Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip, Part 2: Anything but Hopeless

Our week-long mission trip to Haiti is over, and I'm trying to capture both details and feelings. I'm not sure I'm succeeding, but here we go with Part 2.

The Goal
Our group's stated purpose was to build a home for a family who had lost theirs in the earthquake in 2010. Working through Baptist Haiti Mission, we teamed up with their proven group of masons to accomplish this goal in about four days of work.

When we arrived, the foundation was laid, the materials were at the bottom of the hill, and our team of masons was already at work. We got busy hauling bricks and sand about 300 feet from the road below. Some of us started laying the cinder blocks.

The building is about 10x14', and 12 bricks high.
This was basically a neighborhood -- there were 2-3 other homes on the hill, and the kids who came to watch became the best little helpers ever.
This was when we were told we had to haul another 100 bricks up from the road. Notice the enthusiasm.
When we'd haul the sand over to the site, we had to sift it to get the rocks out. Let's just say there is NO arm workout like sifting sand.
Haul sand in bucket. Dump bucket of sand into pile. Shovel sand into sifter. Sift. Toss rocks. Repeat.
The sand gets mixed with concrete to form the morter, which is put between the bricks first, and eventually "floated" onto the bricks inside and out of the house. This is when having professionals on site really helped. I don't know how many times I was shown how to "fling" the morter, but it would never stick for me. I resorted to using my hands to stuff morter where it belonged. No jokes, please.

See all the morter between the rocks at the bottom? I did that.
[And then someone came behind me and fixed it, I think.]

Helen was a master of morter by the end --
the masons wanted to keep her on their team permanently. 
We worked Friday and Saturday, then returned on Monday. At that point, the roof was on, and the wooden door and windows were in place. The "floating" took most of Monday, then we returned on Tuesday to finish up and turn the home over to the family.

Side note: This had a larger room, and then a wall separating one end -- creating a room about the width of a twin size bed. This will be just the living/sleeping space for this father and three children. We built this next to the existing kitchen:

This kitchen had a small cabinet, a stack of cookware,
and a metal frame that sits over a wood fire.

The Final Results:

The homeowner had us add colored powder (like chalk) to the morter put on the floor.
This is Wilfred, the homeowner, and Ednie, one of his granddaughters. They're holding the gifts we presented them: woven mats for bedding, two lanterns, and a Bible.
Our exhausted and very proud crew

The Rest of the Story
On our first workday, I posted this picture of our lunch site to Facebook.
Our view each day from the jobsite
Friends commented on how beautiful it looked, and asked if I'd ever come home, and then one friend noted that the "poverty and hopelessness in the region far outweighs the beauty." That comment stuck with me all week. Poverty, definitely. Even with some progress since the earthquake, this is predominantly a poor country. The government is corrupt, no doubt. The infrastructure is weak, and the chances for advancement remote.

But these are the people I encountered:

These lovely people are anything but hopeless. They are hard workers. They are determined. They are improving. They are dedicated to their country.

Hassan wants to go to medical school. And then he wants to return to help his country.

As I considered the adjectives I would apply, it occurred to me that I never once met someone asking for a handout. Sure, in the market, people wanted to sell me things, but there was always an offer. Never the "give to me because you feel sorry for me...I was injured...I lost everything in a tragedy...you'll never miss it because you're rich..." mentality.

Then I returned home to be bombarded with political ads, commercials telling me to boycott XYZ because they believe in something, and news about the latest welfare/Medicare/freebie of the week crisis. Oh, what would America be like if instead we adopted the working attitude of this poor nation to our south?

Okay, rant over. I don't do poliltics in general, and definitely on this blog. But if visiting Haiti has made me aware of anything, it's that I am tremendously blessed to live in this country, to have the things I have, to have access to education, and to be able to care for my family. If you're reading this from the same place, take a moment and say thanks.

One More Thing
I've got the coolest teenager on the planet.

This is Bug, using a beaded bracelet to share the story of Jesus with these sweet children on our first day at the jobsite. She worked through Hassan to make sure they all knew the plan, and they repeated it back to her. She did this again on our last day. There is nothing more precious than watching your child step out of her comfort zone, and deliver a message that's important.

I'm blessed to have had this experience. If you ever get a chance to do mission work, consider it. It will change your perspective.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Haiti Mission Trip, Part 1: Background & Details

We're home! Thank you so much for your prayers and good thoughts as my daughter and I spent a week in Haiti. If you visit this blog for weight loss news, you'll have to skip through a couple of entries. Then I'll get back to that. This is also my 100th post, which feels like it should be special!

I've been mentally composing the Haiti story for days, and I realized I can't do justice to it in one post. This is my "scrapbook" - the record to not only share, but to capture my memories while they're fresh. I apologize in advance for the detail. Skip whatever you want!

The Group
We were a diverse group of 14 from our church. Four teens - 3 boys and my girl; five 50-to-60 somethings; three 40-somethings; and two 30-somethings. Five women and nine men, two sets of couples. Seven had made this trip last year, so we had a nice mix of experienced and new.

DFW, early Thursday morning. Little out of focus, but it's the only one we got! 

Once there, we were joined by our two interpreters, Ben and Hassan. Ben had been with the group last year, and they were excited to see him. Hassan is planning on medical school - he applied for his visa, but the Haitian government denied it (and kept his money).

Hassan (left) and Ben

Haiti and the Mission
We flew into Port-au-Prince, and then took a bus to our location for the week, Fermathe. It is about 12 miles from the airport, and takes about an hour to get there.

The Baptist Haiti Mission (BHM) was our home for the week. The history of the mission is fascinating, so I've included a link to the website. The facilities and grounds are lovely -- yes, the bathroom is separate from sleeping quarters, but the weather was nice and it wasn't a hardship.

This church sits at the entrance to the mission. On the right is a gate that is closed at 5pm. Otherwise, the mission is open to the public. This is where we went to church on Sunday.

Continuing through the gate, the mission hospital is right there in the compound. On the left is the clinic, ahead is the pharmacy, and on the right is the hospital. The bridge above connects the two. We heard new babies crying at night a couple of times while we were there.

The view from the dining room

One of the houses on property - the dining room was below this. 

One of the gardens
There is a zoo on the grounds! It's one of the attractions for locals, along with the little park. They have rabbits, goats, ducks, turkeys, and a monkey. There used to be an alligator, but he has moved on.

Mr. Billy Nay-Nay came over to say hi.
The mission is home to missionary families based there, the director, and various other staff. While we were there, the education wing had several students working on their ministry degrees. They were living in the newly rebuilt dorm. In the earthquake, part of the mountain slid away, taking buildings with it.

We worked on projects at the mission itself, including one involving the greenhouse. One money-making endeavor is to sell poinsettias. The area used to be covered with wild poinsettias, and bringing it back is a goal. But they are also sold to the wealthy, with the proceeds going directly to the mission. One of the greenhouses was damaged in the earthquake, and a few of our guys stayed there a couple of days to work on it.

The greenhouse had to be anchored to the concrete wall -- it had bent away and was unusable. Our team straightened the upright poles, and the following day got the permanent supports installed.

Kevin and Mark worked on the plant trays. The bars running perpendicular to the wooden boards roll side to side, allowing walkways to be created by pushing the tray. This allows for the maximum growing area because the walkways can be changed without taking up valuable floor space. They're very proud. :-)

As you can imagine, water is a pretty big deal in Haiti. The dependence on rain and the lack of modern plumbing doesn't just affect the poor -- the mission workers made it clear that we need to be conservative, too, even though there has been a lot of rain recently. The bathrooms had cisterns on top, which provided us with (very) cold shower water and flushing capabilities. But we were told early: "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it's brown, flush it down." Let me know if that gets stuck in your head, because it's been playing in mine for a while now.

The mission had numerous large cisterns like this one:

This is used for irrigation, and is very close to the greenhouses.

Okay, I think that's it for this post. I'll leave you with Bug and me, and I'll be back soon with the important stuff about this trip. Thanks for hanging in there through all the pictures and detail!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Workout Recap #whatevercomesafterdeux

For the record, these. suck. a. lot.

Thank you, Pinterest, for making me unable to sneeze, cough, or get out of bed without crying. I've done these twice, and I'm due for another set today. I'm not sure if/when it will get better.

[On the funny(er) side, Bug decided to do them with me, and she hasn't been able to take a complete breath since. Teenagers should have more endurance, right?]

On to the rest of the workouts....

It was actually a good week. I reported on last Monday already -- that I finally got over the 2 mile wall again. I decided to go for distance more than speed for the next few workouts. Here's how I did.

My distance didn't go up, but for the first time in months, I didn't walk AT ALL after the 3 minute warmup. I also got the Garmin heart rate monitor to work (finally) and I'm definitely in my target workout zone. I kept checking the Garmin when I'd feel like my breathing was less labored, and sure enough, that's when my heart rate was a bit lower. I also watched it on the stupid hills -- why is running uphill also always against the wind? That's when my HR would peak.

This run was an exercise in sheer bullheadedness. I set the route to be for distance - not a mapped path - and I just started going. I've mapped the neighborhood about a dozen different ways, so I was pretty sure I knew how to get to 2.75 without backtracking. I left the house 15 minutes later than I wanted, and could tell that it was about 5 degrees warmer than my usual 7am runs. It was actually a really good run (check the HR!) with walk breaks only to get water.

Today was awesome! It was cool (yes, 73 is cool) and it felt great. Took a one-tenth walk break after 2 miles, for water mostly. My 2nd mile was actually faster than my first -- that's never happened! It was likely due to the 3 minute warm up walk, but whatever. Obviously, I'm setting no land-speed records, but I'll take the distance for now.

I started looking into another 5K, but it's going to have to be October before I trust the weather to not be miserably hot. I'm trying to get R-Dub to sign up with me - he is getting more consistent in his running, so maybe he'll go for it.

Until next time...which won't be next week, because we'll be working in Haiti!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Week 27 Scorecard

It's looking rather unlikely that I'll hit my 30-pound loss goal before my trip in 9 days. On Sunday I was showing a full two pounds up, which did NOT make me happy. I worked out and watched my intake on Monday, and the net result was a gain of about half a pound. I can live with that. We ate really well this week -- as in steak, smoked chicken, pork loin, and of course fish tacos. Anyway, I started to panic over a gain and realized I didn't need to. My workouts are going okay (given the temperature) and we've had a lot going on. I'm a little disappointed in myself that I didn't push harder for those last 2 pounds to make 30, but I've also had a lot of fun the last couple of weeks. It's a tradeoff.

Rough life, but somebody's gotta live it.
And that's my bathing suit floating up - I'm not filling that out by myself!

I'll do a scorecard posting next Tuesday, then Bug and I head to Haiti for our mission trip. We'll be there from Thursday to Thursday, building houses in the mountains with the Baptist Haiti Mission.

It'll be the first time this year that I've been reliant on others for food for more than a day or two. Our group will be taking food for lunches - they're planning on PB&J because there is no refrigeration or ice chests at the job site. Of course, there is no part of a PB&J that's Paleo, so I started researching what I could take instead. Melissa over at theclothesmakethegirl.com graciously answered my email asking for her advice. Here's some of the stuff I'll have with me:
  • Beef jerky
  • Nuts - almonds, cashews, pistachios
  • Dried apricots and raisins
  • Medjool dates (because I'm addicted)
  • Apple sauce (no sugar added)
  • Packets of almond butter - not quite Paleo, but almost
  • And Primal Pacs -- which are pre-packaged sets of some of these items that I found online
It will be interesting to see how I do eating this way compared to those eating more of the carb/sugar lunch. We'll be working hard in the heat, carrying construction materials and doing the construction, so the muscles will need fuel. My day job is at a desk, so I haven't really had to test this for more than a single workout before I could get something else to eat. I'll let you know how it goes.

How do you handle someone else being in charge of food when you're away from home?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Workout Recap, part deux

[No, I don't speak French. Other than to pardon it, that is. And what will I do after three? I don't know what comes next...]

I capped off the week with a pretty decent run this morning. It was a few degrees cooler (78 instead of 82) and overcast. That made the humidity ridiculous, but it wasn't unbearably hot. Oh, and this was at 7:15 in the morning. Gotta love Texas summers.

I've been struggling to run much farther than 2 miles lately, almost since finishing the 5K (3.1 miles) back in March. I am sure it's mental, not physical, as I only occasionally have twinges in my calves or hips, and no lasting pain from a run. So why do I have to lecture myself for half an hour before I'll actually get out of the house?
  • It's not too early.
  • It's not too late.
  • It's not too hot (yet).
  • You're not that tired.
  • You've done three miles before.
  • It is NOT all uphill.
  • No one laughs when they drive by you.
  • You can get a new playlist later.
  • Yes, the Garmin is charged.
  • Yes, this is a run day.
And it just goes on and on! I read blogs where the runners are SO excited to get their 4,000 mile run in today...and I'm stopping at TWO? WTH is that?

I'd like to find that stupid "runner's high" just so I can smack it.

Anyway, here's what I did this week:

Tuesday's run was actually a first mile PR! And it was HOT.
Wednesday morning was a holiday, so my friend and I did water aerobics that morning. My arms were sore later that day. Or that could have been the two hour motorcycle ride.

A Thursday workout didn't happen, but I gave it a shot on Friday. I don't think the weather was any hotter, but it FELT about 10 degrees warmer. I kept adjusting my route on the fly so I could run in the shade. That's why I didn't hit my minimum two miles according to the Garmin.

Today I deliberately slowed down my first mile so that I could get a better total distance - and it worked. Yes, I realize that I can walk as fast as I run. Shut up.

I also deliberately made myself change the conversation that plays in my head, especially in the first part of the 2nd mile. Instead of "oh, that's far enough" I made packing lists or sang along in my head to whatever was playing. I also said "Your legs feel fine" several times!
Considering it was a holiday(ish) week, I'm glad I got four workouts in. I think my weigh in will be tragic tomorrow, just due to the awesome grilling we did in the last week. Oh, and a few adult beverages in the pool probably didn't help.

I'm giving myself until we return from Haiti to work in brand new workouts. I've got a lot to do to get ready, so I think I'll cut me some slack.

Til next time...How's the weather affecting your workouts?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Recipe: Paleo Fish Tacos

I've never ordered fish tacos in a restaurant. I only like them when I make them myself. And this is my favorite way to make them! This is also one of the easiest meals I make.

The fish was tilapia. Brush with olive oil and heavily season with blackening spices. I use a mix I buy at this spice shop, but any that you like will work. Let that sit while the grill heats.

Tonight, I sliced squash and chopped red onion for the vegetables. I tossed them into a skillet with a little coconut oil and clarified butter, seasoned with jalapeno salt and pepper. Stir them around and let the squash get soft.

I also made pico de gallo. Keeping it simple, I chopped a little more red onion, a few cherry tomatoes, and some cilantro. Put that in a small bowl, add some lime juice (maybe a couple of tablespoons), some salt and a little pepper. Stir it up and put it in the fridge. I had some packaged guacamole I opened and put in a bowl with a little lime juice and salt.

Now for the fish -- we use a cast iron skillet on the grill. Get it as hot as you can -- our gauge reads about 600 degrees. Put a couple tablespoons of butter in the skillet - this helps the blackening. The fish will take about three minutes a side -- you only turn it once, to keep from disturbing the spices.

To assemble, I used lettuce leaves. Spread a little guac, then the squash, then the fish and the pico. You could do this on tortillas, and it's so easy and filling.

Paleo or not, you should try this! Let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Buttin' into my Business Makes Me Cranky

A couple of years ago, my company was sold to a much larger corporation. So far, my job has remained unchanged, and presumably it will stay that way. Other than some technology changes related to security (which usually do not go smoothly, btw), it's business as usual.

Earlier in the week, however, I got a large postcard in the mail titled "The 10 Dos & Don'ts of portion control" -- here's a picture, with identifying marks hidden cuz I don't wanna get fired. Not that anyone associated with the corporate behemoth reads this, but still.

At first, I just tossed it in the trash and briefly thought "Stay out of my pantry" -- then, I actually read it.

If you've been reading any of my posts the last couple of months, you know that we've switched to a Paleo diet. Excluding gluten/wheat/etc is one of the biggest changes you make on in this eating plan, and is one of the most controversial for those who think Paleo isn't healthy. I'm not getting into that argument here - you can research that with a google search -- but this mailer made it personal to me that having a non-standard dietary plan just doesn't fit in the mainstream. Every diet plan out there has its detractors and supporters, and with good reason. One size doesn't fit all. But here's a closer look at this particular piece of "literature."

1. DO check what a suggested serving size of a given food looks like. Okay, knowing serving sizes is good. Using your own brain and body to determine your hunger level is even better.

2. DON'T finish everything on your plate just because you can. Not awful advice, but what about determining what goes onto your plate and basing it on your hunger level and nutritional needs?

3. DO start a meal off with a salad. Include ...a bit of light dressing... Yeah, not as a rule if I'm not able to control everything in the salad. If dressing is going on my salad, it's going to be tasty and fit within my particular eating plan. "Light" isn't the determination -- salsa, lemon juice, or Paleo ranch may be my choice. And a lot of salads at restaurants are filled with crap like iceberg lettuce and croutons (even though I love me some croutons).

4. Don't eat snacks straight out of the bag they came in. Let's improve this, shall we? Don't eat snacks out of a bag. They're processed and almost guaranteed to have more sugars and salt than is good for you.

5. Do include more whole grains in your diet. This is an obvious "no" in my world. So butt out.

6. Don't skip meals. Actually, there is some value in deliberate fasting - through a half-day or one meal, for example. I don't personally tend to skip meals, but again, this sure is a blanket statement.

7. Do...eat small, healthy meals throughout the day. This one bugs me. Eat when you're hungry! I've done the "eat every 2 hours" thing -- and never kept any weight off doing it. My biggest problem to date has been not listening to my body's signals that it's full, or that I'm bored, not hungry. Suggesting that this works for everyone is just stupid.

8. Don't revolve all your meals around meat. This statement doesn't even work for those following a vegetarian diet! For me, however, meat is not a "side dish" -- of course vegetables are a huge part of Paleo, but so are healthy fats and meat.

9. Do exercise. Duh. And fuel yourself correctly for those workouts.

10. Don't go for second helpings immediately. This goes back to #1 and #2 -- learn to listen to your body and go from there. And consider what your goals are - weight loss? Maintenance? Fueling for a workout? Sure, it takes 20 minutes to know if you're full, so pay attention.

Apparently this mailer annoyed me. And the money spent to send it out is also a bit annoying. I am sure the intentions are fine -- get people to think about their health and ways to improve it. That's never a bad goal -- it's the whole purpose of my year! I suppose it's just frustrating that there is only one perceived "right" way to do things. Paleo isn't for everyone, vegetarianism isn't for everyone, Atkins/South Beach/Weight Watchers -- all have benefits and drawbacks. Make the right choices for you, and don't let some marketing piece, TV commercial (or BLOG!) determine those choices.

Rant over. And the postcard is in the trash again.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Week 26 Scorecard...and other stuff

It wasn't the trainwreck I expected! Of course, I'm going on three weeks trying to lose ONE pound, but it's summer! I want to laze by the pool, drinking (non-Paleo) fruity drinks! It's hotter than the surface of the sun, and I hate getting up early enough to run before work. All in all, a tiny .2 pound loss is a win. Now I'm an even 171 pounds.

Of COURSE I want to lose 8 pounds a week. But for the first time in ever, I'm not stressing about what I'm eating. I know what's Paleo, and that's what I eat (with a tiny bite of cheese occasionally). I'm just going with it.


This "cook up" idea is the greatest thing ever. I know it's not original - bloggers everywhere talk about spending one day a week cooking and freezing, etc. I just have never done it consistently. But Saturday, R-Dub got his new grill -- the "egg" thing that is apparently the bomb. Based on the chicken we cooked, it's not an exaggeration -- that was some of the best chicken I've ever tasted.

This was just my cook up chicken -- a bunch of thighs, a couple of breasts - to have in the fridge this week. We (including Bug, which is a miracle - she doesn't eat grilled chicken) picked at three of the thighs as soon as they came off the grill. Just seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic powder and paprika -- nothing fancy, and seriously tasty.

Here's one of the reasons I love having cooked chicken in the fridge:

This is Paleo chicken salad: celery, apple, grapes, craisins, walnuts, cooked chicken, and Paleo mayo. It takes about 10 minutes to make with the chicken already cooked, and I'm addicted. I may or may not have eaten it for breakfast today. I will likely have it for lunch. I could have made a lovely photo by putting it on a bed of lettuce on a plate, but who am I kidding - I'm eating it right out of this bowl later. It's really the reason I tried making my own mayonnaise, and now I love that part, too.

What kinds of food do you cook in advance? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, July 2, 2012

While the Cat's Away...

In this story, the cat is played by the teenaged daughter who is currently at camp...and the playing mice look an awful lot like parents goofing off.

Like, movies until way too late. Dishes that really need to go in the dishwasher. And no workout because sleeping late sounded better.

So I totally blew off my workout tonight. I was under duress -- R-Dub gets the blame (and I warned him) because it was rainy and water aerobics wasn't happening. Who can turn down Paleo chicken salad with wine, cozied up on the couch, watching trash TV?

Anyway, tomorrow's weigh in is likely to be a train wreck, but I had a really fun weekend, so I'll deal with it!

I didn't blow off the whole week. Tuesday and Thursday were run days -- I went further on Thursday (2.3 miles) than I've done lately, and my times weren't bad. Thursday was also water aerobics for an hour -- and I was sore on Friday. The weekend was spent in the pool - some stretching, but not much cardio involved in floating!

Back on the bandwagon tomorrow - early morning run, and I'm going to get my distance up. [I hate writing stuff like that -- now I HAVE to do it!]