Charity Logo

Charity Logo

Charity of the Month

CHARITY OF THE MONTH - HEIFER INTERNATIONAL

In December I am riding for Heifer International. Founded in 1944, Heifer International works with communities around the world to end hunger and poverty and to care for the Earth. Its approach is more than a handout. Heifer provides animals (e.g., heifers, goats, water buffalos, chickens, rabbits, fish, and bees) and training to impoverished people in over 30 countries. The animals can give milk, meat, or eggs; provide draft power; or form the basis of a small business. Communities make their own decisions about what crops, animals, and market strategies make sense for their everyday conditions and experiences.

Heifer International is based on 12 Cornerstones, such as Sustainability; Genuine Need and Justice; and Gender and Family Focus. Perhaps the best known Cornerstone is Passing on the Gift, in which Heifer recipient families pass on the offspring of their animals to others in need. In this way, whole communities can raise their standard of living.

A donation to Heifer International also can make a wonderful alternative holiday gift. Instead of yet another sweater for Grandma that she really doesn’t need, why not donate a Heifer animal or a share of an animal in her honor? Does your child really need so many new toys? Instead of five new toys, give him/her three new toys and a Heifer flock of chicks. Heifer has honor cards to let your loved ones know of your gift on their behalf.

I have set up a Team Heifer page to support Heifer International through A Year of Centuries. My goal is to raise $500. Please make your donation through https://teamheifer.heifer.org/AYearofCenturies. If you would like more information about Heifer’s work, please visit www.heifer.org. Whether you give to honor a loved one or make a regular donation, thank you for taking steps to transform the world for the better.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bats in the Pantry

Happy Halloween!  Have I got a treat for you – a bonus recipe from my new cookbook, Bats in the Pantry!  I have about a gazillion cookbooks, but I couldn’t resist this recent purchase that features ingredients that rely on bats for pollination, seed dispersal, and/or pest control.  Additionally, in every recipe a bat symbol is placed next to the bat-dependent ingredients, and the back of the book explains each bat-plant connection.  The cookbook has dozens of delicious looking, healthful recipes for appetizers, salads, side dishes, entrees, beverages, and more.  All of the recipes happen to be vegetarian, including many vegan ones.
 
Because today is Halloween, it’s appropriate that I share a recipe with a scary ingredient: bananas.  Bananas are scary to me unless they are barely ripe enough to eat.  (I do my grocery shopping on Saturday and buy myself just two bananas at the time; therefore, I usually eat bananas only on Sundays or Mondays.)  Woe to the banana with even one brown spot; it gets banished to the freezer for banana bread.  Here’s a neat trick: when bananas get past their prime, you can put them directly into the freezer, skin and all.  It makes them look truly horrifying, but they work perfectly in banana bread.  Just thaw them on the countertop for a few hours before you want to use them.  Then, split the skin and squish out the innards.  They blend easily into the other ingredients.
 
Most banana bread recipes are just so-so to me.  However, when I saw the recipe for Banana Ginger Bread with all of the wonderful spices, I knew I’d like it.  In fact, I’m batty about it!  I can hardly wait to try lots more recipes from Bats in the Pantry.
 
Banana Ginger Bread
 
2 cups brown sugar
*1 cup mashed bananas
2 eggs
*1 teaspoon vanilla extract
*2 tablespoons vegetable oil (optional)
*3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
*½ teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
*½ teaspoon ground cloves
*2 cups dark beer
*2 cups dates, pitted and chopped
*2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease two 9” x 5” loaf pans.  In a bowl, cream the brown sugar, bananas, eggs, and vanilla.  (Add oil if moister bread is desired.)  In another bowl, combine 3 cups flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, and cloves.  Combine the mixtures from the two bowls; mix in beer.  Toss dates with remaining 2 tablespoons flour.  Stir dates and ginger into mixture.  Pour into two greased loaf pans.  Bake for 1 hour, or until inserted toothpick emerges dry and clean.

*This ingredient is made possible by bats!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Tuna Burgers

Tuna burgers are a healthy change of pace from regular hamburgers, and they’re easy on the pocketbook, too.  Whenever I tell Robert that we’re having tuna burgers, he’s never terribly excited, but afterwards, he’s always amazed that they’re so tasty and satisfying.

Tuna Burgers

1 small onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 cans water-packed solid white tuna, drained
1 egg
½ cup saltine cracker crumbs
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 English muffins
Dijon mustard, for spreading
Shredded lettuce

Combine onion, celery, tuna, egg, crumbs, mustard, and cayenne in a bowl and mix well.  Place flour in a shallow dish.  Lightly flour your hands and shape tuna mixture into 4 patties; dredge lightly in flour.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet.  Add patties and cook until browned, about 3 minutes on each side.

Serve patties on lightly toasted English muffins lightly spread with Dijon mustard and shredded lettuce.

Yield: 4 servings

Sunday, October 27, 2013

MATHCOUNTS Coordinator Convention


The last several days were quite a treat.  I got to go to the MATHCOUNTS Coordinator Convention, the first such event in this wonderful program’s 31-year history.  Representatives from all 50 states plus the Virgin Islands met in Chicago to learn how MATHCOUNTS is getting even better.  (As a reminder, MATHCOUNTS is my February charity in A Year of Centuries.)

What is MATHCOUNTS?  MATHCOUNTS started out primarily as a math competition program for middle school students.  Although the coaching materials certainly can be used in the regular classroom, in reality it’s mainly been the brightest math students who have taken part in the competition series.  In more recent years, MATHCOUNTS has begun offering two other programs that have broader appeal: the National Math Club and the Math Video Challenge.  These two newer programs strengthen the math skills of students who might feel more comfortable with English, drama, or other subjects.  Over the last 18 months, the national MATHCOUNTS office has put a lot of effort into capturing its mission in a succinct yet complete description.  The staff presented this description to us coordinators, and it’s brilliant: MATHCOUNTS is an organization that helps students who love math and those who fear math.

The MATHCOUNTS staff did an outstanding job of providing gobs of information in a relatively short amount of time, and they did it in such a fun way.  For example, on Friday afternoon we had round robin pod sessions.  Everyone was divided into groups that rotated between four stations for 15-minute presentations about four MATHCOUNTS topics.  We received passports that were punched with a unique stamp at each station.  It was kind of like a MATHCOUNTS adventure race:



Later, the punched passports were entered into a drawing for a nice prize.

Even lunch was fun.  To help us get to know each other better, one of the staff members came up with a few math questions about some of the convention participants.  Each question was projected onto a screen in the dining room, and the first person to answer it correctly received a prize from a MATHCOUNTS vendor.  I got a huge kick out of my Strava data being featured in one of the questions:
 
 
Besides the excellent information that I gained at the conference, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting so many nice people.  One particularly friendly coordinator, Charlie from Connecticut, reminded me of my father.  Charlie is a part-time Santa Claus.  Although my father has not been an official Santa Claus, he once helped a friend of his who plays Santa at a mall, assisting with photo taking.  Some children were confused when they saw both Daddy and the actual Santa.  Daddy simply told the children that he was Santa’s brother.

Charlie and me

Daddy and me (photo taken this year at Georgia's state MATHCOUNTS competition!)

All of the coordinators received service pins based on the number of years we have volunteered: 1-4 years, 5-9 years, 10-14 years, 15-19 years, or 20+ years.  (Because I’m beginning my 16th year as a volunteer, I received a 15-19 year emerald pin.)  At first, the number of coordinators in each category decreased as the number of years served increased.  This changed, however, with the final category.  There are as many volunteers with 20+ years of service as there are with 1-4 years of service.  What a testimony to their dedication and passion!

Because the convention was at a hotel near the airport and the schedule was full, I had very little time to experience Chicago itself.  Even so, I eked out a few tidbits.  I arrived around lunchtime on Thursday.  Thus, my first order of business was to find some deep-dish pizza:

Delicious!

Additionally, the MATHCOUNTS staff planned a special outing for Friday night.  We had a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan that gave us a beautiful view of downtown Chicago:


Of course, we had more math fun while we were on the boat.  Three games were offered with prizes for the closest guess to the number of items: jellybeans (in honor of The Bean, a popular art attraction in downtown Chicago), Swedish fish, and sticks of Wrigley’s gum (in honor of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs play):


As if all of this weren’t great enough, I also got to see some friends and family while I was in town.  Ellen, a friend from high school whom I hadn’t seen in 15 years, rearranged her work schedule so that we could visit for a few hours when I first arrived on Thursday afternoon:


Then, on Saturday after the convention ended at noon, I got to spend a little time with cousins Lee and Denise.  They live in Chicago but plan to move back to Georgia next year.  We’ll be neighbors – yea!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Food Day

Happy Food Day!  Today is a nationwide celebration to help people Eat Real.  This means cutting back on sugary drinks, processed foods, and factory-farmed meats in favor of sustainably grown vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, and meats.  It’s better for our health, and it’s better for our planet.  I’d like to focus on two topics to celebrate Food Day:

1)      Local, In-Season Produce

If you’ve been following my blog for A Year of Centuries, hopefully you’ve picked up on the importance I place on a diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables.  I try to take it a step further, though.  As much as possible, I select produce grown close to my home that’s in season.  During the spring and summer, I visit my local farmers market, where I find all kinds of wonderful Georgia grown items like peaches, okra, peas, blackberries, and sweet potatoes.  Even at the grocery store, I make a point to purchase the produce marked as coming from Georgia or other Southeastern states.  Conversely, if a certain item has traveled a very long distance, I avoid buying it.  For example, the Chilean grapes look beautiful during the cold of winter, but it takes a lot of energy to transport them from South America to here.  Instead, I opt for citrus fruits and other choices that are in season locally.  Paying attention to what’s in season at different times of year actually can increase enjoyment of fruits and vegetables.  The sweet Vidalia onions of spring; the vine-ripe, homegrown tomatoes of summer; the juicy muscadines of early fall; the fresh collards of winter – just the anticipation makes them taste that much better when it’s finally time to partake!

2)      School Food

I worked for a few years as the financial director for a school.  This gave me an unvarnished view of the foods that children and teenagers typically eat.  The lunches that the school served were fair from a nutrition standpoint, but I wish it were more cost effective to serve things like salads of mixed greens instead of iceberg lettuce.  What bothered me even more, though, was the prevalence of sugary, high-fat, and nutritionally poor foods in so many other aspects of school life.  Each morning the middle and high school students had a break, when they went to the cafeteria for a snack.  The items that they could purchase included options like chips, sugary cereals, and ice cream.  Additionally, various clubs and school groups were constantly selling things like doughnuts and chicken biscuits as fundraisers.  Then there were the athletic events.  Several sports were played every season, and concessions were a large revenue stream for the athletic program.  I don’t know that a single healthy item was ever offered at the concession stand.  It was soft drinks, candy, hotdogs, French fries, etc.  I was responsible for counting the cash boxes after every sporting event.  I can still remember the overpowering odor of grease wafting out of the concession boxes when I first opened them.  I am greatly concerned that the students at this school – and at so many other schools – are eating a steady diet of unhealthy foods.  I understand that raising money and cutting costs are vital to a school.  But what is the real price of these food choices?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Frittata

At least once a week I cook a meatless dinner for Robert and me to be health and budget conscious.  Often, I serve an egg-based entrée at these meals so that we can get good protein.  Frittatas are one of my go-to standards because they are much easier to make than omelets, and they are a great way to use up small bits of vegetables.  You certainly can add meat, too.  That’s another beauty of frittatas; they are extremely fleggs-ible because you can add whatever ingredients suit your fancy.  Below is my basic procedure for making frittatas and a few ideas for toppings.

Frittata

Place one tablespoon butter or olive oil in a large, ovenproof skillet.  (I use my 10-inch cast iron skillet.)  Heat on medium high on the stove.  Meanwhile, beat 6 large eggs in a bowl.  Pour into heated skillet.  Cook eggs for several minutes until partially set.  Top with about 1 cup of cheese and about 1 cup other ingredients of choice.  Place under the broiler in the oven for a few minutes, until eggs are completely set and beginning to brown.  Cut in half and serve immediately.

Yield: 2 hearty servings

Suggested Ingredients:

Cheeses – cheddar, feta, goat, Gouda, Monterey jack, mozzarella, pepper jack, provolone, or Swiss
Vegetables – artichokes, banana peppers, bell peppers, black or other beans, cilantro, jalapenos, mushrooms, olives, onions, pimentos, roasted red peppers, squash, fresh spinach, or sundried tomatoes
Meats (if raw, cook before adding to frittata) – bacon, chicken, ham, pepperoni, or turkey

Suggested Combinations:

Mediterranean – feta cheese, fresh spinach, roasted red peppers, artichokes, and pitted Greek olives
Mushroom and Swiss – Swiss cheese, mushrooms, and onions
Pimento Cheese – cheddar cheese, pimentos, and banana peppers
Pizza – mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, sundried tomatoes, and black olives
Southwestern – Monterey or pepper jack cheese, black beans, cilantro, and jalapenos

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Buddy Walk

Today I got to take part in the Buddy Walk.  It was hosted by the Middle Georgia Down Syndrome Society (MGDSS), which is my November charity in A Year of Centuries.  So, this is a sneak preview of good things to come next month!

MGDSS is an affiliate of the National Down Syndrome Society.  Affiliates all over the country hold Buddy Walks during October to celebrate Down Syndrome Awareness Month.  The Buddy Walk is MGDSS’s biggest fundraiser of the year.  Proceeds go to a variety of needs:
  • Parent packets, which are distributed through doctors’ offices when a child is diagnosed with Down syndrome
  • The MGDSS support group
  • Social events for MGDSS families, like the 3/21 event, held on that date because of the 3rd (extra) chromosome 21 that causes Down syndrome
  • The National Down Syndrome Society
  • Wesley Glen Ministries, which supports developmentally disabled adults in Middle Georgia
  • The Monroe County Special Needs Club, which serves high school students

The MGDSS Buddy Walk was held outside at a large church in Macon.  There were all kinds of fun things for the children to do, including several bouncy houses; jumpy swings with harnesses that let the kids go high, turn somersaults, etc.; a couple of fire trucks to explore; games; and face painting.  It was quite an impressive event.  What impressed me the most, however, was the people who were there.  It wasn’t just the large number, who came from all over Middle Georgia.  I saw firsthand how people of all types – with and without Down syndrome; white, black, Asian, and Hispanic; and various economic levels – came together for a common purpose, which was to celebrate the value of people with Down syndrome.

There was a particularly notable event before the Buddy Walk itself: the dance contest!  It truly was a delight to watch all of the participants groove to the music.  Some of them had pretty smooth dance moves!


Even a dog joined in!


The female winner of the dance contest!

In recent weeks as I’ve commuted to and from work, I’ve been passing a church with a message on its sign that has really stuck with me: “In him we live and move and have our being.” Acts 17:28.  When I first saw it, I immediately thought about how God’s graciousness gives me the life and strength to ride my bicycle, especially since my crash.  I looked up this verse in the Bible and saw a footnote that Paul was quoting the Greek philosopher Epimenides.  I was curious about Epimenides, and so I did a little research on him.  The quote comes from Epimenides’s poem Cretica, in which Minos is addressing Zeus.   How amazing it is that Paul took a quote familiar to the people of Athens – a quote showing reverence for a Greek god – and turned it around to help explain our relationship to the one God.  Something sacred from the profane.  Since I’ve discovered this verse, I’ve been contemplating it and its connection to A Year of Centuries.  Today I got to see its truth in action as the dancers – all children of God – joyfully lived, moved, and had their being.

At last it was time for the Buddy Walk!  The walk was a big lap around the church parking lot, which was nice and safe for the children.  Two of my cycling friends have children with Down syndrome, and so I walked in honor of Jack and Eli.  Here’s a picture of Jack and me:


Here’s some more of Jack’s Crew:


Even though there were a number of teams, we really all walked together.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

World Food Day

Today is World Food Day.  This is a global effort to end hunger everywhere.  Hunger has all kinds of faces.  It includes the children with distended bellies in third-world countries.  It also includes many of my Jasper County neighbors who aren’t sure where their next meal is coming from.  If we all do just a little bit, everyone can have enough to eat.

Every day I pack my lunch to take to work.  It’s tastier and cheaper than going out, and it gives me more time to read at lunchtime since I don’t have to drive to and from a restaurant.  One day I sat down to eat the lunch that I had brought to work.  It was toward the end of the week when I didn’t have much left in the refrigerator before grocery shopping day.  My lunch looked rather moth-eaten, consisting of a cheese sandwich and an orange from which I had grated off the rind for some recipe.  However, when I considered that many hungry people would love to have this, I ate my lunch with a grateful heart.

Perhaps nothing reminds us of delicious, nourishing food more than our grandmother’s cooking.  Here’s a link to a wonderful photo essay of cooking from grandmothers around the world.  (Make sure to enjoy the artistry of the ingredients on the left and the finished dishes on the right!)  May this be a prayer for all hungry people everywhere in the world to be fed:

http://www.buzzfeed.com/rachelysanders/dishes-foods-cooked-by-grandmothers-around-the-world

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Taco Pasta

There’s been some weird fusion stuff going on in the culinary world in recent years.  In general, I prefer my Italian food to be Italian, my Chinese food to be Chinese, etc.  However, sometimes a little cross-culture pollination can be good.  For example, I do like the blending of cuisines in Taco Pasta.  It’s delicious, filling, and economical.

1 lb. wagon-wheel-shaped pasta
1 (15-oz.) can rinsed pinto beans
1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes
1 (10-oz.) can enchilada sauce
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/8 tsp. salt
1 cup grated cheddar cheese, divided

Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain; return to pot.  Meanwhile, in a large nonstick skillet on medium, add beans, tomatoes, enchilada sauce, chili powder, cumin, and salt.  Simmer 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir sauce into pot with pasta.  Add half of cheese and stir to blend.  Spoon mixture into large serving bowl; sprinkle remaining cheese over it.  Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sugar: Not So Sweet

Much advice – often conflicting – abounds about what comprises the healthiest diet.  Eat less fat!  No, eat fewer carbohydrates!  It can be hard to sort out.  In reality, the percentage of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in our diets might vary according to how active we are, whether we are trying to lose or gain weight, and how our individual bodies react to various nutrients.  The main thing that I see in common between valid dietary recommendations is that they advocate getting away from processed foods.  In particular, all of us can benefit from reducing the amount of refined sugar that we eat.

One unexpected change I’ve experienced since my crash is that I don’t have nearly the sweet tooth that I used to.  (Maybe that’s the one that was knocked out – ha.)  In the first few months after the crash, my body seemed to crave particularly healthy foods.  I think it knew what it needed, especially as I continued to train and race while my jawbone healed.  It’s not that I didn’t have a healthy diet before, but some things that previously I might have eaten became pretty unappealing.  For example, one day a coworker brought in a box of store-bought pastries, and it practically turned my stomach just to look at them.  Eventually, I quit having such visceral reactions.  However, because my desire for sweets really hasn’t returned, I’ve just kept riding that wave.

I used to make dessert fairly often for Robert and me, but we’ve developed a new habit.  Just about every evening after dinner, we have a cup of hot tea instead of dessert.  Sometimes our tea is an herbal variety that we drink straight.  Other times it’s a variety that I might doctor up with a little honey and cream, like Earl Grey.  Earl Grey is my favorite!   I told Robert that whenever I kick the bucket, he’ll know that I’m really gone if I don’t respond to an IV of Earl Grey tea.

And you know what?  I feel a lot better not eating so much sugar; I never feel bloated anymore, and my weight doesn’t fluctuate as much.  Not only that, I’ve become more and more convinced that sugar is toxic, at least in the quantities that Americans typically consume.

The cover story of the August 2013 issue of National Geographic featured sugar.  It was a fascinating article that described both sugar’s role in world history and its physical and mental effects on us humans.  We probably all learned in elementary school about the triangular trade of the eighteenth century.  European countries colonized the New World primarily to grow sugar.  Sugar then was shipped back to Europe for finished goods.  The finished goods were shipped to Africa for more slaves, who were sent across the Atlantic Ocean to grow more sugar.  It’s pretty sobering to realize that the slave trade came about largely to satisfy people’s craving for sugar.

Today, we Americans consume more sugar than ever.  More than 22 teaspoons of added sugar per day to be exact.  That’s 77 pounds per year, compared with 4 pounds per year for the average Englishman in 1700.  Much research has been conducted regarding the increased consumption of sugar and ever-increasing rates of diabetes and obesity.  One scientist made quite an interesting observation in the National Geographic article.  It’s not that we lie around on the sofa watching TV that causes us to eat lots of sugary food.  Because we eat lots of sugary food, our energy is zapped, and so we lie around on the sofa watching TV.  Food for thought…

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dining with Presbyterians

My church, Monticello Presbyterian Church, will celebrate its 185th anniversary next year.  That may seem like an odd anniversary to highlight, but as our pastor reminded us, if we Christians are not all about celebrating, we might as well pack up and go home.  We’ll be celebrating our anniversary in many ways in the coming months, including some special community service activities.  We’re kind of getting a jump start on the festivities, however, through Dining with Presbyterians.

Dining with Presbyterians is an opportunity for groups of our church members to eat dinner together once a month for three months, September through November of this year.  We signed up ahead of time, and the organizers assigned us to groups of 8 to 10 people, which change each month.  The host is in charge of the entrée and beverages.  Other people are assigned bread and salad, a vegetable, or dessert.  The main point of the gatherings, however, is to enjoy getting to know each other better.  Last night was our second of the three dinners, and it was a lot of fun.

Eating with family and friends is (hopefully) a frequent experience for us.  But what if we took it a step further?  Not that it would be easy, but wouldn’t it be something to actually share a meal with a hungry person?  Jesus often ate with society’s outsiders, like tax collectors and prostitutes.  I think he set this example for us because he knows that food gets at our common humanity.  It’s not just that we all have to eat; we’re a lot more likely to get along when we enjoy the savory aromas and delectable tastes of a shared meal.  Maybe that’s why the Bible describes heaven as being like a giant banquet.  Heh heh.  I can’t help but think that some of us will be surprised by who our dining companions turn out to be.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Recipe of the Week: Napa Slaw

This week’s healthy and inexpensive recipe is Napa Slaw.  It’s made with Napa cabbage.  You’re not familiar with Napa cabbage?  It’s always great to try new vegetables!  Napa cabbage has a milder flavor than regular green cabbage.  This recipe also calls for rice vinegar, which also might be something you haven’t tried before.  It’s about the same price as regular vinegar but has a little more complexity, which makes it good in salad dressing, too.  This delicious slaw is good with Asian-inspired meals or really any meal.  One reason I selected Napa Slaw for this week’s recipe is that I’m taking it to a get together tomorrow night.  This dish is always a big hit.

Napa Slaw

¼ cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon minced fresh ginger
¾ cup canola oil
1 small head Napa cabbage (about ¾ lb.)
1 Granny Smith apple, diced
¼ cup chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup chopped cilantro

In the jar of a blender, combine lime juice, vinegar, sugar, onion, salt, and ginger.  Puree; then add oil in a slow stream to emulsify into a vinaigrette.  Refrigerate dressing until ready to use.

Cut the cabbage in half and remove the root end.  Starting at the bottom, cut cabbage into ¼-inch slices.  Stop when you reach the leafy end and reserve the remainder of the cabbage for another use.  You should have about 6 cups of sliced cabbage.

Place cabbage in a large bowl.  Add apple, walnuts, and cilantro.  Toss with dressing and serve immediately.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tenth Ride in A Year of Centuries – A Benefit for the Jasper County Community Food Bank

Yesterday’s century for October was the Ferst Annual Lewis Grizzard & Catfish Bike Ride.  It had special significance for several reasons.  First, I rode on behalf of my October charity in A Year of Centuries, which is the Jasper County Community Food Bank.  At the same time, it allowed me to support my September charity again, the Ferst Foundation for Childhood Literacy, because the ride was a benefit for the Ferst Foundation in Coweta County:


Furthermore, the Lewis Grizzard & Catfish ride has a personal connection for me.  I did it a few times a number of years ago when it was sponsored by the Coweta County Chamber of Commerce.  In fact, it was the very first century I ever did, which happened to be on my 30th birthday that year.  I’ve saved the T-shirt from that ride, which I wore to yesterday’s event.  The Ferst Foundation organizers were tickled because they had never seen it before:


Lewis Grizzard & Catfish
I have always enjoyed Lewis Grizzard’s writing.  For many years he wrote a humorous column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution until his too-early death from heart disease in 1994.  Lewis had a beloved black Labrador retriever named Catfish, who preceded him in death by only a few months.  When Lewis died, AJC editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich created a wonderfully poignant comic strip.  I’ve had a print of this strip hanging in my office for years:
 
 
I suffer from an incurable affliction known as book lust.  This means that even though I already have dozens of books waiting for me to read them, I can’t resist buying even more.  I’m especially susceptible to used book sales.  A few years ago I picked up some Lewis Grizzard books at a used book sale.  I finally read them last year when I was recovering from my crash.  (My local library had a summer reading program that challenged patrons to read at least 20 books over a 10-week period.  Working toward – and reaching! – this goal helped me get through my long recovery.)  All of Lewis Grizzard’s books have wackily entertaining titles, like the ones I read last year for the library program:  When My Love Returns from the Ladies Room, Will I Be Too Old to Care?; Won’t You Come Home, Billy Bob Bailey?; and Chili Dawgs Always Bark at Night.
 
Wake Up Call, Part I
Sweet husband Robert accompanied me on yesterday’s century.   Even sweeter, he drove us to Moreland, which is Lewis Grizzard’s hometown and the ride staging location.  I especially appreciated Robert driving because we had to leave about 5:30 A.M for the hour-and-a-half drive.  I closed my eyes before we left Jasper County, and the next thing I knew, we were about five minutes from Moreland!
 
Wake Up Call, Part II
We checked in for the ride and went to change into our kits and get our gear together.  All of a sudden, I had a case of déjà vu when I saw this route marker near our car:
 
 
It was from the Pedal for Pets ride, which was my July century.  Until I saw this pavement marking, I didn’t realize that we were at one of the rest stops for that ride.
 
Robert and I were ready to ride a little before the official start time of 8:00 A.M., and so we went ahead and got on the road.  It was just slightly cool when we began – cool enough for some beautiful morning fog:
 
 
Less than 30 minutes later, the fog had already burned off.  The weather on yesterday’s ride was just about ideal.  I was particularly glad that tropical storm Karen degenerated and didn’t rain on us.
 
Robert and I pedaled along at a steady but not crazy pace.  We encountered rolling hills similar to the ones near home.  At about mile 13, we were going up one of the steepest climbs of the day.  All of a sudden, a group of guys briskly passed us.  We recognized their kits from the Beck Cycling racing team, who often go to the same races that Robert and I do.  They invited Robert and me to hop onto their pace line.  I had been in kind of a dreamy state of cycling up to that point, but once I snapped out of it, I agreed with Robert that we should join them.  By that time, they had gotten a little way down the road, and so we had to chase on.  I’m not sure whether that was a good or bad thing.  I’m proud that we did catch up, thanks primarily to Robert’s bridging efforts, but I really should have known better than to let my heart rate get that high for that long during a century.
 
Joe Friel, a fitness expert, has devised a very useful guide to training intensity based on heart rate zones.  The zones correspond to a percentage of your threshold level, i.e., the highest intensity that you can maintain for one hour.  Note that the old method of calculating your maximum heart rate as 220 minus your age is not a good gauge.  Your maximum heart rate, which is genetic, is likely a different number than this calculation, and you really can’t determine your true maximum heart rate without extreme danger.  However, you can determine your threshold level from a test in which you ride as hard as you can for 20 minutes.  Additionally, you can increase your threshold level with training.  Here’s a summary of heart rate zones and how long you can maintain each one:
 
Level                     Name                                    Max. Duration
Level 1                  Recovery            

Level 2                  Endurance                            All day

Level 3                  Tempo                                  1-5 hours

Level 4                  Subthreshold                       45-120 minutes

Level 5a                Superthreshold                   15-60 minutes

Level 5b               Anaerobic Endurance         3-7 minutes
 
Level 6                  Power                                   1 minute

Level 7                  Sprint                                    15 seconds
 
When Robert and I chased onto the Beck pace line and rode with them for about the next 12 miles, I noticed that during much of that time, my heart rate monitor indicated Level 4.5 to 4.8.  I knew that I couldn’t sustain this for very long.  At first, I hoped to hang on until the next rest stop at mile 34, but at about mile 25, I had to give up the ghost.  That subthreshold effort made the rest of my ride more tiring that it would have been otherwise.  At the next rest stop, Robert and I learned that one of the Beck team members that we had been riding with was Jon Atkins.  Jon is a super strong rider that has won the masters category at the Macon Cycling Classic criterium, hosted by Robert’s and my team, Georgia Neurosurgical Institute.  Additionally, when we first saw the Beck group, Robert and I were averaging about 17.5 mph.  When I dropped off, I was averaging about 19.5 mph.  That means that during the time I was riding with them, we averaged about 24 mph.  Yowza!
 
Poetry in Motion
The rest of Robert’s and my ride was fairly uneventful.  Well, we did have one bit of excitement toward the end.  On an organized ride, each turn should have at least two pavement markings.  The first should be at least 25 feet before the intersection to give cyclists time to prepare for the turn.  The second marking should be at the intersection.  A third “comfort arrow” after the turn, confirming that you went in the correct direction, is optimal.   Some of yesterday’s pavement markings didn’t give us much advance notice.  We caught ourselves on a few almost-missed turns, but one pavement marker must have slipped by us.  We got back to the Moreland city limits and were only at mile 85.  We decided that the most prudent way to get our last 15 miles was to start over on the course, ride out 7½ miles, and come back.
 
It’s like déjà vu all over again.
 
It’s kind of poetic that I had to do this extra mileage to get my century.  Back when I did the Lewis Grizzard & Catfish Ride for my first century, I went to the ride prepared to do the 100-mile route.  There had always been a 100-mile option in previous years.  When I got to the ride, however, I found out that they weren’t offering a century that year!  So, I made my own.  I did the 60-something-mile route, followed by the 20-something-mile route, followed by the 12-mile route, giving me a little over 100 miles.  Robert was with me then, too.  He didn’t ride all 100 miles with me that year, but he waited at the staging area to check in with me as I completed each loop, making sure that I was OK.
 
Feed Your Head
On yesterday’s ride the first rest stop was at mile 17, but we didn’t stop.  We didn’t need to yet, and that was also during our ride on the Beck Cycling train.  I definitely needed to fuel at the next rest stop at mile 34, though.  The very friendly rest stop volunteer apologized that there were no more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I didn’t really want one of those anyway, but the rest of the pickings were rather slim, too.  It turns out that the 25-mile and 62-mile riders had already come through and put a serious hurting on the provisions.  It was like the locusts had descended!  Even so, Robert and I had enough to eat and were thankful for it.
 
I’ve found that about three rest stops work well for me on centuries.  Robert’s and my second rest stop was at mile 56.  For the third one, I suggested that we stop at either mile 80 or 89, depending on how we felt.  As we continued, I started getting fatigued, particularly because of my earlier Level 4 foray, and so I started anticipating the rest stop at mile 80.  We got to mile 82, then mile 83, and didn’t see any rest stop.  That should have been my first clue that we had missed a turn on the course, but I just figured we’d catch the rest stop at mile 89.  In the meantime, my earworm for the day, “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, kept playing in my mind.  I wasn’t quite seeing fantastical images of rabbits, hookah-smoking caterpillars, and red queens, but the dormouse saying “Feed your head” seemed quite a propos.
 
When we prematurely found ourselves back in Moreland at mile 85, we stopped by our car, where Robert had an extra Hammer bar.  What a difference that made!  As we rode the last part of our ride, I thought about how vital food is for an endurance ride, contrasting that with people who are hungry every day.  My momentary need for food made me grateful for the Jasper County Community Food Bank, which serves people who need food at the most basic level.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Check This Out

When I visited the Jasper County Community Food Bank a few days ago, I was so glad to see that the foods available there are high quality and wholesome.  Before I went, I was concerned that donations might primarily consist of cheap, high-calorie, yet nutrient-poor foods.  In American culture it’s so easy to rely on convenience foods, which generally are highly processed and loaded with sugar and/or fat.  These often are the least expensive foods, too.  Additionally, poor communities sometimes don’t have much choice if the grocery stores in their neighborhoods don’t carry fresh produce, whole-grain breads, and other nutritious choices.  I’m very grateful for the Ingle’s grocery store in our small Monticello community.  It’s not even the fanciest as far as Ingle’s goes (their stores in the nearby towns of Eatonton and Gray have even wider selections), but I can find just about everything I want there.  In fact, I’ve had quite a number of interesting check-out encounters because of the healthful items in my shopping cart.

I do a week’s worth of grocery shopping at the time.  That means that my cart always has a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables in it.  The cashiers usually are teenagers, who often have no idea what some of these items are.  Seriously.  One of them actually asked me what my asparagus was.  Asparagus.  One of the most distinctive vegetables there is.  I guess if it had had one of those horrid stickers on it with the four-digit code, she wouldn’t have had to ask me what vegetable it was.  I understand that the stickers help the store track inventory and usually eliminate produce perplexity for the cashiers, but I can’t stand those things!  Especially on fruit.  Half the time, the sticky part won’t come off of the fruit skin, and so you have to gouge it off.  One of the activities in hell must be removing fruit stickers.

Other gems from the mouths of cashier babes have included, “You must be a health fanatic.”  Why, yes, I would rather eat delicious and nutritious foods that my body can actually use.  Another said, “You must cook from scratch a lot.”  Yep – if you want to eat healthy food, it comes in colors actually found in nature, but it doesn’t come in a box that you simply nuke.

Then there was the time that I bought some fresh ginger.  The cashier thought it was a piece of trash lying in my shopping cart.

One of my most memorable check-out incidents, however, did not involve produce.  I was buying a few Clif Bars for some upcoming bicycle rides.  The teenage girl bagging my groceries obviously didn’t exercise much.  I wouldn’t have even thought about that, but she felt compelled to comment on my purchase, and rudely at that.  As she placed my Clif Bars in the bag, she said, “Those are awesome, but they’re terrible for you.”  I replied, “They’re not terrible for you if you’re going on a long bicycle ride.”  I didn’t follow up with what I was really thinking, which is that they’re not intended to be eaten by people who never get off of the sofa.  Americans are so out of whack regarding fitness and nutrition that they don’t get that sometimes the whole point is to consume calories.