Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year's Resolutions for the Internet, Things to Look Forward to in 2015, and more...

It took me a little while to come up with my resolutions this year.  It was a little odd for me, because I tend to be very goal-driven, gushing with ideas and dreams and wild aspirations.  I think part of me is still a little disturbed about turning 30, and part of me is disappointed in my ability to accomplish every resolution every year.  I don't like to fail.  But I also don't want to set my sights so low as to be bored if I achieve them all.  So instead of writing resolutions for myself right away, I started by looking at what was coming up in 2015 in entertainment and astrology, and then by coming up with ideas and more achievable suggestions for others.  Here's what I came up with.

Things to Look Forward to in 2015
  • January: Watch the premiers of Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder (both Jan 29, 2015), Big Bang Theory (Jan 8), Glee (Jan 9), The 100 (Jan 21)
  • February: The Amazing Race (Feb 25)
  • March: Watch the premier of The Following Season 3 (Mar 2, 2015) and Once Upon a Time (March 1, 2015)
  • April: See Furious 7 (April 3, 2015); Total Lunar Eclipse (April 4)
  • May:  See The Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1, 2015)
  • June: See Jurassic World (June 12, 2015) and Inside Out (June 19, 2015), Watch the premier of Under the Dome Season 3 (date tbd) and Extant Season 2 (date tbd)
  • July: Hike Seven Falls in Tucson
  • August: Perseids Meteor Shower (peaks August 12th)
  • September: Total Lunar Eclipse (Sept 28)
  • November: See The Hunger Games – Mockingjay Part 2 (Nov. 20, 2015)

New Year's Resolutions for the Internet
  • Stop using "could of", "should of", and "would of"; what you are trying to say is a contraction of "have", so it should be "could've", etc.  Or better yet, just write the whole damn thing out.  If you don't think this is important, just read what urban dictionary has to say.
  • Appreciate the actual message in Frozen, not the strange morals that could be derived from the overplayed song "Let It Go," in which Elsa decides to rebel against humanity and do whatever the heck she wants.
  • Report more positive news.  2014 was a remarkable year, but you probably wouldn't know it based on the headlines surrounding Ebola, the disappearance of flight 370, the Sony hacking attributed to North Korea and the violent racism-fueled events in Ferguson and around the country.  Let's report on advancements in space travel (SpaceX completed 6 missions this year), clean tech (world’s first solar road opened in the Netherlands in November), improvements in education (high school graduate rates are at their all-time high), trends in healthier food at restaurants, and creativity leading to awesome new companies and whole new industries (ever heard of Uber?).  
  • Use Pinterest more effectively.  It is not just for recipes and DIY crafts!  Read more in my blog post here.
  • Kill anything like "firstable" and "secondable."  Immediately.  I mean, really, this shouldn't even be a resolution for 2015, this should just be over now.
  • Watch more TED Talks and less videos about animals, people hurting themselves and kids freaking out about silly things.  It's not that those things are cute and/or hilarious, it's just that we could all spend more time on topics that would allow us to grow and learn.  
  • Support more Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects, local businesses and startups.  Just browse these websites and you're sure to find some amazing things people are doing, locally and all around the country (and/or world).  No need to wait for things to go viral or become top funded projects, you can put a small chunk of change and a little social media sharing towards something that can be great!
  • Forget the idea of 3D printing food.  Shaped sugar is not the best application of 3D printing, and there is so much more to do with this phenomenal technology.  Let's focus on more practical applications, and allow the culinary arts to blend and create in all the other ways that don't require a CAD drawing, a nozzle and squishy material to shove through it.
  • Create, post about, and eat the most super-duper creative and nerdy pies possible on March 14th.  Why?  Because this is the most accurate Pi Day date of our lifetimes: 3.14.15, and I think that's worth celebrating.

Achievable New Year's Resolutions
  • Read a book.  Or ten.  Audio books count, listen while you commute!
  • Take a hike.  Literally!  Choose a rewarding, challenging hike you can tackle this year, train a little for it, get a hiking buddy, do it, and take lots of pictures to share your accomplishment.  If there is no great hiking in your area, pick another challenging physical activity, like running a 5K.  
  • Take a college course on a topic that interests you.  There are free online courses on coursera.org, edx.org and similar sites.
  • Go to a museum.  For my local friends, I would highly recommend the Musical Instrument Museum.  
  • Take a dance class or dance lessons.  Might I recommend swing dance lessons with Dabney and Karen?
  • Learn to program.  There are literally dozens of resources to help you get started!
  • Spend a week without Facebook -or- Spend a weekend without Smartphones & internet
  • Re-read a book you read in school but didn't quite grasp or were supposed to read but read the Cliff Notes instead

Finally, I extended some of the ideas and themes from my recommendations into things that I would like to achieve.  I typically have a theme for each year (past years have focused on dance, design, inspiration, etc).  I think one thing I've struggled with a lot this past year is that I feel I have given a lot and done a lot for other people, and have not commanded reciprocity, leaving me feeling a little empty.  So I am dedicating 2015 to doing things for me.  It sounds a little selfish writing it, especially because I have a pretty damn good life already, but it's still something I feel I need to concentrate on, because giving comes naturally and I don't take as much as I probably should.  So, with that said, here are my resolutions for a year of doing things for me.  I also kept thinking that I should break down my resolutions into smaller timeframes, because a year is a really long time and time can slip by without realizing it.  So I've also created a rough schedule that will help me achieve my resolutions.  

My New Year's Resolutions for 2015 
  • Shoot to check off four Life List items 
  • Hike Seven Falls in Tucson 
  • Go on a date to one of the events at Desert Botanical Gardens 
  • Expand my vocabulary.  Learn new words and use them in my blog. 
  • Learn to cook a new dish - using a crock pot, oven or stove
  • Take a lesson in blues dancing 
  • Make a gingerbread house 
  • Host a game night or dinner
2015 Tentative Plan
  • January
    • Use a word-a-day app & journal about words I like
    • Host a dinner

  • February
    • Take a lesson in blues dancing
    • Try cooking a new dish (using a crock pot)

  • March
    • Go on a date at DBG
    • Publish a book (on life list)

  • April
    • Go white water rafting (on life list)

  • May
    • Host a game night
    • Ride a tandem bicycle (on lift list)

  • June
    • Hike Seven Falls in Tucson

  • July
    • Go to Taste of Chicago (on life list)

  • August
    • Tour Hershey Chocolate Factory (on life list)
    • Try pole-vaulting

  • September
    • Go to a wine festival and crush grapes into wine (on life list)
    • Go blues dancing

  • October
    • Try cooking a new dish (using the stove or oven)

  • November / December
    • Make a gingerbread house

Monday, December 29, 2014

Life List Progress EOY 2014

I always try to knock off at least 1 or 2 things from my Life List each year.  This year, I checked off three things from my Life List.  The fun thing about my Life List is that some items can be planned for (many of which require travel to a specific location, but not all), while others cannot necessarily be planned for and happen semi-spontaneously.  For the latter, these are things that do require a little bit of putting oneself into a situation where its possible, or "building a door" if opportunity isn't knocking.  For example, it is not likely I will ever be able to accomplish #93, photograph an endangered species, while sitting on my couch, unless the world's population of chiweiners rapidly declines and Carly finds herself among the few remaining.  So, without further ado, here is a recap of my Life List accomplishments for 2014.   

#76 on my Life List was to see a lunar eclipse.  It's not an earth-shattering adventure like many of my Life List activities, but things somehow I have managed to miss them, either because I didn't realize when they were emminent, or because I made other plans that interfered with gazing up into the heavens to catch these stunning events.  Finally, on April 14th, Jaiman and I laid down an old comforter on our driveway and watched as the moon turned a fantastic red.  And while my camera may not be ideal for this sort of photography, nor was I prepared with something to keep my camera still, I managed to take a few decent pictures. 

When we went to Hawaii with Jaiman's family in July, I made a point to book us an excursion to swim with giant sea turtles.  You never can tell how well a nature-centric activity might go, but my experience was one of the most exhilarating memories of 2014; far more than I could have asked for.  When the boat stopped, everyone had the option to get floaties or just hop right in, and I decided to hop right in, so I ended up being the first one off the boat.  While I floated, watching Jaiman and his family and the other passengers prepare to hop off the boat, I heard a sudden, loud exhale directly behind me.  Confused, because there were no other people around me to my knowledge, I turned to see a giant sea turtle had come up to the surface to check me out.  I pushed myself away a little bit, having been warned that it was illegal to touch the gentle creatures, and gave him some space, which he didn't really need because he dug back down into the water immediately.  I threw my head under to watch him as he majestically swam away.  We had other near encounters, but none quite like that.  It was a very special moment for me, and completed #110 on my life list. 

One of the stranger things on my life list is a result of feeling "jipped" or "un-Arizonan" for having never seen a local beast (or nuisance, depending on who you ask) that it seems like just about everyone who has lived in the area for any significant amount of time has seen.  After an exhaustingly fun holiday gathering, on Christmas Day, my sister was throwing out dog poop at my parents' house, and came back in the house frantic and yelling at me to come quick.  I knew within milliseconds that she must have spotted a javelina, knowing how much I desperately have wanted to see one not in a zoo.  I reached the garage and sure enough, at the end of the driveway, there were a number of them, adults, babies and everything in between.  A sounding, actually, that's what a group of javelinas is called.  They looked lost, and didn't move quickly, but Dad was there rather quickly to remind us to keep our distance because they could charge at any moment.  My Mom joined us with her phone and snapped a few pictures of the adults and babies from the end of the driveway.  We watched in amazement as the creatures walked around the col-de-sac before wandering away via the neighbor's house.  And with that, I got a little Christmas miracle to check off #68 on my life list. 

Now, of my 150 Life List activities, I have 37 items checked off, leaving me 113 adventures, sights, activities and fear-facing options available to attempt in the coming years.  I can't wait to see what items I will check off in 2015!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fitness That Doesn't Break the Bank

I definitely feel the pain of a facebook friend who recently posted a grievance about the cost of eating healthy and fun forms of exercise.  Specifically, the complaint was that a McDonald's burger is cheap and a salad is expensive, and sitting on the couch is free but playing in sports costs a bundle, therefore no wonder our society struggles with obesity.  I think we can all relate to this feeling, and the notion that of course our kids and our society as a whole are fat!  I have definitely found this oddity in my own struggle to lose weight, but I've also found some solutions, which I feel compelled to share in hopes of inspiring others.  

Lucky for me, my region is full of awesome mountains to climb with decent hiking paths, and access to most are free, others charge a small fee.  While hiking can be brutal when unmotivated or in the wrong mood, it can also be very rewarding.  One thing I discovered (or re-discovered) recently was that having my dog along helped distract me from the annoyance and burn of hiking uphill.  She really pulled me along, but she also took my mind off the difficult activity.  I don't think it would be the same if it was someone else holding the leash for their dog, I think it works best for me if I'm in charge of encouraging her and holding her back.  One of the best parts about hiking as a form of exercise, as opposed to riding a stationary bike or dancing at home, is that there's a definitive goal and end point; you can't exactly decide you're done in the middle of a hike and sit down to watch TV for the rest of the day.  

Just Make It - but make it simple
I enjoy a good salad, but I'm a bit finicky in the kinds of veggies and fruits I'm willing to eat on a regular basis.  There are few places that make a good salad, in my opinion, and realistically, there are none to my knowledge that do it at a decent price in a healthy way.  Caesar Salads taste great at most places, but the dressing is far from healthy, and the salad often costs more than something full of carbs and fried goodness.  Defeated by my salad woes, I, the woman who turns on her oven only a few times a year and never does anything resembling cooking besides warming up leftovers or frozen foods in the microwave, caved in to making my own salads.  But I cheat a little, and this is why it works for me.  From the grocery store, I buy mostly everything sliced and diced and cut already, which greatly reduces the amount of time I spend preparing my salad.  A typical salad for me consists of shredded lettuce, shredded carrots, baby tomatoes (whatever those are called), slices of bell pepper or mini bell peppers, shredded cheese (but not too much) or crumbles of feta, diced ham or chunks of pepperoni.  I've found a number of things to use as "dressing" that are also rather healthy: lime juice, red wine vinegar, chili garlic sauce (the last of which also helps me consume more water - spicy!).  I know my tastes are a little unique, so I don't expect my readers to go out and reproduce this exact thing, but that's the point: find what works for you, and make it delicious and healthy.  Then when you go to the store, you know the items you need to throw together.  I also usually make two or three salads at a time when I make them, so I don't have to pull everything out of the fridge three times.  

Drink Water Rules
The more water I drink, the better I feel.  Without drinking a lot of water, I tend to look tired, get migraines, and sometimes get so nauseous I throw up.  But water is always a good thing to drink, so I don't know why I do this to myself.  My solution: make rules about my life that involve water.  There are times when I find a craving that I think is for ice cream or cheese or chocolate, but really I was just thirsty.  So I try to always drink water before doing something indulgent.  It also helps you feel fuller faster, so you eat less of a large meal (in theory).  Carrying your own refillable bottle is one of the best ways to ensure you always have water on hand to help fight misplaced cravings.  

Water Rules:
Before eating a dessert or candy, drink 8 oz of water.
Before opening a can of soda, drink 8 oz of water.
When I want to play my game on my phone, I need to drink 8 oz of water.  
Before prepping or going to lunch, drink 8 oz of water. 

Earning Television
Like my drink water rules, I also have rules about watching TV, although I admittedly don't always obey them.  But here's the concept: one episode of anything is a freebie per day.  For every additional episode of a show, I have to do 50 crunches and 32 leg lifts on each leg.  I picked those two exercises because those are the areas of my body I want to work on most, and that are not serviced much by my dancing and hiking activities.  

Replace Caffeine with Peppers
No joke, I often tell people that I get a high on eating spicy peppers like jalapenos, but it is a legitimate way to increase metabolism, get a boost of energy, and yes, even get a little natural high.  I eat them straight, but if you don't have that kind of tolerance, try putting diced jalapenos (also available in the grocery store) in your salad or put slices (available at the store) on your pasta.  If jalapenos are too much, try pepperocinis or banana peppers to start.  The seeds are the spiciest part, so be aware of that as you prepare to eat peppers.  Another tip for eating spice: don't suck in air while you're eating, its insinctual because its "hot" but its not temperature hot, and oxygen only makes the spice work harder.  Instead, keep your mouth closed until the pepper or spicy food has been swallowed, then take a glug of cold water and hold it in your mouth before swallowing.  If it gets too hot, grab some bread or cheese or milk to cool it down, but keep trying to cool it off with water, otherwise you'll fill up on not-so-lean stuff.  Contrary to popular belief, hot peppers do not eat at your stomach lining, they actually improve your metabolism and help your digestion system.  Eating them also encourages consumption of water, which we all could use more of, and clears out sinuses.  

When I think about dancing at home, I always picture the scene from Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams, dressed as a woman, slides across the floor, broom in hand.  But seriously, dancing at home is a fantastic way to work out for free.  If you don't know exactly what to do, look up videos on YouTube that teach dancing.  I did some belly dancing that way, and I also use YouTube a lot to practice the few choreographed swing dances, like the Shim Sham, Tranky Doo and Big Apple.  There are lots of videos for each of those dances, all moving at slightly different paces from beginner to advanced.  So browse around a little, find what you want to do, make a playlist of it, and get off your butt and dance!  The best part is, unlike a workout video, if you get bored of a certain routine, you can swap it out for something else in your playlist.  A dancer friend of my posted a study that showed swing dancing burned more calories per minute than any sport or something like that, and even if I didn't get it exactly right, the idea that swing dancing is a rigorous, full body aerobic exercise really jives with me.  

So there you have it - those are my ideas on how to get and stay fit on the cheap.  Obviously, these are easier said than done; but paying for a gym membership also doesn't automatically make you healthy.  Exercising and eating well are disciplines, and require commitment, perseverance and maybe accountability.  One last time I will add is, when I'm not in the mood to workout or when I know I'm not drinking enough water on a particular day, I ask myself this question:  "What do I have to do tonight that is MORE important than getting healthy?"  If I answer it honestly, I usually end up in the gym gulping down water as I sweat through a solid workout.