Tanzania or Bust!

16 May

ImageAdventure is knocking on my door!  Spring semester is officially over, which means that the time has come for me to take my month long trip to Africa.  I’ll be working on a mHealth pilot project with my professor, Dr. Deborah Thomas, to help connect Prevention of Mother to Child Transmisstion of HIV (PMTCT) services through cell phones and geographic information systems (GIS).  Needless to say, I am really excited about this opportunity as it will be my first time in Africa.

I will predominately be located in Mwanza, which is the second largest city in Tanzania.  I am excited to be able to go and experience everything that I have learned first-hand.  Additionally, after my month long practicum, Eric and I will be taking some time to travel to other areas of the country. Throughout my stay, instead of emailing everyone, I’ll be posting to my blog so that my friends and family as well as other global health advocates can learn and benefit from my experiences.

As I prepare to leave for Tanzania and walk in my commencement ceremony this following week, it’s hard not to think about the future and how my life will change in the following year.  So much hard work and effort has been put into receiving my Master of Public Health.  I am looking forward to the opportunity to take action and use my education to better the health of under-served populations.

I’m sure my trip will be a life changing experience, and I appreciate Dr. Thomas, Eric, my parents, and all those along the way that made this possible for me.  Thanks for your interest in my travels, and I will post updates as often as possible!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

In Health and Happiness,

Kacy

Run like a Penny dog.

14 Sep

 The trials and tribulations of a non-runner deciding to run

I am not a fan of running.  There, I said it.  I have never been a fan of running.  In fact, I can honestly say I loathe it.  And I really try to not overuse the word “loathe”, but, in this case, it is absolutely accurate.

As someone who spent a significant amount of her child and young adult life running around a basketball court, this may come as a surprise to some of you that don’t know me well.  If I had to run to catch someone making a break down the court – I love running!  Let’s go get her!  I don’t want her to beat me!  Basketball makes running a competitive exercise, where the ability to get from Point A to Point B faster doesn’t make you a better basketball player.  It CAN make you better, but if you can’t dribble the ball to save your life then you may want to try a different sport (like track).  Basketball made me feel strong, confident, and I became a full-fledged adrenaline junkie.  I’m not sure anything has matched the excitement I felt before a big game.

For me, the idea of going out and running at the same pace for an extended amount of time makes me crazy.  Throw in four knee surgeries and a doctor’s suggestion that not only I never play basketball again, but that I really shouldn’t use running as my major form of exercise.  Thanks, Doc.  So for the extent of my 20’s I have been searching for a way to get the same exercise and competitive adrenaline that I used to get from playing basketball.  Running? Who needs it?!  Well, apparently, I do.

Choosing to go with the idea of “baby steps”, I asked my friend and marathon survivor, Haleigh, to help me develop a training plan for the Race for the Cure.  I told myself, if my cousin Jennifer can fight breast cancer with a smile then I should be able to run a couple miles in her honor.  So for my first run, I just started out with 1 mile.

So I plugged in my iPod, cranked up the tunes, and started my first run.  As loud Eminem and Pink songs blasted in my ears, I heard myself start to think negative thoughts, like “I must look so stupid running”, “I wonder if anyone watching me now would even know that I used to be a college athlete”, and “I am so bad at this.  I hate that I am bad at this”.   The negative emotions cascaded down telling me I wasn’t good enough and would never be good enough.  I finished the run feeling worse about myself than when I had started.  And I had successfully finished my run!

I came inside feeling self-conscious and depressed.  After talking with Eric, he suggested I try to run outside with no music.  He told me to go out for my next run with the idea that I’m going to go take some time to just be with myself, move my body, and enjoy being outside.  He asked me to not look at it as a competitive practice but as a way to meditate, feel the sun against my skin, and reflect on my day.  This was a new concept for me.

So for my second run (1.25 mi) a day later, I set out with nothing but my running shoes and my thoughts.  As I jogged in my neighborhood, I felt more connected to both my community and Mother Nature.  I found that I talked myself through problems I’d been having.  I gave myself a break when I couldn’t make it all the way up the hill without catching my breath.  I even thought about the look my basset hound, Penny, expresses when she’s running in the park – PURE JOY.  So I smiled.  When my run got hard, I put a big smile on my face and enjoyed the feeling of moving my body.  I had a great run.  I ran like a Penny dog.

Maybe running will never be a competitive outlet for me, like I originally thought it should be.  I’m really okay with that.  Somehow I found a way to enjoy running.  With baby steps, hopefully someday I’ll be running longer than a couple miles, but if not, oh well.  At least I will always have something where I can go out and be quiet for a while.

In Health & Happiness,

Kacy

The Joy of Minimalist Cooking

30 Jun

There was a time in the not so distant past where my staple was not my Yam & Black Bean Tacos, but Spaghetti…..at least 3-4 times a week.  As I sit in my living room blogging to Styx “Lorelei”, it’s hard to remember that cloudy reality.  My three meals would consist of cereal for breakfast, turkey sandwiches for lunch, and spaghetti marinara for dinner.

Since I took on the challenge of learning how to cook, and then in turn, learning how to cook vegan food, my kitchen has quickly grown and then slowly diminished to its current size.  Over time and countless cooking successes and fiascos, I learned what was great and what sucked, what I need and what I don’t need.  So I thought I would share my essential cooking tools with you based on some serious trial and error.  All of these utensils are absolutely essential for my cooking happiness and, let’s be honest, just make everything easier!  In theory, minimalist cooking could really consist of a pan and wooden spoon, but as a vegan and a lover of food, walking the line between living simply and being a Julia Child wannabe can be hard.  So here are some of my (in a perfect Oprah impression)…….. FAVORITE THINGS!  These five tools have made having a healthy life easier as well as helped me purge tons of my kitchen equipment by their versatility.

1.       Cast Iron Skillet

My Lodge Cast Iron Skillet has become number one on my list of amazing cooking tools. I feel that I waited much too long to experience its glory.  Not only is cast iron great because it evenly distributes the heat, but, after seasoning, it is a natural nonstick cooking surface.  Also, who wants to have an iron deficiency?!  Research has shown that cooking with cast iron can increase the amount of iron in your food and your body.  Take that anemia!  I have since rid myself of all other size skillets in favor of one perfect one.  The more I cook on it, the more nonstick the surface becomes.  I can make anything from homemade spaghetti sauce to yummy baked cornbread in it.  The stove to oven option is essential.  Ironically, I first bought my skillet to cook Eric a nice steak in the winter since grilling was not an option.  This was a true test of love because even though I was not a vegan then, I have always thought steak is gross.  Since that one night, the skillet sat in my cupboard, rusting.  Upon rediscovery, it just took a little love and patience, but it was easily rehabilitated to be one of my kitchen staples.

Lodge sells the pre-seasoned skillets at affordable prices, so that was the brand I decided to go with.  You can find them at most kitchenware stores as well as places like Target where I purchased mine.  If Lodge isn’t your cup of tea, Le Creuset makes some great enameled cast iron skillets that are bright and lovely colors.  Plus, I think “Le Creuset” is just fun to say.  Cast iron skillets can survive from generation to generation, so if you want to be extra green, buy one on Ebay or at an estate sale!  I’m sure the cooking gods will look down favorably on you for passing on good kitchen karma.

Tips:  Make sure and use stainless steel spatulas with the cast iron.  I learned my lesson on this one by burning off part of my plastic spatula into my Blueberry Corn Pancakes.

To Rehabilitate an Old Skillet: Wash with mild soap and water.  Lightly pat dry and place on burner to completely dry the skillet.  While still warm, add small amount of vegetable oil and spread around with a paper towel.  If there is some rust or caked on food, I used a Chore Boy to scrape it down and then repeated the above process over and over until I was satisfied.  Remember, the more you cook on it, the more amazing it becomes!  Just be patient, and it will be shiny and layered with nonstick goodness in no time.

2.       French Press

Anything with the word “French” in it has to be fabulous, right? French fries, French toast, French kissing…I could go on and on!  The French press has been no exception.  Ours was a lovely gift from Eric’s grandmother, or “Grams”.  Eric had mentioned to her that we were thinking about trying out a French press at my persistent urging to get rid of the old crappy coffee maker.  Grams being the sweetie she is, said she had a French Press that she barely used at her home in Kansas City.  We soon procured this device and have been smitten ever since.  See nagging does get you somewhere!

I love our French Press because I can use it to seep tea or coffee.  So there is no need for multiple tea pots or coffee makers.  This baby does it all!  Plus, it is insulated so it keeps our beverages nice and hot, which is great because I tend to get distracted and all of a sudden my drink is cold.  Being an avid tea drinker before, the French Press taught me to love the deep, rich taste of delicious coffee.  It takes up little space in our kitchen, and hell, it’s just way more fun to use then an automatic coffee maker.  And the final product tastes way better!  Try it out.  You won’t be disappointed.

3.       Microplane Grater or Zester

Being Eric’s favorite contraption, I had to add this to the list.  Not only is this kitchen tool small, but it can add amazing flavor with very little effort.  It’s amazing what a little lemon or orange zest can do to brighten up a meal.  Plus, for the minimalist non-vegans in the family, it can also grate parmesan.  The zester is essential to our kitchen, plus even the top of the line ones are super cheap.  There is no excuse.  Go out and get your microplane grater ASAP or at least borrow someone else’s and try it out.  Just be careful not to get too excited and accidentally zest your finger nail.  That may have happened to me.

4.       Salad Spinner

Since the summer I learned to make my own dressing, yummy salads have been an essential part of our meals.  For a while, Eric and I were lazy and bought the extremely expensive pre-washed spinach and lettuce because we loved salad, but didn’t want to wipe each leaf dry with a paper towel.  Since we discovered our salad spinner, time consuming drying has been a thing of the past.  Not only is washing the leaves much more efficient, but I can do large quantities at once and then store them in airtight bags in the fridge.  By doing this it eliminates buying overpriced boxed lettuces by buying in bulk.  We therefore eliminate some plastic waste as well as put a little extra money in our pocket.  Also, it has expanded the type of salads we make because we can easily wash and dry any type of herb or leafy vegetable.  OXO makes a great salad spinner that even has a brake button on it for when you get a little too excited spinning your salads.  Plus, if you ever need a centrifuge at home, you have one!  I’m serious.  It’s been done.

Tips:  To store leaves, line a ziplock baggie with paper towels.  After spinning down leaves, place in between the two layers of towels.  Squeeze all the air out of the baggie and zip closed.  Store in the refrigerator!  Even fragile things like spinach keep really well for at least a week in the refrigerator.  It’s amazing.  The end.

5.       Immersion Blender

A new addition to our kitchen, the Breville immersion blender has quickly become one of my favorite gadgets.   It was a gift from Grams after our blender started smoking when trying to purée some homemade guacamole.  What can I say? Grams is a saint!  At first, the minimalist inside me was hesitant because the lovely immersion blender came with a couple attachment pieces that I was certain would annoy the hell out of me.  The exact opposite has been true.  They are almost all dishwasher safe so cleaning up has been a breeze.  Plus, since they are much smaller than a huge blender, they store more easily in our tiny kitchen.  I love that I can take the immersion blender to the food instead of having to take the food to the blender.  Fresh salsa can be made in a moment’s notice and hummus has been coming out of the woodwork!

The immersion blender is small and perfect for a minimalist kitchen because you are getting the absolute most out of one small tool that is easy to store.  Unless you make dough on a regular basis, I think that there is no need for a large bulky food processor.

I hope some of these essentials have helped you in your simple living goals and shown you many different ideas of how to get the most out of the small amount of tools in your kitchen.  As I am still working towards simplifying, I am sure my ideas and thoughts will mature and grow as the different types of foods I wish to make will change.  I love to cook, and I love doing it with a limited amount of stuff.  A simplified kitchen brings me peace and happiness, and it is a constant learning process to figure out what I need and don’t need.

In Health & Happiness,

Kacy

Sometimes You Have to Get Back on the Bike

17 May

One of our goals has been to not only minimize our impact on the environment but also to live a healthy lifestyle that centers around our values.  We have been pushing each other to look deeper into our need for stuff, and learning to live more simply and happily.  We love to ride bikes.  We love to be outside and active.  The freedom of biking has invigorated us and pushed us to raise awareness for cyclists by the simple act of riding, as well as minimizing our consumption of gasoline.  So Eric and I are currently biking down the path towards using two wheels instead of four as our primary mode of transportation.

Recently both of our cars decided to die on us.  First, it was the little black Kia Rio and then my bright red Grand Am.  My father, being the saint he is, gave us his old Mercury Sable, which we christened “The Dadmobile”, and we were officially a one car household.  This being the case, I now had the opportunity to live the lifestyle I had been wanting.  Living in Texas, this is no easy task, but luckily our location made it a possibility.

So there we were one amazing spring evening heading out to the bike trail that runs along the Trinity River here in Fort Worth.  We glided down the hill where we exit our apartment complex in our colorful jerseys about to go get a great cycling workout.  I said, “Hey baby, I may not go as fast because I’m still a little nervous from what happened the other day on Elphie.”  Elphie is my big honkin’ cruiser that was the first bike I’ve had since childhood.  I named her Elphie because anytime Eric would ride her, he would always sing the Wicked Witch’s theme from Wizard of Oz.  And I am obsessed with Wicked, the musical.  Thus, the name Elphie was born.

I had taken her to the grocery store the other day, only to get cut off while riding in the bike lane by an old man in a huge Cadillac.  To make matters worse, not long after that I had been taking a ride to Target in the rain on my road bike I named after Janis Joplin (Yes, I name my bikes! Get over it!), and bit the dust going up that same hill at our apartment complex.  This was the first time I had fallen while in motion on my bike, and I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t a bit apprehensive since those experiences.  Normally feeling powerful and free on Janis, I now felt slightly uneasy.

Almost seconds after I made this declaration to Eric, my wheel dived into a deep rut that ran exactly parallel to my skinny road bike wheel.  Before I knew it, my wheel stuck in the rut, and my bike crashed onto the ground, carrying me with it.  My right hip and elbow scraped against the pavement, and my legs immediately turned to Jell-O.  Hello, road rash!

Eric helped me up and asked if I was alright.  “Yes”, I said, even though my pride and my confidence had been extremely shaken.  Once the shock had worn off and Eric was certain that I was okay, he looked at me smiling and said, “Well, it looked awesome!”  He started complimenting the gash on my elbow and told me how tough I looked.  He was trying to make me feel better, but I was not in the mood.  I felt like I needed to bathe in Neosporin.  I started pacing along the curb, questioning everything I’d been wanting since I got into cycling.  I was nervous, but I told myself that I couldn’t let this little incident stop me from living the life I wanted.  So I got back on the bike.

I cautiously made my way out to the trail, feeling like every small bump or rock was going to make me fly into the Trinity River, but I didn’t fall.  I still felt wobbly and I’m pretty sure Janis was a little bruised also, but I kept going.

At the risk of sounding cliché, sometimes you have to get back on the bike.  Nothing worth doing is ever going to be easy. And there is nothing wrong with gaining some battle scars along the way.  What I actually achieved though was not giving into my fear.  Instead Janis and I rode together, got through it, and I am continuing to live the lifestyle that I love.  Tomorrow will be less intimidating, and the day after that will be even better.

LIFE LESSON:  Sometimes riding with Janis is going to be a little scary, but she damn sure knows how to bring the fun. 🙂

In Health & Happiness,

Kacy

The Great Indoors?

13 May

In today’s world, it is much too easy to become trapped inside your home.  There is so much that needs to be done!  Those dishes in the sink need cleaning, and that pile of laundry isn’t just going to do itself!  Along with that, there are computers and televisions packed with social media, online shopping, and tools equipped to make it easy to waste hours online without even trying.  Now I love Facebook stalking as much as the next person, but what is the price of those hours spent staring at a TV or computer screen?  Home should be a comfortable place where we get to relax and feel completely safe.  But what are we missing by staying trapped inside our personal playground?

In the time I’ve spent in Texas, I have seen the detrimental effects of staying indoors instead of exploring the community.  Since Eric has been away often for work, I have had to brave this new place solo at times.  Not knowing anyone and being alone makes it easy to stay closed indoors and seek the comfort of familiarity.  I have found that doing this, however safe, hinders my soul from finding its happiness.  If I spend too much time in our apartment, I begin to feel anxious.  Plus, I seem to end the day thinking, “What did I do today? What did I accomplish?”  It is far too easy to forget what really makes me happy, and fall into a rhythm of sedentariness and confinement.  Plus, in no way am I improving myself or realizing and chasing my dreams.

In my short 25 years of life, I have come to believe that the answers we seek are not usually found in the privacy of one’s home.  The truth can be found in the sunlight radiating off the trees in the park, in the freedom of riding a bike down a hill, or in the look of pride in my dog’s face as she trots alongside me.  It is in the excitement of forming a new relationship or rekindling an old one that may have been temporarily neglected.  Our purpose in life is something that every being strives to find, but too often we close ourselves off to experiences and relationships that could inevitably form that purpose in our own lives.

So I challenge everyone to take a moment and ask why you are sitting absent-mindedly in your home.  You could be scared of the world outside and fear that you will not be accepted for who you are.  Some, including myself, can claim to be tired and long to hide away in the crevices of the couch. But ultimately, the joy you will find in taking a 20-minute contemplative walk will significantly outweigh the joy you would find in hours of watching television.  The grass and the birds will never tell you that you are not good enough or that your clothes are SO last season. 🙂

Some of the best conversations I have ever had occurred while sitting on a blanket in a park or taking a walk.  I dare everyone to get up off of their couch, turn off the TV (or get rid of it), and suck the marrow out of life.  In the end, taking a stroll is actually more meditative and fulfilling than surfing the web.

As John Mayer so succinctly puts it:

“So go unlock the door and find what you are here for. Leave the great indoors.”

In Health & Happiness,

Kacy