Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sports Talk: Who will own 2014?

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Mar. 26, 2014.  
Back on New Year's Day I pondered over who the year 2014 would belong to when it came to this state's great college rivalry. I think this Friday beginning at 9:45 p.m. will be the determining factor.

For the second time in three years the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals will square off on the ultimate stage: the NCAA Division-I basketball tournament. While this time it may "only" be in the Sweet 16, as opposed to the Final Four in 2012, I think Cats and Cards fans will agree that victory claimed will be just as sweet.

Every tournament game always matters for a team. Whether you are a number one seed or a 16, fans, coaches and athletes all yearn to keep advancing. (And what I think UK and UofL fans can agree on after this year's seeding is that the seed is arbitrary and arguable.) At the same time, for Kentucky and Louisville fans, the December match-up is oftentimes equally important, so combining the two means this red and blue state is going nuts with anticipation this week.

Everyone knew the meeting was a possibility with the setup of the brackets, but aside from the truest UK fans, most felt the odds were questionable with undefeated Wichita State in Kentucky's path to the Sweet 16. However, what has been arguably the most exciting tournament game thus far puts our Wildcats in a rematch with the Cardinals.

While Kentucky took down Louisville in their previous season meeting, the Cardinal team saw more success in the late regular season. However, the Wildcats we saw last weekend look hungry for a championship.

Speculation over how things will pan out in Indianapolis could go on for days, but the bottom line is it's anybody's game. Not only is it tournament time but it's the biggest rivalry game this tournament will see. Kentucky pulled it off in 2012 and went on to become national champions. Will they do it again?

As a fan of all teams of the Bluegrass, I'm excited to know that one of our teams will be advancing to the Elite Eight, regardless of Friday's game; however, who will I be cheering for? Louisville.

While I am so happy to see Kentucky coming on strong after having some disappointments this season (and I would be cheering for them in any other game), I feel much more invested in the Louisville team. I admire the hardcore Kentucky fans who are not just on the bandwagon on the good days. For the sake of those fans, I want Kentucky to win, because YOU deserve the win. But when it comes to the guys playing, who deserves the win more for their devotion to their school and program? My vote is Louisville and I want to see those guys advance. It's not about "Louisville" but about the individuals. I feel attached to the guys on the UofL team. I want to see those guys--Russ Smith, Luke Hancock--advance. For me, there is such a difference in cheering for a team simply because of the colors they wear compared to cheering for people and what they mean to you.

When the day comes that these two teams face each other in the tournament again and both teams have a group of guys taking the court who have been wearing their colors proud for multiple seasons, well, I guess I'll be an individual divided. For now, though, I'll just be living in a house divided... No, not my husband and I. We'll both be cheering for the Cards... But our 5 month old daughter only has a UK onesie so I guess she will be repping the Cats for us. Somebody's got to, right?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sugar Count? ...Ain't Nobody Got Time Fo' Dat!

I will start off by admitting I do not have numbers for you this week. And I will also admit that while I did better in some aspects this week, I did much worse with the overarching goals: No Sugar.

Well, I think I did worse at least... While I did continue to track my food and sugar content this week, the problem came in the fact Mingus packed LouLou "over the river and through the woods" to Mamaw's house in Indiana. 

While Mingus and I are very conscious of our food intake and working to get good nutritional value (and keep out the bad stuff), we are far from perfect. This means, when we travel, usually fast food is involved. That's where things got dicey this week. Over the three days we were away from home we had Long John Silvers, Chick-Fil-A and Arby's. Additionally, we also ate Mexican out with the family. It's not that we indulged in treats on any of these occasions. I even passed on Chick-Fil-A's Polynesian Sauce after I looked at the ingredients and saw that high fructose corn syrup was the first thing listed. (I shouldn't be surprised at all, but it was still a major disappointment... I love that stuff!) We skipped sodas and really we just ate sandwiches and fries on all occasions (minus the Mexican of course). But based on what I am learning about sugar's sneaky ways of getting into our foods, something tells me those sandwiches and fries had sugar in them--at least to some extend, if not a major extent. 

I know I probably could spend a good chunk of time with Dr. Google and find out the exacts on everything I ate, but, really... Ain't nobody got time fo' dat.

In addition to the fast food, we weren't overly picky about the food that was available to us and I'm sure we picked up a little extra sugar in things like the peanut butter I ate or the crescent rolls for breakfast.

Next confessions: I used my once a week cheat allowance.
32oz Frozen Margarita: 156g Sugar Source
Mingus and I split a frozen margarita... Although we didn't exactly split it as half of it was remaining when we left the restaurant. Neither of us had had one in ages. For whatever reason, I felt better about this being my 'cheat' than something like cake. Maybe, because it's truly something I rarely indulge in and in the big scheme of things, when Lent is over, I hope to avoid indulging in sugary treats on a regular occasion (ie, any time the opportunity presents itself) and only for the rarities. The margarita is a perfect example: something I don't have the opportunity to enjoy too often. (The fact Mingus and I agreed, together, to allow this cheating moment also made it feel OK. He and I are in this together.)

Since it was my 'cheat', I did look up the sugar content of the margarita. I found that a standard 32oz drink has 156g of sugar!! Wowzers! Luckily, Mingus and I only had a 20oz drink... But only drank half of it (10oz) and I (at most) had half of that (5oz)... Which means I had approximately 24g of sugar. much sugar from 5oz!

Considering what this week could have meant... I did really well. Before our margarita splurge we'd attended our nephew's 4th birthday party, complete with a beautiful cake and scrumptious looking cupcakes. I originally thought this would be my cheat... But when it came time for cake cutting, it just didn't seem worth it. Probably the harder temptation to turn down this week was a brownie... Ooooh brownies. Nothing gets me quite like a ooey, gooey, chewy brownie full of chocolate goodness... But I resisted nonetheless.

At home, everything actually progressed (if that makes up for the weekend at all..) The only bad sugar I consumed came from ketchup, hot dog buns and one can of Campbell's soup. All other sugar was primarily natural occurring with a few things that had natural sweeteners like honey and agave syrup.

What I have learned is what a HUGE amount of sugar--naturally occurring sugar--we get from our fruits. It's crazy actually and when you do realize this, you truly understand why there is absolutely no reason to add sugar to your diet. Our bodies do need some, yes, but when you can easily get more than enough from a single apple, the refined sugars are completely uncalled for. I eat raisins practically everyday because of my oatmeal which means I'm probably getting over 20g of sugar just from that!

If you are more of visual person, this blog post gives a very simple and easy to understand picture of how much sugar we get from fruits, as well as from other foods. Take a look...then consider what you're eating for breakfast... or what you are feeding your kids for breakfast. 
On to another week... No major traveling happening so hopefully I'll be back on track!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Sugar Dump Week 1: 9g/day... Fail?

One week of NO SUGAR (well, refined sugars to be specific) down ...aaannnd... How'd I do?

Excellent...yet failed miserably at the same time!
As promised, I have been keeping record of what I'm eating each day to track my sugar intake. I've kind of categorized things in 3 ways:
     - Naturally occurring sugars (like those in fruit)
     - Natural sweeteners (like honey, agave)
     - Refined Sugars (sugar, high fructose corn syrup)

With the first two, it's hard to track my sugar intake unless they are being used within another food that I bought at a store and the nutritional info is listed. For example, I've eaten a lot of grapes and pineapple this week... NO idea the sugar on those so they are not included in my totals; I simply mark them on my sheet to denote I DID get sugar from them. (Although I'm sure I could research online and get the info easy enough.) On the other hand, I bought a bag of apples and they had nutritional info.... 16g of sugar per (what they considered a) small apple! Perfect example of why there is absolutely NO reason to ever add sugar to your diet!

And I'll tell you one thing I've already learned... What's the fastest way to get me to refill the honey pot? Tell me I can't have sugar!! Our squeeze bear and our honey pot have both been empty for a couple of months now... We have VERY limited honey left from what we extracted two years ago (plus it's a sticky mess to refill), so both Mingus and I have put off refilling either... But, let me tell you, two days into no sugar you can bet I was digging out what honey we had left!

But, the point is, I did consume honey last week... in multiple things... I can't really track that one either, assuming it brings some type of sugar into my system. 

So total, for what I could track--of good and bad sugars--I consumed 233g last week, averaging 33g a day. How much was refined sugar? 63g... 27% of it. I averaged 9g of refined sugar a day even when I was cutting out everything to the best I could!! Now just imagine how much sugar I have been getting on a daily basis when I WASN'T cutting it out? When I was enjoying bagels, instant oatmeal, ice cream, chocolate...

So here's where my refined sugar came from:
  • Pasta Sauce: It's REALLY hard to find it without sugar... And we figured we didn't want to throw out what we already had open so this was definitely our biggest downfall. The Ragu we had contained 12g in 1/2 a cup of sauce!!
  • Ketchup: We LOVE our Brook's ketchup... Bad news... It has high fructose corn syrup :( But, again, we didn't want to waste what we already have open, but it has 5g/2T!
  • Store-bought breads: hotdog and burger buns plus any bread. I guess I need to get back to making my own and not just bumming a loaf a week off of my mom! These breads had 3g/serving... And sugar was actually listed as an ingredient. I'm sure our bread has sugar, but in the natural way and from the honey.
  • Balsamic Vinegrette Dressing: It's open in our fridge and for the little bit that is in there I have gone ahead and used it on the salads I made this week.... 4g/2T...
  • Ritz Crackers: For the record, I only ate a few... Because the packet was already open and would go bad if they sat for 40 days!
So, you can see, it's not like I was consuming the obvious sugar-loaded foods. In fact... most of the things we ate that had refined sugar were very minor amounts (in comparison to most sugar foods), but it adds up so quickly! Again, if I'm getting 9g/day and really trying to keep the stuff out... just imagine the overload we all get when we're not paying attention?

Has it been hard? Yes and no. 

Ironically, the hardest and most tempting place I've been has been church! Darn the good people and their delicious baked goods!! Both on Ash Wednesday and after Sunday mass there was food in the basement. I know I gave myself the "cheat once a week" rule and I was SO tempted to use it this past Sunday, but I opted out... I knew if I just got out of there I wouldn't regret not touching any of those donuts or pastries... 

The other hard part is breakfast... Not so much at home. I have been fixing oatmeal, but last Friday I headed out early. There was absolutely nowhere I could stop and grab something to eat, particularly because, in combination with the no sugar, as a Catholic I don't eat meat on Fridays... so no breakfast sandwiches either. At least I thought of my limited options before I left the house and I grabbed an apple... (16g of sugar right there--but natural!)

I did make a trip to Whole Foods to shop for items we needed (spaghetti sauce) and items I could use for snacking throughout the day. (This breastfeeding thing keeps me hungry constantly!) While I did not find teriyaki sauce or pasta sauce with zero sugar... I did find it with either organic cane sugar, cane syrup or agave syrup instead. In fact, everything I got at whole foods that had some amount of sugar content, I was able to get with one of those natural, organic sugars/sweeteners.

How did the shopping trip turned out?

Having new, safe, healthier snack options in the house has saved me big time! It's kind of funny when I think about it... I thoroughly enjoy snacking on what my options have been this week: grapes, pineapple, apples, sesame sticks, dried fruit and nuts, rice crackers, sweet potato chips, peanut butter... I think my past problem has been two fold: (a) I have bad sweets available in the house (b) As long as those sweet treats are there, the 'healthy' snacks don't appeal.

Mingus has been happy with his decision to nix the sugar as well. While we don't keep soda on hand, he typically drinks it for lunch and cutting it is definitely helping him. We've enjoyed a lot of popcorn for our late night snack (no microwave of course). 

Oh... And I have found my ice cream substitute: plain organic yogurt with honey and a drop of vanilla... Yum!!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

A Sweet Farewell

It's official. No sugar.

Or something pretty darn close.

After paying attention to everything in our pantry over the past two weeks, I realize that completely cutting sugar will be next to impossible. Luckily, it will be easier since Mingus has decided to take on this Lenten goal with me. (Meaning he won't be tempting me with sweet treats and stuffing the cabinets full of things I can't touch.)

I admit, we've kind of gone overboard on sugar the last couple of weeks, knowing we were going this direction. We used the excuse of giving it up to kind of overdose lately. (I was also using the excuse that I needed to eat up anything in the house that would be tempting me later!)

So, I won't be eating anything that is outright sugary. However, I'm giving myself a couple of rules of allowance since this is a bit extreme.
(1.) If I make it from scratch, we can eat it. (With a 4 month old, a part time job and plenty of house work, it's not like I have time to bake cookies and cakes on a daily basis or anything.) I usually try to use at least partial honey as my sweetener anyway.
(2.) I'll give a once a week exception to a sweet treat.

Having mentioned honey already, I should note that we are OK with natural sweeteners like this.

Here are a few things that are going to be hard to work with:
  • Pasta Sauce: Mingus tried to find one without sugar over the weekend at our regular grocery with no such luck. Pasta is an easy staple, so we will probably still make it with our current sauce, but we are on the look out for something better at a health food store. (We also have a couple of jars of our homemade, but we're saving that for a rainy day.)
  • Teriyaki Sauce and Soy Sauce: Another go-to staple in our house is stir-fr. We always have veggies and rice in the house and usually some chicken breast or tofu. Again, though, these sauces have sugar/high fructose corn syrup. We will be using Tamari in place of the Soy (Tamari is REAL soy sauce... as in ONLY soy... Why it isn't called 'soy' sauce, I cannot tell you...) We'll have to keep looking for a healthy teriyaki option
  • Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing: Probably our most usual salad dressing for our quick salads we eat with a lot of meals. We have made our own dressings in the past and it looks like we might need to get back to that.
  • Crackers: A lot of crackers have some sugar in them, so it's just something else we'll have to pay attention to when shopping. Also, I've taken to liking Wheat Thins as a snack, but they will definitely be out during this process. (Graham crackers will too obviously.)
  • Peanut Butter: We're actually OK with this one. We currently have a jar of Earth Balance peanut butter and its only sweetener is agave nectar. However, I know a lot of PB has plenty of sugar in it. 
Since I can't give up sugar completely at this point, I am going to do my best to track how much sugar I do have in a day's time. I'll write down the amount in anything that has a food label. Now, things like fruits and veggies all have an amount of natural occurring sugars in them I'm sure and I won't know how much I'm getting from these, so I'll just note if I ate certain fruits on a given day. I'm very curious to see how much sugar my body is still getting when I'm cutting out the obvious sugars.

Wish me luck and good luck to you and your Lenten sacrifices and penances. May it be a blessed season of reflection for us all. 

Now back to my last pint of ice cream I'll be enjoying for awhile...

Sports Talk: The 3 Week Home Game Frenzy

As a correspondent sports writer for The Casey County News, I write an weekly editorial column for the publication. Published Mar. 5, 2014.  
The last two weeks of CCHS basketball action has been a real treat and I am sorry to all of you Rebel and Lady Rebel fans who failed to make it to any games--especially since they've all been at our home gym, which was kind of the icing on the cake.

The best part all of these home games was the atmosphere that came with them. Having been to plenty of games over the last few years, I've seen plenty of nights where the stands are rather vacant. Even some of the nights when the student section has a crowd, they don't necessarily get "into" the games and the whole feel of the gym is pretty stagnant.

The electric atmosphere at CCHS started three weeks ago. First the boys' took a major victory over Green County the same night as the schools' Basketball Sweetheart ceremony, as well as seeing the two 2013 track and field state champions honored, Micah Smith and Shelby Stringer. The following night parents, players and alumni had a special night of honoring Coach Salyers.

Then, the final game of the season for both teams came the next Friday: a doubleheader hosting neighbor rival Lincoln County. It was a record crowd for a regular season game this year.

On top of being a great rival (particularly for the Lady Rebels) and Lincoln being close enough to send a respectable number of their own fans, Casey's crowd was aided by numerous before and between game events. Coach Salyer's was honored with the court being dedicated to him (a surprise for him) and unveiled at the beginning of the night. This was followed by a Marshall Forbes giving a spectacular performance of our national anthem. Then between games the senior ball players, cheerleaders and dance team members were recognized. After that the Casey County Bank did a $10,000 giveaway in which Principal Josh Blevins, a Rebel basketball alum himself, was randomly selected from a drawing to attempt making the necessary baskets to claim the prize... Much to his, and spectators' dismay, he came up short. The bank also honored players of the month during this break and Lakken Miller was officially welcomed into the Lady Rebel 1,000 Point Club after having hit the milestone earlier in the week.

All of this activity was just the side show to the main events: two basketball games. While the boys' took a pretty rough defeat, the Lady Rebs gave a stellar performance in which they took down the Lady Patriots, avenging their back-to-back 12th Region championship game losses from the past two years.

This night--the games, the crowd, the atmosphere--were the perfect prelude to the 47th District Tournament which Casey hosted. If you attended the doubleheader, it made you want to be there for the tournament games; if you missed the doubleheader and heard about it, you didn't want to miss out again.

Tournament time always brings a special buzz to the air--everyone knowing anything can happen and when it comes down to it, records are wiped clean and how you did all season does not matter--it's now down to earning one win at a time, one game at a time.

Casey's hosting of the tournament did not disappoint. The gym was packed night after night and saw plenty of excitement--at least for the Casey fans. Perhaps the Lady Rebel games weren't exactly nailbiters, but when you are on the winning side of a game, fans are always excited--especially when one of those wins makes history. Not only did the girls' earn the district title, but it's the first 'three-peat' in the program's history. As if that weren't enough, it gave Coach Salyers his first district title on his home court--now named after him.

Then you had the Rebels. You could not ask for a more fun game than what we saw last Thursday when the boys' took on Somerset and won by four points. The Rebels gave us everything you want in a tournament game: a comeback from behind (going down by 12 at one point), a second half that saw constant lead exchanges, a final 90 seconds that had you so nervous you could hardly stay in your seat, and a finish that made you proud to be a Rebel. They may not have come out on top in the championship game, but their second half performance gave Pulaski a run for their money and the young team fought to the end and proudly earned our school the runner-up trophy.

The home game excitement is officially over for this season, but thankfully the play is not. With both teams competing in the 12th Region tournament, the excitement only continues and if you have been to any regional games in the past, you know the electric atmosphere that exists. The boys are playing at Pulaski County High School and the girls will be at Lincoln County High School. Both teams play Wayne County. Obviously weather is keeping a lot of us at home this week but tune in on the radio if nothing else. These two teams and their coaches have given us a heck of a season and I for one don't want to see it end.

The Lady Rebels play today at 6 p.m. and the Rebels are scheduled to play Saturday at 7:45 p.m.