Monday, December 27, 2010

Through the eyes of a child.....

"Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus."
New York Sun,  1897

Late Christmas Eve, noticed Kiddo, who is at the age of tottering on the fence of belief, in a flurry of activity. Grabbing cup and plate, rooting around in the fridge, searching for paper and pen, amassing a variety of Christmas hats - our matching Mickey & Minnie Mouse Santa hats, the Green Bay Packers version, the Christmas tree hat we'd picked up at Lynn's Paradise Cafe over Thanksgiving. Final preparations before heading to bed.

Close inspection of the note brought a smile to my face.  Not just cookies and milk, but also apples for the reindeer (and an apology that Mom wasn't currently stocking carrots in the fridge). The hats to give Santa a bit of creative ideas. 

Santa did seem to enjoy the feast...and left a snowboard for Kiddo, a shovel for Grandma, and treats for all.
Of course the family gifts were beckoning, too. Kiddo did the usual duty of sorting them out. A pile at one end of the couch for Grandma, at the other end for Mom, by a chair for Dad, and of course, another pile for himself.  I was charmed by the sight of him wearing the new RoadID Santa had stuffed in his stocking, the Packers hat from his big Sis, the snow goggles from Mom & Dad while playing with the hockey goal light and horn from Uncle Jeff.
I was thrilled with my stash...a perfect set of presents. Books (the best kind: a gardening one, a biking one, and a cooking one) plus a Nook from Hubby, gift cards from Mom, along with the LeCrueset prep bowls I'd fallen in love with over Thanksgiving and an orchid for my new windowed office from kiddo.
 Soon the wrapping carnage covered the floor.
But where was kiddo........outside, of course, trying out the snowboard under the watchful eye of Kutya the Wonder Dog. Two days ago the yard was an MTB trail, today a snowboard hill.
Where'd he go now? Oh I see Kutya found him in a heap at the bottom of the hill. Can't wait to do some shredding on a real hill.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Reindeer Games and Christmas Wishes

Decided to get a little fresh air and outdoor fun into my day by riding the mountain bike around in the snow. Kutya loves to play in the snow, and gave chase as I went round and round the yard, up and down little hills, over any bump I could find.

I was surprised by how much more effort it takes to ride through snow. How after several times around I was breathing pretty hard. Took me three times to make it up the side "trail" without stopping, or at least dabbing my foot down. Needed to trust my momentum, keep pedalling, shift slightly forward. Good practice for riding real trails.

Spent about thirty minutes making tracks all through the yard. Wiped out once crossing the driveway, my back tire sliding out from under me. Made me laugh more than anything. All the while Kutya by my side.

As I suspected when Kiddo got home, saw the tracks and realized what his Mom had been up to, he also had to give snow biking a try. And discovered exactly what I had, it's hard work.
On Thursday, I got in my first winter ride. Roads were wet and slick with many more icy patches on the bike path than I expected. Will take a bit more riding to get comfortable riding in winter. Did a mere 3.5 miles around the neighborhood. It felt great to ride.

This year I didn't do my usual Christmas tree in every room thing. Skipped my obsession with every tree has a theme, a color scheme. Instead, just went with one real tree. Real tree, real sentiment. Using the ornaments that have some meaning to us. Kiddo and I enjoyed unwrapping each one from their tissue, lots of "oh, I remember this one", "oh, this is my favorite", followed shortly by "No, this is my favorite"

These really are some of my favorites.

These are new this year. Purchased from SpokenSitch's Etsy store. Stars (Kiddo calls them snowflakes) made from bike chain. These and their matching key ring make me smile.

This Noah's Ark ornament(s) has been a sentimental favorite of mine for years. They've been through several moves, several life changes with me, probably 15 years old. Little pairs to hang together - Noah and wife, Mr and Mrs Penguin, Lion, Deer and Sheep.

 The Dr. Suess collection was built over the years after Kiddo was born, and we were reading our way through the books. Started with One Fish, Two fish (which is still my favorite), now includes Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, Green Eggs and Ham, Horton Hears a Who, The Grinch. Like with the Noah's Ark group, I enjoy finding a spot of the tree to hang them en mass.

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, one of my favorite words to say. Represents Maui, one of my favorite places on earth. 
Kutya the Wonder Dog gets mentioned or pictured in this blog often. But Princess Bijou does not. A rare chance to catch a photo of her. Like Kutya, she's a rescued pet.  Pretty and petite. She's a great hunter, helping to keep the house mouse free. Or at least that's what we hope.
Merry Christmas! Wishing you all the blessings of the season.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The 3 C's....we're not talking diamonds, we're talking beer

Cut, Complement and Contrast. The 3 C's which make beer so great with food. Heck you could make it four, Carbonation, no, make that 5, add Cleanse. But those last two are really components of Cut.

Cut and Cleanse are basically the same in cleanse your palate; cut or remove the fat and oils on your tongue so that each bite of food tastes as good as the first. Beer's low alcohol content, and carbonation both help to accomplish this. It is one of the great advantages beer has over other beverages when enjoyed with a meal.

Complement and Contrast refer to the taste profiles in the beer and in the food it is paired with. In some combinations the beer helps bring out qualities of the food because of the complementary or similar flavors between the beer and the food. In the case of roasted meats and baked breads, beer has a distinct advantage over most drinks due to the Maillard browning reaction. The Maillard reaction is a chemical change to the sugars  and amino acids in meats and grains when heated. Beer due to the malt (basically roasted barley) contains a similar caramelized flavor - complementing or bringing out the same flavors in food. Contrast is the opposite, different tastes that enhance the other. Berry Weiss with chocolate. Mild lagers with spicy foods.

But the best part of beer and food pairings is that there are no firm guidelines. No societal standards like white wine with fish or any of the other "rules" the wine world has defined. Increasingly chefs are cooking with beer. Experimenting with food and beer parings.

Had another work-related opportunity to attend a beer and food dinner. Formal 6 course. At the Merkat Restaurant in Chicago's Blackhorse Hotel. A collaboration between Merkat's chef, Jose Garces, along with Ryan Johnson and Grant Holtackers, trade brewers for Tenth and Blake Beer Company. With each course, the Chef and one of the brewers explained both the food and the beer.

 This was the third beer and food dinner I'd attended this year (other two written up here). As with the others, the meal began with Blue Moon Belgian White (5.4% abv, 17 IBU) paired with the salad course. The coriander and citrus in the Blue Moon make it great with both salads and seafood. Also learned that night that Blue Moon differs from Belgian tradition by using Valencia oranges in the recipe versus curacao oranges.

Chef Garces had used some of the Blue Moon in the dressing. Spicy almonds added a nice touch to the Serrano ham and figs.

A seafood course followed Halibut con Chorizo paired with Batch 19 (5.5% ABV, 26IBU), a beer brewed with a recently discovered pre-prohibition recipe. Hoppy, with a caramelized color and taste.

Our table was split on this course. Half thought this was their favorite course, for me, my least favorite of the food courses. A nice pairing, beer was quite good, as was the fish. I just enjoyed the other courses more.

The next course listed on the menu was a mystery on first read. Leinenkugel Fireside Nut Brown paired with Tocino con Cidre. Huh? Translated a yummy house cured pork belly w/ a parsnip puree and black truffle, apple, cabbage slaw. The Nut Brown (4.9% ABV, 13IBU) has a complex malt character with hints of roasted coffee, chocolate and hazelnut. Not surprising from the lower IBU little noticeable hop flavor.

Next up was a Black Angus hanger steak paired with Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell.  Pilsner Urquell (4.4 ABV, 40IBU) is often considered one of the most influential if not one of the finest beers on the planet. It was the first golden beer, first pilsner style. Urquell means from the original source. Hoppy, bitter. Strong flavors to accompany this strong meat.

A cheese course followed, paired surprisingly with Guinness Stout. Not surprising from a food/beer pairing perspective, but because this is not a Tenth and Blake product. Guinness Stout is one of the world's most respected beers. It was a nice treat to taste this beer once again. I don't often drink beers from other brewers and companies (am making an effort to try other beers on a more regular basis, expand my beer palate so to speak) Each time I drink this beer I am fascinated by how the deep roast and malty-ness masks the high bitterness of the beer (40IBU). Great with the cheese. This and the pork belly course were my two favorites. More and more I love cheese courses with good artisan cheeses.

Last up was dessert. The classic chocolate and berry combination. Sheep's cheese berry cheesecake with chocolate croquettes paired of course with Leinenkugel's Berry Weiss. Yummy finish.

Great dinner from the Merkat and Tenth and Blake folks. Thankfully after all that great food and great beer, all I needed to do was ride an elevator to my room. Far too stuffed and sated to do much else!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Love (like?) Winter

Here it's December, Everyday.....

Was reminded of that fact this morning when I dropped Kiddo off at school, and he commented about  car ahead of us, "What a cool license plate". 


After a long, glorious,seemingly never ending fall, winter has come in with a vengeance. Seemed like one day temperatures were still hanging in the 40's, and the next snow was flying and temps were in the teens. Or lower.

Somewhat ironic that Kiddo would notice and point out a license plate with that sentiment. Of everyone in the household, he and Kutya the Wonder Dog seem to enjoy winter the most. [Truth disclosure, these three pictures were from last winter...we've had snow (not quite this much), they've recreated these scenes more than once (I just haven't gotten any pictures) Yet.]

I, on the other hand,  have to be eased into it. And this winter there has been no easing - more like a full frontal assault. The season began with my first experience of a mandatory Wisconsin tradition, a Packers game at Lambeau December. I was immersed into winter. Dragged kicking and screaming (or at least grumbling). Frozen. Just so we're clear, when it comes to winter games at Lambeau Field, this lifelong Chicago Bear fans has been there, done that and checked the box. September or October games, probably, November or December games in a suite, maybe.......December games in the stands, not gonna happen again.

Even when I leave Wisconsin, there's no avoiding Old Man Winter. This week when biz travel took me to Des Moines, I was greeted in the hotel lobby by this lovely sight on Monday evening. 9 degrees with an overnight low of 4, really?!? When I called home, Hubby tried to make me feel better by telling the overnight low at home was supposed to be 0. That. Did *Not*. Make me feel better.
Still I know I live in a great state for winter fun. Maybe not Colorado level skiing, but decent skiing close by. Kiddo begins 6 weeks of snowboard lessons next month, giving Mom an opportunity to ski while he learns! Tons of places to ice skate. Could learn snow shoeing or cross country skiing. 

Have a pledge to myself to get on a bike, ride, to at least pedal a bit outside (not on the damn trainer)  every week over winter. This week a couple of spins around the yard - on our home off road trail ;-) were completed to get the picture of the commuter in the snow. Now Commuter and Road bike have been moved to the basement. But considering putting some studded tires on Sally Schwinn or the MTB to get in the occasional ride beyond the yard. 

Or better yet, maybe I can take a lesson from these guys, who seem to be having so much fun, and do some actual trail riding! Huge props to Capital Off Road Pathfinders at for building and maintaining these trails - which I hope to ride one of these days. Even if my first spin around them is in the spring.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Beautifully different is a very smart thing

In December I'm doing an on-line initiative, called Reverb 10, designed to help participants reflect on 2010 and manifest what's next in 2011. Each day participants are given prompts or thought starters to blog, tweet or journal

 The Reverb 10 organizers gave us a couple days break with relatively easy prompts on days 6 & 7. And then hit us with this one:

Prompt 8

December 8 – Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful. (Author: Karen Walrond)
My Tweet: Oh my after 2 easy days  has me stumped. Different, how am I different? Is addition of word beautifully giving me pause?

Different, I can think of a million things that make me different. Or maybe make me feel different. 

Which made me think about hiding aspects of self. We probably all have them. Traits we think we need to hide from the world. For many years, in many ways the trait I choose to hide, because it made me different was my intellect. Even now, writing that feels odd. Like I shouldn't be bragging. 

I have a high IQ. Not Einstein or anything, but high enough to have been pulled out of a regular classroom and placed in a gifted program by 3rd grade. High enough that I am a member of Mensa - a society for those who score at or above the 98th percentile on a standard test of intelligence. By high school, I realized this could intimidate people, esp. boys.  By my teens, this gift turned into something for which I was ashamed. Which lead to a rough few years, hell, decade or two if I'm honest. 

But eventually I discovered this wasn't something to hide. Maybe it took some growing into myself. Maybe it took being around the right people, having the right challenges. Now I know I'm happiest when using my intellect. Happiest when being challenged. When having opportunities to learn, to grow.  When surrounded by other smart people. 

At times still find myself struggling with being smart versus being a know it all, but at least I'm not afraid to let this part of me shine.

Sure there's still other sides of me that I keep tucked away. Other bits and pieces that may or may not make me beautifully different. But this is one I hope others see. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Wonder and Letting go...Reverb 10 prompts 4 & 5

Combining two Reverb 10 prompts in this post. Not because the subject matter is the same...but because my reaction to both prompts was very similar. As was the throught process throughout the rest of that day.

In both cases, my immediate reaction was negative. As in I didn't do that. I had no wonder. I let nothing go. Mentally kicking myself for not doing more, not doing "better". Felt a little sad. My tweets to each of the the prompts reflected this initial reaction. But as the day went by, and I gave it more thought, the answers were clearer, more positive, a bit affirming. In both cases, yes, I'm sure I could have done more. Can name a hundred different things I coulda, shoulda done. Heck, we probably all can say that about most any aspect of our lives. But bottom line, on both wonder and letting go, they played a significant role in my year.

Perhaps one of the best things about this month long journey through the Reverb 10 prompts will be the affirming of the good, positive parts of the year, while recognizing the opportunities, shortfalls..........and synthesizing these to frame my very best 2011.

Prompt 4-

December 4 – Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year? (Author: Jeffrey Davis)
My tweet: Today's #reverb10 prompt has me bit vexed. Gonna have to think this through. Bit sad didn't have immediate answer
How typical of me to discount the obvious. Cultivating a sense of wonder, a sense of play has become a staple of my life. The whole reason I began to work out, become more fit was to keep up with my now 11 year old son. Through that I have learned to appreciate more of life through his eyes. To not only value but to cultivate play. To constantly seek to learn, to try new things. 

I've blogged about appreciating Milwaukee, of exploring Chicago, biking California, riding a bike through the jungles of Mexico and single track In Wisconsin. Of a new appreciation of nature, of being outdoors that being more fit as given me. Play, wonder is a part of my life.

I cannot take wonder for granted, but I also cannot discount how far I've come.

Prompt 5 -

December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)
My tweet: Another thought provoking #reverb10 prompt. As I ponder "Let Go" think this may be more about what I should; not what I have
As I thought through this, I was reminded of a book I read probably 15 years ago, "Feel the Fear and do it anyway" by Susan Jeffers. Some of my most empowering moments or events this year have been when I have faced a fear.

Let fear go.

Taking the class and getting scuba certified, tackled a fear I'd held for literally decades. Let go of the idea that this was something I could not do, would never do.  Let go of the idea I wasn't physically fit enough to complete the class, to pass the 200yd swim (my facebook friends may remember my elation when I not only completed the swim - but was the fastest female, beating several young women 30 years my junior). Completing the class was big. Actually getting certified bigger.

The second major fear milestone was to begin to bike commute. I'd let fear stop me from this for 18 months. Afraid of traffic, afraid I wasn't fit enough to make the commute. Yet, once I finally faced those fears, overcame them heck, blew them away, I felt strong. Reaffirmed myself, and all that I can do. Brought both strength and wonder to my day.

There have been other ways I have faced fear in both my personal and professional life in 2010. I know this is a demon I will continue to face in 2011. I hope and pray I can touch back on these times I have looked a fear dead in the eye and conquered.

There are plenty of things in this life to stumble over, plenty of things to fear. However, I should never let fear of failing to be the reason I fail or worse, do not begin, do not try. Fear of failure is one fear I alone have the power to conquer, to finally let go.........

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Alive - Reverb 10 prompt 3

Prompt 3-
December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)
My tweetday 3. What moment this year did feel most alive?Short answer 50' underwater after passing PADI dive certification. Blog to follow

This one was easy. Just reading the prompt brought back a flood of memories. Two vivid. Both from the same day. Within minutes of the other. Scuba diving in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. The dive where I became a certified PADI diver. The dive were I passed the final test - the CESA, controlled emergency swimming ascent. I'd been dreading this test since the day I heard it described by my classroom instructor. Struggled in the pool, finding it mentally difficult to swim slowly, breathing a slow steady stream of air. Convinced I didn't have enough lung capacity to do this. Convinced that this one test would be the reason I did not achieve a life long dream of becoming a certified diver.

In the pool - both here in Wisconsin when I took the classroom/confined pool portion of the Open Water diver course and at my check-out pool work in Mexico, the more I worried, the tighter my chest contracted. The faster I swam. Too fast. In a real life diving situation swimming to the surface this fast I'd risk bursting my lungs as I rose to the surface -the air in my lungs expanding due to less pressure. But mentally I couldn't get past the thought I'd run out of air. 30 year old flash backs to high school, getting certified as a life guard and struggling with the requirement to swim a pool length underwater.

Of course, in a pool you are swimming horizontally. You don't have the advantage of the air in your lungs expanding as you swim to the surface. Both instructors - the WI one and the Mexican one, repeatedly assured me that I would not run out of air. The analytical side of me understood this. Understood the science. Knew I'd been well trained by great instructors. Yet, I was terrified of failing.

Breaking the surface after a remarkably easy CESA. Having the divemaster at the top say, "Congratulations you're a Diver". A true moment of being alive.

The second came minutes later. Having passed the final tests, we went back down for another dive.

Diving is interesting from a senses perspective. Sound is different than on the surface. Quiet, just the sounds of my breath. A feeling of weightlessness. Colors are muted - the deeper you go, bits of the color spectrum are lost. But yet, a constant beauty A world unlike the surface. Beauty combined with danger.

Swimming along behind the divemaster, he suddenly swam down through a vertical tunnel in the coral, taking us to a small underwater cave or swim through. This was significant. Until you are a certified diver, the guide or divemaster cannot take you through any swim throughs- you must always have just water above you. Here I was being led into a swim through. And at that moment it hit me. I'd done it. After so many, many years of wishing I could scuba dive, of being afraid, of not being physically fit enough, I had become a diver.  Alive only begins to describe the feeling.

And now for a break from our regularly scheduled program....Reverb 10

As if this blog had any kind of regularly scheduled program. It started as a gardening blog, and has morphed into a random bit of pieces of my life... sometimes fitness, sometimes biking, sometimes travel, occasionally garden. For the month of December, leading into the new year, I'm adding a bit of self-reflection to the mix.

Reverb 10 is an on-line project to help bloggers reflect on this year and manifest what's next. Daily thought prompts are provided. Over 2000 bloggers are participating. Prompts are emailed to participants each night just after midnight, and posted on the Reverb 10 site. I found the idea (and the first prompt) intriguing, and have made a commitment to at least tweet everyday on the prompt. Intermittently I'll expand in a blog post, some for single prompts, sometimes summarizing a few. I've added a #reverb10 column to tweetdeck - and finding reading other's posts and blogs on each prompt an added bonus to this experience.

Prompt 1-
December 1 – One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)
My tweetMy word of 2010 is noncompliance. My future word of 2011 is proven.

The 2010 word, non-compliance, was easy. Lately, I've described 2009 (the year I lost all the weight) as my year of compliance, and 2010, as the year of non-compliance. I can make a million excuses, but bottom line I stepped away from many of the habits and regiments necessary to both maintain that weight loss, and met the goals I stated last January. No triathlon, no personal record in a half marathon, several pounds regained. Stopped following a strength training program. I've written on it, I've bitched to friends and family, but I still haven't quite moved forward.

And this is the last time I will dwell on that. Last time I kick myself for what has already been. Last time I make excuses.

Which leads to the word for 2011. That was tougher to define. I'd already done COMPLIANT in 2009. And, honestly, don't like the word to describe me. Kicked around SUCCESS. Not it either. UNAFRAID hung in my brain for awhile. Then a little voice in my head said "Prove it". Prove to yourself that you can do a triathlon, prove to yourself that you can meet this weight loss goal, prove yourself in your new role at work, prove to yourself that you can do business travel and make good food choices, follow a fitness routine. Proven. Yep, that's the word for 2011.

Next December when this project rolls around again, I want to be PROVEN.