Tag Archives: challenges

Excuse Me, It’s Baking Time

11 Aug

Apple & Oat Muffins

In the US, we get new seasons of “The Great British Bake Off” a long time after they air in Britain, which means a couple things:

  1. I spend weeks ignoring the “GBBO Bakers: Where are they now?” articles my British friend Angcha sends me because she’s already seen them.
  2. I have bursts of binge baking, which during summer is not the best idea.

The binge baking is good for my friends though–a few years ago for Christmas, I started giving friends empty mason jars. The deal is that I fill them with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try. They eat it and give it back. I refill them throughout the year–usually this is randomly, and sometimes I go for months without doing anything, but then Bake Off is on, and out come the baking tins and GBBO-related cookbooks. It’s a decent system though–the jar method of sharing certainly makes it easier on my waistline, and it’s fun to share the bakes.

Over the last few weeks I’ve made my first tart, done my first blind-bake of a pastry crust and made English muffins. Last night I did my first hot water crust and put together my first meat pie (we’ll find out tonight if it’s any good). Today I’m attempting meringue for the first time as well.

Some friends have asked if I’d ever want to be on a Bake-Off show, but honestly, I’d be petrified. I’ve been a “tried and true recipe” kind of baker. When I make cookies, it’s pretty much just chocolate chip. For bread, I stick to pretzel. For cake, I use the Boy’s vegan chocolate cake recipe, which is plenty tasty and gets around a lot of allergies. It’s not that I don’t mind trying new things–I ventured out into whoopie pies, for instance, but even then, I haven’t ventured into the pages of the whoopie pie cookbook I got as a gift. Yet.

While it’s easier to stay with the tried and true, sometimes they become tired and true (which, incidentally, is how I typed it at first). Sure, I know how to do them well, but it really is exciting to attempt a new recipe–which, even if it fails, is fun because then the challenge is figuring out where it went wrong and correcting those mistakes.

So, maybe I would do Bake-Off someday, given the chance. Just not today–I have a lot more to learn before I’d consider myself an all-around Star Baker. And that starts right now with Italian meringue.

Read Friday

25 Nov

This week I finished reading a book, which, in the age of tracking everything, means that I needed to log it in my Goodreads account and see how I was doing on my 2016 Reading Challenge.

Not good.

At the beginning of the year, I was really hopeful about reading more books (especially since I have a tsundoku problem and want to rectify it a bit), so I signed up for Goodreads’ annual reading challenge with the optimistic hope of clearing up the piles a little bit…..though really I should have done some sort of “here’s all the books I didn‘t buy” challenge as well, just to make it seem like I made some sort of actual progress.

Anyway, my Goodreads account had said I’d read 14 of 20 books in my challenge.


Quickly log book.

We’re at 15 now!

Realize that I hadn’t logged a couple of books I’d read this year.

Furiously log them.

Remember why I hadn’t logged them: Mostly embarrassing chick lit books that took weeks to read because they were poorly written (is good learning tool!).

Doesn’t matter! Have to hit goal!

Now I stand at 17 books down, three to read within the next month and change.

That’s three books I’ve challenged myself to read during a very busy month–except that there will probably be a few days at the end of the year where there’s nothing to do but read books, and maybe I will also be smart and pick books that I can’t put down, which technically means getting them done quickly.

I can dream.

Or I can put away the computer and pick up the book I’m currently reading and make some progress that I’ll be proud of at the end of the year.

In related news, I also keep track of my reading in this spreadsheet, as I’m also trying to see how geographically diverse my tastes are. Here I track author by birthplace. I have no real set focus for how I choose what I’ll read next–the goal is mainly to read the books I currently own. If I manage to ever do that, than perhaps I’ll put myself on one of those interesting journeys to read books from authors in every country of the world. For now though, I just like seeing where the authors I read come from and wondering whether and/or how birthplace has an impact on writing.

But Jill, why double up on the tracking?

Honestly, the Goodreads challenge puts a little impetus on reading as a goal. It’s my accountability buddy (and if you think an app as a buddy is a sad thing, the app doesn’t mind waiting for weeks while I read a few pages a night. A real buddy might get tired of tapping their foot and rolling their eyes at me). The spreadsheet is just a nice view of the overall picture of where the challenge has taken me, and I like to see it laid out over the years in nice, neat columns. It seems like real progress over time, no matter what my annual reading challenge goal is.

Speaking of which, that challenge is going to take me back to the couch to have a nice read for a couple of hours.

Will Run for High Fives

4 Jan

While I was out doing a New Year’s Day 5K last Friday, I came up with my running challenge for 2016. Now, I don’t consider myself a runner runner, but I like to do several 5Ks a year, mostly because a 5K is a way to get a half-hour (or so) of cardio in and you go someplace (even if it’s a big circle). Doing a bunch of 5K runs gives you something to work toward, and the races are good points of progress throughout the year. And maybe more importantly, if you do enough races, you build up an extensive wardrobe of t-shirts and other gear.

Now, I’m sure some of you might not think “doing it for the t-shirt,” is a really great reason to spend a lot of money on fancy running shoes and insoles and pound the pavement regularly, but I don’t always do it for the t-shirt. Sometimes I do it for the post-race snack or beer.

Oh wait, did you think I would say that I run for the health benefits and for some sort of inner peace that I get from escaping my desk chair and running all over the world? Fat chance. I’m also the person who spent five figures on grad school for equal parts getting to wear the master’s robe at graduation and getting to move to Chicago….oh, and yeah, because I was somewhat interested in library science as a way to earn a living. Of course I run for the benefits–all of them–and “health benefits” are as far down my list as library science was.

Anyway, I’ve noticed at 5Ks that you’ll sometimes get little groups of spectators. Some of these people are stuck in traffic (and are angry because they had no idea a 5K was happening that morning), but some of them are there to watch the race. Sometimes they’re friends of the runner out to support them, but sometimes, they’re just watching to watch. And that’s what puzzles me. Why watch a 5K? There are a million of them every week–it’s not a huge deal like a marathon. Why do random spectators watch a run-of-the-mill road race?

I’m not sure, but I’ve decided that my new running challenge will be to make people happy that they decided to be along the side of the road when I run by: I’m going to high five as many spectators as possible.

I’ll have rules for this of course–I’m not going to get in other runners’ way by beelining from the center of the road to the gutter. I’m also not going to weave back and forth trying to slap every hand that’s there.  My personal time is somewhat important to me, but let’s face it — I’m not winning anything, not even my age group until I’m in the 80-89 category, if I’m lucky. When you live in Massachusetts, you quickly find out how many real runners are around these parts. A couple of years ago I was excited to move up an age group because it meant I might place better. NOPE. Folks are serious about their long distance runs here. Heck, there was a guy who could’ve been in his late 60s–or he could’ve been a well-preserved late 70-something–running without a shirt on New Year’s Day in 40-degree weather. That’s no chump.

Anyway, if I’m out there pounding the pavement, stuck in the back of the pack, watching the people with their baby strollers race past me like it’s no big deal, I might as well have some fun with it. I consciously made an effort to do this during this New Year’s Day run the Boy and I did (free socks!), and while I think some of the kids were a little perplexed that a stranger wanted to high five them, I have to say that the energy they gave me put a little pep in my next few steps and kept me going. I certainly appreciated that too–when you spend good chunks of the race thinking, “Where in the heck is mile 1?” and, “No, seriously, we’re only at mile 2? I’ve still got a good ten more minutes of this crap?” and, “Wait. Are we going uphill again?” mixed in with whatever one fast-paced song that’s running a continuous loop in your head for 30 whole minutes (usually my brain mashes up most of the “Run Lola Run” soundtrack. This race I only had T. Swizzle’s sick beat in my head. For the entire three-point-one miles), you appreciate the good will that a cheering spectator brings–even if they don’t think they’re really there to cheer for you.

So if you happen to be at a race I’m running in the near future (I’ll definitely be doing the Cambridge 5K series this year), look for me and hold out your hand like a fun spectator–I’ll be sure to slap you some appreciation.


Flipping the Calendar

1 Jun

Dear Readers,

I seriously don’t know what happened to May. Travel, yes. Writing, yes. Roller derby, yes. But blogging? No.

That will change as I flip the page on the calendar and decide that June will be better. I’ll finish up the Australia trip–apparently some of my postcards to you got lost in the mail. Then a friend of mine got married and had a lovely backyard wedding and reception, which meant for a very fun weekend. Then I went to Colorado and almost didn’t see the Rockies.

Workwise, I’ve gotten a few new assignments that are keeping me busy, and of course, there’s roller derby–committees to be on, games to officiate, laps to skate. Last week I learned the hard way what it’s like to skate with no toe stops, which is something I’m not quite prepared to repeat.

Hmmm. I guess I see what happened to May–it’s just all up in my noggin’, which isn’t doing anyone any good. Time to open up the hatch and let it spill out. More tomorrow, my friends.

Your pal,


Goal Achieved?

1 Apr

I’ll get to the point: I disappointed myself in March. 12.34 miles short of my monthly goal. I have no idea how this happened–after all, I thought I ended up having to walk a lot this past month. To the bus, from the bus multiple times during the month, which is about a mile each way, plus other walking and running in between and a great 5K run.

Obviously though, I regularly cut corners and figured I’d make up the distance later. Unfortunately, I realized far too late just how bad the situation had gotten.

This shouldn’t have happened–I use a tracking app while I’m out, and I also have a training journal. But using them and using them are two different things. I didn’t check in weekly to see how things were going and make sure I was staying on track. If I had, I wouldn’t have backed myself into such a corner.

While I lick a tiny wound from having to learn a lesson, the calendar still turns. It’s onto another month, one that’s a blank grid ready to fill with accomplishment. I can turn it around and get back on track–no try, no perhaps. Can. Besides, it’s National Walking Day, so what better way to get started?

Damn Resolutions

30 Mar

With three days to go in the month, I decided to count up the mileage I’ve logged outside and see where I was in terms of meeting my 100 miles/month goal.

Apparently I thought March had about 35 days in it because I was 21.98 miles short.

Uh oh.

Time to implement a two-a-days plan andget that mileage logged. Then learn that maybe I should check in with my progress weekly and make sure I’m on track. The days of “oh, I can make that up later this week/next week” must end. If I managed to meet my  goal in February, there’s no excuse to not accomplishing it in March.

And speaking of excuses, it’s time to get outside and run. Those miles aren’t going to log themselves.

Oh, Yeah….That’s Right

19 Mar

Hey friends,

We’re a couple of weeks away from Easter, which means I should be halfway to a clutter-free house, right?



Normally this pile would have one more pair of shoes, but I’m wearing them. Oops.


The scarf and hat have managed to escape from their bin–again–even though no one’s worn either lately. That orange envelope is a Halloween card from Ma Jaracz, which I’m tempted to keep because it says, “Want a good scare this Halloween? Sit down and make a list of things you do exactly like your mother,” which is more truthful than I want to believe. There are also a few strategically placed piles of things that I’m going through after finishing up my taxes and a big roller derby project. What’s preventing this table from not being more cluttered is the fact that it’s simply a piece of plexiglass resting on wood, so you can’t set anything heavy in the middle because the whole thing will probably fall apart (we’re trying to reshape the wood piece that the plexiglass actually fits onto, which you can kind of see on the floor–the table and some weights have been sitting on it all winter long).

Those pictures are just part of the kitchen. I’m not going to show you the pile of mail (mostly magazines that can’t fit into the magazine rack because it’s too full), the crazy stack of books I took out from the library, or my office, which got partially dismantled while I dug out receipts for my taxes.

But my taxes are done. And I’ve gotten our bill binders decluttered and have a (hopefully) better system set up to make next year easier. Moving last year definitely did not help, nor did getting a new home office space that requires complex algebra in order to figure out its square footage (props to the Boy for spending an evening measuring and doing the math).

In terms of the challenge though, I’m woefully behind. It probably hasn’t helped that I still haven’t printed out the chart that helps plan the attack. That would probably be a good visual reminder, and maybe I’ll do it at some point. I’m not going to beat myself up though–I actually have made a little bit of progress with cleaning out a few drawers and getting rid of some paper. I’ve also managed to check off a few things on the “to do” list that have piled up–and honestly, I think that helps more than one would think.

I’ll keep at it, that’s for sure. And I’ll keep you posted. Have I mentioned that I got my taxes done?

Your pal,


The Last .05 Mile

2 Mar

February 2015 turned out to be a pretty rough month for fitness. Boston’s had a crazy amount of snow so far–over 100″. We’re very close to the all-time record, and having gotten a couple more inches last night, I wouldn’t be surprised if we topped it. The snow, paired with some bitterly cold weather, have made being outside pretty miserable most days. The MBTA is barely functioning, so the Boy’s commandeered our car in order to get to work.

I have managed, however, to get outside every day for at least a little while. I haven’t done the “at least three miles a day” that I did in January, but the goal of doing 100 miles outdoors was something I did want to do. On Saturday, I tiptoed and slid across ice, climbed over mounds of snow, and walked through the trenches (literally)–all of which is old hat by now–in order to get my last bit of mileage. Walking a mile can take a half-hour sometimes, since not everyone’s very good about shoveling or melting the ice on their sidewalks. When it melts a little bit during the day and freezes at night, it’s even harder to move around. I constantly fear slipping and falling and getting a concussion (this has happened to a friend), and there are some routes that I just can’t walk because the way is so treacherous.

So on Saturday, it was clear and beautiful–and frigid. I was only wearing one layer of pants, two layers of socks, two layers underneath my winter coat, two pairs of gloves and a hat, and I was still so cold. I walked to the train station, met friends in Cambridge for lunch, wandered around there waiting for the train home, then walked from the train station back home. Then I totaled up my mileage for the month–and discovered that I’d done 99.95 miles.


This meant another round of bundling up, another round of walking, just to get that last bit of mileage–and yes, I realize I could’ve done laps in the driveway, but that’s not the point. I had to go somewhere, I felt I had to have some bigger purpose to the walk than just .05 miles. The Boy and I ended up walking to dinner, which at least was a nice way to wrap it up.

Two months down–and February’s probably the worst because it’s the shortest. Time to move onward.

Bag Lady 2015

19 Feb

Are you doing the “40 Bags in 40 Days” challenge? This is the one where you clean out one area of your house a day and get rid of a bag of stuff that you don’t need anymore and are puzzled as to why you’ve held onto it in the first place. Wondering what to get the person who has everything? Look around your house because you’re probably that person and others asked that about you.

At any rate, I know I have to declutter. A lot. While I’m not a big shopper, I enjoy paper. A lot of paper. So much so that I’m sure my desk could be classified as a hoarder zone (we’ll call that an HZ). In fact, there are quite a few HZ’s around our place, and I’m responsible for a lot of them.

Since too much stuff can be draining, I’m going to hop onto this challenge and use it as an incentive to clean out and tackle some spring cleaning (even though if I look out the window, spring doesn’t seem like it will come anytime soon). Ann Marie over at White House Black Shutters even has a handy chart to help plan it. She’s done the challenge since 2011, which made me wonder how you accumulate 40 bags of stuff that you can get rid of over the course of one year, and then I saw, oh, four kids.

I do have a beef with how this challenge is presented–the title and the graphic both make it sound like you need to be getting rid of a lot of stuff–FILL 40 TRASH BAGS WITH YOUR CRAP AND GET IT OUT OF YOUR HOUSE NOW! C’mon, Americans! Let’s compete over how much stuff we can get rid of! That’s kind of overwhelming. To be fair, Ann Marie stresses over and over that the number is just a number. You could have more, you could have less. The important thing is to focus on a small area and pare it down to only what you need. That’s how I’m trying to visualize it. 40 places in 40 days — that’s what I want to clean out. Whether I get rid of a sandwich bag of stuff (which was yesterday) or I throw out a trash bag, it doesn’t matter. I’ll take it one tiny HZ at a time–drawer by drawer and shelf by shelf.. Wait, I’ve got a lot of drawers and shelves….this has potential to take longer than 40 days. That’s OK! CHALLENGE x 2!

If you’re doing the challenge, I’d love to hear how it’s going. I’ll try to report back along the way and fill you in on the latest shameful thing I’ve somehow managed to hold onto.

You Got Your Band in my Book! No, You Got Your Book in my Band!

5 Feb

Every once in a while, I allow myself to visit Coudal Partners home on the web. Coudal’s the genius behind my beloved Field Notes (if you haven’t converted from Moleskines yet, consider doing so), and every time I visit their site I have a couple of thoughts:

  1. Shit! I just spent an hour here looking at all their amazingly creative stuff and feeling envious of the fun they must be having.
  2. If I ever, ever, ever got a job in an office again, I think I’d like to work with them.

Yesterday, I spent just a little too long in the Coudal rabbit hole, but it was worth it to find this gem of a contest that blends band names and book titles. The list doesn’t even include my favorite, which is the teaser on the home page: The Lionel, the Richie, and the Wardrobe. 

At any rate, yesterday’s visit there means I’ve really got to focus on a couple of bridal stories I’m writing, so I’ve got my nose to the grindstone right now. That doesn’t mean you have to. We’re a little too late for the contest, but we can still play here.  Can best my idea of The Steve Miller Band on the Floss or About a Pet Shop Boy?

And if you need some more titles to help give you some ideas, check out who made the annual Tournament of Books for some of the best from last year….and don’t blame me if you’ve just found yourself in a different rabbit hole.

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