Friday, March 30, 2012

New Places: Baton Rouge, LA

My work is going to be taking to a lot of new places in the next twelve months. Visiting new cities can be a lot of fun. Sometimes the ones you're not expecting to amount to much end up being wonderful, and sometimes the reverse happens and you have high expectations that don't get realized. Either way, going new places is always an adventure -- and I think it should also be a chance to learn something new!

From here forward, whenever I visit a new city I'll be sharing things I learned about each stop. This week took me to Louisiana, so Baton Rouge will be the first entry in my "New Places" series.

Here are a few things I learned about Baton Rouge.
I had a great time in The Red Stick but it's definitely nice to be home. I can't wait to see where my next trip takes me!

Happy Traveling!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Back In Training: Yoga

In my quest to get back to more healthy habits, regular exercise was my first priority. When I lost weight before, it was the single biggest factor contributing to my success. You have to move if you want to live better.

Previously most of my workouts where focused on cardiovascular improvement. My hours on the elliptical helped me burn fat and I had some improved muscle tone in my legs, but I wasn't doing much else to work the rest of my body. The gym in my building has a few basic weight machines to work upper body, but it's pretty limited and I didn't stick with it as consistently as I should have. I was also finding I'd get bored quickly doing cardio, so I always had to keep myself entertained with music and reading material.

I travel quite a bit for work and in some ways cardio is a good option because of that. You can always walk somewhere or climb stairs and even the most basic hotel gym usually has at least one treadmill and an elliptical trainer. But doing cardio on the road also means packing sneakers, reading material, iPod, headphones, etc. and it's not fun dragging extra luggage through the airport.

I'd been thinking about trying yoga for a while, and the more I considered the limitations of my cardio only workouts the better an option it seemed. Then I talked with some friends who already do yoga and became more convinced it would be a good idea. It would help me regain flexibility I desperately need, help my overall muscle tone, require a small enough amount of space I could easily do it at home or in a hotel room AND require less equipment on the road. One friend even confirmed she does yoga while traveling in her pajamas with a hotel towel standing in for a yoga mat.

I didn't want to invest a ton of money just in case I was wrong, so I picked up a yoga mat and a Jillian Michaels yoga video at Target. Then one of my friends sent me one of Bob Harper's DVD's as a total surprise. It's so much easier to get healthy when you have supportive friends!

I started with Jillian's 30 minute "Level 1" work out. Thank goodness I didn't start with "Warrior Bob" or I wouldn't be able to write this. Here's how it's gone so far.

  • Plank pose hard as crap when you have lousy upper body strength (that would be me)!
  • Chaturanga push-ups are evil.
Courtesy of Yoga Journal

  • So is the damned Camel pose. I am not a camel so I shouldn't have to bend like one. Not to mention no camel I've ever seen can do a back bend either!
  • I did a decent job with Warrior II, but almost went ass over teakettle on my first attempt at Warrior III. My balance absolutely sucks.
  • I could not get the sequence of a Sun Salutation right for the life of me. I'm a little better now that I've done about 30 of them.
  • At least I think I've got the Mountain pose down.

Jillian has two helpers in the video, the "beginner" girl and the advanced one. The beginner chick is no beginner and she wasn't modifying the poses nearly enough for this wet-behind-the-ears yoga rookie. The advanced chick can just kiss my you-know-what and go away. Actually, she's advanced enough she can probably kiss her own you-know-what...

I never assumed yoga would be easy, but I have to admit I never expected it to be this hard. Holding your body in an unnatural position for 15 seconds is hard work even when you're trying to use every muscle in your body. Oh yeah, and you're supposed to BREATHE at the same time. Huffing and puffing makes that a bit of a challenge.

But for all the struggle starting yoga has been, there are definitely things I like about it. It takes complete focus to get the positions right and actually DO the workout, so I'm never bored. It honestly works muscles my body hasn't heard from in years (as evidenced by the sharp pain in my abs every time I cough). And I'm already noticing positive differences in my range of motion and posture.

Best of all, as Jillian keeps reminding me throughout the video, yoga is a PRACTICE. No one starts yoga and gets it "right" the first time. You just have to keep getting better day by day, session by session, pose by pose.

At the rate I'm going, I'll be practicing for a LONG TIME, but I'm OK with that. Practice makes perfect.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Impractical Happiness

Happiness is a very individual experience. One of my favorite blogs these days is The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. She talks about "Secrets To Adulthood" and one of her recent blogs focused on this statement:

It's a thought that has resonated with me quite a bit lately as I've been thinking about what really makes me happy in life.  I also think there is a complementary idea that goes along with this same concept as it applies to decision making:

Just because it doesn't make sense to someone else doesn't make it a bad idea for you.

In the past few years, I have fallen in love with ice hockey. I didn't grow up watching hockey. I split my chin open and ended up in the ER with stitches the first time I ever tried to skate. I've never played hockey myself. There is no logical reason why I should be such a fanatic about this sport, yet I am. Because it makes me happy. Going to games, talking about hockey, blogging about hockey -- I love everything about it.

I also love hockey players -- in particular Drew Doughty from the Los Angeles Kings. So every time the Kings have something signed by Drew on a silent auction or in a raffle, I bid on it. Ever since his rookie season in 2008, I've been practically obsessed with acquiring a very particular autographed Drew Doughty item.

That, my friends, is a dog bowl. A Drew Doughty themed and signed dog bowl. The team does them every year as a fundraiser and this year the beneficiary was the ASPCA. I have tried for the past 3 seasons to get Drew's bowl. Every year I've failed -- until THIS ONE.

I don't have a dog, and even if I did I wouldn't let it eat from this bowl. My bid was more than some people spend on groceries for a month. Does acquiring this dog bowl that makes sense to YOU? Probably not. Does it make sense to me? YES IT DOES. Because every time I look at this bowl sitting in it's place of honor on my kitchen counter, it makes me smile. It makes me happy.

So the next time you're making a decision about something, ask yourself it it will make YOU happy? Not anyone else, but YOU. And if the answer is yes, go ahead and do it. Happiness isn't always practical, but it is always good for you.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Back In Training: Facing The Fat

Time is a funny thing. When you're frustrated and unhappy, the hours and days can seem to drag on for an eternity. When you're happy, time passes so quickly it practically evaporates without you even knowing it. But the one universal aspect of time is that everyone occasionally looks back to some point in their past and wonders how they got where they are in the present moment without realizing what was happening.

I'm having a gut check moment about where the last two years have gone -- a literal GUT check.

Courtesy of The Culinary Gadabout

Back in August 2009, I made a commitment to myself. Weight loss was a huge part of it, but it was really about getting healthy and feeling better about myself. I set weigh loss goals, I started getting into the gym on a regular basis and I was eating healthier than I had in years. I didn't reach my weigh loss goal, but at my lowest weight I was 70% of the way there. Then I slowly fell off the wagon.

So what happened? I met a guy, became blissfully happy, got busy at work, started traveling more and little by little put a lot of the weight back on. An appetizer here, a dessert there, a few cocktails with co-workers, a treat of Wetzel's Pretzels at every Kings game,  a "I'm too tired to work out" excuse or three. Multiply that by 365+ days and it's not a formula for success.

So here I sit, almost 2 years post challenge, slightly lighter than when I started with a man that still loves me no matter what, but not feeling as good about myself as I could be. And more importantly, far less HEALTHY than I need to be.

The good news about regaining weight is knowing you can lose it again. After all, you did it once before! You know how! You just have to find that moment when you're ready to put the work in.

I've put it off much longer than I should have, but my moment has arrived! I'm firmly back on the wagon, and I have some new strategies and tools to help me on my fitness journey. And as I found out last time, talking about it is a key to being accountable, so look for updates here!

Speaking of time, it's time for me to get to work!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Weekend Bliss

This weekend was the first in as long as I can remember that I had absolutely NO PLANS. I got all my "work" around the house done during the week, there were no Kings games, and I wasn't traveling anywhere or preparing to travel anywhere. One blissful weekend ALL TO MYSELF!

So what did I do?
  • Blogged
  • Reattached some errant bling on one of my favorite sweaters
  • Turned the wrong burner up on the stove then left it long enough to completely break down the welds on a metal teapot and melt the handle off
  • Power napped
  • Made a stack of greeting cards
  • Enjoyed several glasses of wine
  • Treated myself to my favorite Breyers Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream
  • Played LOTS of Words with Friends
  • Slept in
  • Deleted things from my "To Do" list that I realized don't matter
  • Reminded myself for the hundredth time why I don't give myself pedicures
  • Sang in the shower
  • Deep conditioned, exfoliated and massaged my troubles away
  • Started my mornings with music
  • Bought new music
  • Improved my noodle measurement skills
  • Ate chocolate chip pancakes without guilt
  • Got ready to start a healthy new habit

And probably the two most important things I did this weekend....

While I was out shopping, I followed the advice of a dear friend and stopped for a moment, closed my eyes, lifted my face to the sky and savored the feeling of the sun on my face. Then later than night, I turned off the lights, lit some candles and just took a moment -- to just be.

What would you spend a "Weekend Just For You" doing?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Lorax

I am a child of Dr. Seuss. My Dad used to read The Best Nest and Green Eggs and Ham to me when I was a little girl, and I knew them so well I would catch him skipping parts when he thought I was falling asleep and make him go back and re-read them correctly. And while a number of Dr. Seuss books were made into cartoon specials, the one I remember the most is The Lorax.

The Lorax was an early condemnation of industrialization because of it's negative impact on the natural world. Global warming and climate change are constant topics on the current political landscape, but Dr. Seuss was an environmentalist before his time and his desire to protect nature was the central theme of The Lorax. I remember crying when the last truffula tree got chopped down, and the sad procession of barbalutes, swami-swans and hummingfish leaving the wasted landscape made my heart hurt.

I found the original cartoon through the magic of Google. THIS is The Lorax I met as a child.

I was excited when Universal Studios made an updated version of my favorite Dr. Seuss classic and I checked it out at my local multiplex last night. While the movie remained mostly true to the original premise of The Lorax story, there were some updates needed to make it into a full length movie which also changed the tone of Dr. Seuss' original message just a bit.

One big change was the structure of the story. The original Lorax begins with the Onceler and his journey to make and sell Thneeds, which creates the need for building and development. By contrast, the movie begins in the spotless and sterile metropolis of Thneedville, which is a complete artifical,  climate controlled world insulated from the devastated natural environment outside it. But there are people in Thneedville that remember trees, especially a beautiful young girl named Audrey who inspires young Ted to find one for her. That journey leads Ted to the Onceler, who recounts the story of how he created thneeds and ruined the environment in the process. In the original story, there was no love story and Ted comes in at the very end of the cartoon, meeting with the Onceler with no explanation as to how he got there.

Of course, Ted's journey to find a tree for Audrey is fraught with danger, especially in the guise of a new villain that was never part of the original story. Mr. O'Hare made a fortune selling air because the people of Thneedville couldn't live in a polluted environment once all the truffula trees were chopped down by the Onceler. In this way, the Onceler's original transgressions created a new industry that becomes the source of new conflict --  to keep the natural world destroyed for those that profit from people living in an artificial one. Since trees produce air, regrowing them would ruin Mr. O'Hare's business. Ted becomes a romantic hero because not only is he trying to impress a girl, he's trying to save the world too. Don't you just love the movies!

But the biggest change in the new film are the two main characters themselves -- the Lorax and the Onceler.

The Lorax LOVES his barbalute buddies!

In the original story, Lorax and the Onceler are firmly against each other from the beginning, while in the movie they are friendly until things go awry. The Lorax is upset the Onceler chops down a truffula tree and tries to get rid of him by sending the sleeping Onceler over a waterfall in his bed! The Onceler decides to try and get along and responds by only harvesting the silk of the truffula trees to make his thneeds, thus allowing the truffulas to continue to live. It works at first and the Lorax and Onceler live in relative harmony, until the thneed business takes off and the silk cannot be harvested fast enough, which escalates the tree chopping until the Onceler has destroyed everything. And in the biggest departure from the original story, the Onceler genuinely seems to regret what he did, making him a much more sympathetic character in the current movie than the original cartoon short.

The movie also ties things up in a nice bow at the end -- but I won't reveal the details because you NEED to see this movie. Let's just say that while the old cartoon short leaves the question open of whether Ted will really change the world, the movie answers the question in a positive way -- and even the Onceler AND the Lorax are both happy again.

In honor of the return of The Lorax, I'm proudly sporting my Lorax t-shirt today!

I found it over 20 years ago when I lived in Virginia Beach and it's been with me ever since.  Just like the message of the Lorax -- because someone needs to speak for the trees.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

In Praise Of Women

Until this morning, I had no idea today was International Women's Day. I recently joined a women's networking group at my company and thanks to that association, there was an email in my box this morning with a Washington Post article discussing the topic. As I read about some of the things women around the world were doing to celebrate, I started thinking about the women I know and how they have helped influence my worldview and define my ideas of how women can shape society as a whole. In every case, the women I thought of are strong, independent and determined to leave their mark on the world -- on their own terms.

The first woman I thought of was my mother -- my first model for what it means to be a woman.

When I was growing up and discussing my big life decisions with my her, she always reminded me how lucky I was to have choices she didn't. She was able to go to college, something not all women did back in the 1950's. If they did it was usually to (in her words) "become a teacher, a nurse or get your Mrs." She became a teacher. The Mrs. came later.  She married a man 16 years her senior and had her first child (me) in her 30's, both of which were contrary to social norms at the time. She inspired independence in all three of her children and supported all our endeavors, even if they were not always the ones she would have chosen for us. While my life has taken a very different path from hers, I realize now we are more alike than we are different.

Then I thought about the many women I've been privileged to know in my life and realized it's a pretty diverse and amazing group of people.

They are single, married, divorced and widowed.
They are gay, straight and bisexual.
They have high school diplomas, college degrees and even doctorates.
They are mothers, teachers, researchers, writers, small business owners and professionals of all kinds.
They have competed in triathlons, marathons, mud runs and every type of race imaginable.
They volunteer countless hours to causes and issues that need an advocate.
They have proudly served in our nation's armed forces or been the ones holding down the fort at home, waiting for their soldiers to return.
They have brought new life into this world, nurtured it and watched it grow.
They have battled life threatening illness, and supported others through those same battles.
They have watched people they love die.

As diverse as this group is, they also share one important quality. Each of these extraordinary women  have lived lives they CHOSE for themselves, regardless of what friends, family or even society thought of their choices. They refuse to be limited in their dreams and aspirations and keep pushing forward, constantly striving to be better each day. They define success in their own terms and inspire other women to do the same.

So today I celebrate all the women in my life and countless others I have yet to meet for their courage in continuing to choose their own path while blazing a trail for those that will follow. For in spite of the progress women have made in society, current events show us we aren't finished yet.

I supposed one old adage about women still holds true -- "A woman's work is never done."

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What Are You Doing With The Fifth Of Your Life You Have To Actually LIVE??

My boss recently shared this message with our team as a way to motivate us to think about our lives OUTSIDE of work. My company is terrific about working with employees to try and create the best work-life balance possible, but we all go through times when we stop taking care of ourselves and the balance gets a little off.

If you're like me, you figure you'll get around to worrying about yourself later, when you have time after everything else gets done. But it turns out we all have less time for ourselves than we think.

Check this out.

I've already started figuring out my plan, which will include more scrapbooking, restructuring my life to spend more of it with the people I love most -- and yoga. What are you doing with YOUR LIFE?

Monday, March 5, 2012


One of the most challenging things about scrapbooking for me is editing my photo selection. Thanks to the ease of digital technology, I shoot a TON of photos. Even after whittling those down into a smaller selection that I actually print to work on a project, I still end up with more photos than I can use once I get my layouts designed and determine the direction the project actually goes.

I recently finished a book for my boyfriend to commemorate our first year as a couple and had a lot of great leftovers. I couldn't bear to throw them out and I had so much fun remembering those moments that shoving the extras into a box to collect dust didn't seem like a good option either.

Decorating my refrigerator provided the perfect alternative.

Michael's Crafts sells sheets of magnetic material with a paper backing that work perfectly for this kind of project. Just cut the magnet to fit and attach the photos with your adhesive of choice.

How do you put your leftover photos to good use?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Thin Mints

Nothing signals the approach of spring like the appearance of Girl Scouts outside your local supermarket, manning folding tables loaded with cookie boxes.

I've found Thin Mints irresistible ever since I was a girl myself. The recipes are new, but the love of Girl Scout cookies is as old as time. So is my habit of keeping them in the freezer and eating them one delicious cookie at a time.

When something comes around just once a year, you learn to make the pleasure last.