Category Archives: rambling

Sugar Plum Dreams

Sugar. I once claimed it was my life blood. It was more of a mantra. I have in my artillery some of the best cookie and cake recipes, found after diligent searching and baking. Unfortunately, my body was starting to show it. Last year, I made a New Year’s resolution to reduce my sugar intake to the recommended daily intake of 25 grams (or 6 teaspoons) as announced by the World Health Organization. This would be less than one can of soda in an entire day.

The problem with simply trying to reduce the amount of sugar is it’s really easy to not take it too seriously. I made exceptions almost daily, which defeated the purpose. If I was tired, I would give myself a caffeine boost (and sugar buzz) with Dr. Pepper. I found and fell in love with chai tea lattes, which had even more sugar than a soda. I would make cookies for my colleagues and enjoy the dough and the final product in the process.

We were already reducing the amount of pre-processed food in our diets, and we chose higher quality versions of other foods. Despite the healthier foods, I was becoming larger than I had ever been in my life. I felt horrible, I did not like to wear half my clothes, and I was feeling pretty gross in general. But I needed sugar. It made me feel happy, and usually sugar does make people feel happy. Sadly, it had become more of an addiction, and one that would be hard to fight because of the serious lack of real nutritional information and the nation’s general obsession with sugar.

This last New Year I made a new resolution. Absolutely no added sugar. Cold turkey, no exceptions. So what would be considered added sugar? I determined the easiest answer is everything that acts purely as a sweetener: all types of sugar including raw and turbinado, stevia, and obviously any “false” sugars such as aspartame. Not only that, but I would only use ingredients that had very low amounts of sugar. So plain greek yoghurt with only 3 grams of naturally occurring sugar per serving (even this is hard to find, often I end up with 6 grams). Tomato sauce with only 2 grams of naturally occurring sugar. Fewer apples and grapes, and more kiwi, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Authentic French, sourdough, and Italian breads like Ciabatta (if these have sugar in them, they aren’t “real”).

Cutting out sugar was sad, but I was determined. I drank only water and tea. Occasionally I mix one part natural orange juice (not from concentrate) with four parts unsweetened almond milk with a little vanilla extract to ensure enough vitamin c and calcium. I started eating a lot more raw foods and made summer porridge for breakfast. The only, reluctant, exceptions I started to allow were occasional honey (which I am not fond of to begin with) to help with plain oatmeal and small amounts of pure maple syrup (high natural sugar content) for breakfasts on weekends. Even this I am not too happy about.

I started daydreaming about sugar. When colleagues brought in doughnuts, I would stand over them and sniff for a few minutes (breathing smells does take in particles of that odor, so it was a bit like cheating at a micro level). For my birthday, I decided that would be the one day in the entire year (including holidays) that I would allow any sugar. I was making plans months in advance. As it neared, my stomach started protesting even the thought of half that sugar. I wanted dark chocolate covered strawberries for breakfast, a root beer float with Chinese food for lunch, sushi (sushi rice requires sugar) and an ice cream cake for dinner, and to end the day I wanted an artisan s’more. I drooled a lot thinking about it but did not have most of that menu in the end. What I did have made me realize I didn’t care much for it (cake and frosting) and that I still really like my Dairy Queen ice cream cake. After seven months, I had mostly broken through the sugar addiction.

Over this time period, I took three different measurements to track whatever progress I would make. I have not exercised at all (in fact, I have used my improved diet as an excuse to be even less physical), although I know that will have to change. Over eight months, I have lost fifteen pounds and around four inches in my waist. I am already fairly petite in many people’s opinion, so this I feel is rather impressive for making one fairly significant change. During this time I have also been making other minor improvements such as flossing daily (how many people really do this?), and I plan to continue adding small improvements throughout the rest of the year. The no-sugar diet I plan to continue for the foreseeable future. It is an easy way to not get fat. But it isn’t a diet for most people, especially for those who enjoy alcohol.

And now for something entirely different… garden photos!






Arizona

For the holidays in 2014, we trekked to Arizona to attend the wedding of some good friends. Taking a break from the cold seemed like a good idea, but that is not quite what happened.

We flew on Spirit Airlines, which was one of the most claustrophobic flights I’ve been on. I am quite petite, so that is saying a lot! However, flying on Christmas Day was beneficial as nearly everyone was in good spirits (ha ha, get it?). From Phoenix, we drove to Tucson, where we would spend the first three days.

Sadly, I caught a bad virus just before we left. In total I had two bags of cough drops and ended up with three different pills to fight the different aspects of the severe cold. I was not going to get the wedding party sick! I took the first round of pills on our way to the Saguaro National Park the morning of the 26th. The weather was just starting to drop, but the sky was still clear and sunny (when we came in, Tucson dropped 20 degrees to be between 40 and 50 degrees; not too bad but not as warm as we were expecting). The park was a great visit; we stopped by the visitor’s center and watched an introductory video, then Herr stayed for a lecture about the life of the saguaro cactus while I passed out in the car. He took a walk along some trails while I continued to stay passed out.

Cacti.

Luckily I was not yet on my no sugar diet, so I was able to counter balance the drowsiness effects with some Dr. Pepper to see the Desert Museum located within the park. The entrance fee was high, but the grounds included a zoo, botanical garden, butterfly house, and a birds of prey flight demonstration. So despite the cost, visiting the park and the museum are both recommended.

Sonora butterfly.

After the museum we needed to go to the resort for the wedding rehearsal since Herr was a groomsman. It was lovely, and they were friendly to me being a hanger on.

The 27th was the day of the wedding, which did not start until late afternoon, so we used the morning to go check out Biosphere 2. It seemed like visiting in the nineties would have been amazing, but right now visitors can see it falling apart a bit, a shadow of its former fame. The cost to maintain the buildings is astounding. Regardless, we learned a lot about what they were attempting to do and enjoyed walking around the facility. It was getting progressively colder though, and I regretted not having warmer clothes. Herr had to pick up a book written by one of the original inhabitants and had it finished not long after we returned, so he learned much more than I did.

Biosphere 2 ocean.

Despite the cold, the wedding was beautiful albeit small. A great setting, and the reception was great, especially once it relocated indoors. Herr even got me on the dance floor for a song or two, no small feat (get the pun?).
After that began our standard travel style in earnest. We departed for Phoenix making a stop at Casa Grande Ruins en route. In Phoenix my aunt kindly allowed us to crash at their place, but we didn’t make it there until after a somewhat expensive visit to Taliesin West (we both now know how to pronounce that correctly), one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s residences and schools. FLW has always been a person of interest to Herr, so it was worth it to see. The day was failing, but we managed to squeeze in a short stop at Goldfield, a “ghost town” that is actually quite lively. We had dinner at the saloon and had a short tour at the brothel before watching the sun set.

Casa Grande ruins.
Taliesin West.
Ghostfield.

Monday the 29th was arguably our busiest day. We departed early and stopped at Montezuma’s Castle as well as the Well. I had visited these fifteen years ago and found the castle a little underwhelming the second time. The Well, however, was still fascinating, and free! From there we headed west to see Tuzigoot, a small village ruin that sits atop a short hill. It happened to be right next to our destination, the Verde Canyon Railroad tour. We had first class tickets for this three hour trip. While it did have open observation cars that allowed for great photo opportunities, the left side of the train was mostly against rock the entire way. And once we reached the end, we just reversed back the way we came. They tried to make it more interesting by having stories and old songs playing, but I read quite a bit and Herr napped a little. I’m not sure I could really recommend it; they did fairly well for the track available.

Montezuma Castle.
Montezuma Well.
Canyon Verde Railroad.

From there we had to make it to Williams, our last stop before reaching the Grand Canyon. I recalled the road looking a bit squiggly on Google Maps when I was planning everything out, but I was not prepared for what we went through. The road snaked along mountainous hillsides with very little railing for some steep falls. Herr thought it would be fun to do all this slightly over the speed limit in the dark, to which I had to slide down in the seat and keep my eyes closed. A pretty ride if done in the day time, but not so fun at night. We thankfully made it to our motel, the Highlander (pretty nice for a motel!), in Williams right at dinner time. The town is on Route 66; a fun little addition to our sightseeing. Just a few blocks away was Cruisers, which specialized in Route 66 merchandise and so-so American fare food. It was fun to eat there despite the average dining experience. Herr had to check out the train station before we went to bed; the next day was to be a very early start so we could be to the Grand Canyon in time for sunrise.

On the 30th, we managed to leave before 6 a.m. to make the hour drive north. We arrived with 20 minutes to spare before sunrise, but this was the coldest day yet! Sitting on the edge of a canyon on some rather unheated rocks waiting for the lazy rotation of the planet to expose the sun is something best left to memory and not to be experiencing at that moment. Body parts went numb, and holding the camera was difficult at times. At one point I made it out on a rock separate from the rest of the edge, and it took me about two minutes before survival instinct kicked in and encouraged me to stay at least a foot away from the ledge from then on. Herr, on the other hand, swung his legs over with the camera just sitting in his lap, freaking me out.

Canyon sunrise.
Canyon sunrise.

If at all possible, on your trip to the Grand Canyon plan to get in a sunrise, or if not that, then a sunset. It’s worth it. Afterwards, we found the south rim’s trail of time (after a long stint warming up at the small and packed coffee shop and later the visitor center), which is quite scenic but completely without railings. Apparently several people a year fall to their doom, so I kept to the walking path for the most part. We had lunch at el Tovar Lodge , then wound down part of the Bright Angel Trail (maybe half a mile, which was much shorter than Herr wanted to go). Because it was so cold, we had trouble with ice on the path, which was also not guarded. That evening we stayed in one of the Bright Angel Lodge cabins just a few feet from the rim. I was pretty tired by then, but Herr made the effort to go see the sunset at one of the other lookout points.

Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon.
Grand Canyon.

New Years’ Eve, the next morning, left us with a big surprise. A blizzard, and a lot of fog. It was as if the clouds tried to fill up the canyon like a giant soup bowl. We had rented a Chevy Spark, so a blizzard was not very conducive to the day’s activity of driving back to Phoenix. We did try to see one more lookout point, but it was closed up and barely visible through the fog. We made it out the east gate and made the treacherous drive back south. Later we heard that the park had to close the east gate just a few hours after we made it through. Unfortunately, the blizzard closed down Wupatki, where we had planned to make a stop on the way back. Herr had started to make the turn before we realized the several mile road to the site was not plowed, and hence the car could not clear it nor was it very likely staff were at the location. So, south we went. I am glad Herr is a professional driver because we would probably have pulled over in Flagstaff and not made it back to Phoenix. But we kept on, and only about 45 minutes north of Phoenix did the snow turn to rain and eventually fizzle out.

Because of the nearly six hours of tense driving, the rest of New Years’ Eve was spent doing nothing. We went out to a local Asian restaurant and watched some “House Hunters” at my aunt’s house. We did not even make it until midnight but did see Time Square celebrations at least. Our last day was spent getting to the airport and flying back. By the time we had reached the Grand Canyon, my cold had mostly abated but Herr took it from me and had to deal with it flying back. Thankfully, we both survived the wedding without looking too ill, but it would have been nice to have had a little reprieve from the cold (both health-wise and weather-wise)!

Back to School

Although I haven’t said much the last few months doesn’t mean nothing’s happened. For a while I have considered going back to school, at least to learn German. It took a decent amount of research before deciding upon University of Maryland’s Certificate of German Studies program for a good base knowledge of Germany, its culture and language. And a class started just a few days from when I found out, leaving me in a scramble to get paperwork sorted out.

At the same time, I was approved for a graduate course through my work to advance my knowledge for my career. This was completely online, the first I’ve done a class in this style (I had been avoiding it). So, my two jobs (I am still being detailed into a second position) and my two classes (among many other events) kept me quite busy until a week ago, when the classes ended and I started rehearsals for the upcoming musical (I am so ready for a break).

The Germany Life and Culture course I took was advantageous for living in Germany; we took four study trips – Speyer, Maulbronn, Mainz, and Würzburg – that offered great examples to fit into the discussion topics (all UNESCO heritage sites). The class was much more difficult than the graduate course with all the notes and homework… because of this I haven’t any photos of the places we visited. Also, I am resigned to not partake in an online class again. My professor was excellent, but I need in-person class time for the best experience.

We saw a state museum, the cathedral, and part of the Jewish existence in the city at Speyer. Maulbronn is a former monastery for which we learned about monastic history and lifestyle. The architecture and churches of Mainz, and finally in Würzburg with its very baroque architecture and clear examples of the shift from papal to citizen authority. Every place we visited we experienced beautiful weather with perfect timing to see the best of each city (the best moment was at Maulbronn, in the cloister is a large magnolia tree that was in full bloom… I didn’t want to leave! Especially without pictures); however, our last trip I got too much sun and was miserable for nearly a week after.

Lots more has happened, but that is what has kept me very occupied, and now it is the musical with rehearsals every night. I can honestly say that I had taken on more than I could handle and now cannot wait for a vacation!

Abandon Ship!

Last weekend we started playing Titanic the Musical. I thought it was going to be a horrible theatrical show, but it’s actually pretty good. It has some sappy songs, but having a live orchestra on stage is an incredible experience. I was not prepared to play for three hours on stage, but I get most of it. 😉 Spoiler alert: yes, the ship does sink (surprise…); no, we do not sink it on stage (how the heck…); and no, Celine Dion’s song is not featured.

The second ship setting sail is sugar. That’s right. I’ve decided I’m cutting sugar out of my diet. Pffft. Good luck, right? For holidays, I’ll still have pie, but it’ll be the least sugary option. Makes me want to cry, but we’ll see how good I feel after a month or two. Hot chocolate, how I will miss thee!

We’re also going green cleaning. That is, I’m making our cleaning materials. These cleaning supplies are much safer for everyone and the environment. 🙂 Not that I don’t like getting high ‘n dizzy trying to clean the shower… I’ll just have to make do.

And finally, I’m getting pretty serious about going with a Mac. I nearly bought a used Mac Mini that was loaded with the software I’ve wanted for years. They sold it just before I got to it, but I’m still considering. Unfortunately, to upgrade my Adobe package (UPGRADE…), I have to pay 800 dollars. Then additional photo software is 300 dollars… and that’s just software (and not all of it). *sigh* Then I’m thinking about taking a digital sabbatical, so a new computer would be counter-productive. 😛

Can you imagine, no sugar and no computer/Internet (personal, I couldn’t stop using it at work unfortunately)…?

Oh, and NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next week! My goal is to finish writing the story I started last year. Woot!

Happy Halloween!