Trader Joe's haul

Well, I'm still physically sick with a cold, but I feel a lot better about the vegan challenge, so I'm in a more positive place mentally (and not as crabby!).

Jerry was off work yesterday, and after we took the kids to school, we decided to go to Trader Joe's. I really wanted to get some of their black bean and corn enchiladas. I bought some the last time I went, and loved them! They also happen to be vegan. I had been feeling so frustrated about not having anything quick and easy to eat, so I just wanted to get some convenience items. I know that prepared foods aren't exactly the healthiest choices, but if I'm going to stick to this challenge through the end of December, I need the convenient option once in a while.

First few days of the vegan challenge

Today marks day three of the vegan challenge. Let's just say it's not going how I'd wished! ;)

If you missed it, I decided to try challenging myself to eat vegan from November 25th through December 31st. (In addition to not eating any animal products, I also chose to give up alcohol--that was an impulsive decision I'm kind of regretting, haha, but still sticking to it).

I'm hoping after a few more days, I'll find it easier to do; but right now, I'm basically just struggling through it in frustration.

A cozy Thanksgiving

Today felt like such a nice, cozy day for Thanksgiving. The weather was perfect for fall--about 40 degrees and overcast. I got up early, at around 5:00, and went out in the living room to curl under my blanket and play solitaire on my iPad.

Recently, Jerry and I were looking for a new entertainment center (the one we had wasn't even an entertainment center--just cheap shelves). I looked at thrift stores for a long time, but just couldn't find what I had in mind. I would have loved to get one of the entertainment centers with an LED fireplace, but they were expensive, so I hadn't even been considering them.

When I mentioned it to my mom, she offered to give Jerry and me Christmas gift money early so that we could use it toward one of the fireplace entertainment centers. With her gift, we decided to go ahead and get one.

RECIPE: Homemade Taco Seasoning

Ever since I discovered how easy it is to make my own taco seasoning, I no long buy stuff in packets. I've tried several different recipes for it, and it's all very similar; but my favorite is from Emily Bites' Spicy Taco Gnocchi Skillet recipe. I just use the seasonings from that recipe to make my own taco seasoning for other uses as well (with a couple of modifications to my family's taste). I've posted the seasoning recipe here for convenience.

Taco Seasoning

1 Tbsp. chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Mix all ingredients together in a little bowl or a ziplock baggie. One recipe is the perfect amount for one pound of meat.

RECIPE: Spicy Taco Gnocchi

This has become one of my very favorite recipes! I thought the gnocchi sounded so odd with taco seasoning, but I'm glad I tried it. This is a modified version of a recipe by Emily Bites. The portion size on this looks tiny (a scant cup!) but it is surprisingly very filling. I'm always satisfied after eating it. I have also made this with pasta instead of the gnocchi, and it tastes just as good. Just cook the pasta separately, and add it to the rest of the dish afterward.

Spicy Taco Gnocchi Skillet

One recipe of taco seasoning:
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. butter
1 package (16 oz) of gnocchi
1 pound of lean ground turkey (93/7)
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 oz can of Rotel tomatoes (or salsa)
1 cup beef broth
1 cup frozen corn
1/4 cup full-fat sour cream
4 oz. full-fat cheddar cheese

Prepare taco seasoning by mixing all ingredients in a small dish. Set aside.

Heat skillet over medium high heat and melt butter in skillet. Add the gnocchi, and cook for a couple of minutes until gnocchi starts to brown a little. Set gnocchi aside in a bowl.

Add the onions to the skillet, and cook for a couple of minutes until they soften. Add the ground turkey to the skillet, and break it up as it browns. Add the seasoning mix, salsa, broth, and corn, as well as the reserved gnocchi. Bring just to a boil, and then reduce the heat. Cover with a lid and let it simmer for a few minutes.

Add the sour cream and cheese, and stir. Portion into six bowls (about 1 cup each).

RECIPE: Lentil and Black Bean Chili

This is a Weight Watchers recipe, and my whole family actually really loved it. I cut back on the spices a little because of my kids. We topped it with a little cheese and sour cream.

Lentil & Black Bean Chili

1-1/2 cups dry lentils (preferably French variety, but regular green lentils will work too)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. dried oregano
1-1/2 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne
1/2 tsp. salt
29 oz. can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted with chiles)
2 cans of black beans, drained and rinsed

Cook lentils by placing in a pot and cover with water (a couple of inches above the level of the lentils). Bring to a boil, then reduce heat at simmer until lentils are tender, but not too soft (about 12 minutes).

While lentils are cooking, heat a skillet over medium heat and add the oil. Cook the onions, bell pepper, and garlic in the oil until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, stir, and cover the skillet. Let simmer 5-10 minutes, and then add the lentils. Stir and divide into 6 portions to serve.

A holiday challenge

I've been thinking about this and thinking about this, having been totally unsure if I wanted to move forward with it. I know that if I make it public, then I'll be committed to finishing it, which is probably why I haven't mentioned it. I just wanted to be 100% sure I want to do it.

I used to do monthly challenges for myself, and somewhere along the way, I got out of the habit of doing them. Right now, I haven't really been focused on anything. Last year, I was hardcore into getting down to my racing weight and then training for my 10K; this year, I'm loosely counting calories, trying to lose the summer weight, but not really putting much effort into it.

Girls weekend!

I just got home from dropping Bonnie and Andrea off at the airport, and I am so sad that the weekend is over. We had such an amazing time!

On Thursday, Caitlin (my Ragnar SoCal teammate) arrived from Boston; Bonnie (another Ragnar SoCal teammate) came in from Virginia; and Andrea (my Ragnar Florida Keys teammate) arrived from Kansas City. Bonnie and Caitlin obviously knew each other already, but Andrea met them for the first time. We all have quite a bit in common, and it was fun chatting. Between the four of us, we've lost a collective 630-ish pounds!! So crazy.

Caitlin, Andrea, Bonnie, and me
I won't detail the entire five days they were here (they came in Thursday and left Monday), but here are some highlights of their visit.

Running Games for Kids (Part 2 of 2)

(...continued...) In my previous post, I shared tips for coaching a kids' running club or cross country team. In this post, I'll share the games that my cross country kids loved playing after getting in their mileage for the day. The games still involve running, but the kids don't even really realize it!

Tips for Coaching Kids to Run (Part 1 of 2)

Someone recently emailed me to ask if I had all of the games I play with my cross country kids written down into one post, and I thought I did--but apparently, I do not! When I first volunteered to coach cross country for kids in second through fourth grade, I was clueless. I read as much as I could about it, but I just couldn't find the info I was looking for. My goal was to make running FUN, so that the kids would want to continue to run through middle and high school.

I had a hard time finding games for the age group that I was coaching, so I put my brain to use and came up with some games of my own, inspired by others that I read about. Some games were a hit with my team, and some were a bust. In this post, I'll write all about coaching kids and I'll share all the popular games I came up with.

RIP Peanut Butter

I can't get over this amazing weather we have right now! Today, it was 65 and sunny... in November... in MICHIGAN. All summer long, we heard about how cold and snowy this winter will be, and I was expecting the worst. Of course, it's not even winter yet, so we could still be in for really harsh weather. But this November weather is amazing. I hope it holds out for the weekend when my friends are here.

Speaking of which, I have been non-stop busy getting ready for the weekend. Having a houseguest is one thing, but having three from three different states is a bit more complicated (although, it's three times the fun!). Also, I'm hosting my Wine Club meeting at my house on Friday, so I have that to prepare for as well. Lots of work, but the weekend will be totally worth it. I'm super excited!

Bathroom makeover!

So, the first week of MAF training is done. Today, I ran 45 minutes, and it ended up being a terrible run! There was actually frost on the ground when I woke up. This unusually warm weather has been so odd, it was kind of nice to see that it's getting colder. My weather app said the temp was 34 degrees when I headed out for my run, so I wore a fleece top, gloves, and a headband to cover my ears.

I felt fine when I started running, and I decided to do an out-and-back route, turning around when I hit the midway point (22:30). Usually, I run at least a mile before I get a beep telling me that my heart rate is high and I need to slow down; today, it took only a quarter mile. After that, it was beeping so much that I just ran as slow as I felt my legs would allow. Even then, my heart rate was right on the border of 146 the whole time.

Military pet charities

(This post is sponsored by Purina. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.)

Not only is today my favorite date (11/11--my favorite number is 11), it is also Veterans Day--a day to honor those who served in the military. As you may know if you've been reading my blog for a while, Veterans Day means a great deal to me. It wasn't until I experienced my brother's deployment that the sacrifices veterans make really sunk in for me. I'm always in awe of the veterans in this country and how much they've sacrificed for us. I can't begin to express how much I appreciate them!

My boys at the airport waiting for Nathan to come home from Iraq in 2007

A message from a little bird

I'm so glad the presidential election is finally over. It's sad seeing all of the hateful social media comments people make to others based on their vote. Especially this year.

Anyway, I have a nice story to share, and today is the perfect day to do it.

A few days ago, I was sitting in the living room with the kids when I saw a bird crash into our window. Instead of dropping to the ground, the bird fell and caught its toenails on the window screen. My heart sank, and I felt so bad for him. He wasn't moving, just hanging by his toenails, so I assumed he was dead or injured.

A different kind of goal

Today, I woke up before my alarm went off because the phone was ringing. I was totally confused for a minute, until I saw that it was from the kids' school. Whenever they delay or cancel school, the calls come very early (5:15 ish). I couldn't imagine that it had snowed all night long (it's been in the 60's and 70's here!!) so I guessed fog.

The recording said that school would be delayed for two hours due to heavy fog. I wish I was able to go back to sleep, but I am always wide awake after the school calls. After breakfast, I figured I would have enough time to go for a run and shower before I had to take the boys to school.

Starting and/or growing a blog

I was just looking through some drafts of posts that I never shared, and came across this one. I don't know why I never posted it! But here goes...

The topic of blogging itself has never been very interesting to me, which is why I don't write about it much (if ever). When I started my blog, it was literally just a place for me to keep a daily journal--even though it was public on the internet, haha. I liked the idea of having some people read my thoughts because it also helped me stay accountable in my weight loss (otherwise, I would have just written a private journal instead of a blog).

As my readership grew, I learned about all of the potential that comes from writing a blog, and I was given some amazing opportunities because of Runs for Cookies. In that way, it turned from less of a journal to more of a blog--but I've always tried to maintain my original writing style.

Plans and photo dump

Thanks for all of the feedback on my last post! Like I said, I have no concrete plans of quitting blogging--I'm just trying to figure out what direction I want to go with the blog. I had an idea today to start a "Flashback Friday" post once a week, where I share my old journal entries (word for word) while I was losing weight. I had a blog before Runs for Cookies, and I wrote in it almost daily while I was losing the weight in 2009-2010. It's no longer online, but people ask me all the time if they can read it.

I went back and read a few of the posts today, and it's embarrassing! My writing was terrible, I sounded SO whiny, and I just want to smack myself while reading it for some of the things I wrote about ;) I'll give it some more thought, but I think I'd be too embarrassed to post those entries.