Smoky Mountains Adventure

This past weekend two of my friends and I went to the Smoky Mountains for a hiking get away. It was a blast! We drove, and got to see beautiful scenery along the way.20121030-134913.jpg Road trips are fun, especially when it’s with people who like to stop at random places along the way. Sure it may take a little longer to get to where you are going, but the memories from those experiences can be unforgettable. Like the first side trip we took; on the way down to the Smokies we ended up having to do a U-turn to get to it, but stopped at Veterans Outlook.20121030-135117.jpg For Saturday the day hike that we had chosen was called Ramsey Cascades, if you are up for a challenging hike in the Smokies this is the trail for you. I’ve only been hiking for the past couple of years, and mostly those trails are in the Red River Gorge around 3-5 miles long. Ramsey Cascades, however is an 8 mile hike with about 2400 feet increase in elevation. It is an out and back trail, which means all that elevation, is within the first 4 miles making it a great leg and glute workout! My recommendation before hiking an unknown trail is to look it up first, thankfully we were able to look up this trail on the National Park Service website. They were not lying when it said a strenuous trail, there is also other helpful information on the website; like how long it will take, active warnings, and bear activity. Yes, bear activity. Growing up right outside of Chicago the only bears that I encounter were Da Bears, not gonna lie, mountain bears scared me more than the football team. Sorry guys! We did not encounter any bears during our trip, and I count that as a win! This was the first time that I had hiked in mist, there is something about it that just quiets the forest down, and gives it a fairy tale like quality.

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20121030-135728.jpg It wasn’t until we were about ¾ to ½ a mile away from the cascades that I realized how many other people were on the trail with us! That last bit was also the hardest, it had seemed like we had been on the trail for way more than 4 miles and that we would never get to the waterfall! Then an amazing thing happened, we saw people on their way back from the cascades and they were encouraging us! “keep going you’re almost there!” “It’s worth it, you guys are so close!” They had seen what we were looking for and didn’t want us to give up hope and miss the beauty that was unseen, but just a little further ahead. We had taken a quick break to get some water and eat a bit of food and then we were finally at the waterfall!!! We sat there watching the water and resting before we started the hike back.

20121030-135838.jpg The below was a sign that is right before the cascades:

20121030-135947.jpg That was what I saw on the left, and when I looked right there were my friends…

20121030-140049.jpg We made it back to the camper safe and sound that night! We slipped and fell down a couple of times but nothing too serious. A friend of mine had told me that when you hike in the rain it’s like a whole new forest! Since this was the first time I had hiked this trail I cannot compare it to when it isn’t raining but there was a different feel to this hike when I think about this hike and hikes that I’ve taken during sunny weather.

There were two major side adventures on the way home. Our first one was right off the side of the highway, literally on the shoulder of the highway. There was a pipe that was coming straight out of the side of the mountain!! Talk about mountain fresh water! So of course we had to stop and fill up our water bottles. It was surprisingly very fresh and clean tasting, my friends had asked one of the locals that was there filling up his water containers if the water needed to be boiled first, he said nope and that you won’t be able to find fresher water anywhere. I was nervous and stayed in the car photographing my friends. It sounds creepier than it actually was, I promise!

20121030-140158.jpg Our second adventure was Cumberland Gap, how fun right?! We stopped to get a picture with the sign, something my friend said was in a song or something, not to terribly clear on it, but we got the picture!

20121030-140304.jpg Then we saw that there was a pinnacle that we could drive up and look out from it, we of course had to do this. We drove up and up and up and thought we had reached the top to only go up some more! When we had finally gotten to the top we hopped out of the car and started on the trail, at the lookout we were supposed to be able to see Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky; here is what we saw:

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20121030-140443.jpg It was like being inside of a cloud! One of the coolest things ever! I don’t even know why if I could explain why it was so cool, it was just so surreal. Nature is so amazing, this blanket of fog was like a wall but I knew, I knew there was this beautiful landscape I just couldn’t see it. I wasn’t even the littlest bit upset that I couldn’t see it either, I was just in awe of what I was able to see.

Have you ever hiked in the Smoky Mountains? What’s your favorite trail out there? Let me know!

1 Corinthians 16:14

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Made this canvas with 3 different shades of pink paint and 1 yellow, and stickers.

Had a blank canvas and laid out the stickers. Painted the pink first, and with a smaller width paint brush did a few contrast strokes with yellow. While the paint was still slightly wet I used a razor blade to pick the stickers off. There was a little bleed though, but not too shabby for the first time I painted a canvas.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Crazy Love is a book about God’s amazing and crazy love for us. I read this book with a friend, and it was recommended by several other friends. This is a very interactive and challenging book. Interactive because they are free videos you can watch and bible passages that you are encouraged to look up. One of my favorite parts of this book is when the author Francis Chan tells the reader to put the book down, either to take time and reflect on what was just talked about, or to read a story from the bible that reaffirms a pint made in his book. One thing I learned about myself from this book is that unless I am intentionally trying to absorb what I’m reading I have a tendency to kind of zone as I read! Not that I am doing this on purpose, but there are so many things that go on in my head that if I read for long periods of time I don’t always remember what I’ve read. That is when I am most grateful for the sentences that say ‘stop and really let that last sentence soak in’. Our culture is bombards us with so many words, pictures, advertisements that it is easily to become overwhelmed and just glance by a major point being made. By using the various techniques to get you involved with what you are reading Francis does a great job of keeping the reader fully engaged. By not only ready, but watch, hearing and reflecting on the texts helps to keep from rushing through the text and being able to listen to what God is trying to say to you. Crazy Love challenged me and helped me focus and concentrate on the text I was reading. One of my favorite lines from this book is: “I am thankful for the unknowns because it makes me run to God” (pg. 45), how true, there are so many things that I don’t know, one thing I do know is that God loves me, no matter what and will always be there for me. While discussing this book with a friend I thought that she was dead on when she said, “He has a way of making you feel bad about the ungodly things you’ve done in your life, but before it gets out of hand he reminds you that you are saved through grace.” While Crazy Love is written in a conversational tone that is easy to understand, make sure to take the time that is given to soak it in and be in awe of our creator and the crazy love He has for us.

Chicken Alfredo Roll Ups

With Halloween around the corner I have the perfect recipe that will repel vampires! For real though, if you are not a fan of garlic then this is not the recipe for you. A friend of mine is in her senior year of college and the sorority she is in just built their house on campus, so she is living there. Fun, because the pictures I’ve seen of the house look amazing, a little sad though because she won’t be able to cook anywhere near the amount that she normally does. She came over recently and we decided on cooking an Italian dish, a feast really! We choose this dish from mmmcafe. I was excited and nervous at the same time about preparing this meal, excited because it sounded amazing, nervous because it seemed very fancy and there is something intimidating to me about cooking Italian meals for some reason. Like I mentioned before, make sure you are a fan of garlic if you are making this, we could literally smell the garlic in the sauce in the other room. This is an awesome recipe, because not only it is simple, easy to make, comes out delicious, but it also has homemade alfredo sauce! The original recipe calls for 9 individual rollups, but I think that 10 would fit pretty well in the 8×8 dish (actually from experience I know that I can squeeze 11 in that dish). This is a great dish when it’s fresh and heats up well too, the sauce separated when I reheated it, but it didn’t affect the taste at all. I just realized that the reason the sauce may have separated was because I forgot one of the ingredients, sad, but it will be even more tasty the next time I make it! It was the parmesan cheese that I forgot to add. Below are the recipes for both the Alfredo Sauce and the Alfredo Chicken Roll ups

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Alfredo sauce:
Ingredients:
½ cup butter
2 oz cream cheese
2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp fresh minced garlic
Salt and pepper, freshly ground
½ tsp dried oregano
2/3 cup parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. In a medium to large sauce pan melt the butter over medium heat. Add the freshly minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute.
2. Add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth and melted.
3. Whisk in heavy cream, season with garlic powder, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and whisk frequently until sauce thickens, around 15 minutes.
4. Stir in both the cheeses and when melted remove from heat and serve.

Roll Ups:
Ingredients:
10 Lasagna noodles
2 ½ cups alfredo sauce (the above recipe makes just that amount!)
2 cups cooked shredded chicken
Oregano
Garlic salt
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Spray a 8×8 pan with non stick spray pour just enough sauce on the bottom to cover it
3. Boil 8-10 cups of salted water in a large pan, cook noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse the noodles with cold water to prevent them from sticking to one another. Then lay out each noodle individually and blot dry with a paper towel (Make sure to remove any noodles that may be laying on a paper towel otherwise they will stick to it…)

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4. Cook chicken, I season mine with salt, pepper, rosemary and a bit of poultry seasoning. Once no longer pink remove from heat, take two forks and shred
5. lay out the cooked noodles and prepare to assemble. Leaving about ¾ an inch of space on each side of the noodle, spread about 1 ½ tbsp of sauce onto each noodle. Sprinkle with oregano and garlic powder on top of the sauce. Divide your chicken into 10 even piles and place one pile of chicken per noodle, then to p with about 2-3 tbsp cheese.

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6. Once all assembled, pour any remaining sauce over the top, and put cheese on top of that. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

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Weight vs Inches, Fat, and Water

Everyday I feel like I’m learning so much that I want to share some of the things that have helped me the most.

One week, one pound

Wow losing weight is hard!! I mean, I worked my hind end off last week and all I lost was one measly pound! Honestly, losing 1-2 pounds a week is healthy, any more and it may signal a deficiency in vital nutrients you body needs to stay healthy. One pound is making slow and steady progress towards my goal of 15 pounds lost. When I was younger I worked at a health club and learned the value of measurements. I know that the goal of this challenge is weight loss, but especially in the beginning it’s important to look at the inches you’ve lost. Why? Well muscle is denser than fat so it takes up less space, and toning up means I don’t jiggle like I did. Less space and don’t jiggle, those both sound pretty awesome to me! While I have lost one pound, I have lost a little over 6 inches!! No I did not lose all 6 inches from one spot, I took measurements from a variety of places. My arms, bust, waist (smallest part of midsection), abs (widest part about the hips), hips (widest part of the behind) and then my legs; some guides have you measure more or less. It’s important to keep a couple of tips in mind when you do measurements; measure yourself at the same time (I like early in the morning before I eat anything), use the same tape measure, wear tight fitting clothes, these tips can help ensure the most accurate measurements.

You have fat in your diet…..

On my livestrong myplate there is a little pie chart that I noticed the other day. I noticed it because it said 30% of my calories were coming from fat!!!! Excuse me, but I’ve been eating healthy there must be some kind of mistake. I looked over my meals and yep, I was eating healthy but there was still fat in my diet. Before I freaked out I wanted to do some research about how much diet is needed, I know that fat is important but I thought 30% of my daily calories coming from fat was a little much. Apparently not, according to Shape 25-35% of daily calories should come from fat?! Who knew, not this girl! I did a little more digging, because I know that not everything you read on the internet is true, and what was the harm from getting a second option, or even a third. Ok, I was a little skeptical but every website I went to say essentially the same thing; the CDC, and the Mayo Clinic. Fats are not the worst thing for you and your diet, as said in the Shape article “Fats are important because they determine the structure of our cells, slow digestion, strengthen our immunity and play a role in brain function.” What needs to be avoided is empty calories, you can read about empty calories here and here is a table of some empty calories.

H2O

You are 80% water, it’s a fact. On a normal day for me I drink 3 cups of coffee and then water during the rest of the day. While I think juice is great, it has a lot of sugar in it, I would rather eat some grapes or an orange, the sugar is still present, but I am eating my calories and not drinking them. If I was a pop drinker I would definitely try and switch out my pop for water. As it was I had to change how I was drinking my coffee. I have a giant cup that holds 3 cups of coffee, 2 tablespoons of sugar and non-dairy coffee creamer. You read that right, 2 tablespoons of sugar. I weaned myself down to 1 teaspoon of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of sugar free coffee creamer, by doing that alone my morning cup of java went from 168 calories to 83 calories, a difference of 85 calories. Wow, sugar has a ton of calories, don’t just take my word for it just today there was an article on NPR, my new favorite website the Mayo Clinic, and some tips on helping to make a few changes to our current beverage choices from the USDA. As a friend of mine told me a while ago, remember eat your calories, don’t drink them!

Main Points:
1. Make sure not to only focus on the scale! Take the time to do measurements. Remember muscle is denser than fat!!
2. You need to have some fat in your diet. There are many types of fat, try to eat healthy fats like the ones mentioned here, or here.
3. Avoid empty calories
4. Eat your calories, don’t drink them!

Related posts:
What I learned this first week
The Challenge

Boyd’s Orchard

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For the past two years, I’ve had the chance to go to Boyd’s Orchard with the children’s ministry at my church, for what I like to call, “fall family fun festival”. This is the same orchard where I picked 11 pounds of apples and made that delicious apple cake everybody loved. It’s a great day where families and lifegroup leaders get a chance to hang out and have fun while getting to know one another. Today was just a gorgeous Sunday, perfect for finding a pumpkin, playing in the hay, getting lost in a corn maze and then taking a hayride back to the barn for some refreshments and snacks.

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There was some awesome things to choose from! I looked forward to their apple cider slushie, which did not disappoint! There were fresh apples, apple donuts (another super yummy snack), homemade fudge, and many other greats treats. Being able to enjoy the outside with friends is one of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon. What a blessing today was :) Hope you all had a great fall weekend as well!!

Avocado Southwestern Salsa

Yum! This was awesome, but be warned it makes a lot! Like a lot a lot, and it doesn’t keep well the next day at all. I added about 1/3 cup of fresh cilantro to the mix, and disregarded the honey that the original recipe calls for. Fortunately I had some flour tortillas on hand so that it changed from just being a salsa to a veggie taco mix for people to eat. Another friend at the get together I made this for had brought hummus and pita pockets, this salsa went good with pita pockets as well.

Avocado Southwestern Salsa

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Ingredients:
1 pint grape tomatoes sliced
1 (14 oz.) can black beans – drained and rinsed
1 (14 oz.) can corn – drained and rinsed
2 ripe avocados – diced
1/3 cup fresh chopped cilantro
3 tbsp olive oil
3 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
1. Drain and rinse both the corn and the black beans until the juice runs clear. Place both in a medium to large bowl, add in the diced tomatoes.
2. In a small bowl mix the vegetable oil, salt, pepper, and freshly squeezed lime juice, whisking until blended. Pour over the tomato mixture.
3. Toss everything together and right before you serve it add the diced avocados.

What I learned this first week

This first week flew by! This is kind of a long read but I hope you can find it helpful

Lessons from the first week of the challenge:

1. Preparation is key!
“Eating healthy takes to much time” “I’m too busy, all I want is something quick and easy” excuses I’ve found myself using. Yes, healthy eating does take some time, but if you prepare it ahead of time it can be quick. I went out and gathered some supplies; a food scale, snack size plastic bags and some small containers. I had never really thought of buying a food scale before, but I’ve realized that what I think a portion is and what it actually is can be different. I do one of two things to prepare my meals, the first is, if I plan on having a hot meal at lunch I will do some cooking on Sunday and then divide up my portions in the containers and reheat the leftovers at work. However, this week I ate salads for lunch so I’ve been preparing them in the morning. I am NOT a morning person, but I know that if I want a salad for lunch I have to make it that morning, there is something about soggy lettuce that creeps me out. After I get back from the gym in the morning and am done with breakfast (I’m going to go through what I’ve been eating a little later) I start on cutting up veggies for lunch while my coffee is brewing. Making sure to have premeasured snacks is really important, once I am just starting to feel hungry I will eat a snack to hold me over until the next meal. The ideal is to eat healthy small meals without starving myself, under eating can lead to binge eating. It may seem a little intense, but I went on the CDC website and did a BMI test, and was not happy to find that for my weight and height I was considered overweight.

2. I’m going to fail.
I’ve already ‘failed’ actually. Last Thursday I started this challenge and was super pumped about it, and then I slept through my Friday class. Waking up at 6:15 am when the spinning class started at 5:45 meant that class was now in the past, how I reacted to this setback early in the challenge would shape my attitude for the entire challenge. I had two options to choose from; give up because I failed so soon and was going to continue to fail, or get up, move on, and learn from it. I chose to move past it, now giving myself grace and forgiveness is sometimes hard for me to do, but this setback will not cause me to become derailed. I realize that there are going to be days that it’s just not going to work, either not being able to work out, or sometimes slipping when it comes to healthy eating. Also a friend of mine mentioned that it might also be a good thing to give myself at least a single day of rest during the week. She’s right, by the way! It was a good thing she mentioned it before I kept trying and get discouraged when I didn’t make it, or worse, succeeding in going every day and getting either hurt or completely burnt out and quitting. I am going to try and go to the gym 5 times a week, I know that I will see a difference with this; I saw a difference with going 2-3 times a week.

3. “Are you eating?”
A very real question that I was asked and something everyone should keep in mind when trying to lose weight. The answer should always be yes! To be honest I am actually eating more often and more food then I was before I started this challenge! I literally eat from the time I wake up to about 1-2 hours before I go to bed. Here’s a rundown of a normal days food intake:

Banana (pre-workout)
Apple (post workout)
Omelet (breakfast)
Coffee
Cottage Cheese (morning snack)
Salad (lunch)
Grapes (afternoon snack)
Something sweet (mid afternoon pick me up)
Veggie wrap with a side of brown rice and snow peas (dinner)
Hummus and veggies (evening snack)

I’ve said before that I’m using Livestrong to make sure that I am eating enough calories and being healthy. Under eating will be more harmful than beneficial, lack of proper nutrients works against your body’s metabolism. Below are some articles from Livestrong about the effects of under eating.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/485503-will-eating-too-few-calories-make-you-gain-weight/

http://www.livestrong.com/article/421552-undereating-stomach-fat/

Main Points:
1. Prepare your food ahead of time, so when you get hungry there is something healthy to eat rather than bingeing on junk food
2. Don’t overwork yourself! Allow your body to rest or it could result in injury.
3. Setbacks happen, don’t quit or beat yourself up when they do
4. EAT!!! Fuel your bodies so you can build muscle and tone, use a calorie counter to make sure that you are eating enough if you want.

Hope this was helpful.

The Challenge
Home Stretch! Crunch time

Lemon Pepper Chicken

Lemons are by far my favorite citrus fruit. I may have mentioned this before, but since moving farther south, from my original Chicagoland area, I have fallen in love with sweet tea and lemons. I had my first Arnold Palmer earlier this year and it was amazing! An Arnold Palmer for those who don’t know what it is it is half sweet tea half lemonade. I previously made cilantro and lime chicken in parchment paper and since I love lemons and that recipe came out great, I wanted to try that same concept but with lemons. Now depending on how thick the chicken is will depend on how long the cooking time will be. I layered the lemons, added some pepper and then the chicken and more pepper so that both sides could have pepper on them.

Lemon Pepper Chicken in Parchment

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Ingredients:
Per package
1 lemon, thinly sliced
Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste
1 boneless skinless chicken breast
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
2. Thinly slice the lemon and place two rows of them in the middle of a piece of parchment paper, add pepper on top of the lemons, then your chicken breast, finally topped with salt and pepper to taste. I spray mine with some olive oil, and fold up the parchment paper
3. Place in the oven for 30 minutes or until cooked through.

Weekend fun!

The entire week it had been cold, around 40 or 50 degrees, I think everyone was praying for good weather for our friends wedding this past Saturday. It turned out to be a beautiful day, around 70 to 75 degrees out, and sunny! My friends met while volunteering together at serve the city, a program my church does, it spreads the message of hope and Gods love to our city. One thing I loved about their wedding was that it was centered on Christ, and that everyone was welcomed to join in the festivities. A couple of weeks before the wedding the couple had made flyers to five out to the family we meet with to invite them. It was a blast! The ceremony was in a park and the reception was just across the street! We ate, danced, took pictures and celebrated God’s covenant of marriage.

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To finish the night off a friend invited the wedding guests to their house for a bonfire and snacks. I love bonfires!! Especially as the weather isn’t smoldering hot and you can really enjoy the heat from the fire. The fire had died down a bit and people had migrated back inside. Little did anyone know that a dance part was about to break out! Oh so much fun, furniture was moved and the speakers were blasting!

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To round the weekend off, Sunday was a great day of relaxing and preparing for the upcoming week. I was listening to Pandora to a station that my friend Amanda had recommended to me, Gustavo Santaolla. I felt like I had been transported to the beach, it was really calming. Went to bed pretty early and got up in time to go to my first spinning class this a.m. Which was super intense but fun.