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Birthday Weekend 2013 (woo hoo!) is officially over. ‘Twas a weird one, yes. But between all the tears, overwhelming emotion, and exhaustion, it was also probably the best birthday I’ve had in years.

IMG_20130920_174203Friday afternoon I headed up to St. Cloud (yes, again) to met up with my cousin, Danielle, for dinner at my favorite Mexican place. But first, disgusting birthday shots with a chocolate milk chaser with my grandma were, apparently, necessary.

IMG_3747IMG_3738Grandma ended up joining Danielle, my mom, and me for dinner. A dinner where we feasted on all of my favorites: daiquiris, chips and salsa, burritos slathered in cheese and sour cream and all things sinful, and the best of the best: Fried. Ice cream.

IMG_3764IMG_376520130920_18243320130920_18282320130920_190339Can you tell the emotional eating was still going strong? Oh, yeah.

20130920_18463320130920_18472720130920_18114720130920_18111120130920_18233720130920_182407After dinner, the four of us headed to a local bar where several more shots and cocktails were knocked back, along with some minor league gambling. Yes, my family is the coolest.IMG_20130920_225554IMG_20130920_225804 IMG_3767IMG_3790IMG_3783IMG_3784IMG_3788Grandma decided it was past her bedtime, so while she and my momma headed home, Danielle and I grabbed a few beers and stirred up a bit of trouble around town. We crashed a party at my aunt and uncles (small town shenanigans), and ended the night back at her house for a slumber party. It was delightful.
IMG_3793IMG_3794IMG_380420130920_192204IMG_3779Saturday, my actual birthday, dawned bright and beaming: endlessly blue skies, sunshine, and a chilly fall breeze. My favorite weather. Danielle and I decided it was absolutely required birthday behavior that we head to our favorite local bakery for donuts and coffee.

20130921_08463320130921_084642IMG_3821Don’t worry, I only ate one…and a half…and two coffees.

We sat outside people watching and generally enjoying the gorgeous morning, After topping off our coffees, we decided that I guess maybe we should do something to work off the excess calories we consumed, so we laced up our sneaks and headed out for a long walk. Good conversation with one of my favorite people? I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed having this girl around.
IMG_3825The day got a little heavy, then, as Danielle had to head off to a wedding, and I had to go to my grandpa’s house to help pack up all his stuff. There’s some sort of odd poetry in packing up all a person’s belongings on their birthday…

Later, I spent some time with my grandpa out at the cemetery, wishing him a happy birthday, crying some happy tears, crying a few more sad tears, remembering all the birthdays we’d shared through the years.

Finally, after a long day, I sleepily drove back to the Cities. After all, I had to get a little shut eye before my 5K race on Sunday! But, so I don’t abuse my photo privileges here, I’ll share more on that amazingness tomorrow!

I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike

There are too few perfect warm, summery days here in good old Minnesota. So, when they come around, you have to grab them. Same goes for my confidence and self-esteem: the highs are few and far between, so you make the most of each and every fleeting moment. Over the next few months, I intend to grab hold and explore–both my summer and my confidence.

Enter LouAnn.
IMG_20130615_20255820130613_191520LouAnn is my brand spanking new bicycle. And she’s a beaut. I have long longed to be one of those people, stealthily pedaling down the road, weaving in and out of traffic, breezing by slow movers like me on the running trails. And now, suddenly, I kind of am!

Last night I took Lulu (that’s her nickname, obviously) for my first real spin in the city. Let me preface this by saying that 1. I have no knowledge of proper biking etiquette or safety procedures, 2. I’m terrified of getting hit by a car, 3. my bike has no carrying receptacle for my phone or water bottle, and 4. I have previously despised the cyclists in my town who ride like their bike is car. So, you know, I’m well prepared to do this whole cycling thing. Sure.

I took Lou (her other nickname, obvi) down one of my favorite running routes and then some, seven miles in total. Just to test it out. I was nervous, but I smiled realizing how happy I was to simply be pedaling down the road. I could not physically or mentally have done this 60-some pounds ago. I realized, though, as I pedaled past my favorite little drummer boys and people I was sure were openly gawking at me, that I still haven’t gotten over the mental roadblock I have of being fat and on a bike. Like one of those circus bears on a small tricycle? That’s how I feel.
I wonder if the “everyone’s staring at me” thing in my mind is ever going to stop.
I wonder if I’ll ever just stop caring.

But I did it and I’ll keep doing it. Mind over matter, and all that. Speaking of which, I also made some very real progress on my summer bucket list! I registered for a bike race! I’ll be doing the Tour de Tonka in August. The ride is all around our gorgeous Lake Minnetonka and has several different routes you can chose–from 16 miles all the way up to 100. Yikes.I’ve haven’t yet decided on how many miles I’ll do, so let’s try something new here on Manda Kay Makes It…

Let me know what you guys think! I’m going to be doing some fundraising for this race, too, but you’ll see more about that later :)I mentioned to my mom that I signed up for this race, and she pointed out that it’s the same day as other plans she and I had made. The guilt immediately set in. I’ll cancel the race, I said. No hesitation. But Mama Ruthie insisted that I do the race–it’s more important for you to be healthy and get exercise, she said.

And it hit me: she’s right. I keep talking about how I’m here to make my life, and this race offers just that opportunity. Keeping my prior commitment to my mom is not living my life. Doing this bike ride, training, setting and achieving a major goal, that’s living my life. On my terms. Putting myself first. Being selfish in the best way. But it’s not a concept I’m familiar or comfortable with, so I’m struggling.

So, for now, I’m just going to keep riding. Block out the noise, the traffic, the guilt, and the voice in my head. Enjoy these summer days, grab hold of that confidence more and more. Moving forward, always.

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Where I live is just the best. Trees and rolling green lawns, good shopping, food, and drinks, rivers and waterfalls, neighbors who know you by name, everyone walking/running/biking up and down the streets and trails…my little urban neighborhood is quite the welcome urban respite.
20130607_173207Nestled in my perfect little neighborhood is my perfect little apartment complex. Gorgeous apartments and new (to me) this year: the community garden!
20130518_161508My raised 4X8 little plot of land is nestled among about 10 others. Earlier this spring, we all got together to clean out our gardens, have a few beers, and get to know each other. How lovely! The small town, slightly hippie-ish girl in me absolutely loves this stuff!
20130518_140958Since this is my first year gardening on my own (outside of some previous “supervising” of Mama Ruthie’s gardens and a few squirrel-ridden tomato planters), I roped my friend Stephanie into helping. We had been looking for a community garden to join, so this ended up being a perfect situation!
20130518_16331520130518_162641Neither of has a clue what we’re doing. We’ve been taking a “let’s just try it” approach. That approach includes guessing the needed number of bags of soil and compost, planting everything from seed (who knew they sold vegetable plants?!), throwing entire packets of said seed into the dirt, and finally, minimally attending to the planted garden.

Not to mention it’s been raining literally nonstop for the past several weeks. Summer? What summer?
20130518_16175720130518_16153320130518_172031But lo and behold! It’s a miracle! This little garden is sprouting up like a weed…see what I did there?
20130606_16350520130613_19244420130613_192518Tomatoes! Those are actual real life tomatoes! And carrots, turnips, peas, two kinds of lettuce, spinach, butternut squash, cucumber, zucchini, and green beans. All that little space!

And then there’s our other garden…the stepchild of gardens, I guess? Kale and thyme on the windowsill…
20130601_112522Basil, parsley, garlic chives, and chives. Baby red potatoes in the ground.
20130601_112540And finally: bell peppers and jalapeno peppers.
20130601_112546I am so excited to harvest all of this nutrient-packed, fibery goodness. And save a bunch of money on produce to boot!

I’ll keep you all posted on my green thumb progress this summer. Hopefully I’ll even have some new veggie-packed recipes to share!

Do you have a garden? What did you plant this year?

This Year > Last Year

It’s amazing the difference twelve short months can make. Just 365 little days…
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Last May, I was about 40 pounds heavier and a bunch of inches thicker. I was four pant sizes and two-three (depending on the store) shirt sizes bigger. I couldn’t dream of shopping in “normal” stores, save for the maternity section or the occasional tunic or dress that I fashioned into a form-fitting shirt (Yes, really. I did both).
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Last May I was uncomfortable wearing t-shirts and wouldn’t dream of wearing tank tops. No one wants to see all that flab flapping around. When I did finally start to wear tank tops, it was the biggest deal. I remember calling my mom as I stood at the big box hardware store wearing a sleeveless dress. I was nearly in tears I was so proud…and so terrifyingly self-conscious.
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Last May I didn’t leave the house without my hair and make up done, my outfit acceptably perfect. Why give the world another reason to judge me? I may be The Fat Girl but I would never dream of being The Ugly Fat Girl.

Last May I struggled to run for 30 seconds. I stuck mostly to the elliptical at the gym, because I was afraid of how unattractive and out of shape I’d look trying something new. I didn’t make eye contact and I stayed in the back row of my darkened spin class—the only group class I would attempt.
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But now?

This May, I’m still stuck in a seemingly never-ending weight loss plateau, but I’ve lost over 60 pounds in about a year, I’ve tightened and toned my body to the point where I sometimes like what I see in the mirror. I haven’t given up. I regularly shop at normal stores in mostly normal sizes. Sometimes, I even need to grab a smaller size.
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This May, I cry in dressing rooms because I can’t believe I fit in the size 14 shirt not because I have to grab the 3X.

This May, I’ve run a 5K race, with a goal of doing five more this year (three are on the calendar!). I’ve gotten my heavy body up on a paddleboard…while wearing a swimsuit. I’ve taken (and love!) a boot camp and a weights class—where I’m constantly uncomfortable and pushed to my physical and self-esteem limits.
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This May, I rarely wear makeup when I’m not at work or going out socially. I’ve stopped caring what I look like in the best possible way: I still want to look cute, obviously, but I no longer spend an hour getting ready to go to Target on a Saturday afternoon.
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This May, I wear t-shirts. And tank tops. And dresses that show off (most) of my legs.
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This May, I explore the world around me. I try new things. I put myself out there socially (something, I admit, I’m just starting to feel out). I’m less afraid of others, less afraid of myself.
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This May, I’ve mostly made peace with myself. As is, right now. Fat and all. The scale doesn’t define me, your opinion of me, and what fat girls should and should not do, doesn’t define me. I define me. And I like me. I’m proud of me.

This May, I can’t wait to see who I am next May.

Brrr…

Over the past week or so here in Minnesota, temperatures have been consistently below 0°, forecasters correctly predicted wind chills (how cold it feels outside) as low as -45°, and we’re now waiting for an ice/rain/snow storm. So, in other words, it’s basically your typical Minnesota January. The cold doesn’t bother me so much—I am a lifelong Midwestern—but I do miss things like heat, sunshine, warm weather clothing, and just the general ability to be outdoors for extended periods of time without having my breath taken away. Also, having to go out and warm up your car at 5:00 am on a Monday? Yeah, sucks.
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One of the best things about this weather, though, is that it gives you the excuse to sequester yourself at home, lazily sip on warm coffee, watch guilty pleasure movies (Hello, Lifetime afternoons!)…and make batch after batch of soup.
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My mom, also a fan of the coffee/Lifetime-afternoon combo, has an amazing vegetable soup recipe that I’ve literally been making over and over recently.  It’s a great way to get your fiber and eat your veggies without feeling like your actually eating your veggies (in case you hate them like I do). It’s also an extremely easy, versatile recipe–hence why I never get sick of eating it.
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Got a bunch of leftover veg hanging out in the fridge, about to spoil? You can put just about anything into this soup and it will turn out scrumptious. Like what, you ask? Well, the original recipe calls for your standard carrot/celery/potato combo. But I’ve made it with zucchini, summer squash (oh, summer…), green beans, swiss chard, and spinach and it has always been a winner. For something a bit heartier, you can also add meat—ground beef/turkey/chicken work great. Play around with the ingredients and the quantities; experiment!
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So if the weather’s a little chilly where you are, or if you just want a new super healthy and hearty kick-butt soup recipe, give this one a shot—I promise it will warm your little heart right up!

Vegetable Soup
Makes about 4 quarts

Ingredients
2 C yellow onion, diced
2 C carrots, diced
2 C celery, diced
2 zucchini
2 summer squash
1 bunch swiss chard (remove leaves from stems)
2 15oz cans cannellini or black beans
2 qts crushed tomatoes
6 C water
3 tsp salt
½ tsp basil
½ tsp thyme
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp olive oil

Directions

  • Dice all vegetables and drain and rinse the beans.
  • In a large dutch oven or soup pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until translucent.
  • Add the rest of the vegetables, tomatoes, water and seasonings.
  • Cover and let simmer for 1½  hours, stirring occasionally.
  • This soup can also be made in a crock-pot, simmering for 6-8 hours.

Top Chef, Bitches

Drinking whilst cooking is definitely the way to go. In fact, for all future cooking endeavors, I refuse to lift a spatula without a mimosa firmly in hand. What’s that kids? You want mommy to make you pancakes for breakfast? Well, make a mommy a martini (extra dry, with a twist) and grab the griddle!

I kid, obviously. But seriously, you guys, the dinner I made tonight was Top Chef quality—and I think I owe it to the vodka soda I was a-swilling. And that I’m still a-swilling. That swilling is also the reason for my serious lack of pictures from tonight. Sorry, y’all!
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Last time my momma was in town (yet another shout out to Mama Ruthie!), we went out to one of my favorite restaurants and had a ridiculously indulgent meal. While there, I had a fillet of salmon resting on greens and roasted potatoes, coated in this crumbly, salty, crispy, bacon-cranberry crust. I said that night that I was determined to recreate the dish at home, hopefully making it a bit healthier in the process.
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Cut to tonight when I finally had time to actually cook beyond the reheating of leftovers. Now, I Googled like crazy to find a recipe for inspiration here, but I found nothing. So, with the liquid confidence of my buddy Abby Absolut, I went to work creating this thing from the ground up.
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I buy my salmon in giant fillets like this:

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It’s way less expensive and for most people, just as good as buying fresh. I defrosted the giant fillet overnight, then let it sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before portioning it out. Each smaller fillet is about 3-4 ounces.
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While the salmon came to room temp, I fried up some bacon. Try to resist the urge to gobble it all up straight from the pan. I mean, sneak a piece or two if you must, but…
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Once the bacon cooled, I crumbled it into my food processor along with the dried cranberries. A few quick pulses later, it was time to move on to searing the fish. I let each piece cook on each side for about 1 minute before pulling it from the pan. Then on went a quick coat of egg white, helping the cranberry-bacon mixture stick when I glomped it on. Yes, glomped. Back into the pan went the fish, skin side down. A few minutes later and dinner was served!

Oh! I almost forgot! I also made a pomegranate balsamic reduction. Remember? Top Chef? Oh yeah.

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The reduction is super simple: pom juice (I used reduced sugar juice), balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Whisk it all together, bring it to a rolling boil. Let it continue to boil until the mixture reduces to half. And then spoon that silky smooth glaze over your bacon and cranberry covered fish and go. Crazy.
Photo 7PS: for a real treat, make yourself a little garlicky cheesy bruschetta and dunk that mess in your leftover reduction. Worth the carbs, 100%.

Bacon-Cranberry Crusted Salmon with Pomegranate Balsamic Reduction

Makes 6 fillets

Ingredients

For salmon:
6  3-4 oz salmon fillets, skin on
8 pieces bacon
¼ C dried cranberries
1 egg white

For sauce:
16 oz pomegranate juice
½ C balsamic vinegar
3 Tbsp light brown sugar
1 Tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Directions

  • In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients for the sauce and whisk together. Bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly and allow it to continue to cook until it reduces by half.
  • While the sauce reduces, fry up the bacon. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  • Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Spray pan with cooking spray.
  • Sear fish on each flesh side for about 1 minute.
  • Remove the fish from the pan and place skin-side down on a plate.
  • Meanwhile, crumble the bacon into the bowl of a food processor and add the dried cranberries. Pulse the mixture until it comes together.
  • Brush the egg white on to each fillet. Place a small amount of the bacon-cranberry mixture onto each piece, pressing down slightly.
  • Carefully place the fish back into the hot pan, skin-side down, and cook for 4-5 minutes or until fish bounces back ever so slightly when touched.
  • Remove the fish from the heat and let it sit for a few minutes.
  • Spoon the sauce onto the fish and eat up, babies!

Holiday Success

I always spend the Holidays with my family–real meat and potatoes Midwesterners. Everything is structured around food–when we’re going to eat, what we’re going to eat, etc. We start planning dinner before eating supper, there are trays of candy, cookies, dips, spreads, and nuts everywhere, and overindulging then sleeping it off in front of the TV is wholly encouraged. And then there’s the calorie-laden adult beverages…so, as someone who whole-heartedly loves all things food and drink, this is naturally my favorite time of year.

This is the first year I can remember where I’m not giving myself a pass for the holidays. I’m not going into this season with the mindset that I can just start again when it’s time for New Year’s resolutions. I’m actively planning how to be successful this holiday season. While I’m obviously no expert here, I think it’s really all about the basics and maintaining my schedule regardless of others.

Here are my five tips to stay on track during the holidays:

1. Make your own food
It is the best way to control what, exactly, you’re putting in your mouth. I was scared that I offend my grandmother by doing this. She is an amazing cook, notorious for overfeeding and her use of butter. But after asking, I found she was more than happy to let me invade her kitchen–she has been super supportive of my journey. I also found my family willing to partake in my healthy offerings.

2. Allow yourself one specific indulgence
Choose one thing and really savor the indulgence. What is life if you can’t enjoy it once in awhile? The holidays are my favorite time of year and I want to enjoy them–I can be rigid the rest of the year. For Thanksgiving this year, I chose to indulge in a little liquid therapy: vodka.
3. Exercise
Being away from the gym or home, in wintery climates, etc. is no excuse not to work out. Thanksgiving morning, I got up early and went for a run. I also took some time to complete a workout I found on Pinterest. Seriously, both Pinterest and Self magazine have a bunch of great quick workouts that can be done anywhere with minimal or no equipment. When all else fails, just get out and walk. Or play active games with younger family members. Or stand in a corner and do jumping jacks, some push-ups, crunches…just be active.

4. Log everything
I track my calories and exercise on My Fitness Pal. If you don’t use an online tracking tool like that, write down what you eat in a notebook, keep a running mental list, or, if you have a family member you don’t particularly like, bore them to death by telling them bite for bite what you’ve eaten that day. Having that written or verbal list of what you’ve put in your pie hole is a very effective form of accountability.

5. Water
I feel completely different when I don’t get my water in for the day. I feel puffy, my mind feels foggy, I retain water, and I’m crabby. Whether some of that is psychological, I don’t know. But it makes a difference for me. I have taken to buying a few gallons of drinking water whenever I head to my family’s for a weekend, and I set it and my water bottle in plain sight. That way it’s a present reminder to hydrate.

What do you do to stay healthy and on track during the holidays?

A Note From The Universe…and A Note From Me

I hope this post helps explain, at least a little bit, why I’ve been neglecting the blog and you, my loyal readers, as of late. I know I owe you a update on this month’s goals, and a few delish recipes. But, plain and simple, I’ve been busy! Work is kicking my butt in the best, most rewarding way possible, and beyond that, I’ve been crazy focused on my eating and workout plans–I’ve been pulling two-a-days for the last few weeks, and loving every second.

I’m feeling so good these days–so much energy, such a upbeat, positive mood, optimistic and happy about every. thing. The scale has been stuck this week thanks to my womanhood (damn you, ovaries!), but I’m making progress elsewhere: gaining muscle (thanks to my new weight training program), remaining loyal to my accountability partner (more on that soon), my clothes are looser, and my endurance, willpower, and dedication have never been stronger!

But all of these things take an extraordinary amount of time. My schedule for the past few weeks has literally been: 5am workout, work, evening workout, dinner, bed. Wake and repeat. And I love it. I really think I’m finally in the place where I’m enjoying this whole process. I’m having fun with it.

A Note from the Universe…

Generally speaking, Amanda, the busier someone is the faster time flies, the less they worry, the more friends they have, the farther they travel, the quicker they rebound, the richer they become, and the happier they are. 
Passport ready? 
The Universe

Keep It On The Up and Up

Things have definitely been looking up for me lately and I’m thinking it’s a karma thing: you put positive vibes out, you get the same back; you do good, you get good. And, my friends, the gettin’ has been good!

After feeling static for so long, I finally feel like I’m back on the upward downward trend–I’m motivated, killing my workouts, eating great, experimenting and getting creative with food and my exercise, spending time with my friends, and finding balance in all of these things.

Earlier this week, with that idea of maintaining balance in mind, I took a rest day from working out and obsessing over calories to spend a sunny happy hour lakeside with a good friend and one of my favorite favorite singer/songwriters: Tristan Prettyman.

I’ve been a fan of Tristan’s for years, now. You know how you have maybe one or two go-to artists that no matter what’s happening in life or what you’re doing, how you’re feeling or looking to feel, their music is the perfect soundtrack? She is that for me. Sitting at work, driving, running, depressed, elated, whelmed–her perfectly simple music suits my life. All of it.

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After grabbing a drink (vodka soda with lime: 70-ish calories, thank you), we headed out to the wharf to watch TP do her thang. The crowd assembled, only part of which you can see above, was daunting for someone (me) who doesn’t fair too well in new social situations that involve typically snobby suburbanites and their blonde extensions.

This time, though, it was different.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I knocked that first giant cocktail back pretty quickly, or the fact that one of my favorite people was standing a mere 20 feet away, but I felt oddly at ease. Sure, I had a few moments of “why doesn’t my hair look like that girl’s?” or “how fat do my legs look in these pants?” but for once, my brain wasn’t overrun with these Negative Nancy thoughts. They were fleeting guest stars instead of Emmy-winning leads.

I was able to enjoy myself. Which seems like no big deal, right? But it very much was. I haven’t felt that lack of self-consciousness since…never, maybe.

That feeling continued as Tristan wrapped up and we got to have a little chat with her. As my friend and I were debating going over to say hi, I remember thinking to myself, “if you don’t do it, this is going to be one of those things you regret. And we don’t do regret here anymore, Amanda.” So I may have gushed and fan girled a bit, but I did it. And she loved that my next tattoo (once I hit my goal weight) is going to be of one of her song lyrics that holds crazy special meaning to me. Tristan was so genuine, and gorgeous, and my height, and funny, and exactly what you want your favorite people to be like when you meet them.

We said goodbye to my new bestie, grabbed another drink, and settled down for dinner on the patio (house salad with balsamic and grilled salmon: under 600 calories, thank you). As I put myself into another situation where I would normally be so overly aware of everything and everyone–“is he staring at me? Why is he staring at me? Why is everyone staring at me?”–I found it was relatively painless.

I had a few more moments of feeling “less than”, especially as I squeezed into one of those stupidly ridiculous and infuriating plastic chairs with the arms (my big girls, you know which ones I’m talking about), but those moments were overshadowed by TP afterglow, the company by my side, the perfect breeze blowing off the lake, my amazing hunk of salmon, and the phenomenal kind of people watching that only Minnesota seems to consistently offer.

These little moments, that are so commonplace to most everyone else, and that I feel silly even mentioning, are what this journey is all about for me: overcoming fear and insecurity, finding confidence in my body, my voice, my presence.

Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past six months, it’s that this life is, indeed, a beautiful one.

A Note From The Universe

I love this. A note recently recieved from the universe:

“For all things and non-things that you may ever want, Amanda, understand that sometimes the fastest way to get them is to forget them, and to focus instead on just being the most amazing human being you can be. At which point, all of your heart’s desires, spoken or unspoken, will be drawn to you more powerfully than a magnet is drawn to steel. 

Have an amazing day,
The Universe”