Saturday, February 27, 2010


I’ve been told it takes time (and money) to build the proper trekking trousseau, so in preparation for my first outdoor climbing trip to Colorado’s Shelf Road in April I’m working on assembling my collection of clothing and gear. I’ve spent a fair amount of time on Craig’s List,, and my favorite site, Campmor.

For my first round of purchases, I decided to buy things that would be worth the expenditure even if I didn’t enjoy climbing outdoors in the unpredictable early spring. I focused on base and under layers, like underwear and mid-layer fleeces mostly because Campmor was having an unbelievable sale.

When considering base and under layers, there are a few words that are important to keep in mind: “wicking,” “quick-drying,” “lightweight” and my personal favorite, “breathable.” It’s also important to choose materials that claim to be “odor-resistant” because you’re going to be wearing this stuff for days on end and you don’t want to become the human equivalent to aged cheese.

(PHOTO: Recipe Czar)

After all, it’s hard to pick up a hot outdoorsman if you smell like the sort of thing a French chef would serve to cleanse a diner’s palette after six courses.

EXOFFICIO’s product slogan, “17 Countries. 6 weeks. And one pair of underwear” seemed more like the tagline for a new horror flick than a sales point to me, the pasty urbanite. So I bought two pairs, one to wear while the other pair (newly washed) dries – still scary – but rather sensible for the packer/camper worried about gear weight.

I also ordered a set of Terramar “Body-Sensors” helix lightweight 1.0 base layers, a shirt and pants. Campor’s sale was deliciously good, and I spent less on these two specialty products than I would have on any of the lesser options available at discount stores like Target. The winter has been rather grueling here in Nebraska, so I could easily justify this purchase.

Campor’s micro-fleece mid layers, also on sale, completed my order. My total investment in warmth and “breathability” was less than $50, and I eagerly awaited my order’s arrival mostly because I’ve been freezing my ass off now that I’ve been walking everywhere. My car’s transmission is out of commission, and I’ve been walking like Jesus or relying on public transportation. It sucks to be without personal transportation, particularly when the temperatures are hovering in the lower 20s and upper teens, but I will survive.

I waited for my order the way I wait for most things delivered by post: eagerly. My postal carrier is a bald and buff sort of dude, and looks a bit like Mr. Clean. He rolls the sleeves of his uniform up so everyone can see the tribal tattoos on both of his biceps. I forgive him this cliché, of course, because he’s the only man I’ve ever seen who can make uniform pants live up to the USPS creed:

“… And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. Ever [while looking damn fine in our pants]” (emphasis mine).

My rather pedestrian fantasy mailman (fitting, of course, because I am a devout pedestrian) aside, my daily thoughts often wandered to the status of my delivery. Then one fine day, I scaled the stairs to my apartment and knew my Campmor box had been delivered. I could smell Mr. Clean’s Axe cologne lingering in the hallway.

I tore into that Campmor box as if it were tiramisu from Vincenzo’s. I felt a little guilty, a little naughty, but that didn’t stop me. The EXOFFICIO slogan was printed right on the package. The Terramar base layers were unbelievably light, true to size, and they smelled of science. And math. Lots of math. Campmor’s fleece products were also true to their size charts. Everything fit, and I danced around the apartment wearing all of it at once because that’s just the kind of dork I am.

You see, six weeks ago, none of those purchases would have fit. I’m pleased to report that I have finally graduated to regular sizes – my days of shopping at “plus size” stores appear to be over. To celebrate, I decided it was time to put these new purchases to the test today.

A half-mile into my morning two-mile walk, my “breathable” underpants were wheezing like an asthmatic in a Cuban humidor. Last I checked there’s no such thing as the SINGULAIR vaginal inhaler, so I marched my huffin’ and puffin’ panties onward ignoring the rasp and gurgle as a Santa Ana sort of breeze wafted through my gorge.

I must admit, however, that the breathability was worth the cost of purchase. EXOFFICIO panties don’t chaff, are true to their size chart, and provide able legroom for strenuous exercise. The Terramar base layers were fantastic, far better than other silk-style base layers I’ve owned over the years. Not only did they fit perfectly under a pair of jeans, they didn’t bunch beneath my arms or around my legs even as I marched onward. The Campmore micro-fleece feels a bit like Velcro on the outside, but that’s a good thing. It connected to the lined jacket I wore, which helped me to forget just how many layers it takes to comfortably spend an hour walking on a cold morning.

Overall, I consider my first additions to my trousseau wonderful. Choosing my outer layers is proving more difficult, particularly because I’ve never ventured into the “great outdoors” – so I’m reading reviews and trying to take advantage of end-of-season bargains. Sometimes it’s difficult to find L or XL sizes during this time of year, but I’m hopeful.

But mostly, I’m just thankful. Not only am I alive and breathing, my underpants are breathing with me.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Just one of the troubles with dieting – the temporary restraint approach to food in order to lose weight – is that it is perceived and approached as temporary. People who are on diets, too, transfer their personal authority over nutrition to the foods themselves. In other words, when you’re on a diet, you’re working for food instead of making food work for you.

I’ve known dieters who sacrifice and go hungry all day, head to gym, and often say that they’re working out in order to have a couple of teaspoons of mayonnaise on a sandwich or cream in their morning coffee. They keep spreadsheets in their heads, tracking income (calories) and outgo (exercise). Food choices are often limited to low-calorie, and often low-nutrition foods such as prepackaged “low fat” or “reduced calorie” frozen meals.

The thing is, food isn’t supposed to be something you work to enjoy. I’m afraid that’s a rather capitalist view of something so sustaining, so important, as one’s nutrition.

A better approach, one that is informing and shaping my project work with P’UP, is treating food like fuel – a necessary and important additive that keeps the miraculous human machine functioning at its optimal level. Good fuel, the sort of high-octane, nutritionally sound cuisine doesn’t have to be tasteless, boring, or even “diet.” In fact, the more you pursue taste and pleasure in tandem with high nutrition foods, the happier you will become while making a long-lasting lifestyle change.

I’m offering up three recipes this month, food choices that have made a difference in both my energy and culinary balances. This first recipe is a low-calorie but highly nutritious lunch option, and it’s very affordable.

Moving from culinary boredom to epicurean happiness is what these recipes are all about. Enjoy!


Combine in a medium bowl and let sit for at least an hour:

1 and 1/3 cups bulgur wheat
Two cups boiling water

Chop and then place in a large bowl:

1 bunch cilantro
1 large cucumber (seedy/sticky center removed)
1 medium purple onion (seriously – go with the purple. It’s a flavor thing)


1 to 1 ½ cups sliced grape or cherry tomatoes (this is a flavor thing, too. Other tomatoes have a different acid/sugar ratio that will affect the flavor of the dish).

To these chopped/sliced vegetables, add the bulgar. Toss.

For the dressing, whisk together:

¼ cup fresh lemon juice (one large lemon should do)
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Kosher salt (again, it’s a flavor thing. Table salt has a metallic taste kosher salt does not)
½ teaspoon ground pepper

Pour the dressing into the large bowl with the bulgur and veggies. Toss well.

Makes 8 servings (maybe 12), 2.5 points for one cup.

Bulgur nutritional info: 1 cup serving = 151 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 8 grams of dietary fiber (that’s 33 percent of your daily requirement!). A single serving of bulgur will also meet 10 percent of your daily intake needs for iron, and 2 percent of your daily need for calcium. It’s a powerful fuel that’s affordable. One bag of bulgur cost me $3.28 and fed my daughter and I lunch every day for three weeks.

This can be eaten on its own, or you can try this favorite:


Take a whole-wheat pita, slice in half. Spread one tablespoon of hummus inside the pockets, as you would with mayo. Add 1/3 cup tebouleh, then stuff in a half cup of mixed greens.

This recipe, by the way, is only 4 points per serving for those on Weight Watchers.


Prepare these vegetables and set aside:

2 – 3 cups bok choy, chopped
2 cups Napa cabbage, chopped (remove core and thick white sections)
2 bunches green onions, sliced
4 oyster mushrooms, freed from main stem, then each “petal” sliced in half
1 red bell pepper, sliced into “sticks”
2 cups sugar snap peas (snow peas are okay)
1 cup (1 can) sliced water chestnuts, drained
½ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Simmer together for ten minutes (no more):

6 cups chicken broth

4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup fresh ginger, sliced then julienned into strips
½ teaspoon to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons soy sauce

Remove broth from heat. Add vegetables, stir to combine, and then place a lid on the pot. Let stand for at least 6 minutes, until vegetables are cooked, but vibrant and crispy.

Less than 120 calories per 1 cup serving. Great with a bowl of rice in the morning for breakfast. I swear … it’s really good on a cold morning. This is a half-point soup option for those on Weight Watchers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010


I've had a rockin' great weekend. My BMI has gone down 1.47 since the end of January. I went out with friends last night and didn't eat my way across town. I've learned I can stomach rum and Diet Coke, so long as I have plenty of limes. But better than all of that: I climbed today.

I wouldn't call it a triumphant return, though I did nearly on-sight my first route of the day (much to my surprise). My new harness is awesome - thank you, Black Diamond. Of course, this new harness was all twisted up and strange at first, took three people to straighten it out, and two failed attempts ... but that's another story for another day. Let's just say I lived up to my socially awkward ways and loved every minute of it.

The Flatland Climbing Comp is less than a week away, so the next four days will be the best climbing opportunities for me. After the comp, the wall will be rather bare with just the competition routes hung until everyone has their chance to master what mastered them. That means I've got four days to get up the "Back Bacon" and "Blue Hand Blues" (5.7) before they'll disappear just like the "Dolly Parton Project" did. I imagine I'll get UP one of those 5.7s before the route setters steal my dreams (metaphorically speaking).

Things that went really well today:

1. My foot didn't start to hurt until I spent too much time on the crux of my first route back.

2. I didn't panic, even when I really wanted to flail and bail.

3. I graduated from the house-issue "harness of shame" to my own (just like a big kid).

Things that could have gone better:

1. I let my head get too far away from the task at hand.

2. I didn't get to the wall in time to spend a half-hour bouldering.

Today was spectacular. I was able to return to the wall that I love (it hugged me, I swear). I made a new Asian-inspired soup (recipe to be posted later this month) that is spicy and loaded with fresh vegetables including a kind of mushroom I've never used before. I got my two-miles of walk/running in today, washed my sheets, graded student papers, and still found time to go to my Weight Watchers meeting before heading to the grocery store. The day ended at the wall, as all good days should. What more could I ask for? Chocolate? An earth-shattering orgasm? Puh-leaz!

Okay, so maybe the orgasm wouldn't be so bad. But it would have to be battery-free and not self-propelled like a John Deere lawnmower.

Anyway ...

My point (and I have one) is this: I'm back. The two months and two weeks in the Boot of Doom is over. I've got my life back. And that's more love than I could have hoped for this Valentine's Day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


P’UP is turning into a family affair. My oldest daughter decided she was willing to try one aspect of the project: Improving eating habits and exercising. After making so many changes on my own in the previous two years, I decided that perhaps we needed something more organized to help us get going together. So we decided to try Weight Watchers, and to see if the program can live up to his promise to help you, “stop dieting” and to “start living.”

We were dead before, you see.

We’re nearing the end our second week on the Weight Watchers program, and that alone is an accomplishment. This week, we’ve focused on two goals: 1) Incorporating more fiber-dense and nutritious foods into our menus (instead of buying all that empty brand-name “diet” fodder); and 2) Working out together.

Weight Watchers’ online tools and recipe converter have made it far easier (and dare I say, far more fun) to get a handle on both our nutritional needs and emotional outlook on the changes we’re trying to make. Having a weekly meeting on our calendar helps us to divide our goals into tidy increments that seem doable: A person can put up with anything for a week, right?

What we’ve accomplished: 1) Adding bulgur wheat dishes like Tebouleh to our culinary arsenal. Not only is it inexpensive, it’s packed with nutrients and whole-grain happiness. It’s low cost in the caloric sense, satisfying, and perfect when stuffed into a whole-wheat pita with a little hummus and mixed greens (recipe will be posted soon); and 2) We’ve made it to the gym together, an addition to my already busy recovery workout schedule.

The emphasis, at our house anyway, isn’t on the numbers. Our goals are relatively small, and reachable – always important for people trying to make big changes in their familial culinary traditions. Weight Watchers promotes this type of goal setting, dividing rewards (stickers, key chains, reasons for people in the meetings to clap for you) into five-pound increments. So no matter how much you have to lose in total, it’s only important to focus on five at a time.

Our goals, however, revolve around nutritional exploration and exercise. As a general rule, I don’t recommend weight loss programs. That being said, a program like Weight Watchers that requires clients to eat real food instead of pre-packaged mystery meals shipped to one’s house, is a smart way to go. For us, it has become something we can do together as a family with everyone invested for their own individual reasons.

This, I think, is really important. In any family unit, when one person goes such changes alone, it can be very hard on everybody. We’re keeping each other motivated and accountable to goals, working together on recipes, and walking together. This is the first time my kids have been willing to join in on the fun of change, so I’m excited.

Sundays have become our official planning day. We head to the Weight Watchers meeting in the late afternoon, go to the grocery store to stock up on perishables, like vegetables and fruits (no canned crap for us!), then spend the early evening cooking. What we’ve learned: With busy lifestyles, it’s really helpful to cook and freeze meals in one shot, package some meals such as soups and our beloved Tebouleh in single-serving containers, and cut up fresh vegetables in advance.

Though it seems like a lot of work, it’s not. Taking a couple of hours to plan and prepare the week’s meals (or as much of those meals as possible) has made day-to-day operations much easier. Each night before bed, I pack my lunch with fully planned healthy fare instead of doing what I used to do: Grabbing whatever’s handy and heading out the door. It’s been two weeks since I’ve eaten yogurt and pizza (not the best combination), or any restaurant food.

As a result, I’m saving money. I’m no longer tempted, either, to eat things that aren’t as healthy just because they’re handy (like a Wendy’s Baconator). As a general rule, I am more relaxed and introspective on Sundays, always have been, so it feels good to do something that will help relieve my weekday stress. My fifteen-hour days are no longer an excuse to do anything less than I deserve. That alone, feels like relief.

In terms of P’UP and my recovery, losing weight will make climbing and recovery easier. My immediate goal is to lose five percent of my starting body weight and to be able to walk/run 15 miles each week in the gym. Last week, I managed a total of 8 miles, so I am halfway there. The physical therapy exercises with the rubber band are helping to increase calf and ankle strength. The exercise I hate – motioning with the big toe the letters of the alphabet in big, sweeping strokes – still sucks. Though mobility is returning to the ankle and ligaments, the pain after the workout is enough to set my teeth on edge.

However, I’ve made progress and may be at the climbing wall this weekend to give it a shot. I’m not expecting to complete a route – I’m most worried about the first few moves. We’ll see. I’ll never know what I can do until I try – and I’m thinking that I’ll be ready to learn my limitations by Sunday.

I was tempted to keep our work with Weight Watchers secret for fear someone would post something about how we didn’t need to, that we could do this work on our own. I’m sure that we could – we’re tough birds – but it feels good to have an “official” outside space in which to experience this change. And it helps to meet and support others who are trying to do what you’re doing: Live.

Because this isn’t a numbers game, I won’t be posting losses in terms of pounds. When I reach that first goal, I’ll let you know. Thanks for your support.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I realized, after reading Climbing House today, that we learned how to make movies during the technology clinic in the NeWP Summer Writing Institute. So I went back and futzed around ... made this performance piece. I had forgotten how much fun this is to do, so thanks Climbing House. This film has nothing to do with climbing, but it made me feel better. And I think it could garner an Oscar for best animated short. No really.