Monday, June 30, 2014

What I Miss Most

We went strawberry picking early on Saturday morning. I brought our little point and shoot with us, fully intending to take a few pictures, but was deterred once I saw how crowded it was. The place was packed with kids, which is actually kind of genius on the parents' part. Picking strawberries is so much easier when you're close to the ground and have naturally absurd levels of energy.

After the strawberries, we didn't do much this weekend. I spent most of it either playing the Tiny Tina DLC for Borderlands 2 or reading The Dresden Files. The DLC for Borderlands 2 was recommended to me by a friend and I got it as part of the Summer Sale on Steam for a measly $5.  It's awesome because I get to shoot orcs in the face with a shotgun and because the designers had a good time poking fun at fantasy game cliches.

Borderlands Wiki (source)

I went for a run on Sunday before noon. I went without agonizing over the decision and I almost felt like I did before I got all hurt and junk.

3.22km running  + 0.44km walking home
I say almost because I can't ever go back to simply lacing up my shoes and heading out the door. During my last round of physical therapy a summer ago, my therapist suggested that I work through the set of prescriptive exercises (especially the breathing one) any time I wanted to go for a run. Since then, I've actually been a little frustrated that going for a run requires that little extra bit of effort. I miss the simplicity, the only bit of effort being to get myself out the door. But I don't miss it enough to just disregard the need to establish a better movement pattern. Recently, I came across an article on Breaking Muscle, The 3 Elements of Training and How to Order Them, that drove home the point and got me to accept that my little warm-up perfect for me.

This is my favorite quote from the article:
Movement skill refers to how well ingrained good form is in a lift or exercise. We’ve all been there - that point in a workout where fatigue starts to creep in and form starts to deteriorate, that feeling of not being able to get your body to do what you’re trying to make it do.

I have years worth of terrible form ingrained for pretty much every exercise ever. Worse than that is the fact that I have poor posture ingrained from years upon years of extended computer usage. I know this; it's why I went to physical therapy for two years in a row.  It's why I am diligent about my twice weekly Reformer sessions. So all that said, there is absolutely no reason for me to not be diligent about spending five to ten minutes working through my prescriptive exercises and checking in with my body before I head out the door.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dining Room Facelift: Part 4 - Fun With Colors

It's been so long since I wrote the last post, I've completely forgotten where I left this series. Presumably, I left it at the stage where paint was needed since someone (I won't name any names here, but you know who you are!) had painted these on the walls with the samples:

Obviously my favorite was the squirrel. Not so sure about the abstract art in the low right though...
The actual painted samples (and not the featured artwork) solidified the choice of colors and I went out to get some latex primer, a gallon of the primary wall color (cement gray) and two quarts of the accent wall color (normandy). Eric showed interest in helping me paint, but after a single coat of primer on the largest wall, he'd had enough. That might be because I primed the other three walls in the time it took him to do the one. And maybe that the latex primer I selected wasn't overly friendly to work with. It dried rapidly, so it needed to be applied quickly to stick to the wall.

After two coats of primer, the walls were ready for the good stuff. The viscosity of the paint surprised me; it was thick. It rolled on easily, with hardly any splatter. I didn't even buy the expensive roller covers either, so minimal splatter was an achievement. After such a lengthy prep period, it was rewarding to have the entire room painted with such speed.


To say that I'm merely fond of the end result would be an understatement. I love the colors and how they work together. I keep walking into the room when there's a bit of sunlight and saying, "Oh I love it!" You can hardly even tell that there was some heinous chair rail just a little over six months ago.

Dining Room Facelift: Part 1
Dining Room Facelift: Part 2
Dining Room Facelift: Part 3

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Graze

Disclaimer: On occasion, I like to share some of my favorite things on the blog. I have not been compensated in any way for this review.
 
Ever since Foodzie stopped their subscription service, I've been looking for something to replace it. I tried KLUTCHClub last year but wasn't enamored with it. It just wasn't what I'm looking for in a subscription box. I spent a good amount of time researching other boxes, but couldn't find anything that really appealed to me. So, when the little Graze leaflet fluttered out of a magazine I was about to throw away, I was intrigued albeit skeptical. The first box was free, so I figured why not?

Graze isn't exactly what I liked best about Foodzie. However, it is interesting because I'm always looking for fun, healthy and different snacks, especially ones that I don't have to prepare myself. I also appreciate that they value quality over quantity (small suppliers vs. mass production!) and that they employ a nutritionist who advocates for portion control and healthy benefits in each of those portion controlled containers.

Depending on the schedule of your choosing (weekly or biweekly), you receive a box with four snack packs on the Monday of that week. There are two types of boxes, the nibble box and the calorie counter box. The only difference between the two boxes is that the calorie counter box is limited to snacks packs that are 150 calories or less.

If you're interested in learning more about Graze, you can check out their FAQ page here. And if I've interested you enough that you're willing to give it a try, you can sign up using my friend code. The friend code gets you the first and fifth boxes free and I get a dollar off of my next box or to donate to the Graze school of farming in Uganda.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Final Thoughts

I've finally made it to the end of this rather lengthy series of posts, a full two weeks after vacation actually ended. The last two days of the trip don't warrant much description; we self-disembarked and headed back to the Mayflower Park, before making a beeline to The Crumpet Shop. It's possible that I'm obsessed with crumpets now. It's also possible that there will be a crumpet recipe post in the near future.

With all that said and done, I'd like to share a couple of things that didn't quite fit into the recap posts.

Packing for a cruise is different than packing for a non-cruise vacation.
I hate packing. A lot. I always feel as if I've forgotten something, even when I haven't. Eric is the same way and the night before vacation seems to always end up with arguments because of this. It doesn't even help if I make physical checklists to go through as I pack; I still feel edgy and anxious the entire time. Packing for the cruise took our neuroses and brought it to an entirely new level. See, thing is, when we pack for a normal vacation, I just shove x number of t-shirts and y number of underpants into my suitcase. I always feel okay with what I've packed so long as I have enough underpants to wear a fresh pair every day. Totally reasonable, right?
Totally rocking the smart casual here: black skirt, grey silk blouse and navy wool cardigan.
Eric likes to take pictures of me eating apples for some reason.

The cruise, with its smart casual dress code, warranted a little more thought than x number of t-shirts, y number of underpants. I didn't want to pack a bunch of t-shirts if I wasn't going to wear them. That just takes up space (and weight!) which is already at a premium when it comes to suitcases and airlines. I ended up packing a black skirt,three blouses, two cardigans, an extra pair of non-ratty jeans and a couple of my sweater dresses. For shoes, I packed all three pairs of my Vivo's and not a single pair of high heels despite formal nights. I can't walk in high heels on dry land, no need to try my luck at sea. I managed to wear all but two of the outfits that I packed, so I must have done a pretty darn good job.

Arriving at the departure port a day early makes life easier.
On the shuttle to the port, we met a couple whose luggage had been temporarily misplaced on their flight to Seattle. They, like us, had arrived a day early which gave the airline enough time to recover and deliver their luggage. Arriving a day early is definitely a sound decision if it's feasible.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 8 - Victoria, BC, Canada

Our last port of call was Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. The ship didn’t dock until late afternoon, so we spent the first half of the day wandering around the ship, which was bustling with activity. From an art auction to a silly show called Celebrity Chef, a poker tournament in the casino and dancing in the main hall there was something happening everywhere. The hurried hustle and bustle feeling of the last full cruise day was palpable.

The ship docked in Victoria a full 20 minutes earlier than scheduled and got cleared for passengers to disembark quite quickly. Our Victoria excursion involved a trip to the Butchart Gardens followed by tea service at the Empress.

Butchart Gardens was beautiful and the size of the gardens were astonishing. I think they said it takes somewhere around the order of 70 full-time gardeners to maintain the property. One of my favorite things to do with my camera is photograph flowers, so this excursion was a treat for me:
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This one is my favorite of the bunch.
I won't clutter up this post with a bajillion pictures of flowers, so if you're interested, they're all up on my SmugMug (link to the top right). After the flowers, we went for a late night tea at the Empress Hotel. The food was delicious (or maybe I was just starving) and the forced company was alright. I've never been great at small talk with strangers, but Eric did alright for the both of us. Just before we packed up to leave the Empress, I realized that it was a Fairmont Hotel, making it our second tea at a Fairmont. With tea time complete, we piled onto the bus and our driver took us for a brief tour around downtown Victoria before returning us to the port.
 



Monday, June 16, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 7 - Sea Day #2

Sea days, in my opinion, are a little bit boring. I understand their necessity and they are good days to just kick back and relax, but I still get a little bored. I spent most of the second day at sea hiding in the upper level of the ship’s library. I watched people go up and down the elevator while I edited all of the previous days’ recaps, nibbled on a coffee eclair and sipped a macchiato. There is a fascinating diversity to people who cruise, both crew and guests. While I was people watching, Eric was napping and catching up on missed sleep or or something.

The only highlight of our second sea day was a reservation for formal night at Murano.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 6 - Skagway

Skagway is a quaint little town with an Old West frontier feel. They have wooden sidewalks and I fully expected the saloon to have the traditional saloon doors. It probably never did though because Alaska is cold and keeping heat in seems like a really great idea. I actually found Skagway to be cleaner and more well-maintained than either of the previous ports. I suspect this has something to do with the fact that it is much more tourist-centric. Our excursion guide told us only 500 people live in Skagway year-round, but maybe double that come up for the tourist season.

As for our excursion, we went to see the sled dogs. It’s currently their off-season so they are just pulling a bunch of tourists around in a loop on carts. It doesn’t seem nearly as thrilling as pulling a sled through the snow would be but the dogs didn’t seem to mind at all. The cacophony of barking upon our arrival was loud and energetic.

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I think we were both surprised at the fact the dogs didn't look anything like we expected:
Definitely not a husky, mostly just a fancy mutt. Also, this is an awesome picture. Good job Eric!
After two circuits on the dog-cart, we piled back into the vehicle for the ride down the hill to see the puppies. If I’m honest, the puppies were the only reason we ended up on this excursion and I'm pretty confident that I wasn't the only one who felt that way. Our guide joked that if it could, the excursion would just turn into the puppy tour. There were two four-month old dogs, two 12 week old puppies and a litter of 11-day old puppies whose eyes were not even open yet.


The one I held was a fussy little dog, mewling and crying from the moment our guide let me hold it. I eventually got it to calm down a little by snuggling it against myself and keeping it warm. However, the moment I tried to hand the puppy to Eric, it started crying like I was torturing it. I couldn't get it to calm down so I just gave it back to its mom. It was probably my icicle hands. :(

Our excursion concluded, we headed back to downtown to go souvenir hunting. I picked up my remaining requisite ornaments and we headed back to the ship for a relaxing and quiet lunch. After lunch, we lounged around our stateroom until the Zumba class at 3PM. It could probably go without saying, but Eric didn't attend class with me. He just followed me to the gym so he could get in some treadmill time.

There's not much to say about the rest of the evening; it followed our established routine of dinner, walk, casino/tea, then instant sleepy time upon return to stateroom.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 5 - Juneau

I don't have a lot to say about Juneau because I think that the pictures should just speak for themselves.

Orcas!

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Seriously guys, orcas!

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Who cares about humpback whales when there are orcas? Not me.

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I've wanted to see orcas in the wild ever since I was eight or nine. That was the age when I wanted to be a marine biologist. I used to watch this one nature documentary about orcas repeatedly. Then one day I saw Jaws and no longer wanted to be a marine biologist. Computer programming seemed like a much safer alternative.

After my exuberant little girl glee-fest, we went to see Medenhall Glacier. It stunning in its own right, but we only spent 45 minutes there and I was a little too busy reliving the orca-sightings in my head.

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 4 - Ketchikan

The first port of call was Ketchikan, AK and our scheduled excursion was a hike through the Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is a temperate rainforest, so we came prepared with rain gear and insect repellent wipes. Neither of us wanted to spend the rest of our vacation covered in itchy bug bites. The hike was guided, which was a blessing and a curse. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about all the plants in the forest, but he went on and on (and on) about Sasquatches. Fortunately, the scenery was beautiful enough that I just focused on taking pictures while he was rambling.

Since our shuttle driver, the crazy guide and the welcome sign boasted that Ketchikan was the best place for salmon, we decided to have lunch in town.



Except that the restaurant was out of salmon. Yep. Out of salmon. And while I know it’s not salmon season yet, with a sign like that you can understand my disappointment.

Ketchikan had several souvenir stores near the dock which we wandered around after our salmon-less lunch. I foolishly (though I didn’t know this at the time) only purchased my standard ornament souvenir. I figured that there would be plenty more shops with the same stuff at the next port like most touristy areas. Unfortunately, I was wrong and I’m a little sad I missed out on a couple things I wanted. Oh well, lesson learned for next time!

With the souvenir hunting complete, we returned to the ship for our deep tissue massages. My left shoulder sounded like rice crispies as my masseuse worked it and it made me miss the monthly massages I used to get before we bought a house. I always feel more limber and less scrunched up after a massage. By the time we finished, my tummy was growling like crazy. The daily leaflet recommended the roasted milk-fed veal in the main dining hall that evening, so we decided to check it out. It was hands down the best dinner of the entire cruise for me. I had scallop crudo, the veal, and an itty bitty little chocolate lava cake for dessert. Every dish was just perfect; the crudo was light and bright, the veal rich and savory, and the lava cake was chocolaty with just a hint of sweetness.

By this point, we'd established a post-dinner routine. We went for a walk around the ship, to aid the digestion of our three course dinner and ultimately ended up in the casino. Eric played either blackjack or craps (I can't remember anymore) while I wandered off to pick up a ginger tea at the cafe. I was definitely utilizing my beverage package! Once Eric gave up on the casino, we headed back to our stateroom, where I proceeded to fall asleep instantly. There was just something about the gentle rocking of the boat and the engine vibrations in the aft that knocked me out cold.

Monday, June 9, 2014

It's definitely Monday

Check out the awesome way my Monday morning started:

I'm sparing you the gruesomeness that is the front of my middle finger.
I was fantastically uncoordinated this morning. So much so in fact, that I shut those two fingers in my car door, dropped my lunchbox and my car key. My car key gracefully bounced under the adjacent car, while I hopped around swearing profusely. Many f-bombs were dropped in the parking lot this morning. It took a couple of minutes before I gathered my composure, crawled under the other car to get my key and proceeded directly to the nurse's office. She gave me a goody bag filled with bandages, a disposable ice pack and the cutest little reusable ice pack ever.

It's so cute and little! I'm keeping it.
The rest of the day passed uneventfully, thank goodness. I'm just happy I didn't break any fingers because that would have put a pretty big damper on my workplace efficiency.

I went for a run when I got home:

It's the return of Beepy!
I know it probably doesn't look like much of a run. Since it's only 2.58km and 16 minutes long but it's 16 minutes of running where nothing hurt. No butt pain, no back pain. Nothing. It just felt good to be out there, even if it started raining the moment I stepped outside the door. I finally feel like my running could be on an upswing again.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 3 - Sea Day #1

Our first full cruise day was a scheduled at sea day and upon waking I knew I was going to need some Dramamine and my Sea Bands. The motion of the ship was mildly reminiscent of the vertigo spell I suffered a few months ago with the exception that the floor actually did move underneath my feet. It was certainly not as bad, but I did spend most of the day on the precipice of queasy.

If you watch Top Chef, you’ll recall that the cheftestants (what a stupid word) from Season 10 cruised to Alaska towards the end of their season. I’m pretty sure that season of Top Chef was what inspired this vacation. Celebrity Cruises is known for their food quality, so it was inevitable that we would pounce upon the opportunity to talk to the chefs and explore the galleys. The tour was genuinely astounding; there are somewhere on the order of 150 chefs on board this cruise and somewhere around 70 people committed to solely to sanitation. Each restaurant has its own galley and there’s an entire refrigerated section on deck two. They are clearly committed to providing quality meals to the guests.

Our first formal night went over well, though I felt a tad under-dressed and self-conscious. I didn’t pack any of what little jewelry I own and wearing make-up always makes me feel like people are staring at me thinking, “Wow, her make-up looks like a five-year old did it!” Eric assured me that it did not look that way but I just can’t help myself. It’s pretty ironic that wearing make-up makes me feel self-conscious.

After dinner, there was a Cirque du Soleil style show that was mildly entertaining. Unfortunately, my jet lag, the Dramamine and the gentle rocking of the boat had my eyelids drooping the entire time. After the performance, we went back to the cabin and I barely managed to make it through my nightly routine before I fell dead asleep.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 2 - Embarkation Day!

As noted in the previous day’s post, we knew were definitely going back to The Crumpet Shop, and that is exactly what we did for breakfast. I ordered a bowl of groats with soy milk and honey, and a crumpet with fresh raspberry preserves on the side. Eric got some sort of savory crumpet with cheese and a tomato on it, I think. I’m not completely positive because I was too fixated on my groats. I’m not sure if I've ever mentioned it but I love oatmeal. A bowl of oatmeal with a cup of coffee is my perfect breakfast. It just helps start the day off on the right foot. After breakfast, we wandered around Pike Place Market for a little bit. It was quite early, so there wasn't much to see; the stalls were restocking and preparing for another day.

The shuttle to the docks arrived around 11:15, and after much ado with seating arrangements, we were off. The port was remarkably like an airport, with the exception that our AquaClass ticket got us into our own special line. A line that was a great deal shorter than the regular one and because of that fact, we made it aboard before an hour before the stateroom was even ready. So, we explored:



Some key observations from our exploration:
  • The cruise was definitely geared towards an older crowd. There were very few children on the boat. We appreciated this.
  • One could easily get fat in this environment. There was food everywhere.
  • This ship is really just a giant floating hotel.
Dinner was already decided upon, as we had reservations at The Tuscan Grille. It was a delicious dinner and I managed to take not a single picture of it. I did, however, manage to get a picture of dessert. Because really, dessert is the best part:


Eric spent most of dessert laughing at me because I kept attempting to maximize the surface area of my dipping items. Delicious chocolate is not to be wasted. He even stopped me using my spoon to eat the chocolate as if it were soup (meanie!). We wandered around for the rest of the evening, until we both decided the motion in the fore of the boat was making us nauseous. We retired to our cabin in the aft of the ship and promptly fell asleep.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alaska Cruise: Day 1 - Seattle

Travel day started at 3:30AM as it almost always does. It was my turn to drive us to the airport, so we piled our ridiculous amount of luggage into my Rabbit and left around 4:30. We’d planned on using the economy lot ($100 savings!) but about halfway there we realized we’d left too late to comfortably park there and take the shuttle to the terminal. Central parking was the only other convenient option so we ended up there.

We rode the escalator down to the check-in area of Terminal C, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t been in that terminal since I left for Australia in 2006. It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that was just a little over eight years ago. Time just seems to pick up speed every year. I digress.

We used one of the many, many Jet Blue self check-in kiosks and got into the baggage drop line. A coworker had warned me that the line for the baggage drop had a tendency to be ridiculously long. He was right, but we got there early enough that it didn’t take too long to get to the front. Security was mostly uneventful, the only surprise being that I didn’t have to take my shoes off. A pleasant surprise, to say the least.

I was glad that I had downloaded a movie to my Kindle Fire the previous night because the in-seat TVs didn’t work at all for our row. I only wish I’d downloaded two because one did not cover the entire length of the flight. We landed in Seattle just before 10AM PST, claimed our baggage and hopped on the Link Light rail to Westlake Station. I’ve got to admit, toting our three pieces of luggage around the city was less than enjoyable. They’re pretty obnoxious to maneuver up the escalators. Fortunately our hotel, the Mayflower Park, was only two-tenths of a mile from the station.

Our room was ready upon our arrival and we were extremely grateful for that. It gave us a chance to freshen up a bit before we set out into the city to explore Pike Place Market. While we’ve been to Seattle before, we didn’t explore the market as much as we’d have liked. Stop one was The Crumpet Shop:


I’d read about the The Crumpet Shop in one of my Cooking Light issues and immediately became obsessed with going there. Seriously, totally obsessed. I was even a little bit scared that it might not live up to my possibly overblown expectations. It did live up to them though, and more! While I only had a single crumpet with lemon curd and a cup of coffee on the side, I knew we’d have to go back the next day because they had groats on the menu.

After finishing our crumpets, we set out into the market proper. We saw the flying fish guys, found an excellent little doughnut stall, and wandered by the original Starbucks. However, I often find that I’m easily overwhelmed by lots of sound and people, so I found it hard to truly appreciate the uniqueness of it all. And being that we were both relatively exhausted, we headed back to our room to turn in for an early night. Eric fell asleep a couple hours earlier than I did, but the only reason I made it until 10PM PST was because of Fireblood by Jeff Wheeler.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Let's make a bet!

You know the sayings that people use when they’ve resorted to old eating habits, things like falling off the wagon or getting off track?

I hate those sayings with almost as much passion as I hate the use of the word dieting. You are always on a diet; a diet is what you eat! Getting off track or falling off the wagon implies that there’s only one way to eat correctly, which is completely untrue. It’s a disordered way of thinking about your eating habits and I just refuse to use that term to describe what’s been going on with my habits.

Making poor choices would be a far more accurate assessment of what’s been happening with me. And that’s not to say that the occasional bit of fried food, prepackaged food, sweets or bread (in my case) are poor choices. The problem emerges when they become a mainstay of your diet; that’s when I think it’s time to reconsider.

Being on vacation for the last week has provided me the requisite distance to do exactly that.

I’m not happy with where my weight has gone. I’ve gained 10lbs since I first got injured two years ago, and while obviously my lack of regular running has contributed, it’s more than just that. I don’t cook as much as I used to and I fall back to prepackaged meals far too often to feel truly satisfied with my food choices. I’ve become complacent and about meal planning, procrastinating it to the point where it never gets done.

I’ve tried to motivate myself to remedy this, but I haven’t been successful. I need a good kick in the butt and that’s why I’ve decided to start a four week DietBet game. For anyone who isn't familiar with the DietBet concept, it's pretty simple. The goal is to lose 4% of your starting body weight in 4 weeks. You'll be required to take pictures of your scale with a code word at the weekly weigh-in, but that's it.  I don’t want to completely open it up to the public, so if you want to join in drop me an email using the little email link at the top right of the page. The game will start next Monday and run for four weeks, and depending on how it goes, there might even be a follow-up game.