Friday, May 27, 2011

A couple of AWESOME links

I was reading Already Pretty (which is in itself a pretty darn good blog, even if you aren't all that into fashion), and must pass along some of the awesome links in today's post.

The power of saying "no" to all the voices that tell you to conform, especially with regards to body acceptance.

"It’s not simply a matter of fat people having a rough time of it, even though they do, and even though it is wrong that fat people are often harassed, humiliated, and ostracized, and that this ill treatment is socially encouraged. Our cultural expectations of normative bodies, and our stringent beauty standards, and our compulsory and universalizing ideas about health—these forces hurt everyone, no matter their size, no matter if they are slender, or average, or very very fat." (emphasis mine). from Two Whole Cakes

Another blogger (who happens to also be a librarian) writes about how she has come to love her thighs, even though they don't fit the "norm." Yes! As someone with rugby player thighs (she calls hers peasant thighs) who is learning to love them for all they allow me to do, I love hearing someone else say the things I have been thinking.

As I said earlier this week, the journey never ends, and it is so good to read other people going through the same things I am.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Weather Update

Just a quick update for all my non-Arkansas friends. Yes, we have had a lot of bad weather in the last month. There was a tornado that touched down about 5 miles from our house, and eventually did destroy most of a town northeast of us. There was record rainfall and flooding - even in Maumelle. But we are on a hill, so although our backyard was rather soggy, and the garden got thrashed, we are fine. The flooding in Eastern Arkansas is a long ways from us. We appear to be moving into hot and muggy weather, which is par for the course around here in May and June (and July and August and September). The ticks are evident, as are mosquitoes, snakes, and spiders.

So on we go, towards summer. The garden is growing, whenever it isn't getting beaten down by rain, or blown around by wind gusts. Miikka continues to search for new tunnels to China in our backyard.

If you feel motivated to donate money for disaster relief, check out the Red Cross, or Habitat for Humanity, or Heifer International (their teaching farm here in Arkansas was heavily damaged during one of April's storms).

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Mental Relapse

So, I have talked recently about how I am changing my view of myself, trying not to think about weight, instead focusing on health and fitness, and how I am going to run a 5K. But it isn't a permanent shift to a better attitude. It probably never will be. Lately, I have been, for various reasons, feeling fat, feeling dumpy, feeling like I need to eat sugar and goodies (which really doesn't help the fat thing either). It is a constant struggle to remind myself to love my tree, to remember that my self worth does not depend on my jeans size, that a diet won't make me happy, that I am not in competition with anyone else - that what I can do is between me and my yoga mat (as my new yoga teacher is fond of saying in class), or between me and my treadmill. But it is a struggle worth having, because the alternative is to be unhappy forever, to hate myself, to hide away behind some false facade that is not me.

So, I begin again. As one of the meditation teachers I have been reading says, (and I am paraphrasing) Begin again, even if you have to do it over and over again. That is the practice. Breathe in, breathe out, begin again.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

2011 TBR Pile Challenge update

5 months into the year, and I have finished 5 books from my To Be Read Pile Challenge List. The one that I thought might derail me, PrairyErth, has now been finished - it took me almost exactly 3 months (622 pages of fairly dense natural history etc.), and I have started listening to another long one, A Distant Mirror, as an audiobook in the car. Now the one that will be a challenge is Madam Bovary. But I am sure I can manage it...

Here is a link to my "review" of PrairyErth on Goodreads.

As an incidental note, I am also 47 books into my Goodreads challenge to read 110 books in 2011. That number will be climbing steeply in a couple of weeks, because I have a slew of graphic novels on hold at the library. Yes, I count them as books. They have pages, I read them, I get them at the library.

The only problem with these challenges is that they are supposed to help me whittle away at all my "to read" lists, but those lists are not getting any smaller. For every book I read, I probably add 2 or 3 to the list. So many books, so little time...

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Snake in the Grass, er, Leaves

Last Wednesday, during dinner, Miikka could be heard barking in the garden. There is nothing unusual about that, but I noticed that the tone of the bark had changed, less "This is my yard, here I am," to "Timmy fell down a well," so I went to investigate.  He'd found a turtle or tortoise a few days earlier, and I didn't want him to harass another one. This time, however, it was not a turtle. It was a snake. A snake eating its own dinner.

Yup, that's a snake, not a turtle.
I wasn't sure what species it was, except that I knew it wasn't a copperhead (yes, we have those here. Yes, I have seen one, but not in our yard.) Even if it wasn't venomous, I still didn't want Miikka to bother the snake, so he had to come inside (after I took a few pictures).

When I came back to look at the snake after our dinner was finished, he/she too had finished dinner. I was amazed at the tiny head, and the fact that it had managed to get the entire bird into its seemingly small mouth. Just goes to show what an unhingable jaw can do for you, I guess.

The bird is just a small lump in its midsection now.
 After another look at it, I was able to use the Internet to identify it as a speckled kingsnake - not venomous, and not particularly fierce. In fact, they are really good snakes to have around, because they eat other, more dangerous, snakes, as well as rodents. The speckles were bright and shiny, and for a snake, it was quite pretty. That said, I don't really want a snake to take up permanent residence in my back yard, since it would likely drive Miikka nuts. Luckily, by the time we returned from our evening walk, the snake had moved on to find somewhere more comfortable to digest. It is welcome to visit from time to time, as long as it has somewhere else to sleep.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger ate my post

This is a temporary post - Blogger ate my last post, and while it should be restored soon, I don't want to post anything else until it comes back. Sorry!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

After our pizza dinner at Delancy, we took a walk around the Ballard Locks.  We entered through a lovely botanical garden, where all the flowers were blooming.

I was trying to show the glow given by the setting sun, but somehow, it is never as magical once captured by the camera's lens.

The Locks connect the saltwater Puget Sound with the freshwater of the Ship Canal and from there Lake Washington. Above is one of the large chambers that fills with boats and water, raising or lowering, depending on which direction you are going.  When we first got out of the car, my nose started twitching, sniffing deeply as I tried to pull in the smell of salt water. I miss that smell. It isn't as if I smelled it every day when I lived in the Northwest, since Bellevue is pretty far from the saltwater of the region, but the smell reminds me of ferry rides, and trips to the beach, and a sense of freedom that comes from standing on the edge of a continent, with nothing to see but the ocean. There is no saltwater in Arkansas, and I sometimes think I can feel the weight of being so landlocked.

One of the interesting features of the Locks is the fish ladder, built when the Locks and Dam blocked the natural pathway for salmon spawning. The salmon of the Northwest are anadromous, meaning they live in saltwater for most of their lives, but return to freshwater to spawn (and then die, but that is another story). So, they had to come up with a way to get the fish from the saltwater to the freshwater.

Yes, it actually is like a set of stairs. I don't have pictures from inside the viewing room of the fish ladder, because it is just too dark, and besides, it wasn't the right time of year for fish.

This is the dam that prevents the lakes from spilling out into the Sound, and keeps the Sound from saltifying the lakes. The white tubes are where the smelt (baby fish) go shooting back into the Sound. Kind of like a neat water slide.

As we left, we noticed this Canada Goose sitting on a nest, in the middle of the garden. I hope she was left undisturbed.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Skunk Cabbage

I promised you skunk cabbage, and now I give you skunk cabbage. "It is a lovely plant, if rather phallic in design," I hear you say, "why is it called skunk cabbage?" Well, folks, to be brutally honest, it stinks. A lot, if the conditions are right.

When in bloom, it produces a stink not at all unlike an actual skunk. According to the Wikipedia entry on skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus, to differentiate it from the Eastern Skunk cabbage, which is not at all closely related), this stink is to attract the particular pollinators - flies and beetles - that pollinate the plants.

According to Wikipedia, bears have been known to use skunk cabbage as a laxative (I am so curious about the scientists who figured that out. How do you discover such things? How do you get interested in studying the bowel movements of bears?). But apparently, they are not really that good for humans to eat. Oh darn.

No sign of the flowers in this picture, but you can see just how many of them there are at the nature trail. And that is just one small glade.

Luckily, the flowers were in bloom, but not that pungent the day Dad and I were shooting these pictures. Otherwise, I wouldn't have stuck around long enough to get more than one picture!

Be your tree

On Saturday night, we watched a really good documentary, American the Beautiful, about the business of beauty in America, the problems that the way that business operates pose for American girls and women. If you want to see some scummy guys explain why they only want to date skinny blonds, and watch a lovely girl enter the modeling industry and come out the other side thinking she is fat at worthless, and find out why they all think that way, watch this documentary. This clip is my favorite moment of the whole movie. It is Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, relating a story about a woman in Africa explain why we should all love our bodies, no matter what they look like.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Bellefield Nature Trail

The Bellefield Nature Trail is a great place to go to take pictures, pick blueberries, walk, splash in streams, and get muddy (especially if you are of the canine variety). When I visited last month, the leaves were just starting to emerge on the trees and vines, and the skunk cabbage was in full bloom. In the summer the paths are dappled and shaded, a good place to go to hide your tender white Pacific Northwesterner skin from the harsh sun (yes, Northwesterners are a little like moles when the sun comes out).

The area that is now park used to be filled with farms (warning, the background on that page is atrocious), during the first half of the 20th century. At some point, the city started buying up the parcels of land, and now it is a large park, just south of downtown Bellevue. To camera right in the above picture is still a working blueberry farm, owned by the city. You can go and pay to pick your own blueberries there. This is not where I pick blueberries, but I am not about to tell you about that patch - it would be like an angler giving up his favorite fishing hole.  Anyway, that water you see is part of the slough. Before the level of Lake Washington went down (after the Ship Canal was cut) it was all under water. Now, it is a slough, a swampy, marshy area with some running water and lots of mud. (Didn't know you would be getting a history and geology lesson, did you?!)

This part of the park also links up to a larger trail system that goes into Seattle and around other parts of the Eastside. We usually just do the shorter loop, but that's OK, especially when you get to take pictures of such great shadows, and of course, skunk cabbage.

Stay tuned - next week I will finally get to this mysterious plant.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Today I Love

Picture from Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Red-winged blackbirds.* I remember seeing and hearing them on walks with my parents (often at the same Bellefields park that I will have pictures of later). I didn't hear or see them for years while I was living in Texas - too much in the city I guess - but they are abundant at the two local lake parks where Miikka and I walk. I love hearing them as I walk in the early morning.

*Take a look at the awesome Cornell Lab of Ornithology website. It has a searchable database with pictures, habitat information, conservation status, and most awesome - sounds. If you follow that link, you can hear just what I hear in the mornings on my walks.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Donovan Family Obsessions, or my visit to Bellevue, Part One

My dad in a standard photography pose.
I took a quick trip home to Bellevue over the Easter weekend, and got tons of good pictures. My family is fairly moderate, apart from a few obsessions, but whenever I get home to visit, we indulge those obsessions. This trip was no exception - we hit most of them: photography, good food, and books.
Obsession #1: Photography
The Saturday I arrived was their first nice day of the year, the kind of day that locals hope outsiders never see (because then they would never leave), the kind of day that compels you to go outside and do something, anything. So, we did. Dad and I took our cameras to the Bellefield Nature Trail, handily located about a mile and a half from home. It was always a great place to take the dog on a weekend afternoon, and there were certainly plenty of people there with the same idea. I took a boatload of pictures of the park, and the skunk cabbage (enough of those to make one entire blog post), but you are going to have to wait for the photography part of the trip, because this post is about obsession #2, good food.

Brandon (Mr. Orangette, owner) at the oven.
One of the first things I said to my parents when I made my plane reservations was "We have to go to dinner at Delancy." They were happy to oblige. I have been waiting impatiently for my chance to go, ever since the restaurant first opened, since the last time I was in Bellevue, it was Christmas-time, and the restaurant was closed for a short vacation. Wah!.

I forgot to take a picture before I started eating. Too good to wait...
 It is a wood-fired pizza restaurant owned and run by Molly Wizenberg, the blogger behind Orangette, and her husband (who she met because he read her blog - seriously, go read her book about it). On the blog, Molly's descriptions of setting up the restaurant, building the oven, and then of the food that they served, was enough to make me drool all over my keyboard. Anyway, if there was any chance at all that I could get to Delancy this time, I was going to take it.


Mom's white pizza - a cheesy, crispy bit of deliciousness.
We went that first night, and was it worth the wait! Not a fast-food place, the pizza took a while to come out of the oven, mainly because the restaurant was packed. People, it opens at 5, we were there at 5:10, and it was already full. We barely squeezed in. By the time we left, there was a line out on the sidewalk waiting for our seats. The salad was perfect to share with my mom - lettuce, a green goddess dressing, bacon... yum...

Dad's pepperoni and sausage pizza, with homemade sausage.
But the pizza was the star of the night, of course. Crispy from the wood-fired oven, topped with the best tasting ingredients. We got three, although that was being a little greedy, just because we wanted to taste them all. And we had dessert, a rhubarb poundcake with mascarpone that was tangy and sweet and oh so good. Oops, starting to drool there a bit. Anyway, it was delicious, and if you live in the general Seattle/Ballard area, you should go. If possible, go often. The menu changes regularly with the seasons (and it has changed since I was there), so you need to go a lot to get all the goodness they have to offer. Wish I could join you!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Back to "normal"

After a weekend of traveling, a week of playing sleep catch-up, and a weekend of tennis and rain storms, it is back to what passes for normal in my life. It is still raining - we had as much as 5 inches 12 inches in the last few days! - so Miikka may not get a walk this afternoon, but I did make it to the gym for the first time in over a week. I had to drag myself out of bed, for even though I posted last week about being a defiant athlete and wanting to train for a 5K race, it is sometimes still hard to do what I love. 5 AM comes mighty quickly when it is cold and rainy.

At the gym, I started actually training for the 5K, by following a Couch to 5k plan that has been adjusted for the treadmill. Since I only have 5 weeks before the race, I started at week 5. And you know what? It was easy, too easy probably. It only really had me running for 15 minutes, which is less than I was running with my intervals a couple of weeks ago, and although they were in 5 minute increments, I was able to keep up. Actually, I had to tack on an extra 10 minutes at the end, because I had only gone 2 miles, and I am used to going at least 3 when I am on the treadmill. I guess that is OK, and it means I am in better shape than I thought (I tend not to be good at judging my own fitness - what a surprise).

And that is my main criticism of this plan (obviously a well-thought one at that, after one whole session!): I am not sure how they expect you to go 5K in 30 minutes at this stage. Am I not supposed to be going 5K at this stage of the plan? I guess not. I mean, to do that in the time they have you running, you have to run about a 10 minute mile for 30 minutes. I can do that for some of the time, although I don't know if I can yet do that for the whole 30 minutes. I doubt that anyone who is truly coming from couch potato-ness would be able to run that fast, even after 9 weeks of training. They have the running segments ramp up pretty quickly, which again, I don't think someone who is truly un-fit would be able to do.

Hey, it's not perfect, but at least I have a plan to give me some structure. If I have to do more time on the treadmill to get the full distance I am used to, then so be it. That can't really be a bad thing, can it?