Monday, July 02, 2012

Uganda 2012: Faith and Hope

A running theme occurred during my trip to Africa:  Faith and Hope.  God could not be any clearer that through faith I can have hope, and little did I know that this was what I truly needed upon returning from Uganda.  But let me discuss something larger than what I had to deal with when I returned to the United States.

When I went to Uganda in 2009, the orphanage at Bukaleba was still in the process of being built, so to return to a fully functioning babies home was completely incredible.  Little did I know that I was going to fall in love with those kids.  And little did I know that I would continually pray about adopting two little girls I met at that orphanage.  I have not been led in either direction at the moment, but I continue to pray and seek God's direction on this.

The two girls I met just so happened to be named Faith and Hope.  Faith (about six years old) is the older sister of Hope (about 4 years old), and both of them have a chronic condition.  They have been at the orphanage for about two years after both their parents passed away.  Their mother died suddenly, and a few months later their dad passed away.  What one pastor told me was that they believed Faith and Hope's dad died of a drug overdose.  Since their father had worked for Arise Africa International as an electrician, the organization felt compelled to take Faith and Hope in and care for them at the orphanage.  The girls are well cared for by the nannies and aunties at the babies home, and they are getting the medical treatment they need.  What they may not get enough of, though, is love, that unconditional love that comes from family.  And let's be realistic, those aunties and nannies are caring for 54 orphans, they cannot invest their whole being into each of those kids, so adoption is necessary.  My heart aches when I think about what will happen when they finish secondary school at Bukaleba.  Will they be able to afford the medications they need?  Faith and Hope have been dealt a hard hand from birth; I need to constantly remind myself that God is in control and if I have faith, I am guaranteed to have hope.  I feel compelled to do more, though, for these two girls.  One evening, we brought Faith and Hope back to the guesthouse with us so the doctor could see them (thought the sisters might have had malaria), and I remember another team member holding Hope and as soon as I walked by, she reached both arms up and towards to me, similar to any child who wants their mother.  I believe the two things that scare me about the adoption process is that for starters I become an instant mom.  I get overwhelmed thinking about that.  And secondly, I'm single - does Uganda even consider single women in the adoption process?  I need some prayer warriors on this...
 
Faith - Age 6
Faith - Age 6

Hope - Age 4
Hope - Age 4
 
I also have mixed emotions about removing children from their home country and culture.  While many Ugandans don't have many physical possessions, they have so much more internally.  When I went to Walmart the day after getting back from Uganda, I almost had an anxiety attack because it was TOO much.  The vibrant colors in every direction, and all the choices - different products and brands - all at my fingertips.  Humbled and thankful?  Definitely.  But at the same time, in recent days, I have felt as if I don't have a true purpose here on earth.  Day after day I live the same story; my life is on repeat.  As a child, I used to dream about being Anne of Green Gables standing on the sand dunes of Prince Edward Island with the wind blowing through my hair.  All I could envision on this trip was me walking through the savannah in Uganda with Toto's song "Africa" in my head, and that I belonged there.  Coming back to the United States was much harder this time, but perhaps that is because I felt like I had a (greater) purpose in Uganda and I've gotten lost in the shuffle here.  

 
While my boyfriend and I have talked about adopting in the future, we have only talked about adopting older kids from the United States.  I have kept him in the loop concerning my thoughts and feelings about these two orphans in Uganda.  Something else God put on my heart a few months ago was becoming a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for children in Texas.  Court Appointed Special Advocates provide information to judges to "safeguard children and ensure that children are placed in safe, permanent homes as quickly as possible."  Now that I have a little bit more time since school is winding down for me, maybe this is just what I need to do.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Forgiving, Forgetting, and Moving Forward

Long story short, within two months time, I lost yet another trainer to another company.  Fortunately, though, I'll be seeing Brant when I hit the classes at Camp Gladiator Arena.  I don't blame Brant for leaving, and he felt bad about it since he knew I was just transitioning to his style of training.  For anybody who is trying to lose weight, consistency is very important, and jumping trainer to trainer can be very difficult.  Consistency, though, can end up in boredom if not challenged too.  Luckily, though, my new trainer, Miguel, has made it rather easy for me.  To be honest, I think my two months with Brant was a God thing, since Miguel only started a couple of months ago at 24 Hour Fitness.  Laura, Scott, Matt and Brant, if you ever read this, know this one thing:  Miguel thinks I have impeccable form while training.  :o)  Miguel offers me a "no judgement zone" and I've been able to share things with him that I have not been able to share with many other people.  I have considered writing some deeply personal posts on this blog, but that time is not now, and perhaps those posts will never come.  I sometimes feel people can learn from my past experiences, though, too, no matter how difficult those times were.  Time will only tell.

I have learned a great deal about myself these past few weeks.  I can't say it is just due to the new trainer, but my life is moving in the fast lane these days.  In a matter of two weeks, I finished finals for my spring semester, I took my doctoral qualifying exam, and my boyfriend moved to Italy.  I'm still picking up the pieces - the house is a mess and quite frankly, my life is a mess.  When my boyfriend and I were prayed over at Austin Christian Fellowship a few weeks ago, I honestly believe that God has us in these separate seasons because we each need something different.  I think I know how God wants me to grow, but I'm sure it's going to be much greater than I expect.  For starters, I need to surround myself with goal-orientated, positive people.  To be honest, in my humble opinion and in most cases, people who complain like to put blame on the current situation onto others.  If I complain loud enough, nobody is going to notice when I fail IF I choose to try and fix it.  Yes, some things are out of our jurisdiction of "fixing," but as Mahatma Ghandi said “You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  At the same time, though, as Will Davis, Jr. preached the other week, we must be okay with being forgotten after we die.  I have been trying to pursue a legacy on earth, but the reality is, it does not matter because in 50 years, I will be forgotten.

Ghandi was a wise man, and some of the quotes that still exist should be life lessons.
1.  "There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever."  Ouch.
2.  "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  True.
3.  "Nobody can hurt me without my permission."  Easier said than done.
4.  "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."  So so true.
5.  "You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result."  I think this is my new lifestyle motto.
6.  "The weak can never forgive.  Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong."  Let me further explain.
I started checking out a new small group with my church since the one I co-lead disbanded about a year ago, and now that school is winding down, I can really focus on this area of my life.  At dinner last night, we briefly discussed Philippians 3:13-14, "Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."  You may be curious as to why I bring up this passage while I am talking about Ghandi and forgiveness.  Everybody has heard of the cliche "forgive and forget."  I'm not sure we are supposed to forget.  If your past is holding you from your future, then yes, that is a problem, but I think we also need to learn from our past.  Forgiveness, though, is the first step of forgetting.  And forgiveness, as Ghandi points out, is an "attribute of the strong."  And where do we get our strength?  Through God.  For me, the hardest person to forgive is myself.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Let the Countdown Begin

17 days and counting. I cannot believe that I will be back in Africa in 17 days. I have soooooo much to do still. Or at least it feels that way. I'm glad I got a head start on things earlier in the semester, otherwise I think I'd be in panic mode. I knew things on the other side of the were going to be easier, I just didn't realize how "stressless" I would be. The hectic semester is over. Qualifying exam done. Boyfriend getting settled in Italy. Africa is the place for me to de-stress and really remember what life is about:  serving. Serving God through serving others. It is the one thing that I've been missing this past year as I trudged through school. Life is good. I really shouldn't complain. If you truly follow God, you should not feel empty in any part of your life. Trust me, I know this is easier said than done. I still struggle in areas too.

To update those who may be interested. Support for my trip this year has trickled in; God will provide somehow. Out of the $1250 that was due last week, $250 came from raised support. I suppose I may not convey my heart when I speak of Uganda and the people, especially the children. Perhaps this is a test of faith, or maybe of sacrifice. I know it will all be clear when I get on that plane as to why I have been called to go back. Stay tuned to this great adventure.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Uganda in June, Part 2

Ecclesiastes 5:4:  "When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it."

August 17, 2009

Church service was excellent yesterday.  We arrived while they were doing bible study, and we were greeted warmly with a high screech from one of the elder ladies.  The bible study was on us being sinners, and Erika preached about confession.  A Capella worship occurred with a single drum, the villagers danced for us, and guest attendees gave their testimonies.  We introduced ourselves, Erika gave her sermon, tithing happened, and we sang for them.  Pastor Moses had two major prayer requests for us:  to end the famine and stop the spread of AIDS.  I talked to Pastor Moses about the doctor and he mentioned going to visit with him to see where his walk with the Lord stood.  It's all up to God now.  We were given African names at the church.  Mine is Musoga; I am the sister of the screeching elder woman.  I think I touched her when I called them my second family.  Pastor Moses also shared a verse with us:
Colossians 3:1-5:  Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Pastor Moses is going to be sponsored soon, what a blessing!  Below is a photo of Pastor Moses and his wife.



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Tomorrow our mission team meets for the first time; I'm excited to see our dynamic and learn what we will be working on.  So far, all I know is that it will be orphan care and construction.  I did go to the travel clinic this week and got my tetanus and pertussis shots; they also wrote me a prescription for my malaria pills and diarrhea medication (a just in case).  Last trip, pepto-bismol worked fine for any stomach issues that occurred. Do any readers know of any organizations that take unused prescription drugs?  A friend asked me this question, and I wasn't quite sure of an answer.

I definitely need you to continue praying for me and my team members.  I had a couple of incidences yesterday in which I believe the devil could be at work.  Luckily, I know God will come through and I will move forward; everything will work out. I also hope to have an update soon on the support raising.  As I mentioned in my previous post, the trip costs $2,500 to go, and I'm looking for a team stateside to support me through prayer and financial means.  Any support is tax deductible and you can send it online:  http://acfellowship.org/450284.ihtml.  You will need to sign in, if it asks you for which campus, please check "Four Points," and please make sure you put in the memo/notes section that it's for the Uganda mission trip and that you are a part of my team (Michelle Cook).  If you prefer to send a check, please make make it payable to Austin Christian Fellowship with a memo (Michelle Cook - Uganda), and send to the following address:
Austin Christian Fellowship
Missions
6401 River Place Blvd
Austin, TX  78730
Thank you so much for considering this.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Time...

I wish I had more time.  I swear leap year should be a holiday; a holiday to just catch up on unfinished business.  I cannot wait until the summer; maybe I'll relax by then.  I just wish I had more time to cook, clean, and garden.  I miss my garden.

Work:  34 hours per week
School:  10 hours of doctoral classes per week
Homework:  40 hours per week (technically)
Commute Time:  5-7.5 hours per week (depends on traffic)
Total:  89-91.5 hours per week

We have 168 hours per week, and I spend 89 hours between work and school; that leaves 79 hours for sleeping, eating, showering, working out, church, and anything fun.  So if I get six hours of sleep per night, that leaves 19 hours for the remainder of items.  No wonder why I'm stressed out.  No wonder why friends have dropped me.  I do have to say, though, I know who my friends are during this stressful time.  I know who I can rely on for this really crazy year in which I decided to do 10 credit hours each semester so I'm not in school forever and my life can start moving forward.  Five more weeks...just five more weeks and all I have to do is pass.  Okay, maybe I should say six more weeks if you include my qualifying exam.  I'm so glad I'm starting yoga next week; I hear it does wonders in reducing stress.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Uganda in June, Part 1

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10:  "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:  If one falls down, his friend can help him up.  But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up."

August 14, 2009

Amdu was this precious boy that probably met everybody on our team.  He had an active mind, knew English quite well, and was so caring.  I was walking back from the recreation time and he walked by my side and asked if I was okay.  We chatted a little bit.  He met an English guy and a Canadian girl last year who taught in the village.  He wanted to be a doctor.  Kevin met him near the end of the day when Amdu wanted to make sure Kevin was okay after a ball hit him in the face.  When this occurred Kevin took off his glasses, looked at them, and put them back on when he was that they were fine.  Amdu insisted on looking at the spectacles himself and when he deemed them not to be broken, he gave the spectacles back to Kevin.  What an amazing child; already so grown up for his age!

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For those who may not know, about three years ago I was in Uganda with Austin Christian Fellowship; it was their first mission trip to the country.  The experience broke me and built me up in so many ways, that I have been trying to get back ever since.  Unfortunately one thing or another had occurred in which I had not been able to go back, but finally, God has willed it and I am going.  This trip will be slightly different in which we will be doing some orphan care and light construction; as many know, I love getting my hands dirty!  I am asking you to join me in this journey through supporting my trip in a variety of different ways, whatever way you feel called to do.  The trip is from May 31st through June 14th.

1.  Prayer, and lots of it.  I have re-read my journal from 2009 and I have this feeling that God will break me and build me up again.  I will be sharing some of these intimate stories over the next few months.  Pray for me spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Pray for our team; pray for our travels.  Just pray; God will guide you on the direction of your prayer.
2.  Encouragement.  While prayer is very intimate between you and God, encouragement helps me focus and grow in faith, something I sometimes lack.  I will waiver and doubt at times, and that is when I review the Ecclesiastes verse above.
3.  The trip costs $2,500 to go, and I'm looking for a team stateside to support me through prayer and financial means if you feel it in your heart to help support my trip financially.  Any and all support is tax deductible and you can send it online:  http://acfellowship.org/450284.ihtml.  Any support is tax deductible and you can send it online: http://acfellowship.org/450284.ihtml. You will need to sign in, if it asks you for which campus, please check "Four Points," and please make sure you put in the memo/notes section that it's for the Uganda mission trip and that you are a part of my team (Michelle Cook). If you prefer to send a check, please make make it payable to Austin Christian Fellowship with a memo (Michelle Cook - Uganda), and send to the following address:

Austin Christian Fellowship
Missions
6401 River Place Blvd
Austin, TX 78730
I want to thank you for considering the above requests, and I will keep my blog updated as I move forward in going back to the country that I had fallen in love with three years ago.  Below is a picture of a Ugandan market that we passed one day while traveling to the villages.


Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Missing the Farm-to-Work Program

This year, many of local Texas farmers have been suffering during this severe drought.  When I say suffering, I mean that their harvests have been smaller than the norm and certain programs that they rely on have had to back away until some well needed rain occurs.  Central Texas may have had rain at least one day in each of the last six weeks, but it doesn't even make a dent in the drought that we've been dealing with.  Where I live, we're still in a stage II watering restriction, which means watering twice a week, no new landscaping, no filling swimming pools, and no park irrigation.  It's been looking pretty brown, until the weeds took over a few weeks ago.

Anyway, back to our farmers.  At work, they have suspended our Farm-to-Work (FTW) program because the farmers were not producing enough vegetables or fruits for our demand.  This program was a super easy way for me to get new types of vegetables into my body, but I have to seek other mechanisms now.  Luckily, not to long ago, a local farm, Johnson's Backyard Garden (JBG), was advertising it's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program through Groupon which eliminated the setup fees, so I took advantage.  Not only can you choose to have the baskets delivered straight to your home door, for a cheaper price, you can pick them up at a variety of drop-off locations (e.g., farmers' markets or houses which have volunteered to be a drop location).  In addition to just the vegetables, you can also get eadd-ons on an as-needed basis:  coffee, vegetable starters for your garden, eggs (which I have plenty of since I own chickens), oranges, and grapefruit - all organic.  Who wouldn't want to support a local farmer if the convenience is there?

Yes, my farm-to-work program is cheaper than JBG, but I have to consider two things:  1) Starting in about two months, my job moves downtown and therefore it'd be more difficult to get to the farmer's market that I would normally pick a JBG box up.  Also, with the job move, even if the FTW program was still going, I would have to go to the main campus for the pickup, and I'd have to do it by 4:00pm.  That's not going to happen.  So I like the possibility of getting the vegetables home delivered.  2) The FTW program is not certified organic.  I know this means very little since most local farmers cannot afford to get the stamp of certification; I've talked to a number of them at local farmers' markets.  My lawn, garden, compost, chickens, etc. are all organic.  I use very little pesticides and when I have companies come spray for ants and bugs, it's all organic and natural.  After my environmental health class back in 2003, I don't want to expose myself or anybody I live with to unnecessary chemicals that can cause cancer or other illnesses.  It's not for me.

Lastly, for those who live in the Austin, please consider supporting our local stores, venues, and farmers by purchasing a Go Local Card.  I fully believe if we begin to grown and support our local businesses, then perhaps our economy will strengthen.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

I was a crazy genius at one point...

I was a crazy genius at one point in my life; I'd say it was about two years during the period that I was losing the most weight.  How could I have forgotten such simplistic rules I created to help overcome certain lethargic ways?  On my way into work, I could not help but recollect the ways I used to maneuver to trick myself into doing things that I just didn't like to do.  I'm talking about things I loathe doing - revolving stairs, running, jumping jacks, sweating, eating greens, making protein shakes, etc.  Some of those things I hated because they were just difficult and made my muscles sore, while others made me envious.  I am quite sure that does not make any sense, but let me try and explain.  This fat woman, being me, envies those who can just run.  I have so many stressful days in which I just want to go outside and run out all the emotional and physical pain, but I cannot do so because of my weight.  Many people do not understand this about fat people; we want to do things, but we are trapped in pounds and pounds of fat.  This envy sometimes turns into fear (of failure) or hate (the easiest form envy can take) or self-defamation (so easy to be negative when everybody else is), and you have nowhere to hide because it is in your head just screaming to get out.  All I want to do is run and leave the world behind sometimes when it gets this crazy, but I cannot because of the years of neglect.  Walking just is not enough.  And what is worse, to be completely and utterly honest to all you strangers reading this blog, is when I am on a trail doing interval training or walking and I get encouraged by a stranger.  I know everybody is different, but I despise this because you do not know me, you do not know what I have been through, and you have no right to assume that I am going to fail again.  The only people I want encouraging me is my close network of friends that I truly value, and I hope they know I love them and value them.

I am going to get of my soap box to get back to the point of this post.  Matt (my previous trainer) always said, "You think too much.  Just do it."  The weight loss has always been a mental game, and I was winning at one point!  What changed and how do I go back!?!?!?!?!  Well first, I need to wake up the sun, so I need to back to tricking my body that the sun is up when my alarm goes off.  I used to do this with a timer on my nightstand light, but now that my outlets are covered, I need to get me one of these sunrise alarm clocks.  Second, since school and work puts me working strange hours, I need to bring my gym bag up to the office space with me and change before I leave the office.  The chances are, if I am dressed to go to the gym, I will go to the gym.  Lastly, my new trainer is all about measure progress, so hopefully if I continue to do those things I hate at the gym, these exercises will get easier and before I know it, maybe I will like them.  All you need is a little bit of hope.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Christina Perri - A Thousand Years

Since it's Valentine's Day, I have to choose a song that's a bit sentimental to me right now.  Christina Perri's song "A Thousand Years" is just beautiful.  If you have not listened to it, you just might want to.

Monday, February 13, 2012

AeroShots - A Scary Concept in Multiple Ways

A few days ago, AeroShots came to surface in the market as *the* new product to use for a caffeine boost.  As a full time doctoral student and a full time employee, I know what "tired" is, and quite honestly, as a behavioral epidemiologist, this new product scares me.  The product is being marketed to multiple types of people including: 

1) Those who are worried about energy drink calories (it's a "calorie free" product). 
2) Those who are just too busy (who isn't) with their "Anytime, Anyplace" slogan.  Since this product appears to have been created in the ArtScience Labs, the main focus is on urban teenagers and university students.
3) It's chapstick looking container, nobody would know what you are using; it's a private matter anyway (almost like a drug in my opinion). 

On the FAQ page of this product, I found some interesting facts that are even more alarming.  The nutritional content includes "a mix of caffeine, B vitamins, sweeteners, and other ingredients:  natural lime flavor, citric acid, and sodium bicarbonate.  It does not contain the mystery chemicals found in some other energy products.  Note:  AeroShot may contain traces of soy and wheat."  I wonder what other ingredients they might be forgetting to list here?  And sweeteners?  Well a lot of research exists concerning these things, with conflicting information, of course, but none-the-less, one may want to consider limiting his/her exposure to them.  The site does recommend that children not use this product, but as we know with energy drinks, not much regulation has occurred on limiting the number of energy drinks a child can or should consume.  I'm amazed at how early children start with caffeine these days; do they have that much pressure in their lives?  My parents did not really allow me to drink coffee until I was 16 or 17, and even then, it was me testing what I liked and what I didn't like.  One study found that 75% of the children surveyed had consumed caffeine daily, which negatively affected their sleep patterns.  Get rid of the caffeine, get healthy children?

I'm also curious about the inhalation process; I'm assuming it speeds up the process of ingestion, but I could be wrong.  I didn't see anything about what is recommended as in a time frame between hits, the website only states that they recommend only using up to three AeroShots per day.  I suppose it wouldn't be a huge issue only because if each AeroShot is equivalent to a large cup of coffee, I know a number of people who exceed that within a couple of hours.  Again, I just wonder if digesting a powder would be any different than drinking a liquid.  I wish the Federal Drug Administration regulated supplements; this is something I have been wanting since I was a 23 and in my masters program in which I researched supplements in my environmental class.  Perhaps someday.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Recipe of the Week: Pork Chop Cacciatore (Crock Pot)

Ingredients
6 bone-in pork loin chops (7 ounces each)
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes
1/2 cup water, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
2 tablespoons cornstarch
4.5 cupes cooked egg noodles (I used whole wheat)

Steps
1.  Sprinkle chops with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper.  In a large skillet, brown chops in oil in batches.
2.  Transfer to a 4-5 quart slow cooker coated with cooking spray.
3.  Saute the mushrooms, onion, celery, and green pepper in drippings until tender.  Add garlic and cook 1 minute longer.  Stir in tomatoes, 1/4 cup water, basil, and remaining salt; poor over chops.
4.  Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until pork is tender.  Remove meat to a serving platter and keep warm.
5.  Skim fat from cooking juices if necessary; transfer juices to a small saucepan.  Bring liquid to a boil. 
6.  In a bowl, combine cornstarch and remaining water until smooth.  Gradually stir into the pan.  Bring to boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. 
7.  Serve gravy with meat and cooked noodles.

Nutrition Facts
Serving:  1 pork chop with 3/4 cup noodles and 1/2 cup sauce
Calories:  371
Total Fat:  12 g
Saturated Fat:  4 g
Cholesterol:  110 mg
Sodium:  458 mg
Carbohydrates:  29 g
Fiber:  3 g
Protein:  35 g

Diabetic Exchanges:  4 lean meat, 1.5 starch, 1 vegetable, 1/2 fat.

Friday, February 10, 2012

School Meals Are Getting a Makeover!

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), on January 26, 2012, the final rule on changing the nutrition standards for the national school lunch and breakfast programs was approved. 
"Through the Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA is making the first major changes in school meals in 15 years, which will help us raise a healthier generation of children."  (FDA, 2012)
Yeah!  It is about time!  And, on top of everything, the implementation is gradual for the breakfast program, whereas the school lunch program is expected to start next school year (SY 2012-2013) for most of the new requirements!   I'm Jamie Oliver is excited for the changes, but would it be enough for him?

In my opinion, that is only step one.  Next up, we need to work on physical fitness and health education in the schools.  I'm not sure about other states, but in Texas, health education is no longer required (as of 2009) and schools/school districts have the option of axing it for other requirements.  This is concerning because health class covers basic nutrition, alcohol awareness, and sexual education.  Even in school districts didn't want to have the discussion of some of these issues, at least have class on nutrition; it's greatly needed in this society!  That same year, one semester of physical education was "removed from the state's recommended high school program" (Huffington Post, 2011).  Apparently these modifications are to allow students to take courses that interest them, but sometimes we have to do things we don't like to, that's what growing up is about.  None-the-less, when I was in high school in Massachusetts, we had a lot of flexibility in what we wanted to do in physical education; we always had 2-3 options:  basketball or volleyball; football, golf, or ultimate frisbee; racquetball or weight training; soccer or lacrosse; etc.  What they could have done better was require us to take different sports in physical education so we could find something that we liked and stuck with throughout the years of growing up and going to college.  Our children deserve to have the best lives possible and that is not sitting in a chair or on a couch all day; it's about being outside and having fun without worrying about being made fun of.  So I say, this is one great step forward, the change in nutrition standards for school breakfast and lunch programs!  I just wish some of the items were to be implemented sooner than 2017 or 2022... (USDA Timeline)

Friday, February 03, 2012

Austin Coffee Places

I get frustrated when I see articles like this after I sign out of my yahoo e-mail account: The Best Independent Coffee Shops in Austin, Texas.  Seriously?  Who paid him to pick those coffee places?  (As a side note, that is why you will not find ads on my blog.  Nobody is paying me to have space on my site.)  None-the-less, he seemed to have forgotten that Austin doesn't end at the University of Texas, but rather it extends to the northern sector as well.  Here's a non-hipster's list of coffee places in and around Austin.

1.  Epoch:  By far this is the coffee shop to go to.  Epoch is open 24/7, has plenty of seating, a great patio, and lots of power outlets throughout the coffee shop.  Not to mention, the people who work here are super friendly and just so easy going.  I can't speak highly enough.

2.  Kick Butt Coffee - at the Triangle.  They do have one additional store on Airport, but I've never been to that location.  I'm surprised have few people know about this place.  It is never super packed and I can find a seat to get homework done with no problem.  Kick Butt Coffee does hold open mics, which can be rather entertaining.

3.  Dominican Joe Coffee Shop is located on South Congress and Riverside.  Now that I live just outside the city, it's a bit more difficult to get down there to hang out, but it was a great place to hang out with friends or grab a coffee to extend a date.

4.  Green Muse Cafe has a great atmosphere, but can be a hit or miss.  The coffee is great and the patio has a decent lay out.  Sometimes you can find seating, sometimes you can't.  Sometimes the barista is a socializer, sometimes he/she does his/her job.  I only shy away from it because it's so far south from where I work and live.

5.  Scooter Coffee House should have better hours, but they could be much worse!  It is always quiet when I go there to study, and they play halfway decent music.  And surprisingly, they have a drive-through!

6.  Halcyon - Don't even bother after the makeover.  It lost all it's flavor.

7.  Mozart's Coffee Roasters feels like a tourist trap half the time.  Great patio and atmosphere, though.

8.  I haven't been to Austin Java in quite some time, but I've been to a couple different locations.  One was for a book club that I participated in and the other was for local live music (the patio was nice).  I'm not sure how great it would be to get school work done.

9.  La Tazza Fresca is the place to socialize, especially since it's sort of close to the university.  I have never seen it quiet and more often than not, I get stuck studying at the bar.  I'm not complaining, but sometimes it's a bit loud and not for somebody who really needs to get work done, but would prefer to socialize with a friend or two, or make a friend or two.

10.  Spider House is overrated in my opinion.  I've been once and wasn't impressed.  It was crowded and way too busy.  Perhaps it's a bit better with the new acquisition, but I have no desire to go back, and the bus goes past it on my way to school from work.

As you can tell from the above, I've been to many different coffee places throughout Austin, north, south, and central.  I know many people have a variety of tastes when it comes to coffee and atmosphere, and hopefully one of the above will work for you even if it may not have fit my personality.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Physical Activity Thoughts

I met with Brant, my new trainer, today.  The first day is always the most nerve-wracking because you don't know what his training style will be like and whether or not there will be chemistry to optimize your success in reaching your goals.  Yes, I'm still a bit nervous, but I know he's the right trainer for me.  I knew a year ago when I attempted my half marathon and Brant rode his bike as I jogged perhaps a mile.  He was at the half/full marathon to encourage his clients, so that told me Brant was a trainer that wasn't in it for a paycheck, but because he cared.  None-the-less, when Brant and I chatted today, he said something along the lines that coming to the gym should not stress me out since he knows I have limited time.  He's right.  When did going to the gym stress me out?  It is time consuming, and I'm super busy with working and going to school full time, but in the end, it should not stress me out.  Back when I lost a lot of weight, I liked going to the gym; I felt great starting my day off at the gym or on the trail.  Fitness helped me sleep better at night and kept me focused during the day; it allowed me to take work stresses out.  So a new quote of mine is, "Physical activity should not stress me out; it should reduce stress."  I will not get the best workout possible if I'm anxious or stressed out at the gym because I have a thousand and one other things to do, so therefore I need to make it a priority in my schedule again.  Brant also wants me to pick a target race, probably a 10K to train for, some time this fall; I think he wants me to nail that half marathon eventually just to show myself that I can fail, but then then eventually I can conquer.  Too bad I'm Miss Negative when it comes to that, but perhaps he'll make be a believer.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

All or Nothing

After much thinking last night, I have realized that I'm an "all or nothing" kind of girl in almost anything that I do.  If I'm not "all in," I'm definitely not "in" even at a "luke warm" rate.  If that makes any sense.  But I was going through same examples in my head, and I definitely see a pattern:

When I lost the most weight, I was all in.  When I gained the most weight back, it's because I didn't do anything to help me succeed.

I was all in when I trained for the half marathon.  Probably why it was devastating to me not to finish, and feel like a loser in the process.  

I am at my best when I'm "All In" with my faith as a Christian.  Life just seems easier. 

Relationships - those that I invest in, I'm all in.  It's why I have so few close friends; I won't be fake with you.  Those that I love, I will lie my life down for.

So when it comes to me...I'm all in.  I'm going to focus on me and my health; nobody else will.  I deserve it.  If it means counting calories the rest of my life, I have to be okay with doing so.  I have to lay down my pride and just admit that I just may never be able eat anything and everything like so many people can.  God has to have a plan in all of this.  He just has to.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Banshee

Whenever I tell this story, everybody gets a good laugh, so I figured I would post it because it's somewhat a spin off on the topic of the day:  Food/Environment.

As I mentioned in April, I am a chicken co-owner, but the coop is at my house.  My friend and I decided to raise our own chickens for fresh organic eggs, and it's been well worth it!  At first, we dealt with moles and/or voles around the coop area, which seemed to have disappeared this fall, but we were having new fecal matter in the coop.  The week prior to this event, the nesting box broke and since we were considering how we were going to build the new coop, which included moving the whole thing, I wanted to make sure nothing was living under the coop that could hurt us.  I didn't think anything of it, until I heard the Banshee.

I just got home around 9pm, and settled in to get some homework done that was due that night at midnight.  All of a sudden I heard this loud shriek from outside "EEEEEEEEEEEEEE" with a flutter of wings and loud noises from the chickens.  I didn't know what to make of the noise at first because I have never heard it before.  Was that the feral cat outside trying to get at the chickens again?  I grabbed a flashlight and headed outside cautiously because I wasn't sure if the thing that startled the chickens was inside the coop or wandering around the gated area that we had.  (To better understand our setup, a picture of it is below.)  There was the potential that it could try and attack me too if it was not on the inside.  As I wave the flashlight back and forth across the yard, I walked in the direction of the chicken coop.  I first shine the light on the chickens who are huddled together by the gate entrance and then I survey the area.  Beady eyes look at me as he stood still on one of the chicken perches.  I glared at the possum and thought "How in the world did you get in there?!?!"  But then I realized that we were giving him a lot of great food!  Not only in the coop area was he getting eggs, but he was also getting leftover chicken feed and/or the moles/voles.  AND...right next to the gated chicken area is my compost pile!  No wonder why he was around.  In all honesty, seeing him on the perch, I realized all the possum wanted to do was "hang" with the chickens on their perches, and they decided to be high maintenance and not want him around.  I don't blame the chickens by any means.  After seeing the culprit, I called my chicken co-owner, who was already in bed, and then my boyfriend who gave me strict orders "not to go in and remove the possum myself."  I can't help but be injury prone...  When I got back out there with my cell phone, the possum had already left.  Ironically, about a week later, he climbed up my oak tree in a rain storm.

We still need to re-do the coop, but we assume that the possum is getting in from the backside.  He hasn't been much of a bother, if any at all, since we turned on the heating lamp for the winter.


L. Composting piles.  R. Chicken area with wooden coop (prior to having chickens)


Monday, January 16, 2012

Recipe: Cheesy Chicken and Rice Bake

This recipe from Tasty Kitchen is simple and rather healthy.  I used nonfat Greek Yogurt rather than the sour cream and didn't notice any difference in texture or taste.  I think I just might start substituting nonfat Greek Yogurt for any recipes that ask for sour cream because it's healthier (more protein, less fat, and contains probiotics).  Livestrong reviews the difference between the two in an article. 

I did a Weight Watcher's point calculation, and for five servings, it's 11 points, but it could easily be six or seven servings depending on hunger.  I found that the brown rice really filled me up.  I made a few minor modifications to the original recipe of Tasty Kitchen, which I also added in below.

Ingredients
  • 2 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts (cooked, boiled)
  • 4 cups Cooked Brown Rice
  • 1 cup Frozen Corn
  • 15 ounces, Can Black Beans, Drained And Rinsed
  • 1 cup Plain Nonfat Greek Yogurt
  • 3 Jalapenos
  • ½ cups Salsa
  • 1 cup Low-fat Cheddar Cheese, Plus More For Topping


Instructions

1.  Preheat oven to 350F while boiling the chicken. 
2.  Cook brown rice according to directions.  Add chopped jalapenos to the boiling water.
3.  In a large bowl, combine cooked rice, cooked chicken, corn, black beans, nonfat Greet Yogurt, salsa, and cheese.  Stir and season with salt and pepper if desired.
4.  Add to oven-safe dish and top with extra cheese if you choose to.  Bake for 20-25 minutes or until heated through. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Just Do It

Yes, it's a well known Nike slogan:  "Just Do It," but it's fitting in anything and everything we want to pursue.  Well, at least for the procrastinator it is, even when all signs are pointing in that direction.

Sign #1
At the end of last semester I was walking out of Kick Butt Coffee in the Triangle, and I saw a woman wearing at Team 413 t-shirt.  This peaked my interest because I grew up in area code 413, so eventually I Googled the slogan.  Team 413 is a ministry based on Phillipians 4:13 - "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."  The best way to describe the ministry is that it's a "running club" that speaks the truth of our Savior; through Him, all things are possible.  Do you believe in coincidences?  I sure don't.

Sign #2
My pastor is the best.  I'm probably going to make him blush if he ever reads this, but he recently blogged about something that hit home to me, "How to Avoid a Massive Failure."  I recently wrote about my failure to finish the Austin Half Marathon last year, and how it destroyed any and all ambition I had since I felt pretty prepared for it.  In his blog, and I won't give it all away, he has five tips:
1.  Know what you are getting into (I did, I ran a 10K after all.)
2.  Listen to wise counsel (I really should have sought this a bit more.)
3.  Start small and be OK with it (Wasn't a 10K small enough to start with?)
4.  Don't carry a bunch of excess baggage (Hmmm...how about some emotional and physical baggage in my case?)
5.  Know when to quit (But I think more importantly, know when to try again.)

As we all know, I'm back at square one, and I need to be okay with that.  I will be okay with that, as soon as I stop making excuses and procrastinating.  Tomorrow may never come.

Sign #3
My Joyce Meyer daily devotional today was John 14:23 (NIV):  Jesus replied, "Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."  Joyce made some great remarks about this passage which I need to hold close to my heart:  
This simply starts with being obedient to His Word. A commitment to turn from behavior that offends God is the number one sign of spiritual maturity. It shows you care about what He thinks.

That means you choose to be generous toward others, you learn to forgive, let go of your offenses and live in peace. When we choose to be intentional with our words, giving thanks to God and lifting up others, we'll feel connected to God all throughout the day.  
Sign #4
A Facebook post about slaying my dragons before breakfast.  I need to re-focus my attention to things that God will approve and wants for me.  He wants me to be healthy and live a long fulfilling life, so what keeps getting in the way?

My Next Steps
1.  I need to devote more time to my Bible and to prayer.  With my new daily devotions sent to my inbox, this will help.  I need to please Him rather than myself.
2.  I need to exercise in the morning before work or school, no matter how tired I am.  Once I'm out of bed, I can function pretty well.
3.  I need to reach my target and read seven books (besides school books) this year.  This is easily obtainable if I hit the gym with my Kindle.
4.  I need to forgive and let go of those who have "trespassed" against me.  As much as I hate to admit it, God will forgive them if they ask for it, so I should too.  I'm beginning to think spiritual maturity is not going to be too easy.  I need peace.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

A Worrying Fool


I'm a natural over-thinker and worrier.  I worry about day-to-day items.  I worry about the future.  I worry about the past.  I worry about the decisions I need to make and how those decisions will affect my life FOREVER.  Over-thinking will ruin things.  It will consume you and will make you miss out on what's happening in the present.  I try not to over-think when it comes to being healthy, but I can't help but do so.  Will my friends still accept me if I physically change?  Will my personality change?  Will I become more egotistical and more me-focused rather than others-focused?  Over-thinking has always been my downfall, but I have yet to come up with a solution.  Any thoughts from my readers?

Monday, January 02, 2012

Kisses from Katie


I am completely amazed and humbled by this young woman.  Katie decided to go into ministry after high school and follow God's plan for her life.  She is now 22 and has her own non-profit for orphans in Jinja, Uganda; a country and city I fell in love with in 2009 when I was there.  I would like my readers to take two things away from this:

1.  If you allow God to use you the way He wants to, amazing things will happen for your life.  We all have a calling, but do most of us utilize the skills that have been given to us?  I know I haven't, and that's something to change in the New Year.

2.  I understand that the United States has a number of orphans that need families too, but witnessing the poverty in Uganda and knowing that most of these orphans are due to HIV/AIDS, it's a humbling experience.  Please consider sponsoring an orphan in Uganda through Amazima; they can feed a child three meals per day and educate him/her with only $300 per year:  http://www.amazima.org/sponsor.html.

I hope everybody had an eventful and safe new year.  I look forward to seeing what God has in store for you this year!