Moved!

For some reason whenever I comment on blogs, it bypasses my links and sends visitors directly to this page. Please see my current blog: http://happily-ever-beginning.blogspot.com/

Thank you!

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Week 13: Hiked Camelback with a friend from high school

Every week in 2011, for 52-straight weeks, I hope to try something new and blog about it here. This is the 13th post in the series, when I climbed Camelback Mountain in Scottsdale/Phoenix with my best friend from high school . Here you will find a list of all my weekly adventures thus far.

The month of March was CRAZY (fun) at my house. We had five groups of friends/family visit Arizona which meant something to do and entertaining to be had every single week. This was literally 0-to-60 for me, as I barely know anyone in the entire state of Arizona and being jobless for so long meant hardly ever going out.

Looks like April will be more of the same old story ;) But it was nice to have visitors, see old friends, family and be active and adventurous out here. Most recently, my best friend from high school, Laura, flew out as our final visitor in March. We hadn’t seen each other since her wedding in 2009.

Her visit began with this week’s new thing on Wednesday at noon. I have never hiked Camelback Mountain in Phoenix before! It’s hailed as one of the top urban hiking trails in the country, as a grueling climb just minutes from the sixth-largest metropolitian area in the United States.

(Source)

I’m not lying when I say it’s a grueling hike. At some points we were completely vertical, without a trail, jumping from rock-to-rock, using only a handrail or a fence for support. My knee is still a mess from my running injury last summer, so I was smart enough to have to foresight to wear my knee brace. Without it, I don’t think I could have made it.

Funny story though, we didn’t actually make it… This week has been one of the hottest on record in Phoenix. It actually hit 100° yesterday. I’m sure you can imagine, then, how warm it was at 12 p.m. hiking a 3 mile round trip mountainous trail. In fact, the combination of our lungs, limbs and only two water bottles between us did us in. We made it about a third of the way up the mountain before heading back. It took around 45 minutes to do the mile trek, with a slight glimpse of the summit. I wouldn’t change a thing! Catching up with an old friend while laughing at the older men and children (some with dogs) who sprinted past us really made for a fun start to her trip. Clearly I’m not acclimated to the desert yet, and I’ve only lived here eight months. I do plan to go back to Camelback sometime in the very near future to finish what I started.

…As long as I’m out by 6 a.m. and NOT the late morning/early afternoon. I think I’ll also need to invest in a Camelbak (ha, no pun intended, but that was awesome) for serious hydration with temperatures in the 80s/90s here to stay and get hotter.

(Source)

Laura also took me on another first trip: thrift shopping! I fell in love (as you can imagine on my limited budget) and will definitely do that in favor of mall/department store shopping from here on out. Details to come in a future post :)

In the meantime, I present to you: MONIQUE & LAURA’S AWESOME CAMELBACK ADVENTURE

View from the first tier just to get up to the mountain trail

Smiling because I had no idea what more lay ahead…

Plane to mountain in under 20 minutes, go Laura!

Last part of the hike we were able to do

Uncharted territory. I WILL return to tackle you, Camelback.

Funny how we literally were twins and didn’t even plan it! She packed that outfit for the plane and I rolled out of bed and threw on some dry fit clothing :)

We joked about snapping a photo at our most gassed point in the hike, in full sunlight, out of water and peanut butter sandwiches and sweating out of control. Clearly, I’ve spared you all of such a photo (it doesn’t even exist, btw). After, we treated ourselves to some window shopping in Downtown Scottsdale and an old fashioned soda shop treat (the orange raft J.D. and I shared when we first moved here). It was sooooooo awesome to hang out with one of my best childhood friends this week! I’m a little sad to return to an empty house again. But happy for the wonderful month we’ve had in March. Sooooo, if you’re thinking about heading to Arizona, come visit! I love entertaining friends and family!

Also, I just discovered this cover recently and can’t wait to share it. It’s no secret how much I love Katy Perry. And she looks so cute in this video :) Enjoy the rest of your weekend, xx!

http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:uma:video:mtv.com:455025

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Week 12: Exploring the Phoenix Zoo

You’re all so encouraging! Since my last post, I’ve decided to go ahead and accept my grad school/TA offer! Beginning in August, I’ll be back in school again, while still working in baseball :) With that, we’ll head into last week’s “new thing.”

Previously, I had never been to the Phoenix Zoo. Nor had my parents (who were also in town over the weekend). After catching a few Spring Training baseball games, I noticed the backs of the A’s tickets offered a discount for zoo admission. With nothing on the agenda for Sunday, we ventured out and explored Phoenix. After my morning shift at work, my dad wanted to try a bar/restaurant that was noted in a local magazine as one of the area’s top 50 bars to visit.

This place was a total throwback to decades past. Not only did it feature a boxing ring, military surplus shopping, soda fountain and a vintage Airstream trailer that doubled as a kitchen, but there was also a full menu for brunch, lunch, dinner and an array of “vintage cocktails and beer.”

While we waited for our lunch to come hot out of the Airstream, we could choose from a pile of vintage (notice a theme here?) board games to pass away the time. My dad grabbed Scrabble, we chose a shaded table in the sunlight and enjoyed the afternoon.

(I won, in case you were curious)

Scrabble is serious business.

I don’t know how many times I need to tell you people how much I adore vintage culture and the 1950s, but this really hit it out of the park. The Duce was probably one of the best finds in Phoenix thus far! And we’ve been to some really cool places in the past eight months. I bet it’s crazy fun in the evenings and for happy hour as well. The best part is this is blocks away from my work ;) Needless to say, I will be back. If you’re ever in Phoenix you HAVE to go there!

Pleasantly surprised with our afternoon at The Duce, we set off to use those Zoo discount tickets and spend the three hours until closing looking at all the animals.

I loveeeee animals and enjoy going to zoos and water parks, etc. The Phoenix Zoo is supposedly one of the top five zoos in the country and I would completely agree. I’ve been to zoos in about half the States and even in Europe. The best part about this one was the monkey exhibit.

You literally are in the monkey habitat and they ran past our feet and jumped from tree-to-tree overhead. It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a long time.

Other things I thought were neat:

  • I finally got to see Black Swan

  • We were face-to-painted face with some baboons (who, apparently, have rainbow-colored hineys, I missed the opportunity to snap a photo of that one)

  • Witnessed a domestic dispute between two rhinos. That was intense.

  • Speaking of domestic issues, we got to hear a male and female lion roaring at one another. It’s crazy how loud that is! The lioness even rumbled and shook a little every time she yelped.

  • I watched a really big kitty bathe itself

  • I crossed paths with some peacocks. They were everywhere, I even had to wait in line behind one of them at a soda dispenser.

Is it weird I had the following song stuck in my head the entire time?! (Disclaimer, while I LOVE Katy Perry, I do think this is the weakest song on her Teenage Dream album)

  • Met a rude lizard (dragon, whatever)

  • And beat a golden eagle in a staring contest. It was like taking candy from a baby.

In all seriousness though, it was a really fun way to end the weekend! I had such a blast. I’m glad I’m challenging myself to try something new each week, or else I might have missed out on a great day! Now I’m off to brainstorm what to do this week…

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Decision Time :)

I have a pretty big decision to make in the next two weeks….

But let me back up for a sec. I was in grad school for sports management two years ago. I only completed a year and haven’t finished my degree yet. I was also getting paid to obtain my degree, as a graduate assistant working in the athletics department.

But since I’ve moved to Arizona, that’s not the case anymore. About two weeks ago, I was accepted at Arizona State to transfer my master’s units over there, but I would have to start from scratch with a totally new major (French Comparative Literature). I originally applied for a TAship, but was told funding would be cut in the next academic year, so I’d have to pay out-of-state tuition in full, by myself.

No thanks.

But yesterday… (you see where this is going) I received a TAship offer letter! School and insurance paid in full by the university, along with a monthly stipend, provided I teach two French undergrad courses and hold office hours.

I’ve taught English in France, majored in French and English as an undergrad, worked in professional sports, worked in collegiate athletics and was a journalist for a sports page. Oh yeah, and while I’m working for the Diamondbacks here, I’ve also been tutoring and subbing for high school classes.

So, do I want to go to grad school and push my interests more towards academic? Or do I want to continue pursuing my athletics profession (which is rooted in about five years of experience now)? OR, can I do both at the same time?! I mean, I kind of already am.

Anyways, I have two weeks to accept or deny my admission and I’m super excited, but also quite nervous! I haven’t written or spoken academic French in several years. And oh yeah, have I mentioned that there is a graduate study/TA abroad semester option in your second year….?

I’m excited to see what my future has in store for me :)

Suggestions/comments on my upcoming decision are welcomed and appreciated!!! :)

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Vegetarian Challenge Completed (and still going)

My Week 11 challenge was to go vegetarian and I passed it with flying colors!! And guess what, seven full days are behind me and I’m still eating vegetarian today. Who would have guessed?! Even with some friends in town visiting during Spring Break, I still was able to go out and eat according to a vegetarian diet.

Things like this didn’t make it too difficult, either:

That, my friends, would be home made Eggplant Parmesan!

Ingredients:
1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise
1 egg, beaten
1 T olive oil
3 c bread crumbs
4 c tomato sauce
1 c mozzarella
1/2 c grated Parmesan
fresh basil
Directions:
Preheat oven to 350º. Dip eggplant slices in mixed egg and olive oil, then in bread crumbs. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes on each side. In a baking dish spread spaghetti sauce to cover the bottom. Place a layer of eggplant slices in the sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Repeat with remaining ingredients, ending with the cheeses. Sprinkle basil on top. Bake in preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.

We had ours with seasoned grilled polenta and garlic asparagus.

And although the meal was already on my agenda, it was prepared specially with a new purchase in mind.

…That would be garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil! I sampled olive oils and vinegars in a boutique shop in Scottsdale and literally wanted to buy everything in the building! From blood orange EVOO to dark chocolate balsamic vinegar, I loved it. Although I wanted to buy at least three bottles of the stuff, I could only think of enough practical uses for the garlic oil. But seriously, if you ever stumble across blood orange or lemon oil, try it. You can thank me later.

So how about some thoughts on being a week-long (plus) vegetarian. I didn’t mind it at all. Sure, in the back of my head I really wanted some meat, but I really didn’t miss it once I started exploring with recipes. Groceries for the week cost me a whopping $71 (mostly covering canned products and grains, which I still have in my pantry), and keep in mind that’s the amount eaten by TWO people in this house.

The one thing that got to me was dining out. With friends in town, we went to a few restaurants for lunch and dinner in between baseball outings. I really felt trapped in a menu that only offered at most two vegetarian options. Luckily, grilled vegetable fajitas were some of the best things I’ve ever tried. The cucumber margarita wasn’t too bad either ;) And while we went to a Greek restaurant that had a lot of vegetarian/vegan options (Pita Jungle if you’re curious and in the area), I reallllllly wanted to order one of their beautiful fish dishes.

But like I said, it was a breeze. Being the animal person I am, it made me happy to know that I wasn’t detracting from the animal population… for a week. So in summary from this week: going vegetarian has been very wallet-friendly. And it’s been delicious. I am going to try to cook as many vegetarian dishes as I can at home, but when it comes to dining out, I’m not going to limit my options. I mean, I like my burgers, pulled pork and sushi :)

And speaking of hanging out with friends on Spring Break, my week looked a lot like this:

Don’t be too jealous ;) I had to do a little bit of work in there, too haha. It was the first “Spring Break” I got to semi celebrate in about four years.

Oh yeah, my friend Michelle and I also got to experience a special kind of ice cream (and you all know how much I love me some ice cream/frozen yogurt)! There is a place in the A’s stadium called Sub-Zero in which you get to pick your own flavor of ice cream with two “toppings” mixed in. The catch is, however, your ice cream begins as a liquid then undergoes a quick freeze right before your eyes.

We opted for mint ice cream with double chocolate chips inside. It tasted deliciously creamy and light and melted a little bit slower than regular ice cream!

And my last loose end to tie up before I go is another exciting discovery in my life! This past week I found my eReader, which was lost in the scuffle of moving over seven months ago. You have no idea how upset I was about “misplacing it” and then how ecstatic I was to find it. I’ve already read a Lewis Carroll book and am pretty far into an Émile Zola novel. I even read it at Whole Foods yesterday while enjoying a guava Kombucha and the salad bar.

I felt so trendy. In reality, I was honestly just trying to kill time in between working a baseball game in the morning and a volleyball match several hours later, in the same area.

As you’ve seen, it’s been a pretty eventful week, but it’s only going to get crazier. My parents fly in this week for a few more baseball games, I’m tutoring, subbing and working baseball all week long and then when my parents leave, one of my other best friends from high school will be making a visit!

That’s my excuse, in advance, for a lack of posting to come :)

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St. Patty's and College Hoops!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Mine started off in a manner that would make any Irishman proud, with booze before 10 a.m.

…inside Jessica’s double chocolate Irish coffee cookies, that is:

AKA lots and lots of Bailey’s inside. Don’t worry it cooked off, but I made a major mistake of licking all the spoons while making the dough. Yikes, that was strong haha.

They were a hit with my coworkers, who all seemed skeptical about eating Bailey’s-laden cookies in the workplace. It was also my first “holiday” at work, and wasn’t sure how wearing green would be perceived on St. Patty’s Day in the baseball world. Luckily, everyone else is just as dorky as the rest of the world and I got high fives and praises for wearing my green today. I’ll take it.

I guess this post is turning into a bit of a blogger round-up, because I continued my trek through vegetarian eating with Elizabeth’s cranberry and apple quinoa salad (via Angela) for lunch yesterday. I made a few tweaks myself, but enjoyed it immensely!

What really made this was cooking the apples in vanilla extract! I could smell it through my entire house. Then added to it, by toasting coconut in the same exact pan. Holy deliciousness. And oh yeah, I switched sweet potatoes (I’m obsessed, I realize) for carrots and threw in some spinach to make it more green and lunch-friendly.

And then finished off the day with a little Mexican. I haven’t really eaten much vegetarian Mexican food, but I found this neat recipe for a Mexican casserole and it seemed easy enough. So I ran with it. It was delicious, flavorful and super, super easy! It would also be pretty tasty if you opted to throw some meat in there ;) Margarita NOT optional, well, unless you’re underage.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 can corn
  • 1/2 can black beans
  • 1 c tomato salsa
  • 1 can seasoned Rotel tomatoes (and the juice)
  • 4 c shredded Mexican cheese blend, divided by 2 cups
  • 1/2 diced Bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 c cooked rice
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/2 c sliced olives
  • Taco sauce for seasoning
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

Directions:

Like I said, this is super easy! Basically preheat the oven to 350° and chop all your veggies while cooking the rice. Then stir everything but two cups of cheese into a big bowl and mix well. Season according to how spicy you want it. Then fill a greased casserole dish with the mixed ingredients and top with the remaining two cups of cheese. Or in my case, omit olives and save for half of the dish, to accommodate to the tastes of those who don’t like olives… Finally, cook 30-35 minutes or until bubbly.

I devoured mine with chips and a margarita. And was too full for a second serving, much less than a second cookie.

This afternoon I scooped up some Mexican leftovers for lunch and now I’m preparing to watch my UC Santa Barbara Gauchos take on Florida in the NCAA March Madness college basketball tournament!!!!! It kind of broke my heart not to pick them to advance in the tournament for the bracket I filled out at work this morning. We’re having a little office rivalry going on, over who has the best picks. Funny, I worked in collegiate athletics in my last job so I wasn’t ever able to bet on sports. Now, I just don’t see the need to, since I’m so overwhelmed with sports in my professional life :) But I filled out my (first, shockingly) bracket this morning:

Yup, I have Kansas taking Duke in the final by a score of 78-72. You can see how I did with the up-to-the-minute results bracket here. As of 3:00 p.m. PST, I’m 5-for-6, missing only the No. 13 Morehead State/No. 4 Louisville game. Who in their right minds would have picked Morehead State to take that game?!?! I’m sure a lot of brackets are ruined because of that game. But it’s good to see a 13-seeded team topple a No. 4 seed. That means there’s hope after all for my Gauchos!!! Olé!!!!!!!!!! (I’ve got the channel on and I’m ready to support my alma mater, win or lose!)

If you filled out a bracket, who do you have winning the tournament?! :)

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Vegetarian Sushi & Indonesian Tofu Salad

I’ve been having a lot of fun experimenting as a week-long vegetarian. Cutting out meat has made me try to cook more international cuisines than I’d ever really tried before.

Let’s start off with Monday’s dinner. I’m still learning as I go on the sushi-making. As in, I’ve only ever made California rolls before. But without imitation crab at my disposal, I had to get a little creative and think up new sushi fillings.

So I went with the sweet potato, avocado and asparagus roll with sprouts:

I’ve ordered tempura sweet potato rolls before, so that was a part of the inspiration behind my vegetarian roll. And it was delicious! To the very last bite…

Maybe I just really wanted to show off my new sushi plate and dipping bowls :)

Now on to yesterday’s vegetarian fare. Post-workout lunch I was in the mood for a panini!

Into this little guy went (shockingly) sweet potatoes, tomato, mozzerella, fresh basil, spinach, sprouts, onion and a drizzling of fig balsamic vinegar & oil.

It was essentially a Caprese salad wedged between two pieces of wheat bread! I think the next time I make one of these sandwiches, I’m going to drizzle the oil and vinegar inside the veggies and not on the bread side of the sandwich! It got everywhere, but trust me, it was worth it. I feel as if this has become a new staple in my life, vegetarian or not, I’m going to be eating more of these sandwiches!

Which brings us back to last night’s dinner. I went to Japan on Monday, so I decided to continue my culinary tour through Asia, specifically Indonesia for dinner. Enter the modified tofu gado gado salad (with spicy peanut dressing).

Salad ingredients:

  • 1/2 package of tofu
  • 1 small sweet potato
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cucumber
  • handful of bean sprouts
  • 1/2 carrot
  • 1 c spinach

This was super simple to make! All I did was press the tofu, cube it, then dry fried it on both sides. While that was going on, I set my oven to 375° and peeled/cubed the sweet potato before roasting it for about 20 minutes. No seasoning necessary, since then dressing was plenty salty for the entire dish. Finally, I hard boiled an egg while chopping up all the other ingredients. Everything all came together at once, including the dressing.

Dressing ingredients:

  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 c roasted peanuts
  • 5 t soy sauce
  • 3 T lime juice
  • 4 t brown sugar
  • 1/4 t cayenne pepper or pepper flakes
  • 2 T water

All of the ingredients went into the blender until all the chunks were gone.

This made an overflowing ramekin of dressing, so if you’re feeding one or two, definitely cut that amount in half. It is fairly salty and spicy, so I actually added more water and less soy sauce to cut down on the salt. Now you understand why I said not to season any of the salad ingredients!

WORKOUT

About that workout I alluded to earlier… As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, my knee is absolutely wrecked. I was training for a half marathon from May to July of 2010 but added mileage way too fast for my body. It felt good at the time of my running, but one day I woke up and literally couldn’t walk without pain. This was after I quit my job and right before I moved to Arizona. AKA no health insurance. Since then, I’ve been trying to take it easy, and probably haven’t run more than 10 miles total. I have shoe inserts for my arches, a knee brace and rock tape for my knee, but none of it helps. Every time I run, even if it’s half a mile, I have shooting pain inside and underneath my left kneecap. That means, until I find a full-time job with health insurance, my running is going to have to end.

If you can imagine, I was depressed for weeks, if not months. I tried willing my knee back. It hurt me to learn other people I knew were training for marathons for the first time and successfully completing them. I followed a proven guide and wound up hurt. And may have possibly ruined my knee for life. I was eating and eating, and not working out.

Until this week. I’m walking more and watching/doing Yoga on Demand from Exercise TV. It is my new goal then, to get strong with yoga, and to be able to hold poses for more than a few seconds! I’ve always liked yoga, but it was generally a leisure activity. From today forward, I’m making it my main source of exercise.

Even Woodstock wants to try it :)

This pose is called Get Off My Mat, You Lazy Dog

I hope I can continue strong with both yoga and my week without meat! Since both are new, I’m eager to try and progress through the week. I suppose I’ll have a better idea of what I am capable of at the conclusion of this week.

Have a great day, friends! xx

 

 

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