Tag Archives: life

A Saturday Photo Shoot

Morning glories are made for climbing, and the ones I started back in June haven’t disappointed.

They started off small, but given a little room to grow and something to hold onto, they pulled themselves up (would you expect anything different?) and are still doing what they always do, sharing their beauty.


Remembering when they were little, in one of the planters

I also planted some in the garden, but these ones were destined for the back of the house. They had a summer romance with the fire escape, and now in fall, they’re still showing their color.

It was Saturday, I was giving two friends a little moving help, and I took some pictures. “Oh! A photo shoot!” my friend said enthusiastically, in her way. I think she was right.

Flowers, seed pods, and former flowers turning into seed pods – it’s all there, something for everyone and something also to help a few friends remember a long day before the start of a long ride.








Is that seed pod smiling?

Maybe it’s mirroring the morning glory nearby.

Determining the cost of breakfast

It took me three months, but I’ve done it! I’ve determined the cost of breakfast.

I don’t remember when exactly it became my breakfast – two pieces of toast, one with jam and the other with peanut butter and honey – but I know it was at least three and a half years ago.


This is how breakfast looked in May 2014. It would have looked pretty similar in May 2011.

I can date it to at least then because I remember remarking to a few friends around that time how I’d stopped eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – but not my regular breakfast. I’d needed a (temporary) sandwich siesta, on account of a Latin American trip during which a relationship ended and during which, at the expense of more local food exploration and adventure, I’d acquiescingly eaten more PB&J than I’d wanted. I needed a PB&J break, but that didn’t mean I had to forgo my regular PB toast & jam toast breakfast. A sample friend exchange at the time went:

Him/her: But they’re practically the same thing.
Me: Nah, they’re not the same. They might get mixed around once they’re inside, but they start off separate.

Back then, honey also wasn’t involved everyday yet, but over time it has become a standard PB toast companion (jam meanwhile has continued to go solo). (Side note: if you want to increase the PB toast breakfast-decadence, try adding squares of butter to the toast first, then peanut butter, and then the honey on top of that.) (Second side note: if you want to experience the grounded sensation of anticipation, peace, hope, joy, and more, all at the same time while having a great PB&J sandwich, do a siesta as noted above and then eat a PB&J sandwich for the first time a few months later when you’re ready.)

But back to 2014, breakfast, and determining the average daily cost of it. Here’s how everything looked three months ago on Day 1:

      • Whole Wheat Bread, 18 slices (Whole Earth Center) – $3.50
      • Bonne Maman Peach Preserves, 13 oz (Whole Foods) – $3.99
      • 365 Peanut Butter, 16 oz (Whole Foods) – $1.69
      • Fruitwood Orchards Blueberry Honey, 16 oz (Whole Earth Center) – $5.89
      • Glass of water, 8 oz (the tap) – Priceless
        (free to me)

On the first day then, May 20, 2014, the cost of breakfast was $15.07. That’s a lot, but the plan of course wasn’t to determine the cost of breakfast in a single day. There was still food left to eat and average out. I was going to keep going, two pieces of toast at a time (breakfast everyday), until I’d used everything up. Whenever one ingredient would get finished, I’d buy another one, like for like. Only when I’d finished the last of the original ingredients (if you guessed it was the honey, you’re right!) would I be done. 

And now, the rest of the story.

This includes not only pictures and words (always helpful), but also numbers and words (spreadsheet!) and pictures and numbers (art!). You might say the last two are complementary, supplementary, and…. alimentary.

May 20


All assembled, Day 1

May 29


First replacement today! New bread.

June 21 – Here, getting ready for a new jam (and getting in front any questions about the ‘science’ involved (I am a religious rubber spatula user))







July 4

july 4

Homemade friend breakfast!

Okay, so there were a few days when I didn’t eat my regular breakfast. Sometimes, you know, you’re out visiting friends, on vacation, or doing a bike ride or something else. All such variations are noted and accounted for on the spreadsheet, however. On July 4, for the record too, I did eat my regular breakfast later on that day to keep pace.

July 28


The changing of the peanut butter. Here also – the spatula again, and a tomato photo bomb.

August 20


Honey almost gone… happy face, sad face

When I took this picture of the honey and peanut butter, at first I was like, Finally, I’m almost done! And then I was like, Wait, but then I’ll be done! It reminded me of a time in middle school when I was reading a book that I liked so much that I didn’t want it to end. I tried to remember what book it was – I was recalling kids, a secret garden, and an element of mystery and magic, and possibly it being a Battle of the Books book (EB reference) – but in this case my insufficient memory trumped my internet skills. Any thoughts? It wasn’t The Secret Garden, as I learned later after taking that one out of the library and reading it for the first time, but as a bonus, at least now I know another kids book that I like.

August 27

I said goodbye to the last of the original 16 oz of honey on this day, and with my limiting reagent now gone, it was time for step two: mathematics. The interesting thing is, math can be creative too. This is not to say I made up the numbers, but rather that I enjoyed creating the requisite spreadsheet. What’s not to like about figuring out formulas and making accurate and interesting notes??? I’ve got columns for weekday, date, bread, jam, peanut butter, day, effective day, the cost of breakfast, food notes, and extra notes.

Check it all out here. (Xls available too.)


Before I could finish the spreadsheet and determine the cost of breakfast, I realized there was one more thing to do: determine and subtract out the value of the food amounts remaining at the end. The honey was done, so I was set there. And bread is bread, so I could easily determine the remaining bread value. But to make the final adjustments for the remaining jam and peanut butter, I needed to know or at least factor in the tare weights of the jars.

Not owning a scale myself, I made a special trip to the Whole Earth Center, where they have several scales to weigh the bulk items. I took my jam and peanut butter measurements – ‘jar + the amount left’ for each one – and then since I hadn’t weighed them ahead of time at the beginning, I brought with me unopened jars of the same jam and peanut butter and weighed those jars too. Then you subtract the partially-used jar number from the full jar number, and the tare is gone and you’re on your way.

If this sounds like a lot of words and you think seeing it more graphically would help, with the actual numbers, I agree. In part with this in mind, and in part because, well, I like to draw and I hadn’t done much drawing in a while, I made some art math. If it helps to get a sense of the progression of style, I’ll note too that the pictures appear below in the order in which they were created.






And all together now

Between the spreadsheet and the art math, I feel like there’s a lot to work with here. Math teachers, number lovers, and food and life blog readers of the world, there you are – enjoy and feel free to use as you see fit, responsibly and with attribution.

As for the ultimate numbers for breakfast, here are the main ones:

  • The number of days it took to determine the cost of breakfast: 100
  • The number of effective days it took (aka the number of days it took to eat 1 lb of honey): 83
  • The total amount spent on bread, peanut butter, jam, and honey (after the final adjustments): $70.98
  • The average amounts consumed daily for breakfast:
    • 2 slices of bread
    • 0.86 oz of jam
    • 0.84 oz of peanut butter
    • 0.19 oz of honey

And of course, the final number – now trimmed a bit from where it started on day one:

  • The cost of breakfast, determined: $0.86

In Remembrance

It was six weeks ago on July 13 that my aunt passed away, and last weekend that I went to her memorial service.

At the reception afterwards in the memorial hall, there was a small array of cheese spreads, crackers, and fruits and vegetables. There was also apple cake, with the cake prepared by the caterer using my aunt’s recipe.

I wasn’t sure if I’d had my aunt’s apple cake before (I thought I had), but in any case it tasted good that day. On the table next to the cake was also the recipe, printed simply on
5″ x 8″ slips of orange paper, there for all to take. The slips also noted the recipe’s origins: it had come from a customer of the family’s old apple orchard, collected by my grandmother and modified by my aunt.

apple cake ingredients

apple cake instructions

For the cake

apple cake topping instructions

For the topping

apple cake topping instructions

I didn’t take any pictures that day, but I took some a few days later when I decided to try making the recipe myself. The only variations I made were to use Ginger Gold apples (the folks at the farmers’ market said I could get Jonathans starting in a maybe 3-4 weeks) and to skip the topping. The cake turned out good, but it was also easy to tell that it wasn’t quite the same as the original, which had more of a definite, ‘Okay, even though I’ve already had three or four pieces, I think I’ll have just one more,’ quality to it.


My aunt was many things, a baker, scholar, wife, friend, sister, aunt, gardener, leader, quilter, and crafts-person. But’s that’s saying too much, and too little.

The memorial service, following my aunt’s request, consisted of a musical selection of folk and traditional songs that she liked and that meant something to her, played live by friends, with a minimum of talking about her in between the songs. She had requested that the collective comments last no more than five minutes altogether. There were eight songs, eleven performers, and a welcome, and you could feel the performer-friends wanting to say more, even as they kept true to the program.

There was a lot that made my aunt’s life full, and we all wish it would have continued to be full for a little longer, beyond when the progression of cancer, back again, finally said it was time.

I’ve gone back and forth on what to say about myself and how I feel, including whether to say anything at all since it’s not really about me. What I’ll just say is that I have a feeling that I imagine others may have felt at similar times in their lives: a wish or regret not necessarily to have said more, but to have asked more, and to have learned more about her and the perspective, knowledge, and life and family history she knew and could share.

The morning after the memorial, I walked through my aunt and uncle’s garden and took pictures of the flowers. It was mostly my aunt who would do the flowers, and mostly my uncle who would do the vegetables.

Here’s how the flowers looked that day, a day after my aunt would have been 79. There was and still is a lot of color.

























Twine to unwind

Sometimes being a mostly vegetarian comes with extra benefits, such as when it was time this year to help the tomatoes and cucumbers in the garden grow up and climb.

Having been a vegetable parent in the past, I knew they’d do better with a little support and structure. The question was, where to turn for this guidance? The answer? My kitchen cupboard! (And my parents.)

twine wating to be prepuar

Cooking twine, waiting to be repurposed

It’s not all the time that I follow recipes when cooking, but at some point a few years ago, I had the thought, I should cook a whole (little, local) chicken in the oven and tie it up with twine like it says in The Joy of Cooking and other recipes. To make that happen though, I needed to get some twine.

So I went to the local Ace Housewares store.


One of the great things about the Ace is that it’s only about a mile from my place. I also love seeing and periodically using the 20% off coupon they consistently print in the local weekly paper, sometimes double-downed with a $25 Ace gift card I’ll get for redeeming $20 of my credit card cash-back bonus. I’m not a big consumer, or much of one at all really, but I like new things like the next person, and particularly so when they’re food-useful and they involve bonus thrift.

When I got to the store, I saw I had two options for the twine – the little ball and the big spindle.


Picture taken July 2014, looking just as I had remembered

Now, I was only making one chicken, and my mental math told me the little ball would be plenty, but then there was the unit pricing…can’t ignore that!  200 ft vs. 1,200 ft.  So I could get six times the twine, for only three times the price! Decision made. I walked out of the store feeling good about myself and with 400 yards of twine.


200 feet…nice try


1,200 feet, and comes with handy pictures…that’s more like it

I’m not sure how much twine it took to tie up that 3-pound chicken, but I can say that when you only do it once, there’s still a little bit left from the original 1,200 feet when you pick it up for the second time two years later. Which is to say, I still had a fair amount to work with when I brought the twine with me to the garden a month ago to work with the plants.


The cucumbers, just after stringing, looking ready to climb


Also involved: a bamboo pole, a plastic stake, a metal stake, and an unfolded  tomato cage. (Thank you Mom for the complementary, non-twine supplies.)

I treated the two rows of tomatoes to a similar setup, combining the twine with a few stakes and cages to web it up right.

IMG_20140711_202111 (1)

Sauce tomatoes, now happy with the new support


A view from the other side too; I added more twine later as the plants continued to grow.

Though the cucumbers have now begun to wilt away with the summer, I was able to get a decent crop. I also picked some tomatoes for the first time last week. As for the twine, it’s now back on the shelf, looking the same as before or maybe just a little trimmer. It did after all get a little workout.

On running a marathon

I did something for myself on Saturday.
I ran a marathon.

What made it special was not that I did it,
but how I did it and what it meant.


Starting at the end, a look at the finisher’s medal


Starting at the beginning, the sunrise around 6:00 a.m., an hour before the start

You could say the journey to my marathon experience Saturday started long ago and includes the entirety of my life, and I would agree with you. Some of the more recent seeds of my goals and plan for the race, though, start with where I was at when I signed up for it earlier in the year. I’d done another marathon last spring, and having not gone quite as fast in that one as I’d hoped for (though that was okay (another story for another time)), I had the thought, I should do it again and go for that Boston qualifying time. If I was honest with myself, though, I knew there was some ambivalence. Did I really want to train that much? Should I really push my body in that way for that long (running for 26.2 miles)? What if I can’t do it? What if I fail?


“So how many people here are racing the marathon tomorrow?”

This was one of the first things Coach GP said during the Friday afternoon marathon-expo talk he gave, titled, “Pushing Beyond Presumed Limits,’ which was ostensibly about running mechanics and how to think and what to do when trouble comes during the race. He continued:

“Note that I didn’t say, How many people are running the marathon tomorrow. It’s a race. You all have a bib number. There’s a clock timing you. No matter what you tell yourself to take the pressure off, once you get started you’re in the game and competing. You’re an assassin…You have a goal time and you’re going for it.”

I immediately felt like I was in the wrong place. What I was hearing is what had historically been my mindset, but I’d already been thinking of a different plan for this race. I knew my training hadn’t been as good as last year and that I wouldn’t be able to get the aspired-for Boston qualifying time. I’d also been missing some sleep and ruminating on life recently following the ending of a short but impactful bit of dating, and I really just wanted to go for a run and enjoy it – to say, I’m just going for a long fun run. And to not feel like I needed to push for x or y time – to not have that as my focus – and also to not have my legs feel terrible afterwards.

gearbag (2)

My marathon bag around 6:25 a.m., posing just prior to gear check. One more pit-stop, and then ready to go.


The race started on time at 7:00 a.m., and it wasn’t long before the old mindset, still there just a little below the surface, worked its way up. Earlier, I’d told myself that a 7:30/mile pace (3:16:38 overall) would be a good target given my fitness and one that I could maybe glide along and enjoy things at. But the course was going to be flat! And now the 3:15 pace guy was right in front of me and planning to lead people to a 3:14:30 finish…which was halfway further to 3:13…which, who knows, maybe I could do if I felt great…and, shouldn’t I give it a shot to hit 3:13 if it was maybe possible?…and, 3:13!…which would be a great time and PR (even if not the 3:10 needed for Boston) and a great palindrome!

My legs were feeling good for a while, and I was keeping up with the 3:15 group, but I knew I wasn’t relaxed. My thinking and focus were just, I need to stay with this group. It wasn’t until going through Meadowbrook Park, between mile 8 and 9, that my mind returned to me. This isn’t what I want, I told myself. And I won’t be able to keep this up anyway. Chasing a time is not my race today. My race is to enjoy it, to make it to the end still smiling and happy to be alive. To appreciate it.

Mile 11

At the turn at Mile 11. Thank you Aaron and Jami and Mom for watching and cheering.

So I slowed down a little. And I started to relax. And began to really smile. I was running by myself now (amidst the others around me), and now finally running for myself.

It was a shift in mentality and remarkable because it wasn’t just about running, but life too. In a culture of feeling the need to please other people and meet their expectations and fit in, sometimes you have to stop and ask yourself, What do you want and need for you? And then be true to yourself and do that, rather than doing what you think others think you need or should want.

I was listening to myself, and in that sweet spot of comfortableness and just running, came things like joy, gratitude, and connection. As I started the backstretch and moved through miles 13-20, I was smiling.

A few times I looked up with open arms and thought, I love my life.

alma mater

The University of Illinois Alma Mater sculpture (1929), the Alma Mater (center) welcoming the world along with Labor (left) and Learning (right)


One of my grandfather’s paintings (1930). Its story isn’t known (still to be tracked down), but I like to see the gesture as one of welcoming life and whatever comes.

People, families, and volunteers watching the race were cheering and encouraging me and everyone on, and when I would meet their cheers with a smile or other acknowledgment, they would go further and give me a little more. Which then made me appreciate them and smile even more myself.

It’s true you get back what you put in and that we’re all connected. If you want love, part of it is you have to be open and willing to give some yourself.


Looking good, right after getting a bottle of Gatorade from my brother at mile 18. Thank you also Jami for getting that on digital film.

The final 10K went by for me with a mindset similar to the one I carried from 13 to 20. I could feel myself moving a tad slower, and around mile 23 or 34, I did have the thought, ‘It really doesn’t have to be this long,’ but really I was still feeling pretty good, smiling, and appreciating the spectator love. Keeping up with the water, Gatorade, and some GU helped too. Further on the topic of spectator love and encouragement, and creativity, the following were my top 3 favorite signs that people made, each of them also only appearing during the last 10K:

  • Keep going! You’re almost there!!!
    [then followed by a second sign saying:]
    That’s what she said!


  • Give 100% in everything you do!
    [then followed by a second sign saying:]
    Except when donating blood!


  • Stop being tired,
    and start being awesome!

In the end, my final time was a few minutes faster than my first marathon and a few minutes slower than the one last year, but it wasn’t about the time as much as being right where I wanted to be. I continued to push beyond the presumed limits of my older ways of thinking and seeing, and I felt genuine appreciation and gratitude for the day. I appreciated seeing my family at miles 4, 11, 18, and 26.2, feeling and engaging the support of the crowd and volunteers, and even Coach GP for getting me thinking and providing some words and ideas for me to remake and claim for myself. All in all it was a great run.


A view at the finish. If you look closely, you can see me.


The finisher’s medal, further proof of the above


And the medal zoomed in, back again with the Alma Mater and Labor and Learning

Hello World! It’s Gooda Bartha to meet you!

Hello! It’s Gooda Bartha to meet you!

I’d been thinking of starting something like this for a while now, and today’s the day it’s happening! Are you ready too? Let’s go! It will be a story in words and pictures, a mix of food and life. And even if it doesn’t always turn out as planned or hoped for, it’ll still be good.

Gooda Bartha

Gooda Bartha! But how did you end up looking so good??

So I had Good Bartha (Zucchini puree) for the first time three years ago, and it was one of those times when after tasting it, I thought or said something like, Wow, that’s really good, that’s amazing, let me finish this so I can have some more. I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Illinois at the time, and my uncle was cooking. I think he made rice and dal that night too.

I got the recipe from my uncle a few weeks ago, and now it was my turn. Time for some re-creation recreation.

Gooda Bartha (Zucchini puree)

  • 1 lb zucchini (about 2)
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 teasp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teasp black mustard seeds
  • 1 fresh green jalapeno chili
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1/2 teasp salt
  • 1/2 teasp chili powder
The players

But it says 2 zucchini, 1 chili, and 1 onion! That’s okay – let’s make it a double!

Yes, that’s what I’m talking about. Dinner tonight, lunch tomorrow!

The players, more prepared

The players, now more prepared

Here’s how to get everything ready:

The zucchini gets chopped,
the onion gets sliced, and
the chili gets seeded and sliced.

And here’s what to do in five easy steps:

  1. Put the zucchini in a saucepan, and cook with water until soft. (I used 1 cup water for 4 zucchini, and I covered the pan to have it cook faster.) Then drain the water, and mash.
  2. Heat the oil in a frying pan, and fry the cumin and mustard seeds until the mustard seeds crackle.
  3. Add in the onion and chili, and cook until the onion is soft. (I covered the pan again during this step.)
  4. Add in the mashed zucchini, salt, and chili powder, and cook uncovered for 5 minutes or until the liquid evaporates.
  5. Serve warm or at room temperature.
    (Recipe modified from “The Complete Asian Cookbook” by Charmaine Solomon)
Zucchini, ready to go

Zucchini, ready to go

Zucchini mashed up

Zucchini mashed up

Seeds in the pan

Onion and chili added

Onion and chili added

All together now

And now, ready to be introduced:

On the plate

Gooda Bartha close up

Gooda Bartha, with friends

I also made some friendly beaners while I was cooking and let them join the party too. They’re the red and black you see balancing out the picture.

And in the end? It was pretty good! My uncle’s was better (at least according to my memory), but that’s okay. I can compare notes and do some cooking with him the next time I’m in Illinois. Lucky for me, that next time is going to be in two weeks, when I head out there to do the Illinois Marathon and see my aunt and uncle and brother.

I’ll see you later too – here are some Gooda Bartha seeds and spices to chew on until then.

Cumin seedschili powdercumin seedssalt