Hiking: New Found Love

I’ve never been a girly girl. I’ve also never been super outdoorsy, but as I’ve been mt pic2stepping up my fitness game, I found myself looking for new interesting ways to workout. One day I did an #askfb to find a good place to jog and a coworker suggested Pilot Mountain, a nearby mountain and national park. My request for a jogging trail turned into a hiking adventure. I did another #askfb to see who’d be willing to accompany me and a couple of my workout group members at work volunteered. We planned out first hike after one of our teacher workdays, before we left for the summer.

Over the weekend before our hike a looked online to get an idea of what trail to do. They were labeled as easy, moderate, and strenuous. I’d never been hiking before so I didn’t know how difficult their scale was, it didn’t even know if I could handle the easy trail, would I be scaling the side of a mountain? I ask a few other teachers that had been before and they were confident that I’d totally be able to handle the moderate trail and more than likely the strenuous. The group I was with decided we would play it safe with a moderate path.

We drove to the mountain and parked. When we first started we were all thinking “hey this isn’t so bad” after about the first mile that changed. We started to be walking continuously uphill. After about 2 miles it was only steep steps upward for the last mile. We took a few breaks and could see the gorgeous view, it gave us some relief and motivation to get to the top. Once we arrived the feeling was indescribable. We were on top of the world. I felt so accomplished, I’d never done anything like that before. We took another, shorter route back to our cars. To be honest the walk down was worse, because we were tired, hungry, and sore, but there was no other option but the press on. Ā Once we reached the bottom we discovered we had accidentally taken a strenuous trail. We had already done it so it was just another achievement for us. We planned on taking 2 more hikes over the summer. This hike empowered us to continue our workout group over the summer via Facebook and planned more hikes.

For our second hike we actually did a moderate path, as we had a newcomer that wasn’t comfortable with the strenuous trail, which was fine. It was still a decent distance and had some hills. I didn’t like that the path was narrower and therefore closer to the wooded area, it made me very nervous. The moderate path also didn’t have any picturesque views, it was almost just like taking a normal walk with the fear of spiders and snakes.

I plan on taking a hike (no pun intended) at another mountain, Hanging Rock, which is further away, but I’ve been told the trails and views their are beautiful. Hopefully I can get a babysitter to make this happen on the regular, because I truly enjoy hiking. It is so therapeutic. All exercise is, but hiking is on a different level. Its like your one with nature and the earth itself. So here’s to the next adventure and many more to come.

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My Big, Fat, Vegan Family Dinner

I have recently transitioned from trying to be semi-vegan, to trying to be fully vegan. I guess that still makes me semi vegan, but now I putting more effort into making my meals all animal free instead of planning to eat meat with dinner or when eating out. I truly believe it is the healthiest option, but I still struggle from time to time. I also don’t want to become a preachy, “extreme” vegan. Its everything that I hate about Christianity, so I’m not going to become that kind of vegan. My husband is on board with “trying it out” he tries and likes most of my vegan cooking and is open to having more vegan meals, he is not committed to becoming fully vegan and I have no intentions of forcing him. We were visiting our home town before heading off to Otakon in DC, so I decided to show my family that being vegan can be delicious and not a sacrifice.

I discussed my reasoning for being vegan. I get into a civil discussion with my dad about how veganism is beneficial for diabetics. He is all about keto and low carb. I informed him that I diet rich in whole grains, and whole food carbohydrates in moderation is good for everyone including diabetics. He refused to believe myself or the science based research I presented to him. He also discredits his argument because he doesn’t want to eat pasta, corn, or potatoes, but enjoys chips, candy, and ice cream. That’s his idea of moderation. He also drinks sugar free energy drinks. UGH! So instead of diabetes, he gets cancer. But, there’s no winning because we are one in the same and will argue our point to the death before admitting the other is right. He did agree to try to soup and appetizer part of the meal. He did not eat the entree or dessert, because it would be “too many carbs”.

These are the dishes I served for my cousin, sister, aunt, mother, and father:

Corn Chowder

corn chowderThis was the first dish I served and the unanimous favorite. I cooked chopped potato, celery, onion, and corn in the crock pot with vegetable stock. I took 2/3 out and pureed with almond milk then return to the pot. Those swirls you see in the bowl is smoked paprika, the ingredient that made the dish, no bacon required.

 

 

“Krab” Cakes

krab cakesThis was the second favorite item on the menu. I made this from hearts of palm and jackfruit. There is also lemon juice, chives, mustard, vegan mayo, bread crumbs, and old bay seasoning in them. On the side is a vegan remoulade.

 

 

Baked Pasta

This dish started out as a lasagna, then a skillet lasagna, then just baked pasta, because it pastacan’t really be lasagna without lasagna noodles. It was my least favorite dish because the cashew cheese was not as smooth as a wanted. Before being vegan and allergic to dairy, I was a cheese-a-holic. Now I’m finding when you’re using vegan cheese less is more.  But everyone else who ate it enjoyed it ( no pasta for Mr. Low Carb diet). There was eggplant, mushrooms, and zucchini with the pasta, sauce, and cashew ricotta and mozzarella cheese.

 

Key Lime Pie

Last but not least, you gotta have desserts. Learning that I was allergic to eggs and dairy is kind of what got me thinking about being vegan in the first place. I was having to piesearch for vegan desserts, side dishes, and snack so it seemed a common sense transition. The filling for the key lime pie is avocado, cashews, and almond milk. Agave nectar, vanilla, lime juice, and zest are added for flavor. The crust is made from walnuts, almonds, and dates. The purple swirls you see are blackberries pureed with some of the filling. Making this again I won’t use as much milk. This will stop in from being so icy when frozen, and hopefully stop it from melting quickly into a puddle due to the high liquid content.

 

I served this meal with the most love I have ever put into food. My hope is too get people thinking that this is a way of life that will be beneficial for their bodies as well as their taste buds. I’m using the ol’ “catching more flies with honey than vinegar” tactic. Hopefully it will catch on, if not I’ll continue leading by example, and at least taking the animals out of one meal every once in a while.

 

My 2nd Big Chop

I did the unthinkable. After almost seven years of trying to grow my hair as long as it could get, I cut most of it off. There was a time for about a year after my son was born that I was cutting my hair to get all the red dye out, so essentially within the seven years I’ve been natural, I’ve grown my afro twice. My first big chop the initial big chop in which I went natural. I transitioned for a few months and then cut it off leaving me with a TWA (tiny, weeny, afro). This big chop was different and similar. Both big chops were done for the same cause; I was tired of dealing with my hair. short cut

When I first decided to go natural I was going to transition and slow trim away my relaxed hair. I was getting corn rows, doing braid outs, twist outs, and roller sets to blend my natural and relaxed hair. The thing you have to understand is that I have a lot of VERY thick hair, so I was getting tired of all that work all the time. So the day before my birthday December 16th, of 2010, I did the big chop and became completely natural.

Fast forward to present time. I’m working, married, and a mother. Once again the maintenance of my hair was becoming overwhelming. Styles that were easy for most naturals to achieve were nightmares for me because a have entirely TOO much hair. I know it sounds crazy, but I have never come across someone with hair as thick as mine. It pretty long too, not the longest, but the length combined with the thickness creates a wash day hell. I just no longer had the time and patience to deal with it. Even the quintessential puff was difficult for me. There is no pony tail holder alive that can hold my hair, I used a tightly wound stocking to make my puff, which results in a headache within 2 hours. Braids were ok, once they’re in but its still time and/or money. Plus, because of the thickness of my hair I was left with so many braids that my only style options were low pony, all out, or half up styles. I could not do the cute buns that everyone does with their box braids and twists. Something had to give.

I thought I figured out a solution. I would get locs. That would mean I could easily wash my hair and go. But this dream fizzled as began to think once again about time and money for maintenance whether they were professionally done or not. There was also the braid issue again. With locs I would have the same issue once they grew out. I’d have a ga-zillion locs on my head I could do nothing with. The loctician I was consulting with suggested interlocking which would reduce the density of the locs and make them more manageable. But this seemed risky as research showed that it could be potential unhealthy, and I was not prepared to deal with the price of getting and maintaining them.

The biggest question I’ve been asked since cutting my hair is “what did your husband say?” Actually this was all his idea. He heard me toiling over this for days on end, when one morning during our pillow talk he said, “why don’t you just cut it?” I asked “do you really think I could pull that off?” He replies, “of course, you’re the most beautiful person I know, and you have a perfect shaped head.” I really didn’t think so, but I trusted him, and it turns out he was right. I really love this look. We joke about it now, because around the time I did it I starting watching “Orange is the New Black”, and my favorite character is Poussey (RIPšŸ˜¢) . I currently have a tapered fade, but he says I should cut it all the way low like her. I’m not opposed to the idea, but for right now I think I’ll keep at least a few curls at the top.

I plan on playing around and having some fun with it, something I could not do with my long hair. I’ve gotten some parts on the side, I want to get a design in the back next. Maybe I’ll keep it tapered but grow it out on the sides for a couple months before fading it down again. I’ve watched you tube videos about how to do easy finger coils with a brush. Earrings have a whole new meaning now! The possibilities are endless. The best feeling in the world was the next day when I took a shower, co-washed my hair, and just went. I could literally do a true “wash and go” again, like when I first big chopped my hair. Its crazy how a feel like a have more freedom with less hair on my head, its completely liberating.

 

Otakon 2017: Our Adult Christmas

Every year my husband and I look foward to Otakon like a kid does Christmas. This was the first year it was held in Washington, DC; rather than Baltimore, MD. For us it would be a whole new adventure because we usually stay with our brother who lives in Baltimore and knows it like the back of his hand. This year we booked a room in The Westin, a .6 mile walk from the convention center, and our brother caught the train from Baltimore. The trip was great.  There were some bumps in the road but the excitement of Otakon was more than enough to cover that. Here are some of the highlights of our trip!

otakon grin
My traditional 1st day of Otakon grin

Gaming Room

The two places we spend the most time during Otakon are the game room and dealer room. There are long tables on one side of the massive room with chargers for handhelds as well as phones. This is perfect for charging my phone, resting my feet, and even taking a little nap. My husband usually finds Naruto or Injustice; our brother, Halo, Gundam, or some cool retro gaming system. As for me I don’t game a lot. I may play around on a fighting game like mortal combat, Naruto, or Injustice, but I get serious when it comes to Just Dance. We had not bought the newest, Just Dance 2017, but I still dominated whenever I came over. I play different than most. I don’t just play to win, I play to groove. Otakon ain’t never seen a nerd with rhythm like me. I usually play for an hour per day, that along with all the walking gives me a decent calorie burn to offset the extra eating.

Dealer Room

This year we did not get a lot from in the dealer room in terms of quantity. I usually go to find some unique graphic t-shirts that will stand out from my normal JC Penney and Old Navy collection. I also look for my traditional Harry Potter gift for my sisters birthday in September (which I did find, but am not going to disclose just in case she reads), a gift for my son, and some kind of Sailor Moon collectible for my cousin. The dealer room seem to be a little lacking this year. They had some awesome stuff, but it didn’t feel like there was as much. Maybe some of the dealers that usually come to Baltimore couldn’t make it to DC. But what we did find became the highlight of the whole trip. We got stainless steel wedding bands engraved in…..ELVISH! They were an early anniversary gift for each other as our anniversary is TOMORROW! It was perfect; we condensed the Dr. Seuss

rings
Our “Rings of Power”
quote from our wedding program:  “We’re all a little weird and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness called love.” The perfect description of our relationship. Our brother also got a ring engraved in Draconic.

Panels

I am usually the one that finds the good panels.  Maybe its because I am the newest to anime so I am eager to learn. On Friday we attended “Anime vs Hollywood”—Whitewashing. It gave some interesting perspectives. The most profound being how World War II affected American comics vs Japanese manga and anime. America was the “winner” and therefor comics showed incredible heroes but was also heavily censored only showing positive images. Whereas, Japan was the “loser” and their animation was deeper and darker, a quality I enjoy.  Saturday we wen to “Skin Deep: Diversity in Japanese Pop Culture. It mentioned some of the same ideas, but also broke down how different groups are stereotyped in anime, manga, and video games. They included: East Asians, Europeans, Americans, Blacks, others (hispanics, muslims, etc.), LGBTQ, and persons with disabilities. Once again eye opening. These were sadly the only panels I was able to attend due to time overlapping with other events and meal times.

Cosplay

One day I’ll start cosplaying myself, I’ll start with sometime simple like punk Storm with a white “fro-hawk. My family jokes and says that if I cosplay they aren’t waiting for me while people take pictures. I hope to cosplay good enough that people will want pictures. Until then I’ll just marvel at the creativity and hard work of others. There’s not much a can say about the cosplay, so I’m just going to include some of my favorites below. Enjoy!

Eateries

When Otakon was in Baltimore we usually tried to eat as much as possible as our brothers house and maybe get some snacks here and there. Being that the Baltimore convention center was with next to the ball fields there were the hot dog vendors that usually sold at the baseball and football games there available for a cheap lunch of hot dogs, sausages, fries, or chicken sandwiches. In DC we were able to find some reliable places. Our regular breakfast and lunch spot was the West Wing Cafe. They had sandwiches, wraps, soups, and plenty of vegan options for me. For breakfast I’d get a smoothie and lunch I got a Korean Bibimbap salad with tofu. For dinner Friday night we went to a burger spot called Bolt Burgers. They had the best french fries EVER! I got a black bean burger with added curry spice and it was divine. I’m not sure if it was because of all the business they were getting but they seemed to be giving everyone (with regular burgers) double patties. My husband and brother got two, even though when asked they said they only wanted one. Oh well, I’ll accept a freebie anytime.

Saturday nights meal, though an adventure, was another highlight of the trip. In Baltimore our signature Saturday evening dinner had been “Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.” on the harbor. We wanted to find something in DC that could replace it and were leaning towards an Asian spot. After searching Google maps for reviews of nearby places when decided on a place called “Chaplin’s”. We did not realize it was the Saturday evening hot spot. We walked through the doors exactly as a thunderstorm dropped all the water from the heavens only to find that without a reservation it would over a 2 hour wait. We waited in the crowded entrance trying to figure out our next course of action. My husband was getting “hangry” and said lets just get an Uber and go to the burger place. I was disappointed and did not want to settle for that. We got an Uber to the burger place, but decided to walk to nearby Chinatown. The rain had died down an we had a back up restaurant there in Chaplin’s didn’t work out. We got there only to discover that it had been rented out for a private party. Across the street was a small restaurant Reren Lamen & Noodles. I was assuming that Lamen meant “ramen”, so we decided to check it out. It was PERFECT we found our official Saturday evening dinner spot. My husband got the Kung Po beef lamen, I got the Buddah style tofu lamen, and our brother got Shrimp fried rice (basic I know, but it was the best). We ordered some dumplings to share as an appetizer and my husband and I ordered alcoholic drinks. The price was VERY reasonable and the food impeccable. My only change will be to next time ask if I can get some of the spiciness of my husband’s beef based broth in my mushroom broth. I saw that they had an article in the Washington Post so I looked it up, the article explains the owners Chinese roots and why it calls their noodles “lamen” rather than “ramen”. Check it out if you have the chance.

All in all it was an epic trip. Somethings I will do next time are possibly flying or taking a train and using cabs/Uber rather than dealing the garage parking or getting tickets. We will also be leaving Monday rather than Sunday so we can take advantage of all 3 days. My husband and I will do Otakon boot camp so we can wake up earlier and stay up later in order to maximize our time to hit all the events we want. Until then I will fill the void soaking up all the anime I can and attending local statewide cons. Now I will begin marking my calendar until Otakon 2018, August 10th-12th.