Sneakers the Therapy Dog

Sneakers and I have been working on a program to become Pet Therapy Partners through a national organization called the Delta Society.  Sunday afternoon we passed our evaluation/test which was last step in the process (well, actually the last step is for me to send in all the paperwork.)

For the evaluation, Sneakers had to:

  1. Accept petting from a friendly stranger;
  2. Be clean and well-groomed;
  3. Walk “relaxed” on a loose leash (no pulling);
  4. Walk “relaxed” through a crowd;
  5. Walk toward, pause, then walk past another dog without attempting to “meet” the other dog (basically ignoring the other dog);
  6. Sit, Down, Stay (while I walked away), then Come to me when called;
  7. Walk past a person using a walker (and ignore the walker);
  8. Be accepting of “clumsy or exuberant” petting from a stranger;
  9. Accept a tight/restraining hug from a stranger;
  10. Accept a staggering, gesturing person;
  11. Remain controlled and friendly with lots of distractions, like people yelling at each other, sudden loud noises, getting bumped from behind, lots of people all trying to pet her at once;
  12. “Leave” a toy, which was tossed in front of her;
  13. Gently accept a treat from a stranger.

[I was being evaluated along with Sneakers.  However,  I was not offered a treat from a stranger. Boo.  On the bright side, I didn't have to accept being pet by a stranger. Yea.]

I knew Sneakers wouldn’t have any trouble with these tasks, and she passed with flying colors.  When the evaluation was over, the woman testing us asked me if we had ever done pet therapy before.  I answered “no”, and she replied, “Well what took you so long? People are going to love Sneakers!” [I know. Everyone loves Sneakers.]

Now we need to decide what to do with our new certification.  A friend wants us to join the program at the children’s hospital in Austin.  I’m not certain that’s the right environment for us because Sneakers isn’t really used to being around little kids (though older kids and teenagers would be fine.)  I kind of see us going to visit elderly people, perhaps at nursing homes. With this certification from a national organization we have lots of options.  We may try out a few places before deciding on a particular Pet Therapy service.  Sneakers may have a new job very soon.  Stay tuned.

When we got home I gave Sneakers another treat cause she deserved it.  I then had a treat of my own, just because.  More on these Black Bean Brownies later.



Sorta Shepherds Pie

Sneakers and I just got home from a nice, flat 5 mile run this morning.  My legs are still a bit tired from Wednesday’s tough, hilly run but it felt good to get out in the crisp, cool weather we’re having.  In Austin we never know when it’s going to be warm and humid again so it’s important to get out and enjoy these cooler mornings.

I know it’s not nice to brag, but I sort of “nailed” dinner last night.  I had a craving for mashed potatoes and gravy so I created this masterpiece.  This isn’t really a “Shepherd’s Pie” but the components are the same.  Since I’ve been watching too many Food Network competition-type shows, I’ll borrow a term used too often on those shows.

“Vegan De-Constructed Shepherd’s Pie”

Mashed Yukon Gold Potatoes (boiled Yukon Golds hand-mashed with some Earth Balance “butter” and vegetable stock.)

Sauteed (in veg stock, not oil):

  • Tempeh (boiled then finely chopped)
  • onions
  • garlic
  • red bell pepper
  • zucchini
  • mushrooms
  • chard

Cashew Gravy using this recipe from  I had never before made a cashew gravy.  It was really easy and so tasty.  I encourage you to try this gravy recipe.

Bon Appetit!



“Veggie Pizza” is Redundant, So Says Congress

Yesterday I posted about the wonderful veggie pizza I had for dinner.  Turns out I was being a bit redundant.  As I was describing my pizza as “veggie”, Congress was declaring that pizza IS a veggie.  Congress chose to push back on the USDA, in their attempt to make school lunches a bit more nutritious, by decreeing the USDA can not limit how many potatoes servings count toward the weekly recommended vegetable servings, and that pizza sauce also counts as a vegetable serving.  [Note:  The USDA was not declaring potatoes as unhealthy, they were just attempting to limit how many times the starchy vegetable, i.e. french fries, would be served as the vegetable offering in school lunches.]

Dear Congress:  Do you not see how ridiculous you are being here?  Why are you even trying to do the USDA’s job?  Wait, don’t answer that last question cause I  already know.  It’s all about the food industry lobby — as usual.

There was much chatter about this on the internet from concerned nutritionists.  You can read more about the serious issue in any of these links: by Marion Nestle also Marion Nestle  from the Huffington Post from Michele Simon

But I think Jon Stewart said it best on The Daily Show last night.  Here’s the clip.  [This video is about 7 mins long and he doesn't talk about the Pizza=Vegetable bit until that last minute.  I couldn't figure out how to just include that last part, sorry, but if you want you can forward through the beginning til minute marker 6:08.]




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Workout Buddies and Veggie Pizza

Workout buddies are so very important.  I’m lucky to have several.  First and foremost is Sneakers.  She’s the best running buddy EVER.  Also, a friend of mine is starting to run again and I’m planning to twist her arm to do some races with me (maybe the Austin Half Marathon in Feb?)  We run at a similar pace and have some great conversations.  Makes the time go by so fast.  I get together with another friend about twice a week to do a “boot camp” style workout.  We try to workout outside while our dogs romp around together.  It can get complicated but it’s always fun.

Most of all I am lucky to have my husband with me for most of my runs.  We don’t run together, but we run at the same time and place, same distance, and he waits for me at certain points in our runs.  We’re doing the Austin Distance Challenge together so we have the same training plan.  The evening before a run we always discuss our goals for the run.  The best part of this arrangement is that it’s always easier to commit to a run the night before, especially if you wake up a little tired or the weather is crummy.  Since you’ve already made a commitment with your running buddy it kinda forces you to follow through.

Today’s run is a great example of how my running buddy made a huge difference.  Last night we agreed to run 10 miles with some hills.  Carl wanted to do a route that included 5 miles of hills and 5 miles of flat trail.  I pushed for more hills because I’m starting to stress a little about an upcoming race.  We agreed on the “more hills” run which included a 3 mile double loop incorporating the steepest hills in the route.  However, when I woke up this morning, this planned “double hill loop” was the last thing I wanted to do.  During the run as we were about to start on the second hilly loop (an additional 3 miles) I whined a bit about it.  Carl said, “I believe this was your idea.  Let’s go.”  We did and I’m so glad.

Without a running buddy to keep me accountable I would never have completed the full run (I would have changed the route completely or would have cut out the second 3 mile loop.)  I’m now tired and my legs are a bit sore, but in a good way.  I feel so good about my run today!  My running buddy (my husband) was a critical factor in finishing my run today.


Yesterday I mentioned being gifted some fresh chard and basil.  I found a delicious way to use both in last night’s dinner.  It was quick and easy too.  I had a whole wheat pizza crust in the freezer (leftover from a previous pizza dinner) which I thawed.  I decided to chop up the chard and cook it on the pizza.  I wasn’t sure how it would taste, but I like arugula on pizza so I went for it with the chard.

As you can see, this pizza was made for two people with different tastes.  On both sides:

  • Sun-dried tomato pesto
  • Diced red bell pepper
  • Chopped artichoke hearts
  • Diced fresh tomato
  • Fresh basil, chopped

On my side:

  • A few kalamata olives (love these on a pizza)
  • Tons of fresh chard

On his side:

  • Cheese

I baked it in a 450* oven on a pre-heated pizza stone which made the crust nice and crisp.  My chard-topped pizza was so delicious.  Try it sometime! (Kale would be good too.)



Running Form: Much Ado About Nothing?

Source: NY Times, 2008

There was another great article in the NYTimes today on the topic of fitness and health. The article titled, “For Beginning Runners, Advice Can Be a Hurdle” caught my eye, even though I no longer consider myself a beginner.  The article was quite pertinent and timely for me because it covers a topic I’ve been thinking about, reading about, and experimenting with –  running form.

I am a “heel striker”, which means I land each running step on my heel.  I’ve read all kinds of things that proclaim “heel striking will lead to injury”.  Since I don’t want to be injured I’ve been trying to figure out how to move my strike from a heel strike to a midfoot strike.  I’ve tried different shoes from the minimal heel-lift “racing flats” to a moderate heel-lift shoes.  I’ve used orthotics  of various types and no orthotic.  I studied the “correct form” and tried to emulate it when I run using various techniques, including listening to a metronome app on my phone.  I even thought I was making some progress.  Then I saw some photos from my most recent race/run and… nope, still a heel striker.

I’ve talked with my physical therapist about my stride expecting her to encourage me to change.  She has been treating my plantar fasciitis and other knee/hip ailments and, as a medical professional and a triathlete, I just assumed she’d give me advice on how to improve my form.  I know she studies running form because I once sat with her after she finished a tri, (while my husband was still running) and she commented on form as other runners flew past us. I figured she would have much to say on the topic.  Interestingly, whenever I talked to her about my form (she has watched me on the treadmill) she just kind of shrugged and told me she found it difficult for people to really change their natural form.  She suggested getting the best shoe to fit my form, rather than concentrate too much on trying to change.

Her words didn’t really alter my desire to “correct” my form, although I was a little less obsessed about it after our talks.  I even enjoyed watching videos examining the strides of various elite marathoners.  Those videos also left me wondering how hard I should try to change my form because  elite runners seem to have a variety forms/strides — no one is the exactly the same (check out the photo at the top of this post.)

And finally, this new article has me very skeptical about needing to “correct my form”.  Here is a quote from that article.

Researchers who have no financial ties to running programs or shoe manufacturers say that most of those complications are unnecessary and some of the advice is even risky, because it can make running harder and can increase the chance of injury.

Take, for example, the notion that there is a perfect running form, like striking the ground with the midfoot or forefoot. There is no convincing evidence for this convoluted advice, disinterested researchers say. In fact, studies have found that individuals automatically run in a way that is most efficient for their own bodies. Those who change the way they run naturally are less efficient and more prone to injury.

“There is good evidence that your body is exquisitely lazy and will find the easiest way for you to run,” said Carl Foster, professor of exercise and sports medicine at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Honestly, this makes me feel much better.  I have other/better things to worry about. :)


Side Note:  I as sit here working on my blog (among other things) I have placed a piece of fresh-picked basil next to my laptop.  My friend Sue gave me some fresh chard and basil from her garden and I just LOVE the smell of fresh basil.  It’s keeping me company.  Now what to do with that chard.  Hmmm, stay tuned. (Thanks, Sue!)



Greek and Mexican

I didn’t spend any time on my blog yesterday.  Instead I spent some time trying to help my son with edits to a couple of research funding proposals, or at least I think that’s what they are.  When I opened my inbox in the morning I saw an email from my son:

“Hey Mom and Dad.  If you have time, can you look over these papers for me?”

Pleased that I was asked, I opened the first one and saw words like:

“Nanocrystals”, “Chalcogenide”, “Ligands”. And those were in the title.

Then I scanned the body of the paper and saw long strings of letter/number combinations I can only assume are chemical compounds, or something.  Some were almost the entire length of one type-written line.

“Ummm… No, I don’t think I can.”  But of course I tried.  I found there were actual English words mixed in amongst the chemical-ly things.  There wasn’t much I could really do, but I like to pretend I’m still of some use to my son.

Clearly I needed comfort food for dinner.   How’s this for comfort?

This winner recipe for Black Bean and Butternut Squash Burritos comes from Angela at  I added chopped spinach to the black beans, rice, and roasted butternut squash combination.  Then I topped it with diced tomatoes and chopped cilantro.

Mmmmmm.  Comfort indeed.  No chemistry required.


‘Freshman 15′ A Myth???

Did you happen to see the article in Tuesday’s NYTimes Health section titled,

‘Freshman 15′ Is A Myth, a Study Suggests

Here’s a quote from the article.

Everyone knows that college freshmen typically gain 15 pounds in their first year of college: the notorious “freshman 15.”

But what everyone “knows” may be a myth.

According to a new study, freshmen actually gain an average of 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, and the weight gain has little to do with college attendance.

I’ve got news for those researchers at Ohio State University.  The “freshman 15′ is NOT a myth.  I don’t agree with their (probably) scientific research findings and I have photos to prove it.  I’m not saying that everyone gains the ‘freshman 15′.  Some college freshman gain more, thus making up for those who don’t.  The ’15′ is an average.  Again, I have photos to prove it.  Oh, I’m not gonna show you those photos.  You’ll have to take my word for it.

I do, however, agree with the researchers’ conclusion that there are other, more important things to worry about while at college.  You might, for instance, worry instead about getting to know that cute guy who lives in your dorm.  You might, for instance, even come up with a plan to both A) battle the ‘freshman 15′, AND B) get to know that cute guy.

One such plan might be to ask that cute guy to play on a co-ed intramural badminton team.  If you’re going with this plan though, I have some advice to share:

Make sure you know how to play badminton.

This will be helpful because:

1)  Turns out, many people view badminton as an actual sport, and you could wind up playing some very competitive, experienced players.

2)  Just because you played badminton with your Grandfather in his backyard while on your summer vacations, does not make you a competitive badminton player.  You might find your intramural  competitors better players and waaaay more mean than your Grandfather.

3)  Said cute guy might also be very competitive at sports and you could end up embarrassing yourself.


Part B) of your plan may still work out, however.   That cute guy could end up your husband.  Just saying.

As for Part A) of your plan?  Maybe it would be easier to fend off the ‘Freshman 15′ if you were willing to sweat a little in front of cute boy.  You decide.

All I’m saying here is that the ‘Freshman 15′ is REAL.  At least it was back when I went to college.


Sunday Morning Pancakes

I woke up early Sunday morning, thanks to the time change.  I am happy for the time change because I’m a “morning person” and I want to see daylight as soon as possible.  Yesterday morning it was raining and that is cause for celebration here in Austin.  I would have preferred a heavy downpour, but I’ll take the light rain we got.  The weather had also warmed up a bit again so I took my coffee out to the back deck and thought about breakfast.  I wanted something different, something a little bit special.  Pancakes!

A while back I bookmarked a recipe for Vegan Banana Oat Pancakes. It seemed like the perfect recipe for breakfast so I got busy in the kitchen.  These pancakes are easy to make, but you need to have a ripe banana on hand (riper = better for taste).  For the recipe, click here.  You will also see better pancake photos on this link, but here’s a photo of mine.

Are you wondering what the brown gloppy stuff is on top of my pancakes?  Looks bad, but tastes great.  I mixed some almond butter with maple syrup, heated it in the microwave and then stirred to combine the two.  Way better than just syrup or just almond butter alone.  Also way more calories.  But hey, I was celebrating the rain so I indulged a little.

I took my pancakes and the newspaper back out to the porch.  Kitty had her own plans for the newspaper.

We all sat and watched the rain.  Such a nice, peaceful Sunday morning.  I might have shared those pancakes with Carl, but he slept right through it all.  Sorry Carl but, “you snooze, you lose.”


I hope you all had a lovely Sunday.


To PB or Not To PB

Since it’s National Peanut Butter Lover’s Month I thought I’d share with you some info I’ve read about Peanut Butter.  I should start by saying that I LOVE the taste of peanut butter and I always have.  I could exist solely on peanut butter if I had to, though I’m glad I don’t have to do that.

I also like eating almond butter and sunflower butter. I often have tahini (sesame seed “butter”) and cashew butter on hand for cooking/baking.  But, as it’s National Peanut Butter Month I’ll stick to talking about peanut butter for now, just wanted you to know there are options if you don’t care for the taste of peanuts.

I used to really plow through the jars of peanut butter but then I read that peanuts are high on the list of  pro-inflammatory foods. That did not sound good to me (however, coffee was also on that list but I managed to ignore that one.)  I finished up my jar and replaced it with almond butter and, sometimes, sunflower seed butter.

Recently I came upon research showing that peanut butter is actually good for us.  Hurray!  Check out this video from, the website of Michael Greger, M.D.




I no longer avoid peanut butter.  Peanut butter is delicious and I’m glad it’s back in my life.   I always buy organic peanut butter that has only one ingredient: peanuts.  Well, sometimes it also includes salt, but there just is no need for added ingredients in peanut butter like sugar and hydrogenated oils  Yes, those keep it shelf stable, but I’d rather keep my jar in the refrigerator and stir a little than ingest ingredients that my body doesn’t need.

Organic is important too.  I read that since the peanut crop is rotated with cotton crops, the peanuts pick up pesticides that are used for cotton (and not meant for human consumption).  Uhhhh, no thanks!  I’ll stick with the organic kind, it’s not that much more expensive.


3-in-1 Celebrations

I’m celebrating (along with the rest of the country, I’m sure) three different events all in one lunch today.

1)  Today is National Sandwich Day.

2) November is National Peanut Butter Lovers Month (oh yeah!)

3) November is also National Raisin Bread Month.

Yesterday I got to thinking how I could incorporate all three celebrations in one great lunch.  Using Raisin Bread for my sandwich is a no-brainer.  [By the way, I like Raisin Bread and all but I'm not sure I want to celebrate it all month long.  This will probably be my only "celebration" of National Raisin Bread Month but not my only celebration of Peanut Butter.]

A simple Peanut Butter Sandwich on Raisin Bread would have been excellent and sufficient.  But I thought I’d try to put a bit more effort into the sandwich today — it’s National Sandwich Day, after all.  I started thinking about all the foods that go well with peanut butter (that’s a looooong list) and also would be good as a sandwich, with raisin bread.

  1. Peanut Butter + Chocolate?  Always excellent but perhaps not for a sandwich.  OK, maybe a dessert sandwich, but I didn’t go there.
  2. Peanut Butter + Banana?  Also excellent but not special enough.  I have it all the time.
  3. Peanut Butter + Apple?  Yes!
  4. Peanut Butter + Carrots?  Yes!
  5. Peanut Butter + Celery?  Also, Yes!

So here’s my creation for National Sandwich Day (I made this one yesterday for practice, but I’m making it again today.)

  • Two slices of Raisin Bread.  OK, I didn’t want to buy a whole loaf of raisin bread just for one or two sandwiches so I figured it’s practically the same thing if I just take some wheat bread and sprinkle raisins on it.
  • A layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread.  My layer looks thin in the photo but the two thin layers = one thick layer.
  • Shredded carrots, shredded apple (a nice crisp apple like Honeycrisp), finely diced celery.
  • Slap it all together and….

I used freshly-baked Honey Whole Wheat bread (which I purchased, not made) that was soft and chewy.  The apple and veggies were crunchy. The peanut butter and raisins were sticky but sweet.  All together they made ONE GREAT SANDWICH.  I think I did “National Sandwich Day” proud.

What are you having for National Sandwich Day?

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