Tomorrow, May 6th, marks my 30th birthday. My 20s were good to me: I visited Spain; graduated college; met, fell in love with, and married Amelia; got my first full-time job; moved to Kansas; got my Master’s degree; became a father; moved to Kansas City; and started a teaching job. I look back on the last decade and I see so much for which I am thankful.

As I look forward to my 30s I am inspired to do what one of my friends did: write a list of 30 things I’d like to accomplish in my 30th year of life. Though the list is roughly categorized it doesn’t follow any certain order:

  1. Lose at least 30 pounds
  2. Get back into a regular yoga practice
  3. Try CrossFit
  4. Exercise at least 3x per week
  5. Run a half marathon
  6. Walk my dogs more often
  7. Buy a 2nd crash cymbal for my drum set
  8. Sketch
  9. Write a short story
  10. Read at least 15 books
  11. Read the Old Testament
  12. Learn to cook at least 5 new things
  13. Use the internet less
  14. Get to know Kansas City better
  15. Tour the Boulevard brewery
  16. Attend a KC Symphony performance
  17. Attend a KC Ballet performance
  18. Try a new restaurant
  19. Hang up pictures of my family in my classroom
  20. Learn more ways of making Amelia feel special and do them
  21. Meet the neighbors
  22. Spend more time with friends
  23. Visit family
  24. Take a vacation to a place I’ve never been
  25. Get another tattoo (sorry Mom!)
  26. Pay off the credit card debt
  27. Shop for and/or buy a house
  28. Establish an efficient housework routine
  29. Set up and follow a budget
  30. Enjoy the first year of 30s even if I don’t accomplish everything on this list.

Here goes nothing. I’ll do my best to post about accomplishing the tasks as I complete them.

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Inspired by a friend, I’ve decided to write a 2012 year in review post. First, some highlights of 2012.

Blogging dry spell – Upon logging in to this blog I realized that I did not post a single update in 2012. Will this year be different? By the time I publish this post, I’ll have more blog posts in 2013 than in 2012 so I’m off to a good start.

Lakewood Middle School – From January to March of 2012 I had my first paid teaching experience as a long-term substitute teaching Spanish at Lakewood Middle School in the Blue Valley school district. It was an eye-opening experience and gave me a great transition from student teaching to starting my career.

From “A total loss” to “swagger wagon” – In late January I was in a car accident that totaled our 2006 RAV4. In a way, it was a blessing. We were making two car payments at the time and when it came time to buy a replacement car, we made the choice to pay in cash. We ended up with a decent 2003 Odyssey that has had only minor problems and doesn’t require a monthly payment.

Job search – As school was coming to a close in April and May, I began my search for a full-time teaching job. My goal was Spanish or ESL in any district within a 40-minute drive radius.

JC Harmon High School – 3 interviews in 3 districts later, I received a call in late May from a Human Resources director in the Kansas City, Kansas school district. She was calling to offer me a job teaching ESL at JC Harmon High School, a job I gladly accepted. The first semester of teaching went great. It was overwhelming at first, as all jobs are, but I feel like I’ve been able to get my feet firmly planted and establish myself as a valuable asset to the school. Plus, my students are amazing. I learn from them everyday and am so honored that I get to be their teacher.

PDP Concept Series – Over the summer, my wife blessed me with “permission” to buy a new drum set. I ended up with a beautiful, 7-piece drum set from PDP. I love playing the drums and I love even more that Sam, my awesome toddler, loves to play them too.

6 years – In August, Amelia and I celebrated 6 years of marriage. It has been a wonderful 6 years and I’m excited for many more anniversaries.

2 years old – In October, my little boy turned 2 and sealed in his status as the coolest toddler ever. He loves trucks, elephants, balls/sports, blocks, trains, art, drums, play-doh, and many more things. He continues to be an amazing little guy.

2012 was a great year. There’s so much more that happened that I haven’t written about and I’m truly thankful for all the friends and family who have been there for me, Amelia, and Sam this year.

Last, some goals for 2013

Instagram a day – Today starts my 365 project on Instagram. My goal is one picture per day. You can follow along here.

Increased health, decreased weight – This year I will continue my commitment to my health and try to get back down to 180 pounds.

Yoga – In an effort to stop having to take anti-anxiety medication and really re-engage with life, I’ve made a goal to start up my yoga practice again.

Time – The biggest goal of 2013 is all about the balance of time. Work/life, chores/free-time, etc. I’m hoping to get closer to a balance that makes sense. I want the quality of my time to increase with my wife and my son.

Happy 2013 everyone.

After the huge success of my Warrior Dash post I had planned a series of posts about my journey into running and so on. However, life got in the way. At that time I was enrolled in 3 summer classes at KU to finish up the coursework for my Master’s degree. After summer ended I completed a 12 week student teaching internship at a local high school teaching Spanish and ESL. Student teaching was an absolute blast and I miss the students I taught. Once I was finished with student teaching I took the Master’s exam for my degree, which involved me writing nearly 40 pages of material to summarize my learning in three different areas of education. After the Master’s exam I completed the Kansas Performance Teaching Portfolio, a 35 page portfolio proving my ability to assess the learning environment of a school and plan lessons and assessments accordingly. In the last couple of weeks I have found out that I met all the requirements for the Portfolio and have passed my Master’s exam. At this point I am finished with grad school and am continually amazed that the journey I started two and a half years ago has come to a close.

Life continues to be very busy. I accepted a long-term substitute teaching position at a local middle school where I’ll teach 6-8th grade Spanish. I observed the teacher I’ll be subbing for and the students seem like they’ll be a lot of fun to work with. The assignment will end in March and I’ll continue to sub on an as-needed basis in the district and plan to also get on other school districts’ sub lists. I’ll also be keeping my eyes open for a full-time position to open up in a district in the Kansas City area.

I’m excited to get back into writing on this blog. I’m very much looking forward to all the opportunities that the next year will bring and I’ve been feeling an urge to get back into writing. My thinking lately has revolved around parenting, education, coffee, and food as well as new habits that I’d like to start in 2012. We’ll see where those thoughts take me on this blog.

A little over two months ago, some friends approached me with an idea: get a group of guys together to run the Warrior Dash. At the time all I knew about this “Dash” was that it was a 5k with obstacles including, but not limited to: water, mud, jumping over cars, haybales, 14’ rope ladders, hurdles, barbed wire, and jumping over fire. After reading the Warrior Dash website I thought it sounded like a fun idea.

There was one problem though: I wasn’t a runner. I had tried running in the past to extremely limited success. Shin splints, doing too much too soon, and not really being motivated to push through were limitations I faced in the past.

Merrell Trail Gloves

A number of friends had told me about running ‘barefoot’ style using minimalist shoes like Vibram’s Five Fingers (VFFs). Given that the VFFs aren’t the most practical looking shoes, I decided to seek out an alternative while still maintaining the essence of bareform running. One Saturday morning when Amelia and I were strolling through downtown Lawrence we stopped in at Sunflower Outdoor and Bike shop and I saw the Merrell Trail Glove shoe. After conversing with the staff, I found out this was Merrell’s entry to the barefoot running craze. At that moment I knew this would be the shoe for me. Though it turned out that Sunflower didn’t have my size, Brown’s ShoeFit did so I made my purchase and promised myself they wouldn’t gather dust.

Though you can find out all about the benefits of barefoot (or bareform, which I prefer) running through a few quick searches, here’s the basics that attracted me to it.

  1. Bareform running forces you to strike midfoot, ensuring that you land with your knee partially bent rather than striking heel-first with your knee completely straight. This slight change completely redefines how the body absorbs the shock of impact when running on any surface. This was really important to me because as a veteran of 7 years of marching band, my body was trained to heel-strike and I suffer shin splints as a result. Heel-striking while running was one of my biggest downfalls that always ensured that it would be weeks between each run because of the pain.
  2. Bareform running helps you be more aware of the terrain on which you are running. Due to the fact that the Trail Glove shoes are so thin-soled, it is very easy to feel the changes in the terrain and it has made me more mindful of how I’m running and how my stride affects how I feel and how much impact I’m making.

Couch to 5k

Once I had the shoes figured out, I needed a plan that would work to get me trained for the running portion of the Warrior Dash. Luckily, I had heard many success stories about the Couch to 5k program. After downloading the plan and looking over it, I felt like it was the right one for me. The very next day was a Monday, and what better day to start than a Monday, right?

I followed the plan pretty much to a ‘t’ though there were some days when I slacked off because it was too hot or I didn’t wake up in time to run before work. I made excuses on these days and definitely paid for them when it came time for my next run. As my Dad, track coach of 30+ years says, “Skip one day, no one notices; Skip two days, you notice; Skip three days, everyone notices.” Overall, the training went very well and I was continually impressed with myself for keeping up with the demands of the training. Before I started Couch to 5k, the thought of running more than one mile without walking was daunting and seemingly out of reach.

The Warrior Dash

Fast forward to Sunday, July 31st, the day of the Warrior Dash. My training was complete and I was mentally psyched to finish the race, have fun, and not get hurt. Although two of the original 4 guys who registered were not able to participate, my friend Brian and I banded together and completed the Warrior Dash in just over an hour. I’m not particularly proud of the time that it took but there are few things to consider: Temps were in the triple-digits, the course was extremely hilly and very very muddy (we ended up having to walk a good 1/4 of the course due to mud) and we had 10 obstacles of varying difficulty to deal with. In the end though, Brian and I met our three goals:

1. We finished
2. We didn’t get hurt
3. We had fun

The Warrior Dash was physically one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but I’m so glad I did it. To complete a ‘bib race’ as Brian called it made me really feel like I’m a “runner.” If you had told me 6 months ago that I would complete a 3.10 mile course with hellish obstacles, I would have laughed at you and told you that I don’t run. Today I’m given the opportunity to look at my race bib and the “Warrior Dash 2011: I Survived” medal that are hanging on the wall behind my iMac. It’s an extremely proud moment in my life and I look forward to future 5ks, 10ks, and possibly a half or full marathon. Six months ago, thinking of running 2 miles was a laughing matter. Today, 13.1 miles sounds difficult, yet feasible.

Thank you to my wife who believed in me from day one and didn’t question my ability to train for or run the Warrior Dash. Thanks to all those who encouraged me along the way, even if you don’t know it. Thanks to Brian for keeping me going during the race. And thanks to Merrell for creating a shoe that lets me run in a way that I no longer have to worry about shin splints and debilitating pain that would normally keep me from running for weeks.

All these things plus a little determination and will power have taken me from my couch to the finish line of the Warrior Dash and beyond.

The breeze from the sea. The lazy mornings, late lunches, siestas, and dinners at 9. Beer and wine that is cheaper than water. Streets teeming with people at all hours of the day and night. Tortilla española  and aceitunas. Bars that serve café con leche in the morning and kalimotxo in the evening.

To say that these are just memories of my trip to Spain 7 years ago wouldn’t do it justice. They are like puffy mosquito bites, oozing with temptation at every move. Though I can certainly relieve the itch by making my own versions of tortilla española and kalimotxo, it is only temporary. I must choose to either ignore it or distract myself from it until it goes away.

My seven-year itch to get back to Spain is at the strongest it has ever been. Perhaps it was the video I made for a class about tapas or the recent digital excavation of the pictures from my time in that beautiful country. My taste buds yearn for the rich food and drink, my tongue wants to dance along to the rhythm of the Spanish language, my eyes long to set their gaze on the Pyrenees and the sights found in the quotidian Spanish life and my body aches for a Quijote-esque adventure through La Mancha.

I know someday I’ll make it back, but for now….please pass the cortizone. I’ve got a mosquito bite on my thigh that’s driving me mad.

Long story short, I’m a busy guy who doesn’t have time to blog a lot. It’s been a while since I’ve blogged but it’s also been a very busy past couple of months. Amelia and I are getting ready to move to Kansas City on July 2nd and I’ve been in a summer class and working every day this month. Needless to say, when I get finished with my days it’s not my first thought to update this blog. But tonight is different, I guess. Tonight was Pad Thai night at the Stern house and it was, in a word, amazing. Here’s my best attempt at writing the recipe out. If it doesn’t make sense or the measurements are a little unorthodox, I apologize.

A note about the recipe: I’m vegetarian (though this recipe is vegan) but if you are more omnivorous, feel free to substitute chicken, shrimp, pork, or whatever other protein for the tofu and add scrambled egg if you’d like. Also, this recipe will probably kill anyone with a peanut allergy within a 5 mile radius so please take care to use alternatives to peanuts if necessary. Alright, on to the recipe. Oh, and a picture would be helpful too, eh?

Vegan Pad Thai

Ingredients:

Sauce: (original recipe here)

  • 2 tblsp. smooth peanut butter
  • 2 tblsp. soy sauce
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. brown sugar
  • Juice from half a lemon (*I used lime)
  1. In a non-stick pan, combine all ingredients, stirring constantly, over medium heat until peanut butter has melted. Remove from heat and reserve.
Pad Thai:
  • 1/2 Package “Taste of Thai” straight cut Rice Noodles
  • 1 block tofu, drained and sliced into 1/2″ thick, triangle-shaped wedges
  • 1/4 c. Peanut Oil
  • 3-4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 baby bok choy, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp. ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2-4 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
  • Sriracha sauce, to taste
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Soy sauce, to taste
  • 1-2 c. Mung Bean Sprouts
  • 1 c. crushed unsalted peanuts
  1. Place rice noodles in large bowl, cover with very hot tap water and soak for 25-30 minutes. Then drain and set aside
  2. Cut tofu into wedges and drain for 25-30 minutes. My draining method is to take a kitchen towel and place it on a large cookie sheet. I then place the tofu wedges on the towel in a single layer and then cover the tofu with a double layer of paper towels. Lastly, I place another cookie sheet on top of the paper towel layer and then place 3-4 soup or bean cans on top of the second cookie sheet to add some weight and make the draining process go faster.
  3. While tofu is draining, prep and measure out the remainder of the ingredients.
  4. Heat peanut oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. While oil is heating, line a cookie sheet with a triple layer of paper towels.
  5. Pan fry the tofu wedges in the oil, turning after 4-5 minutes or until a thin crust has formed. Once crust has formed on both sides, place wedges on paper towels to drain. Note: you may have to do more than one batch in order to cook all the tofu.
  6. Stir fry the peppers, garlic, scallions, bok choy, and ginger until crisp-tender. Add a bit of soy sauce and 1/2 lime’s worth of juice about halfway into the cooking process.
  7. Once vegetables are cooked, add rice noodles, your reserved sauce, and tofu and stir fry until rice noodles are al dente and tofu is warmed through (about 4-5 minutes)
  8. Stir in bean sprouts and cilantro, then serve hot. Garnish with crushed peanuts and lime wedges. Add a sprig of cilantro for an even fancier presentation.
This recipe looks a lot more complex than it really is. My best advice for this dish is to have everything you will need completely ready for use. This is what formal chefs call “mise en place.” Your preparedness is of high value with this dish because once you get cooking, the dish comes together real quick.
Bon appétit.

Last night I decided to try out a new dish from Raghavan Iyer’s book, “660 Curries.” Before I get into the recipe, I must say that if you like Indian food and want restaurant-style results from your own kitchen, buy this book. Here’s a link to it. I chose to make Chana Saag, a Chickpea and Spinach curry with a mild spice blend and roasted mustard seeds. At the heart of this dish and any other curry is spice. I buy all my spices from my local co-op, The Merc, because I can get them in bulk and I like to know I’m shopping local (even if the spices come from parts of the world I’ll probably never see). There’s plenty of other spice providers out there, including more well-known shops like Penzeys but I can’t stress enough how helpful it is to have somewhere local I can go to get bulk spices. I also buy my spices whole for the most part and grind them in a spice grinder. Enough about spices though, time for the recipe.

This curry uses a Sambhar masala as its spice blend and, according to Iyer, the sambhar masalas are used to spice stew-like dishes known as, you guessed it, Sambhar. One of the more interesting things about this spice blend, to me, is the inclusion of yellow split-peas. The legumes in the ground spice blend help thicken the sauce in the dish and I was in awe of the creativity of thought to include a dried legume into a spice blend. Genius, I say. The recipe does call for one spice that I could not find in Lawrence: Curry Leaves. However, the spice blend is the only thing in this recipe that called for them and based on the description given by Iyer, the curry leaves would have added a mild, citrus flavor to the spice blend and to the overall dish. The recipe also calls for both ginger paste and fried-onion paste but to save on time I just used finely minced ginger and red onion. So without further delay, here’s the recipe, starting with the Sambhar masala.

Chickpeas with Spinach and Mustard Seeds (Chana Saag)

Recipe from “660 Curries” by Raghavan Iyer

Sambhar Masala

  • 1/2 c. firmly packed medium-size to large fresh curry leaves
  • 1/2 c. dried red Thai or cayenne chiles, stems removed
  • 1/4 c. yellow split peas, picked over for stones
  • 1/4 c. coriander seeds
  • 2 tbs. cumin seeds
  • 1 tbs. fenugreek seeds
  • 1 tbs. black or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tbs. white poppy seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long), broken into smaller pieces
  • 1 tbs. unrefined sesame oil or canola oil
Method
  1. Combine all the spices in a medium-size bowl. Drizzle the oil over them and toss well, coating the spices evenly with the oil.
  2. Preheat a medium-size skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mixture and roast, stirring constantly, until the curry leaves curl up and appear dry and brittle, the chiles blacken slightly, the split peas turn dark brown, the coriander, cumin, and fenugreek turn reddish brown, the mustard seeds pop, swell up, and look ash-black, and the poppy seeds are tan. 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Immediately transfer the pungent, nutty-smelling spices to a plate to cool. Once they are cool to the touch, pour half of the mixture into a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and grind until the texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper. Transfer the ground blend to a small bowl. Repeat with the remaining spices, and thoroughly combine the two ground batches. The aromas of the light reddish-brown ground blend will be sweet and complex, very different from those of the pre-toasted and post-toasted whole spices.
  4. Store in a tightly sealed container, away from excess light, heat, and humidity, for up to 2 months.
Tip – use caution with the chiles due to the large amount of them and be sure to use a lot of ventilation. These are extremely potent and known to cause coughing fits while roasting.
Chana Saag
  • 2 tbs. Ghee or canola oil
  • 1 tsp. black or yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 tbs. Ginger Paste (or finely minced ginger)
  • 2 tbs. Fried Onion Paste (or finely minced red onion)
  • 2 tbs. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. Sambhar masala
  • 2 tsp. coarse kosher or sea salt (or, to taste)
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (I used 1 can chickpeas)
  • 1 pound fresh spinach leaves, well rinsed and finely chopped
Method
  1. Heat the ghee (or oil) in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, cover the pan, and cook until the seeds have stopped popping, about 30 seconds. Lower the heat to medium and carefully add the Ginger Paste. Stir-fry until it is light brown, about 30 seconds.
  2. Stir in the Fried Onion Paste, tomato paste, Sambhar masala, salt, and chickpeas. Stir to coat the chickpeas well with the hot-tart sauce. Add 2 cups water and heat to a boil.
  3. Add the spinach, several handfuls at a time, stirring each batch in until wilted. When all the spinach has been added, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue to simmer the curry, covered, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened, 8 to 10 minutes.
I served this curry over brown rice with store-bought Naan on the side.