• Category Archives 36 Things
  • Website construction

    Things are slightly under construction around here, but I got impatient and decided to post the progress. It’s at the point where I can let it sit for a little while, and it’s also at a good point for some other opinions. I whole-heartedly welcome feedback!

    Here’s what I’ve changed:

    1. I finally updated Word Press, which I’ve been using for four years and 10 months without updating it once. That may be some kind of record (it’s kind of like those people who still use AOL email, which means I’m as cool as my grandma, so I’m not complaining). But really, I revamped my website and hid all the old content almost five years ago. Time flies.
    2. I’m using a new Word Press theme. I’m not sure I like it, and it’s got a couple bugs, but it’s just flexible enough that I haven’t given up. Since I have exactly zero ads on this site, I can’t justify paying my sister to design the site from scratch — though if you’re in the market, check out her work.
    3. I added a “Bicycling” page up there.
    4. I also finally figured out how to reorder the page links up there at the top. It was driving me nuts, so that’s a small victory.
    5. I went back and added “bicycling” categories to old posts.
    6. The “archives” section over there on the right is now a drop-down menu because it was getting so long. (If I ever figure out how to add in old Moveable Type blog posts from 2002 to 2010, it will be VERY long. And there are LiveJournal posts from 2000 to 2002. I fear that work blog posts from 2008 to 2010 are gone forever, though.)
    7. I added the J.R.R. Tolkien quote that inspired this domain name way back in January 2002: “I am told that I talk in shorthand and then smudge it.” It was on other versions of my website, but for some unknown reason I didn’t put it on this one.
    8. The photo up there is new. The old one was five years old, and here’s a blurb I wrote about it at the time. And, in the interest of preserving history, here’s the full version of the photo I just posted today. It’s of Mt. Shasta, a 14,162-foot mountain in Northern California. IMG_2730


  • 36 new dinner recipes in 2015: 7-12

    This is the second installment of “Layla attempts three dozen new dinner recipes in a year.” The first one is here.

    1. Parmesan crusted chicken tenders seemed easy enough, and it made my house smell delicious. As a bonus for a couple friends of mine, the recipe is gluten free. The dish turned out OK, but I should have cooked it less. The recipe said 15-20 minutes, I checked them at 15, and wasn’t sure what “cook until the juices run clear” meant. I think 18 minutes dried them out.
    2. Loaded baked potato and chicken casserole also sounded easy — and hey, it involved bacon. But this was also kind of a dud, partly because the potatoes didn’t cook even when I put it back into the oven. Ultimately, I microwaved it and did eat most of it, but it was a big disappointment. (As always, I wonder if I did something wrong or missed a step. This is a high probability.)
    3. This baked cod/haddock recipe worked wonderfully with freshly caught Ono fish in Hawaii, especially in a fully-equipped kitchen. One note: the recipe calls for Ritz crackers but also says something about bread crumbs — I used seasoned bread crumbs, and it was fantastic! I’m sure this recipe would work with any white fish. My aunt recommended this one, and it was a success. I also dared to buy a random “long squash” in Hawaii because I was looking for zucchini and yellow squash but struck out. It was a risk, especially since I was cooking for others, but I roasted the squash and it was cooked just in time.
    4. This recipe is also courtesy of my aunt, and while hers wasn’t from a website I could readily find, I think this breaded chicken breast recipe is just about the same thing. It called for seasoned bread crumbs and I only had plain panko ones, so I added “grilled chicken seasoning” (basically salt, garlic, and some other seasonings in one container I happened to pick up super cheap at the grocery store awhile ago). That worked perfectly to season the breadcrumbs, and for once I actually did not overcook the chicken! Also, that chicken was apparently well-endowed, so after I added broccoli and grains, this made two meals.
    5. Lime garlic chicken was “meh.” It needed more flavoring, and the lime juice didn’t improve it. But it was certainly easy, so I’d like to try different flavors in the breading. (I took the advice of some commenters on that recipe and used half the butter, plus some olive oil. I don’t think that made much difference.)
    6. Ben’s Chicken Parmesan is something my grandpa makes every time I visit, and I once took the recipe home but never actually made it. Well, after visiting again in May, I came home and made it a few weeks later because it was so delicious. Hooray, it’s a Layla-proof recipe! If you eat meat and visit me, I may just make this dish for you. Consider this your invitation to visit. Once again, I was using well-endowed chicken breasts (hello, Costco!), so one of them filled this 9-inch baking dish.

  • Notes from a sugar-free week

    I recently went off sugar for a week. Clarification: I abstained from foods that contained added sugar; naturally occurring sugar was fine. I posted a rambling preface here, and I think one line is more true than ever: “I’m going off sugar as a personal experiment, not as an indictment against sugar itself. Like with most things in life, I do not think sugar itself is bad; it just should not be used in excess.” I also went off alcohol, since I figured it was one less “bad” thing I would substitute in place of sugar. That wasn’t bad at all, but I now know that crackers and chips will magically appear as substitutes…

    It was an interesting week, and I think I’m just going to list some of my observations in no particular order.

    1. Sugar is added to so many things! Pasta sauce. Mayonnaise. Taco seasoning. Jerky. Bread. Those little single-serve containers of coffee creamer. “Plain” instant oatmeal. Any peanut butter that says “no stir.” Salad dressing.
    2. Endurance exercise is hard when you can’t eat solid foods while doing it. A four-hour bike ride was just not possible; I need sports drink and gels because I can’t eat solid food on the bike without feeling dizzy and weak (something about digestion slowing my blood flow, apparently).
    3. The first day was fine. The second day, I got really angry in the afternoon — so angry that I even flipped off a driver in bad traffic.
    4. Plain oats for breakfast aren’t so bad once you just start eating them every morning. I put half a cup of quick oats in a bowl with some water, microwaved it, and added a giant spoonful of crunchy “just peanuts, please and thank you” peanut butter. It actually kept me full for awhile, and it’s now a regular breakfast-at-work for me.
    5. Sourdough bread is a lifesaver. No sugar! Smash avocado, spread it on the bread, sprinkle with salt — bam, lunch or breakfast is done and delicious.
    6. I really do not eat enough vegetables. At all.
    7. I ate at home more, and actually cooked. It was the only way to make sure I wasn’t accidentally eating sugar.
    8. My celebratory post-sugar-fast meal was a big chicken salad sandwich from Mr. Pickles. It was on a sourdough roll so the sugar content was probably quite low, but it contained mayonnaise and I had no idea what they’d done when cooking/prepping the chicken.
    9. That meal came with a chocolate chip cookie, which sounded amazing. When I actually ate it, though, it was disappointing. It seems that a week may have been enough time to wean myself off cookies.
    10. Related: Two weeks later, I’ve mostly gone back to normal life. But I have not bought cookies, candy or ice cream.
    11. I missed sugar a lot more than I missed alcohol.
    12. It seemed that I was more tired.
    13. I discovered one giant loophole that defeated the “eat healthier food” purpose: Cheez-Its and tortilla chips do not contain sugar.
    14. I think I lost two pounds. I have a feeling that number could have been higher if I hadn’t eaten so many Cheez-Its.
    15. Going to a Giants baseball game when you’re off sugar is a big disappointment. I just didn’t eat anything there, because I doubt any of the ballpark’s delicious food was sugar-free.

  • Wine County Century ride report

    “I made it up that hill. Oh my god, I did it. I’m actually going to finish!”

    After 92 miles of cycling and 4,000 feet of climbing, I crested the top of the last big hill on a May afternoon. I gasped for air as my cadence increased down the backside of Chalk Hill (and maybe also gasping as I realized I knew that the word “cadence” meant “how fast I’m pedaling”). I had dreaded that hill for months, worrying that it would crush my spirits because it came so far into the ride. I feared that I would stop halfway up, that I might crash if I couldn’t unclip from my pedals in time, and that I would have to be picked up in a crew van and driven to a medical tent at the finish line. I rarely cuss, but when I reached the top of that hill, whispered expletives flew: “I f***ing did it. Holy sh*t. I god-d**n did it. I’m going to finish a century ride.”

    May 2 was redemption in several ways. In October, I bailed out of a century ride. This year, I spent a serious amount of money on a road bike and committed to a century ride with my friends Michaela and Arvan. My training was the bare minimum but there would be no backing out this time, and now that it’s over, I admit that I was more than a little worried. However, I was also determined — I really wanted to chase down this goal.

    OK, enough rambling. Now I’m going to write about Saturday’s Wine Country Century in a bit more orderly fashion. If you want the short version: I finished in 7 hours and 3 minutes, and it’s a good thing because Michaela and I are signed up for a ride that’s, um, twice as long.

    I drove up to Santa Rosa on Friday afternoon, which is never a good time to drive through the Bay Area. It took me 2 hours, 35 minutes to drive 86 miles — that’s a whopping average speed of 33 mph, despite being on freeways. When I finally arrived, I was hungry and angry. Michaela stuck a Kona Brewing beer in my hand, because she is a very wise and good friend. We were staying with friends Thai and Josh, and their 4-month-old baby also calmed me down. Things were starting to look up.

    See all those traffic warning signs? I was in them. All of them.
    Cuteness helps ease traffic PTSD. Not pictured: beer.

    We drove to the ride check-in so we wouldn’t have to deal with that in the morning, and that’s where things took another good turn: I was given bib number 5050. My first reaction: “It should be 5150″ (California’s legal code for crazy). My second reaction: “Oh look, it’s my odds of finishing!” Funny enough, even though I enjoy number games, I never thought of the “50+50=100, the number of miles I will conquer” idea. A MUCH more hardcore numbers nerd pointed that out, and I must say that it’s much more optimistic. Dinner was at BJ’s Brewing, with a personal deep dish pizza and a beer. All was well in my world.

    "Look! My odds of finishing!"

    On Saturday morning I woke up before the alarm. It was very similar to a marathon morning, only with padded shorts. We drove to the ride start, parked with no troubles at all, topped off the air in our tires, put our race numbers on our bikes, fastened our helmets, and got some guy to take a picture. And then we were on our way.

    This is how Michaela, Layla and Arvan ride 100 miles.

    The air was chilly and the sky was completely overcast to the point of being slightly misty. I recently used an REI coupon to buy some new sunglasses whose lenses automatically go from clear to dark, depending on the light. They’re one of my better $60 purchases in the past year, and I was so glad I could see in that gray light. We were surrounded by fellow riders, and Arvan was already in excellent form: “To our right, we have a vineyard. To our left, we also have a vineyard,” he said in his best tour guide voice.

    We got through a couple stoplights and around mile 3 I ate my first gel. For those who don’t care about this stuff, I’ll get all the nutrition jabber out of the way in this paragraph so you can skip ahead. I have a terrible time with solid foods on the bike, and the only thing I’ve been able to guess is that my slow-moving blood just can’t be tied up digesting food in my stomach, or else there isn’t enough blood to get to my head and keep me from getting dizzy. However, my stomach itself is rock solid and I don’t mind Gu gels that have 100 calories each, and Gu Roctane drink that has 240 calories per bottle. I buy lemon lime gels (no caffeine) by the 24-pack box with my Marathon Maniacs discount at runningwarehouse.com, and I get Roctane drink either there or on sale at nashbar.com. I intersperse a few caramel macchiato and salted caramel gels (with caffeine) for the occasional extra boost and change of flavor. On Saturday, I successfully ate a gel every 10 miles without fail, for a total of NINE GELS. I drank 3.5 bottles (24 ounces each) of Gu Roctane. I also ate about six strawberries total at the aid stations, and because the lunch stop was longer, I risked a slice of turkey lunch meat, half a slice of cheese, and some pickle slices. My fueling was a success.

    Terrible scenery, huh?

    The first hill started around mile 16 and went to around mile 19.5. (Here’s a map of the course. For some reason, the organizers’ page isn’t working anymore.) My friend Deanne recently moved and her new house is steps away from the course. She was excited to wake up early and come outside and cheer for me, which is pretty amazing and I’m not sure what I’ve done to have such a good friend in my corner for a dozen years now. Even her husband, who works nights and is NOT a morning person, insisted that she wake him up. Knowing she would be there is what made me less fearful of the climb. The funny thing is, I was riding up the hill in a line of cyclists going a bit slower than I would have, so when I reached the top I still had several gears left. I reached the top and began flying down, but realized the long downhill might send me sailing past Deanne. But I did see her, and somehow waved while braking without falling over.

    You guys, Deanne had made a sign! And she’d even put pictures of Michaela, Arvan and me on that sign! Poor Arvan with his zero percent body fat was shivering in the cold, so once we took some pictures, we hit the road again. Between seeing Deanne and her sign, and the long downhill, I was basically high as a kite. We rolled into the first rest stop five miles later, where Arvan’s shivering may have registered on the Richter Scale.

    If you do not have a Deanne on your side, you're missing out.

    Then we had the Green Valley Road climb, which I hadn’t really heard about until our friend Josh was talking about it Friday night. He said it was the toughest hill for him when he did this ride a few years ago. And Michaela said she’d never ridden all the way up it without walking. I wasn’t sure what to think until I reached it, and before I knew it I was at the top. I stopped to catch my breath and wait for Michaela and Arvan (they are smart and pace themselves up hills, while I charge up them until my lungs collapse). There were a whole bunch of hardcore riders who’d also stopped there, and I wasn’t gasping any more than the rest of them. For the first time in my brief cycling life, I actually felt that I might be able to do this. I didn’t have too long to think about it, though, because Arvan and Michaela arrived — and Michaela had ridden up the whole thing without walking. We were all checking off small victories.


    The ride had 2,500 cyclists between the 120-mile, 100-mile, 62-mile and 35-mile routes. I hoped I wouldn’t see anybody crash or get hurt, but what I wasn’t expecting was to see an oncoming SUV nearly rear-end a car in front of it. Instead, the SUV went careening off the side of the road, down a steep embankment, and somehow landed upright next to a vineyard. It was going so fast that it kept driving on the narrow strip of dirt beside the vines. A girl just in front of me diddn’t even understood what happened, so we chatted in shock for a few minutes. Then we came to the next rest stop, which was a nice chance to get my heart rate back down to normal. I’m so glad that SUV didn’t hit the car and send it flying into us.

    Lunch view. (Sadly, I didn't take any pictures of the vineyards along the ride.)

    The lunch stop was at mile 72, and by then my neck was screaming at me. Since we were going to take our time there, I took the opportunity to lay flat on my back and try to relax my neck. It didn’t do a lot of good, but I also reapplied sunscreen and finally took off my arm warmers (the weather had been fantastic). Mom, I’m pleased to report that I did not get sunburnt!

    I have no idea why those men are wearing those outfits.

    After the lunch stop, Michaela’s hip was hurting and so was my neck. That’s when I thought about a buddy of mine, Virginia. She’s been going through chemotherapy treatment for something like 18 months, and her latest scans showed that she needs an even more aggressive form of chemo. In March, her husband Hal was diagnosed with cancer. Virginia is one of the hardest-charging people I’ve ever met, and I told myself, “Riding 100 miles and having some neck pain is nothing compared to the double-whammy cancer fights Virginia has on her hands. I GET to do this, I CHOSE to do this, and I’m surrounded by all this gorgeous scenery.”

    I hadn’t looked at the route map very closely, other than to know where the dreaded hills were. The rest stop locations were definitely an afterthought, since I was really only using them to refill my water bottles. I thought the lunch stop at mile 72 was the last aid station of the day. But at mile 82, when I had been a bad friend and ridden away from Michaela and then stopped to wait for her, a guy told me there was a rest stop two miles ahead that was stocked with Coke and ice. Cold soda suddenly sounded like the best thing on earth, and I told Michaela when she came zipping along. She was surprised, too, and I vowed that if the guy was wrong and there was no rest stop with Coke, I would actually backtrack the miles just to hunt him down and knock him off his bike. Believe me, I was serious.

    Luckily for that guy, there really was an aid station at mile 84. And they had cups to fill with ice and Coke. I drank a cup, and I swear that it tasted better than any $300 meal in a five-star restaurant can ever taste.

    What a rest stop entrance looks like.

    And then came Chalk Hill. The hill I’d dreaded for months. The hill that I feared would crush my dreams. By then the crowds of riders were very thin and sparse. But when I reached the hill, I immediately passed about half a dozen riders. “Uh oh, I’m charging up this hill way too fast,” I thought to myself. I kept going, and it was honestly longer than I had hoped and how others had made it out to be. But it did come to an end before I did, and I really can’t quite describe that feeling of accomplishment. That’s when those rare whisper-gasped expletives came out, and that’s when I knew for the first time all day that I really was going to finish the ride.

    In December 2008, I reached mile 23 of my first marathon. I still distinctly remember being on a highway in Tucson, Arizona and thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m actually going to run a marathon.” Until then, I hadn’t known if I could really do it. Seven-plus years later, I recognized that feeling once again: I, the person who had excuse notes to get out of PE classes and was always picked last in games at recess, was going to finish a crazy athletic event.

    We entered the Santa Rosa city limits and were greeted by nice roads and bike lanes. “Well, these roads are about 97 miles too late,” I said. The ride route was absolutely gorgeous, with countless green vineyards everywhere, but the roads of Napa and Sonoma counties leave a lot to be desired. At one point, I found myself braking down a straight hill just because the bumpy road was so jarring.

    At mile 99, we reached the finish line. I believe we cussed again. There was NO WAY I could end this ride at mile 99. I had come to ride 100 miles and, dammit, I was going to ride 100 miles. Michaela’s watch registered 99.2 miles (she switch-backed up a hill, while hard-headed Layla charged straight up). So, around the parking lot we rode. “This is so dumb right now,” Michaela said, and I just started laughing, because it was so true.

    Finally, 100 miles appeared on my watch. I hit the “stop” button. I had finally done what I failed to do in October. This was revenge, and it felt so good. Thai and baby Oliver were at the finish line. So was Greg, whose cycling and ultra-running feats make mine look like 5k’s. I tell you, friendly faces at a finish line are the best things ever. I got some food, and that first bite of potato salad was simply amazing — it wasn’t sweet gel or sports drink!


    Recovery was easier than most of my marathons, although I was more tired. The next day, walking upstairs was very tiring, but it was a lot easier than walking downstairs after a marathon. Sunday evening, though, I got chilled despite it being 72 degrees in my apartment. I went to sleep with all the blankets, then awoke around midnight completely drenched in sweat. I wondered if I was getting sick, but that never happened; I guess my body was just trying to regulate itself after all those hours on the bike. I had low energy and needed more sleep over the next few nights, but it wasn’t bad, really.

    I still wanted to get back on my bike, which is a very good thing — Michaela and I MAY possibly have signed ourselves up for a little ride in July…. It MAY be 203 miles in two days from Seattle to Portland, and it MAY have 10,000 riders… And that’s why I can now say that I had a lot more hinging on this century ride than I told people. If I failed, that bigger ride would be in serious jeopardy and my spirits would be crushed. But I succeeded, and I’m now back out on my bike. Seattle, I’m coming for you.

    I do have one post script. As I type this 10 days later, Hal is now home in hospice care. My little bike ride certainly couldn’t stop his cancer from spreading. But I’m so glad I got on my phone after the ride, opened up the Facebook app, told my friends I’d conquered the ride, and said, “Virginia and Hal, this was for you.” We all need to live life as well and as fully as we can, or else it’s an injustice to those who cannot.

  • 36 new dinner recipes in 2015: 1-6

    One of my 36 goals for this year is to try three dozen new dinner recipes. So I opened a couple recipes I’d bookmarked, went shopping — and then realized when I got home that I didn’t have the main ingredient. But I have to eat, and a goal is a goal. Here is the first batch of recipes I’ve tried:

    1. This “spaghetti squash lasagna with broccolini,” which I made with broccoli because I didn’t see “broccolini” at the store. I have no idea what that is and if it made a difference (yes, I could google), but I thought the meal was delicious. I could see adding a little ground beef or sausage to it, and I wonder if chopped spinach would be good. Thanks to Kimra for the recipe tip!
    2. Lemon pepper pork chops were a failure: The sauce flavor was good, but they were so tough that I could barely chew them, even after cutting them into very small bites with a steak knife. Fortunately, I had halved the recipe and the pork chops were cheap, so I didn’t throw out too much food. (Served with canned green beans and non-instant long grain rice. I’m not a good cook, but I don’t have problems cooking rice, so there’s that.)
    3. Roasted chicken and potatoes were easy and fool-proof! Thanks, Michaela, for the recipe! I was reminded that I’m not a fan of drumsticks  because there’s so much inedible stuff to eat around) but I’ll definitely try this again. Next time, I’ll make more of the sauce, and I think red potatoes would be a nice flavor.
    4. Bacon and roasted cauliflower in one recipe?! Sign me up! This charred cauliflower carbonara was delicious, though I apparently did something slightly wrong because it was dry. Maybe because I used the pre-shredded Kraft parmesan cheese? I used the bucatini pasta that the recipe called for, learning in the process that it’s spaghetti noodles with a hole in them, but I don’t see why regular spaghetti or angel hair pasta wouldn’t work just as well. This one took awhile and I would have gone nuts from waiting around, but I talked to one of my sisters the entire time I cooked it, which was an excellent way to do things.
    5. Avocado plus spaghetti squash plus cheese?! Sign me up! I found this recipe, which also includes an egg that (mostly) bakes in it. The egg kind of ruined the whole thing for me, because I don’t like runny yolks. I tried baking the other half more, but that made the top of the egg rubbery and I still had runny yolk. This similar recipe says the key to non-runny yolk is to break the egg on top of the squash, rather than making a well in the squash. That wouldn’t have worked for me, though, because my squash was already full before the egg was added. That second recipe also eliminates the cheese, which is healthier and dairy-free, but the cheesy version was already bland for me so this one would be even more so.
    6. If you slather hummus on chicken breasts and then bake them, it works! Who knew?! I followed this recipe, since I liked the idea of adding some veggies to roast at the same time (though I didn’t use onion, because I never do). I used three chicken breasts instead of four, which was no big deal. I could have added more veggies, and even though I only used the juice of one lemon, I would have preferred less.

    If you have any not-too-complicated recipes that you feel like sharing, I’d love suggestions!

  • Going off sugar

    “Go off sugar for a week.” I don’t know when the idea entered my head, but it’s on my list of things to do this year, so I’ve been researching in preparation. I decided early on that by “going off sugar” I meant that I would be “going off all foods that contain added sugar.” Naturally occurring sugar is fair game, and I’m not going to deprive myself of good nutrients. So, yes, fresh fruit is allowed. I already don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables, so this is a way to consume more of them.

    Another decision I made from the beginning was to go cold turkey, especially since I’m only committed to a week. No “tapering” for me — though it helped that I only drink soda once or twice a month these days (after a four-hour exercise block, nothing tastes better to me than a cold diet, caffeine-free Coke). If you drink soda regularly, go off that first, because I have friends who’ve cut it out and that’s a tough detox all on its own.

    Before I go further, why did I want to go off sugar? After all, I’m not the type to think “X food is BAD!” I’m not a vegetarian, I’m not opposed to preservative-filled pepperoni on pizza, and I buy whichever produce is cheaper and looks good. I buy groceries at Walmart, Trader Joe’s, Target, Safeway and Whole Foods. (Yes, Walmart and Whole Foods were just included in the same sentence.) I wanted to go off sugar because I think I’m somewhat addicted to it, and I hate being addicted to or depending on things. I find myself with cookies and holiday candy and ice cream in my shopping basket. When I get home, they don’t last long because I don’t eat one or two cookies; I eat half the container in one sitting. I can’t help myself, and that is a problem I really don’t like. Additionally, I restrain myself when other people are around, which means that I know the difference between moderation and excess, but I ignore it when alone. I also want to lose weight, and we all know that sugar consumption doesn’t help.

    In preparation, I started looking at labels. I usually glance at them anyway, but this time I started looking for sugar. Do you know how many foods contain added sugar?! Mayonnaise does — every single kind in Safeway contains sugar (and there is a large mayo section at that store). Pasta sauce does. Even many taco seasonings do! Most bread does, but wonder of all wonders, delicious sourdough did not. There was hope!

    I thought through meals, beginning with breakfast. Coffee and tea are fine, since I am just fine with milk or nothing in my coffee and I never add anything to tea. Bagels from my favorite shop, however, are iffy because a lot of bread contains sugar. I tolerate plain oatmeal if it has a giant tablespoon of peanut butter mixed in (I’m perfectly happy with peanut butter that is merely ground-up peanuts, so that’s good because all of the Skippy/Jiffy/store brands have sugar added). And there is the delicious idea of half an avocado mashed on sourdough toast with a little salt sprinkled on top.

    Lunch varies for me. I occasionally make things like lasagna or enchiladas en masse, then freeze them into meal-sized portions that I can take to work. The sauces seem to all contain sugar, though, so those won’t work. I sometimes walk down the street to Costco for a slice of pizza or a chicken salad; the pizza was out (sauce and bread dough), but if I didn’t use the dressing (Caesar dressing) or croutons, the salad was fine since the chicken isn’t marinated or breaded. Subway is a mile away but that was out — I can taste the sweetness of their bread. However, we have a blender at work, so plain Greek yogurt with fruit will work for part of lunch.

    My snacks, or partial meals if I didn’t eat enough breakfast or lunch, are usually a Luna bar, an apple, a piece of cheese — or more often just too many crackers, chips, trail mix, dried fruit… In other words, not ideal. If I’m at home, popcorn is fine because I bought an air popper about a year ago and now I don’t even like the taste of microwaved popcorn (look at the ingredients on that stuff sometime). Fruit in moderation is good; dried fruit is out because most of it contains preservatives/sugar. Veggies and hard-boiled eggs would be better substitutes.

    I asked the google machine about alcohol, and it said what I suspected: except for dessert/sweet wines, alcohol itself does not contain added sugar. (Mixers used with hard liquor, including “healthy” juice, are loaded with sugar.) In fact, there’s an eight-week sugar detox program that allows one glass of wine with dinner up to five nights a week. That certainly seemed doable for me. I like alcohol, but unlike sweets, it can sit in my house untouched for months. I’m perfectly fine not having alcohol, so an occasional drink could serve as a “treat” instead of sugar. However, a week without alcohol won’t kill me, so I should probably just abstain to avoid using it as a substitute for my sugar fix.

    Funny enough, two days after I started drafting this post (while at Panera eating a bagel with “low fat New York cheesecake cream cheese” that I guarantee contains sugar), I learned that I was in great company: pro runner Kara Goucher blogged that she had gone off sugar for 67 days.

    And that leads me to a final note before I click “publish” on this post. I am only going completely off sugar for one week; I hope it kick-starts something more permanent, but I’m not committed beyond the week. Why only one week? Because I’m training for endurance events and need the sports drink and gels that contain sugar. I really can’t eat much solid food while riding my bike for hours, because I get woozy and light-headed, so I need to get calories through fluid and gel. My conclusion (based on personal experience and talking to cyclists), is that it’s due to my slow circulation: If blood is busy digesting food in my stomach, there isn’t enough time for it to also keep flowing to my head. While it’s a bummer because I have the world’s most solid stomach that can eat anything, it’s also nice to have finally figured out why some runs, rides and athletic endeavors go sideways on me.

    Bottom line: I’m going off sugar as a personal experiment, not as an indictment against sugar itself. Like with most things in life, I do not think sugar itself is bad; it just should not be used in excess.

    I’ll report back once my week is done. Maybe I’ll magically drop 15 pounds while I’m at at it?! Oh wait, this is real life, as opposed to my dreams…

  • My attempt at swimming lessons

    Many months ago, when I got the wild idea to do 36 things in one year, “take a swimming lesson” was one of the first things that popped into my brain. After all, I’m surrounded by triathletes to the point that I find myself giving them tips and regularly spouting triathlon trivia. I’ve also been to Hawaii a number of times over the years, I have a couple pools in my apartment complex, and I have gym access to several “real” pools. Oh, and I’ve proven to myself time and time again that the only way I can run is if I also cross train. Clearly, I should swim.

    There is the small matter of how I almost drowned once as a completely sober adult… And how it took me years of childhood lessons before I allegedly passed the test… And how a boy once tried teaching me to dive but instead I belly flopped repeatedly until it hurt and then I lost an earring and he couldn’t find it at the bottom of the pool, though he kept valiantly trying…

    I had a feeling I would put off the swimming lesson thing, but then an Amazon Local deal appeared in my inbox shortly after I launched my 36 Things project. I called to see if they had adult lesson times available (they did), and if they had evenings so I wouldn’t have to take time off work (they did), and I looked online to see if they had good reviews (they did). $36 later, I was signed up for four 30-minute lessons.

    On a mid-March evening, I stayed late at work until it was time to change. I put on the one-piece Speedo swimsuit I’d purchased for $19 a year earlier at Costco (and had never worn). I had goggles ready (which I’d worn once), along with a swim cap (never worn). I drove a few miles to American Swim Academy, walked inside and surveyed what I describe as a cute pool.

    I impressed myself by getting the untested swim cap onto my big head on the first try — good sign. I looked at the seating area and saw one woman in a swimsuit; I went over and said hi, and yes, she was there for the swim lesson and was very nice — good sign. It was just the two of us, instead of the maximum of four students I’d known about when signing up — good sign. The teacher was a cool guy who didn’t put on any airs or make me feel stupid — good sign.

    You’d think all those good signs would lead to a good time. Well, I had forgotten about the swimming lessons when I’d given blood for the first time four days earlier. I’ve since learned that I am basically useless for about 10-14 days after giving blood; half an hour is my max for exercise before I really cannot see anything and am utterly exhausted. That first swim lesson had me breathless after two laps in the small pool.

    The second lesson rolled around, and I was now 11 days post-blood-donation. This time we had a third student. The other woman was a beginner, but this new woman didn’t let go of the wall — in four feet of water. I was mainly there to learn how to breathe to the side during the crawl stroke, so I can actually get a workout. The other two woman were there to learn how to avoid drowning and conquer their fear of water. I felt like the showoff I never want to be — I was basically an intimidating asshole who didn’t need to learn how to stay alive in water. To be clear, our teacher never made me feel that way, but I felt so guilty. I was mostly on my own, though other teachers tried to give me pointers and were all very nice.

    The third lesson rolled around, with the same three of us students. Did I mention how much goggles hurt? I mean, I prefer them to the burning eyes and risk of infection from lord knows how many kids peed in that pool all day before I showed up at 6:30 p.m. But they hurt, and the raccoon eye marks are definitely attractive when wandering around Trader Joe’s after 30 minutes in the pool. The other two women were still trying not to drown,  The teacher and I still hadn’t figured out which side I should be breathing on (when asked which felt easier, my answer was a quick “neither?”). I couldn’t count three strokes before I’d be gasping for air, but maybe I was actually supposed to be counting four, or possibly two?

    Tonight was supposed to be my fourth and last lesson. As I sat there at work at 5:15 p.m., thinking about how I’d be hanging out for another hour and then going to a place I was dreading, I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I locked up and went home. As soon as I got on the freeway in the wrong direction from the swimming pool, I felt so relieved. The relief was worth the $9 I had pre-paid and wouldn’t get back.

    And thus ends my swimming lesson experiment. I’d still like to be able to swim without getting exhausted immediately — even when I’ve been in fast marathon shape, I can’t swim more than two laps without needing a break, and by four laps I can’t see (for perspective, when I’m in shape, I manage not to reach that point until the end of a marathon when I’ve just raced the last three miles). The other day I got a brochure about all the programs my city offers, and they did have adult swimming lessons in it for a good price. But I don’t want to pay any amount of money to hang out in a pool feeling guilty because I know the basics of swimming and am thus taking time away from those who do not know how. I also don’t want to be the idiot taking up space in a gym pool where real swimmers are trying to train for an Ironman.

    I guess I’ll just keep doing other cross-training activities and envying those people who mysteriously enjoy swimming. At least I got a couple sunset drives out of the swimming lessons.

  • Blood donation

    On March 15, 2006, a British guy named Andy slipped away from the world, just three months and one week after he’d been diagnosed with cancer. He was 36 years old.

    I knew him better as “Beasty,” a nickname he’d given when he wandered into an Internet chat room in 2000. He was a nerdy computer guy who liked corny jokes and was very proud of all the blood he’d donated over the years. His cancer diagnosis put an end to his blood donations, and I told myself I would finally get around to donating blood in his honor. Excuse followed excuse — how I had a weird reaction to a shot (couldn’t breathe, my hands froze up like claws, happy birthday to me); how my blood pressure is borderline low so they might not accept me anyway; how I couldn’t do it X amount of days before a long run or race. Years passed as I continued to avoid it.

    Then, this year when I was coming up with my list of 36 things to do, something made me think, “donate blood.” I looked up Beasty’s online journal, which is still there in “memorial” status, and I looked up the newspaper column I wrote upon his death. It suddenly hit me: He was 36 years old when he died. 36. I went to my drafted list, scrolled to the bottom spots that were still empty, and typed “Donate blood” in number 36.

    In February, when I started my “36 things in a year” attempt, I went to the American Red Cross site, found a local donation center, and learned that they were closed on the anniversary of Beasty’s death, March 15, a Sunday. But they were open March 14, which also happened to be Pi Day (a cool one at that: 3/14/15 at 9:26:53 made up the first digits of pi). Beasty would have gotten such a kick out of that! I looked at my calendar, knowing it might be a bit of a risk due to training for my first century bike ride, but I signed up anyway.

    Yesterday found me in the Red Cross center closest to my house, where they apparently don’t get a lot of first-time donors. I went into a room with an employee and answered a bunch of questions to screen my blood — nope, I’m not a needle user and haven’t lived overseas, etc. They pricked my finger and tested to make sure my hemoglobin levels were ok — nope, I’m not anemic and my iron levels are fine. So then I went out into the main room where the lady put me in a reclining chair and pondered my veins. And then she called over the most senior employee for help.

    I’m often the “problem patient” and this was no exception, as they tried to find a vein. They did find one, and I looked away as they poked the needle in my arm. It hurt but really wasn’t bad at all. It took awhile for them to get the blood, and they readjusted the needle several times (ouch) in an attempt to get it to flow faster. I’d read that it takes 8-10 minutes, but at eight minutes I was only halfway done. The head lady said they have a limit of 20 minutes, due to clotting worries. Fortunately, I was done in about 15 minutes.

    They put a cold wet cloth on my head, which was "preventative" because I'd mentioned that I often get dizzy if I stand up too fast.

    They bandaged me up (that was pretty minimal, thankfully), brought me juice and made me sit there for about 10 minutes before going over to the food/drink area. I was supposed to eat something there and sit for another 15 minutes. I forced down a cookie thing and finally left, realizing it was 80 degrees outside, much warmer in my car, but I didn’t run the air-conditioning. I also realized I had no energy to stop at the grocery store as I’d planned. Walking up my stairs was exhausting. That was the beginning.

    As my poor friends on Twitter and Facebook and texting know, I spent the afternoon and evening on my couch, griping about feeling woozy and about the blood pounding and swirling in my head and ears. I knew I needed to eat, but I could not find the energy to cook the dinner I’d planned — and it didn’t help that I was so NOT hungry to the point of almost feeling sick. I kept drinking water as instructed, and I actually was not dehydrated for once. But I guess losing about 10 percent of my blood sent my body into a bit of shock. (The human body contains 10-12 pints of blood and one pint is taken during donation, so it’s 8.5 to 10 percent total.) When I remembered that I needed to put clean sheets back on my bed, I actually started crying because it seemed like an insurmountable task. I finally forced myself to open and heat a can of soup, since it was 82 degrees in my apartment but I was still cold and at least soup would be warm. That helped quite a bit. I went to bed at 9, slept soundly until 3:10, then managed to get back to sleep until 6:30. That also helped. As I type this at 10 a.m., I’m doing a lot better. I took myself to Panera and bought food, so I would actually eat it despite not feeling hungry. I don’t feel as lethargic, so I think I have enough strength to go run an errand soon.

    For those who have not donated, I still think you should do it if you are able. If you’re an endurance athlete, be prepared to lose some training time. Don’t plan to exercise the first 24 hours after donating, and also know that it takes two to six weeks for the body’s blood to be fully replenished. I read that a lot of athletes only donate in the late fall/early winter after their racing season has ended, and I think that’s a good plan. I didn’t want to wait that long to cross it off my list, and I also thought it would be neat to do it on the anniversary of my friend’s death.

    The "I donated" badge.

    After my experience, I won’t donate again until after I’m done with endurance events for the season. I will also be better prepared, with a food plan ready and knowing I’ll be useless and upset for the rest of the day. Honestly, I’m not in a hurry to donate again, because of terribly how I felt. HOWEVER, I still firmly believe that more of us should donate. Blood saves lives, and we all know people who’ve been saved with blood. It’s not even a political matter such as deciding whether to donate money to a cause: Even the richest, most successful people cannot buy their way out of a car wreck or a health emergency that requires blood to save their lives. A friend of mine, whom I’ve know for three decades, is alive today because of two organ transplants, which he could not have prevented. Google tells me that he went through at least 20 to 40 units of blood for just the liver transplant — and my donation was just one unit. One car wreck victim can require dozens of units of blood, such as this guy who went on to become an Ironman finisher. Imagine your child, parent, significant other or friend, lying in an emergency room bed, hooked up to a machine that is pumping blood into them to keep them alive until surgeons can stop the cause of the bleeding. That’s made possible because of donors.

    And that’s why my friend Beasty donated. Just as he actually liked helping clueless people figure out how to operate a computer program, he liked donating blood. It was something he could do for others. In February 2006, just a few weeks before he died, he wrote about being informed that his cancer treatments meant he wouldn’t be able to blood again: “I think I did my bit, though, by giving 34 units while I still could. Being a rare blood group too, I’ll be missed. I was hoping to get to at least a hundred in my useful lifetime, but, alas, it is not to be. Annoying, but life goes on. I, for one, intend to make sure it does.”

    Beasty, yesterday was for you. Between the two of us, you’ve now donated 35 units.

    Beasty, in memoriam.

    That newspaper column I wrote is linked here, though the date is wrong — that’s the date I contacted them and asked them to put it back online because the old link had stopped working. In case that link dies again, I’m putting the full text here.

    An e-mail brings jarring news about ’Net friend

    The e-mail arrived last week. It was from my closest friend, and the subject line contained one name. A sense of dread filled me.

    As quickly as the thought came, I dismissed it. It must simply be an update on our mutual friend who was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago.

    It was an update of the worst kind. At age 36, Andy had died of cancer.

    As another mutual friend put it best, he wasn’t supposed to die. He was supposed to beat the disease. After all, I know three people who recently conquered cancer, and two of them were older than he.

    Andy was a typical “British bloke.” He’d spent his life in England, unless he was off doing things like scuba diving off the coast of Florida or grilling burgers in San Diego.

    He’d had a few career switches, for a time working in customs and occasionally seeing people busted for trying to smuggle drugs. But one of his passions was computers, so that was a big part of his life.

    When I met him six years ago, I knew him as “Beasty.” He had wandered into an Internet community I called home, and before long he was making daily appearances. Like most of us, he used a different name online.

    His name, though, belied his personality. For some reason I don’t quite understand, Beasty didn’t mind giving computer help to the most ungrateful, clueless people — and on his own time, too.

    If complete strangers complained about a computer problem, he’d instantly offer to help.

    But that was Beasty, the carefree guy who once got a kick out of recording words on his computer and sending them to me, simply because I liked his British accent.

    Many people are scared of the online world. When they hear I’ve met “Internet friends” in person, they’re shocked.

    Even one computer-savvy friend of mine recently remarked that the crazed, scary people online outnumber the decent people.

    I challenge that assumption. We only hear about the psychotic situations; people like Beasty don’t make headline news.

    As in all walks of life, there are crazed, scary people. We’ve all heard of horrible abductions and rapes and murders.

    The Internet world is just like the physical world. Sure, you can’t see the people you meet, but that’s sometimes an advantage. When I meet people online, I’m not distracted by the surface appearance. I look deeper, and I keep looking until I find the real person.

    When Beasty first wandered into that Internet community, I had no idea he was a blond-haired, blue-eyed guy with an intriguing accent. I didn’t know his age or marital status.

    But I did learn those things later. Like many other people I’ve met online, I gradually got to know Beasty, eventually coming to know him by both his online and real names.

    When he attended one of our annual gatherings in San Diego and we met in person, Beasty was how I’d thought he would be. What none of us had expected was for him to voluntarily take over the barbecue duties and continue cooking until there was food for more than two dozen hungry people. He loved doing it, too, and got a kick out of the fact that he’d traveled all that way to grill burgers

    Over the years, people come and go from our lives. But Beasty made an effort not to lose track of people. Every year, he’d send me a birthday greeting, one time with the news that I now share a birthday with one of his closest friend’s babies.

    When he was diagnosed last year with Deep Vein Thrombosis, we wished him well and didn’t worry too much. After all, he was so upbeat that it didn’t matter.

    (According to the National Institutes of Health, DVT is a condition when a blood clot forms in a leg. It occasionally happens to people who take very long airline flights that require sitting for hours on end. Beasty didn’t know why he got it, but figured it was hereditary.)

    For Beasty, one of the biggest concerns about having DVT was that he had to go on medication that would halt his blood donations. He’d donated 34 units by last year, and had wanted to reach some kind of record.

    Then in the fall he went to the doctor to find out why he had a lump in his neck. In December, tests revealed it was cancerous.

    His upbeat British humor dominated every new medical event, and Beasty resigned himself to radiation and chemotherapy — even apologizing in advance that he might miss my recent birthday because he’d be in the hospital then.

    He kept us updated, and in late January came this line: “Well, I get to be a bigger enigma to the medical profession every day it seems.” In the lighthearted update, he also mentioned that he had diabetic symptoms and had developed a brain tumor.

    After finishing radiation in mid-February, Beasty knew his blood donor days were over. “Annoying, but life goes on. I, for one, intend to make sure it does,” he told us in an update.

    Then, on March 10, he awoke to find that his leg was’t working. None of his Internet friends, myself included, knew that would be his last message to us.

    Five days later, he died.

    His updates had come by Internet, and news of his death also came that way. It may sound impersonal, but in a way it’s not. The Internet has given all of his grieving friends a place to gather and remember him.

    The tributes have been steady since we got word of Beasty’s death. Many, like myself, have been going through computer archives, recalling conversations and digging up photos to pass on to his grateful family members.

    In each photo, there is Andy’s grinning face, a tribute to the person who was as genuine in person as he was online.

    Layla Bohm is the assistant city editor and police/courts reporter at the Lodi News-Sentinel.

  • Three dozen things

    In early fall 2014, I was looking at my “goals” for the year and lamenting the fact that I would fail to meet most of them. I thought to myself, “Why didn’t I put some attainable/bucket list things on the list, like seeing more sites near where I live or taking an adult swimming lesson?” Something made me think of my friend Jen, who had done a bunch of “30 before 30″ things leading up to her 30th birthday. She got a tattoo, pierced her nose, etc — things that were attainable. My 2014 goal list had included things like “run 1,500 miles,” which I couldn’t do because I was injured.

    So I opened the notes app on my phone and typed, “See Alcatraz at night.” Then: “Invest in the stock market.” And the third one was: “Take a swimming lesson.” They’re things I can actually do, and things I want to do (well, I dread the swimming one a bit, but it would be good for me). Then I got the idea to start this adventure in February, and I named the note “Three Dozen Things.”

    Over the next few months, I kept adding to the list. I deleted and edited lines — “make kale chips” became “try three dozen new recipes,” which I later limited to “dinner recipes.” As weeks and months rolled by, my list lingered around 20 items and I began to think I was being too ambitious and should just scrap the whole thing. Then I came across a pre-Christmas sale that just so happened to be part of an item on my list: “Subscribe to Outside magazine and read every issue for a year.” The first issue would arrive right around the time my list would officially start. One minute and $10 later, I had committed to it.

    And so, for the first time since I unlinked and revamped most of my website more than four years ago, I made a change. The new section, 36 Things, is right there in plain sight for all to see. Every line is waiting to see if I can accomplish it.

    Because it’s always fun to look back and see how ridiculous I was, here are a few predictions as of February 2015. I suspect the hardest item on the list will be “Kick my snooze button habit.” I think “Try three dozen new dinner recipes” will make me curse when I realize an egg scramble and stir fry don’t count (since they’re not new), and “Cook a turkey” may involve the fire department. Either the turkey or “Eat in a nice restaurant by myself” will be the most awkward. “Knit a scarf” will probably invoke memories of childhood frustration. At some point, I’ll probably have to spend a chunk of time reading several back issues of Outside magazine all at once in order to catch up. The same will hopefully not be true with losing 15 pounds, or else I’ll be on a water-only diet next January. The century bike ride will hopefully be a little redemption from all of 2014’s unfinished business, the piano song memorization will probably be a struggle, and blood donation may ultimately wind up being the most meaningful — and 14 years overdue.

    At any rate, here goes the adventure. As friends said last weekend when I told them about it, I might very well be insane.