flour forms. Whisk all dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl.

3. Mash bananas until smooth and measure out 3/4 cup. Stir together the banana and all the wet ingredients in a bowl.

4. Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir well until combined. The dough should be very sticky!

5. Scoop batter into prepared pan. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of the batter and press it down to spread out the batter evenly. You can also remove the paper and wet your hands lightly and spread it out that way. Make sure it’s as even as possible.

6. Bake at 350F for 22-26 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the bread is firm to touch. Cool in the pan completely (I left it for 1 hour) before removing and slicing into bars.

*Notes: Raw buckwheat groats are not the same as kasha or toasted buckwheat. Raw groats have a milder flavour than toasted. You can find raw groats online, in some health food stores, or the bulk bins of Whole Foods. 

Okay, first things first. Rachel mentions pre-heating the oven. If this sounds foreign to you, you're worse off than I thought and you should probably go watch the Food Network for a half a day or something. Or Google "oven" and start there.

Next, you'll notice a few weird things under the "dry ingredients" list. Buckwheat groats is the first. Weird or not, they can be obtained at Whole Foods Market. I highly recommend the Whole Foods on Las Vegas Boulevard. Nowhere else will you find such a unique fusion of Las Vegas culture (read: off-duty show dancers wearing lace pants and high-heeled boots), BMW-driving granola-types (everywhere else this would be an oxymoron), and richy-rich tourists stopping in to pick up - I don't know - a bag of grain or something. That's what you're there for: several bags of grain. Look in the grain bins for the "buckwheat groats" and get yourself a couple scoops. Then locate the chia seeds. Not chia PETS... chia seeds. I can only trust in Rachel that these are as nutritious as all-get-out. They cost a freaking arm and a leg so prepare your bank account before your Whole Foods trip. Finally, you'll see the recipe calls for "unsweetened coconut." I did not know there was such a thing. I thought coconut had to be sweetened to make it worth eating. In any case, I found mine at Smith's in the baking aisle - wonders never cease!

Once you mix the dry ingredients, the result will be unlike anything you've ever seen or smelled. My daughter took a whiff and proclaimed it "disgusting." I just laughed coolly and said, "Oh, honey, that's just the aroma of pure health!" as if I've smelled it every day of my life.

The wet ingredients are fairly straightforward for folks like me, except I had no clue what brown rice syrup is. Found that at Whole Foods too once I breezed past the young employee man wearing a beanie talking to a customer about the nine ways he uses his organic beet juice powder. I almost stopped to listen but I felt my head begin to spin, so I moved on.

You'll want to mix all this stuff together in the order Rachel dictates, spread it in a pan and bake it. Then freeze the bars and every morning after your workout (you are working out, right? because if you're not we need to have another talk) you can set it on a plate to thaw while you whip up your veggie smoothie. Trust me, these bars are delicious.* And someone somewhere can tell you all the benefits you will reap from the buckwheat and chia seeds. It won't be me. I'm worn out from all this learning, shopping, baking, and sarcasm.

*All kidding aside, I ate several of these yummy bars at Rachel's house when I visited there this past summer. On that visit alone, I added twelve years to my life. We did this thing called CrossFit in her home gym... I'll tell you all about it another day.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Five Things I Did Right in 2013

The friends I trust the most have all told me I'm very hard on myself. My mom says the same thing. So I gotta believe it. In an attempt to work against this, I'm making myself list some positives from this past year.

1) I read a lot.
Gosh I got through a buncha books in the past twelve months. Most of 'em were good, only a few felt like a waste of time. When I read, I feel most like myself. You can analyze/criticize that statement, but I'll stand by it. When I'm not reading, something vital is missing in my day. So, as far as books and reading, this was a lively year. If you want to see the variety of titles I tackled, check me out on Goodreads.

2) I ran.
Thanks to my "100-mile May," and following that with good goals for all the subsequent months, I probably ran more this year than ever before. Yes, I struggled often, but the highs were more numerous than the lows. Many of my favorite moments in a typical day take place on the road with my long-time running partner, Katie. I'm also thrilled about all the good friends who have joined in various challenges with me, whether running, biking, or doing other types of workouts. My friends keep me going in every area of life, but especially in my pursuit of health and fitness.

3) I went on antidepressants.
Now it's public. Before now, I only shared this with a few friends. Normally, I'm an open book about EVERYTHING but with mental health, there is so much tendency toward misunderstanding. Oh, well. If I can encourage one person to get help with depression, I'll withstand the judgment of a few others. I've needed help with my depression for decades. Diet, exercise, a good husband, and lots of counseling have all helped before, - but these pills have removed the fog that so often descended on me despite all the other help I had.

4) I camped.
Camping is one thing that takes a LOT of my energy but I'm always glad when I do it. This year, our family camped together a couple times and it was worth the effort. Getting away from our everyday lives with my kids is a treasure. (And our family porta-potty has revolutionized certain aspects of the experience.)

5) I flew to Christ's wounds.
Thomas A Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, tells his reader, "If you fly to the wound in Christ's side, you will find comfort in all your troubles." Whether it has been an issue in a friendship, a bad disposition toward my husband or kids, anger or sadness or fear --- my imagination delights in the image of "flying" to Christ's wound. It's a wildness of our faith that recommends finding solace in a wound (of all things!). And my soul is comforted and restored by the time I spend physically and spiritually near to Jesus.

Happy New Year! Let's all look for the positives and blessings in this upcoming year.