Jan 29, 2015

In Defense of Treadmills

Treadmills get picked on by most of the running world.  They're boring.  Running on a treadmill sucks.  It's less motivating.  And so on.

Well, I disagree.

Would it surprise you to know that not only do I primarily use treadmills, but I actually PREFER them to running outside?  Here's why.

12 Reasons Treadmills Are Awesome

1. Your Mileage is Right There

I'm not motivated to run to that next tree over there.  Or to finish the loop around the park that may or may not be 3 miles.  Having the numbers in front of my face gives me a way to track my progress and a goal to shoot for.  Plus, I like to do that whole mind trickery, "Just one more quarter mile.  Oh you made it?  Ok, let's try the next quarter mile."

2. Something to Focus On

Now I know most people prefer outdoor distractions and things to look at while they run.  But when I get tired, I don't really look around me anyway.  You know what I do look at?  The numbers on the treadmill interface.  And I do math with them.

How long has it been since I last looked?  What fraction of a mile is that?  At this speed, what percentage of a mile am I running each minute?  And so on.  Obviously I'd prefer my mind to be off wandering and doing something a lot more exciting to make me forget how much running sucks, but since it's determined to be focused on the running, I can trick it into doing this math thing to make the time go more quickly.

3. Automated Pacing

I'm not good at pacing myself.  And I tend to do the opposite of what I should.  Going up a hill?  I better go FASTER to get it over with more quickly.  Oh wait, now I'm too tired to continue.  A good song just came on?  Without even trying, my legs speed up, and then I'm winded and not sure why.

Pacing is something I should probably work on, but for now it makes getting started a LOT easier when I'm automatically regulated and putting an even amount of effort into each minute.

4. Less Time Consuming Overall

This might not be true for everyone, but since I have access to a treadmill at work it only takes a few minutes to change and hop on the treadmill.  When I run outside, I typically go to the park, and then I have to get in the car and drive there, and drive back.  It's a few minutes, but more importantly...

5. Less Initial Prep Work

Those few extra minutes can be the determining factor between actually going through with it or crapping out on my workout altogether.  I have to change my clothes?  Ok...  I have to drive now, too?  Nuh uh!  Motivation is one big mind game and right now the outdoors is losing.

6. Privacy

I know no one cares if I'm wheezing when I run.  And I'm sure no one's judging me for not having a runner physique, or when I have to take a break and walk.  But knowing this doesn't mean I don't think about it.  Running alone after work or at my parent's house means less prying eyes and less negative thoughts.  On a similar note...

7. No Other People

The difference here is that privacy makes me feel less better, like no one's judging me.  No other people means there's no one in my way.  Sometimes the running track gets crowded, and the power walkers, stroller moms, or casual meanderers just don't give a shit about moving out of your way.  Sometimes people have their dogs with them and either don't know how or don't care to control them.  It adds an irritation and sometimes a danger to my run that I don't care for.  (Side note: total respect for stroller moms.  I hope to emulate you one day.  But you do take up a lot of space.)

8. No Dogs

This time I'm referring to one particular dog.  Luke.  As much as I love him, he is a pain to run with.  Constant speed?  Not really his thing.  And I know that he's a terrible jogger, but when I exercise outdoors, I always feel guilty that I'm not taking my dog, and that he's probably not getting adequate exercise, and I should take every possible opportunity to give him the outdoor time he deserves.  But when you're barely forcing yourself to continue running, dragging another creature behind you is the one little thing you need to convince you to stop.

And sometimes it can even be dangerous, when he sees something and darts across your path.  Just ask Ryan - his first ever broken bone resulted from tripping over Luke (and mine was the dog park - how ironic!  Our sweet, little dog has broken both of us).

9. Music

I know you can listen to music when you run outside.  But you know... my tender eardrums aren't too fond of ear buds.  It doesn't take long for them to start hurting, and I really feel like the volume necessary to actually hear the music over my pounding footfalls and the rush of blood in my head is probably an unhealthy and maybe even damaging level.  And God forbid an ad comes on!  Pandora ads are so fricking obnoxious; they've been physically painful before.  So now I only listen to music when I can set my phone somewhere and blast it out loud.  Like on a treadmill.

10. Accessibility

Kind of like the music, a treadmill means you have accessibility to other modern conveniences.  Like bathrooms.  And cup holders.  So I can hydrate without having to carry that bottle.  I don't have to worry about where to put my keys.  If I want to adjust my clothes or remove a layer, I can do that.  If I want to watch a movie while I run, I can even do that.  (I haven't been doing this - it doesn't seem worth it for 3 miles, but when I get up to 8 or 10, you can bet I'll be watching some Mulan and Pocahontas!  Best running music ever!!!  "Let's get down to business...")

11. Climate Control

Remember that post about crummy lungs?  Well, yes, I know they'll get better as they're exposed to different temperatures.  But if I'm planning on running hard, trying to increase speed, or run a new distance, then the last thing I need is for extreme cold or heat to get in there and ruin my lungs for the rest of the day.  Plus, I know I'll be fairly comfortable and I LIKE not having numb fingers and toes (Running outside in 30 degree weather?  Not happening).

12. Even Footing

I don't have to watch out for ice, uneven pavement, dog poop, or small children, and I can focus on my posture and running habits.

I mean, really, does it get any better?

What do you think?  Have I made you rethink the treadmill?  If not, what do you dislike about them?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 28, 2015

Book Challenge Incomplete #SCWBC14

Yeah.  You read that right.  I didn't finish this one.  I was close, though!  I'm finishing up Breakfast of Champions now and that last category I didn't get to was because the book I chose by a DE author wasn't available on Amazon, and I just never looked up another one.  I'm ok with not finishing; I still read a bunch of really great books (especially over the holidays) and it encouraged me to sign up for the Kindle subscription, which means I can read a bunch of books each month for only $10, instead of paying $8 or $9 for every book.  As long as I read 2 each month, I'll be saving money!

Anyway, for the final installment of the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge I'm talking I, Robot, and Breakfast of Champions.  SPOILER ALERT because I was intrigued and mystified by the end of I, Robot and I'm going to discuss the crap out of it.

I, Robot -

This was gifted to me for Christmas, so I just kind of naturally picked it up after finishing my last book (and it was nice to read an actual paper book for once!), despite it not being on my challenge list.  I'd seen the movie, so imagine my surprise when the story format was nothing like I, Robot with Will Smith.  It's basically a collection of short stories from the history of robot development (sci-fi, not real) and how it's interacted with and shaped human society.  It was a really good read, and the short story nature of it made it easy to put down and pick up again, but definitely not what I'd been expecting.  And, of course, the stories weren't all equally enthralling, but none of them were bad.  4 stars because I really enjoyed it and there was definitely nothing wrong with it, but I didn't quite love it.

Oh, right, and the part that mystified me?  So you know how I read lots of dystopia?  And usually the end part is warning us against something.  The movie fit the bill with that, where (SPOILER) the computer tries to take over mankind because the best way to keep us from harm is to not let us do or decide anything for ourselves.  Will Smith can't have that, so he fights back and they ultimately prove victorious over the crazy, misguided computer.

Well the book seemed to be making a case for the opposite side.  The very last story something similar happened; computers had almost total control.  But the humans discussed it and decided to just leave it that way.  Because they were doing a better job than people.  Very strange, and very unexpected!  So I don't know if the point is that it's a very subtle warning (less obvious than the typical "the government has too much control and they're oppressing us" or "computers became sentient and they're trying to destroy us") or if it's the opposite and Asimov is really trying to say that maybe it's not such a bad thing if humans lose control over their own destiny.  What do you think?

Breakfast of Champions -

I was a little iffy on choosing this book, since I'd read mixed reviews from other folks, and because I didn't enjoy my last Kurt Vonnegut book as much.  I had no reason to worry; I was hooked nearly from the beginning.  This one reminds me more of Slaughterhouse V, with some of the seemingly random information he gives throughout, as opposed to my last read, Player Piano, which was a more streamlined story.

Actually, now that I think of it, I ought to have liked Player Piano better, but it was just really slow to get into.  Not sure why.  In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut starts the book by telling you one of the characters is going crazy and here's how it happened.  So you're filled with anticipation the whole time.  And the random comments, while occasionally baffling and annoying (especially after a paragraph giving the measurements for all the character's penises - yeah, you read that right), do keep the tone kind of lighthearted and offbeat, so you don't get bored.

On that topic though, writing classes like to use this list of advice from Kurt Vonnegut as tips to improve the student's writing.  Notice item 4: "Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action."   How on earth are his random facts doing either of those things? Either I don't get it or Vonnegut's breaking his own rule here.

Anyway, it was a fun read, despite those inconsistencies and puts me up to 185 points out of 200 for the challenge.

Here's everything else I read.


5 points: Freebie!
— Bossypants, Tina Fey (264 pages - - See Review)

10 points: Read a book written by an author who has published at least 10 books.
— Stardust, Neil Gaiman (248 pages - - See Review)

10 points: Read a book of short stories.
— I, Robot by Isaac Asimov (225 pages - )

10 points: Read a book with a food in the title.
— Potatoes Come Forth!, H. Jonas Rhynedahll (330 pages -  - See Review)

15 points: Read the first book in a series that is new to you.
— The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale (383 pages - - See Review)

15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a different language.
— The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux (360 pages - - See Review)

15 points: Read a book written by a local author.
— Captive, Colleen Faulkner (416 pages)

20 points: Read a "bookish book".
— The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde (374 pages -  - See Review)

20 points: Read a book with a direction in the title.
— East, Edith Pattou (507 pages -  - See Review)

25 points: Read a book from a genre you don't usually read.
— The Colour Purple, Alice Walker (256 pages - - See Review)

25 points: Read a book with a song lyric in the title.
— Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug (234 pages -  - See Review)

30 points: Read two books with a different meal in each title.
— Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, Jack Caldwell (256 pages - - See Review) & Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut (302 pages - )

Linking up with Megan.

What good books have you read lately?  Do you think the idea of computers taking is scary?  Or do you think they would do a better job than us?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 26, 2015

Journey vs Destination - Time and Purpose and Stuff

Let's get existential!!!

I was reading a post by Kristen @ See You In A Porridge (What's the point of blogging?) a while back and my initial response to it reminded me a lot of a conversation I had with Ryan about what time is.

A quick summary: Ryan is convinced that time had to start somewhere, presumably with The Big Bang.  The part that has him conflustered and bewildered is how we managed to go from a state of nothingness to all this.  I don't think there has to be an origin.  I think all that space stuff, matter or energy, could have always existed in one form or another and time has just always been going and will continue to, with no beginning or end.

Anyway, origin of the universe aside, this conversation led to Ryan saying, "But if there's no end point and time just continues on, then what is the point of any of this?"

This is where I explain myself in clichés.  Ever heard the saying, "It's about the journey, not the destination"?  That's how I feel.

I think life has no purpose other than to be lived.  I think our purpose is whatever we decide it is, and it's up to each one of us to define our own values and try to live by them.  I think nothing is more important than for you to feel that your life has been well-lived.  Not anyone else's approval, or any sort of tangible results that you can point to and say, "Look!  I succeeded!"  Just your own, personal satisfaction with who you are and what you've done.

Does that make sense?

Do you think we have a purpose?  Do you put more emphasis on the journey or the destination?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 22, 2015

15 Predictions for 2015

Did I say I was done with New Years-y talk?  I lied.  I really enjoyed what a few people did - predictions instead of resolutions, and I'd like to make some of those as well.  Ready?  Let's go!

By this time next year...

1. I will be married.  (As will Sister2.  The year of the weddings!)

2. I will master meal planning!

3. Ryan and I will be house hunting.  Fo' real.  (We said we'd start looking this summer, but I expect it to take us 6 - 12 months to get serious.)

4. Roommate will have locked us into a drunken promise to name our first child after him.

5. I will have quit my Creative Self Actualization project and started something else.  Probably a novel.  (Just being honest.)

6. I'll run a half marathon and successfully work running into my weekly routine.  At some point I'll probably start referring to myself as "a runner."

7. But I'll still hate it.

8. Ryan will be promoted.

9. I'll be contemplating a career change but won't quite have mustered up the courage to do it.

10. Luke will learn to open doors so he can sleep on our bed when we're gone.

11. We'll be doing research on babies and health and psychology.  Not actually getting ready to have one, but just posting about it enough the blog to scare away my regular readers and keep my family members in a constant state of anticipation.

12. I'll start an anonymous secret blog somewhere in the Internet where I post D&D jokes, creative writing, and badly structured angry rants about my Facebook acquaintances.  It will probably be called something like Monkey with a Keyboard.  I will have no posting schedule, never show my real face, have only hand drawn images, and I will love it like a firstborn child.

13. I'll attend a blogging conference.  Probably this one.

14. I'll finish reading War & Peace, despite Nadine's wise advice, "Dude, life is too short to read a bad book! Drop that shit!"  Because I'm terrible at following advice.  Even when I know it makes sense.

15. I'll have somehow managed to complicate my goals/resolutions/self actualization projects even more than they already are.

What's in the cards for you this year?  Do you prefer predictions or resolutions?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 20, 2015

Verted - Neither Extra Nor Intro

I think people tend to oversimplify extrovert or introvert.  I know I used to.

If you're shy, or you don't like to go out, people will say, "Oh, you're an introvert."  And if you like to talk to people, then they assume you're extraverted.

I remember Sister2 telling me she was introverted and how I scoffed at her.  "You?  You party all the time?"

Then I did my research.  It's not that simple.

Being extroverted or introverted is not simply a case of being social or not.  It's how social and non-social activities are reflected through your energy.  Do you feel more energetic when you're out with people?  Or do you feel more energetic when you're alone?  Extraverted people are more likely to be outgoing, because being social makes them feel energized, so it's a feeling they'll pursue more than introverts, but it's not a definitive correlation.  (For more, see the Myers & Briggs Foundation Site)

In the case of my sister, she did go out far more frequently than is typical for an introverted personality.  And she enjoyed it.  But the effort required left her feeling drained and tired, while something like relaxing at home would build that energy back up.

I think I didn't fully understand what this meant until I started attending Meetup groups.  And even then I suffered enough anxiety beforehand, and last-minute lack of desire to attend (which I'm now convinced is a form of social anxiety - when you want to do something right up until 5 minutes before and then all of a sudden you desperately want to cancel) that I figured I was probably an introvert.

But then, at a dog group happy hour, I talked to just a couple people, and I got giddy.

On the way home I was filled with a bubbly rush of energy, and I called people so I could keep talking.  I was excited about the small talk I had made, and I wanted to keep connecting with people.

And this trend has continued.  I've gotten more comfortable in social situations with practice, and while I still occasionally feel social anxiety beforehand, I'm better at ignoring it because I know I'll be fine when I get there.  And when I do finally talk to someone, there's almost always that rush that makes the whole rest of the night worth it.  All the awkward pauses, and the standing around waiting for a good moment to speak.  All of it.

But I say "almost."  Because after having gotten comfortable with this extraverted energy that enjoys getting to know new people, and finds such satisfaction in the occasional well-placed pun, it abandoned me.

Not permanently.  But just this past year, I was at Ryan's work holiday party, and I was waiting for my extroverted-ness to rise to the surface and save me, and it didn't.  I was caught off guard, and found it really hard to enjoy myself, because every exchange, every attempt to speak and be light-hearted, was such an effort.  And after an hour or 2, I felt drained and exhausted and ready to curl up in bed, and it was very difficult to convince Ryan that I don't hate his coworkers.

Afterwards I was confused, and I tried to pin myself down with an exact definition.  Finally, I gave up.  I frequently get energy from social interactions, but sometimes they leave me feeling drained.  I frequently feel energized after a good bout of writing, goal-setting, or introspection, but sometimes I feel lonely.

So while it's possible to be an introvert who socializes, or an extravert who enjoys the occasional night in, I'd say I'm so finely balanced between the 2 that I wouldn't call myself either.  But maybe both.

Do you feel more introverted or extraverted or would you put yourself in the middle?  Do you ever flake out at the last minute because of social anxiety?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 19, 2015

Running With Asthma (or something like it)

I don't have asthma.  Just to be clear.  What I do have is Exercise Induced Respiratory Ailment (EIRA), which I always thought sounded kind of bogus.

At some point in elementary school, we saw a doctor about my wheezing, and he told us about EIRA, which is better for insurance benefits than asthma, and gave me an inhaler.

I hated the inhaler.  And I thought my lung disorder was fake.  I mean, everyone wheezes when they're out of shape and try to run, right?  So I didn't use it and, for the most part, I was fine.  When I ran more frequently, my lungs improved, and when I stopped, they'd get bad again.

Flash forward to high school.  I was running on the treadmill and I was pushing myself.  Naturally, I was gasping and wheezing like I always do when I near the end of my capacity.  Sister2 was in the workout room with me, and she seemed concerned.  I forget what she said, but something like, "Don't push yourself too hard."

Too hard?  What does that even mean?  You run until you don't feel like it or your lungs close up and you can't breathe anymore.  There's no "too hard."

At some point we discussed it, and she said my breathing scared her.  I explained that after a certain point, my lungs don't fill all the way and I can't take a full breath until I cool down again.  I assumed she'd nod and agree that that's how lungs worked, but she didn't.  She didn't know what I was talking about.  That was the first time I realized EIRA is a real thing.

After a research project in high school on "asthma" I know a little bit more about it.  2 things can happen: either the muscles around the lungs tighten and constrict airflow, or the lung tissues swell, creating a smaller chamber for air to flow.

I don't know which mine do.  It doesn't really matter.  What does matter is that my lungs do it and I have to take that into account when I exercise.

Now, as far as EIRA vs asthma, I'm really lucky.  EIRA is only caused by physical activity (just cardio, really) and it's very predictable.  I don't need an inhaler to fix it, and it's perfectly manageable as long as I focus on taking deep breaths for as long as I can while running, and work my way up gradually.

Most of my adult life (thus far), I've pretty much ignored it.  I've been in shape (for me), out of shape, and varying degrees in between, and my lungs have done what I expected.  There were, however, a couple times that they failed me and it scared me a bit.

Lung Failure 1

The first one was the Reindeer Run last year.  It was pouring, and cold (obviously), and I pushed myself and finished with 11 minute miles.  When I stopped, I was still breathing pretty hard, trying to calm my body down until my lungs could function normally again.  They were still struggling when we entered the tent to get some soup and water.  As we inched through the crowd, and waves of steam and humidity rose over us, my lungs decided to close most of the way and I started to get light headed.

I was fine once I got out of the tent, but it was a little touch and go for a minute there.  I decided my lungs could not handle being pushed so hard, with that combination of humidity, and decided not to worry about it.

Lung Failure 2

Remember the 5 Miler?  I mentioned this briefly.  Basically, I had to push myself really hard to finish that thing, and when I stopped, all that adrenalin that had kept me going just pooped out, my lungs freaked out and I spent 5 minutes pacing back and forth desperately trying to inhale a full breath of air.  Sister2 explained this phenomenon to me, which is good, because I didn't know what was going on at the time (basically, sometimes while you're running the adrenaline is working to make it easier for you, but when you stop you feel worse for a few minutes because the adrenaline shuts off but your body is still working).

This one caught me completely off guard.  Sure, I pushed myself.  But I had trained!  I had gotten up to 5 miles before running it.  It wasn't even hot or humid!

While these experiences were unpleasant, I think it's shown me something important.  I can't just ignore that my lungs are terrible.  And I can't keep letting myself get out of shape and then expecting to just bounce back.  It takes time to work back up to my normal, and it takes even more time to move on up to the next level.

But it most certainly doesn't have to stop me.

And I'd like to extend this sentiment to everyone who thinks they "can't run" or "can't exercise."  Your lungs could be completely shitty, and I empathize.  You might have actual asthma and never know what will set it off.  But if you start off at your baseline, whether that be a slow jog, or even walking, and keep making small increases, you can improve your lungs and you can improve your overall health.

Lung issues suck.  There's no getting around that.  But you and me, we don't have to let it hold us back.

Not convinced?  Check out Amanda's Running Advice for Non-Runners.  I found it incredibly heartening that someone who now runs marathons started only being able to run 2 minutes.  And she makes really good points, though for us wheezers, I'd have to add the following:
  • Stop When You Have To: If your lungs are giving you trouble, stop or slow down.  There's nothing anywhere that says you have to keep going, and your lungs will improve as you keep at it.  No need to try to accomplish it all at once.
  • Don't Be Embarrassed to Use an Inhaler: Or by your size or for any other reason.  Some people are embarrassed to run because they think other people will judge or laugh at them.  I'd be impressed as anything if I saw someone exercising whip out an inhaler, because I know what you're working to overcome.
  • Don't Pressure Yourself: Maybe today's run was more of a jog.  Maybe your lungs aren't having it today.  Just getting out there and doing what you're doing will help you improve, even if it doesn't feel like it.
  • Distance and Speed Are NOT the Only Factors: I've been feeling like I'm not improving as much as I want lately.  I'm still struggling to get past 3 miles, despite having run it several times.  But I feel good (when not running - who am I kidding, running sucks) and I'm sleeping better!  So instead of feeling dejected when it seems like you're not improving, pay attention to the other changes in your body or mood.

Have you ever experienced lung issues?  What advice would you give to non-runners?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 15, 2015

4 Blogging "Rules" I'd Prefer to Stay Broken

I'm a rebel.  Always have been.

When someone gives me advice, my first reaction is to say, "No!" with all the self-empowering force of a 2-year old who has just learned the word, and then throw that advice out the window.

Now that I'm all grown up and (somewhat) mature, I've learned to ignore my first reaction and actually consider the thing people are telling me.  Is it actually useful?  Do I want to do it?  Are they right?  Typically, I'll try it out and then decide for myself if it's worth doing.

In the case of blogging, I've accepted, and even sought out, more advice than I can possibly remember at the moment.  But there are a few things that I soundly reject and I'll tell you why.

Blog Advice That's Not For Me

1. Every Post Must Have Pictures

Ain't nobody got time for that!  Honestly, though, I did this for a while, and it was awesome, and pretty, and I got more hits than I have since.  But it's a lot of work and takes this from a fun hobby to a chore.  I don't want it to be a chore.  So now I only add pictures if I want to.

2. Full Posts Should Be Displayed on the Main Page

Some people think it's easier, because they don't have to click through to read the whole post.  I think it's a pain, because I'd rather choose which posts to read and just browse the titles and first couple paragraphs.  When you've got one post that's 10 pages of pictures, it makes it hard for me to find the other posts.  So I present my blog in the way I prefer to read.  Besides, how many people actually visit my homepage?  Don't we all use Bloglovin' to get there in the first place?

3. Reduce Your Archive Size

Usually by eliminating dropdowns.  I understand the logic: it takes up less space, yada yada, but I need to be able to find stuff.  Maybe your other readers don't go back through old posts and maybe I'm the weirdo, but sometimes I decide to write a post similar to someone else's and I want to find their post to give credit.  If your archive isn't easy to use, the likelihood of you getting your due credit is much reduced.  I keep my archive in the standard format to make things easy for me (Yep - I use it all the time when I want to reference my own old posts) and my readers.

4. Avoid Paragraphs at All Costs

I like to read, so why wouldn't other people?  Maybe you do, maybe you don't.  If you don't, I'm not sure how or why you've gotten this far through the post.  But I don't think any of us should feel bad about writing in paragraphs when it's our natural style and it's what we prefer to read on other blogs.

Bonus: Blog Advice I'd Like to See Used More

Search Box!

Why don't people have these?  You know that thing I said about digging through your old posts?  If your archive is not user friendly or I don't remember what month it was, I can just use the search tool to find it.  Give yourself some credit - your old stuff is pretty good and chances are I will probably want to look at some of it again one day.
I guess the general theme here is: I want to blog the way I'd want to read it.  I'm not going to try to please everyone else if the end result is then something I personally wouldn't want to read.  Hopefully everyone else is doing the same thing.
For the most part, I'm happy to live and let live, but it always gives me just a tiny jolt of irritation when someone says, "You CAN'T..."  Uh, yeah.  I can.  Watch me.

What advice do you refuse to follow?  What advice do you wish everyone else would?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 14, 2015

2 Weeks of Non-Productivity (A Belated Trip Recap)

I'm a bit late with this so I'm not going to bore you guys with a full trip recap.  It was all fairly typical visiting family, holiday-y type stuff.  I really enjoy seeing my family, who I always feel close to, despite only seeing them once every 2 years, and I'm rapidly learning to love Ryan's family also.

On a less sentimental note, here's a quick summary of other trip highlights:
  • Hotel Christmas - Sister3 brought lights to hang up, Momma, Sister2, and Sister3 made and traveled with Christmas cookies, stockings stuffed to the brim, and we all exchanged gifts after taking full advantage of our complimentary breakfast
  • Road Tripping - I packed a plethora of healthy snacks, so Ryan and I munched on grapes, carrots, V8, trail mix and pretzels instead of multiple fast food meals on the 13 hour drive down South. I also discovered the joys of the V8 Fusion energy drink, which seems like a good replacement for other, more highly caffeinated beverages
  • Reading - I read so many books! And most of them were 4 or 5 stars!
  • Animals - I held a snake! And I petted these dogs.

  • San Diego Adventuring - the house we stayed at was out in the desert, with its very own orange trees! Naturally we picked and ate some and I can honestly say they were the most delicious oranges I've ever had. We also took the practically required sister hike, in which Jenn becomes exhausted and pushes her body to the limit, but stoically hangs in there until we all reach the top, with only minor whining and griping. At one point I said my health goal was to never be unable to do the things I want to because of being out of shape and I think I can say I've stuck to this. It might not be pretty, but I can always get where I want - even if it involves a 9 mile hiking trip.

  • Coming Home - 2 weeks away is a bit long. I enjoyed just about every aspect of the trip, but I got to missing my dog, and my own bed, and even the blog and my goals lists. I suppose it's some kind of victory that I start to miss being productive after a week or so away from it. :P

Alright, now that that's out of the way, I really want to tell you about Ryan's aunt. This lady is absolutely amazing, and I would tell you every little reason why, but she's a fairly private person, so I'll respect that and just talk about this one aspect.

Look how awesome this is!  Aunt Mel makes things like these by hand, and sells them basically at cost, just because she enjoys doing it.
What's mind-blowing is the fact that she does this despite vision issues that would probably send me into a self-pitying stupor.  Some of her jewelry is just decorative, although she makes a note of stone types, and colors, for the spiritual types, and some of it has a deeper meaning.  For example...

I love everything she's given me, but this piece is my absolute favorite.  Ryan told Aunt Mel that I get down sometimes with my sisters being farther away and frequently too busy to chat, so she made me a family tree pendant.  The bottom 2 colors represent my parent's birth stones (similar colors, not the actual stones), and the top 3 are my sisters and me.  I love, love, love the symbolism of it and I can't wait to buy some of her stuff under a fake name so she can't keep giving it away.  If anyone's interested, her website is GrayMistCreations.com.
Oh!  On a not-at-all-related tangent, I had about 30 comments while I was away and, despite my lofty ambitions, didn't respond to any of them until Sunday night after returning.  I realize 30 is not that many, but egad, it took a lot of time!  I've gained a new respect for those of you who handle that amount and more every single day.

Do you miss blogging when you go on vacation?  Do you like road trips?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 13, 2015

Life Lessons - 3 Stories of Things I've Learned

I've learned plenty of things as I've grown, and I'm sure I'll learn plenty more.  But there are certain learning experiments that really stand out in my memory, sharp little snapshots of my brain making a realization and retaining that memory forever.  Or, you know, a long time.

The earliest and best example is from childhood.

Life Lesson #1: Other People See Things From Their Own Point of View

Whoa.  Mind blowing stuff, I know.  I was in 4th or 5th grade (old enough to already know this, but I didn't), and I had an argument with a friend.  She thought we lived in the same neighborhood, and I was pretty sure we didn't.

So after arguing about things like number of cats, house colors, and other equally definitive things, I went home frustrated and said to my mother, "Amanda thinks she lives in my neighborhood, but I think she's wrong."  My mom gently corrected me, "She thinks YOU live in HER neighborhood."

My little brain just about exploded.

There are also more recent (though not less embarrassing) stories.

Life Lesson #2: My Parents are Fallible Human Creatures

For far longer than I should, I believed my parents had the answers to all life questions.  The first time I moved out, every little question I had about home maintenance, cooking, cleaning, or finance - I'd call my mom.  No question about it; she would know the answer!  And, more to the point, she must know the right answer, because she always makes the right decisions!

So jump a few years ahead, when my mom and I were trying to run our little, family web design company.  We had a client meeting, and it went pretty well and we were excited about it.  There was only a couple tiny flaws in our presentation, and I thought we should probably discuss them so we could have a smoother meeting with our next client, whoever that might be.

Being of my generation, I typed up my thoughts and emailed it to my mother immediately.  Face to face conversation - pah!  Email is where it's at.  But I offended her, despite having no intention to do so, and I was totally taken aback that she could even be offended.

How could someone with all the answers be upset by someone else's criticism?  Especially by a lesser creature like myself?  Unless... she had insecurities of her own and was NOT always 100% confident in her own abilities.  What?  My  mother?  A normal human?

In truth, my Mom is still a great resource and has information and words of wisdom for many, many different situations.  And I still seek her council in a variety of matters.  But I've finally learned to do my own research and find some things out on my own.  You know, the adult way.

Life Lesson #3: Double Check Your "Facts"

I've had to learn this several times and it's quite frequently embarrassing.  I'll give you the example that sticks out the most.

I was at work (at my current job - yes, I'm still learning things the hard way) and my supervisor asked me a question.

"Can you export files from ABBYY FineReader in an HTML format?"

I said, immediately and confidently, "No."

He responded, tactfully, "Are you sure?"

Given a moment to rethink the situation, I realized: I had no basis whatsoever for my assurance.  So I opened the program and a file and actually tried to do what he asked.  You know what?  Not only was it POSSIBLE, it was easy, and the option was in an obvious place that I could see every time I used the program.

Face palm.  The worst part is that this is only the most recent in the many, many times I've done this.  But I did it right last time!  The last time someone asked me if something was possible, I said, "I think [blah, blah, blah], but let me check."  And I was wrong, but it was ok, because I double checked.

This goes for facts, too, because a lot of "interesting trivia" or even "common knowledge" is blatantly false.  So if you can't remember where you heard something, or someone challenges you on something, do the both of you a favor and look it up.

Bonus: My Alcohol Commandments

  1. Thou shalt not mix the alcohol with the Chinese food; the result is uncouth.
  2. Thou shalt not accept the free beverage; "free" is a relative term and the price is frequently paid in "you owe me" type behaviors, and general obnoxiousness.  In other words, the drink providers become uncouth.
  3. Thou shalt not drink to forget great sadness; sadness has a way of coming back up along with the alcohol.  Uncouth.
P.S. Uncouth is my new version of "Rude."  It's so much fun to say!

What life lessons have you gathered through the years?  Which ones should have been obvious, but weren't?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 12, 2015

Habit Building Challenge - Sleep

You guys are probably tired of hearing about my goals.  Sorry!  It's the new year.  Something about it just feels like a blank slate empty and waiting for all my productivity ideas.

This one is pretty simple concept.  We were out hiking in San Diego and Soon-to-be-Brother said something about how trying to build a bunch of habits at once is setting yourself up for failure (I tried to convince him to do a guest post on productivity, but I don't think I was persuasive enough, so you're stuck with me).  Supposedly it takes 30 days of repetition to "build" a habit and it should become much easier to maintain after that point.  With 12 months in a year, you could build all the habits you're trying to attain by simply going after them one at a time.

I liked the idea so much that I decided it was not a violation of the very precept of the "one priority a month" rule to try this habit building project in addition to themed monthly goals, a monthly self actualization project, seasonal goals, and annual on-going goals.

I mean... it's kind of different.  All those things involve doing something - typically a task.  Habit building involves working it into your routine.  Also, the habits I'm going after are primarily things that are on my on-going goals list, so it's really more of a plan to achieve those.

Anyway, I'm going to try this out and see if I have any better success with building one habit at a time, as opposed to trying to drastically change everything all at once.

What is this month's habit building project, you ask?  I'll tell you.

<3 Sleep <3

More specifically, adhering to a consistent sleep schedule, and a nightly/morning routine.  When I tried this in the past, I only made it about a week, but this time I'm making it the priority for this entire month.  Everything else is secondary.

The reason I chose this one as the first and most important habit is simple: When I get enough sleep, I feel more motivated to do everything else.  I think if I got this down, everything else would become just a little bit easier.

Anyway, that's the theory.  We'll see if it really works out as magically as I've envisioned it.  In the upcoming months I'll also attempt to tackle (in no particular order): exercise, cooking and meal planning, work productivity, and chore/cleaning routine.

Do you have a system for building habits?  What changes would you like to make to your routine?  Do you have a routine at all?

Jenn signature graphic | Business, Life & Design

Jan 8, 2015

Git 'Er Done! (Plus Simplify Updates)

Checking in for the Make Your Own Adventure link up.  December had the theme of Simplify, which was more challenging for me than the first month I participated.  Here's my updates from December, and my new goals for the month of January, theme: Complete.

December Simplify Themed Goals

1. Start Keeping Continuous Goodwill Box - Check!  Our December haul was massive, and I've got another round ready to go this weekend.
2. Bedtime Yoga/Meditation - Fail.  I was totally distracted by upcoming holidays and vacations and I let my entire routine slide in lieu of frenzied packing/decorating/present wrapping.  I'd like to try this again this month.
3. Packing Lists and Travel Info - Check!  This probably would have happened regardless, but this encouraged me to get it done earlier than usual, which gives me time to edit and add things I remember later (and prevents irrational panic mode).
4. Set Fewer Goals - Credit for trying.  I struggled with this a lot.  My to do list wavered between 5 and 10 things and I'm not really sure how to keep it lower.  Do I just not add things when I think of them?  Do I get things done faster?  I tried to let a few things go instead of stressing myself to complete every holiday idea I had, but I could definitely use some practice with this.

And my new goals for January...

January Complete Themed Goals

I'm going to do this a little differently and group it into categories.  I plan to...

1. Complete My Transition into the New Year by:

  • Putting away all seasonal décor
  • Finding a place for or discarding all gifts
  • Finishing all leftover tasks from 2014 BEFORE adding new ones

2. Complete Abandoned Creative Projects by:

  • Setting a schedule for and initializing my new art/craft/design Self Actualization list
  • Completing the first art/craft/design project this month
  • Writing a post about it and updating my Self Actualization page explaining the priority shift

3. Complete Unfinished Challenges by:

  • Trying out a new system for habit building (one new thing each month)
  • Challenging myself to 30 days of yoga/meditation before bed
  • Becoming a grad student! (set up tuition payments, complete the orientation class, read the recommended books, and ignore every single person who tells me it's illogical, a waste of time, or a waste of money)

I'm going to confess that some of these have already been completed (looking at you Christmas decorations), but I think that's ok, since it's already a week into January and I wrote this post about halfway through December.

Do you have monthly goals?  Are you good at simplifying?

Linking up with Steph, Stephanie, and Ashley.

Life According to Steph

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Jan 7, 2015

Book Challenge Update Numbah 2 #SCWBC14

We're through the 2nd month of the Semi-Charmed Winter Book Challenge.  It's gotten to be a no-pressure thing at this point because of all the people who finished in the first month, but that's ok.  I don't need to inflict a horrible category on the competitors every year.  ;-)

I'm up to 10 books out of 13.  I'm going to be talking about Bossypants, Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, East, Potatoes Come Forth, The Eyre Affair, and Don't Make Me Think.  I was going to add a spoiler warning, but I managed not to give away any of the endings this time!  (If you want to hear about Stardust, The Colour Purple, The Goose Girl, or The Phantom of the Opera, read last month's post.)

Bossypants -

I know everyone loves the comedian humor/bibliography books right about now.  I've had Bossypants, Yes Please, and Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? recommended to me by a bunch of people.  But I'm just not feeling it.  The writing made me laugh (although not as much as The Bloggess' book), but in general I just miss having a narrative feel to it, or some kind of focal point.  Instead it's just a series of random topics, most of which are relevant to the author's life in some way, but few that impart much in the way of knowledge, or contribute to a cohesive story.

I think my favorite part is when she discusses body image, but I feel like it's been quoted so much that I've already been exposed to the important concepts.  I also liked the chapter on parenthood where she pokes some fun at the opinionated advice-giving parents.  And I enjoyed most of her self-deprecatory humor, but it started to get a little excessive with all the self put-downs and I didn't see the confidence I was expecting.  In general, this was a bit of letdown for me, but I wouldn't say other people shouldn't read it.  Just that I personally don't enjoy this style as much as others.

Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner -

So this is the first "fan fiction" I've ever really read and I didn't know what to expect.  This one follows the plot of Pride and Prejudice up until a certain point and then it leaps in with an alternate flow of events.  The author seems bent on "fixing" the entire Bennett family, and resolving all situations in the most positive way possible, which is a bit cheesy.  My favorite part has been seeing how lines or quotes from the original works are used, but twisted into a different situation.  Like in P&P, Lady Catherine is the one who says, "This is not to be borne!"  But in this version it's Mrs. Bennett.

To sum up: I don't love it, but I don't hate it either.  I wasn't expecting much so I wasn't able to be disappointed.

East - 

I loved this!  To be fair, I was pretty sure I was going to like it.  It's an adaptation of The Polar Bear King, but it puts a creative spin on it.  I particularly enjoyed the way the narrative flipped between different characters, and some of the mythology and superstitions (particularly of Rose's mother).  My only complaint was that the end was rather slow, after solving the conflict, and there were more chapters than needed to explain the happy ending.  I debated a bit, but ended up giving it 5 stars because I enjoyed the rest of it so much.

Potatoes Come Forth - 

Did I say I loved East?  Well, then I need a stronger adjective for this book, because it was a perfect read for me.  There's some magic, some technology, adventure, romance, and quite a bit of comedy.  Unlike a lot of fantasy books, it puts a really irreverent cast on magic and magic users, and kept me entertained throughout.  And, unlike East, when the story was over we didn't linger.  The author knew exactly where to cut it off.

The Eyre Affair - 

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, but I don't think I can say the writing is quite on par with the other books I've read.  Maybe it was just the kindle version, but there was a fair amount of grammar stuff, which was only mildly distracting, and some deviation from the first-person point of view, which was actually annoying.  Basically, if a story is being told by one person, then we should never hear what other people are saying and thinking when that character isn't there.  The ironic thing: at one point in the book, the main character is actually within a novel (Jane Eyre), trying not to change things by... only interacting with the characters when the main character isn't there (since Jane Eyre is also a first-person narrative).  So I'm not sure why the author decided to break those rules in his story.

Anyway, those issues aside, it is a fun story, and I enjoyed following along with the main character as she tackles this mystery.  Typically I don't enjoy crime-solving or mysteries as much, but there was enough magic and fantasy in there to spice it up a little.  And it was super fun seeing how they interacted with, and even changed the course of, other literature.

Don't Make Me Think - 

So I swapped this one in for the Song Lyric category.  I was having trouble finding On My Own (by Eleanor Roosevelt), and this was in my list of recommended reading for my Master's program (that starts at the end of January!!!), so I thought, why not?  The lyric is in So Sick by Ne-yo, "Don't make me think about her smile."  That counts, right?  Or is it supposed to be the whole line?

Regardless of whether this fits this challenge, it was a fantastic read!  It's all about usability for web design and it's written in a very down-to-earth, humorous tone that made the whole thing very enjoyable.  I learned a lot, especially about user testing, which is something I've never even considered implementing before.

So that puts me to 145 points out of 200.  Here's the rest of my reading list - although I might have to swap out another one.  I'm having trouble obtaining the book by a DE native.


5 points: Freebie!
— Bossypants, Tina Fey (264 pages - )

10 points: Read a book written by an author who has published at least 10 books.
— Stardust, Neil Gaiman (248 pages - )

10 points: Read a book of short stories.
— Either The Complete Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson or The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales by the Brothers Grimm (803 or 880 pages - haven't decided yet, but I own both and haven't ever made it through either.)

10 points: Read a book with a food in the title.
— Potatoes Come Forth!, H. Jonas Rhynedahll (330 pages - )

15 points: Read the first book in a series that is new to you.
— The Goose Girl, Shannon Hale (383 pages - )

15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a different language.
— The Phantom of the Opera, Gaston Leroux (360 pages - )

15 points: Read a book written by a local author.
— Captive, Colleen Faulkner (416 pages - another DE resident!  I'm having trouble obtaining her book, so I might have to find a different DE author.)

20 points: Read a "bookish book".
— The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde (374 pages - )

20 points: Read a book with a direction in the title.
— East, Edith Pattou (507 pages - )

25 points: Read a book from a genre you don't usually read.
— The Colour Purple, Alice Walker (256 pages - )

25 points: Read a book with a song lyric in the title.
— Don't Make Me Think, Steve Krug (234 pages - )

30 points: Read two books with a different meal in each title.
— Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, Jack Caldwell (256 pages - ) & Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut (302 pages)

Pick some books and compete in Megan's Semi-Charmed Winter 2014 Book Challenge!  It runs until the end of February.

What good books have you read lately?  Have you completed (or started) any book challenges?

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